"The best time of the year and the worst - Christmas"

†by Jeanette & Ina

The snow was crunching under Walker's feet when he stepped away from his Dodge. He could see his own breath as a white mist in the crystal clear air and felt the morning frost stinging on his skin.

It was lousy cold in Dallas. Even for this time of year.

Walker looked up in the sky judging the heavy gray clouds over his head. There is even more snow coming, he thought smiling.

The parking lot in front of the HQ was nearly deserted. Most Rangers had taken the holidays off, enjoying the Christmas season with their families.

Walker stopped at the street entrance to the lot perceiving a cold wind coming from the north. He welcomed it as a part of the winter season. It also meant a new beginning was very near.

He took the time to look around. Kids were playing in the snow. Some of the street decoration was still lightened. All around houses and shop windows were decorated with shining stars, all kinds of pictures, wind plays and candles. Actually lots of candles in all colors, sizes and quantities.

At the corner opposite the Ranger HQ three musicians held out in the freezing cold singing Christmas Carols to the early by-passers. Walker crossed the street and listened to them for a moment, thinking about old times.

Christmas had always been a family festivity for him, but since the death of his parents it had lost a lot of its flair of innocence and peace.

He even had missed celebrating Christmas at one time, straying the streets as a runaway, driven away from his Indian next of kin by an overwhelming feeling of grief and hate.

It seemed a perfect logical decision at the time to run away. He didnít want to live on the reservation, and denied his Indian heritage where he had felt lost and unloved. Walker had been torn between two worlds then, but at last time had soothed the wounds the murder of his father and mother had teared into his soul.

After a while he realized how much Uncle Ray loved and cared for him and he learned about the ways Indians celebrate Christmas. Their customs of saying thanks to the elements and spirits had become part of his life since then.

He drove his hands deeper into his pockets. Suddenly he felt a coin deep down. Carefully he took it out and dropped it into the collection. One the musicians shook his head in gratitude and went on playing.

Walker stood aside, still listening, for a moment toying with the idea to call Alex on his cellular phone. She hadnít shown up at the annual Ranger Christmas party the other night, and he wondered what had kept her away.

Since CD was out of town Jimmy, Alex and himself had not met for their usual breakfast in their friend's bar and Walker wasnít sure if theyíd find the time to exchange much Christmas spirit later on.

Alex was supposed to spend the day in court and Jimmy, his partner, was about to leave soon for a visit with his family in Boston.

Walker sighed.

Christmas. It was the busiest time of the year and the loneliest. And no one was immune to the Christmas blues.

Not even a lawman.

"Okay, Jimmy, talk to us."

Tell us, how did it go with the redhead you drove home after the party?"

Jimmy Trivette was surrounded by three of his fellow rangers at his desk. One sat on the corner of it blocking Jimmy`s only escape route. Another one sat in the visitor seat right in front of the desk while the third had planted himself right behind him. All of them showed unmistakable marks of a hangover from the party last night. And they were curious. Very curious.

"What do you mean, what happened?" Jimmy answered innocently.

"Donít play stupid, Trivette!"

"Who? Me? Hey guys, what do you think?"

"You scored, didnít you?" Bob Wilson, the Ranger right behind him asked good humouredly, poking a probing finger into Trivetteís back. "We want the juicy details, Jimmy!"

Jimmy opened his mouth to retort about their dirty imagination when he saw Walker entering the office.

His senior partner's face looked solemn. He seemed to be in a bad mood. In fact had been, for the last couple of days.

"Do you know whatís eating Walker?" The ranger sitting on the edge of the desk, Bill Desham, asked concerned.

"I guess Lucas death is still chewing on him." Bob assumed. "On top of that, a guy in land marking told me that Walker wanted to buy a piece of land that bordered to his ranch. Even had an option on it. It ran out only a couple of days before and some other fella used the opportunity. Snatched it away right from under his nose. Bought the land while Walker chased some guy up the Pecos..."

Jimmy nodded. He remembered the old dream of his partner very well. He had saved up every penny for over 3 years to make a cash payment for that land.

But then they found Lucas and Walker semi-adopted the sick boy. The hospital bills for the kids treatment swallowed a big part of Walker savings but he somehow managed to come up with the money just in time again. It seemed to be like a struck of fate that his dream wasnít to be fulfilled† after all.

"It was kind of a bad year for him." Bob agreed. "Christmas blues too, I guess... you know these days just before Christmas are special all around the world. You always meet only two kinds of people, happy ones full of Christmas spirit and silent ones full of Christmas sorrow."

"A Chinese fortune cookie saying?" Jimmy asked wondering if it could be Cherokee too..

"My mother in law." Bill replied.

They all laughed.

"I kind of missed some faces yesterday at the party." Jimmy tried to change the subject.

"You missed everybody." Bill stated. "You had only eyes for her."

