Chances

By leigh (starmaid@mailexcite.com)

"Pssssst......Ranger Walker......I'm glad you're here just now......."

Walker turned toward the voice, surprised. It was the end of a long day, and he had just stopped into the Qwikstop to pick up some fresh milk and maybe something to fix for supper.....Just inside the door stood the manager, Gil Abrams, partially hidden by a large potato chip display. Walker joined him.

"What's up, Mr. Abrams?" he inquired, "something wrong?"

"Not wrong, exactly, Ranger......but you remember that kid I was telling you about last week?"

"The one that you suspect has been shoplifting?"

"That's the one.......not that I can catch him at anything.....if he's the one, that boy's got some kinda moves. But I tell you, Ranger, I swear it's him that's doing it.....and I'm not the only one either.....there are folks in stores up and down the street that think he's been hitting them.....but no one has ever seen him take anything....and the stuff that goes missing is downright strange.....not the usual ripoff items at all....."

Walker was curious, "What do you mean....not the usual ripoff items?"

"Well, this kid is thirteen, maybe fourteen, tops. That age range usually goes for candy, maybe cigarettes.....beer or wine.....even some over the counter meds if they think it might do something for them.....but the stuff that comes up missing after this kid has been through......bread, eggs, quarts of milk......cold medicine once, but not the 'good' stuff, if you know what I mean......" The man paused for a moment, peering around the display and down the aisle to be sure no one was listening to their conversation. "Down on the corner, the clothing store? Bud Hale says they've been missing jeans, shirts, t-shirts and underwear, socks, sneakers.....just about anything you can imagine, but not in this kids size..... The bakery says a whole cake just disappeared one day, right about the time the boy came through....but nobody saw anything......it's stuff like that all over.....it's odd!"

Walker furrowed his brow, it was a bizarre list....., "Well, you say he's a regular in here, so he probably knows everybody on the staff.....why don't you let me take a look at him...where is he now?"

"Last I saw, Jenny was trying to keep an eye on him in aisle seven.....just look for her, she'll point you in the right direction......he's wearing a camouflage type jacket, black jeans, turtleneck I think....."

"Okay, I'll go have a look.....we'll see if we can't figure out what's going on here..." Walker turned to go into the aisles, unobtrusively switching his badge from his jacket to his shirt, so it wouldn't be seen as easily.....

After a moment, he caught sight of Jenny, who was usually stocking shelves or running register, trying to peer over a display into aisle four and quietly signaled her to his side.

"Hi Jenny, Mr. Abrams asked me to have a go.....why don't you head back down front now, okay?" he said in a low voice.

"Sure, Ranger Walker," she whispered back, "it doesn't do any good, me watching him anyway......I swear he's got eyes in the back of his head.....he always knows right where I am......."

Waiting until the girl had moved off to the front of the store, Walker turned and made a wide circuit of the aisles, approaching silently from the back of the store.....after a moment he caught a glimpse of the boy that had been described to him and stopped, watching silently. The boy was young, small and wiry looking, with straight black hair and dark eyes too. His clothing was clean, but somewhat oversized and worn looking. Probably thrift shop stuff, Walker guessed. So far, the boy didn't seen to realize that Walker was there, he was cautiously checking the forward area, where Jenny had been just a short time before...Walker slipped silently back out of the line of sight just as the boy turned to check behind him, then watched with interest as the boy, apparently satisfied that he was alone at last, went shopping.....He discreetly picked up and pocketed several cans of soup, a jar of peanut butter, even a loaf of bread and two sticks of butter from the coolers. The boy checked around himself once more, then picked up a quart of milk and went serenely to the front of the store to make his 'purchase'. Walker stayed out of sight as the boy counted out pennies, nickels and dimes to pay for the milk.....coming up from the boy's side as he began to exit the store, Walker blocked the doorway....

"Hold it right there, son, I think you have a few other things you need to take care of there......." He said sternly. It caught Walker almost by surprise as the boy, remarkably quick, suddenly dodged to the left and then the right in an attempt to slip past him. Walker caught the boy by the shoulder, pulling him up short and then was forced to deflect several rapid blows directed at him as the boy continued trying to escape.....

"Lemmee go! Help! This man is trying to hurt me! Help! Somebody call the police! NO! I don't want to go with you......" The boy cried loudly, apparently hoping to startle Walker into releasing his grip.

Walker, now holding the boy with his arms safely pinned to his sides, grinned, "Nice try, son......but the police are already here......My name's Walker, Ranger Walker..... what's yours?"

"Oh yeah, big tough Ranger, HUH?" the boy said defiantly, still trying to get Walker to release his grip, "gotta pick on a kid.....can't find any bigger fish to fry? .......or am I all you can handle, Mister Ranger-man? Well, you're so smart....you figure out my name......I ain't talking to you! I want a lawyer! I think I'm a victim of police brutality or something........LET......ME......GO!"

Walker shook his head, somewhat amused, the kid had fire in him....that was for sure! Most youngsters that he'd ever picked up on a shoplifting charge were pretty well cowed before the police even got to the scene......shocked that they'd been caught and scared of what would happen next......

While all this had been going on, the store manager had approached hesitantly.

"Mr. Abrams, do you know this young man's name?" Walker asked him, still holding on firmly.

"No sir, Ranger Walker......he comes through here often enough.....but can't say as I know anyone who knows who he is......just showed up in the neighborhood a while back....Do you want to go into my office while we deal with this?" he added, looking at the onlooker's gathering around the scuffle.

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Abrams, I don't think that's going to do a whole lot of good....would you mind if I took him straight downtown with me? I'll see what we can figure out, and get back to you later for a formal report...."

The man looked more than a little relieved. "Okay, Ranger, whatever you think is best...." he assented.

"Fine," Walker acknowledged, "Do me a favor and write up what you remember about all of this while it's still fresh....have Jenny do the same.....and someone will be back to talk to both of you as soon as we get some answers....." Walker reached behind his back and pulled out his handcuffs, "Son, I'm sorry to have to do this, but I can see you're not going to give me any choice in the matter....."

"Wait....wait! I'll be good, I promise!" the boy said, eyes widening as he stopped struggling suddenly, "Don't put the cuffs on me! I'm just a kid!"

Walker's eyes softened, he WAS just a kid...... "Okay, then...." he said, slipping the cuffs back into his pocket, "If you think we can get on......my truck's right out front.....let's go..."

"Okay, Ranger....." the boy agreed, turning to walk quietly out the door. But as soon as they were on the sidewalk and he felt Walker's grip loosen just slightly, the boy quickly ducked down and ran as fast as his feet would carry him away from Walker....

Surprised, Walker took out after the boy, finally doing a tackle grab, bringing the boy to the ground, but rolling as they fell, so Walker wound up underneath the boy...shielding him from hitting the ground. Quickly he shifted position, not loosening his grip this time. Setting the boy on the pavement beside him and whipping the cuffs out of his pocket once more, Walker secured the boys hands in front of him, "Son.......I don't know why you wouldn't just do this easy!"

"Quit calling me son!" the boy shouted, furious and frustrated, "I'm not your damn son! Just take me in, Ranger-man! You've made your big collar for the day now! Happy? I bet all your big tough ranger buddies will be some proud of you for your work today! Maybe you'll get an award for breaking the big crime ring!"

He was still verbally attacking as Walker set the boy back on his feet and pulled him back up the street, piling him into the Ram and fastening the seat belt securely.

Climbing in behind the wheel and starting the truck, Walker turned to look at the boy once more, a little antagonized by the continuing diatribe, "That's enough......I gave you a chance.....don't blame me for a decision you made all on your own....."

The kid just shot Walker a scathing glare, "You want me to be quiet? Let me out of this damn truck! What kind of cop car is this anyway? They wouldn't even spring to give you a decent set of wheels? No wonder you had to bust me.......you'd never catch a real crook in something as cruddy as this! and it's filthy! Can't you even clean up after yourself? Oh wait, I forgot.....you are just a glorified PIG! Oink oink, right....."

Walkers knuckles whitened but he didn't speak again as he pulled the truck out into traffic....doing his best to ignore the continued ranting of the angry boy......

By the time they arrived downtown, Walker was clearly more than a little irritated....the boy had refused any attempts at civil conversation, but had kept up a continuous attack instead. Walker got the boy out of the truck and headed inside, taking him to the juvenile holding area. As they entered the building, he saw Alex over at one of the desks, apparently involved in something, but when she glanced up and saw him, she came right over...

"Hi, Walker, back so soon?." Alex smiled, then looked at the obviously still angry teen, "Who have you got here?"

"I don't know, Alex....he's not talking....says he wants a lawyer...."

When the boy glanced away for a moment at a disturbance down the hall, Alex looked at Walker questioningly and mouthed, 'cuffs?'

Walker just shrugged and gave her a look that said he'd explain later.

She nodded, then added aloud, "Well, okay, if that's the way he wants it....I'll meet you upstairs in a few minutes, then?"

"Yeah, I'll be just a couple......"

Walker took the boy to a secure room, where assisted by a juvenile officer he emptied the boys pockets and then removed the handcuffs, "I'll be back in a little while and see if you feel like telling me who I can contact so you can get on home tonight...."

"Ah! Don't rush back on my account, Ranger-man! Any time I don't have to see you is good time!" the boy spat, clearly not feeling any more friendly.

Walker turned and left the room quickly, leaving the boy with the other officer. He was tense....very tense....and a little surprised that this boy had been able to do that to him.....

Walker found Alex waiting by his desk in the Company B office. Since the room was empty for the moment, she greeted him with a light kiss and a gentle hug.

"Wow," she commented as she backed away a step, with her hands still on his shoulders, "you're tight! What happened with that boy to get you this bad?"

Walker sighed as he moved to his desk and sat down, Alex followed closely and stood behind him, massaging his shoulders. "Do you want to talk about it?" she questioned softly.

"I don't know if there's anything to talk about Alex. It was just a simple shoplift....Mr. Abrams at the Qwikstop happened to catch me when I stopped in.  He's talked to me about this kid before....so I watched him and then confronted him on his way out of the store." Walker turned and looked at her, "Alex...I can't even count how many kids I've brought in on shoplifting over the years......but this one....I've never encountered anyone like him.......you know, he almost slipped away from me....twice!"

"He's really struck a nerve with you, hasn't he?"

Walker chuckled slightly, "Well, he got on my nerves.....that's for sure....."

"Do you know anything about him at all?"

"Not much......Abrams said he just showed up in the neighborhood a while back, and from the stuff he picked up in the store today, my guess is that he's on the street....but that doesn't fit too well, either....he doesn't have the look of a wanderer...." Walker shook his head, "Well, I've left a message for Penny in Children's services.....since he doesn't seem inclined to tell anyone who he is, I'm hoping maybe she's run across him before and will be able to help get him home....she should be here any time now...."

A few minutes later Penny Harding from the Children's Services department came into the office and over to Walker's desk, where he and Alex were still talking quietly.

"Hi, Walker....Hi, Alex....." she greeted them, "Walker, I hear you have someone you want me to take a look at for you?"

"Yep, I've run across a thirteen or fourteen year old boy with some kind of an attitude....and who doesn't feel inclined to give out his name....I was hoping maybe you'd recognize him so we could get him home before it gets too late...."

Penny nodded her head, "Sure, let's go have a look....he downstairs in the observation room?"

"Yeah, he's with Don Sloan right now." Walker said as he picked his hat up from where he had dropped it on his desk, then waited for the ladies to precede him before leaving the office himself.

By the time they arrived downstairs, Walker had filled Penny in on the details of how he had encountered the boy. They arrived at the two way mirror outside the room and she glanced inside, then up at Walker quickly. "He hasn't said anything to you about where he's been staying has he?" she asked anxiously.

Walker was puzzled by her reaction, "No, I can barely get a civil word out of him....I gather you know him then?"

She blew out a long breath, "I sure do! We've been trying to track him down for months....We've got to find out where he's been staying....how long have you had him here?"

"Maybe an hour," Walker answered, "What's so important about where he's staying Penny?"

"That's Jonah Malloy......and I'm not surprised now about that comment you made about attitude.....he sure has one! He arrived in Children's Services about four years ago, after his father killed his mother in a drunken rage. Jonah was there that night, and we think he saw the whole thing, but he's never talked about it....not to anyone no matter how hard we tried. He just wouldn't open up. Jonah never settled in to the program either....kept causing problems, wouldn't talk to anyone, and ran away from every foster home we tried to place him in.....about a year ago he seemed to calm down and we all breathed a big sigh of relief....We should have held our breath! He waited about nine months, apparently putting his plan together.....and then one night he took off again, and this time he took his little brother and sister with him! They're only seven. That's why it's so important to find out where he's been.....we've got to find those two kids.....right now.....we have to assume they're out there alone, waiting for him to come back....."

"What are their names? Maybe if I go in and have something specific to ask him, his concern for them will get past the attitude he's been giving me...." Walker asked with some concern....a pair of seven year olds alone on the streets of Dallas was not something he liked to think about....

Penny looked at Walker, then shook her head in the negative, "Not you, Walker, there's a reason for that 'attitude' as you call it.....and I'm sure it's far worse than just attitude......the impression he's probably been giving you is probably somewhere closer to deep, abiding hatred and loathing unless I miss my guess."

Walker looked surprised and nodded slowly, "You know what that's all about?"

Penny sighed, "Oh yeah......his father....it's all about his father. Jonah's father's name is Trevor Malloy. He abused his wife, and Jonah, for years..... it looked like it hadn't really started with the younger ones yet.....they were frightened of him, but too young to give him any real excuse.... the problem between you and Jonah is something I'm not sure he'll ever get past, Walker.....your male, and his father was a cop...."

Alex took in a startled breath, "Oh no......I remember that case now......they lived in Austin, right? How did the children get to Dallas?"

"Austin had a lot of bad memories for them....especially for Jonah.....in spite of his personal problems, Trevor Malloy was a popular cop....most of the men and women that he worked with had no idea what was happening during his off duty hours and were shocked at what happened. But a few knew and covered for him anyway....Jonah blamed them all for his mother's death and for what he and the other kids had gone through.....they had no other family, so Children's Services thought a fresh start might be just what they needed. We placed them with a foster family in the Dallas area...Tori and Brian, those are the twins, settled in okay....but Jonah kept causing problems...We don't like to split up families if we can help it, so we moved them all to another and then another home...hoping that Jonah would fit in better....but nothing helped. Jonah just doesn't trust anyone but himself......"

Walker's expression was one of complete dismay, "I wish I'd known.....if I'd only known....I would have handled it differently....."

Alex's heart went out to him, Walker worked so hard with children.....constantly trying to do more to help and support any one that came into his reach.....and she knew that if he had known Jonah's history, the way that Walker would have handled the entire incident would have reflected that knowledge....but he hadn't known....he had no way of knowing....

"You couldn't help it, Walker.....you did what you had to do," she said quietly, reaching out and gripping his hand.

"Alex," he looked at her with sad eyes, "I took a kid with a bad history with an abusive father who was also a cop, and brought him here in cuffs.....no wonder he hates me so.....my God....."

