A Tough Decision

(A Continuation of the Walker Texas Ranger Episode 'Rodeo',  and inspired by Shel)

by Pam Gooderham

Walker lay back on the blanket laughing, feigning his lack of defense as Alex tickled him in retaliation for his last remark! His laughter resounded as Alex's face showed her frustration and she couldn't help but smile as well, " and don't think I don't know you're letting me win, either!"

            "Don't think you don't know? Does that mean you know?  Ahhhh!" Walker yelled, as Alex caught him on a ticklish spot and together they burst out laughing once more, embracing each other, enjoying each other's company,  and totally relaxing, secure in their years of friendship together. "Yknow, teasing you Alex is one of my favorite pastimes."  He  looked at her with affection, scooped her up in his arms and rolled her over protecting her head with the crook of his arm, and kissed her gently on the mouth.  He pulled back to smile at her, then looked to the sky suggesting, "we'd better head back."

            Alex nodded, but didn't move, she returned his smile in measure and pulled his head back to hers as they kissed again. "Thank you for suggesting this, it's been a wonderful break!"

            "Well, you'd been working so hard, I thought a long lunch hour in the park would be a change for you, especially on such a nice day."

            Alex squinted in the sun, "you're right about that, it may be crowded here" she looked at the tens of people laying on rugs like themselves, rollerblading, feeding the ducks, or just happily strolling in the sun, "but I've really enjoyed myself! You're too good to me, Walker."

            "Nuthin's too good for you Alex, but I guess duty calls!"  With regret he kissed her once more before untangling himself.  Together they packed up the paper bags he'd used to carry the lunch in and put them in the trash can.  Walker offered his hand to her and after Alex hoisted herself up, he shook the blanket thoroughly, proceeding to fold it up military style.  Alex started to giggle. He looked up and joined her smile, "what?"

            "Oh, nothing!" she chuckled innocently.

            "What?" Walker demanded, still grinning.

            Alex took a few paces back, a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "oh, nothing really, it's just that you'll make someone a lovely wife!"

            "Right!" Walker leapt up as Alex turned to run.

            "Aaahhh!" Alex cried as she ran off, only to turn towards him after a few steps as she knew she couldn't possibly get away, "no, wait, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it!" She closed her eyes screwing up her face, wrapping her arms about  herself  as protection, but still laughing as Walker reached her, grasping one of her hands, "naw, I couldn't do that to you," he offered, and as she thought she'd got away with it, he dropped the blanket and swept her off her feet, "but I could throw you in the pond!"

            "No, Walker, no, I'm sorry, I said I was sorry," she hung on to him for dear life, and after a few seconds, still chuckling, he released her, setting her feet carefully on the ground. 

            "You're too much fun for me, Alex!"  He picked up the blanket again and offered his hand once more, which Alex took with relish, sighing deeply.

            "I suppose we'd better get back to the real world," she said, as they both sobered up on the walk back along the park path towards the Ranger HQ.

            "Well, I reckon," He squeezed her hand and winked, "it's bin great. What you up to this afternoon, then?"

            Alex forced herself to think of work. "Deposition at three, should only be a quick one,  and maybe a court order after that if some evidence comes through from pathology before I leave.  Quite quiet really! What about you two?" The 'two' to whom Alex referred included Trivette, Walker's partner.  Not only partners but good friends for some years now, Walker and  Trivette knew each others moves, reactions and often each other's thoughts in advance. They were renowned as the best team of Rangers on the force.

             Sauntering around the corner Walker was about to answer when Alex practically jumped out of her skin as two men ran out the bushes to confront  them.  The black man to Walker's left menacingly welded a knife, and the white, greasy, guy to his right a small Beretta.  It was the latter who spoke first.

            "C'mon, c'mon hand over your cash, NOW!"  He waved the gun in their faces.

             As soon as the attack happened  Walker had whipped Alex behind him with a deft flick of his wrist.  She peered tentatively over his shoulder as he replied to the threat. "You got it pal, calm down, I'll just get my wallet here, see." Walker dropped his right hand and like lightening he directed his right leg in an arc from the inside to the out, clipping the gun to send it spinning away.  The black man darted forward to stick him with the knife, but Walker, wary that Alex was directly behind him, used his blanket-shielded left arm to parry the knife into the air as his right elbow was brought up to connect with the larger man's chin.  The black man fell stunned at his feet as Walker's right leg shot out again into the white man's stomach, and Walker ended it by catching hold of the guy's hair and pulling him down to meet his up-coming knee. "Sorry about that Alex,"  Walker said matter-of-factly, cuffing them so it would be awkward for them to run off, left hand to left hand,  and dragging them to their feet. He beckoned for them to walk in front while he hung on to one by the sleeve. Picking up the blanket and throwing it over his arm, he took Alex's hand again.  "I'm meeting Trivette at two fifteen and we're off to interview some witnesses again in the drive by shooting of the young father in Leonard Street."

            Alex shook her head at him, looked at the two thugs and back to Walker and smiled, "you're completely unbelievable you!" Walker gave her a half smile back and winked. She continued, frowning, "oh yes, that drive by, it was so sad wasn't it?"

            Walker nodded somberly, "yeh, it's senseless sure enough. I could get really sad over it if I didn't keep my guard up."

            As the afternoon wore on, Alex thought about their meeting in the park, marveling not only at Walker's calm over the attack , but his prowess at the martial arts.  He was quite phenomenal.  He had felled those guys with razor-sharp dexterity, and it was all over before anyone could realize what was happening!  It may explain why often, when they were all at C.D.'s, she would catch Trivette watching Walker with an incredulous look on his face.  When confronted with the real action, he must get a first hand view of Walker's fighting skills.   Alex pondered deeply over Walker's statement on the shooting, "I could get really sad over it if I didn't keep my guard up."  His words echoed and re-echoed in her mind throughout the afternoon, until finally, with a lull in her  work, Alex had a chance to think about it seriously.  He didn't let his guard down very often, did he?  I wonder if that's why?  I wonder, she asked herself, if it's because all the people that Walker had gotten close to had died?  His parent's, Uncle Ray a few years ago, Lucas, the little boy he had semi-adopted six months ago, the woman he had asked to marry him before Alex had come on the scene, Ellen!  But, he was close to her really!  Or was he? She had to admit though, the wonderful lunch hour they had shared was quite a one-off.  Now, as she thought about seeing him later in C.D.'s,  Walker would be back to Mr. Nice but  don't get too close. He was fiercely protective of her, she couldn't possibly get anyone who would go to the lengths Walker would go to ensure her well-being, as he had more than demonstrated on many occasions.  He proved several times in the past he would give his life for her, she knew that, but that's where their relationship stuck.  Alex felt both irritation and frustration as she mulled the situation through and through.  I loved this lunchtime, she thought, I just loved it, but this is really all it's ever going to amount to isn't it, she asked herself?  Is that enough for me?  As her phone rang the question remained  unanswered.

            Walker bent on his haunches and smiled at the small, ten year old Chinese girl. "Please, tell your grandmother that these men are bad men, and we need to know everything she saw to make sure they don't do this again.  Do you understand?"  As the girl nodded so began the Chinese translation while Walker waited quietly until finally the girl shook her head at him, and tried, in clipped English, to explain.

            "She fright. She say they come and she no wanna talk."

            Sighing Walker nodded.  Rising to his feet he patted the youngster on her head. "Thanks."  He turned to Trivette, "well, I can understand, I suppose."

            Trivette nodded, "what now, man, we've been up and down the whole street, they're all scared to death. It's obvious they know who's behind the shootin'."

