The office phone rang and Matt automatically reached for it, forgetting the brace on his badly sprained ankle at least until he banged it against the metal wastebasket. He managed to bite back a fairly rancid curse as he grabbed the receiver. "Silver Star. Shepherd," he ground out from between clenched teeth.
"Hey, Boss - how's the ankle?" Benny Ray asked just a little too jovially.
Inwardly, Matt groaned
the damn fool things to be sidelined with - a sprained ankle.
And to add insult to injury, it wasn't even a war wound - he'd
managed to hurt himself while playing ball with some local kids
on the beach. His teammates weren't about to let him
"San Francisco, sir."
"Uh-huh. And why aren't you back here?" Matt inquired pleasantly. "I was expecting you back this afternoon."
"Well sir, what we got is a monsoon or somethin.' It's rainin' so damn hard I couldn't see past the hooda the car. Musta been an accident or somethin,' 'cuz the state police was divertin' everything off the Interstate. We're holed up in a hotel for the night hopefully, the roads'll be better and we can get home tomorrow."
There wasn't much Matt could say to that. He winced as the sharp crack of thunder carried through the phone line. "Did you make your delivery?" he asked, not sure about the security of the connection.
"Yes, sir, we did."
"Good is Margo there?"
"Yes, she is, Major, but she's in the shower."
"Why isn't she using the shower in her own room?"
"Well, Boss, they only had the one room left on accounta the storm."
Matt grunted noncommittally. "Well
guess I'll see you when I see
"Roger that, sir. G'night."
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Benny Ray chuckled as he hung up the phone, wondering what the Major would say if he could see their one room with its one desk, one dresser, one straight-backed chair and one bed.
Margo came out of the bathroom toweling her hair. She was dressed in a pair of baggy grey sweat pants and an oversized T-shirt. "Did you get ahold of Matt?"
"Yup. I also found an itty-bitty coffee machine and made a pot. I figure it'll hold us til room service gets here," he said, handing her a cup.
"Thanks. I'll order dinner while you get cleaned up. What'll it be?'
"How about a big ole cheeseburger with all the trimmings?" Benny Ray asked as he gathered up a clean change of clothes.
"You got it," she promised.
Benny Ray turned back at the bathroom door. "Uh while you're at it maybe you could ask housekeeping to send up a roll away or maybe just some extra blankets an' stuff "
Margo shook her head, smiling fondly. "Benny Ray, I trust you with my life I think I can trust you to stay on your own side of the bed."
"Just considerin' my own safety, ma'am."
"Benny Ray, we're grown ups we can do this."
"Whatever you say," he muttered as he pulled the door shut.
After they finished eating, Margo turned on the TV and flipped through the stations until she found a movie that they'd both managed to miss when it was in the theatres. The only problem was that in order to see the small screen, Benny Ray would have to sit next to her, on the bed.
He sat down gingerly, as far away from her as he could get and still see the screen. His back was ramrod straight against the headboard. Benny Ray knew exactly how Margo dealt with men who got too familiar, and he was absolutely determined not to give the wrong impression.
As they got involved in the story, both began to relax, as the tolls of the day's events caught up to them. Margo shifted slightly and leaned her head against Benny Ray's shoulder. Without thinking, he slipped his arm around her, easing her over slightly so that her head lay against his chest.
By the time the movie ended, Margo was dozing. Benny Ray switched off the set and the lights, then very gently settled her on her pillow.
Margo's green eyes slid half open. "You're gonna fall off the edge," she murmured.
"I'm fine, darlin,'" he protested.
"Benny Ray, you haven't been this tense around me since that first time we met. What gives?"
"Well it's just I feel a little funny, bein' alone in a hotel room with my best friend's girl."
Margo sat up, both eyes wide open. "What?!"
"You an' the Major," he elaborated.
"What about me and Matt?"
"Well, you he " Benny Ray spluttered, heat rising in his face. "It's just I mean, you and he have a history together the two of you have been through so much."
"Benny Ray," Margo said firmly, "there is nothing going on between Matt and myself. Nothing." She sighed softly.
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I didn't mean to imply nothin.' It's just you two, when you're pretendin' to be married or somethin' like that it looks so real, I figured there must be somethin' there. An' then you took him to meet your big brother "
"Even John thought we were together," Margo admitted. "It's not as though we haven't talked about it in fact, Matt talked about it a lot, when we were in that North Korean prison, but I don't know " She paused a moment, recalling the horror of those days. "I never really told anyone about that time," she whispered.
"An' you don't have to now, if you don't want to," Benny Ray assured her, "but if you ever do need to talk to anyone, I'm here."