"I was busy breaking the ice," Jimmy defended himself.

"I bet you did."

"Okay, lets go. We have work to finish." Bill stood up, as Walker stepped nearer and they broke off their round in a hurry.

Christmas blues was infectious. Every kid knew that.

Walker noticed the gathering around Jimmy's desk.

The redhead, he thought. Their fellow rangers probably interrogated Jimmy for details. When he got closer the three other rangers split.

Walker sighed.

You're no good company right now. And worse, everybody knows already about that, he thought.

"Morning!" He greeted Jimmy taking a cup of coffee before even taking off his Stetson.

Not a good sign, Jimmy thought. "Any news?" He asked out loud.

Walker turned around looking more frustrated than he really felt. "No, Hammersmith sold the land to a guy named Hammond. I just have to wait and hope the new owner will show up sooner or later."

"It's really unbelievable Hammersmith forgot about your deal."

Walker sat down. "Well, he did not really forget it. It looks like I actually told him at Uncle Rayís burial that I stopped thinking about expanding the farm. After the option ran out he just sold the land to the only other bidder."

Jimmy sighed. Uncle Ray's death had been a hard time for all of them. He too, still missed the old wise Indian.

"But that was years ago."

Again Walker nodded.

"Yeah, but itís my own fault things went the way they did. I wanted to talk to Hammersmith about the land just before we encountered Lucas. Somehow I never found the time."

Jimmy stood up and helped himself to a cup of coffee.

No wonder, everything stepped into the background once Lucas came into your life, the young ranger sympathized.

Lost in thoughts and memories Walker missed Alex entering the office.

She smiled looking even more beautiful then ever.

"Hi guys, I am sorry I couldn't make it yesterday." She greeted them.

Jimmy sighed. Now he knew another reason why Walker wasnít wearing his happy face. "I thought you would be in court today?"† he asked surprised to see her.

"Me too, but Judge Anderson caught a bad case of the flu, so they cancelled the legal proceedings for today." Alex stepped closer to Walker's desk, still beaming with delight, not noticing his bad mood.

"You never guess who called last night!"

Walker looked up like he wanted to say Dalton Reed, but then thought about it twice. It was a bad omen to call on old ghosts.

"My father called. We talked nearly the whole night." Alex blurted out, her whole being radiating happiness. "We are going to celebrate Christmas together. It's the first time for..," her voice trailed off thinking about lost good times, "9 years..."

"So he is coming here?" Jimmy asked. Alex shook her head.

"No guys, I am sorry. I have to go to Denver and meet Gordon there, but I promise I`ll be back for New Years Eve party. I'll never miss that for the world..."

Alex smiled affectionately in Walker's direction. They had kissed for the first time on New Years eve in CD`s bar, a memory she was very fond off.

Just now she noticed that Walker was even more silent than usual. She looked into his face searching for a sign of disapproval, but instead his eyes showed only how happy he was for her. He knew that she and her father were trying for some time now to become closer again.

The Ranger stood up, kissing her lightly on the cheek, a thin smile on his lips. "Have a nice Christmas Alex, you are doing the right thing."

She smiled back.

"Well, Alex, maybe we can go together to the airport."

Suddenly Alex remembered that Jimmy used to spend his holidays with his family.

"I better drive you two." Walker volunteered. "With this snow you'll never make to the airport."

He grinned imagining Jimmy's sports car stuck in the snow.

"Walker, why don't you tag along and join me for Christmas? Iím sure, Gordon wouldn't mind." Alex offered, suddenly realizing that with all of them out of town, Walker would spend a very lonely Christmas.

"No, no, you go ahead. You've missed your father for so long. Besides I do have my own plans for Christmas.

"Plans?" Jimmy asked curious, suspecting a white lie from his partner.

"I promised something." Walker answered honestly. Sure it was tempting to go along with Alex, but he had indeed promised to do some charity work on Christmas Eve.

"You are absolutely sure?" Alex whispered concerned.

"Don't worry. I`ll be fine." Walker promised her.

Alex knew that he wasnít exactly lying, but he wasnít telling the complete truth either.

His grief about Lucas was still quite evident in his behavior and he was further upset about loosing the land. The little black cloud hovering over his head was nearly visible, although he gave his best not to show any emotions at all.

"Come with me. You deserve a nice Christmas." Alex begged him.

"I really appreciate your offer Alex, but I just canít take it." Walker noticed the concerned look on her face. "Don't worry about me. I`ll be fine."

"If you say so. But I promise, we will take a deeper look at this guy who bought your piece of land first thing in the New Year. "

Walker smiled for her sensing his still unsettled mind over the matter. "I just thought it would be there forever and I could take my time."

Alex took a sip from his cup of coffee.

"You should have taken my money and bought it years ago." she accused him, gently nagging.

"I don't like debts. You know that."