            Walker refrained from speaking as he introvertly began to look down the whole street, starting at one end, slowly turning to complete his visual inquisition until he had covered it all.  Trivette stood quietly not understanding why his partner needed to do this, but their years of working together had prepared him for Walker's many unorthodox approaches to police work.  Damn thing was, they usually worked, so Trivette had now adopted the stance of learning while Walker did his 'thing', not complaining about it.  He followed Walker's line of sight as his look reversed back up the street again, when Walker did a double take and he began to steadfastly peer in one direction. Trivette tried to see what had caught his attention as Walker started to cross the street, "C'mon Trivette."

            They walked diagonally over the road, missing the sparsely spaced out cars and down an alleyway. Walker strode briskly until he came to a pile of cardboard boxes and stopped.  "Afternoon," he said to the boxes.  There was a slight pause before an old male voice answered him.

            "Aftanoon!"

            "I wonder if you could help me?" Suggested Walker.  A flap suddenly flipped up and a  bearded white head donning a woolen hat appeared. "How about a coffee?" Walker offered.  The flap shut quickly and a larger one opened to reveal the whole occupant, a man of about sixty plus, in an ancient, faded blue denim jacket, old pants and knitted grubby, white top.

            "Mighty fine, a coffee."

            Walker smiled at him and Trivette and they sauntered back to the main street and up half a block to a small coffee shop, Walker giving the introductions as they walked.  On entering the shop they were hailed by a loud voice.

            "Git outta here Jonas!"

            The old fellah stopped on the threshold, as Walker looked to the proprietor. "It's OK, he's with us." Looking directly at them for the first time, the owner spotted their Ranger badges, and initially unsure, finally nodded his consent.  They sat down as Trivette held up three fingers, mouthing "coffee."

            Walker smiled again, "Jonas, tell us exactly what you saw yesterday when the shooting happened."

            "Hmm.  Darn if it didn't happen so fast y'know.  Open car, four young men, traveling along and wham.  Out comes a gun and it's all over." Trivette cast a sideways glance in Walker's direction.  How in the world could he have possibly known the old boy saw anything, he wondered.  He mentally laughed to himself, the incident proving once again that all Trivette needed to know about police work was sitting right beside him.  Somehow Trivette felt privileged to be Walker's partner, but at the same time knowing their relationship worked because he could keep his feet on the ground and not allow himself to be overcome by Walker's indisputable results.  Anyway, Trivette felt he'd more than contributed to the partnership as Walker was worse than useless with computers, and Trivette had saved the day on many occasions with the masterful use of his laptop. Give Walker his due, he had more than come round to Trivette's 'modus operandi', and the combination of their two styles complimented their teamwork with outstanding achievements.  Trivette forced himself to concentrate on the old man's story as Walker probed him further.

            "Can you describe the men?"

             Jonus wrinkled up his face, "wus white, obnoxious, crew cut, heathens, is what they were.  They're always causing trouble big time in these parts.  Everyone be a feared of them."

            "How come you're not afraid?" Trivette inquired.

            A big toothless smile appeared on the old man's face, "Cus they don't know I exist!"  He suddenly laughed loudly, pleased with himself as Walker and Trivette grinned broadly, then  Jonus leaned over the table towards them confidentially, "you want me to testify?"

            Walker shot a look at Trivette. "Would you be willing to pick them out of a line up first?"  As the old man nodded, Walker continued soberly, "Jonus, I need to point something out to you..." Walker paused, trying to pick the right words, "it may be dangerous for you if they get to know you're willing to testify.  I need to get back to you when I find out how well we can protect you. I tell you what, have you any idea where these guys hang out?"

            A big slurp of coffee preceded Jonas' reply, "yup!. They gotta camp at the old swimmin' pool place, y'know the old one with the lotta steps down the front by the waste ground?"

            Walker and Trivette nodded.  "Look Jonas," Walker suggested, "we'll go check 'em out, see if we can't put 'em away without your testimony first, and if we can't tie them in we'll come back to you huh?"  As Jonas nodded Walker rose and offered his hand. "Thanks old timer, you have a meal here on us OK?" He was rewarded with another toothless grin, and paying for the meal and the coffees before leaving, they made their way back to the truck. "I'll have a word with Alex tonight, see how much we can do to protect him, Trivette.  It's gonna have to be a lot otherwise the old boy won't have a chance."

            Alex, however,  didn't show at C.D.'s.  Walker looked at his watch and towards C.D.  "Sure Alex didn't call, C.D.?"

            "For the tenth time Cordell Walker, I would have remembered, I ain't senile yet y'know!"

            Walker smiled, holding up his hands, "OK, OK, point taken," Walker rose from the bar stool, "I'll call her." Walker dialed the more than familiar number and waited.  It was answered on the third ring by a man. Walker frowned, "oh, I'm sorry, I must have misdialed."

            "Walker?" Came the response.

            "Yeh," Walker was still confused.

            "Dalton Reed!  How ya doin'?"

            Time seemed frozen as Walker stood rooted to the spot, unable to speak, until he eventually found his voice.   "Dalton?   I'm fine.... .  This is a ... surprise."

            "I guessed I would surprise everyone.  I'm back for good.  I've come back for Alex, even got a job in Fort Worth at the stockyards helping Franklin!"

            Numbed, Walker took a step backwards, as nothing came to mind on what he could say.

            "You want to speak to Alex?  She's just taking a shower."

            Finally, his voice came out as a whisper, "No."  Walker  cleared his throat and tried again, "no, it's OK.  I'll see her at the office tomorrow."

            Dalton sounded upbeat, "OK, great to talk to you again, Walker, bye."

            "Bye." Walker had reverted to the whisper again, his heart beat resounding in his ears as the consequences of Dalton's return dawned on him further.  Gulping heavily he replacing the receiver slowly, his mouth falling open as he returned to his seat at the bar. C.D. and Trivette cast an ominous glance at each other. "Everything OK, Cordell?" His old partner inquired. As Walker nodded his head in the affirmative, both Trivette and C.D. knew that was far from the truth.   Trivette pursed his lips while he thought of a way to find out what had happen when Walker got up suddenly.

            "I'm calling it a night. See you guys tomorrow."  Without waiting for a reply he grabbed his hat, and placing it on his head as he walked, he left them without looking back.

            "Oho! Now what?" Asked Trivette.

            C.D. blew through his lips, "I don't know Jimmy, but I don't like the way this is shapin' up already!"

            His knuckles stopped as he was about to knock on the door for a few seconds, when Walker took a deep breath and resumed with a polite rat-tat-tat on the wooden frame.

            "Come in," came the muffled cry.

            Opening the door Walker forced a smile, "Mornin' Alex."  She looked radiant! He held the door for Trivette and they both stepped inside her office.

            "Morning guys, great day.   What can I do for you?"  As she looked at Walker, Alex recognized the downcast expression in his eyes.  He can't possibly know about Dalton yet, surely, she questioned?  She forced herself to deal with business first as Walker forced himself to explain it to her, about Jonas and the drive by shooting. "A vagrant doesn't make for the best witness Walker, you know that.  He wouldn't even come close to qualifying for a witness protection program even if his testimony was used.  I think you're going to have to try another way initially."

            "OK."  Walker got up, a cue for Trivette to do the same, and he and Alex looked at each awkwardly. 

            Trivette didn't need to be part Cherokee to know when to go, he excused himself with a "I'll see you outside, Walker," and left hastily.

            Alex gave Walker a small smile.  "Sorry I didn't get to C.D.'s, you'll never guess who arrived on my doorstep?"

            "Dalton, Reed." The words were separated.

            Alex was taken aback, "How did you know?" She stammered.

            "I called to see if you were OK and he answered."

            "Oh!  He must have forgotten to tell me."  Alex knitted her hands together, and sighed, not really knowing what to say.

            "Has a whole year gone by already?" Walker asked finally.

            "No, Walker, it's more like a year and a half, actually." Alex stated the sentence in an almost accusatory tone.

