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0600 HOURS

Benny Ray Riddle moved through the tangled undergrowth of the jungle,
silent as a cat. He sensed a slight movement ahead. Stepping around
a tree trunk and bringing his rifle to bear in one swift motion, he
found himself staring down the barrel of Margo's pistol. Benny Ray
jerked his weapon up and away from her, blowing out his breath with
an explosive hiss.

Margo's head fell back to rest against the tree trunk and her gun
hand dropped to the jungle floor. Her face was deathly pale and
streaked with sweat and grime. Blood welled from a gash in her
thigh, soaking through a makeshift bandage.

Benny Ray knelt in front of her, setting down his rifle and shrugging
out of his rucksack. "What happened, darlin'?" he asked, gently
probing her wounded leg.

"One of the guards…had more on his mind than security," she explained
quietly, her tone indicating that the offender no longer had anything
at all on his mind. She winced as a sharp pain shot though her leg.

"I'm sorry," Benny Ray apologized. "How long ago did this happen?"

"Couple hours," Margo replied vaguely.

Concerned, Benny Ray reached out to touch her face. Margo's skin was
cool and clammy with sweat, and she was obviously weakened from the
loss of blood. He rummaged in his pack, coming up with an emergency
medical kit. "Did you clean this at all?"

Margo shook her head negatively. "Too dark…just tried to stop the

Benny Ray gripped her shoulder firmly. "Sweet Pea, I've got to try
to clean this up a little and stop the bleeding before I try to move
you, OK?" Margo didn't answer, and he shook her slightly. "C'mon,
stay with me."

She shook her head slightly. "I'll just slow you down." She pushed
her own pack towards her friend. "I got the evidence. Take it and

"That's not happenin,' Margo, and you know it. Everybody comes home."

She struggled to sit up straight, pushing away from the support of
the tree. "There's enough evidence on those tapes to clean up one of
the biggest drug pipelines in the world. Stopping that inflow of
narcotics is much more important that any one person's life…even

"And it won't do us a bit of good if you get caught and the other
side figures out what we're up to…so I'm just gonna have to clean up
this wound so I can move you safely," Benny Ray replied in a tone of
cool professionalism. He sorted through the small selection of
antiseptics and bandages. "This is gonna hurt some," he told her

Margo nodded tightly.

Sucking in a deep breath, Benny Ray quickly cut away the soiled
bandage, grimacing as he saw the deep, ugly gash. He glanced up at
Margo and saw that her eyes had drifted half-shut and there was a
slightly sick expression on her face. "Darlin', how do you get
yourself into these things?" he asked in a lightly bantering tone,
trying to work as swiftly as possible. Despite his care, Margo's
hands clutched convulsively at her rucksack and tears of pain ran
down her cheeks.

After tying off the bandage, Benny Ray foraged through the kit again,
coming up with some small pill bottles. After carefully examining
the labels, he shook two pills into his hand, then opened a flask of

"What's that?" Margo mumbled.

"Antibiotic," he replied, popping them into her mouth, then raising
the flask to her lips. Margo swallowed obediently, and he handed her
two more capsules.


"Pain killers. I don't think I'll be able to move you without 'em."
Digging out a clean square of gauze, Benny Ray dampened it and gently
wiped Margo's face. "Better?" he asked.

Margo nodded, mustering a small smile for him.

Satisfied, Benny Ray smiled back at her and began gathering up all
evidence of their presence, stuffing everything into his pack. A
twig snapped, and he whirled to face the intruder, gun in hand.

"Hey! Don't shoot - I'm one a da good guys!" Nick Delvecchio
exclaimed, raising his hands in the air.

"You try somethin' like that again and you're gonna be one of the
dead guys," Benny Ray muttered darkly.

"What happened?" Nick asked, eyeing Margo's bandage.

"One of the guards at the estate happened," Benny Ray explained.
"Here," he said, thrusting Margo's pack at Nick.

"Keep that safe…the tapes are inside," Margo instructed.

Nick nodded, securing her pack inside his own.