Margo reached out and caught his hand. "I know thank you."
"If you don't mind my sayin' so, the Major's a damn fool. If I ever thought I had a chance with a lady like you "
"That's sweet, Benny Ray." Margo laughed softly. "Now will you please move over before you land on the floor?"
THE SILVER STAR
Benny Ray paused in the door of the Silver Star, partly to scan the crowd for Margo, but mostly to gather his nerve. There she was - seated at the bar, wearing that little black summer dress with a black-and-scarlet silk scarf at her throat. Unfortunately, she was chatting with Nick Delvecchio.
Of course Nick spotted him first. "Who died?" he quipped, eyeing Benny Ray's neatly pressed grey slacks, crisp white shirt and shiny black shoes.
'You, if you don't shut up,' the sniper thought with a scowl.
Margo smacked Nick's arm. "Never mind him, Benny Ray. You look very handsome."
"Why thank you, ma'am. And may I say you're lookin' very lovely yerself today."
"Yeah, Margo, ya look real nice. What's his name?" Nick asked curiously.
Benny Ray laid a firm hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "Delvecchio, his name is 'Nunya.'"
"'Nunya'? What kinda guy's name is oh OK I get it. Right. See ya!" Nick collected his drink and moved on down the bar.
"I thought he'd never leave," Benny Ray muttered.
"You didn't have to terrorize the poor guy!" Margo scolded.
"Yeah I s'pose not but it's so much fun!"
"So," Margo asked with a bright smile, "what's this big surprise you mentioned?"
Benny Ray drew in a deep, calming breath. "Well, I was readin' in the paper this mornin' that the art museum downtown was openin' a new exhibit today - some Spanish painter - an' I was wonderin' if maybe you'd like to go see it."
"The Miro exhibit? The one that's been traveling the country? I'd love to see that!"
"Well, then, let's go!" he said, offering his arm.
Upstairs, Matt frowned as he surveyed the scene from his office window.
One week later
Matt checked his watch irritably. Bad enough that he was still sidelined with this stupid injury without having two of his people UA. He craned his neck to look up the steps as he heard voices. "About time!" he called, as Margo and Benny Ray joined him and Nick at the table.
"Sorry sir, we got hung up in traffic," Benny Ray apologized.
Matt gave him a hard look, then started his briefing. "Trout just called. He's got a mission for the three of you in Montreal if you can find your way to the airport without getting hung up in any more traffic, that is."
Margo felt Benny Ray bristle at Matt's comments. Why was Matt being such a jerk? Everyone knew how crazy the traffic on the freeway could get - it was hardly the first time someone had been a few minutes late for a briefing.
Matt continued to give details on their target. "So, Margo, you'll go with good old Plan B," he instructed.
"Whoa wait a minute," Benny Ray interjected, "if this guy's as bad as you say, why risk letting Margo get that close to him? Why not just use good ole Plan X?"
"Ya know, I'm kinda inclined
to agree wit Benny Ray," Nick said, "dis
"What is it with you guys today? We want this guy alive, so he can talk. Margo knows how to handle herself she'll be fine - isn't that right?" Matt asked expectantly, turning to the former CIA operative.
"Sure, Matt. I'll take care of our Mister Leroux," she assured him before an argument could start.
"There you see?" Matt said triumphantly.
"However," Margo continued, "I would like the guys to be in position to back me up, just in case."
"Of course, Margo. No problem." Matt pointed to his map of downtown Montreal. "Now, Nick, you'll be here "
"Benny Ray, can I have a word with you?" Matt asked quietly when the briefing was finished.
"What's going on with you and Margo?"
"'Scuse me, sir?"
"Come on, Benny Ray ever since you two got back from San Francisco you arrive together, you leave together I call one of you, the other's always right there. What's going on?"
Benny Ray's eyes narrowed and his tone was low and dangerous. "With all due respect, sir, what she or I or anyone else on this team does with our down time is our own business."
"If it starts to effect your performance, then it becomes my business," Matt shot back.
"Come again, sir?"
"You're acting like a love-sick school boy wanting to take down a valuable asset from a distance, rather then let Margo go in and get him alive!"
"Major sir I don't think anyone - man or woman- should get that close to that sick son of a bitch hell, even Delvecchio agreed with me!"
"Delvecchio doesn't give the orders around here and neither do you!"
"Will that be all sir?" Benny Ray snarled, "I got a plane to catch."
Three days later
A livid Matt Shepherd looked up as his team filed down into the basement of the old hotel.