Alex squeezed his hand, she knew that with Walker's soft spot for children...especially children in trouble....this would likely bother him for some time, and she only hoped that he'd be able to talk it through. Then she turned to the other woman, "Penny....you said that Jonah most likely won't even talk to Walker....what about me? Is it okay if I go in and try to get him to tell us where the twins are?"

"That might be a worth a try, Alex.....he really loves those two kids....if we can get past his anger, and get him to tell us where to find them....." Penny assented.

Alex nodded agreement, squeezed Walker's hand once more, then turned and entered the observation room. Jonah was sitting rigidly at the table where Walker had left him....glaring at Don Sloan, the officer who had been left with him, but was silent.

"Give us a few minutes, will you Don?" Alex asked.

The guard nodded and left the room, leaving the pair alone.

Jonah glared at her, still angry, "You're the lady who was talkin' to the big tough Ranger-man, right? Come to see if you can break me? Forget it! I want a lawyer...."

Alex looked at him quietly for a moment, trying to decide how best to begin. "Yes, Ranger Walker is a friend of mine, my name is Miss Cahill," she started, "but no, I haven't come here to try and 'break you' Jonah." When the boy startled at the use of his name, she nodded gently, "That's right, Jonah.....we know your name....and now we need your help."

"Yeah, right! You need MY help....sure....."

"We DO need your help, Jonah, we need you to tell us where to find Tori and Brian..."

"NEVER! I'll never tell you where to find them! You leave them alone....do you hear me? You leave them alone....I'll take care of Tori and Brian! They're my family! You leave them alone!"

The boy was almost frantic as he shouted his response, jumping up from his seat and waving his arms furiously......from his position on the far side of the two way mirror, Walker made a move to enter the room, thinking to help Alex. Penny stopped him...

"Wait, Walker.....give her a few more minutes......"

Walker nodded and went back to watching the scene unfold....

Alex waited for the boy to finish his tirade before she continued, "Jonah...I know that you're angry, but you have to think about the twins now. I understand that you want to protect them....but, you know that they can't just let you walk out of here....You're still a minor, and they can't just let you go back out on the streets. So if you're here....who's going to look after Tori? Who's going to take care of Brian? They're all alone out there, Jonah.....seven years old.....all alone......and it's getting dark. They're waiting for you to come home, right? There's only one way you can take care of them right now....tell us where they are. Let us go get them and bring them to you....then we'll find a safe place for them. They shouldn't have to sleep on the streets, Jonah....they're still so little....."

"She's doing it....she's getting through to him....way to go, Alex..." Penny whispered.

Alex continued her argument as she saw the boy's resolve weakening, his concern for the two small children outweighing his anger and frustration, "Please, Jonah.....it will be night soon.....have you ever left them alone at night? No, I didn't think so....you're too good a big brother. I know you've been taking care of them....making sure they had good things to eat.....clean clothes....Take good care of them now, Jonah.....don't make them be scared and worried all night, waiting for you to come back..."

Jonah's mask of anger had dropped away, and he looked much more like the young boy he really was, "You'll make sure nobody hurts them? You'll bring them back here....so they can see I didn't forget?" he asked.

"Yes....absolutely.....no one is going to hurt Tori and Brian. If you want, I'll even go myself when they go to find them....to make sure.....and I'll make sure they get to see you as soon as we find them. They'll know that you were still taking care of them....still looking after them and doing what's right for them...." Alex paused for a moment, then asked him quietly, "Where are they, Jonah?"

For a moment, the boy still looked undecided, then with one more look at the promise in Alex's eyes, he nodded. "Okay, if YOU go to get them....and bring them here for a little while so I can see 'em....."

Alex nodded solemnly, "I will, Jonah."

Jonah took a deep breath, "Out on Trinity, there's a half burnt out apartment house....we live in the old Super's apartment in the basement.....Tori and Brian will be there....."

Alex reached out and squeezed his hand, then stood, "We'll be back soon, Jonah, you're doing the right thing....the best thing for the twins...." She turned to go.

"Wait! They have a hiding place.....they'll stay there unless they hear the code word...I told them if strangers came to hide and stay hid unless they heard the code.....they won't come out if you don't say it!"

"What's the code word, Jonah? How do I tell them that you sent us? That everything is going to be okay?" Alex said as she turned back to face him once more.

"Tell them.....tell them....Sandy....." Jonah's voice got very small and sad, "Sandy was our mama's name......"

Taking two quick steps back to the boy's side, Alex wrapped her arms around him, "It's a good code word, Jonah," she whispered, "Everything's going to work out okay, I promise.....we'll find a way to make things work out....."

Jonah let her hold him for a minute, then shrugged himself free, toughening up again, "Just go get the kids, okay? I'm usually home before dark, and they're probably hungry....."

"Okay, Jonah.....we'll be back soon...." Alex agreed.

Once back in the hallway, Alex turned to Walker.... "You heard?"

Walker was just passing Penny back her cell phone, "Yeah, I've already contacted Trivette....he'll meet us there. Let's go...."

"Don," Alex turned to the officer who was preparing to reenter the room, "Why don't you see if somebody can get something for Jonah to eat....he's probably half starved himself....."

At an agreeing nod from the man, and Penny as well, Alex turned and hurried with Walker out of the building to go find the two younger children.

They arrived at the burned out building at the same time as Trivette....it didn't look secure enough for anyone to be living there, but they made their way carefully inside anyway. Sure enough, at the bottom of the basement steps, which showed signs of recent repair by less than expert hands, they located the door to the Superintendents apartment....it was locked. Forcing it open, they were surprised to find themselves in a neat, fairly well kept apartment. Jonah had apparently cleaned up all the damage he could and done his best to give the twins a comfortable place to live. The small, high windows were blacked out, to prevent any light at night from revealing their presence. There were a large number of thick pillar candles positioned around, but all were unlit and well out of the reach of young children.....a couple of battery powered camping lanterns lit the room now. In the corner near the sink was stacked a dozen or so gallon containers of water, and nearby was another pile of empty jugs....apparently waiting to be filled. There were toys scattered about, and the cupboards held some fresh fruits and canned food.

Trivette whistled lightly, "You say a thirteen year old managed all this? Alone? Holy cow....."

There was no sign of the twins.

Alex, remembering Jonah's words, took a position in the middle of the room, signaling Walker and Trivette to silence, "Brian? Tori? My name is Miss Cahill.....Jonah sent us to come and get you....You're not going to stay here any more. Jonah said to tell you 'Sandy'. He said that was your code word, and that you'd know he sent us if we knew it...."

Suddenly a piece of paneling on the wall popped away and two small faces peered out at them from a cramped space between the walls. "Where's Jonah? We're ready for dinner now....." the little boy asked.

Hurrying over to them, Alex swept both the children into her arms and pulled them out of their hiding place. "Jonah is just fine, he's waiting to see you.....and we're going to get you something to eat right now. What would you like?"

Walker reached down and took the little girl in his arms as Trivette picked up the little boy, "C'mon kids, let's go," he smiled, relieved that the twins were okay, "My name's Ranger Walker, and this is Ranger Trivette....we're gonna take a ride in my truck to where Jonah is."

Half an hour later, chatting happily and still holding onto the remains of the take out meals that Walker and Alex had gotten for them, Alex took the children into the room where Jonah waited, remains of a finished meal still on the table in front of him.

"Jonah!" the twins chorused, rushing to him.

"You were late! We were a little scared, but we did just what you told us and when we heard someone coming, we hid til they said the code word....did we do okay, Jonah?"  Tori questioned him as Jonah hugged them tightly.

Alex stepped back outside the room, leaving the children to their reunion as she joined Walker and Trivette, who were talking to Penny Harding.

"Thank goodness they're okay..." Penny said, watching the three through the mirror.

"They're more than okay," Walker said with a smile, "You should see what a good job Jonah did taking care of them, it was amazing! Hard to believe, too, he's just a kid himself...."

"What happens now, Penny?" Alex asked, "Have you got a place for them to stay tonight?"

"We've already contacted one of our foster families that takes in crisis kids, you know...anytime, day or night,......they'll be here soon to pick up Tori and Brian....but Jonah," she shook her head, "I'm afraid we're going to have to place him in juvenile....anything less and he'll just disappear on us again......"

Walker looked shocked, "Don't you have any other options? He's just a kid, and he's done a really good job looking after those two....I understand that he can't stay with the twins, and I even think he'll understand it too, probably expects it....but juvenile? That's for criminals....not runaways....especially not runaways with his history....."

"I'm sorry, Walker, but we don't. We just don't have any placement homes or facilities that are geared to handle a kid like Jonah....." Penny looked genuinely distressed herself, "I hate to have to do it, but I've seen him in action before.....I know Alex got through to him before, but that was for the twins.....his basic distrust will kick back in and we won't be able to hold him...."

Walker had turned back to the window, watching the three children, "Let me take him to my ranch......."

Penny shook her head, "It won't work, Walker.....Jonah's not going to feel any differently about you now. You know where he's coming from...."

Looking back at the two women, Walker said simply, "He doesn't belong in juvenile..... let me talk to him again, offer him the choice.....maybe he and I can reach and understanding....."

Alex gripped Walker's arm. "Are you sure about this?" she asked, her memory flashing back to another boy that Walker had taken in. The circumstances were entirely different, but Alex had a definite feeling that this situation might be no less painful for Walker if it didn't work out.

"I have to try, Alex......."

Penny studied him intently, then nodded, "Okay, Walker, let me make some phone calls.....if we can get approval, you can give it a shot....." She turned and headed down the corridor towards the offices and phones.

Forty-five minutes later she was back, accompanied by a friendly looking couple. "Walker, Alex.....this is Mr. and Mrs. Eddington, they're going to take in Tori and Brian for at least the next few days," she then reversed the introductions to the Eddingtons, "This is Ranger Walker and Alex Cahill. They helped us find the children, and Ranger Walker has been given permission to take Jonah on for a while too."

Walker flashed her a grateful smile at the news that Jonah wouldn't be going to Juvenile Hall, "Thanks Penny, I appreciate you going to bat for me."

She shook her head, "Don't thank me yet, Walker....I've tried to tell you, Jonah's a tough customer....you could learn to regret this really quickly, but I hate to see him head into detention too....I really hope he's willing to give you a chance.... Let me go in and talk to Jonah and get Tori and Brian, then you can go ahead and see what Jonah wants to do, okay?"

Jonah shot her a sullen look as she entered the room, "Hullo, Miss Harding," he mumbled, dropping his gaze, "I guess you've come to take the kids...."

"Yes, Jonah.....we have a nice couple waiting outside who are going to take Tori and Brian home with them," she answered him softly.

"Don't suppose there's any chance they'd let me go with 'em too?" he asked next, glancing over at the twins playing quietly with some toys that had been brought to them.

Penny swallowed hard, "No, we can't allow it just now.....but we'll make sure you get lots of chances to visit....and someday soon, we'd really like to be able to get all three of you together in the same home again.....if you'll let us.....y'know, it really is up to you, Jonah...."

Suddenly Jonah got a hard look in his eyes, "Well, go on, take 'em! It's past their bedtime you know!" then he turned his back to her and faced the wall, his posture rigid.

Outside the room, Alex's heart went out to the boy and she leaned into Walker's arm for comfort, tears welling in her eyes.

Walker turned to the Eddingtons, "In a few days, if you don't mind, I'd like to give you a call and try to arrange to get those three together for an afternoon, out at my ranch?"

Mrs. Eddington smiled, "That sounds like a wonderful idea, Ranger Walker, it's obvious how much Jonah loves his brother and sister, and they need each other very much..... Miss Harding can tell you how to reach us when you're ready."

Just then, Penny left the room holding onto Tori and Brian's hands....they were crying and waving goodbye to Jonah. Gently she introduced the children to the Eddingtons and the couple took them toward the exit...promising them that everything would be okay and that they'd see Jonah very soon.

"Okay, Walker," Penny stated, "if you're sure you want to try this, you can go ahead and see what Jonah thinks....."

Walker nodded and quietly turned to enter the observation room.

As soon as Jonah saw who was coming through the door, the mask of hate and anger went right back up on his face. He glared at Walker, "What do YOU want, Ranger-man?"

Walker sat slowly in one of the chairs, watching the boy carefully and debating the wisdom of his decision, but right now...he was the only one that wanted to take the chance, if he couldn't convince Jonah to cooperate, Juvenile Hall was his next stop. That 'never give up' piece of Walker's psyche kicked in.....he just couldn't let what looked to be basically a good kid be sent down that road without trying to do something. He didn't want to think about Jonah's chances for the next five or so years with that kind of experience under his belt after all the rest he'd been through. Walker just knew he or some other cop would be busting him for ever escalating crimes.....eventually they'd either send him to Huntsville or be pulling his body out of a ditch somewhere.....Walker couldn't let it happen without a fight....he had to try......

"To start with, I wanted to thank you, Jonah...."

"Thank me?" Jonah sputtered, " ....for what!"

"For telling us how to find Tori and Brian.....for giving them a chance to have a safe bed tonight and not be all alone out there. I know that must have been a tough decision for you....you've done a real fine job taking care of them all this time. You must love them very much, to have done all that...."

Jonah snorted, "Course I love 'em! My kid sister and brother ain't they? Geez! Don't you know nothing about family?"

Walker was grateful, Jonah was still angry...but at least he was talking, not shouting insults, "Actually, no.....I never had any sisters or brothers, but I can sure see how hard you worked to take good care of them." Walker paused a moment, then continued, "What about you, Jonah? Do you take good care of yourself, too?"

"I do alright, Ranger-man.....I can look after myself.....Tori and Brian need help, but I can take care of myself."

Walker nodded, "You know you have a problem, don't you?"

"I don't have any problems I can't handle...."

"Yeah, you do, Jonah.....Children's Services figures you to try and take off again. That's why they couldn't let you stay with Tori and Brian....they don't know where to put you, and they can't just let you go back to living on the street. So they're stuck...."

"Well....why don't they just stick me in Juvi!" Jonah blustered, "probably the only place that can hold me!"

Walker nodded. "That's what they think too....." he said simply.

At a shocked look from Jonah, Walker decided to offer his solution, "But there might be another place, Jonah....if you're willing to give it a shot......"

"What other place? Some kind of prison camp for hardened criminals like me?" Jonah was angry again.

"No....not a place for 'hardened criminals', a place for a boy who needs a place....if he wants to try it....but you have to be willing to try, Jonah, it won't work and it won't last if you're not willing to give it a chance......"

"Okay, okay.....enough of the soft shoe," Jonah cut him off, "What place are you talking about, Ranger-man?"

"My place," Walker said softly, watching Jonah's reaction.

"YOUR place! You want me to stay with YOU, Ranger-man? You think I want to hang out with a guy who grabbed me out of the store, tackled me out in the middle of the street and then hauled my ass in here wearing handcuffs!" Jonah was working himself back into a fury, "Of all the people in the world, YOU'RE probably one of the last one I'd want to be spending any 'quality' time with! What are you, crazy!?"