"And you see what happens....." Alex replied sweetly, booking a point. Walker blinked irritated at her and being a bad looser, changed the subject at once.

"So, Trivette, how did it go with Barbara?"

Jimmy shook his head about how a small romance on his part could possible cause so much attention.

"How do you know about it. You disappeared much too early." He protested.

"Barbara?" Alex asked.

"The slender redhead from research." Walker nodded. "Our young hero here was courting her yesterday at the party." Jimmy cleared his throat. "I got lucky. But a gentleman enjoys and says nothing."

"Did you hear that?" Walker said to Alex. "When I came in he was crowded round by Bob, Will and Bill. Guess what they were talking about."

Feeling slightly embarrassed Jimmy changed the subject.

"So, what about CD?" He hadn't seen him for two days now.

Alex turned towards him shaking her head in disbelieve.

"You remember him telling us all the year long about this special trip he was going to make, donít you`?"

"Yeah, I remember. But with all this snow coming down I thought he wouldn't go." Now it was Walkers turn to smile about Jimmy`s misjudgment of CD.

"He is already there, went long before the storm hit us. Heíll probably won't be back before New Year."

"You mean he will be cut off by snow?" Alex feared.

"Don't worry. He will enjoy and welcome it as an excuse to stay longer." Walker helped himself to another cup of coffee. CD too had asked him to come along to his trip into the mountains.

"So, Alex, when do you have to leave?"

Shortly after he had driven Alex and Trivette to the Airport

Walker was alone in the stable stroking Amigo's muzzle, slowly feeling the unearthly Christmas silence creeping up on him. Especially at Christmas, time seemed to slow down and all those emotions and thoughts, otherwise buried deep under the daily chores of life, came to mind.

It was the only time of year Walker really felt lonely, especially since Uncle Ray had passed over the water.

With no family and no one left to share the joy of Christmas, he even started to question his own decision to live a life in solitude.

It was the Christmas blues, of course, but he knew just the cure for it.

An hour later he parked his Dodge near their destiny and unloaded Amigo from the horse trailer.

The large sport arena behind the orphanage was still beautifully decorated from the Christmas rodeo which happened earlier the day.†

Looking around Walker remembered the cheers, shouts and animal cries which normally filled this hall with an nearly unbearable excitement.

The small wagon he was looking for, had been left like promised and he harnessed the horse in front of it. Amigo was getting cold and therefore nervous, trotting from one hoof to the other.

"It's okay, boy. We are going in now."

Walker stepped from the wagon and swung himself on the back of the horse directing it to one of the smaller arenas of the circus. A faint whisper grew louder the closer they came. Amigo shook his mane in excitement. The horse knew the procedure and what would happen next very well.

The Ranger checked the fit of his hat before he opened the gate and let Amigo trot proudly inside.

About 25 children were already waiting for them. The little orphans cheered and laughed and soon Walker and Amigo were surrounded by them, bombarded with questions, touched by little hands and watched by sparkling little eyes.

Walker and one of the female teachers helped the children into the wagon. Amigo behaved himself and trotted around the arena with seemingly unending patience.

He accepted his duty and in the end even took sugar and carrots from the children's hands. Many of them never had seen a horse so near, touched it or even ridden one. They played around it shouting, hunting each other while Amigo just stood there like a bronze statue.

At the entrance of the arena the head of the orphanage Mr. Kilan joined the laughing crowd much later. He saw Walker leaning against the wall, enjoying the sight of happy children.

"He is still here?" He said to Sister Clarence next to him. "Should we prepare an extra bed for him?"

The nun shook her head, not understanding the joke Mr. Kilan intended.

"No, I don't think this will be necessary. If you will excuse me for a moment." She went down, to get a cup of tea for the Ranger and made her way back into the arena.

"They enjoy it every year, Walker donít they?"

"They sure do."

"Many of them were afraid you wouldnít show because of all the snow."

Walker took the offered cup. "No, we wouldn't miss this. It's the only time Amigo," Walker gestured to the horse, "would let somebody else ride him. I think he is getting spoiled by all the sugar and carrots."

Sister Clarence nodded in agreement allowing a small smile escape on her lips.

"The dinner is ready now. Will you do us the honor and join us?" Walker thought about it.

"Iím afraid not. They announced more snow for tonight, and Amigo and me better head home soon."

"You are rejecting a free dinner offer at Christmas, our only way to thank you?" She asked putting all her authority behind it. It had the desired effect on Walker. He didn't want to stay but how could she refuse her?

"Iíve to take care of Amigo first." he finally gave in.

Sister Clarence took his empty cup and watched joyfully how the big man tried to make way for him through the high tide of children.

The orphanage was only across the street. Since the rodeo arena was often used for celebrations or other events Amigo found a nice warm place in one of the stables.

Satisfied he dedicated himself to the hay and water.