The other three ignored him. Benny Ray held a chair for Margo, who looked pale and haunted, the dark smudge of a black eye marring her perfect features. Nick fetched her a bottle of water from the fridge and a bottle of aspirin from a cabinet.
Matt slammed both palms flat on the table. "Now that you're all settled in, would someone like to tell me just what the hell happened up there? You had explicit orders not to use lethal force-"
"Matt," Nick said quietly, "you weren't there, OK? You didn't see "
"I don't care what you saw! Damn it, Benny Ray, we talked about this before you left and this is exactly the kind of thing I was worried about-"
"Matt!" Nick yelled, then softly, "Benny Ray didn't shoot Leroux. I did."
"Delvecchio didn't kill him, either," Benny Ray reported in a frigid tone. "The RCMP did that. Ya see, Nick's non-lethal hit still left Leroux able to take down one of the arresting officers. They didn't wait around for him to get someone else."
Margo spoke for the first time, her voice a haunted whisper. "You didn't see that apartment, Matt. He had pictures of the women he'd killed he'd used knives on them " She shuddered at the memory, and Nick and Benny Ray moved to flank her chair protectively. "There were body parts trophies in his freezer "
"There was nothin' that guy could possibly have had in his head that was worth lettin' him live," Benny Ray spit out.
"Da world is a cleaner place widout him," Nick concurred.
Realizing that there wasn't much he could say to that, Matt heaved himself to his feet and crutched his way up the steps.
Benny Ray glared after him for a moment, then turned back to Nick, holding out his hand. "I never did get to thank you for gettin' off that shot, amigo."
"Hey, yer not the only one who cares about her, ya know," Nick replied as he clasped Benny Ray's hand. He bent and kissed Margo's cheek gently. "You take care of yourself, sweetheart."
Margo reached up to squeeze his hand. "Thanks, Nick," she whispered, "for everything."
Nick rapped on the door to the office. "Hey, Matt, you got a minute?" he called.
"Come in." He gestured Nick to a chair.
"Look, Matt, I know yer ticked cuz we didn't follow yer plan to the letter, but ya weren't there, OK? If ya'd been there ya probably woulda shot da scumbag yerself."
"What happened?" Matt asked.
"We had bad intel," Nick stated flatly. "It said somethin' about this Leroux guy bein' attracted to beautiful women, and bein' abusive - it didn't say nuthin' about choppin' 'em up inta little pieces!"
"He's right, you know," Trout said quietly from the doorway. "If I had any idea of what they were going to find up there, I never would have suggested trying to take Leroux alive.
"How did Margo end up in such a bad situation?" Matt asked quietly.
"I dunno she went into da club like she was supposed to we think maybe Leroux slipped somethin' inta her drink."
Matt shook his head. "Margo's too smart for that."
"Matt, nothing in the mission profile had them prepared to go up against a serial killer," Trout reminded him. "The RCMP collected evidence that Leroux had murdered twenty-three other women. He had his routine timed to the second."
"It happened so fast,"
Nick agreed, "we're just lucky we got there in
"How is Margo?" Trout asked gravely.
"Aw, she's pretty shook up, but I think she'll be OK," Nick told him.
"Would you both excuse me?" Matt asked, reaching for his crutches. He headed down to the basement, hoping to catch Margo he had to - what? Explain, apologize anything to make things right between them again.
When he got downstairs, he found a note on the table, in Benny Ray's handwriting. "Took Margo home. Call if you need us."
Five days later
Matt was behind the bar when Margo walked into the Silver Star. She was comfortably dressed in jeans and a black top, and except for the greeny-yellow mess of a fading bruise around her eye, she looked pretty much like her old self. He excused himself to Debbie and limped around the bar, leaning on his cane.
"Hey, no more crutches!" Margo congratulated him.
"No more brace, either," he said with a grin. "Doc says a couple more weeks and it'll be business as usual. Uh can we talk?" he asked uncertainly.
Matt steered her over to a couch, waiting for her to sit before easing himself down. An awkward moment of silence stretched between them.
"So, what did you want to talk about?" Margo asked lightly.
"Well, I, ah wanted to make sure you were OK," he began, gesturing to her face.
"Yeah, I'm fine the bruise is fading - it'll be gone in a week or so," she assured him.
"Good good. Look, I know I've been kind of a jerk lately "
"Don't stop - you're on a roll," Margo prompted.
Matt grinned sheepishly. "Yeah well can I make it up to you? Maybe take you out to lunch?" he asked hopefully.
"Oh, Matt, I'd love to but I have plans this afternoon." She hated to see the look of disappointment on his face, so she continued, "Rain check?"