Walker let Jonah finish his speech and catch his breath before responding, "What I am..... is the only one around right now that has a place for you....I'm willing to give it a shot, Jonah....take you out to my ranch and let you stay with me there.....I don't want to see you stuck in Juvenile Hall.....but the choice has to be yours. If you don't think you can handle it......." He gave the boy an appraising look, "I know you don't like me, Jonah, and I know some of the reason why.....but I'm here to offer you some help....You don't have to like me, just call a truce.....find a way to get along, so that we can keep you out where you'll get a chance to see Tori and Brian.....I'll leave you alone, let you think your options through.....you knock on the door and let us know what you decide you want to do."

Walker stood and left the room as quietly as he had entered.

In the hallway, Alex took his hand once more as they turned to look at the boy sitting alone in the room, "You did the best you could, Walker......whatever choice he makes...."

"I know, Alex.....I just hope he doesn't let his dislike of me keep him from taking a chance to stay out of Juvenile Hall....."

Jonah sat alone in the room at the table and thought about the events of the day. Things had started out okay....he and the kids had been doing great....then this stupid Ranger had to show up and louse everything up! Now he'd lost the kids and who knew how long it would take him to figure out where they were hiding them and get them back.....and the Ranger- man was telling him that they wanted to toss his butt in Juvi to keep him from taking off again! And his only other option.....the only way he was going to be able to stay out.....was to go stay on some dumb ranch with the rotten Ranger! The guy was mean, too, Jonah could tell he'd be mean.....and he probably drank all the time.....and that was his only choice....Juvenile Hall or the dirty rotten lousy stinking mean Ranger! What kind of choice was that? But he knew what he had to do.....if they stuck him in Juvi, he'd have no way of getting to Tori and Brian....so he'd have to go with the Ranger-man for now.....but he'd be out of there soon, just as soon as he could get his feet down the road, that was for sure! Just for now, he'd have to play pleasant and cooperative....that was the only way to get adults to trust you enough so that they'd leave a window open..... and when they did, he'd slip away........

Walker, Alex and Penny Harding heard the tap on the door and opened it to find Jonah standing there looking at the floor.

"I don't want to go to Juvi," he said quietly, "If you really mean it, Ranger Walker, sir....I'd like to go stay with you at your ranch instead, please...."

Walker gave the boy a big grin, "Absolutely, Jonah! You're really going to like the ranch....and in a couple of days, maybe Tori and Brian can come and visit you there."

Jonah's eyes lit up for a moment, "You mean it? I can see Tori and Brian? Really?"

Alex reached out and tousled the boys hair, "Of course he means it, Jonah, Walker never says anything he doesn't mean...."

Jonah was quiet for most of the drive out to the ranch, surprised at how far it was out of town. He was going to have to rethink his plan about just taking off when he got a chance.....it was too far to walk, and the Ranger would be sure to catch up with him quick.....He stole a sideways glance at Walker.

"Ranger Walker," he asked, "why are you doing this?"

"Doing what?"

"Taking me out to your place? What do you want with me?"

Walker cut his eyes to look at Jonah for a moment, then returned them to the road, "I don't want anything from you, Jonah. I just don't like to see someone who doesn't deserve it get sent to Juvenile Hall.....and this was the only way I could think of to keep that from happening....I'd like to be your friend, that's all....."

Jonah managed to stifle a snort of derision. Yeah, right, he thought....the day you and I are friends......

Once they arrived at the ranch, Walker took Jonah to one of the guest bedrooms....he deliberately chose the one on the second floor that didn't have a roof below the window.....

Penny Harding had given Walker a bag with some clothes and supplies for Jonah, to hold them over until he had time to take the boy out to get what he needed, Walker handed the bag to Jonah.

"Here, why don't you go ahead and get ready for bed.....I'm really late getting home tonight and I need to go take care of my horses and see to it that they're settled for the night too."

"You have horses.....cool.....can I ride one?"

Walker grinned, "We'll see....I'll introduce you to them in the morning if you like."

"That would be great......do I have to go to bed right away?" Jonah asked next.

Glancing at his watch, Walker saw that it was just after 8:30, "No, you can stay up for a while if you want.....there are some books downstairs on the shelves in the living room if you want to read, or you could see if you can find something to watch on TV, I don't bother with cable, since I usually only want to catch the local news.....so I'm afraid I don't have many channels to choose from...but you might be able to find something...."

Jonah nodded agreeably, "Thank you, I appreciate it." Then he turned to get ready for bed.

Walker went to the barn feeling much better, this might work out okay after all.....

Jonah sat on the bed looking around. What a crummy room.....and what a pushover old Ranger-man was! All he had to do was put on a few manners and already the Ranger trusted him.....HA! Time to get out of here! Jonah hadn't failed to notice that Walker hung the keys to his truck on a peg as they stepped through the door....time to book on out of here....that was sure! Get to town, find someplace to hide out, and then start looking for Tori and Brian.....he guessed they'd be somewhere close, best bet was to wait til the beginning of the week and start checking out the schools....they'd have 'em enrolled somewhere quick enough....and they wouldn't be far behind either....Jonah had spent hours each day working with them on their numbers and writing and reading....he'd even snatched some books from a schoolyard one day, so he'd know what first or second graders should be learning....and they did real well too! They were smart kids and were gonna do alright! Jonah would see to that!

Jonah peered out his window at the barn, and when he saw that the Ranger was well involved in the task of cleaning out the horses stalls...he took off down the stairs, grabbed the keys off the peg and flew out the door to the truck. He opened the door as quietly as he could and climbed in quickly....just barely snapping the door shut behind him to keep the overhead light from alerting the Ranger that anything was up. He could barely reach the pedals with his feet, but couldn't find the lever to adjust the seat....he'd just have to do the best he could...he only needed the stupid truck long enough to get to town anyway. Jonah had never tried to drive before....but he was getting out of here....tonight! He'd figure it out as he went along! Cautiously he slipped the key in the ignition and turned it......

Walker felt a prickle go up his spine and turned to look out the barn door, he saw nothing unusual and started to turn back to his work when he heard the engine of the Ram roar to life.

"Oh no!" he shouted, dropping the rake he'd been using and dashing toward his truck, his ears assaulted by the sound of gears grinding as Jonah tried to put the truck into drive.....He'd almost reached the Ram when it suddenly lurched forward and dirt and grass flew into Walker's face as Jonah slammed his foot on the gas....

Jonah laughed as the truck raced forward, trying to control the speeding vehicle as he simultaneously searched for the switch to turn on the headlights.....couldn't see a thing ahead of him without them, just too darn dark out away from the city lights. He found the switch and pulled it quickly, and saw that he was heading directly for a small stand of trees. He tried to pull the wheel to the left and jammed his foot on the brake at the same time, hoping to pull the truck around the trees and back onto the drive, but the truck skidded sideways and he was jolted as the side of the truck bed slammed into one of the trees. He could hear the Ranger hollering, and terrified now of what was going to happen to him if Walker caught up to him, he tried desperately to get the truck to move, but one wheel spun uselessly, caught in a small gully near the trees, and a second later Walker yanked open the drivers side door and jerked the keys out of the ignition. Suddenly there was nothing but silence except for the sound of the Ranger's labored breathing from his run to try and catch up with the boy and the truck. Jonah lay down on the seat and covered his head, waiting....

Walker was furious! He'd trusted Jonah....left him alone in the house for less than thirty minutes and look what had happened! Kid had made a run for it already, and tried to take Walker's truck in the bargain....now there was a huge dent on the passenger side of the truck bed, and who knew what kind of damage might have been done to the engine and the undercarriage......and Jonah himself could have been seriously injured...even killed....trying to drive an unfamiliar vehicle that was much too big for him to handle! It was stupid....just plain stupid! As Walker's train of thought passed from the damage to the truck to the potential for injury to the boy, he looked down at Jonah. The boy had curled himself up in a tight ball on the seat, arms over his head, and was shaking violently....the implication was obvious....Jonah expected a beating...a bad one! The very idea shook Walker out of his anger....the boy was absolutely terrified, of him! He found himself taking and releasing several deep breaths....trying to figure out how to handle this one.

"Jonah, get out of the truck," he finally said in a calm voice, "Let's get back to the house, we have some serious talking to do...." When Jonah didn't move, Walker decided against touching him, not wanting the boy to feel any physical threat at all..."C'mon, Jonah....I'll take care of moving the truck in the morning....it's late, let's go...."

Finally, slowly, Jonah uncurled himself and sat up on the seat....the look on his face was one of disbelief and distrust. The last of Walkers furor melted away....Jonah shouldn't have done what he tried to do, but Walker understood his reasoning behind it....

Standing back, Walker allowed Jonah to hop out of the truck unassisted, and silently but side by side the two trudged back to the ranch house.

The two sat opposite each other over the kitchen table. Walker had given Jonah a glass of juice and fixed himself a cup of tea....now he simply sat silently...considering the boy and his options....finally he gave a deep sigh and began, "Jonah, I thought we went through this downtown....if you don't want to try and make this work....we can just end it right now. The decision is still yours....I know you don't like me, but I still think we can manage to get along until Miss Harding finds a suitable placement for you....only you have to be willing to make a go of it, if you're going to try and take off every time my back is turned....." Walker shook his head, then waited for Jonah's response.

Jonah stared back at the Ranger across the table....he was still somewhat shocked... he'd tried to steal the guy's truck, had managed to crash it into a tree....and the man hadn't touched him, hadn't even yelled....just sat over there telling him that he had to decide what was going to happen next. Jonah just didn't know what to make of this whole situation....it was like nothing he ever expected. He let out a deep breath of his own, if he was going to stay out of Juvi, and get to see Tori and Brian sometimes, obviously he was going to have to work with old Ranger-man over there....he knew he'd never get a shot at the truck again, anyway....maybe he'd just better make the best of it for now....

"Okay, Ranger Walker, you're right.....I was planning on taking off as soon as I could when I said I'd come stay here with you," Jonah started, "I'm used to looking out for myself....I'm good at it....but I can see that, for now at least, that's not gonna happen. I wasn't lying when I said I don't want to go to Juvi....I've met kids that have been in there....and I do want to be where I can visit Tori and Brian. I'd appreciate it if you'd give me another chance....and I promise I won't try anything like that again..."

Walker studied Jonah's face, and looked him straight in the eyes, appraising the boys intentions....he could see no shadows...it looked as if Jonah was really willing to strike a bargain. He put a hand out to the boy across the table, "Alright, Jonah, we'll take another try at it, deal?"

"Deal, Ranger Walker," Jonah said, shaking Walker's hand in solemn agreement.

"Okay, tell you what....how about if you come out and help me finish putting the horses up for the night....and tomorrow we'll work out where we're going from here?"

Jonah nodded and the two rose from the table to complete Walker's long delayed nightly chores.

The next morning, after breakfast, Jonah asked Walker again about riding one of the horses.

"Have you ever been around horses before, Jonah?"

"No, we've always lived right in the city.....but I sure would like to learn."

"Alright, but the first thing you have to learn is the right way to take care of a horse. A horse can be your best friend if he trusts you....but if you don't earn that trust, well.....he might tolerate you...if he has to...but not much more... come out to the barn with me, and I'll start teaching you how to earn a horse's trust and respect...."

The two worked side by side all morning....Jonah listening carefully and following Walker's directions to the letter. They mucked all the stalls, fed and watered the horses, and Walker began teaching him the basics of grooming the animals correctly. As noon approached, Walker looked to Jonah with approval, "You've worked really hard this morning....and you're a fast learner too, let's go inside and have some lunch, and this afternoon I'll give you a riding lesson."

Jonah smiled for the first time since Walker had seen him with the twins, "Cool! Can I ride that one?" he pointed over at Amigo.

Walker shook his head, but smiled too, "I'm afraid not, Jonah, Amigo is mighty particular about who climbs on his back....I'm afraid he'd toss you in a heartbeat, if you managed to get on at all....but you can ride Ranger, or Little Ranger over there..."

"How'd you get a horse named Little Ranger, anyway?" Jonah quizzed.

A fleeting shadow of pain crossed Walker's face, then he answered, "He was named by another boy who stayed with me awhile....Little Ranger was his horse....."

"Oh......what happened to the other kid? He couldn't take it and you had to send him off to Juvi?"

"No......Lucas was very sick when I met him," Walker swallowed hard, talking about the boy he had semi-adopted still brought a deep stab to his heart, "he died....."

"Oh." Jonah decided not to press the subject any further.

Walker shook his head, clearing away the painful memories for another time, "Let's go get cleaned up, then see what we can rustle up for lunch, okay?"

"Yes, sir, I sure am hungry!"

They were just stepping onto the porch when C.D.'s car came up the road and pulled to a stop next to the house.

"Hey, Cordell," he called as he climbed out from behind the wheel.

"Hi, C.D......what brings you around today?" Walker replied.

"Well, I heard you had a young feller stayin' with you for awhile, and I thought I'd come on out and meet him."

C.D. stuck his hand out to Jonah, "You must be Jonah, My name's C.D. Parker, you just call me C.D., everyone does! Alex stopped in this mornin' to my place and was telling me about you....How are you and Cordell here getting on? Doin' alright are ya?"

"Yes sir, we're getting on okay, I guess," Jonah said as he returned C.D.'s handshake, "This afternoon Ranger Walker is going to give me a riding lesson."

"Well, I'm real glad to hear that! Cordell's a fine teacher, you'll be riding like you was born on horseback before you know it....You want to do me a favor and grab that big old basket out of my car and carry it inside for me?"

As Jonah went to the car, Walker asked with a grin, "Okay, C.D., what's in the basket?"

"Food, Cordell, decent food! Boy won't be able to do any growin' if he has to live off your cookin', that's for sure!" C.D. responded with a chuckle.

Walker heard Jonah stifle a laugh as he shook his head with a chuckle of his own, "My cooking isn't that bad, C.D., you know that! Managed to keep myself alive all these years haven't I?"

"Yeah, but only cause you eat at my place every chance you get!" C.D. retorted quickly, throwing a wink at Jonah, "By the way, Cordell, what in tarnation is your truck doin' halfway down the drive leaning up against that stand of little oaks?"

Jonah sobered quickly and hurried to get inside, but heard Walker answer, "Had a little accident, hit a sandy patch and that's where she wound up, Joe Myers is coming out later to help me pull her free of the gully one wheel's stuck in and check her over....."

C.D. shot Walker a strange look, knowing that story couldn't be true....but the look on his friends face told him not to push the issue just now.

They followed Jonah inside to fix lunch.

After they had eaten, Walker looked over at Jonah, "Why don't you help C.D. clean up these dishes, and I'll go outside and start to saddle up the horses for your ride, you come out when you're done?"

"Yes, sir!" Jonah responded eagerly, jumping from the table and beginning to clear it quickly as Walker headed out the door.

Walker had finished saddling Amigo, and was bringing Little Ranger's saddle out of the tack room when he heard C.D. calling to him, "Cordell! You have a phone call!"

Walker looked over at Jonah, who had joined him at the corral a few moments before, "This will just take a minute, then I'll finish saddling Little Ranger...."

"Alright, Ranger Walker," Jonah nodded.