Walker left a small light on before he left the horse.

When he entered the orphanage he realized for the first time how cold it was outside. He turned around and noticed it started to snow again.

The house was decorated, the sweet smell of freshly baked cookies filled every room.

"Come over here, Ranger." Sister Clarence called him. He took his hat in his hands trying to find a way through the children wondering where they all were heading for.

As an answer Walker heard a deep "HoHoHo!" from behind.

They got themselves already a Santa Claus, he thought relived. For a second he had been afraid that Sister Clarence wanted him to play the role.

Again the "HOHOHO!" rang out and Walker felt the touch of the rod on his back.

"Tell Santa truthfully, have you been well-behaved this year?" A deep, joyful, very familiar voice asked.

Walker turned on his heels. Astonished he looked at the black Santa that was barely holding back a big laugh at the sight of Walker's utterly surprised face.

Alex...I mean Angel, hurry, come over here. You must see his face. This is better..." Jimmy`s voice croaked, as he nearly choked on his laugh.

Walker still stood frozen in speechless joy.

Alex too, was the only thought that came to his fogged mind. From behind a woman dressed as an angel with wings and sundries closed in on them fast.

"Hey Walker, are you going to stand just there?" Jimmy asked cheerfully, tilting his head with the ridiculous pointed Santa Claus hat on top of it. "Is it my suit? Should I be hurt or happy?"

In an instant Walker snapped out of his paralysis and hugged Jimmy hard. "Happy!" He said his voice thick with emotions. "I am happy you are here, partner."

Then the Rangers turned to hug Alex. She looked gorgeous wearing her white dress with giant white Angel wings and a Saints halo. Hugging her without crushing the wings turned out to be a real challenge. She felt his happiness and just couldn't help but hug him again and again.

"You didnít really think we would leave you alone on Christmas?" she finally asked speechless.

"I bet he did." Another familiar voice cut in. "Well, Cordell, I sure never saw you looking more surprised than now."

"CD, you too?" Walker exclaimed, clearly moved.

CD nodded. He was wearing a cooks hat and an apron both covered with obvious signs of his work in the kitchen.

"I canít believe all three of you would do something like that to me..." Walker began slightly upset, trying to cover up his real feelings. He was touched. More than he wanted anyone to know.

"Don't worry, it wonít happen again until next year." Santa Jimmy promised. They all laughed when Sister Clarence joined them.

"Did you take part in this conspiracy too?"

The nun looked at Walker innocently. "Each day a good deed, my son, and after all it's Christmas, isnít it?" She answered.

An hour later, after Jimmy and Alex and given out the Christmas presents to the children, everybody sat down for dinner. CD, with the help of some nuns, had prepared a standard American Christmas feast.

"So, where are we going afterwards?" Alex asked Walker between bites of turkey.

"That's a good question." Jimmy agreed.

"Why do I get the feeling you already know the answer." Walker replied observing the three conspirators closely.

"Well, it's only fair we go to your place after I nearly froze something quite valuable, waiting over half an hour for a Taxi at the airport."

"Value for who?" CD asked not really up to date.

"Barbara!" Alex offered helpfully.

"Hey, stand down. I only gave her a ride home." Jimmy explained.

"She beeped him this afternoon." Alex smiled.

"No secret is safe with you." Jimmy muttered.

"I think I was outstanding this time." Alex praised herself.

"You all were very good." Walker agreed. "How could I have been so blind?"

"Come on, it's Christmas. I forgive you." Alex smiled at him.

Around eleven it stopped snowing so the four of them started on their way home.

Alex sat beside Walker in his truck with Amigo in the horse trailer, while Jimmy and CD took CDs car.

"Are you really mad at us?" Alex asked leaning on Walkers shoulder still shuddering from the cold outside.

"No." Walker answered keeping a close eye on the winding white powdered road. He felt very happy. For the first time in long month, although he was far away from telling her. "But Iíve to admit I was quite surprised..."

"You know, it felt just like the right thing to do for us."

"The right thing? What do you mean, Alex?"

"The change you underwent when you lost Lucas." he looked at him, love and concern reflecting in her eyes. "You acted normal but somehow a part of you withdrew itself from us. It was like Lucas took all your love and happiness with him. We reached the end of words that could comfort you and with Christmas approaching it was time for some action."

It sounded somewhat crazy but Walker had to admit to least to some point that Alex was right. Lucas' death had changed some things in his life. It had hurt him badly. Still did at times, although he had learned to deal with the pain.

Walker placed his right arm around her shoulder.

"I appreciate your concern," he began searching for the right words, for not opening up to much to her "And you are right, Lucas meant a lot to me. I couldnít let him die alone, and when he passed away in my arms he took something of me with him."

"We know." Alex nodded. "Thatís why we wanted you to realize that you donít have to deal with it alone. That youíll never be alone."