            It wasn't lost on Walker, and it would have hurt less if she'd stabbed him with a knife.  A year and a half!  He couldn't believe it.  A year and a half since they had protected Dalton from a mobster while he waited to give evidence, and during this time Dalton had once again rekindled his romantic relationship with Alex, promising to do "one more rodeo circuit" whereupon he would settle down with her.  Walker could never forget the obliquely miserable feeling he experienced that day as Alex seemed to relish the idea and the sparkle in her eye once saved for him, now had Dalton Reed's name on it once more.  He remembered how he had driven her home that day, vowing to himself to win her back in Reed's absence and ask her to marry him.  He cursed himself for his lack of commitment and poor judgment. Why did he have such an aversion to marriage?  Even Walker couldn't answer his own question.  So, how could he blame Alex if someone else offered her a home, a family and their life?  How could Walker complain when he had missed his chance? "I'd better go" he said suddenly.

            Alex came round her desk to stand tantalizing close to him and looked up at him with her beautiful, big blue eyes. "Walker..." she didn't know how to finish.

            Walker felt his entire body, every pore, every nerve ultra sensitive as her aura threatened to overtake his whole being. Huskily he responded, "it's OK, Alex, I understand." Then with that he was gone, the door closing quietly behind him, leaving Alex puzzled with her own feelings. She cupped her hands to her face wrestling with her emotions and indecision.

            "Thanks for meeting me for lunch, Alex." Dalton smiled at her and reached over the table to hold her hand. "I just couldn't wait to see you again."

He stopped as a waiter patiently stood by to hand them menus and tell them of the lunchtime specials.  Alex was quite hungry, she hadn't been to an Italian restaurant for ages.  They both studied the menu, had a quick conference on each other's preferences and ordered. Finally, Dalton looked at Alex warmly. "You're beautiful Alex." Alex smiled coyly but was silent, so Dalton continued expectantly, "I've come back as I promised."

            Alex raised her eyebrows at him. "So, just like that, a year and a half, three postcards and two phone calls later I'm supposed to drop everything?"

            Dalton grimaced, "oh Alex, y'know how things get on the circuit. I.... thought of you all the time."

            Shaking her head, Alex sighed, "What is it about the men I pick in my life, I've got one who won't make a decision and one who wants me to drop everything on a whim!"

            "There's someone else? Who?" Dalton was quick to respond his face serious.

            "Well no, not really, I suppose.  I guess I don't know.  Forget I said that."

            "Wait a minute, it's Walker isn't it?" Dalton sat back in his chair. "I knew there was something in the way he looked at me when he was protecting me before."

            "He protected you though didn't he?" Alex  said adamantly.

            Dalton nodded, "yeh, he put his life on the line for me.  OK,  I take that back. Is there something between you?"

            Was there thought Alex? Even she had a job to work that one out. "Yes and no, but more no!" She said finally.

            "Well, what about us?"

            "Dalton, let's just rediscover each other first and enjoy each other's company, huh?" Alex looked up as the waiter brought their salads, and the conversation took a different course.

            Crouched down behind the wall, they watched the gang comings and goings with interest. "Quite a nest of them," mused Walker.

            "Yeh, too many, man.  We got a better description when we went back to see Jonas, so why don't we wait till the likely four get in their vehicle and we'll tail them till they're on their own?"

            "Good idea, partner.  They look like Klan types to me.  Whaddya think?"

            "Yeh.  It would figure too, that young Father being Hispanic 'n' all. Hey, whadda 'bout those four, they're gettin' in that beat up old Caddie!" Trivette's look followed three young men and one slightly older.   They were dressed similarly in white vests, torn jeans, and big boots.  Adorned in tattoos of various racial innuendo, they were poor specimens from the human bucket of mankind, and looked mean too.

            "Looks like them, c'mon, let's get back to the truck."

              They followed the yellow and rust Cadillac for a few blocks before Walker turned on the sirens and the Cadillac stopped. Getting out Walker called for them to step out of the car.  The four men obeyed sullenly and allowed themselves to be cuffed on the understanding they were under investigation for the shooting and were wanted in a line up.  This caused quick glances between them, but they complied without seeming too worried, and  back at Ranger HQ Walker took them into custody while Trivette went back for Jonas, who had no trouble picking them out.  Trivette returned Jonus, plus dinner money, and readied himself to do the rounds of interviews with Walker. Although convinced of the gang's guilt, they came up blank, and with no other options available had to release the four in the absence of further evidence. The leader of the four stopped in front on Walker on his way out, eyeing him up and down menacingly.

            "Don't ever bring us in again, Ranger." 

            "Don't hold your breath Corrigan." Walker never flinched from his gaze as the thug refused to be 'unstared'. Corrigan threw a look to Trivette.

            "I hope your 'friend' stays healthy then," he grinned to the others, his look changing as Walker grabbed his lapels roughly.

            "Don't you threaten us, scumbag."

            Trivette stepped in, "it's OK Walker, leave him be. C'mon, man, let him go!"

            Finally Walker released his grip and they left, and back in their office they discussed the events, "Trivette.  I'm worried about Jonas giving evidence. These guys seem way too confident for my liking.  They weren't worried at all about being pulled in by us." He paused slightly, "and I want you to take extra care  OK?"  Walker looked firmly in his direction as he said the last remark.

            "Yeh I will, no problem."

            "OK, let's call it a night, we'll work out the best way to proceed with this in the morning."

            "Walker?"

            "Yeh"

            The was a slight pause before Trivette continued. "You wanna talk about what's goin' on with you and Alex?"  Trivette expected a quick 'no, let's go' reply from Walker, but was surprised as Walker stayed where he was without replying.  Trivette waited.

            "Dalton Reed's back."

            Trivette pursed his lips. "Oh." What on earth could he say about that?

            "C'mon, let's go." Walker got up deciding that was the extent of his wanting to talk about it.

            "Stand by your man, give him two arms to cling to........" The music played softly in the background at C.D.'s as Trivette filled C.D. in on the exchange.

            He said "Dalton Reed's back! Can you believe that?"

            C.D. pressed his hand against his forehead, "Oh my Lord!  What's gonna happen now?  Y'know Jimmy, y'can't blame Alex can ya?  That little gal's bin there for him, waited for him, loves him to pieces, and why, I've bin praying he would do sumptin' about it, they'd make a great couple, but he just won't.  Ya can't blame her y'know.  Women have different needs.  Is he upset?"

            Trivette thought for a second, "he doesn't show anything.  Y'know what he's like, but I can tell he's torn up about it. What we gonna do?"

            "I'm sure I don't know at this point.  I guess I'd be kinda disappointed myself if Alex married Reed, but she deserves a chance at settlin' down.  Ssshh Jimmy, he's comin' back from the restroom!"  They both tried to look nonchalant as Walker returned and picked up his coffee.

            "You two are as subtle as bricks!" Walker leveled at them, frowning.

            C.D. jumped at his chance, "well?"

            Walker squared him in the eye, "well what?"

            "Cordell, sometimes you can be the most infuriatin' man alive!"

            "How about more coffee C.D.?" Walker offered his cup in C.D.'s direction and the old man snatched it out of his hand mumbling under his breath.  There was a buoyant voice from the side.

            "Hi guys!"

            They turned to see Dalton Reed and Alex.  They were dressed formally, Dalton looking suave in a DJ and Alex was stunningly beautiful in an off the shoulder, tight fitting, simply-styled, long black gown. Walker blinked several times until he remembered his manners and stood up with Trivette.  They exchanged handshakes and pleasantries then  Alex tried to bridge the temporary silence, "Dalton insisted we come over on the way to the opera to give him a chance to say hi to you guys." She explained.

            "Opera!" Exclaimed Trivette, which one you seein'?"

            "Mikado!" Alex smiled at the thought.

            Trivette's eyes widened, "Oh, that's one of my favorites. You're gonna love it!  I didn't know you were in to that kinda thing Dalton!"