The boy watched Walker stride across the yard to the house, then turned back to the horses. Amigo came up close to him, looking for pats and scratches. Suddenly Jonah was aware that the horse was all saddled and ready to go.....and he sure seemed to like Jonah.....Wouldn't Ranger Walker be surprised if he came out to find him sitting on Amigo's back! He looped Amigos reins around the fence railing Jonah was sitting on to keep him close to the fence, then stood and began to drop his leg over the horse's back. Amigo shied and tried to step away, laying his ears back, but Jonah didn't recognize the warning signs and quickly pulled himself the rest of the way onto the saddle. Amigo shied and danced and Jonah found himself rapidly losing his seat and picking himself off the ground. Hurting from the fall, and angry, he picked up the an extra piece of leather strapping that hung on fence and began whipping Amigo's neck and flanks with it.....

"Stupid horse! Stupid, stupid horse! I'll teach you to do what I say! I'll teach you to do what you're told! Stupid, stupid, stupid!"

Walker had just picked up the phone and turned to glance out the window at Jonah when he saw the boy try to mount Amigo, and just as quickly be tossed to the ground...what he saw next caused a quick gasp! Jonah was whipping Amigo!

"Jonah, NO!" Walker shouted out the window, dropping the phone and running for the door, "No! Jonah, no!" But the boy didn't seem to hear Walker at all, he just kept slapping the strap against the animal's flesh as hard as he could.

C.D., hearing the commotion, followed Walker out onto the porch, "Oh my good Lord!" he said as he saw Jonah....

The boy didn't respond to Walker's shouts at all, and finally reaching him, Walker grabbed Jonah's hands and forcibly stopped him from abusing the horse any longer, pressing the boys arms to his sides, "Jonah, stop!"

Jonah seemed to become aware of Walker's presence all at once, and suddenly he was trembling violently and trying to go completely limp, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! I won't do it again, I promise! Please don't hit me....I'll be good! I'll be good! I won't do it again!"

Walker shook his head in complete dismay, still holding Jonah's arms, but now to keep him from collapsing on the ground like a limp puppet, "Listen to me, Jonah....listen to me....." he tried to reach past the panic in the boy's eyes, "Jonah....calm down.....Jonah, I'm not going to hit you....Jonah.....listen to what I'm telling you, PLEASE!"

Jonah suddenly froze, panting heavily and staring at Walker with eyes big as saucers, listening, but obviously still terrified of what the next moment would bring....

Walker took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, "Jonah, listen to me....I'm not going to hit you....I will NEVER hit you.....but I'm not going to let you hurt the animals either....I will never hit you, but I will stop you....."

Walker watched with relief as the level of fear in Jonah's eyes started to lessen, hoping that Jonah had gotten the message at last....

"I'm sorry, Ranger Walker....I didn't mean to hurt your horse," Jonah said in a small voice, "I wanted to surprise you, and then when Amigo made me fall....I got mad...I'm really sorry....."

"I know, Jonah, I know...." Walker sighed, "Why don't you go inside and get cleaned up, and we'll talk more about this later, okay?"

"Okay, Ranger Walker...." Jonah said as he began to walk toward the house, "I'm really sorry.....really...."

Walker stood to calm his still distressed horse, more than a little distressed himself, and the man and horse leaned close together, each gathering comfort from the other.

C.D. approached Walker, concerned by what he'd just witnessed, "Cordell, that boy has some serious demons to exorcise.....you sure this is the place you want to do it?"

One arm still around Amigo's neck, Walker turned to face C.D., rubbing his now aching head with the other hand, "I don't know, C.D., he's basically a good kid....and I don't want to see him sent to Juvenile Hall.....but I don't know if I have the resources to deal with all his problems by myself. Maybe if I call Alex, she can give me someone to contact who can help me out with how to help him...." Suddenly Walker remembered, "The phone! I just dropped it and ran! Who was on the phone C.D.? I'll have to call them back..."

"Actually, it was Alex.....I picked it back up after I saw that you and Jonah were gonna be okay out here and told her a little of what happened and why you took out like you did. She said to tell you that she's on her way out here with Jimmy, they have something they need to talk to you about...."

"She say what it was about?"

"Nope, but she sounded a little upset, if you ask me....." C.D. replied.

"C.D., can you stay a while longer? I don't want to have to worry about what to do with Jonah if I need to help Alex and Trivette with something....and he seemed to get on alright with you....." Walker asked.

"Sure thing, Cordell, be glad to.....here's Jimmy with Alex now, guess I'll just go see how the boy is doing and let you all fill me in on what's up later....." Then C.D. turned and headed back to the house to locate Jonah.

As soon as the car pulled to a stop, Alex jumped out and hurried to Walker's side, she could see he was still tense about the situation C.D. had described to her, and she wrapped her arms around him tightly. He returned the embrace gratefully and then gave her a kiss before turning to greet his partner.

Trivette nodded toward the horse still pressing itself tightly against Walker's side, "Amigo going to be okay?"

Walker nodded, "Yeah, he's shaken up, but he'll be fine....so will Jonah, I hope....Alex, I'm sorry  I dropped the phone like that on you...."

"It's okay, Walker....I understand completely....that was something you had to deal with right then....." she wrapped one arm back around his waist and gave him another quick squeeze.

"So, C.D. said you two had something you needed to talk to me about? What's up?"

Alex looked at him with a pair of deeply troubled eyes, "Brad Furnell."

"I thought he was locked up down in Huntsville..." Walker's mind jumped to a memory of a big man who had made himself feel bigger still by beating his wife half to death for no good reason.....and gone on a rampage when Alex and her support group had tried to help her break free of him......

"He was....til last night," Trivette explained, "He managed to get himself cut bad enough to rate a trip to the hospital. He used the opportunity to bust out, killed one of his guards outright.... another one and an orderly are in critical condition. When they went through his cell this morning....looking for anything that would tell them where he might be heading, they found some pretty ugly stuff. Seems he's been collecting everything he can get his hands on about Alex, and a couple of unfinished letters they found seem to indicate that what he has in mind is to come after her, and his ex-wife Connie....guess he's never gotten over the fact that first the ladies beat the stuffing out of him, and then their testimony put him away. He wants them dead, Walker.... Connie's left the state, and we're pretty sure he doesn't have any idea where to find her....but he knows where to look for Alex...."

Walker hugged his arm tighter around Alex's shoulders, he could feel her trembling slightly, though she was doing her best to hide it, "We'll get him....." he reassured her, "Trivette, how much information did he have?"

Trivette shook his head, "There wasn't much he didn't know.....the warden said he had a book filled with notations....including Alex's office phone number, her home address, places she's been to, cases she's working on...pretty much everything..."

"What about my place? Anything in the notes about the ranch?"

"No, I don't think there was.....but I could have the Warden double check."

"Okay, Trivette, you do that.... Alex, I want you to stay here on the ranch with me and Jonah, and we'll let Trivette handle tracking Furnell down while you stay out of sight for a few days."

"Are you sure about this, Walker? You've got a lot on your plate already....you sure you're up to another house guest? Especially one with a killer hunting her....."

Walker chuckled, lightening the mood, "Hell, yes! Think I'm gonna miss the chance to have someone out here to help me with Jonah? He's a handful and a half, he is! Did you see what he did to my truck?"

Alex looked shocked, "Jonah did that? When?"

"Last night, 'bout a half hour after I got him here.....he thought he'd take the Ram for a little spin back to town....took it for a spin alright!" Walker grinned, it was a whole lot easier to see the funny side of the incident now.

Laughing and talking, the three worked together putting the riding gear away for this afternoon, and once Walker was certain that Amigo was sufficiently calmed and reassured, he put all the horses into the pasture to browse and play for the remainder of the day. Finally they headed back to the house to find C.D. and fill him in.

That evening, Walker found that having Alex there really did help a great deal. Jonah, still upset about the incident with the horse, was hesitant to even talk to Walker, but the boy liked and trusted Alex and gravitated to her easily. After they had gotten him off to sleep, the pair went outside to sit on the porch swing and talk. Alex gently plied Walker with questions until she had the full story of the events of the previous twenty four hours.

"The two of you have had quite an eventful first day," she commented.

Walker smiled, "I thought you said I was the one with the gift for understatement! I'm just hoping things calm down a little tomorrow....."

The next morning Jonah went again with Walker to do the early chores in the barn. The other horses were fine, but Amigo pranced and snorted any time Jonah came within reaching distance....

"I wish he wouldn't do that! I said I was sorry!" Jonah was genuinely upset.

"Amigo can't help it, Jonah. He doesn't understand 'I'm sorry' like you or me, he just knows that he's still afraid right now. Remember that I told you how you have to earn trust and respect? Well, what happened yesterday hurt Amigo's trust in you.....but if you really want to, and work at it hard enough....you can win his trust back. It will take some patience, he won't forget that he was hurt easily, but you can get him to give you another chance....if you really want to...."

Jonah gave Walker a sideways glance, how come he got the feeling old Ranger-man wasn't just talking about horses all of a sudden?

Later that morning, Jonah finally got his first riding lesson....and the three of them took a leisurely ride down toward the river and back before lunch.

After they had eaten, Jonah picked a book off the shelf and flopped down on the couch to read, while, still at the table, Alex gave Walker a considering look.

"What?" he asked with a smile.

"I was thinking, Walker, that it's been a while since we've had time for a lesson or two....and I could use a little refresher just about now....."

"Okay," he agreed, recognizing Alex's need to feel prepared, "Lessons it is.....Jonah, Alex and I are going out to the barn, you can find us there if you need anything...."

"Right...." Jonah replied, involved in the book and not really paying attention, "you're in the barn...."

The first hour or so of Alex's lessons went smoothly. Walker put Alex through the paces of a good stretch and warm up with him, and then began calling out moves....checking her positioning and balance carefully, and correcting when he saw deficiencies in form or technique. Finally he called her out into the middle of the straw covered floor, which was as good as any matting he had ever encountered.

"Okay, Alex, let's see how you do..." Suddenly Walker made a move toward her, Alex pivoted, gripped his arm and flipped him easily to the ground.

"Good, very good," he nodded approvingly, then moved into position to try another attack....

Gradually the structured lesson began to deteriorate, and when Alex managed to get Walker pinned beneath her by distracting him with a kiss to the back of his neck while he was preparing to flip her, a good natured free-for-all ensued. Before she knew it, Alex was completely overwhelmed, laughing and then screaming and begging him to stop as he tickled her mercilessly.

Inside the house, something cause Jonah to break away from the story he had become engrossed in. He listened carefully and then heard it again, a woman.... screaming....Miss Cahill! He jumped off the couch and ran out the door, following the sounds to the barn. Peering through the door, Jonah saw Ranger Walker kneeling over Miss Cahill....

"Walker! NO! Don't do that again! Walker! Stop! Please, Walker....Walker....No!" Alex was begging piteously.

Jonah was enraged, he was hurting her! He was hurting Miss Cahill! Turning behind him quickly, he spied the woodpile and grabbed a log that he could heft with one hand...he wouldn't let the Ranger hurt Miss Cahill! Not as long as he was here to make him stop! Slipping silently into the barn, Jonah approached the struggling couple...Alex saw him just as he lifted the log and her eyes widened in shock but she didn't have time to warn Walker before Jonah swept it down in a stunning blow to the side of the ranger's head.

Walker dropped to Alex's side, dazed and shocked.

Jonah rushed at him, kicking Walker in the ribs and screaming at him, "I won't let you! I won't let you hurt her! I'll kill you! I'll kill you!" He raised the log to deliver another blow when Alex finally managed to catch his arm and pull him away...

"Jonah, NO! Walker wasn't hurting me! We were wrestling and playing, that's all! He wasn't hurting me, Jonah.....Walker would never hurt me!"

Confused, Jonah stared at her for a moment, then a look of absolute terror swept over him and he ran out the door toward the shed. Alex thought about following the upset boy, but heard Walker beginning to regain his senses  and raced to his side instead, lifting Walker's head and cradling it in her lap.

Walker managed to force his eyes open, seeing Alex's distressed face through a veil of stars that still swept his vision. "Alex? What happened?" he questioned, pulling himself up to a sitting position slowly.

"Oh, Walker! Thank God you're alright!" she hugged him tightly, "It was Jonah....he heard us and thought you were hurting me....he snuck up and cracked you over the head with a piece of firewood..."

Walker shook his head slowly. "So much for things calming down some today...." he said slowly. "Where's Jonah now?"

"He ran off toward the shed....Walker, he's really upset, I was going to go talk to him, but I was so worried about you! I'll go find him now...."

"No, I'll talk to him, Alex...don't worry, he'll be fine...." Walker wrapped Alex in a reassuring hug and gave her a kiss to seal it, then rose to his feet to find Jonah.

It only took him a few minutes to find the boy, huddled in the farthest corner of the shed, shaking like a leaf and staring at Walker with those terrible, terrified eyes that broke the Ranger's heart. He wondered if anyone would ever be able to help Jonah past the awful memories of his childhood. Slowly, Walker lowered himself to a seat on a bench near Jonah's side. He watched the boy intently for a moment, blew out a long breath and said,

"Thank-you, Jonah."

Jonah was stunned, and looked at Walker like he was insane, "You gone crazy, Ranger-man? I just knocked you silly with a big old hunk of firewood, and you come in here and say, 'thank-you'?"

Walker shook his head, "Nope, I haven't gone crazy, Jonah.....what you just did took a lot of courage....You went up against a much bigger and stronger man to protect Alex when you thought she was being hurt." He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, forcing Jonah to move in a little closer to hear the Ranger's next words, "You know....I really like Alex a lot, she means an awful lot to me....and the idea that you would go up against somebody as big as me, all by yourself, to try and help her....well, that's why I said thank-you." Then he grinned and winked at the boy, "You've got a good arm, you know that don't you? That was a hell of a knock you gave me!"

Jonah grinned back.

Holding out a hand to help Jonah to his feet, Walker said, "C'mon, let's go find Alex, she was worried about you..."

As they went out the door, Jonah turned to Walker, "You know what, Ranger-man?"

"What?"

"You ain't half bad....I guess we could get on alright."

Walker laughed, "You ain't half bad yourself, Jonah, not half bad yourself....."

It was just after dinner when Walker got a phone call from Joe Myers. He'd pulled the Ram out of the gully the evening before, and towed it to his shop to give it a once over...leaving Walker with a loaner. He was finished and ready for Walker to pick up his truck whenever he wanted to.

"Alex, will you two be alright for half an hour or so while I go switch vehicles?" he asked her.

"Sure, we'll be fine," she smiled, then added with a lifted eyebrow, "....so the Ram's gonna make it?"

Walker shook his head at her playful jibe, "Yeah, the Ram's gonna live....still got a dent in the side, but Joe said he could pound that out anytime.....and no damage was done under the hood or to the suspension."

Alex gave him a quick hug and kiss, then whispered in his ear, "Hurry back, I'll miss you." Then she turned to Jonah, "How about if you and I take care of getting the horses in and settled for the night while Walker's gone?"

"Yes, Ma’am," Jonah agreed easily, "Could I take them out some carrots?"

