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Author: LadyD
Rating: Rated R - Graphic violence, mild sexual innuendos featured in this fic.
Summary: Red Cross mission in the Jungles of Mexico goes awry. The team must come to the rescue?
Disclaimer: The SOF team and associated characters are not mine, they belong to Rysher. No profit is made by my use of the Rysher characters only the enjoyment of SOFers everywhere.

Silver Star
Friday 2130 hrs

Matt, Margo, Chance and CJ sat at a corner table sipping their drinks and discussing the latest news.

"So what exactly do we do now Major," CJ whined. Does he expect us to just sit here and wait for him?

Matt laughed at the Brits logic. "No CJ, I don't think Trout expects that at all. I think he's genuinely going to take a vacation and thinks we should do the same."

"A real vacation," Margo breathes reverently. I think I'll go to Greece."

"Greece," Chance laughs, "What's in Greece?"

"Mmmmm, the sun the sea and oh yes did I mention the Greek men?

Matt chuckled as he turned to look at the beautiful face of the woman he loved but was reluctant to approach.

"Where's Benny Ray," CJ asked sulkily.

Margo pipes in saying, "Our Benny Ray had a date."

"Benny Ray - a date," CJ laughed. "Who is this paragon?"

"Diana," Matt quips.

"Are those two finally getting serious," Chance asks.

Laughing Margo says, "Diana wants to enlist his help for a Red Cross mission down in Mexico. The area's been hit pretty hard by drought and the Red Cross is sending supplies and medical assistance in. At this very moment Diana is wining and dining him in the hope he'll feel obligated and go with her."

"With two weeks off I'm surprised he's not going to visit his kids," CJ says.

"Mary Ellen is taking them to her Mothers so Benny Ray is out of luck," Margo answers.

"Ahhh, here's the man of the hour now," Chance whispered.

Matt looked at the couple as they walked through the crowded bar. Their heads close together as they whispered and laughed about something. Benny Ray looked up and waved as they drew closer, "Move over Mate," he quips as he slaps CJ arms companionably. Handing Diana in he slides in beside her.

"So what's the verdict," Margo asks laughingly.

"Oh I had to twist his arm, and promise him the moon but he finally agreed to go," Diana chuckled as she turned to Benny Ray childishly sticking her tongue out at him.

His hearty laughter filled the room before he wrinkled his nose saying, "Sleeping on the ground the air filled with dust and dirt, tromping through the woods, surrounded by flies and mosquitoes! A dream come true, what more could a man ask!

Those around the table break into laughter at the rapturous look on their friends face.

"You my friend are a sick, sick man," CJ chuckled.

"What do you do for entertainment when you're out there, you don't work the whole time do you?" Margo asked.

"There's always bird watching or additions to my insect collection," Benny Ray joked.

Pinching him in the side Diana chuckled before saying. "Most of the villages we visit have lots of children. We play kickball or Frisbee with them, but their favorite sport is American Baseball. They don't get to play very often. Most of the kids don't have any mitts or bats. So we just kinda play with sticks or a tree limb and tennis balls or whatever we can find at the time. But the kids love it and we get a little exercise while we're at it."

"When do you leave," Matt asks, "and you are taking the Satcom phone right!"

"We take off Monday Sir," Benny Ray answers. "We'll spend Tuesday in Mexico City, inventorying equipment and loading the trucks."

Diana picks up where Benny Ray leaves off, "After lunch we'll head for our first assignment, a little village about 300 miles south. Yes, Matt we are taking a Satcom phone or two with us."

The evening wears on, as they sit drinking and laughing companionably.

Day 1
Aztec Hotel, Mexico City
Monday 1530 hrs

Benny Ray and Diana had made a quick trip to the warehouse to ensure the trucks and supplies were on hand. The rest of the team would rendezvous at 0800 hrs the following morning to inventory the gear. The equipment consisted mostly of medical gear, vaccines and supplies. The villages on their route were very remote. The Red Cross in conjunction with the Mexican government sent medical teams into remote areas of southern Mexico several times a year. The drought only made the mission more imperative. People were dying and some of the villagers had never had the benefit of doctors or dentists and the Mexican government wanted to change that. This was Diana's second venture into the jungles of southern Mexico.

It took them only a few minutes to count the boxes before Diana huffed in surprise. Shouting his name Diana called Benny Ray to her side. "Do you have any idea what these five boxes are?"