"How much time do we have to get to the rendezvous?" Benny Ray asked,
picking up his rifle.

Nick checked his watch. "'Bout faw awahs," he reported, his New York
accent becoming more pronounced as his stress levels mounted.

Benny Ray knelt beside Margo again. "OK, darlin,' soon as we get
across the border, we can get you to a real doctor and get you all
fixed up, OK?"

She nodded.

"All right, then, let's get you up."

He slipped his arms around Margo, drawing her carefully to her feet.
Her face turned gray and she clutched at Benny Ray for support. "OK
- it's OK - I've got you," he assured her.

Drawing in a deep, shuddering breath, Margo carefully eased some of
her weight away from Benny Ray and took a tentative step, still
leaning on his shoulder. Sweat beaded her forehead and her face
contorted in agony.

Benny Ray tightened his grip on her before she could fall. His eyes
met Nick's and he shook his head faintly. It was quite evident that
there was no way Margo could walk out of there without assistance,
and entirely possible that they'd need to carry her.

She took another step, gritting her teeth as she tried to take more
of her own weight. Benny Ray slung his rifle over his shoulder,
using both hands to steady her.

"You're doing great," he encouraged her.

Margo shook her head. "Too slow."

"It'll be fine," Benny Ray soothed.

"You should leave me," Margo told them.

"NO!" both men replied in unison.

"You have any idea what Matt would do to us if we left you here?"
Nick protested.

They heard a chopper overhead and shrank back into the shrubbery.
Benny Ray leaned Margo back against a tree and freed his rifle.

As they waited tensely, the sound faded away.

"You think they've figured out that the tapes are missing?" Margo

"I dunno, but I'm not waitin' around to find out. Come on." He bent
to lift her again, but Nick stopped him.

"Let me," he offered. "Keep your hands free - you're a better shot
than I am."

Margo nodded, and Nick stepped in close and slid his arms around her
waist. "You know how long I've dreamed about this moment?" he
whispered in her ear.

Margo rolled her eyes in exasperation, while Benny Ray shot Nick a
look that spoke of serious physical harm.

0830 HOURS

Matt Shepherd drummed his fingers impatiently against the inside of
the car door. He could clearly see the border crossing where he was
supposed to rendezvous with his team…but they weren't there yet. The
time allotted to complete their mission was more then adequate…they
should have been back by now.

Deke Reynolds looked up from the magazine he was trying to read.
"They've still got an hour and a half," he reminded his companion.

"They should have been back by now," Matt insisted. "Something's not

"These people are pros…they'll do what they have to and get out."

"And if they don't?" Matt asked sharply.

The huge man in the driver's seat shrugged casually. "Then we go in
and get them."

0835 HOURS

Margo tensed as she heard footsteps approach her hiding place.

"It's me," Benny Ray's barely audible whisper reached her ears. "How
you doin'?" he asked, crawling in under the fallen log that shielded
her from view.

"Never better," Margo quipped, her voice sounding frail, even to her
own ears. She secured her weapon as Nick joined them in the cramped

Benny Ray and Nick exchanged concerned glances. She'd been growing
progressively weaker as they trekked through the jungle towards the
border, but they were still in enemy territory and didn't dare stop
for very long. At first, their infrequent rest stops had seemed to
help, but now Benny Ray knew they'd be lucky if Margo was still
conscious when they reached the border.

"Were they looking for us?" Margo asked, referring to the patrol
whose presence had forced their delay.

"We didn't stop to ask 'em," Nick replied nonchalantly.

"How you holdin' up?" Benny Ray asked seriously, not liking Margo's

"I'm just fine thanks," Nick replied glibly. He winced as Benny Ray
belted him in the arm.

"I meant Margo," Benny Ray said pointedly.

"I'm all right…really," she said with a wan smile.

He crouched next to her and smoothed her bangs back from her
forehead. "We're almost there, Sweet Pea. We've just got to cross
the border…can you hang on that long?" he asked gently.

"Anything you guys can do…"

"Roger that," Benny Ray chuckled. He uncapped a water bottle and
passed it to her. "Drink up," he urged.