Walker nodded agreeably, "Just one each, Jonah, and don't forget to be patient with Amigo." Then he put on his Stetson and went out the door.

Alex and Jonah had been working for more than twenty minutes, putting out fresh hay and feed for the horses, and filling their water buckets, and were just leaving the barn to go collect the horses and bring them inside when she heard someone walking quietly up behind them. Thinking that Walker had returned, she turned with a bright smile lighting her features. The smile turned to shock and dismay as she saw Brad Furnell just a few dozen paces away, and stalking toward them with an evil glare on his face!

"Jonah! Run!" Alex cried, grabbing his arm and pulling the boy along with her. Furnell was between them and the house, and to get back to the barn they'd have to run toward him, something Alex had no intention of doing....her only other option was to get to the horses....if she and Jonah could get on one of the horses they should be able to stay far enough ahead of Furnell to be safe until help arrived. Walker should be returning any moment.....she just needed to buy a little time.......

They were halfway to the corral when Alex felt Furnell grab her arm and pull her back toward him, "Run, Jonah!" she shouted desperately. "Run as fast as you can!"

As Furnell spun her to face him, Alex tried to take a defensive stance but he never gave her a chance to position herself, doubling up his fist, Furnell delivered a full punch to her stomach....and as Alex doubled over in pain, he swung the arm back and hit the side of her face hard with the back of his hand. Alex's head was spinning....

"Stupid Bitch!" he growled, "I'll teach you to turn my woman against me! You and all that woman's lib crap of yours!" Still holding onto Alex's arm, he swung his hand forward in a violent open-handed slap, then immediately reversed the motion, backhanding her again, repeating the pattern two more times before releasing her arm suddenly, sending her reeling to the ground, stunned.

Walker drove back into the yard of the ranch with a smile on his face, he had his truck back with no serious damage and it looked like he and Jonah had finally reached an understanding. He was looking forward to a quiet evening at last. As he climbed out of the truck, he heard Alex's voice over near the barn, ....'Jonah, run!' she was screaming! Walker took off full throttle, Oh God....he shouldn't have left them alone.....

As Furnell reached to grab Alex by the hair to continue his assault, suddenly Jonah leapt onto the big mans back, tearing at his head and pounding on his arms and shoulders, "NO! You leave her alone! Don't you hurt her!"

Without missing a beat, Furnell reached up and grabbed one of Jonah's arms and flipped him effortlessly onto the ground. The impact drove the wind out of the boy's lungs and he lay still, dazed. Alex was in a similar state a few feet away.

With an ugly grin, Furnell reached into the waistband of his jeans and pulled out a pistol he'd jammed there, "Dumb kid.....should've kept running like the bitch told you!" he said as he began to level the gun at Jonah's head.

Suddenly Walker was there, but his angle was bad....if he delivered a kick or a punch to knock the aim of the weapon away from Jonah, there was too great a chance that the bullet, driven wild, would strike Alex lying on the ground nearby.....Walker rushed forward instead, driving himself between Jonah and the gun and grappling with Furnell for control of the weapon.

Alex, beginning to recover slightly from the pounding she had been given, looked up to see Walker and Furnell wrestling violently together. Looking beside her, she saw a sturdy piece of tree fall wood and picked it up, then forced herself to her feet....she had to help Walker......gathering all her strength, she drew the branch back like a baseball bat and swung it forward, delivering a massive blow to Furnell's head. At that same instant, both Alex and Jonah jumped at the sound of a gunshot. For an second, both men stood frozen, still locked together. Then the gun dropped to the ground between them and Furnell fell unmoving beside it. Alex stared at Walker, who stood apparently surprised that the battle was over so unexpectedly. He cut his eyes to look at her, checking to see if she was okay. When she nodded in the affirmative, she expected him to move toward her....but suddenly the color rushed out of his face and Walker sank to his knees.

"Walker! Oh no!" She cried, closing the distance between them and catching his head and shoulders as he fell backward onto the ground. Looking down she suddenly realized that Walker's left pant leg was drenched in blood from just above the knee, and she could see that he was quickly losing even more....too quickly. Pressing her hand firmly over the wound to try and stop the blood flow, she looked over at Jonah, still sitting in shock on the ground and staring at the scene before him.....

Jonah stared at the Ranger....Miss Cahill's hands were covered with his blood....so much blood.......and the Ranger didn't move.....

Suddenly Jonah was nine years old again, back home in Austin....His father was in the living room, calling for a beer. Dad liked his beer in a hurry, so Jonah hurried....but he tripped on something, and fell....the beer spilled everywhere. Dad picked him up hard and slapped him even harder....then Mama was there, trying to make him stop.... Dad tossed Jonah into the corner and hit Mama instead....hit her for trying to stop him....hit her for crying....hit her for being there....Jonah didn't dare to make a sound....didn't dare to hardly breathe.......Mama was bleeding......Dad's hands were red with her blood....and she didn't move anymore.....

"Jonah, give me your belt!" Alex shouted, shaking him out of his daze and bringing him back to the present, he fumbled at his waist....still staring at Walker as he pulled the belt off.

Things were all backwards.......the Ranger had saved his life, Jonah knew it. The man that was lying on the ground nearby had worn the same look his father had the day that his mother had died.....now it was the Ranger who was bleeding and not moving.....and Miss Cahill was trying to make the bleeding stop......Dad had just hit and hit and hit.....Jonah shook his head in confusion.....it was backwards.....

Grabbing the belt from the boy's hand, Alex began to loop it around Walker's leg with her free hand just above the point where the bullet had struck, slipping the free end through the buckle.....she yanked it at tight with all her strength and held it. Almost immediately the blood loss from the wound lessened considerably.

Breathing a small sigh of relief that the bleeding was under control for the moment, she turned to the boy again, "Jonah, I need your help.....I can't keep this on too long! Go to the house and dial 9-1-1, tell them you have a critical gunshot victim at Ranger Walker's ranch and to send a med-evac chopper.....Then hit speed-dial 1, that will put you in touch with Ranger Trivette....tell him what's happened! Hurry, Jonah! Hurry!"

The boy shot off the ground and ran for the house with everything he had in him. Alex knelt at Walker's side, holding the belt as tightly as she could with one hand and still applying pressure to the wound with the other. "Hang on, Walker...." she whispered, "help is coming, just hang on....please......" Nervously she eyed Furnell's unmoving form just a few feet away.....wondering what she would do if he woke....then she turned her attention back to Walker....

A few moments later she glanced up to see Jonah racing back across the grass. "They're coming Miss Cahill, they said it would be just a few minutes....and Ranger Trivette said he's on his way...." he panted as he reached her.

In the distance Alex could just begin to hear the distinctive Whump whump of an approaching helicopter, but it was still far off, her hands were busy and she didn't know what kind of condition Furnell was in.....

"Okay, good....Jonah, I need you to do something else for me......"

"What, Miss Cahill?"

"Get that gun over there, and bring it to me, I want to have it close if he wakes up," Alex said as she nodded over in the direction of Furnell, "Then watch him for me, Jonah, until help gets here.....tell me if he moves even a muscle....."

Jonah nodded, "Yes, Ma'am, I can do that....." he carefully picked up the pistol lying near where Furnell had fallen, and placed it close by Alex's side, then he picked up the branch that Alex had struck the man with and sat nearby, watching intently for any sign of movement.

Alex's arms were burning from the strain of trying to keep the tourniquet tight, and she was beginning to worry about it.....she knew that a tourniquet needed to be periodically loosened to keep the restricted blood flow from causing damage to the rest of Walker's leg.....but for the life of her, she couldn't remember how long she should wait! Oh why didn't that chopper hurry!

To Alex it seemed like hours, but only moments later the helicopter finally touched down in the field near the house and two paramedics hurried over. Alex finally released a deep breath of relief as they took over the task of controlling the bleeding and stabilizing Walker's condition. She picked up the gun as she stood, her eyes shifting frequently between Furnell, making sure that he didn't move, and Walker, praying that he would. They were just preparing Walker to be placed on a stretcher when Trivette arrived.

"Alex!" he called to her as he ran to her side, "Are you okay? How's Walker? Jonah told me he was bleeding bad...."

Alex hugged tightly onto her friend, trembling now that the crisis was over, and quickly relinquishing the pistol to him, "The paramedics think he should be okay, Jimmy...."

Trivette held her for a moment, then released her and went to check on Furnell, cautiously covering him with his drawn gun while one of the paramedics looked him over quickly.

"This guy's taken a good knock, but he's just unconscious....there's no indication of anything life threatening....we'll radio from the chopper for an ambulance to come pick him up."

Trivette nodded, then knelt and cuffed the man before turning back to Alex and Jonah, who were watching Walker being loaded onto the helicopter at last. "Alex, I'll look after Jonah.....go ride into the hospital with Walker....we'll meet you there as soon as we can. I'll take care of calling C.D., too."

Alex hugged him gratefully, then hugged Jonah, too, before hurrying to climb aboard the chopper.

Hours later, Walker finally opened his eyes slowly to find himself lying in a hospital bed. He felt Alex's hand stroke his forehead before his eyes located her standing at his side. A wave of anger swept through him as he saw her face, both her eyes were blackened, her cheekbones were cut and bruised, and he detected the distinctive pattern of bruising on her upper arm where she had been gripped cruelly..... Furnell....the bastard!

"Alex.....you okay?" he said in a gravelly whisper, reaching up with one hand to try and touch her face gently.

"I'm fine.....we're all just fine...." she soothed him as she caught his hand in her own and pressed it to her lips, "everything is going to be alright, now...."

"What happened?"

"The gun went off while you and Furnell were struggling over it, the doctor said the bullet nicked your femoral artery, just above the knee on the inside of your thigh. We were lucky...it didn't hit the bone.....but you lost a lot of blood and had us pretty worried for a little while there." She smiled and bent to kiss his forehead, "Now get back to sleep...you need your rest...."

"Furnell...." Walker pressed, "what happened to Furnell?"

"He's in the prison ward...." she grinned, "I took a leaf from Jonah's book, and nailed him across the back of the head with a chunk of wood.....he'll live....but he's got a mighty big headache......"

Walker studied the bruises on her face again. "Too bad...." he said tightly.

Alex ran her hand across his brow again, "Sssshhh.....no time for that now....relax....I want you better soon......"

The combination of her gentle touch and soft voice swept the anger away, and Walker closed his eyes once more.

Only once the deep, regular rhythm of his breathing told her that Walker slept soundly did Alex tiptoe out of the room. C.D. and Trivette waited with Jonah on seats just outside the door.

"He woke up for a minute, but he's asleep again now..." she told them, then she reached out and took Jonah's hand, "I never did get a chance to thank you. That was twice in one day you took on a much bigger man to try and protect me....you're a very brave young man..."

Trivette cut in, "Twice? What else happened on the ranch today, Alex?"

Alex just smiled, "I'll explain later, Jimmy, right now it's getting late.....C.D., I'd really like to stay with Walker....would you take Jonah back to the ranch for the night?"

"Surely, darlin', I'll look after him tonight and we'll both come back in the morning."

"Jonah, would you make sure the horses are brought in from the corral? We never did finish that part of our chores...."

Jonah nodded solemnly, "Yes, Ma'am, I'll make sure it gets done.....Ummm, Miss Cahill....can I talk to you for a minute....private?"

Alex walked with Jonah a short way down the corridor and then sat beside him on a bench, "What did you want to talk to me about, Jonah?" she asked.

"Why did Ranger Walker do that?"

"Do what?"

"Let himself get shot, over me.....That man was pointing that gun at me when Ranger Walker jumped in like that.....I could've understood it if the guy had been pointing the gun at you.....he likes you! But, it's not like I'm a friend of his....he hardly even knows me....he could've stayed out of the way and not got hurt like he did...."

She smiled at him gently, "First of all, Walker's not like that...he'd never stand back and let one person hurt another without trying to stop it from happening. That's just the kind of man that he is. Second, I think Walker would very much like to be your friend....if you wanted to let him.....and......" Alex gave Jonah a speculative look, "Actually, I think maybe you remind him a little bit of himself...."

Jonah was stunned, "Me? Like Ranger Walker? I don't think so, Miss Cahill....what could make him think I was anything like him?"

"Walker wasn't always a Ranger, you know......when he was just a little younger than you are now, his mother and father were both killed and he was left all alone. He went to live with his uncle, but he didn't really feel like he belonged there....he was very angry at everyone and everything for what had happened and for a long time he didn't trust anyone but himself. His uncle finally helped him learn that not all people are bad, just like not all people are good.....but that if you don't look for the good, all you will see is the bad. I think that's the part of himself that Walker sees in you, the part that has forgotten to look for the good....and he wants to help you see it again, just like his uncle helped him."

The boy was staring at her thoughtfully, obviously putting deep consideration into the idea that he and Walker might have anything in common.

Alex gave Jonah a hug, "But you have to be willing to give people a chance, and sometimes you have to give them more than one.....mistakes happen....seems to me that you and Walker have hit a few bumps in the road in the last couple of days, but Walker knew that the things that happened were mistakes, and gave you another chance each time, right?" He nodded as Alex continued, "Consider doing that, too, Jonah......you'd be really surprised to find how many people out there would like to be your friend, if you'd just give them a chance...and let them give you one."

She grinned at him, "Now.......it's getting late, and it's time you were getting back to look after those horses and I was getting back to look after Walker!"

As they were going back up the corridor to rejoin C.D. and Trivette, Jonah suddenly asked, "You want to know a secret, Miss Cahill?"

"Sure, Jonah....if you want to tell...."

Jonah pulled her head down a little closer and whispered in her ear, "Ranger Walker really likes you a lot!"

Alex looked at him and raised her eyebrows in surprise, "You think so?"

"Yep! I'm sure of it!" he confirmed with a big smile.

She smiled back at him, "Well, I'll tell you another secret.....I like him a lot, too...."

The two were laughing together conspiratorially as they finally reached the two men waiting for them.

"What are you two plotting together?" C.D. asked with a chuckle.

Alex put on her best innocent voice, "Oh, nothing, C.D.....we were just trading secrets, weren't we, Jonah?"

"Yep, trading secrets...." he agreed.

Alex was still there the next morning when Walker woke again, already feeling much stronger with a good nights sleep behind him.

"Morning...." she greeted him cheerily, giving him a tender kiss. "Nice to see you looking bright eyed again!"

He grinned wickedly, "I'll show you how bright eyed I'm feeling...." He wrapped one arm around her neck and pulled her to him for a more passionate greeting.

When he finally released her, she was breathless, "I guess you ARE feeling better! I suppose that means you're up to receiving visitors, too...and there just happen to be some waiting outside....."

She opened the door and beckoned, Trivette was the first one to come in. He stopped to give Alex a hug and a peck on the forehead, "Morning, Counselor...." then he turned to Walker, "Hey pard....your looking a whole lot better than the last time I got a look at you! You were a little pale then....."

Walker threw him a smile. "Feelin' better, too, Trivette," he agreed, cutting a look at Alex, ".....bright eyed......"

Trivette didn't miss Alex's sudden blush and grinned broadly.