"What boxes," he grumped.

"These boxes, the one's with your name on them."

"My name," he grumbled, "They were suppose to have your name on them."

Turning Diana gave Benny Ray a deep assessing look, on guard as she noticed the quirky half smile and mischievous look in his eyes."

"What did you do," she asked laughingly.

"I didn't do a thing," he answered slowly.

"Somehow I doubt that," she answered huffily. "So are you going to tell me what's in them?"

"No!" he answered with a straight face. "You're going to have to discover that for yourself."

Glaring at him for several seconds Diana pulled open one of the boxes. Crowing in delight when she pulled several baseball mitts from the box."

"How! Why!" Diana asked in awe as she looked up at him.

"For the kids, can't have them playing baseball with sticks and tennis balls - its un-American."

With a mitt in each hand Diana threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight as the tears rolled down her face. Kissing him she pulls away saying, "Now I know why I love you!"

Benny Ray stood stunned at her words shouting, "You what!"

Turning startled eyes back to him she says, "What!"

"You just said that you loved me," he whispered.

Dropping her eyes she turned away with a wave of her hand saying, "It's just a figure of speech, I didn't mean anything by it."

"Diana, look at me," he says touching her cheek lightly. "Tell me the truth!"

Slowly Diana turned to face him, knowing she wasn't going to be able to brush him off with flippant comments or half-truths. His sapphire blue eyes softened but still glittered with questions. He saw pain and vulnerability flash across her face, but he had to know the truth..

She didn't want to tell him, things between them had settled into a quiet comfortable relationship. She was thrilled that he wanted to spend time with her and she treasured every moment of that time. Baring her soul to him now could so easily change that and she didn't want it to happen.

She sighed and plopped down on top of the boxes. "Do you remember the night we met?" Without waiting for a reply Diana continued. "You walked into that ballroom like you owned the place. From across the room I could see you moving, hunting and searching. Your eyes never rested in once place for very long. You were like a Tiger amongst a herd of Lambs picking out the choicest morsel. A prowling beast ready to strike! I was drawn to you, like a horse to water. Something compelled me to find out who you were. As I came to stand beside you everything changed. The ice I saw in your eyes melted and you became a different person, soft and gentle. Seconds later you swept me off my feet and into your arms. We danced and I was lost."

Diana's eyes filled with pains as she looked up.

"It was magical and I couldn't help myself. I hadn't felt like that in a very long time. When the dance ended and you moved away I felt abandoned and the very fiber of my being ached to be wrapped in your arms once more. As I stepped away I saw the Tiger rise again. Then a few minutes later the Tiger struck and your prey - Michael was left torn and bleeding. That night you slayed a dragon for me!"

"You became this enchanting romantic chivalrous knight - my protector. You charged into my life and made me feel again. It was inevitable that I would fall in love with you."

She looked up to see a comical yet stricken look on his face and she charged on.

"That's not the only reason I fell in love with you, when I got to know you that love only deepened. I love the person inside you! Your honesty, your integrity, and especially your loyalty I've seen the kindness and the compassion inside you and the way you always think of others before yourself. I've seen you put your life on the line for those you love and those you barely know. Your friends and family are the most important things in your life and I love you for that. I can't help the way I feel Benny Ray and nothing can change that."

Not knowing what to say he stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her drawing her close.

Diana wondered if her confession would change their relationship. Until now, they had been friends and lovers with no commitment or thought of commitment between them. Her heart ached knowing how things could so easily change.

Behind them a door creaked open and loud boisterous voices chatting in Spanish echoed through the warehouse. The slamming of the door caused them to jump apart like a couple of kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Benny Ray looked down at the tears glistening on her cheeks. Wiping them away with his thumbs he cups her face in his hands and tilts her head up to his. Gently he brushes her lips with his before whispering, "We'll talk later!"

Smiling gently Diana ruthlessly brushes the tears from her face as the voices drew closer. Pulling herself together Diana greets the Customs officer and his team before they begin the discussion. Behind her Benny Ray, his eyes thoughtful, watched as she quickly switches gears all signs of their previous discussion gone.