"Oh sure sure, some other time. Oops looks like Deb's got her hands full at the bar. Talk to you later," he flung over his shoulder as he beat a hasty retreat.
"Now that was weird," Margo murmured to herself.
"Not really," Nick observed.
Margo jumped slightly at the sound of his voice. "Where'd you come from?" she demanded, "And how long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough ta finally figure out what his problem is."
"Oh, please do enlighten me," Margo said, folding her arms across her chest.
"He's jealous," Nick pronounced.
"He's jealous of all da time you an' Benny Ray been spendin' tagedda."
"Why would he be jealous?" Margo wondered. "It's not like he ever " Her eyes narrowed as she recalled exactly whom she was speaking to. "When did you get so observant?"
"Hey, I got eyes, don't I? And I know what it's like ta wanna have someone ta share your life wit. I also know how people outside our profession don't deal wit dese things well. All I'm tryin' to say is you and Benny Ray are good people ya oughtta grab holda whatever happiness ya can."
Margo stared, wide eyed with surprise. "Thank you, Nick," she managed, genuinely touched.
Nick shrugged, his face coloring slightly. "Yeah, well that's not to say that I'm not surprised, too. I mean, I always figured it'd be you and Matt."
"Why?" she asked curiously.
"I dunno somethin' about the way the two of you look at one another, I guess." He spotted Benny Ray across the room. "Looks like Prince Charming is here," he cracked.
Margo stood up and went to meet Benny Ray.
"Hey, darlin,'" he greeted her. Benny Ray looked over her outfit. "Well, from the way you're dressed, I'd say we're not headed for another art gallery."
Margo favored him with a brilliant smile. "I know you didn't really enjoy that, so I wanted to make it up to you," she said, handing him two tickets.
A broad grin split his face as he looked them over. "The motorcycle show at the convention center?"
"I thought you'd like that."
"I surely do, but are you sure you'll enjoy yourself at somethin' like this?"
"You didn't complain when we
spent the entire afternoon at the art
"Well," he admitted, "it was a bit out of my league, but it seemed like the kind of thing a real fine lady like yourself would enjoy. Besides, it didn't hurt me none to learn somethin' new." He held the door for her as they left.
Matt felt an unfamiliar ache as he watched the two of them leave together. Somehow, Matt had always assumed that whenever he got his act together, she'd be there waiting for him. Sure, Margo had seen other guys, but they didn't worry him he knew that sooner or later, they'd get fed up with her mysterious disappearances and lack of explanations and leave. But Benny Ray was different; he was completely devoted to Margo - had been almost from the very beginning. He understood her occupation and all its' risks and he could handle it.
"Matt, are you OK?" Debbie was asking.
"Yeah, Deb, I'm fine."
"You look a little tired. Maybe you should go sit down for a while."
"You're probably right," Matt agreed, grateful for an excuse to retreat to his office.
Four weeks later
Nick shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He leaned forward to peer listlessly into the telescope that was trained on an apartment across the street. "Tell me again why we got stuck here while Matt and Margo are out on the town?" he griped.
"Probably because Margo is the only one of us who can speak any language that's used around here," Benny Ray replied evenly.
"Yeah, yeah I just though you woulda gone with her, seein' as how they're posin' as a couple."
"What the hell's that s'posed to mean?" Benny Ray demanded.
"Nuttin,'" Nick said defensively. "It's just you been spendin' so much time together "
"Delvecchio, listen up, cuz I'm only gonna say this once. Margo is my friend she's one of the best friends I've ever had, and I'm not about to do nothin' to mess that up."
Nick raised his hands as if to ward off an attack. "Hey, I'm on your side! Margo's a very special lady she deserves someone to come home to someone who won't take off on her the first time she can't account for where she's been. Heck, I thought she was spoken for, or I woulda-"
"Delvecchio, isn't it about time for a comm check?" Benny Ray asked, settling the receiver into his ear.
Matt smiled across the table at Margo. She was stunning. A strapless, royal blue dress flattered her figure and diamonds sparkled at her ears and throat. Even knowing that one of the jewels concealed her comm couldn't spoil the picture for him.
Margo blushed slightly under his scrutiny. "What?" she asked, laughing slightly to cover her discomfiture.
"Hey - can't a guy enjoy the scenery?" Matt asked.
"Well, our scenery just changed. Bjornson your six."
"You getting this, guys?" Matt murmured, not bothering to turn around to confirm Margo's sighting.
"We're on it, Boss," Benny Ray replied.
"Let us know what you find," Margo instructed.
"You let us know if dat guy leaves," Nick countered.