"Cordell...." C.D. began, even as he gave Alex a quick embrace, "You have just got to quit doin' this to us, son.....It's gettin' so folks think we live here!"

"Sorry, C.D., I'll try to do better...."

C.D. chuckled, "Now when have I heard that before? .....Oh yeah, last time you were in here, I do believe! Cordell, sometimes I think you say that just to get me to be quiet...."

Walker shot him a hurt look, "C.D., I can't believe you'd think that of me! Would I do that to you?"

They were all laughing when Walker realized Jonah was standing at Alex's side.

"Jonah.....good to see you......how are you?"

"I'm good, Ranger-man, I'm glad you're good too....."

"Jonah here said he needed to talk to you this morning, Cordell, so I brought him along after he got done looking after the horses. He did a fine job, too...." C.D. informed him.

Walker smiled, "I'm sure he did...he's a hard worker. How are you and Amigo doing, Jonah?"

Jonah gave him a broad smile, "He let me give him a carrot this morning...and help groom him too!"

"That's great! I knew you could win him back!"

The boy moved forward until he was standing at the side of the bed, he stuck his hand out to Walker, "I wanted to say thank-you, Ranger Walker. Thank you for saving my life.....and thank you for being my friend....even when I didn't think I wanted you to be......"

Walker reached out and shook Jonah's hand, "You're welcome, Jonah. I wanted to thank you, too....I saw what you did when Furnell was hitting Alex....twice in one day! I think Alex has found herself a protector in you!"

"Again with the 'twice in one day' thing!" Trivette complained, "will someone please explain to me what you mean by that? What else happened on the ranch yesterday?"

"It's a long story, Trivette.....I'll explain later..."

"Oh, come on! That's what Alex said!"

Jonah grinned as Walker winked at him and said, "Trivette hates to be kept in the dark, so let's just keep it our little secret.....it'll drive him nuts!"

C.D. was chuckling over the look of complete frustration on Trivette's face when he remembered, "Cordell, Jimmy and me promised Jonah a look around Ranger headquarters and some lunch at my place after....so I guess we should be headin' on out of here for now. We'll stop by and see you later, though.... Alex, you want to come along with us?"

"No, C.D., I think I'll stay here for a little while longer....but thanks," Alex replied as she reached over and took Walker's hand.

After Trivette, Jonah and C.D. had said their goodbyes, Alex sat quietly on the side of the bed and stared out the window thoughtfully.....

"What's on your mind, Alex?" Walker said, interrupting her reverie with a brush of his hand across her hair, "you're a million miles away......."

"I was just thinking about Jonah," she replied as she turned back to him, "he's made some wonderful progress just in the last few days....but, it's not going to be that easy....as much as we wish it could be...."

Walker nodded, "I know....he still has a long way to go.....and a lot of things could set him back.....but, it's a beginning, Alex.......now at least he has a chance....."

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'Walker Texas Ranger' and it's characters belong to CBS Inc., Top Kick Productions and maybe other copyright holders. This story and the author is in no way connected to those copyright holders and intends no infringement on their copyrights. The story is only meant as an entertaining tribute to a great show and it's cast and crew. This story may be distributed and copied freely, in its entirety, for personal use.

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"Okay, I'll go have a look.....we'll see if we can't figure out what's going on here..." Walker turned to go into the aisles, unobtrusively switching his badge from his jacket to his shirt, so it wouldn't be seen as easily.....

After a moment, he caught sight of Jenny, who was usually stocking shelves or running register, trying to peer over a display into aisle four and quietly signaled her to his side.

"Hi Jenny, Mr. Abrams asked me to have a go.....why don't you head back down front now, okay?" he said in a low voice.

"Sure, Ranger Walker," she whispered back, "it doesn't do any good, me watching him anyway......I swear he's got eyes in the back of his head.....he always knows right where I am......."

Waiting until the girl had moved off to the front of the store, Walker turned and made a wide circuit of the aisles, approaching silently from the back of the store.....after a moment he caught a glimpse of the boy that had been described to him and stopped, watching silently. The boy was young, small and wiry looking, with straight black hair and dark eyes too. His clothing was clean, but somewhat oversized and worn looking. Probably thrift shop stuff, Walker guessed. So far, the boy didn't seen to realize that Walker was there, he was cautiously checking the forward area, where Jenny had been just a short time before...Walker slipped silently back out of the line of sight just as the boy turned to check behind him, then watched with interest as the boy, apparently satisfied that he was alone at last, went shopping.....He discreetly picked up and pocketed several cans of soup, a jar of peanut butter, even a loaf of bread and two sticks of butter from the coolers. The boy checked around himself once more, then picked up a quart of milk and went serenely to the front of the store to make his 'purchase'. Walker stayed out of sight as the boy counted out pennies, nickels and dimes to pay for the milk.....coming up from the boy's side as he began to exit the store, Walker blocked the doorway....

"Hold it right there, son, I think you have a few other things you need to take care of there......." He said sternly. It caught Walker almost by surprise as the boy, remarkably quick, suddenly dodged to the left and then the right in an attempt to slip past him. Walker caught the boy by the shoulder, pulling him up short and then was forced to deflect several rapid blows directed at him as the boy continued trying to escape.....

"Lemmee go! Help! This man is trying to hurt me! Help! Somebody call the police! NO! I don't want to go with you......" The boy cried loudly, apparently hoping to startle Walker into releasing his grip.

Walker, now holding the boy with his arms safely pinned to his sides, grinned, "Nice try, son......but the police are already here......My name's Walker, Ranger Walker..... what's yours?"

"Oh yeah, big tough Ranger, HUH?" the boy said defiantly, still trying to get Walker to release his grip, "gotta pick on a kid.....can't find any bigger fish to fry? .......or am I all you can handle, Mister Ranger-man? Well, you're so smart....you figure out my name......I ain't talking to you! I want a lawyer! I think I'm a victim of police brutality or something........LET......ME......GO!"

Walker shook his head, somewhat amused, the kid had fire in him....that was for sure! Most youngsters that he'd ever picked up on a shoplifting charge were pretty well cowed before the police even got to the scene......shocked that they'd been caught and scared of what would happen next......

While all this had been going on, the store manager had approached hesitantly.

"Mr. Abrams, do you know this young man's name?" Walker asked him, still holding on firmly.

"No sir, Ranger Walker......he comes through here often enough.....but can't say as I know anyone who knows who he is......just showed up in the neighborhood a while back....Do you want to go into my office while we deal with this?" he added, looking at the onlooker's gathering around the scuffle.

"To tell you the truth, Mr. Abrams, I don't think that's going to do a whole lot of good....would you mind if I took him straight downtown with me? I'll see what we can figure out, and get back to you later for a formal report...."

The man looked more than a little relieved. "Okay, Ranger, whatever you think is best...." he assented.

"Fine," Walker acknowledged, "Do me a favor and write up what you remember about all of this while it's still fresh....have Jenny do the same.....and someone will be back to talk to both of you as soon as we get some answers....." Walker reached behind his back and pulled out his handcuffs, "Son, I'm sorry to have to do this, but I can see you're not going to give me any choice in the matter....."

"Wait....wait! I'll be good, I promise!" the boy said, eyes widening as he stopped struggling suddenly, "Don't put the cuffs on me! I'm just a kid!"

Walker's eyes softened, he WAS just a kid...... "Okay, then...." he said, slipping the cuffs back into his pocket, "If you think we can get on......my truck's right out front.....let's go..."

"Okay, Ranger....." the boy agreed, turning to walk quietly out the door. But as soon as they were on the sidewalk and he felt Walker's grip loosen just slightly, the boy quickly ducked down and ran as fast as his feet would carry him away from Walker....

Surprised, Walker took out after the boy, finally doing a tackle grab, bringing the boy to the ground, but rolling as they fell, so Walker wound up underneath the boy...shielding him from hitting the ground. Quickly he shifted position, not loosening his grip this time. Setting the boy on the pavement beside him and whipping the cuffs out of his pocket once more, Walker secured the boys hands in front of him, "Son.......I don't know why you wouldn't just do this easy!"

"Quit calling me son!" the boy shouted, furious and frustrated, "I'm not your damn son! Just take me in, Ranger-man! You've made your big collar for the day now! Happy? I bet all your big tough Ranger buddies will be some proud of you for your work today! Maybe you'll get an award for breaking the big crime ring!"

He was still verbally attacking as Walker set the boy back on his feet and pulled him back up the street, piling him into the Ram and fastening the seat belt securely.

Climbing in behind the wheel and starting the truck, Walker turned to look at the boy once more, a little antagonized by the continuing diatribe, "That's enough......I gave you a chance.....don't blame me for a decision you made all on your own....."

The kid just shot Walker a scathing glare, "You want me to be quiet? Let me out of this damn truck! What kind of cop car is this anyway? They wouldn't even spring to give you a decent set of wheels? No wonder you had to bust me.......you'd never catch a real crook in something as cruddy as this! and it's filthy! Can't you even clean up after yourself? Oh wait, I forgot.....you are just a glorified PIG! Oink oink, right....."

Walkers knuckles whitened but he didn't speak again as he pulled the truck out into traffic....doing his best to ignore the continued ranting of the angry boy......

By the time they arrived downtown, Walker was clearly more than a little irritated....the boy had refused any attempts at civil conversation, but had kept up a continuous attack instead. Walker got the boy out of the truck and headed inside, taking him to the juvenile holding area. As they entered the building, he saw Alex over at one of the desks, apparently involved in something, but when she glanced up and saw him, she came right over...

"Hi, Walker, back so soon?." Alex smiled, then looked at the obviously still angry teen, "Who have you got here?"

"I don't know, Alex....he's not talking....says he wants a lawyer...."

When the boy glanced away for a moment at a disturbance down the hall, Alex looked at Walker questioningly and mouthed, 'cuffs?'

Walker just shrugged and gave her a look that said he'd explain later.

She nodded, then added aloud, "Well, okay, if that's the way he wants it....I'll meet you upstairs in a few minutes, then?"

"Yeah, I'll be just a couple......"

Walker took the boy to a secure room, where assisted by a juvenile officer he emptied the boys pockets and then removed the handcuffs, "I'll be back in a little while and see if you feel like telling me who I can contact so you can get on home tonight...."

"Ah! Don't rush back on my account, Ranger-man! Any time I don't have to see you is good time!" the boy spat, clearly not feeling any more friendly.

Walker turned and left the room quickly, leaving the boy with the other officer. He was tense....very tense....and a little surprised that this boy had been able to do that to him.....

Walker found Alex waiting by his desk in the Company B office. Since the room was empty for the moment, she greeted him with a light kiss and a gentle hug.

"Wow," she commented as she backed away a step, with her hands still on his shoulders, "you're tight! What happened with that boy to get you this bad?"

Walker sighed as he moved to his desk and sat down, Alex followed closely and stood behind him, massaging his shoulders. "Do you want to talk about it?" she questioned softly.

"I don't know if there's anything to talk about Alex. It was just a simple shoplift....Mr. Abrams at the Qwikstop happened to catch me when I stopped in.  He's talked to me about this kid before....so I watched him and then confronted him on his way out of the store." Walker turned and looked at her, "Alex...I can't even count how many kids I've brought in on shoplifting over the years......but this one....I've never encountered anyone like him.......you know, he almost slipped away from me....twice!"

"He's really struck a nerve with you, hasn't he?"

Walker chuckled slightly, "Well, he got on my nerves.....that's for sure....."

"Do you know anything about him at all?"

"Not much......Abrams said he just showed up in the neighborhood a while back, and from the stuff he picked up in the store today, my guess is that he's on the street....but that doesn't fit too well, either....he doesn't have the look of a wanderer...." Walker shook his head, "Well, I've left a message for Penny in Children's services.....since he doesn't seem inclined to tell anyone who he is, I'm hoping maybe she's run across him before and will be able to help get him home....she should be here any time now...."

A few minutes later Penny Harding from the Children's Services department came into the office and over to Walker's desk, where he and Alex were still talking quietly.

"Hi, Walker....Hi, Alex....." she greeted them, "Walker, I hear you have someone you want me to take a look at for you?"

"Yep, I've run across a thirteen or fourteen year old boy with some kind of an attitude....and who doesn't feel inclined to give out his name....I was hoping maybe you'd recognize him so we could get him home before it gets too late...."

Penny nodded her head, "Sure, let's go have a look....he downstairs in the observation room?"

"Yeah, he's with Don Sloan right now." Walker said as he picked his hat up from where he had dropped it on his desk, then waited for the ladies to precede him before leaving the office himself.

By the time they arrived downstairs, Walker had filled Penny in on the details of how he had encountered the boy. They arrived at the two way mirror outside the room and she glanced inside, then up at Walker quickly. "He hasn't said anything to you about where he's been staying has he?" she asked anxiously.

Walker was puzzled by her reaction, "No, I can barely get a civil word out of him....I gather you know him then?"

She blew out a long breath, "I sure do! We've been trying to track him down for months....We've got to find out where he's been staying....how long have you had him here?"

"Maybe an hour," Walker answered, "What's so important about where he's staying Penny?"

"That's Jonah Malloy......and I'm not surprised now about that comment you made about attitude.....he sure has one! He arrived in Children's Services about four years ago, after his father killed his mother in a drunken rage. Jonah was there that night, and we think he saw the whole thing, but he's never talked about it....not to anyone no matter how hard we tried. He just wouldn't open up. Jonah never settled in to the program either....kept causing problems, wouldn't talk to anyone, and ran away from every foster home we tried to place him in.....about a year ago he seemed to calm down and we all breathed a big sigh of relief....We should have held our breath! He waited about nine months, apparently putting his plan together.....and then one night he took off again, and this time he took his little brother and sister with him! They're only seven. That's why it's so important to find out where he's been.....we've got to find those two kids.....right now.....we have to assume they're out there alone, waiting for him to come back....."

"What are their names? Maybe if I go in and have something specific to ask him, his concern for them will get past the attitude he's been giving me...." Walker asked with some concern....a pair of seven year olds alone on the streets of Dallas was not something he liked to think about....

Penny looked at Walker, then shook her head in the negative, "Not you, Walker, there's a reason for that 'attitude' as you call it.....and I'm sure it's far worse than just attitude......the impression he's probably been giving you is probably somewhere closer to deep, abiding hatred and loathing unless I miss my guess."

Walker looked surprised and nodded slowly, "You know what that's all about?"

Penny sighed, "Oh yeah......his father....it's all about his father. Jonah's father's name is Trevor Malloy. He abused his wife, and Jonah, for years..... it looked like it hadn't really started with the younger ones yet.....they were frightened of him, but too young to give him any real excuse.... the problem between you and Jonah is something I'm not sure he'll ever get past, Walker.....your male, and his father was a cop...."

Alex took in a startled breath, "Oh no......I remember that case now......they lived in Austin, right? How did the children get to Dallas?"