Aztec Hotel
Approx. 2200 hrs

Dinner had been a quiet affair, both lost in though. The crowded restaurant was not the place for a private discussion. As the band began to play Benny Ray stood up reaching for Diana's hand. She rose gracefully to her feet and place her hand in his. Together they made their way onto the dance floor. The music was sweetly romantic, a waltz, its tune a rise and fall of heartrending emotion and they gave themselves up to the music as they circled the floor. They danced for hours lost in the quiet and contentment of each other company. The last song of the evening was another waltz the same waltz they had shared that first evening in the embassy a long time ago. Benny Ray pulled Diana close and swept her across the floor. The air between them became thick with emotion. Electrified, their bodies melded together. Their eyes met. Hungrily Benny Ray leaned down and captured her lips the heat between them rising.

Diana groaned at the fires he ignited within her. Pulling away she looked into blue eyes blazing with desire.

Stepping back Benny Ray pulled Diana from the floor, throwing a few bill on the table they quietly left the restaurant heading for the hotel.

Taking the room key from her purse Diana opened the door leading the way inside. Slowly she turned as Benny Ray kicked the door closed behind him. Gently his fingers took the key and purse from her hands and dropped them carelessly on a small table. Dimming the lights he flipped the switch on the radio. A sweet lilting tune swept through the room as he gathered her into his arms and carried her into the bedroom. His fingers caressed her body through the thin silk of her dress. Her skin grew hot beneath his touch throbbing hungrily.

Day 2
Aztec Hotel
Tuesday 0625 hrs

Benny Ray slowly returned to consciousness, Diana's warm soft body nestled close beside him. He reached over and stroked her cheek tucking a stray lock of blonde hair behind her ear. At his touch she sighed and snuggled closer and he smiled.

He was a stunned that this woman lying beside him, so strong and self-assured loved him. He looked up at the ceiling as his fingers tenderly traced a path across her shoulder. She had always kept herself a little apart from him. Giving of her body but never her self. Her declaration of love had surprised him. Her assessment of his character amazed him. He had never thought of himself as particularly kind or compassionate but seeing the pain in her eyes had melted his heart.

He'd had more than his fair share of women but his record was far from perfect. Two failed marriages made him shy away from commitments. But the feelings Diana evoked were far from platonic. When he was with her he felt different, whole somehow, why that scared him he didn't know.

They'd worked together on several missions, she was good, damn good and he never hesitated knowing she was protecting his back. They made a great team!

He lay there trying to examine the feeling he had for her. He felt protective of her and would give his life to safeguard her from harm but he would have done the same for anyone on his team. Did he love her? He thought maybe he did.

He drifted back to sleep thoughts of her flitting through his mind. He awoke with a start sitting upright as the alarm on the nightstand went off. Wrapped in his arms Diana was dragged up with him. Her fist came up at the sudden movement and Benny Ray laughed at her fighting stance. She looked like a spitting kitten with her claws outstretched ready to strike.

Her movements were instinctive but her naked body aroused a different emotion in him.

She blinked several time before she realized that it was only the alarm that had shaken her from a sound sleep. She blushed furiously as she lowered her fists and brushed the hair from her face. It had been a long time since she had felt so defensive.

"Good Morning," she purred.

He groaned in response but a knock at the door interrupted their play.

It was Diana's turn to groan as she grabbed her wrapper from the chair and headed for the door. Peeking through the security hole she mumbled something indistinguishable before opening the door a crack to peer into the hallway.

Benny Ray saw the businesslike mask as it dropped into place, she stood straight and tall as she greeted the man at the door. The conversation was short and she smiled at the intruder before closing the door. She mumbled something unintelligible and turned, resting her back and head against the door.

"That was Mike, we are suppose to meet downstairs in forty-five minutes."

Swinging his legs off the bed Benny Ray headed for the shower. A few minutes later, squeaky clean he shrugged on a light blue polo shirt and tucked it into a faded pair of blue jeans. Lost in thought Benny Ray sat on the bed lacing the strings of his boots as he glanced at the woman walking across the room. One minute she was a gentle passionate lover, the next moment a fierce warrior, seconds later replaced by a cool calm professional.

Somehow Benny Ray knew he'd lost control of the situation, his jumbled thoughts sent a shiver of apprehension coursing down his back. Double knotting the laces he pulled the leg of his jeans down over his boot and stood up. He took a deep breath and pulled himself back under control. Unaware that the mask he had so recently attributed to Diana had dropped into place on his own inscrutable visage. His sapphire blue eyes held a hint of melancholy as he stowed his gear.