He kissed her on the cheek. "I know, Alex. You all are my family. I just forgot that for a little while."

For a moment a peaceful silence filled the truck.

There was no need for more words between them.

The headlights touched the endless white surface of the road and Alex wondered how Walker knew it was still there. She looked in the rearview mirror and saw the two lights of CDs car following them closely.

"I would like to know one thing, Alex." Walker suddenly said.

"What?"

"Jimmy told his family that he is not coming, but what about your phone call with Gordon?" He asked worried. "You havenít cancelled your meeting, have you?"

"No." Alex hesitated only shortly. "I lent him your spare key. Heís waiting for us at the ranch...."

An icy wind was blowing when the party finally arrived at Walker's ranch. He took Alex hand and pulled her with him towards the house.

Gordon had heard them arrive and awaited them on the front porch.

"Well, thatís quite some weather you have here." He said. Alex hugged him briefly pushing him back into the house.

When everybody was finally inside and thawed up a bit Gordon greeted them properly.

"Donít you love it, when a plan comes together." He said placing his arms around Alex's shoulders and extended his right hand towards Walker.

"Thanks for the invitation."

Walker smiled amused. "Youíre welcome. After all thereís no better way to celebrate Christmas than with friends and family."

Jimmy and Alex exchanged short glances, a bright smile lightning up the young Ranger's face, as he noticed real enthusiasm in Walker's voice. Something he had missed for a long time.

"Well, Gordon you did a great job with the tree." he congratulated Alex's father.

Everybody turned around and admired the Christmas tree.

It barely fit into Walker living room. For itís proper presentation Gordon had shut down the overhead lights. The candle lights gave the beautifully decorated tree a sheer, shinning unearthly look.

"When did you do all of this?"

"Thatís his secret." Alex laughed and then turned to her father. "Thank you, for making this possible ." She whispered breathing a kiss on her father's cheek.

Slightly embarrassed Gordon flushed. He was out of practice being a father.

The group went into the living room Walker excused himself to take care of Amigo. When he returned cold and wet from the barn the others had already produced some hot tea and taken their places around the fireside.

Walker shuddered of cold, warming his hands near the cozy flames before he sat down on the settee next to Alex and Gordon, feeling everyoneís eyes on his every movement.

"What?" He asked irritated. Were they expecting something from him?

"Itís your house." CD got him going. "And you know the old tradition of telling a story on Christmas Eve..."

"A story?"

"A Christmas story, to be more precise." Alex explained snuggling her warm body against his.

Walker looked at her like he had been run over by a truck.

"I heard youíve quite some expertise in storytelling" Gordon encouraged him.

"He does a real good job with kids..." Jimmy chipped in cheerfully.

"Then this is an opportunity to tell a Cherokee story you shouldnít give up easily." Gordon again.

Walker sighed inwardly. There seemed to be no escape, and after all they asked for it.

15 minutes later he noticed how the old stories of White Eagle sill were vivid enough to amaze even grown-ups.

It was well after 1 am before they all retired to their rooms.

The next morning around six thirty after Walker had cared for his animals he tried to sneak into the kitchen without waking somebody. He pushed the door open only find CD and Gordon already chatting over a cup of coffee.

"Good morning, Cordell." CD greeted him. "Sit down, I'll get you a cup of coffee. You are nearly in time for some fresh cookies too."

Walker sat down. "What are you doing up so early?" He wondered.

"I was in the restroom when I heard some noise down here." Gordon explained. He looked relaxed and brightly awake and Cordell didnít fail to notice how much changed for the better the man looked and acted after heíd quit drinking.

In the next second the door opened again.

"I smell coookkkiesssss..." Jimmy chirped trailing the mouth watering baking aroma to the hot stove.

"Jimmy," CD protested. "donít you dare and open it. Sit down here. The cookies will take another 10 minutes." The young ranger already fully clothed obeyed and squeezed himself on a chair. His hands welcomed the warmth of the coffee cup CD placed in front of him.

"So, is Alex still sleeping?" he asked.

Just like on command Alex answered that question by pushing the door open, looking awake and in a good mood.

"Hi CD, I am on time, I guess." She turned to the others nodding. "Morning Jimmy, Walker, Gordon." She sat down in CD`s place.

"What drove you out of bed so early?" Walker asked.

"Well, it's Christmas day. Time to open the presents."

"You are unbelievable, Alex, ever so impatient" Gordon joked.

"Thatís exactly why we will open presents first thing after lunch." Walker announced smiling good humored, paying Alex back for the little Christmas story scheme from the day before.

"Weíve some work left to do before lunch anyway."†

"First of all, youíve to try my cookies." CD ordered them with authority and placed a plate full of fudge brownies right in front of Jimmy.

Later Walker went out to get more firewood.

Jimmy joined him trudging through the snow when his beeper sounded.