"Don't worry, Nick the service here is very elegant and leisurely."
"Yeah, Delvecchio, they ain't
in Mickey D's ya know," Benny Ray
Two hours later, Matt and Margo lingered over coffee and liqueurs.
"Heads up, boys," Margo murmured, "looks like Bjornson's decided to skip dessert."
"We didn't find anything here," Benny Ray reported, "You think he has the disk on him?"
"It's possible," Matt said, "but we have no way of knowing. Get out of there now."
"Want us to disable his equipment before we bug out?" Benny Ray asked. "Maybe mess up his deal if he can't decrypt that disk."
"Negative. Don't leave any sign that anyone's been in there. If Bjornson gets wind of us, he'll just disappear down some rat hole and take the disk with him."
"We could ambush him on the road," Margo suggested as Matt signaled for the check.
"That's risky," Matt replied.
"That disk contains the go codes to launch a nuclear strike. We have to get it back - regardless of the risk."
"Not inside the city limits," Matt decided. "We don't need a bunch of civilians getting caught in the crossfire."
"So, how was dinner?" Nick asked as Matt ushered Margo into the flat the team was using for surveillance.
"Well," Margo considered, "the service was lovely, but I've had better bouillabaisse."
"Boo-ya-what?" Nick asked perplexed.
Benny Ray tapped him on the shoulder. "Fish-gut soup. Yum!"
"I just love chatting with true gourmets, don't you?" Matt remarked to the room at large.
"I think I'm gonna be sick," Nick groaned.
"Not in here, please," Margo muttered, as she struggled with the catch on her necklace.
"I got that," Benny Ray offered.
"Thanks," Margo said, lifting her hair out of the way.
"Anytime, ma'am," he replied, grinning as he dropped the bauble into her outstretched palm.
"If you gentlemen will excuse me, I'm going to go change," Margo announced.
"Just call if you need any more help - OOF!" Nick spluttered as Benny Ray's elbow collided forcibly with his midsection.
"Benny Ray," Matt called, gesturing for the sniper to join him.
"Benny Ray," Matt said quietly, "you know how I feel about mixing business and pleasure."
"Yes, sir, I do."
"Then what's going on with you and Margo?" Matt demanded.
"Major, the only one here who hasn't got his mind on business right now is you." Benny Ray emphasized his words by jabbing a finger into Matt's chest. "You're startin' to regret a lot of things you should have said and done that's why it's botherin' you so bad to see two friends spendin' some quality time together!"
"Friends?" Matt exclaimed in disbelief.
"Yes, Major - friends. For now, anyway."
"What exactly is that supposed to mean?"
"Uh, guys?" Nick called, "I hate ta innarupt, but our target's buggin' out."
"Maybe he's just going for a walk," Margo suggested, as she emerged from the other room, shrugging into a dark jacket.
"Wid his suitcases?" Nick shot back.
"Let's move people!" Matt ordered.
Benny Ray grabbed his rifle and Nick snagged a GPS on the way out the door. Margo took the other.
"Which way is he most likely to head?" Matt asked as they pounded down the steps.
"Airport?" Nick suggested.
"All right, you two follow him. Margo and I'll head southeast on E20. We'll try to box him in," Matt decided.
"What if we lose him?" Nick wanted to know.
"Don't," Matt told him.
Following Margo's directions and completely ignoring the speed limit, Matt was able to make it to the highway in record time. "Benny Ray, are we ahead of Bjornson?" he asked, relaying the co-ordinates from the GPS.
"OK, good. We're going to set up a little roadblock for our friend Mister Bjornson. We'll find out if chivalry is still alive," he added, winking at Margo.
"Roger that, sir. We'll be right behind him."
"Does this mean I get to play the damsel in distress again?" Margo inquired.
"Try not to break anyone's neck this time," Matt quipped as he pulled the car over at an awkward angle, so that the back end was blocking oncoming traffic. He popped the hood, then began liberally distributing flares on the ground around the vehicle.
"Boss, you should be seein'
our tango in a second or two," Benny Ray
"That's your cue, Margo. Stand here and look helpless," Matt said, taking his weapon and taking cover behind the guardrail.
Margo affected a vapid expression and leaned in under the hood, peering at the engine. She looked up and waved excitedly at the sound of an approaching vehicle.
"That's him the white Saab," Benny Ray informed her.
"I can see ya now, Margo," Nick added. "Flutter yer eyelashes or somethin.'"
"I think I've got it covered, Nick," Margo retorted.