            "Well," Dalton hedged, "nothings too good for my girl."  He shot the briefest of looks in Walker's direction as he said it and then followed up, "do you like the opera Walker?"

            Walker looked uncomfortable, "well, not really."

            C.D. saved the day, "well what can I get you guys to drink?"  The conversation rallied somewhat after that, although there was still tension in the air, until Dalton suggested they'd better go.  Alex excused herself and headed for the restroom, prompting another awkward pause in the proceedings. Dalton finally laid his hand out making sure there was no mistaking his intentions.

            "She's a fantastic person isn't she?"

            Walker looked back in her direction as she disappeared from view. "She sure is."

            "I'm gonna ask her formally to marry me tomorrow night. I've arranged airline tickets the next day for Tahiti and we'll have the ceremony there." As Walker looked squarely at Dalton for the first time, Dalton's gaze silently warned Walker off.  Now there was an awkward pause.

            "Don't ya think that's all kinda sudden?  I mean, you haven't exactly spent a lot of quality time together." C.D.'s comment did make sense.

            "I know that C.D., but I also know there's no one else for me but  Alex.  I think she'll go for it!" Fortunately for them all at that moment Alex came back into view and they made their departure.  Walker watched them all the way out of the door until they disappeared and tore himself back to the present company.  They were both staring at him.

            Walker was irritated.  He got up, "give it a break guys!"  He reseated himself at a table with his back to them and propped up his leg on the spare chair.

C.D. blew through his lips.

            "Phew, Jimmy.  I reckon we're in for some rough times a head!"

            "What do you think Alex'll do?"

            C.D. shook his head, "I really don't know.  If you want my opinion I don't think she  knows him well enough to make that kind of decision, but it's not for us to stick our noses in is it?"

            "C.D.?  Why... why doesn't he fight for her?  It's obvious to everyone he loves her? What's his problem?"

            "I don't rightly know and that's the truth, but you know what, I think I'll have one last talk with him about it over breakfast tomorrow.  He'll git 'onary with me, but I'll risk it.  They're both worth too much to me.  I love 'em both dearly, and it's real upsettin' for me to see this happen.   Yeh I'll risk it, Jimmy."

            Walker pretended to read his newspaper the next morning as he waited for his breakfast to arrive, but not only were his thoughts elsewhere, he hadn't slept much and was tired.  He looked up and attempted a smile as C.D. brought two plates over and plonked one  in front of Walker, and the other at the place setting opposite and  sat down.  C.D. reached for the salt, shook ample over his omelet and wrestled with the bottle of ketchup.  Walker eyed him suspiciously but didn't offer a comment.  They had almost finished their meal when C.D. picked up his coffee mug and looked at Walker.

            "Now don't say anything, just hear me out first!"  He saw Walker tense. "Cordell Walker, don't you get uppity with me, I've saved your life more times than I care to recall!"  They both knew how illogical that statement was as Walker had frequently saved C.D.'s life as well, but it was obvious his old partner felt Walker might respond angrily.  It occurred to Walker that it was taking a lot for C.D. to pluck up the courage to talk to him, but then apprehension had never stopped the likes of ex- Texas Ranger Captain, C.D. Parker and it wasn't going to now either. Somehow it amused Walker, so he looked up and smiled, much to C.D.'s amazement.  C.D. relaxed a bit.

            "Go on then, get it over with," Walker suggested.

            "Thank you Cordell," C.D. said formally, bringing another grin to Walker's face. He continued, struggling at first before he got into his stride, "ye see it's like this.  Y'know, well of course y'do, that well, darn it, I think the world of you and Alex."  C.D. knitted his eyebrows together as he sought the right words, "and I just can't sit here and pay no attention when I see you 'bout to loose the woman I know you love!  Just what the heck's goin' on in your brain?"

            Walker sat back in his chair without replying.  It was ages before he answered C.D.'s question.  "It's not like I haven't asked myself the same question over a million times, C.D. ... ."  His voice trailed off as, wisely, C.D. kept quiet forcing Walker to continue talking.  "I guess I was always worried I wouldn't be able to have my own space.  I need time alone, you know that C.D., it's just the way I am."  Walker looked at C.D. for understanding to see him nodding.

            "Don't you think Alex has known you long enough to know that?  She's got you down, she don't need telling when to back off.   She knows! She's not intimidated by you either.  Remember when you wus recuperation' and she arranged for the pair of you to go whitewater raftin'?  There ain't many woman who have done that kind of thing, especially when she knew you wouldn't wanna go at first, but she knew you well enough to know you would enjoy it once you got into it. Mind you, she wasn't to blame when you nearly got killed by that runaway prisoner, but if you forget that, she'd done OK, hadn't she? 

            Walker remembered the occasion very well. Smiling he recalled how meticulously she had planned it and the good time they had had together. "Yeh I remember C.D.   We've had lots of good times together, I know that."

            "Cordell.  How do you feel when you think of a life with no Alex in it?  No Alex to hug.  No Alex to talk to.  No Alex to care about you?  I know you'd see her abouts 'n' all, but once she's wed someone else, it's essentially the same.  How does that sit with ya?"

            Walker leaned forward, clasping both hands together. "It don't sit well at all C.D.  Not at all."

            "D'ya love her?" C.D. knew the answer to that one but felt it was cathartic for Walker to bring his feelings to the fore in order to help him work out what to do.  Walker paused for only a short time before replying.

            "Yeh, I do." Walker looked C.D. in the eye as he said it.

            "Then what are you waitin' on, son?"

            Picking up his hat as he stood up, Walker stopped before turning to go, and fingered it's rim. "Thanks, C.D.!" He strode off leaving C.D. nodding, but  pensive. I just hope now, thought C.D., that it's gonna work out.

            He spotted Alex in the hallway and made a bee line for her.  "Alex can I speak to you for a minute?"

            Alex didn't stop. "Walker I'm sorry, I'm dashing to court."

            He kept up with her, "can I walk with you a bit?"

            "Sure. What do you want?"

            The elevator doors closed on them and they were alone. "Alex, can I meet you for lunch, I need to talk to you?"

            Alex stopped to look up at him. "I can't, I'm meeting Dalton, ....sorry."

            "Well how about dinner tonight?"

            "Oh Walker...  sorry... Dalton has something special arranged and he's asked me to take the week off.  It's been a real struggle but I've just managed to get it arranged, that's why I'm up to my eyes now!" The elevator doors parted and they walked briskly to her car. Walker helped her with her files as she opened the door, packed everything in and started the car.

            "Alex, it's REALLY important I see you."

            She shut the door and put the car into drive. "Walker I can't fit it in, won't it keep until I get back?"

            "No!"  He decided to take a leaf out of C.D.'s book. "Look at all the times I've saved your life!" He blurted out.  Even Walker was hit by how ludicrous that sounded and he made a face at himself.  Alex couldn't help but laugh at his expression.  She shook her head.

            "Well I suppose that does bear some consideration she replied tongue-in-cheek, as Walker's face colored slightly with embarrassment, "I'm meeting Dalton at eight, come round at six thirty, OK?"

            She was rewarded with a huge smile.  Walker launched his head through the car window and planted a kiss on her lips. "Great!"

            Smiling again she pulled off only to stop and look back at him, "but Walker!  DON'T be late OK, I'll have a lot to do!"

            Walker nodded and headed back to his office.  He was in the game again and now that he had decided to marry Alex it felt good.   As optimism flooded through him he punched the button of the elevator with renewed force.

            "I don't understand it," Trivette grumbled, "where on earth could he have got to?" As Walker stood in the main street looking up and down, Trivette's eye was caught by a man waving to them through the window of a pharmacy.  "Hey Walker, someone's trying to get our attention.  Y'think he knows anythin' about Jonas?" 