Margo gulped the water greedily, then passed the half-empty bottle
back to him.

Benny Ray shook his head. "I'm fine."

Margo wasn't having any of that however, and she continued to hold
out the bottle until he accepted it and took a small swallow to
placate her.

Nick looked up from checking her bandages and met Benny Ray's gaze.
He shook his head, frowning gravely. The bandage was dirty and
blood-soaked again, but they didn't really have the time or materials
to fix it. The leg was starting to swell around the dressing, too.
He rummaged through the medical kit and handed Margo two more pills.

She frowned. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"I think you need 'em," Nick replied.

Benny Ray nodded his agreement, so Margo shrugged and swallowed the
medication, washing it down with the remainder of the water in the
bottle. Nick took the empty container and stowed it in his pack,
studying her out of the corner of his eye.

"You ready to move out?" Benny Ray asked solicitously.

Margo yawned. "I think so," she murmured. She blinked owlishly for
a moment, then slumped against his shoulder.

Benny Ray looked accusingly at Nick. "What did you give her,
Delvecchio?" he demanded.

"A sedative," Nick admitted. "Look, she woulda kept trying to walk
until she passed out - you know that. At least this way, we have
some control over the situation - and we can move faster if I just
carry her."

Benny Ray glared at him for a long moment, trying to find something
wrong with that argument. He settled for giving Nick another hard
look before returning his attention to Margo. After satisfying
himself that she was breathing properly and resting peacefully, he
shifted slightly so that Nick could scoop up her slight form. "You
be sure and let me know if you get tired," he told the other man.

"I will," Nick promised.

"Don't want you droppin' her or anything," Benny Ray grumbled angrily
as he stepped out onto the trail.

"I'm touched by yer confidence," Nick muttered.

"You pull another stunt like that and you'll be touched by my fist!"

1005 HOURS

Matt Shepherd slapped his hand against the dashboard. "That's it -
let's go!"

"They're only five minutes overdue," Deke pointed out calmly in his
deep voice.

"You know damn well they should have been back hours ago," Matt
retorted. "Or at the very least, someone should have gotten a
message out."

"They were told to wait until they got to the border before they
risked the transponders," Deke reminded him.

Matt, however, was in no mood to be reasonable - he wanted his people
back. Knowing that they could be in trouble and not being able to do
anything about it was enough to make him crazy. Finally, he heard
Benny Ray's voice through his headset.

"Sir…" There was a sharp crackle of static. "Sir…"

"Benny Ray! Where the hell are you?"

More static. Then, suddenly, Benny Ray's voice was replaced with
Nick's. "Matt? We got problems here."

"What do you need?"

"We need a lift outta here, and Margo needs a doctor."

"What happened to her?" Matt demanded as a cold knot of fear settled
into his gut.

"She had a run-in wit one a da guards and his pet machete. We gave
her a sedative ta make it easier ta move her, but she's bleedin'
pretty bad."

"Understood. How far are you from the border?"

"I can see it from here," Nick reported, "but it's patrolled."

"No chance you can get through?"

There was another burst of static, then Benny Ray's voice broke
through. "That's a negative, sir."

"Has your objective been achieved?" Matt asked.

"Yes, sir, Major, it has," Benny Ray informed him.

"Standby," Matt instructed. He stared out the window, trying to
arrange his thoughts. He had three operatives in enemy territory.
Margo was unconscious - that meant that someone else had to carry her
- Nick, most likely, since Benny Ray was the better marksman. One
defender against an unknown number of assailants. Unacceptable. The
part of him that was a mission commander screamed that he should
order Benny Ray to take the evidence against the drug lords and
proceed across the border immediately. The part of him that was
Quentin Shepherd's son screamed equally loud that no member of the
team could ever be left behind, no matter the circumstances.
Everybody comes home - his rule - constant and irrevocable. The rule
that had cost him his military career…and saved his soul.

Deke watched the ebb and tide of emotions play across Matt's
countenance. He saw the two arguments join a battle that ended in
stalemate, no matter how hard Matt tried to find a way around it.
"Both," he rumbled quietly.