"What the - Major, he ain't slowing down!" Benny Ray exclaimed. He disentangled himself from the seatbelt and leaned out the window trying for a shot.
Matt risked a look and saw the speeding car bearing down on the supposedly disabled vehicle.
"He ain't gonna stop!" Nick yelled.
"Margo, get outta there!" Matt cried. He saw her jump aside as the Saab crashed into the dark sedan in a hideous shriek of tortured metal. Matt opened fire, as did Benny Ray. He wasn't sure exactly who hit what, but the Saab spun out of control to tumble off the road. The gas tank ruptured, engulfing the small car in flames.
Nick rolled the team's other car to a stop. He and Benny Ray joined Matt.
"Bjornson still inside, Major?" Benny Ray asked.
"I didn't see him get thrown clear, did you?"
Both men shook their heads negatively.
"Margo?" Matt looked around. "Margo, sound off!" Icy tendrils of fear clutched at his heart when he received no response.
Benny Ray cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed, "Margo!"
"Did she get cleara da car?" Nick asked worriedly.
"I thought so," Matt replied. He'd seen her move out of the way hadn't he? "Spread out," he instructed.
"Matt! Benny Ray!" Nick's voice rang out long moments later, "I need you!"
The two men scrambled to join him beside a pile of twisted wreckage from their car.
"Gimme a hand!" Nick called, frantically trying to lever the hood of the car off of Margo's delicate frame. Matt joined the smaller man while Benny Ray skidded to his knees beside Margo's head, probing gently for a pulse. He found none.
"Major, you gotta get that thing offa her - she ain't breathin.'"
Gritting his teeth, Matt got a better grip on the jagged metal. "On three, Nick," he ground out from between clenched teeth.
Nick nodded tightly.
"One two three!" They heaved the debris off Margo's battered body.
Benny Ray quickly checked for a pulse again.
"Benny Ray?" Matt whispered.
The sniper shook his head no. He quickly patted down Margo's torso, checking for further injury, then began CPR. "Could use a little help here," he muttered.
Matt nodded and bent over Margo's still form and began to breathe for her.
"Delvecchio, see if there's anything useful in the car," Benny Ray ordered peremptorily.
"Is she gonna ?"
"Just do it!"
A moment later Margo's chest heaved and she began to cough.
"That's it come on back," Matt murmured, cradling her face in his hands. "Nick!" he yelled over his shoulder.
"Boss, we got problems," Benny Ray said gravely. He held his hand out close to Matt's face.
Even in the dim illumination of the headlights, Matt could see that the other man's palm was stained with blood. "Artery?"
"Vein, I think bad enough. Delvecchio, now!"
Nick dropped to his knees, shining a flashlight over the bloody scene. "Aw jeez," he muttered, knowing that nothing in the little plastic box would help this.
Matt quickly came to the same conclusion. He passed Nick his sidearm. "Nick, collect all the weapons - lock them in the back of the car. Then I want you to get back on the highway. Get off at the first exit and get help."
"But how - I don't speak-"
"Then draw a damn picture!" Matt exploded.
"Get goin,' Delvecchio," Benny Ray added tensely.
Nick nodded and scrambled back to the car.
They heard the squeal of tires as he pulled away.
"Boss, we gotta get somethin' better'n my hand to stop this bleedin,'" Benny Ray stated.
"I know," Matt muttered as he rummaged through the small kit. He found a handful of small gauze squares and an ace bandage and set to work to try and slow the bleeding.
"We'll still need to keep pressure on the wound," Benny Ray observed, eyeing the makeshift dressing dubiously.
"I know that!" Matt snapped, his voice roiling with frustration. "Where the hell is Nick?"
"He's got to get help, make them understand what he needs, and then get back here," Benny Ray said crisply. "Now, what we've got to do is stay calm, and focused and keep her alive til he can do that.
Matt opened his mouth to deliver a stinging retort, but then he saw the look in Benny Ray's eyes, and the words died on his lips. He suspected that his face wore the same expression - pain, guilt, love all inextricably intermingled.
Margo gave a low moan, and Matt moved to hold her still. "Shh lie still help is on the way," he murmured soothingly.
"Matt?" Her voice was little more than a faint whisper.
"I'm here I've got you," he crooned softly.
Matt shrugged out of his windbreaker and laid it over her. "Better?" he asked, gently chafing her hands.
Margo nodded faintly. "Mmm Benny Ray?"
"Right here, darlin,'" he answered immediately.
"Can't see you "
"It's all right, Margo - I'm here, and I'm not goin' nowhere."
"Why can't I see you?" Margo slurred, trying vaguely to sit up.