            "I sure hope so, he's gotta be a round some place. Let's go see what he wants."  As they approached  the man left the window and headed down the back of the shop, seemingly trying to keep his anonymity intact.  He beckoned them closer as Walker and Trivette obliged cautiously until they finally came within talking distance.

            "Look, you didn't get this from me, OK?"  He looked round as he said it to make sure they were alone, and having had his statement acknowledged by Trivette he continued, "you're looking for that down and outer arn't you?"

            Trivette nodded, "you seen him today?"

            "Yeh I seen him this morning, but about two hours ago those thugs who did the shootin' drug him in their car."

            Walker was enraged.  "How'd they know to pick on him?"

            "Well, y'know how it is, some folks round here don't like his kind on the streets, but he's OK, -really-, he wasn't a bad sort."

            Walker patted the man on the shoulder, "thanks for your help at least. C'mon Trivette." They both hurried back to the truck.

            "How we gonna play this, man?"

            "Well, we'll go back to the old swimmin' pool and see if there's as many there as before. If there is we'll wait for back up and if there isn't..."

He left the last bit of his sentence unsaid as they hi-tailed it down the road.  They used their last look out post to observe and after ten minutes or so decided it was quiet enough to give it a go.  "Trivette, call it in and request silent back up on stand-by and we'll go in." After complying Trivette started after his partner as they approached the run down building from the blind side and headed for the front, as the doors at the back were locked tight.  They entered with caution and made the first decision, left or right?  Walker raised his eyebrows at Trivette who pointed right.  Walker mouthed an 'OK' and they started off again,  repeating their actions several times as the old building resembled a rabbit warren, eventually to come to a door leading to what was the main pool.  They heard voices as they approached and Walker peered through the circular window to see if he could see what was going on.  His look changed to one of horror as he saw the body of Jonas laying bloodied and lifeless on the floor. "Oh no, we're too late!"  Drawing his gun he nodded to Trivette and together they burst through the door.  The four men inside looked round wildly as they were surprised, then put their hands up in submission.  Walker kept his eye on them as Trivette made his way to the swimming pool floor and checked Jonas for a pulse.  Looking back up at Walker he shook his head sadly and returned. "OK, scumbags, we're arresting you for the murder of Jonas, you have the right to remain silent......." Walker read them their rights and there was silence as they made their way out the front doors. Both Walker and Trivette felt badly about the old vagrant.  Stepping down the first of the many steps they were surprised by an attack from behind.

            Walker caught a half glimpse of an attacker before he felt a thump in the back, sending him sprawling, "Trivette" he cried as way of a warning. It was too late another attacker was on him before he could move.   Trivette swung round catching an attacking arm in mid-swing, following up with an effective punch to the solar plexus. Before he had a chance to turn another was upon him and together they tumbled part way down the steps. 

            Walker rolled as means of recovery from his thump in the back, getting quickly to his feet to duck as a fist breezed close to his chin.  Shooting out his right leg he felled his attacker as his foot found the groin area.  As yet another jumped from a high step to grapple him, he parried him off in mid air, to see him land head first and cascade down the rest of the steps.  Walker looked for the next one in time to ready himself, duck the next punch and bring his own right ridge hand up and under the opponent's chin.  It stopped the body in mid air and sent it the other way.  That was another one down! Walker looked to Trivette who was about only four feet away from him. To his horror he saw Trivette fell his fourth man, ending the conflict on his side, but as Trivette struggled against the unconscious thug another was in the process of picking up a baseball bat. "TRIVETTE!"  Walker cried at the top of his voice and took off in his direction.  It almost seemed to be in slow motion as Trivette struggled from under the body to look round just in time to see the bat being swung behind the attacker to be applied full force at the level of his head.  Trivette knew he wouldn't be able to get out of the way in time, although he tried his hardest to move from the situation.  With the end of the wood coming directly for him at eye level, Trivette blinked as a flash appeared before his eyes, and Walker only had time to put himself between Trivette and oblivion.  There was the most sickening crunch as the bat caught Walker in the right side of the ribs. He was launched back towards Trivette like a bowling ball, his body hurling into Trivette causing them both to fall part way down the long set of steps.  Finally, as they came to a stop the attacker pursued them.  Trivette rose to his feet jumping out of the way and managed to throw the last attacker off balance and let the steps take care of him. He hit his head on each one on the way down and was unconscious before he came to a stop. 

            Exhausted, Trivette sat on one of the steps and gasped for air. "Phew man, that was close!"  He panted for another two seconds before realizing his partner had not responded. "Walker?" Looking round Trivette saw Walker lying across the steps doubled over in pain. "Walker!" He rush over to find his partner trying to regain his breath, gritting  his teeth. "Oh, no, you OK?" Trivette gave a quick look over Walker's body to see where the problem was, and tried to remove his hand from the right side of his ribs to see the extent of the problem, but Walker refused to let go.

            "Wait a minute, wait a minute,"  Walker gasped. Trivette waited till he'd regained his breath and asked what he could do to help. "Come behind me and see if you can help me on my feet!"

            "OK, on my count of three. One, two, three!" Taking the strain they had only managed to get Walker's shoulders off the ground when he cried out in pain.

            "Aaahh, wait, wait!" He panted for at least a minute and looked in Trivette's eyes. "I don't believe this! Try again."

            "Why don't you let me call the paramedics?"

            "No, one more try.  What's the time?"

            "Two forty! Why?"

            "Nuthing.  Try again."

            "Walker, if we do get you up you're goin' straight to hospital. This is not a suggestion, man!"

            "OK. OK! C'mon."  As Walker tried to stand he realized his left ankle was slightly sprained, but between them he managed to get on his feet and slowly they made their way back to the car as the back-up units arrived in time to recover the prisoners.  Trivette filled them in on the charges and drove Walker and the truck to the Community hospital.  Walker was seen almost straight away, but needed x-rays, and finally after almost an hour and three quarters, he had a tight bandage around his torso and ordered to stay in the night.

            "No, I can't!" Walker shook his head.

            "Whadya mean you can't, ya have to.  This is a serious injury man!" The doctor nodded in agreement with Trivette's observation, but Walker looked at his partner.

            "Trivette, I can't!" They both glanced towards the doctor who held up his hands in surrender.

            "You tell me what you can and can't do guys, you know my recommendations!"  With that he left the room leaving an angry Trivette behind him. The stalemate produced a short silence before Walker finally spoke.

            "I'm gonna ask her to marry me, Trivette." He said simply.

            Trivette sighed deeply and didn't reply.

            "C'mon partner, I need your help here!"

            "Dang it Walker! Jeez!  Oh, OK.  Whaddya want." Trivette was not happy.

            "I look like somethin' the cow's drug in, so Alex isn't likely to say yes with me lookin' like this.  Can you go by my ranch and pick up my suit?"

            "Aw, man!  Alright, alright!."

            "What's the time?"

            "Nearly 4:50pm."

            "Go Trivette, get back as quick as you can!" Shaking his head Trivette did as he was requested and was back a few minutes before 6pm. He helped Walker to change.

            "Walker, this is ridiculous!  If you explain it to Alex she'll understand."

            "Just help me out to the truck.  I'll be fine once I'm in it."

            "Well how you gonna get back in it?"

            "It won't matter then." 

            Trivette dropped his shoulders in defeat and helped Walker out and into the truck, asking, after he was in and the engine started, "Walker, you safe to drive this thing?"

            "Yeh I wouldn't do it if I couldn't drive it safely, I'm not that dumb.  It's fine when I'm sitting down and it's my left foot that's slightly sprained not my right, so don't worry."  Walker paused slightly giving him a grin, "This is great, I'll make it in time and everything's gonna be OK.  Thanks Trivette!"

            Trivette couldn't help but return the smile, "Good luck, partner! Go for it!"  He paused slightly, "Walker?"

            "Yeh?"