Red Cross Warehouse
Mexico City 1030 hrs

Benny Ray stood leaning against one of the vehicles. They'd only been fifteen minutes late to breakfast and Benny Ray had gotten his first glimpse of his traveling companions for the next ten days. The little troop consisted of a second medical doctor by the name of Mike a dentist Henry and his assistant/wife Darlene. Two nurses Julie and Jennifer were there to assist the doctors. Rounding out the little group were two other men assigned to the team as general help and drivers. In Benny Ray's mind the two men were to all intents and purposes bodyguards and security. He was glad to see that they weren't the run of the mill bodyguard wannabe's. From their stance and carriage they were professionals probably military or Intel trained and they took their jobs seriously. They had been introduced as Mark and Peter and Benny Ray looked forward to working with them.

Like him Mark and Peter carried permits allowing them to carry rifles and concealed weapons during their forays into the Mexican Jungle. Though trouble was not expected the interior jungle was a dangerous place. The land was filled with deadly animals and reptile ready to munch on any unsuspecting intruders.

Nine people in all set out with three loaded vehicles - Humvee's six hours later. Traveling south they stopped at dusk and set up camp turning in early. Another half day of traveling would see the team at their first village.

As they drew away from the city the terrain began to change, the far-reaching evidence of a deadly drought was everywhere. Leafless trees and dry cracked riverbeds littered the landscape. Bleached bones of thirsty starving animals littered the landscape. The fields lay barren as only the strongest of weeds, now brown and lifeless beat their way through the hard packed earth.

Approaching noon the convoy pulled into the town, a small remote village of about 200 people. Some of which had never seen a doctor or dentist in their lives.

Mike was team leader, this being his fourth trip into the area. He greeted the village elder with respect telling him of their mission. It wasn't long before the villagers were lined up. Many surly faces stared at the newcomers but as the tents and equipment were set up and the sick and wounded dealt with the attitudes began to change. Smiling faces became the norm and the atmosphere turned to a hearty welcome.

Benny Ray shared an amused glance with Diana as a gaggle of chattering, reluctant children were herded toward their tent. Speaking in Spanish, Diana calmed their fears as she inoculated them against the areas most virulent diseases.

Hours later Diana pushed a stray lock of hair from her face as she stretched the kinks from her back and arms. It was nearing eight pm and the team had worked non-stop for close to eight hours and Diana knew it would be at least another hour maybe more before the current group of people would be taken care of.

Her face lit up when Benny Ray came through the door carrying a tall glass of iced tea and a ham and cheese sandwich. "Take a break," he whispered, "I think you deserve it."

"Mmmm," she whispered, "This is heavenly, thank you," Though she continued to work.

"I just love modern technology," Diana murmured. Not surprised when she found the vehicles were equipped with heavy-duty batteries and refrigerators that ran on propane gas designed to last for several weeks. They had even provided a portable X-ray machine and the team had dubbed it Bertha. And over the coming days Bertha would see a lot of use.

It wasn't until the afternoon of the next day that the boxes of baseball equipment were brought out. The children laughed with glee as the gloves, bats and balls were handed out. The game became a riotous comedy of errors as the children broke every rule they were taught and created new rules as the game went on. The Red Cross team split themselves between the two opposing teams to help the children learn the game. What the adults learned was how easily they bruised.

The first inning was a learning game. After that it was a free for all. The teams were evenly matched as the innings rolled on. Henry was the first to fall victim to the children's abundance of energy. Playing shortstop he and the third baseman made a play for ball at the same time. Henry and a young man of thirteen collided as they both reached for a ground ball. It was a riotous tumble of arms and legs. The third baseman walked away clean. Henry on the other hand had taken an elbow to the eye. The swelling and purple bruise was already forming as he lay on his back in the dust groaning. Everyone rushed to his aid, most tried hard to suppress the laughter.

Darlene tugged him to a sitting position as Mike checked the eye and poked at the bruise. "You'll live," he declared.

Trying hard not to laugh Darlene jumped to her feet yelling, "I'll get some ice."

"I'm gonna strangle her," they all heard Henry mumble.

Mike hauled him to his feet and Henry sat out the rest of the game with an ice pack plastered to his eye.

A quiet good natured rivalry began between Mark and Benny Ray to see who could run the fastest, hit the farthest and catch the most balls. After the first game Mark had proved the hardest hitter, but Benny Ray had caught the most ball. The next couple of games saw them evenly matched but they had many more games to play.