"Barbara?" Walker smiled.

Jimmy pulled a face. "Very funny!" He looked at the number. "Itís the office!" He said astonished.

The two men made their way back into the house.

Alex saw them wondering why they hadn't brought any wood with them and stayed as Jimmy went straight to the phone. He dialed the office number and listened to what kind of message the operator had to relay to him.

"He got a beep from the office." Walker explained to Alex and too CD and Gordon who came in from the living room.

All waited in silence watching Jimmy for a sign. When he paled visibly everybody got worried.

Finally Jimmy hung up, taking a deep breath. "Guys, I am sorry. I have to leave."

Alex took his hand. "What happened?" She wanted to know.

"My mother.." Jimmy began. Everybody seemed to know what was coming. "She is here.

Decided to take a flight to Dallas when I cancelled her for Christmas. Sheís waiting at the headquarters. I have to get her...."

"We are preparing lunch. So hurry." Gordon said.

"No no, I am not coming back." Jimmy warded the idea off. "You donít want to spend Christmas with my mother..."

"And why not?" Walker asked. Besides what do you want to do? Youíll find no free motel room within a hundred miles today and do you really think it would be a good idea to spent Christmas with caged up with your mother in your small apartment, would you?" Walker painted the picture in dark colors.

He reached into the pocket of his coat. Handing over the Dodge keys he said, "Take the truck or else you will not make it back. Drive carefully and make sure your mother knows she is welcomed." Jimmy looked at the keys in his hand.

"I can take the truck?" He asked finding back to his cheerful mood. "That's a Christmas present I like..." With this he went out.

Walker shook his head.

"Gordon, will you help me to get some more wood? It seems we have to heat up an extra room.

Alex, will you please see if the third guest room is okay?" She nodded smiling ever so sweetly.

"You see, Walker, it's good Uncle Ray kept on expanding."

"It's cold outside. Really cold..." Gordon said to himself shaking like a leaf, placing down the sixth pack of wood.

For a second he remained standing in the lobby, amazed by the big tree and caught by the sense of Christmas.. It felt like how Christmas used to be, back then, when Alex had been a small child. When things between them had been all right.

He didn't notice his daughter watching him from the first floor. Her feelings were mutual. She was happy Gordon was once again with her.

"You are finished?" she asked. Gordon turned to her, snapping out of his thoughts, opening his coat as he nodded.

"Yeah, Walker just went to look after the horses." Alex came down the stairs slowly. She was wearing a special dress bought especially for this day.

The door opened again and with a rush of cold wind and snowflakes Walker was blown inside. He pushed the door shut.

"Did Jimmy call?" He asked worried that the bad weather had caused trouble for Jimmy and his mother on their way to the farm. Gordon didnít answer. He noticed him staring upstairs and followed his gaze.

"Looks like somebody is ready to give out Christmas presents." Cordell whispered getting rid of his jacket while he went up some steps to meet Alex halfway. She looked just gorgeous. Her dress stood in sharp contrast to the blue denim shirt and black jeans he wore, but actually she liked it when he dressed in a wild rugged wild west style.

Smiling, she took his hand and allowed him to kiss her gently on the cheek.

"Youíre cold, get in here and drink something to get warm inside."

They all sat together for some minutes absorbed in small talk when Walker suddenly heard his truck.

"They are coming." He said, walking up to the lobby.

Outside the wind was blowing heavily. Walker opened the door, took Mrs. Trivette arm gently and pulled her in. She coughed and had some trouble removing the layers of cloth she had put on for protection. Alex gave her a hand.

Finally a middle-aged woman taller than Alex appeared under the wrap. She stepped forward shaking Walkers hand.

"Thank you for the invitation." She said, still out of breath.†

"Cordell Walker, Ma'am, and Iím honored to meet you." Walker introduced himself politely, squeezing her hand. He gazed through the window making out Jimmy`s silhouette in the sleet.

"Youíve to excuse me but I think Jimmy needs a hand with your baggage." He slipped back into his coat.

"Alex Cahill, we talked over the phone." Alex† acquainted herself.

"Oh yes.."

Alex led Anne Trivette into the next room.

"My father, Gordon Cahill and CD Parker, another Ranger."

"Pleased to meet you all, and please call me Anne." She shook the last snowflakes from her hair.

"Youíve got quite a weather here. When Jimmy mentioned we were going to a ranch I pictured myself in his red sports car stuck somewhere in the middle of a snowstorm..."

She sat down on the settee and thankfully took a cup of tea from the ever attentive CD.

"What brought you out here, Anne? It's definitely not the best season for visits." Anne stirred the tea.

"Well, with all my other children off I decided without hesitation if Jimmy canít come to see me this year I had to come and see my baby..."

The door opened again and Jimmy and Walker stumbled in, their arms heavy with suitcases and bags.