            Trivette looked him in the eyes, "thanks for this afternoon!" Walker just winked, gave a half smile and was gone as Trivette stood and watched the truck pull out of the hospital and down the road.

            Walker pulled into Alex's apartment complex as it started to rain heavily. I don't believe it, he thought, how much more can go wrong?  Pulling into one of the bays he looked over to the awning covering the elevators, guessing it was about twenty feet away.  No problem, I'll make that! With that thought in mind Walker opened the door of the truck, and using the built in hand rail over the door lowered himself down carefully, landing as he realized his hat was on the passenger seat. "Dang!" He eyed it, decided he couldn't get to it, shut the door and limped painfully towards the lights.  He had just called for the elevator when a car pulled into the deserted complex and he saw Dalton Reed get out.

            "Walker!" Dalton exclaimed in anger, "just what the hell you doin' here?"

            "I might ask you the same question, you're not supposed to be seein' Alex till eight!"

            "I came early."

            "Dalton, I need to see Alex privately if you don't mind!"

            "I do mind.  I know what you're up to and you had your chance, now it's my turn."

            "Look, Dalton, I think you're an OK kinda guy, but all's fair in love and war. Let Alex and I be till eight and see how things stand.  We've been friends a long time."

            Dalton jabbed Walker's shoulder with his finger, "So?  I'm telling you, you're not seein' her." 

            Walker's shoulders dropped and he sighed, replying softly, "Let me by."

            "I'm not afraid of you Walker, I don't care how good everyone thinks you are at martial arts, if you wanna fight for Alex I'll fight ya!"

            "What?  No way! I wouldn't dream of fighting you." Walker put one hand on another in front of him as he calmly dropped his voice to reason with his rival, "Dalton, can you imagine how Alex would react if she knew we fought over her?  She'd hate it and never forgive either of us!"

            "So you say!"

            "Yes I do say.  Alex hates fightin'.  So let's just be adult about this."  Walker reached over with his right hand looking to depress the elevator button to open the door again when without warning Dalton's right fist thudded into his solar plexus.  Walker saw it coming at the last minute but was unable to completely block the punch, his sprained left ankle putting him off balance. A red hot shaft of pain shot through his body causing him to bend forward, his eye's tightly shut, his face contorted in agony.  He barely had time to recover as Dalton's left fist punched hard into his already broken ribs causing his body to bend almost double. Staggering backwards Walker's knees buckled as he vainly tried to put some distance between them.  Dalton quickly seized his chance and finished with a right and left hook leaving Walker sprawled outside the awning in a large puddle of rain water. Hardly able to breathe he wrapped both arms round his stomach and sides looking for relief against the many searing, jagged edged pains that beset him.

            "Y'know what I've often thought about martial artists Walker?  You get lucky enough to get in a good first strike and you'll get the upper hand." He pointed at him. "You people are all the same, you can give it but you can't take it! Now I'm telling you, stay away from Alex from now on!"  With that he thumped the elevator button, the doors opened and he strode in.

            Grunting against the pain Walker lay in the pool of water as the falling rain soaked  through his clothes.  He lay quietly until he was able to take a shallow breath more easily, until he tipped his head back and to the side looking in the direction of his truck.  He knew he was in trouble, and he'd have to get back to hospital pretty quickly, so if he made it to the truck he could use the radio to call for help.  Taking as big a breath as he could and holding his right side with his right hand and arm, he rolled to his left, and began to inch slowly and painfully towards his vehicle.

            "Ding, ding" chimed Alex's door bell.  She glanced at her watch, 6.40pm. "Well, Walker, I suppose late is better than never!"  Striding across the hall with a smile to greet him  Alex blinked as she opened the door. "Walk..... .  Dalton!  What are you doing here so early?"

            "Alex, I'm sorry, I couldn't wait till eight." Dalton took her hand, "Forgive me I just had to see you as soon as I can."

            Alex smiled and kissed him, "well it wouldn't be a problem, but I'm expecting Walker shortly and I need to have a few minutes alone with him.  I hope you understand?"  She looked down her eyes at him seeking his agreement.

            "Forget it, he's not coming!"

            "How do you know that?"

            "I've just seen him downstairs, we fought over you, and I won!"

            Alex laughed. "Very funny!  Is he coming up?"

            "No! I told you,  I beat him fair and square."

            "Dalton, you beat Walker in a fight?" She laughed again, it was so absurd. "Yeh right!" Smiling she took his hands and drew him close, "you don't need to lie, and you needn't be threatened by Walker."  Slowly their lips met and she kissed him.  Distracted by her kiss Dalton didn't bother replying.

            The dark wet night seemed to close in on Walker as he crawled along the concrete surface of the parking lot, not yet even half way to his truck. With his breathing down to a dull wheeze, and his hair matted, the rain on his face made it impossible to tell he was saturated by sweat from his exertions.  He fought the notion that he was going to pass out before he could summon medical help, but sheer, ingrained determination, forced him not to give up as he looked towards his truck, his goal, his life-line, and gritting his teeth he inched forward once more.

            The glasses clinked as Alex set them down on the counter and poured two glasses of  Zinfandel. Sadly looking at her watch, it read 6.55pm. "Damn you Walker!" She cussed below her breath, "well, that's that then!"  Walking into the front room she handed Dalton one of the glasses. He was waving something in front of her. "What's this?" She asked.

            "Tickets!" He smiled at her.  "To Tahiti. I know you've always wanted to go there. Alex, please be my wife and make this our honeymoon as well as our holiday?" With that he embraced and kissed her passionately, as after the briefest pause, Alex responded equally to his ardor. As he pulled away, he caressed her face with both hands, and looked deeply in to her eyes.

            Smiling, Alex nodded and whispered, "yes, Dalton."

            Dalton picked her up and swung her around the room in his arms as they both laughed. It was a few seconds before either of them heard the telephone and finally Alex went to answer.

             "Hello."

            "Alex, it's Jimmy!"

            Alex tried to shrug off Dalton's embrace as she concentrated on what Trivette was saying.

            "Look, I know I'm probably ringing at the worst possible moment, but I guess workin' with Walker's rubbed off on me.  I had a kinda Cherokee moment and just had to ring to see if he's OK?"

            "Well you'll have to ring elsewhere for the answer to that Jimmy, your partner never showed!"  There was something about Trivette's silence that quickened Alex's heart. "What do you mean, see if he's OK?"

            "Alex, Walker saved my life this afternoon. He put himself between my head and a baseball bat and was hurt real bad! He shoulda been in the hospital, but he wouldn't stay as he'd arranged to see you, and I just had the feeling something was wrong, that's why I called."

            "Well where'd you think he could be?"  Alex suddenly looked at Dalton, "wait a minute Jimmy.  Dalton, were you serious when you said you'd fought Walker?"

            "Yeh, I wouldn't lie, Alex."

            Alex's adrenaline started pumping, "Well, what did he do afterwards, was he OK?"

            "I don't know.  Went home probably! Why?"

            Alex began to get impatient, "Well think, where was he when you left him?"

            Dalton shrugged, "well I went off and left him on the floor where I hit him!"

            "Oh no! Jimmy I'm going to look for him outside I'll call you back!"  With that Alex slammed the phone down and ran out the door, she'd just hit the button for elevator doors as Dalton caught up with her.

            "What's this all about?"