The team stayed at the first village several days, using it as a central point and making daily excursions into the forests to check some of the outlying villages. Some villages were hit hard by the drought, but all still had fresh water. But if the drought continued for much longer the water wasn't going to stay fresh for long.

The morning of the fifth day saw the team loaded and heading south. Their next stop was another 200 miles to the southwest. They would be stopping there for two days.

Day 6

The tiny village boasted less than 60 occupants but the children were overjoyed at the baseball equipment, to the determent of the team. Once Henry's eye had healed it was discovered that he was outstanding pitcher. Darlene had made the mistake of telling Mark and Pete of his prowess. Fast Pitch was his game and two out of three times the ball would fly by the two bodyguards. They were determined to conquer his pitch but so far had failed miserably.

The two nurses had opted out of playing - they had become the designated Umpires. Darlene was playing on Mark, Mike and Pete's team, Diana, Benny Ray and Henry their opponents. It was a toss up as to who was enjoying the games most, the children or the adults.

Pete and Benny Ray had been chosen to play the catchers positions. They seemed to be the quickest at dodging wild pitches and carelessly tossed bats.

The villagers and the Red Cross team spent many satisfying though not very relaxing hours playing ball.

Day 8

The teams third and last stop was another hundred miles south. The village consisted of over a hundred people most were older men and women, but there were at least a dozen or more children ready to tackle the game of baseball.

A young boy of about 12 had attached himself to Benny Ray. Petri was his name and the boys' loyalty and fervor had garnered a lot of ribbing from Mark and Peter. Petri had been dubbed the "Squire." Benny Ray spent many hours with the boy. The boys' father had been killed when he was nine and his mother was happy to see her son smiling again after so many years.

The baseball games in the new village were no different from the previous ones. The children played the game with reckless abandon. Running, crunching, smashing and laughter were the norm.

Mark and Peter had yet to connect a solid hit off of Henry. Henry of course saved his best and fastest pitches for the duo.

Day 9

Mike was the next to fall victim to the game's intensity. It was the top of the third inning and Mike was playing second base. The youngster hit a solid hit over the shortstops head. As the young hitter rounded first the outfielder threw the ball hoping to catch him out at second. Thrown high, Mike leaped and twisted in the air only to see the runner sprinting beneath him. Twisting sideways Mike came down hard on his left leg and the ankle twisted beneath him.

Bertha was warmed up and ice was called for as his shoe and sock were stripped away. Thirty minutes later Mike sat on the sidelines with his ice wrapped ankle propped up. His injury didn't stop him from cheering and jeering as he saw fit.

Day 10

The spent two days in the village proper. The third day saw them heading east for a small village in the mountains. The drought had hit the little village hard, many of their animals were dead or dying and the water was nearly gone. Mike, from his crutches tried to convince the villagers to leave and head into the valley where water and forage was available. But it was their home and few would take his advice.

They had two days left before they were scheduled to return to Mexico City. That evening's game would be the last of their baseball. The next two days would see the team heading west to care for several small settlements in the mountains. The villagers would loan them guides, horses and pack animals for the three-hour journey.

But for now they children had coaxed them into playing one more game. The game started tamely enough, until Pete finally managed to get a sold hit on one of Henry's pitches making it to third base. The children were wound to a fever pitch as Mark came to bat. All he needed was a single and Pete would score and the game would be won.

Benny Ray heckled Mark mercilessly as he stepped up to the plate. But Mark only dug in harder. The first pitch flew by and Mark swung with all his might. Whoosh, and behind them Jennifer cried "Strike!" The children screamed and the crowd roared with excitement.

The second pitch flew by high and wide to the outside and the cry this time was "Ball!"

On the pitchers mound Henry caressed the ball and smirked across at Mike. Winding up he threw it fast and hard. Mike swung and the bat in his hand shivered as it connected, but the ball swerved right out of play.

The crowd roared overshadowing the slight cracking sound from the bat in Mark's hands.

Mark's eyes grew hard as he hunkered down into this stance and lifted the bat into position. Behind him, his mitt at the ready Benny Ray settled the catchers mask into place. The crowd grew deathly quiet; the count rang out - 1 ball 2 strikes. Winding up Henry threw the ball fast and straight, Mark saw it and grinned, it was perfect and he swung. The earth-shattering crack of ball against bat released the tension and the crowd jumped to their feet.