"Austin had a lot of bad memories for them....especially for Jonah.....in spite of his personal problems, Trevor Malloy was a popular cop....most of the men and women that he worked with had no idea what was happening during his off duty hours and were shocked at what happened. But a few knew and covered for him anyway....Jonah blamed them all for his mother's death and for what he and the other kids had gone through.....they had no other family, so Children's Services thought a fresh start might be just what they needed. We placed them with a foster family in the Dallas area...Tori and Brian, those are the twins, settled in okay....but Jonah kept causing problems...We don't like to split up families if we can help it, so we moved them all to another and then another home...hoping that Jonah would fit in better....but nothing helped. Jonah just doesn't trust anyone but himself......"

Walker's expression was one of complete dismay, "I wish I'd known.....if I'd only known....I would have handled it differently....."

Alex's heart went out to him, Walker worked so hard with children.....constantly trying to do more to help and support any one that came into his reach.....and she knew that if he had known Jonah's history, the way that Walker would have handled the entire incident would have reflected that knowledge....but he hadn't known....he had no way of knowing....

"You couldn't help it, Walker.....you did what you had to do," she said quietly, reaching out and gripping his hand.

"Alex," he looked at her with sad eyes, "I took a kid with a bad history with an abusive father who was also a cop, and brought him here in cuffs.....no wonder he hates me so.....my God....."

Alex squeezed his hand, she knew that with Walker's soft spot for children...especially children in trouble....this would likely bother him for some time, and she only hoped that he'd be able to talk it through. Then she turned to the other woman, "Penny....you said that Jonah most likely won't even talk to Walker....what about me? Is it okay if I go in and try to get him to tell us where the twins are?"

"That might be a worth a try, Alex.....he really loves those two kids....if we can get past his anger, and get him to tell us where to find them....." Penny assented.

Alex nodded agreement, squeezed Walker's hand once more, then turned and entered the observation room. Jonah was sitting rigidly at the table where Walker had left him....glaring at Don Sloan, the officer who had been left with him, but was silent.

"Give us a few minutes, will you Don?" Alex asked.

The guard nodded and left the room, leaving the pair alone.

Jonah glared at her, still angry, "You're the lady who was talkin' to the big tough Ranger-man, right? Come to see if you can break me? Forget it! I want a lawyer...."

Alex looked at him quietly for a moment, trying to decide how best to begin. "Yes, Ranger Walker is a friend of mine, my name is Miss Cahill," she started, "but no, I haven't come here to try and 'break you' Jonah." When the boy startled at the use of his name, she nodded gently, "That's right, Jonah.....we know your name....and now we need your help."

"Yeah, right! You need MY help....sure....."

"We DO need your help, Jonah, we need you to tell us where to find Tori and Brian..."

"NEVER! I'll never tell you where to find them! You leave them alone....do you hear me? You leave them alone....I'll take care of Tori and Brian! They're my family! You leave them alone!"

The boy was almost frantic as he shouted his response, jumping up from his seat and waving his arms furiously......from his position on the far side of the two way mirror, Walker made a move to enter the room, thinking to help Alex. Penny stopped him...

"Wait, Walker.....give her a few more minutes......"

Walker nodded and went back to watching the scene unfold....

Alex waited for the boy to finish his tirade before she continued, "Jonah...I know that you're angry, but you have to think about the twins now. I understand that you want to protect them....but, you know that they can't just let you walk out of here....You're still a minor, and they can't just let you go back out on the streets. So if you're here....who's going to look after Tori? Who's going to take care of Brian? They're all alone out there, Jonah.....seven years old.....all alone......and it's getting dark. They're waiting for you to come home, right? There's only one way you can take care of them right now....tell us where they are. Let us go get them and bring them to you....then we'll find a safe place for them. They shouldn't have to sleep on the streets, Jonah....they're still so little....."

"She's doing it....she's getting through to him....way to go, Alex..." Penny whispered.

Alex continued her argument as she saw the boy's resolve weakening, his concern for the two small children outweighing his anger and frustration, "Please, Jonah.....it will be night soon.....have you ever left them alone at night? No, I didn't think so....you're too good a big brother. I know you've been taking care of them....making sure they had good things to eat.....clean clothes....Take good care of them now, Jonah.....don't make them be scared and worried all night, waiting for you to come back..."

Jonah's mask of anger had dropped away, and he looked much more like the young boy he really was, "You'll make sure nobody hurts them? You'll bring them back here....so they can see I didn't forget?" he asked.

"Yes....absolutely.....no one is going to hurt Tori and Brian. If you want, I'll even go myself when they go to find them....to make sure.....and I'll make sure they get to see you as soon as we find them. They'll know that you were still taking care of them....still looking after them and doing what's right for them...." Alex paused for a moment, then asked him quietly, "Where are they, Jonah?"

For a moment, the boy still looked undecided, then with one more look at the promise in Alex's eyes, he nodded. "Okay, if YOU go to get them....and bring them here for a little while so I can see 'em....."

Alex nodded solemnly, "I will, Jonah."

Jonah took a deep breath, "Out on Trinity, there's a half burnt out apartment house....we live in the old Super's apartment in the basement.....Tori and Brian will be there....."

Alex reached out and squeezed his hand, then stood, "We'll be back soon, Jonah, you're doing the right thing....the best thing for the twins...." She turned to go.

"Wait! They have a hiding place.....they'll stay there unless they hear the code word...I told them if strangers came to hide and stay hid unless they heard the code.....they won't come out if you don't say it!"

"What's the code word, Jonah? How do I tell them that you sent us? That everything is going to be okay?" Alex said as she turned back to face him once more.

"Tell them.....tell them....Sandy....." Jonah's voice got very small and sad, "Sandy was our mama's name......"

Taking two quick steps back to the boy's side, Alex wrapped her arms around him, "It's a good code word, Jonah," she whispered, "Everything's going to work out okay, I promise.....we'll find a way to make things work out....."

Jonah let her hold him for a minute, then shrugged himself free, toughening up again, "Just go get the kids, okay? I'm usually home before dark, and they're probably hungry....."

"Okay, Jonah.....we'll be back soon...." Alex agreed.

Once back in the hallway, Alex turned to Walker.... "You heard?"

Walker was just passing Penny back her cell phone, "Yeah, I've already contacted Trivette....he'll meet us there. Let's go...."

"Don," Alex turned to the officer who was preparing to reenter the room, "Why don't you see if somebody can get something for Jonah to eat....he's probably half starved himself....."

At an agreeing nod from the man, and Penny as well, Alex turned and hurried with Walker out of the building to go find the two younger children.

They arrived at the burned out building at the same time as Trivette....it didn't look secure enough for anyone to be living there, but they made their way carefully inside anyway. Sure enough, at the bottom of the basement steps, which showed signs of recent repair by less than expert hands, they located the door to the Superintendents apartment....it was locked. Forcing it open, they were surprised to find themselves in a neat, fairly well kept apartment. Jonah had apparently cleaned up all the damage he could and done his best to give the twins a comfortable place to live. The small, high windows were blacked out, to prevent any light at night from revealing their presence. There were a large number of thick pillar candles positioned around, but all were unlit and well out of the reach of young children.....a couple of battery powered camping lanterns lit the room now. In the corner near the sink was stacked a dozen or so gallon containers of water, and nearby was another pile of empty jugs....apparently waiting to be filled. There were toys scattered about, and the cupboards held some fresh fruits and canned food.

Trivette whistled lightly, "You say a thirteen year old managed all this? Alone? Holy cow....."

There was no sign of the twins.

Alex, remembering Jonah's words, took a position in the middle of the room, signaling Walker and Trivette to silence, "Brian? Tori? My name is Miss Cahill.....Jonah sent us to come and get you....You're not going to stay here any more. Jonah said to tell you 'Sandy'. He said that was your code word, and that you'd know he sent us if we knew it...."

Suddenly a piece of paneling on the wall popped away and two small faces peered out at them from a cramped space between the walls. "Where's Jonah? We're ready for dinner now....." the little boy asked.

Hurrying over to them, Alex swept both the children into her arms and pulled them out of their hiding place. "Jonah is just fine, he's waiting to see you.....and we're going to get you something to eat right now. What would you like?"

Walker reached down and took the little girl in his arms as Trivette picked up the little boy, "C'mon kids, let's go," he smiled, relieved that the twins were okay, "My name's Ranger Walker, and this is Ranger Trivette....we're gonna take a ride in my truck to where Jonah is."

Half an hour later, chatting happily and still holding onto the remains of the take out meals that Walker and Alex had gotten for them, Alex took the children into the room where Jonah waited, remains of a finished meal still on the table in front of him.

"Jonah!" the twins chorused, rushing to him.

"You were late! We were a little scared, but we did just what you told us and when we heard someone coming, we hid til they said the code word....did we do okay, Jonah?"  Tori questioned him as Jonah hugged them tightly.

Alex stepped back outside the room, leaving the children to their reunion as she joined Walker and Trivette, who were talking to Penny Harding.

"Thank goodness they're okay..." Penny said, watching the three through the mirror.

"They're more than okay," Walker said with a smile, "You should see what a good job Jonah did taking care of them, it was amazing! Hard to believe, too, he's just a kid himself...."

"What happens now, Penny?" Alex asked, "Have you got a place for them to stay tonight?"

"We've already contacted one of our foster families that takes in crisis kids, you know...anytime, day or night,......they'll be here soon to pick up Tori and Brian....but Jonah," she shook her head, "I'm afraid we're going to have to place him in juvenile....anything less and he'll just disappear on us again......"

Walker looked shocked, "Don't you have any other options? He's just a kid, and he's done a really good job looking after those two....I understand that he can't stay with the twins, and I even think he'll understand it too, probably expects it....but juvenile? That's for criminals....not runaways....especially not runaways with his history....."

"I'm sorry, Walker, but we don't. We just don't have any placement homes or facilities that are geared to handle a kid like Jonah....." Penny looked genuinely distressed herself, "I hate to have to do it, but I've seen him in action before.....I know Alex got through to him before, but that was for the twins.....his basic distrust will kick back in and we won't be able to hold him...."

Walker had turned back to the window, watching the three children, "Let me take him to my ranch......."

Penny shook her head, "It won't work, Walker.....Jonah's not going to feel any differently about you now. You know where he's coming from...."

Looking back at the two women, Walker said simply, "He doesn't belong in juvenile..... let me talk to him again, offer him the choice.....maybe he and I can reach and understanding....."

Alex gripped Walker's arm. "Are you sure about this?" she asked, her memory flashing back to another boy that Walker had taken in. The circumstances were entirely different, but Alex had a definite feeling that this situation might be no less painful for Walker if it didn't work out.

"I have to try, Alex......."

Penny studied him intently, then nodded, "Okay, Walker, let me make some phone calls.....if we can get approval, you can give it a shot....." She turned and headed down the corridor towards the offices and phones.

Forty-five minutes later she was back, accompanied by a friendly looking couple. "Walker, Alex.....this is Mr. and Mrs. Eddington, they're going to take in Tori and Brian for at least the next few days," she then reversed the introductions to the Eddingtons, "This is Ranger Walker and Alex Cahill. They helped us find the children, and Ranger Walker has been given permission to take Jonah on for a while too."

Walker flashed her a grateful smile at the news that Jonah wouldn't be going to Juvenile Hall, "Thanks Penny, I appreciate you going to bat for me."

She shook her head, "Don't thank me yet, Walker....I've tried to tell you, Jonah's a tough customer....you could learn to regret this really quickly, but I hate to see him head into detention too....I really hope he's willing to give you a chance.... Let me go in and talk to Jonah and get Tori and Brian, then you can go ahead and see what Jonah wants to do, okay?"

Jonah shot her a sullen look as she entered the room, "Hullo, Miss Harding," he mumbled, dropping his gaze, "I guess you've come to take the kids...."

"Yes, Jonah.....we have a nice couple waiting outside who are going to take Tori and Brian home with them," she answered him softly.

"Don't suppose there's any chance they'd let me go with 'em too?" he asked next, glancing over at the twins playing quietly with some toys that had been brought to them.

Penny swallowed hard, "No, we can't allow it just now.....but we'll make sure you get lots of chances to visit....and someday soon, we'd really like to be able to get all three of you together in the same home again.....if you'll let us.....y'know, it really is up to you, Jonah...."

Suddenly Jonah got a hard look in his eyes, "Well, go on, take 'em! It's past their bedtime you know!" then he turned his back to her and faced the wall, his posture rigid.

Outside the room, Alex's heart went out to the boy and she leaned into Walker's arm for comfort, tears welling in her eyes.

Walker turned to the Eddingtons, "In a few days, if you don't mind, I'd like to give you a call and try to arrange to get those three together for an afternoon, out at my ranch?"

Mrs. Eddington smiled, "That sounds like a wonderful idea, Ranger Walker, it's obvious how much Jonah loves his brother and sister, and they need each other very much..... Miss Harding can tell you how to reach us when you're ready."

Just then, Penny left the room holding onto Tori and Brian's hands....they were crying and waving goodbye to Jonah. Gently she introduced the children to the Eddingtons and the couple took them toward the exit...promising them that everything would be okay and that they'd see Jonah very soon.

"Okay, Walker," Penny stated, "if you're sure you want to try this, you can go ahead and see what Jonah thinks....."

Walker nodded and quietly turned to enter the observation room.

As soon as Jonah saw who was coming through the door, the mask of hate and anger went right back up on his face. He glared at Walker, "What do YOU want, Ranger-man?"

Walker sat slowly in one of the chairs, watching the boy carefully and debating the wisdom of his decision, but right now...he was the only one that wanted to take the chance, if he couldn't convince Jonah to cooperate, Juvenile Hall was his next stop. That 'never give up' piece of Walker's psyche kicked in.....he just couldn't let what looked to be basically a good kid be sent down that road without trying to do something. He didn't want to think about Jonah's chances for the next five or so years with that kind of experience under his belt after all the rest he'd been through. Walker just knew he or some other cop would be busting him for ever escalating crimes.....eventually they'd either send him to Huntsville or be pulling his body out of a ditch somewhere.....Walker couldn't let it happen without a fight....he had to try......

"To start with, I wanted to thank you, Jonah...."

"Thank me?" Jonah sputtered, " ....for what!"

"For telling us how to find Tori and Brian.....for giving them a chance to have a safe bed tonight and not be all alone out there. I know that must have been a tough decision for you....you've done a real fine job taking care of them all this time. You must love them very much, to have done all that...."

Jonah snorted, "Course I love 'em! My kid sister and brother ain't they? Geez! Don't you know nothing about family?"

Walker was grateful, Jonah was still angry...but at least he was talking, not shouting insults, "Actually, no.....I never had any sisters or brothers, but I can sure see how hard you worked to take good care of them." Walker paused a moment, then continued, "What about you, Jonah? Do you take good care of yourself, too?"

"I do alright, Ranger-man.....I can look after myself.....Tori and Brian need help, but I can take care of myself."

Walker nodded, "You know you have a problem, don't you?"

"I don't have any problems I can't handle...."

"Yeah, you do, Jonah.....Children's Services figures you to try and take off again. That's why they couldn't let you stay with Tori and Brian....they don't know where to put you, and they can't just let you go back to living on the street. So they're stuck...."

"Well....why don't they just stick me in Juvi!" Jonah blustered, "probably the only place that can hold me!"

Walker nodded. "That's what they think too....." he said simply.