            Alex was too worried to answer and they descended in silence until the doors parted and Alex ran out looking to either side.  She spotted his prostrate form. "WALKER!  Oh no, Walker..."  She ran full pelt, slowing as she reached him and ignoring the rain, sat on the floor.  His back was towards her and her legs reached past his head, so taking a grip under his right arm, she gently rolled his head and shoulders on to her lap while she assessed what was wrong.  His wet jacket fell open as he lay on his back across her lap to reveal his once white shirt completely stained with diluted blood. "Oh, Walker, we'll get you some help, just hang on."  Looking at Dalton's horrified face she goaded him into action, "Dalton, call for an ambulance, quickly!"  Dalton rushed back into the elevators as Alex looked down at Walker.  She tried in a futile gesture to wipe the rain off his face only to have the drops reappear almost as soon as she had wiped them away. As Alex leaned over to kiss his cheek, he tried to talk, but it came out as barely a whisper, so she leaned over once more putting her ear to his mouth.  Walker tried again.  As he finished Alex sat up, tears streaming down her face and caressed his beard with her hand, running her fingers gently down his neck.  "Sshh, you'll be OK, help's on the way, darling, just relax."   Walker looked in her eyes and brought a hand up towards her cheek, but before he could reach her, he slumped back unconscious.  "Oh, no, Walker."  Alex cradled him gently, looking around, praying for help to come quickly when after what seemed an eternity, she heard sirens in the distance.

            Silently looking through the emergency room windows,  Alex, Dalton and Trivette watched the medical staff work on Walker until they felt C.D.'s presence behind them. As one they turned to face him.

            "What's happening?" he asked.

            Trivette answered for them, "It's too early to tell."  He went on to fill C.D. in on exactly what happened and as he finished Dalton caught C.D.'s arm.

            There was no doubting his sincerity as he tried to explain, "C.D., I'm so sorry about all this. I can't tell you how badly I feel."

            Trivette grabbed his lapels, "yeh well you should have thought about that before, man."

            Both C.D. and Alex tried to separate them, C.D. spoke authoritatively, "Jimmy, don't go down this road, it's just one of those weird things that happen from time to time, c'mon now."

            Tears falling down her face again and catching her breath as she spoke, Alex caught their attention. "do you know what the only words were he managed to whisper to me before he passed out?"  As they shook their heads she continued sniffling, "he said, it wasn't Dalton's fault, he didn't know."  She blew her nose on a tissue as the others digested Walker's words until finally Trivette broke the silence. 

            "Well, I suppose if my partner can forgive you...."  He left the words unspoken and turned to look into the ER again.

            Dalton tried again, "if I could go back in time and change things, believe me I would Trivette, I haven't forgotten all Walker did for me."

            C.D. patted his arm, "Time to move on from here...."  His words were cut off by a cry of alarm from Alex.

            "What's happening?"  The doors of the ER burst open as someone ran down the corridor. There were many different voices heard before the doors closed on the conversation.

            "He's in defib!"

            "Get the crash cart."

            "Call the OR stat, continue with the chest drain. Start CPR"  The doors closed again, only to be flung open by another three persons wheeling in more equipment.

            "Charge 200 kilojoules."  The doors swung shut to silence again as the foursome watched every anxious moment.

             C.D. caught hold of Alex's arm, "C'me here honey, you and me'll go sit down here."

            "No, C.D..."

            C.D. refused to listen and gently dragged her away from the unfolding trauma and once out of sight, he embraced her as she wept.  Finally they sat together in the waiting room, his hands tightly clasped round hers as she silently said a prayer.  A few minutes later Trivette and Dalton appeared.

            Before they could even ask, Trivette raised his hands to calm them, "Seems like they got him back."

            "Oh thank God!"  C.D. rubbed his eyes.  Some twenty minutes later they were advised Walker had been taken to surgery and they would be informed of his progress as soon as they had news.

            Dalton stood up, "Come on Alex, I'm taking you home. We can call later and see how he's doing."

            "No, I'm not leaving."

            "Alex, you're soaked to the skin." Dalton looked to C.D. for support, "you won't help if you're ill.  We'll phone later."

            It made sense even though C.D. didn't want Alex to go. He nodded his approval  of the plan. "Go on honey, you two get off, if anything happens we'll call ya, I promise."  Reluctantly they said their good-byes and Dalton took her hand has he led her down the corridor.  Trivette angrily changed weight on his legs as he watched them go, turned to stomp up the corridor just to stomped back again. He shook his head not really knowing which event he wanted to comment on first, and sat down heavily, placing his chin in his hand.  C.D. just watched, unable to offer words of comfort as he fought with his own mixed emotions.

            Later that evening C.D. called to let them know Walker was stable and should make a full recovery, but Dalton was adamant he should stay on the settee so Alex wouldn't be alone.  She had agreed although she would have preferred the solitude, but his insistence had worn her down to the point where she couldn't be bothered to fight further.  Reaching out in the dark for her alarm clock, Alex pressed a button to reveal the time.  2.30am.  Alex set the clock down and lay back on the pillows until she reached  a decision and got up quietly. Without making a sound  she dressed, grabbed her car keys, and tiptoed past Dalton and out through the front door.  She arrived at the hospital some twenty minutes later.  Checking on Walker's room number she used her District Attorneys status to persuade the nurses to let her in and made her way to the first floor.  Knocking very quietly she entered to find Walker sleeping and alone. Alex stood by the door for a long time, just watching him, finally making her way to his bedside.  She positioned her hand close to his but didn't touch him, and as a tear slowly made it's way down her cheek, she falteringly tried to explain things to him. "Walker," she whispered, "I'm sorry it worked out this way, I'm sorry you got hurt." She paused to look in his face, "I....  I would have loved a life together, but I guess it wasn't to be.  It'll be difficult to stop myself wondering what we would have been like together."  With that, and unable to help herself, Alex picked up his hand, kissed it, placed it carefully back on the bed and with a "goodbye",  she left the room.

            As his vision cleared Walker made out C.D.'s shape at the end of his bed. "C.D.?"  He tried to lift his head up but it seemed to weigh a ton, so he gave up and turned to the left after hearing a noise to the side of him.

            "Hey  partner!"  Trivette smiled at him, "'bout time you started to show some signs of life. There's a ton of work waiting for you," he kidded.

            Walker forced a smile. "Will it keep till tomorrow?"

            "Tcchh! OK, I guess I'll cover for you again!"

            Looking for C.D. Walker implored his old partner, "Can't you keep him under control anymore C.D.?"

            C.D. laughed, "It's gittin' mighty difficult.   How you feelin'?"

            "Aw, I'm fine, thanks."  A deep frown appeared on Walker's face as he began to remember what happened to him, he thought for a few seconds and tried to get up, "wait, I remember!" Trivette's hand kept him down, "Trivette what's the time?"

            "Woah, partner, you're not goin' anywhere!  The time, 10.30"

            "At night?"

            "Yeah."

            "Maybe it's not too late to see Alex later if I rest for another hour or so."

            Trivette and C.D. looked at each other.  C.D. cleared his throat,  "er, I don't think you understand, son, y'see it's bin two days since you was hurt."

            It didn't sink in initially as Walker looked puzzled, "two days?" He asked incredulously.

            "Yeh, man.  You darn nearly lost your life once, and you've had two surgeries.  You're lucky to be here."

            "Two days!"  Walker thought it through some more and looked directly at his friends, "so," He gulped heavily and checked round the room again, "Alex...."

            They nodded somberly and C.D. sighed, "yeh, she's left with Dalton."

            Walker's stomach did a somersault, but he kept a stoic look.

            "She made sure you were gonna be OK before she left though." Trivette felt it was an important point for him to bear in mind, and Walker nodded. He felt drained again, and tried desperately to keep his eyes open until C.D. came round and patted him on the arm. 

            "You been sedated quite a bit, get some more shut eye and we'll be back in the morning.  You want anything before we go?" His eyes now closed, Walker shook his head almost instantly asleep. Trivette raised an eyebrow towards C.D. and they quietly left. They were both upset for him, but there was nothing either one could do about it,  they just vowed to help him get over it in time.  It was the early hours of the morning when Walker woke again, his body clock out of kilter with day and night.  He didn't move after opening his eyes, but remained still, taking stock of his bearings and trying to fill in the blank bits of his memory until the recollection of Alex and Dalton renewed the emotional hurt inside him. Walker turned his head to the left and peered in the dimly lit room at a body besides him, half seated, half laying asleep on the bed.  He continued to stare, until he recognized the form and his heart soared, "Alex?" Trying to raise himself up and reaching out with both hands, his left hand touched her first and he grabbed at her blouse and pulled her towards him.  She woke at his first touch.