But instead of flying outward the ball tumbled onto the field as the ominous cracking of the bat reverberated around the tiny clearing. The bat split in two as the ball connected. Mark stepped toward first base and glanced at the broken bat in his hand.

Down the first base line Diana heard the crack. She spun toward home and saw the end of the bat as it flew backwards at Benny Ray. It hit hard and she saw him lifted off his feet as he toppled backward to lie still. With a small cry Diana sprinted down the first base line sliding to a stop on her knees beside him.

He lay deathly still his eyes closed as she reached to feel for a pulse. The rise and fall of his chest and the hammering pulse was mute evidence he was alive. Beneath her touch he began to move as Mike knelt on his other side. Benny Ray's movements were stiff and jerky as he tried to lift his hands to his head.

"Take it easy Benny Ray," Diana whispered. His head moved toward the sound and that's when she got her first look at the mask. The bat had hit the left side of his head and the twisted wire of the mask was bent and broken. A rivulet of blood seeped down the left side of his face. Purpling bruises were already forming on his forehead and cheek.

Diana looked up at the hovering faces around her and snapped into action. "Jen go fire up Bertha, Petri get my bag out of the tent. Mike hold him while I take the mask off."

She could feel Benny Ray's body shivering beneath her touch. His brow was deeply etched with lines of pain as she moved closer and whispered in his ear. "We're here Benny Ray, we're right beside you. I need you to lie still for me, can you do that?"

Slowly she could feel him calm beneath her touch though his body still trembled. She gently lifted the twisted mask from his face. But a piece of the broken metal was imbedded in the skin. With a gentle tug the metal came away and the torn skin flowed red as the pressure was released and the blood began to stream from the wound. Beside her Petri laid the medical bag on the ground. Pulling out a wad of gauze Diana laid it across the cut trying to stop the bleeding as she assessed the damage.

"Looks like it might need a couple of stitches," Mike whispered.

On the ground Benny Ray lay in a world of tortured silence. The fire in his head left no room for thought. He could barely draw breath. The darkness hovered around him like the inky blackness of a moonless night. Only a tantalizingly familiar voice kept the darkness at bay.

"Benny Ray can you hear me, open your eyes," she whispered. It seemed like a lifetime before he answered Diana's call.

"Come on Big Guy, come talk to me," she coaxed. She saw his eyes open but he didn't answer.

The voice was insistent and his eyes fluttered open but he couldn't see. His world was gray and blurry as he tried to focus on something other than the pain hammering away at his consciousness.

She tried again calling his name. This time he swallowed convulsively before his voice whispered her name. "Diana."

Above him Diana sighed in relief, "Hey Big Guy, welcome back to the land of the living."

Benny Ray chuckled then grimaced as the hammering in his head struck anew.

Diana heart twisted at the pain she saw on his face. She whispered his name again calling, "Benny Ray," and waited as his eyes flickered open once more.

"Do you know what happened?"

"Not sure," his cracking voice whispered.

"Do you know where you are?"

Benny Ray grinned a crooked little smile before answering, "Lying in the dirt in the middle of a field somewhere in Mexico."

Diana sighed in relief.

Taking a deep breath Benny Ray tried to rise, but the effort was too much for his pain-wracked skull. He sank back to the ground and closed his eyes as the lashing pain pounded him.

Gentle insistent hands lifted him carefully onto the stretcher Mark had laid beside him. A few minutes later Benny Ray was comfortably settled in bed and Bertha was put to work. He was barely aware of Mike and Diana as they quickly and quietly went to work. It took four stitches to close the cut on his forehead and by then the X-Rays were ready.

Together Mike and Diana looked at the films. "Concussion," they both agreed.

"Should we call for a medivac," Jennifer asked cautiously.

"I don't think so Jen," Mike answered. "He's got a concussion, but I've seen worse. The best thing for him now is rest and quiet."

A crowd had gathered outside the tent awaiting news. Petri has snuck beneath the waiting crowd to stand at the foot of Benny Ray's bed. He needed to assure himself that Benny Ray still lived. Petri's heart had turned in his chest when he had seen his friend go down.

"Is he going to be all right," Petri whispered to Diana.

Kneeling beside the boy Diana gathered him close saying, "He'll be fine Petri, it takes more than a little bump on the head to take Benny Ray out. I can personally attest to that fact." Chuckling Diana's thoughts turned back to their first encounter.