"They closed down Dallas airport." Walker announced. "There is a snowstorm moving in. Iíve to go and secure the house..."

Alex stood up to go and help Jimmy. The young Ranger was completely covered with snow. He felt like a beast of burden.

"You are still alive?" Alex joked.

"Very funny." Jimmy replied still trying to catch his breath.

"Anne, you probably want to fresh up. I will show you to your room." Alex offered smiling at Jimmy.

"Will you bring the suitcases upstairs?"

Later the men sat together on the settees listening to the cracking wood in the fireplace enjoying their drinks and the warmth.

Suddenly an alarm clock sounded.

"It's time." CD said and got up. He entered the kitchen to find Anne and Alex sitting in his domain talking.

"Well, lunchís nearly ready, if you like to help you can arrange the dishes." He offered.

"Whatever you're cooking, it really smells good." Anne complimented him, gaining his immediate respect . Did you make any desert?"

CD looked around. "Damn, oh eh, I'm sorry Ma'am, I forgot about that completely."

Anne smiled. "Maybe I can help." She left the kitchen went upstairs and returned minutes later with a cake box.

"Do you still need the oven?" She asked.

Leaving the two cooks alone Alex got into the next room.

In her mind she counted the people to decide how many plates she would need to set up the table.

Gordon, CD, Anne and Jimmy, Walker and herself - six.

Walker had already prepared a big white tablecloth. When he heard her starting to move the chairs he excused himself and went over.

"Need some help?" He asked. She nodded smiling.

15 minutes later the table was prepared with three kinds of plates for everybody, place settings, napkins and glasses. Satisfied she looked at her work.

"It looks wonderful. But somethingís missing ." Walker decided. He went over to a closet and brought a big candleholder out.

"There are candles in the drawer next to you. Will you please?" Carefully Alex took six candles out. They were richly ornamented and smelled of herbs.

"They look and smell beautiful. Indian?" She asked.

"Yes, a gift from Running Bear's sister."

Alex positioned the candleholder and set the candles straight, while Walker went into the living room to get something else.

"This looks really beautiful." Anne said upon entering from the kitchen.Ē I start to believe that this man has everything. A house, a car, a steady job and trousseau." She laughed winking at Alex. Cordell Walker had been the subject of their talk earlier. "Besides that heís a darl. You better catch him before some other girl does..."

She looked over the table.

"There is a plate missing." She said and turned around to get one from the kitchen.

Alex looked over her arrangement again, counted the people and decided that Anne must be wrong. Jimmy's mother came back, carrying a plate, glasses and place settings when Walker entered from the living room with a small arrangement of feathers, stones and some colored tape in his hands.

Anne and Walker looked at each other smiling, obviously sharing something Alex didnít know of. As Anne started to set the extra plate Walker placed the Indian arrangement in front of it.

When Anne noticed Alex puzzled look she explained.

"Both of our tribes share the tradition to set a plate for an unexpected guest."

Walker smiled. "Or to welcome the spirits of departed love ones among us to make the family whole again."

He hugged Anne.

"Especially at Christmas." She added and then. "I am very happy to be here."

An hour later after a good conversation and too much to eat they decided to leave the dishes be until later and gathered into the living room.

The candles on the tree burned lovely. Walker got down on his knees and selected two presents starting the big Christmas giveaway. He handed the larger one to Jimmy resigning the honor to hand over their combined present for CD to him.

"CD, this one is from Walker and me. Merry Christmas" The older Ranger took it carefully. He sat down beside Anne and Gordon ripping the gift wrapping away.

An oversized book appeared. In green, red and yellow letters one could read: HOW TO COOK ITALIAN.

CD took off his glasses and read it again.

"This is your work." He accused Jimmy.

"That's the book you bought?" Walker asked Jimmy. Alex read it and couldn't help but smile.

"Is this your way of criticizing my Italian cuisine?" CD exploded.

"Maybe you just open it." Walker suggested.

"How to cook Italian." CD muttered embarrassed," Like I of all people wouldn't know." He opened the book and noticed astonished that beneath the dust cover was a totally different book hidden. An old and very dear one.

He looked up, tears welling up in his eyes.

"Where did you find it?" He asked moved.

"It showed up in a second hand book shop some weeks ago." Walker explained. "The owner knew we were looking for it. It's after all it's your Ranger Yearbook. The dedication is still there." Carefully CD turned the pages. In a childish handwriting one still could read:

"For my beloved Ranger in his first year."

Alex looked to Walker for an explanation.

"It's the Ranger Yearbook Carol bought for him. It was stolen a few weeks ago and turned up again right in time for Christmas." She smiled. Knowing that Jimmy and Cordell had probably moved heaven and earth to retrieve it.

"Lets do Jimmy." She whispered. Walker handled her the gift.