            "Walker! Oh Walker."  Alex accepted his embrace as he found her lips and he kissed her lovingly, until he came to his senses and froze.  He looked embarrassed and pushed her away.   "I...  I just saw you there, forgive me.  That was totally inappropriate behavior!"  He turned his head away from her, biting his bottom lip as Alex looked at him with a puzzled look until she realized why he had released her.

            "Walker."  When he didn't turn back, she grabbed his arm, " Walker, I didn't marry Dalton."

             He turned back in amazement to look her in her eyes.

            "I didn't marry Dalton." She repeated.

            "Oh Alex."  Fatigued and unable to sustain his position, he was forced to lay his head back on the pillow, so she moved the chair up, laying her head on her hands next to him and smiled.

            "What am I going to do with you Walker?" He returned the smile and reached up with his hand to caress her hair.  He tried to sit up again until he felt her slap her hand on his forehead forcing him back down again.  "Cordell Walker if you don't stay flat on your back I swear I'll sedate you myself!"

            He grinned, trying to look serious, "Alex Cahill are you telling me what to do?"  To his delight she giggled,

            "This may be the one time I stand a chance of winning.  The doc's on my side!"

            "Well that'd be right.  Bring on the heavy artillery why don't you?"  Walker eyes softened as her looked at her, "marry me Alex."

            She leaned over and kissed him gently, her hand feeling his cheek and beard as she did so.  Then she sighed, finishing with a shake of the head and a "no,"  to sit back with her head sharing his pillow again.

            "Whaddya mean, no!"

            Alex raised her eyebrows. "How else can I put it?  No is no!"

            "I don't understand."  Walker blinked several times.

            "What's to understand?"  Seeing the drugs kick in again Alex knew he wouldn't be able to keep awake for much longer.

            "Alex," he tried again, unable to focus his thoughts.

            "Sshh." Alex smoothed his brow as his eyes were forced to close. "Everything will be fine, go to sleep for a while."

            Walker managed to find her hand.

            "Just rest, OK?  I'll still be here."

            Unable to respond Walker slipped off to oblivion once more.

            "C.D. I'm telling you she was here, she didn't marry Dalton and she wouldn't marry me either!"

            "Cordell, I'm sure you  thought you saw her, but she hasn't come back.  I'm real sorry, but you dreamt it. You've bin more asleep than not."

            Walker felt confused and irritated.

            "Look if she said she would be here then where is she?"  They were interrupted by the doctors arrival.  Walker glowered at him.

            "Bill, did you have to sedate me quite so much?"

            "Walker, I'm sorry.  How else was I supposed to keep you flat on that bed till things started healing, huh?  How?"  Walker wasn't sure either.  Bill pressed on his advantage, "but hey, I'm a fair man and I know you're itching to get out so now I've done what I had to I'll try and break you out before time, OK?"  He held his hands out in front of him to convince Walker of his good intentions.

            "Oh, OK!"

            C.D. and Trivette smiled and Bill laid out his plan. "How many times have you bailed out early on me Walker, no, don't answer that, I think it's been every time, so now I have a new tactic!  I'll help with the escape plan this time. That way I think it will benefit everyone all round.  How about we get you sat up this morning, walking around this afternoon and, PROVIDING all is well, these guys can get you back to their place for tomorrow night?  Fair enough?"

            That wasn't bad  thought Walker.  "OK, it's a deal doc!"

            "Great. Two more minutes you guys and then we'll get on with it." With that he spun on his heel and went out the door.

            Frowning Walker looked back at his two friends, as everyone was undecided how to resume their earlier conversation. " I dreamt all that?"  His disappointment was obvious.  Suddenly it became academic as a voice was heard from the doorway.

            "Hi."

            They all turned to see Alex step into the room.

            "Alex!" They exclaimed.

            She was taken aback then smiled at them all.  Trivette was delighted and rushed to hug her, "Welcome back, Counselor!"

            "Hey Jimmy, thank you for that welcome."

            C.D. stepped forward embracing her fondly as well, "Glad to have you back home honey."

            "It's great to be back home C.D."  She looked down on Walker slipping her hand in to his.

            "Alex," he implored, "tell me I'm not goin' crazy!  You were here last night weren't you?"

            Frowning,  she shook her head looking puzzled as Walker's face fell and his shoulders dropped in disappointment.  Alex smiled broadly at them all. "Gotcha at last Cordell Walker!"   Her loud giggle masked the sigh of relief all round.

            Mid -afternoon the next day, while waiting for C.D. to pick them up, Walker sat in the chair by his bed dressed in black pants with a maroon sweater hanging loosely over his hips.  Alex sipped a coffee in a chair next to him watching him as he fingered his beard. "I can't tell you how good it is to see you getting your strength back."  She was rewarded with a grin.  

            Walker took her hand.  "Y'know, I meant what I said last night Alex, and you know the night all this happened," he stopped briefly, "I was on my way to see you to ask you to marry me."

            Alex fondled his hand and closed her eyes, " it doesn't change anything though," she replied softly.

            Walker shook his head, "Why not?"

            "Walker, tell me the truth, if Dalton Reed hadn't appeared on the scene would you have asked me to marry you?"

            Walker grimaced inside.  They both knew the answer to that.  He shook his head, "I guess not."  She fixed him with her large, beautiful eyes, painfully leaving the rest unsaid. He pressed on. "Let me ask you a question then, why did you come back, why didn't you stay, marry Dalton and make a life for yourself with him?"

            Alex thought a few moments before answering, "when I came out of my apartment and saw you lying there..." She shuddered at the recollection, "I think it must have been that moment  I began to realize what it would mean for me not to be associated with you, even if our relationship didn't progress any further.  Then when you arrested in the ER, I knew I didn't want to distance myself from you forever, but I was so confused and upset at that point.  It took me a while to admit how I felt until we were waiting to change planes in LA.  As I sat there I knew I had to get back to you, even though that in itself was irrational, so I talked it out with Dalton."

            Walker nodded somberly. "Was he OK?"

            "Yeh.  In fact I think he was just beginning to realize what a handful he was taking on with me,"  Walker smiled broadly as Alex continued, "and I think he was beginning to have second thoughts too.  But yeh, he was OK.  We finished it amicably, anyway."  She looked in to Walker's eyes as his locked into hers.

            "So, you experienced something, which forced you to admit how you really felt?"

            "Yes. You could put it like that."

            He squeezed her hand tighter.  "Then you'll know how I felt when I nearly lost my life. How I realize now just how short it really is." Walker never look his eyes off her as he continued, "but worse than that I also experienced life without you in it." He paused slightly, " and I never want to feel like that again.  I  know for sure what I want, Alex! I'm asking you to become my wife."   Alex frowned, her indecision apparent. Well she hadn't given an all out no this time, thought Walker, so he pressed home his advantage, a small grin appearing on his face together with a mischievous look in his eye. "OK, if you want me to get on my knees to ask you, I can understand that."  Wincing in mock pain, he made a show of sitting forward as she became alarmed.

            "Walker!  Don't you even think about it, sit back..."  She rose from her chair kneeling next to him as her hand reached for his shoulder to send him back.  He caught it, pulling her forward, carefully wrapping his arms round her and kissed her passionately.  She protested initially then gave into her feelings. Walker pulled back slightly to look at her, saying firmly, "I'll take that as a yes then?"  Nodding, her eyes full of love, she pulled his head forwards towards hers to allow their lips to touch once again.

The End

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