"Why don't you sit with him a while, I'm sure he'd like that."

Diana's heart ached at the pain she had seen reflected in Benny Ray's eyes and on his face, but there was nothing she could do. Medications would ease the pain but also mask a more serious injury. Right now and for the next several hours he would need careful watching.

Benny Ray lay still and silent. His stomached recoiled each time he moved. He could hear voices all around him but choose to ignore them. It was the only way he could deal with the pain and nausea encompassing his meager world.

Diana and Petri waited beside him as evening settled over the little village. Diana called him back to life several time. He wanted to ignore the call but he knew she needed him to answer. His eyes fluttered open and he would whisper her name before his lids grew heavy once more.

He awoke near midnight to find her sitting beside him reading by the soft glow of a lantern. He turned his head and immediately regretted it, hissing as the hammering commenced once more. The pain washed away and he opened his eyes to see her hovering over him.

"Hey," she whispered in greeting, "Are you feeling any better?"

"Not really," he whispered knowing she wouldn't stand for any evasiveness.

"You took a pretty good hit, you had Petri here worried."

"Is he ok," Benny Ray asked his voice filled with concern.

"He's fine, he's been here all night, I didn't have the heart to send him away."

"He's a good kid," Benny Ray murmured.

"Yes he is," she answered.

Benny Ray grinned wryly as he spoke again, "I hate baseball!"

Diana laughed softly at the comical expression on his face. "It wasn't that bad was it?"

"I never realized how dangerous the game of baseball could be, it's been one disaster after another since we stared this trip."

"True," she answered, "but I don't think anyone regrets a minute of it, and you shouldn't either."

"God," he whispered, "It feels like someone dropped an anvil on my skull. I don't suppose you could turn back the clock and we could start this day all over again."

"I wish," she muttered beside him.

"Baseball," he murmured, "I can still remember the first time I played the game. Only it wasn't really baseball. It was more like that stickball you talk about back at the Silver Star. God that brought back some old memories! My brother, Billy Joe had found an old tennis ball and I snuck into the house and stole the handle from my mom's broom. We played for hours that day. Mom tanned my hide for taking the handle. She didn't care that we were playing with it; she was more upset I took it without asking."

"We could get lost in that game and most days we did. Forgetting about everything when we were playing. Somehow mom scraped up enough money to buy us a real bat and ball that Christmas."

Diana watched as his eyes changed, going all soft and dreamy.

"That was the best Christmas I ever had," he whispered before drifting back to sleep.

Diana leaned down brushing her lips against his cheek. She hugged the memory close as she tucked the blanket around him and settled back in the chair. He rarely talked about his childhood. It wasn't that he had a bad childhood, just painful in many ways.

Day 11 - 0600 hrs

Diana had slept in the chair and woken early. Her bags were already packed and the little entourage would set off at 0630 for the mountain trail. She looked forward to spending time in the saddle; she rarely got the chance to ride these days. Quietly she went about her business. Petri had been shooed out of the tent thirty minutes ago. He was to be one of the guides leading them into the mountain. He had reluctantly left and only because she had convinced him Benny Ray would be fine.

Benny Ray stirred at her movement and woke slowly. The pain in his head remained, though at a more manageable level. He suddenly remembered the team was headed into the mountains and pulled himself up into a sitting position and slid his feet to the floor. He grabbed for the side of the bed as the world around him spun crazily.

Diana reached out and grabbed him, pushing him back onto the bed. She growled at him saying, "I don't think so big guy, you are staying put!"


"No buts, you are staying right there in that bed until I get back, do you understand me?"

"Yes Ma'am," he whispered giving in gracefully, the ache in his head more than enough to convince him he had no business going anywhere.

He reached up wrapping his hand around her neck, drawing her close. "Be careful," he whispered.

Diana smiled down at him, "I will."

He grinned as he pulled he closer, kissing her gently.

Diana sighed and broke the contact, "Mike is here, his ankles' still swollen so he's not able to travel. He'll be in to check on you and change the bandage. If you need anything, just holler, he'll come hobbling," she chuckled.

Diana leaned close stealing another kiss before she walked away.

Mountain Trail
0915 hours

They had spent nearly three hours in the saddle, their guide had informed them the village was near and they would reach it in less than 30 minutes. The little group rode slowly, Jen and Darlene not as comfortable in the saddle as the rest of them.