"What was that?" Matt asked, startled.

"You're trying to decide if you should make the mission your priority
or the team. Don't decide. Do both."

"And how do you propose we do that?"

Deke shrugged. "Drive down and get them."

"Uh-huh. And what's to keep the border guards from taking us out as
soon as we get in range?"

Deke grinned wolfishly. "A little something I've got stashed in the

A relieved smile flooded Matt's face. "Benny Ray?"

"Yessir," came the immediate response.

"Hold your position. We're coming to get you."

1032 HOURS

Benny Ray crept to the edge of the underbrush, peering out
cautiously. The way was clear, so he gestured Nick forward. They
saw a dark four-by-four stop at the border crossing. The guards gave
it a cursory look and waved it through. The vehicle rolled onto the
road that ran into the jungle then made some show of putting on the
hazard lights and pulling over.

Deke exited the car, making an overly casual gesture of opening up
the back - as though searching for a toolbox. He scanned the
surrounding area until he spotted Benny Ray and nodded once.

"OK, people, we're almost home," Benny Ray muttered, tightening his
grip on his rifle. "Ready?" he asked Nick.

"As I'll ever be," the other man replied fervently.

They broke cover, running for the four-by-four. The border guards
spotted them and shouts and gunshots rang out. Benny Ray returned

Deke straightened from the back of the car, providing cover fire with
something that resembled a miniature bazooka.

Suddenly, Nick grunted in pain and stumbled to his knees. Benny Ray
crouched over his two fallen comrades, laying down a field of fire.
"Can you walk?" he grated out.

Nick rolled over, clutching at his shoulder. "Yeah!"

"Then do it!"

"What about Margo?" Nick yelled over the thunderous din of gunfire.

"I'll take care of her. Go!"

Drawing his sidearm, Nick weaved towards the car and dove inside.
Once he was sure Nick was safe, Benny Ray hoisted Margo over his
shoulder in a fireman's carry. He backed towards the car, firing as
he went. When he was close enough to the vehicle, Deke covered him
as he turned and delivered his precious burden.

"Deke! We're buggin' out!" he hollered as Matt revved the engine.

Deke nodded, still firing and backed into the car. He leaned out the
open window and continued to shoot, covering their escape as Matt
sped back across the border.

1400 HOURS

Margo was sitting up in bed when Matt, Benny Ray and Nick trooped
into her room. She was wearing a pale pink robe and her hair had
been washed and loosely brushed out over her shoulders. There was a
healthy flush on her cheeks and her eyes were alert.

"How'd it go?" she demanded immediately.

Matt grinned as he bent to kiss her cheek. "You look much better
today," he remarked, presenting her with a large bouquet of flowers.

"Thank you," she replied automatically. "But how did it go?"

"The doctor said you should be able to get out of here in a couple
more days," Nick added conversationally.

"Fine, but how did it go?" Margo asked again, tapping her fingers
impatiently. "I swear, Nick, if you don't tell me I'm gonna break
your other shoulder!"

Matt looked at her exasperated expression and grinned. Delvecchio
had already dissolved into helpless guffaws.

It was Benny Ray who finally took pity on her. "It went down just
fine, darlin.' The evidence we brought back was enough for InterPol
to move on that compound in Colombia. The organization that was
responsible for the largest drug trafficking ring in this part of the
world has now been effectively dismantled."

"Thank you," she replied, smiling radiantly. She held out her hand
and Benny Ray took it, squeezing her fingers gently. "Thank you for
getting me out of there."

"It was my pleasure, ma'am. Like the man says…everybody comes home.
Even Nick," he added.

"Whadda ya mean by that?" Nick demanded in an injured tone as the
group burst out laughing.


"I've never tried a stand-alone SOF fic before, so I hope I got all the
details right! Feedback is most welcome." Kath....

Disclaimer: SOF is the property of Rysher, et al this is a
recreational endeavor, no profit is being made and no copyright
infringement is intended.

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