Mat grasped her shoulders and gently pushed her back down. "You stay put - you hear me? That's an order."
"Can't order me m'not military Benny Ray?"
"Darlin,' I'm here - just like always, but I gotta keep a holda the Band-Aid we just put on this nasty scrape you got here, OK? I'm right here - I won't leave you. Neither one of us will."
"Promise?" she asked weakly.
"I promise," Benny Ray swore.
"We both do," Matt added.
A shudder wracked Margo's frail body. "So c-cold "
Matt lay down beside Margo on the rocky ground, wrapping his arms around her as best he could without hurting her.
"You always made me believe that I'd make it home," she choked out, tears trickling down her face.
"We will get you home, Margo, I swear to you," Benny Ray vowed.
The ghost of a smile seemed to flit across her face, only to be twisted into a sob. "Tell John "
"No! Margo, you tell him yourself!" Matt said roughly. "You hear me? We're going to get you home you are going to make it!"
Benny Ray felt the sting of his own tears as he fought to stem the flow of blood from her leg. There were so any things he wished he could say to her but his mouth was dry and he had no words.
Off in the distance, they could just make out the wail of an approaching siren.
"Hear that, darlin'?" Benny Ray chirped heartily, "Help's on the way. We're gonna get you all fixed up " his voice trailed off as Matt looked up, his stricken expression telling the sniper that Margo had faded again.
Matt, Nick and Benny Ray looked up hopefully as the door to the waiting room opened. They were expecting a doctor or a nurse with news about Margo. They were not excepting to see Xavier Trout's daughter.
Matt was the first to find his voice. "Alison, what're you doing here?"
"This is my new post," she explained. "We got a call at the embassy that some Americans had been involved in a traffic accident. When I saw the names, I took the case myself. I assume you're here working for my father?"
"Yes, and I need to talk to him. Can you arrange that?" Matt asked, impressed by the young woman's cool competence.
"Certainly. How's Margo?"
Matt sighed. "We don't know yet."
"We have to go back to the embassy to be sure of a secure line - do you want to wait for news?" Alison asked kindly.
"No," Matt decided, "this can't wait."
Alison handed Benny Ray a card. "If you hear anything, call this number."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"I owe that lady a lot," Alison said. "If there's anything I can do "
"Right now, I really need to
speak to your father," Matt told her,
Benny Ray didn't understand a word the nurse said, but he could have hugged her when she ushered him into the small room where Margo lay. He was startled by the number of monitors she was hooked up to, all softly beeping their assurance of the fact that she was still alive. Offering a silent prayer of thanksgiving, he pulled a chair up close to her bedside. Reaching out, he gently lifted one small hand, his warm fingers closing over her cold ones. Margo's eyes were closed, but he began to speak anyway.
"You sure gave us a scare, Sweet Pea. You've gotta get yourself better. Ya know, I hear they got a real fine art museum in Paris. Maybe you an' me could go there sometime and see that if you'd like to, I mean."
"The Louvre " Margo whispered, her eyes fluttering open.
Benny Ray leaned forward eagerly. "Yup, that's the one," he continued on, trying to keep her focused. "They got a real famous painting there, don't they?"
"The Mona Lisa," she said slowly.
"I hear it's real pretty. Now, you just have to get yourself well so you can show it to me."
"I'd like that," Margo murmured, trying to smile. She blinked, trying to focus on her surroundings. "Where ?"
Benny Ray leaned closer, gently stroking Margo's hair back from her face. "You're in the hospital, darlin.' You were hit by some flyin' debris and got banged up a bit but the doctor says you're gonna be just fine. Least ways, I hope that's what he was sayin' - I couldn't unnerstand a word, but he was smilin' real nice."
"Where's Matt? And Nick?"
"Nick's out in the waitin' room - they'd only let us in one at a time. Matt's at the embassy - seems we got us a friend we didn't know about."
She made another drowsy little sound and then her eyes slipped shut once more.
Benny Ray bent down to gently kiss her forehead. "You rest easy, darlin' everythin's gonna be just fine."
He didn't see Matt standing just outside the door.
A few minutes later, Nick popped his head in. "Matt's back," he announced none too quietly.
"Shut up, Delvecchio. This is a hospital, not a parade ground."
"Sorry," Nick replied in a loud stage whisper. "How is she?"
"She's sleepin' again now, but she was awake for a few minutes seemed pretty alert."
"Hey, dat's great!" Nick enthused, grinning broadly.
"Did you want somethin,' amigo?" Benny Ray asked pointedly.
"Yeah. Matt wants ta talk ta ya."