Nearly and hour ago Diana had sensed something, the jungle was quiet, too quiet. Birds chirped close by, but several times she had seen them startled into flight. Mark had taken up the lead with the guide beside him. Slowing down she had made her feeling know to Pete who was riding behind her. Henry, Darlene, Jen and Julie were spread out in the middle of the little group, with Petri directly in front of her.

It happened suddenly, the air was split with wild cries as arrows hissed through the trees. She heard howls of pain as arrows struck their targets. Behind her Pete was knocked from his horse an arrow protruding from his shoulder. He pulled the Glock from its holster and fired shot after shot into the forest. Pulling the rifle from its scabbard Diana jumped off her horse. She could hear the frantic cries of the little group as the arrows continued to rain down. Reaching up she pulled Petri from his horse. "Run, Hide," she whispered. Scared eyes looked up at her as she hugged him tight before pushing him into the underbrush.

Petri scrambled into the brush moving as quietly as he could before he found a hiding place in the rocks. There he waited shivering hands covering his ears as the sounds of battle raged below him.

Mark had gone down hard, an arrow in his side. He lay silent and unmoving. The guide beside him lay face down in the dirt a deadly arrow protruding from the middle of his back. Henry had taken an arrow in the leg but the fall from his horse had knocked him unconscious. Diana could hear the other women's screams as one by one the men went down. Then it struck her, none of the women had been harmed, only the men. And that frightened her more than anything else.

Ten feet away Pete continued to fire though his left arm was useless. She lifted the rifle to her shoulder and sighted off into the brush. The crosshairs of the scope found movement in the brush and she fired. She didn't wait to see the man fall from his perch to lie senseless on the hard ground. Swinging the rifle left she spied another target and pulled the trigger. A second man went down. Behind her Pete stopped to reload. He was caught off guard as an arrow found it's mark in his chest. He gurgled a last dying breath as Diana turned toward him. The forest went deathly quiet as Pete hit the ground.

To her left she heard Darlene screaming in panic, "No, leave me alone," she pleaded, "Please let me go."

Masculine voices spoke harshly as Darlene continued to scream. More dark bodies drifted out of the forest capturing Jennifer and Julie. She could hear the rustling of brush as they moved in her direction. But their attackers had seen her use of the weapon and knew she wouldn't hesitate to use it on them. The three women stepped onto the trail each held captive by a grotesquely painted figure behind them.

A deep voice echoed through the forest. Diana spun to face them the rifle tucked into the pocket of her shoulder.

A voice clamored for her attention as the man holding Julie shook her hard. "I don't understand what you want," Julie cried. "I don't understand."

But Diana understood, the voice was telling her to put the weapon down and give herself up. Anger burned inside her but Diana knew she really had no choice. Slowly she stood but the weapon at her shoulder never wavered. Only one bullet remained in the rifle she had buried the box beneath the brush, unwilling to loose a loaded rifle to the savages standing before her. Ever so slowly she dropped the rifle to her side. Rough hands pulled it from her grip and grabbed for her. Unwilling to give in gracefully Diana kicked out hitting one of the men in the groin. She gloated as he grabbed for his privates and hit the ground groaning in pain. Lashing out once more she caught a second attacker in the nose. Blood gushed from his broken nose as three more men moved in taking her to the ground. She kicked and thrashed about but it was useless, she was trapped beneath them.

A deep voice echoed in her head as she was dragged back to her feet. She stood straight and tall baring her teeth at the man who stood in front of her. His voice echoed again, and she shivered at his words. "You have the spirit of a warrior and will make a fitting sacrifice."

"Take them," the dark voice cried.

Hidden in the rocks Petri could hear the struggle and he closed his eyes against the madness. The sudden silence frightened him and stilled as a booming voice echoed around him. He heard the cries of the women and watched as Diana struggled. His heart ached as they were pushed up the trail. He waited long precious moments as the jungle grew silent once more. He crept from his hiding place and snuck back to the trail. What he saw sickened him. Men he had come to know and trust were lying on the ground. He stumbled down the trail knowing he had to get away.

He ran, his mind filled with the torment of what he had seen. In front of him he spotted one of the horses. During the attack the animals had scattered this one had been Pete's and was over its fright now grazing peacefully on the side of the trail. With soothing voice and hands Petri captured the animal and threw himself into the saddle. Heedless of the danger he raced back to the village.

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