Over on the couch Anne and Gordon sat side by side.

"It's a wonderful Christmas..." He said.

"Yes, and I just hope Jimmy loves my present." Anne stated.

She watched her grown up boy with love. He had found his place in life, and friends he loved and trusted.

Alex handed a big box to Jimmy.

"That's from us." She said. He took it, sat down on the armrest of the big chair and weighted it heavy in his hand.

The wrapping was gone in a second.

"Youíre crazy..." He exclaimed excited, carefully sliding the custom made automatic handgun from it's holster. It was a beauty. Even better than the one they had presented Walker.

Alex smiled. It was nice to watch Jimmy completely absorbed with inspecting his latest toy.

"Is it still snowing?" She whispered to Walker, not wanting to disturb Jimmy.

Walker turned and opened up the wooden protection for an inch . A draft of cold air made Alex shudder and step closer to him away from the others. It took a second before her eyes adjusted to the darkness outside.

Big heavy snowflakes slowly tumbled through the storm to the ground. Others churned up from the ground blown up high in the sky by the force of nature. Alex leaned at Walker's shoulder and continued watching for a moment. After some time he reached into his pocket and produced a small embroidered bag. He offered it to Alex without saying a word.

"For me?" she asked. Curious she pulled the leather band open that held the bag closed. Itís handmade leather was soft and of black coloring. Carefully she emptied itís content into her hand, while Walker watched her all the way.

"Merry Christmas, Alex."

A number of small ivory colored stones rolled into her palm. Their touch felt soft and warm and even though Alex didn't know about their purpose, she was sure they were quite valuable in both spiritual and worldly regard.

"Oh Walker, they are beautiful."

"You like them?"

Alex touched the surface of one of the stones lightly. A different small animal sign rooted deep in the native Indian mythology was engraved into each one of them, creating a strong contrast to the stone itself.

"I like them very much." It was a simple statement but true.

"I had Tommy Snake-Eye made them specially for you." Walker explained, beaming with pride.

Alex remembered the young medicine man. They had met him at the reservation while joining a tribal festivity. A time she felt very special about, sharing and understanding a different, but proud nation. Walker never grew tired of her questions, explaining customs and rites of his people nearly all the time.

"What purpose do they serve?" she finally asked feeling his soft breath brushing her cheek.

"My people do use them for protection and spiritual guidance." Walker explained enjoying the honest happiness Alex showed for his present with some relief. He hadn't been sure about his choice, but he was now.

"Their spirits can be very helpful, if you believe in their powers."

"Will you show me how to use them, then?" Alex asked, looking deep into his eyes, suddenly feeling very near to his world.

"Hey Alex...Walker" A voice intruded their conversation suddenly, as Jimmy stepped closer with two glasses of egg -nog in his hand. "Gordon is about to bring out a toast, won't you join us?"

"Sure."

Walker cleared his throat flushing slightly, as he let go of Alex hand, not really remembering taking it in the first place.

"Be there in a second." Alex promised distracted, expecting Jimmy to give them another second of privacy, but the young Ranger had other plans.

Questioningly she glanced at him, trying to read his face.

"Itís about time," Jimmy answered her unspoken question ambiguously.

"Time for what?" Walker wondered sensing another conspiracy in progress.

"The egg-nog, what else?" Alex smiled pulling him gently with her towards the others.

"Ya see, we've a little problem with a present, Cordell." CD lied cheerfully, his cheeks slightly flushed from the alcoholic effect of the punch, "would ya lend us a hand?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Nope. You just volunteered." Jimmy patted his back in a friendly manner, enjoying the confused look on Walker's face.

"Look at the top of the tree." Alex gave him a hint.

There was a big white envelope dangling from the treetop addressed to Cordell Walker in vast red letters.

"Go and get your Christmas present, pard." Jimmy encouraged him by handing him one of the kitchen chairs.

Walker took a deep breath doing his best to keep an unreadable face, while he climbed on to the chair and reached for the envelope.

Thousand thoughts flashed through his mind. He was excited and all the love and friendship he felt filling the room, made it hard for him to keep his usual calm.

"You can open it, son, it won't bite you." CD assured him, waiting for the big moment to happen, but Walker took his due time.

Slowly he got back to the ground twisting and turning the letter in his hands nervously. Finally his curiosity won out and he ripped it open..

"You haven't...." he managed to get out before his voice was strangled by emotion. His hands, holding the owner card with his name on it, to the land he had been hunting after for so many years, trembled slightly.

His vision blurred as tears of joy filled his eyes, and emotions broke free from deep within. There was nothing ridiculous about it. And nothing to be ashamed of.

Tears cried and tears laughed, finally, Alex thought as she came towards him, kissing him on the cheek ever so gently.

"Merry Christmas, Washo." She whispered loving him and knowing that he was about to become his old self again.

And maybe even more.

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