"OK. You tell 'im I'll be along in a minute."
Nick nodded cheerfully and left, followed a few minutes later by Benny Ray.
The familiar click of the safety on a handgun jolted Margo into wakefulness. Benny Ray had told her she was in a hospital she shouldn't be hearing guns in a hospital, should she? There was a voice, too, a strange voice, speaking a language that just eluded her understanding. She opened her eyes and saw that the unfamiliar voice belonged to an equally unfamiliar man and he was pointing a weapon at her.
"I don't understand you," she said weakly.
The man moved closer to her, obviously demanding something she just had no idea what. Suddenly, the door opened and the startled nurse's shriek resounded through the hallway. Margo used the distraction to reach out and grab a small metal basin from her nightstand. With all her strength, she smashed it against her attacker's head, gashing open his forehead.
"Hey!" Matt yelled, charging into the room and grabbing the intruder by the collar. Spinning him around, Matt pounded a fist into the man's stomach, then landed another solid blow to the jaw.
"Whoa, whoa - ease down, Major we got 'im," Benny Ray said trying to restrain him from killing the man on the spot.
Matt rubbed his sore knuckles as hospital security hauled off the intruder and collected his weapon. He shook his head like a man coming out of a daze. "Margo!"
"She's fine, Matt," Alison assured him. Grinning, she pried Margo's fingers loose from the metal receptacle. "Not bad for someone wearing a gown with pink polka dots," she laughed, noting the blood on the rim.
A doctor waved them back from the bed so he could check out his patient and restore the IV that had pulled loose in the struggle.
"What the hell was that all about?" Matt wondered.
Margo shook her head in confusion. "It was almost like he was looking for something "
"Maybe this?" a deep voice rumbled.
Heads turned to see Deke's tall form filling the doorway. He was holding up the twisted remains of a computer disk. He sauntered over to Margo's bedside and presented her with an enormous bouquet of flowers, bowing extravagantly.
The next day
Matt tapped on the door to Margo's room and entered when bidden. "Hey, how's the most lethal patient in the ward?" he beamed.
"Better, thank you," Margo replied, smiling. Her eyes lit up as she spotted the package he carried - a shiny gold gift box tied with purple organza ribbons and topped with a pretty silk flower.
Matt noticed her interest and presented the box with a flourish. "Just a little something I thought you'd like since Deke outdid us all in the flower department," he said with a laugh, indicating the jungle-like bouquet that Deke had given Margo the day before. "Did you know that guy you brained needed twelve stitches?" he remarked as she carefully untied the bow on her present.
"Good!" Margo smirked. She exclaimed with delight when she finally managed to get the box open, revealing a wide assortment of fancy chocolate truffles.
"I figured you might be a little tired of hospital food," Matt chuckled.
"These are wonderful!" she mumbled around a mouthful of chocolate.
Grinning, Matt reached over and gently brushed a smudge of chocolate from the corner of her mouth.
Margo giggled softly as his thumb tickled her face. The casual gesture warmed her heart - this was the Matt she was used to. His eyes locked on hers, and she had a peculiar sense of homecoming, much as she had that day when he'd asked her to join his team. It was an odd sensation, considering that they were an entire ocean away from home until it occurred to her that maybe coming home had more to do with being close to people who cared for you than occupying a particular piece of real estate. Margo felt a blush spreading over her cheeks and lowered her eyes.
"So when do I get out of here?" she asked finally.
"Well, you've got some bruised ribs, a mild concussion, and a pretty big hole in your leg, but the doctor says we can take you out of here tomorrow. He does suggest waiting a few more days before the flight home, though."
"That's OK," Margo laughed, "I can think of worse places to be stuck for a few days."
"Alison booked us all into a nice hotel, so we figured we'd do a little sight seeing."
"Matt, you guys don't need to stick around because of me - I'll be fine, really!"
"Sorry, but you're stuck with us. We want to be sure that the creep who broke in here yesterday doesn't have any partners lurking around. Besides," he added taking her hand in both of his, "I was thinking how nice it would be to be able to spend a little time together maybe go back to that fancy restaurant "
"Without the comms and the tangos this time?"
"Exactly. If you'd like to, that is?" There - he'd finally said it.
"Mathew Quentin Shepherd, are you asking me for a date?" she asked with a glimmer in her eye.
"Maybe," he grinned, "Or, if you prefer, you could consider it just a couple of good friends enjoying some quality time together." 'For now,' he added silently.
"I think I'd like that very much," Margo said smiling.
Disclaimer: SOF is the property of
Rysher, et al this is a
Miss Kathleen A. Klatte