At a shocked look from Jonah, Walker decided to offer his solution, "But there might be another place, Jonah....if you're willing to give it a shot......"

"What other place? Some kind of prison camp for hardened criminals like me?" Jonah was angry again.

"No....not a place for 'hardened criminals', a place for a boy who needs a place....if he wants to try it....but you have to be willing to try, Jonah, it won't work and it won't last if you're not willing to give it a chance......"

"Okay, okay.....enough of the soft shoe," Jonah cut him off, "What place are you talking about, Ranger-man?"

"My place," Walker said softly, watching Jonah's reaction.

"YOUR place! You want me to stay with YOU, Ranger-man? You think I want to hang out with a guy who grabbed me out of the store, tackled me out in the middle of the street and then hauled my ass in here wearing handcuffs!" Jonah was working himself back into a fury, "Of all the people in the world, YOU'RE probably one of the last one I'd want to be spending any 'quality' time with! What are you, crazy!?"

Walker let Jonah finish his speech and catch his breath before responding, "What I am..... is the only one around right now that has a place for you....I'm willing to give it a shot, Jonah....take you out to my ranch and let you stay with me there.....I don't want to see you stuck in Juvenile Hall.....but the choice has to be yours. If you don't think you can handle it......." He gave the boy an appraising look, "I know you don't like me, Jonah, and I know some of the reason why.....but I'm here to offer you some help....You don't have to like me, just call a truce.....find a way to get along, so that we can keep you out where you'll get a chance to see Tori and Brian.....I'll leave you alone, let you think your options through.....you knock on the door and let us know what you decide you want to do."

Walker stood and left the room as quietly as he had entered.

In the hallway, Alex took his hand once more as they turned to look at the boy sitting alone in the room, "You did the best you could, Walker......whatever choice he makes...."

"I know, Alex.....I just hope he doesn't let his dislike of me keep him from taking a chance to stay out of Juvenile Hall....."

Jonah sat alone in the room at the table and thought about the events of the day. Things had started out okay....he and the kids had been doing great....then this stupid Ranger had to show up and louse everything up! Now he'd lost the kids and who knew how long it would take him to figure out where they were hiding them and get them back.....and the Ranger- man was telling him that they wanted to toss his butt in Juvi to keep him from taking off again! And his only other option.....the only way he was going to be able to stay out.....was to go stay on some dumb ranch with the rotten Ranger! The guy was mean, too, Jonah could tell he'd be mean.....and he probably drank all the time.....and that was his only choice....Juvenile Hall or the dirty rotten lousy stinking mean Ranger! What kind of choice was that? But he knew what he had to do.....if they stuck him in Juvi, he'd have no way of getting to Tori and Brian....so he'd have to go with the Ranger-man for now.....but he'd be out of there soon, just as soon as he could get his feet down the road, that was for sure! Just for now, he'd have to play pleasant and cooperative....that was the only way to get adults to trust you enough so that they'd leave a window open..... and when they did, he'd slip away........

Walker, Alex and Penny Harding heard the tap on the door and opened it to find Jonah standing there looking at the floor.

"I don't want to go to Juvi," he said quietly, "If you really mean it, Ranger Walker, sir....I'd like to go stay with you at your ranch instead, please...."

Walker gave the boy a big grin, "Absolutely, Jonah! You're really going to like the ranch....and in a couple of days, maybe Tori and Brian can come and visit you there."

Jonah's eyes lit up for a moment, "You mean it? I can see Tori and Brian? Really?"

Alex reached out and tousled the boys hair, "Of course he means it, Jonah, Walker never says anything he doesn't mean...."

Jonah was quiet for most of the drive out to the ranch, surprised at how far it was out of town. He was going to have to rethink his plan about just taking off when he got a chance.....it was too far to walk, and the Ranger would be sure to catch up with him quick.....He stole a sideways glance at Walker.

"Ranger Walker," he asked, "why are you doing this?"

"Doing what?"

"Taking me out to your place? What do you want with me?"

Walker cut his eyes to look at Jonah for a moment, then returned them to the road, "I don't want anything from you, Jonah. I just don't like to see someone who doesn't deserve it get sent to Juvenile Hall.....and this was the only way I could think of to keep that from happening....I'd like to be your friend, that's all....."

Jonah managed to stifle a snort of derision. Yeah, right, he thought....the day you and I are friends......

Once they arrived at the ranch, Walker took Jonah to one of the guest bedrooms....he deliberately chose the one on the second floor that didn't have a roof below the window.....

Penny Harding had given Walker a bag with some clothes and supplies for Jonah, to hold them over until he had time to take the boy out to get what he needed, Walker handed the bag to Jonah.

"Here, why don't you go ahead and get ready for bed.....I'm really late getting home tonight and I need to go take care of my horses and see to it that they're settled for the night too."

"You have horses.....cool.....can I ride one?"

Walker grinned, "We'll see....I'll introduce you to them in the morning if you like."

"That would be great......do I have to go to bed right away?" Jonah asked next.

Glancing at his watch, Walker saw that it was just after 8:30, "No, you can stay up for a while if you want.....there are some books downstairs on the shelves in the living room if you want to read, or you could see if you can find something to watch on TV, I don't bother with cable, since I usually only want to catch the local news.....so I'm afraid I don't have many channels to choose from...but you might be able to find something...."

Jonah nodded agreeably, "Thank you, I appreciate it." Then he turned to get ready for bed.

Walker went to the barn feeling much better, this might work out okay after all.....

Jonah sat on the bed looking around. What a crummy room.....and what a pushover old Ranger-man was! All he had to do was put on a few manners and already the Ranger trusted him.....HA! Time to get out of here! Jonah hadn't failed to notice that Walker hung the keys to his truck on a peg as they stepped through the door....time to book on out of here....that was sure! Get to town, find someplace to hide out, and then start looking for Tori and Brian.....he guessed they'd be somewhere close, best bet was to wait til the beginning of the week and start checking out the schools....they'd have 'em enrolled somewhere quick enough....and they wouldn't be far behind either....Jonah had spent hours each day working with them on their numbers and writing and reading....he'd even snatched some books from a schoolyard one day, so he'd know what first or second graders should be learning....and they did real well too! They were smart kids and were gonna do alright! Jonah would see to that!

Jonah peered out his window at the barn, and when he saw that the Ranger was well involved in the task of cleaning out the horses stalls...he took off down the stairs, grabbed the keys off the peg and flew out the door to the truck. He opened the door as quietly as he could and climbed in quickly....just barely snapping the door shut behind him to keep the overhead light from alerting the Ranger that anything was up. He could barely reach the pedals with his feet, but couldn't find the lever to adjust the seat....he'd just have to do the best he could...he only needed the stupid truck long enough to get to town anyway. Jonah had never tried to drive before....but he was getting out of here....tonight! He'd figure it out as he went along! Cautiously he slipped the key in the ignition and turned it......

Walker felt a prickle go up his spine and turned to look out the barn door, he saw nothing unusual and started to turn back to his work when he heard the engine of the Ram roar to life.

"Oh no!" he shouted, dropping the rake he'd been using and dashing toward his truck, his ears assaulted by the sound of gears grinding as Jonah tried to put the truck into drive.....He'd almost reached the Ram when it suddenly lurched forward and dirt and grass flew into Walker's face as Jonah slammed his foot on the gas....

Jonah laughed as the truck raced forward, trying to control the speeding vehicle as he simultaneously searched for the switch to turn on the headlights.....couldn't see a thing ahead of him without them, just too darn dark out away from the city lights. He found the switch and pulled it quickly, and saw that he was heading directly for a small stand of trees. He tried to pull the wheel to the left and jammed his foot on the brake at the same time, hoping to pull the truck around the trees and back onto the drive, but the truck skidded sideways and he was jolted as the side of the truck bed slammed into one of the trees. He could hear the Ranger hollering, and terrified now of what was going to happen to him if Walker caught up to him, he tried desperately to get the truck to move, but one wheel spun uselessly, caught in a small gully near the trees, and a second later Walker yanked open the drivers side door and jerked the keys out of the ignition. Suddenly there was nothing but silence except for the sound of the Ranger's labored breathing from his run to try and catch up with the boy and the truck. Jonah lay down on the seat and covered his head, waiting....

Walker was furious! He'd trusted Jonah....left him alone in the house for less than thirty minutes and look what had happened! Kid had made a run for it already, and tried to take Walker's truck in the bargain....now there was a huge dent on the passenger side of the truck bed, and who knew what kind of damage might have been done to the engine and the undercarriage......and Jonah himself could have been seriously injured...even killed....trying to drive an unfamiliar vehicle that was much too big for him to handle! It was stupid....just plain stupid! As Walker's train of thought passed from the damage to the truck to the potential for injury to the boy, he looked down at Jonah. The boy had curled himself up in a tight ball on the seat, arms over his head, and was shaking violently....the implication was obvious....Jonah expected a beating...a bad one! The very idea shook Walker out of his anger....the boy was absolutely terrified, of him! He found himself taking and releasing several deep breaths....trying to figure out how to handle this one.

"Jonah, get out of the truck," he finally said in a calm voice, "Let's get back to the house, we have some serious talking to do...." When Jonah didn't move, Walker decided against touching him, not wanting the boy to feel any physical threat at all..."C'mon, Jonah....I'll take care of moving the truck in the morning....it's late, let's go...."

Finally, slowly, Jonah uncurled himself and sat up on the seat....the look on his face was one of disbelief and distrust. The last of Walkers furor melted away....Jonah shouldn't have done what he tried to do, but Walker understood his reasoning behind it....

Standing back, Walker allowed Jonah to hop out of the truck unassisted, and silently but side by side the two trudged back to the ranch house.

The two sat opposite each other over the kitchen table. Walker had given Jonah a glass of juice and fixed himself a cup of tea....now he simply sat silently...considering the boy and his options....finally he gave a deep sigh and began, "Jonah, I thought we went through this downtown....if you don't want to try and make this work....we can just end it right now. The decision is still yours....I know you don't like me, but I still think we can manage to get along until Miss Harding finds a suitable placement for you....only you have to be willing to make a go of it, if you're going to try and take off every time my back is turned....." Walker shook his head, then waited for Jonah's response.

Jonah stared back at the Ranger across the table....he was still somewhat shocked... he'd tried to steal the guy's truck, had managed to crash it into a tree....and the man hadn't touched him, hadn't even yelled....just sat over there telling him that he had to decide what was going to happen next. Jonah just didn't know what to make of this whole situation....it was like nothing he ever expected. He let out a deep breath of his own, if he was going to stay out of Juvi, and get to see Tori and Brian sometimes, obviously he was going to have to work with old Ranger-man over there....he knew he'd never get a shot at the truck again, anyway....maybe he'd just better make the best of it for now....

"Okay, Ranger Walker, you're right.....I was planning on taking off as soon as I could when I said I'd come stay here with you," Jonah started, "I'm used to looking out for myself....I'm good at it....but I can see that, for now at least, that's not gonna happen. I wasn't lying when I said I don't want to go to Juvi....I've met kids that have been in there....and I do want to be where I can visit Tori and Brian. I'd appreciate it if you'd give me another chance....and I promise I won't try anything like that again..."

Walker studied Jonah's face, and looked him straight in the eyes, appraising the boys intentions....he could see no shadows...it looked as if Jonah was really willing to strike a bargain. He put a hand out to the boy across the table, "Alright, Jonah, we'll take another try at it, deal?"

"Deal, Ranger Walker," Jonah said, shaking Walker's hand in solemn agreement.

"Okay, tell you what....how about if you come out and help me finish putting the horses up for the night....and tomorrow we'll work out where we're going from here?"

Jonah nodded and the two rose from the table to complete Walker's long delayed nightly chores.

The next morning, after breakfast, Jonah asked Walker again about riding one of the horses.

"Have you ever been around horses before, Jonah?"

"No, we've always lived right in the city.....but I sure would like to learn."

"Alright, but the first thing you have to learn is the right way to take care of a horse. A horse can be your best friend if he trusts you....but if you don't earn that trust, well.....he might tolerate you...if he has to...but not much more... come out to the barn with me, and I'll start teaching you how to earn a horse's trust and respect...."

The two worked side by side all morning....Jonah listening carefully and following Walker's directions to the letter. They mucked all the stalls, fed and watered the horses, and Walker began teaching him the basics of grooming the animals correctly. As noon approached, Walker looked to Jonah with approval, "You've worked really hard this morning....and you're a fast learner too, let's go inside and have some lunch, and this afternoon I'll give you a riding lesson."

Jonah smiled for the first time since Walker had seen him with the twins, "Cool! Can I ride that one?" he pointed over at Amigo.

Walker shook his head, but smiled too, "I'm afraid not, Jonah, Amigo is mighty particular about who climbs on his back....I'm afraid he'd toss you in a heartbeat, if you managed to get on at all....but you can ride Ranger, or Little Ranger over there..."

"How'd you get a horse named Little Ranger, anyway?" Jonah quizzed.

A fleeting shadow of pain crossed Walker's face, then he answered, "He was named by another boy who stayed with me awhile....Little Ranger was his horse....."

"Oh......what happened to the other kid? He couldn't take it and you had to send him off to Juvi?"

"No......Lucas was very sick when I met him," Walker swallowed hard, talking about the boy he had semi-adopted still brought a deep stab to his heart, "he died....."

"Oh." Jonah decided not to press the subject any further.

Walker shook his head, clearing away the painful memories for another time, "Let's go get cleaned up, then see what we can rustle up for lunch, okay?"

"Yes, sir, I sure am hungry!"

They were just stepping onto the porch when C.D.'s car came up the road and pulled to a stop next to the house.

"Hey, Cordell," he called as he climbed out from behind the wheel.

"Hi, C.D......what brings you around today?" Walker replied.

"Well, I heard you had a young feller stayin' with you for awhile, and I thought I'd come on out and meet him."

C.D. stuck his hand out to Jonah, "You must be Jonah, My name's C.D. Parker, you just call me C.D., everyone does! Alex stopped in this mornin' to my place and was telling me about you....How are you and Cordell here getting on? Doin' alright are ya?"

"Yes sir, we're getting on okay, I guess," Jonah said as he returned C.D.'s handshake, "This afternoon Ranger Walker is going to give me a riding lesson."

"Well, I'm real glad to hear that! Cordell's a fine teacher, you'll be riding like you was born on horseback before you know it....You want to do me a favor and grab that big old basket out of my car and carry it inside for me?"

As Jonah went to the car, Walker asked with a grin, "Okay, C.D., what's in the basket?"

"Food, Cordell, decent food! Boy won't be able to do any growin' if he has to live off your cookin', that's for sure!" C.D. responded with a chuckle.

Walker heard Jonah stifle a laugh as he shook his head with a chuckle of his own, "My cooking isn't that bad, C.D., you know that! Managed to keep myself alive all these years haven't I?"

"Yeah, but only cause you eat at my place every chance you get!" C.D. retorted quickly, throwing a wink at Jonah, "By the way, Cordell, what in tarnation is your truck doin' halfway down the drive leaning up against that stand of little oaks?"

Jonah sobered quickly and hurried to get inside, but heard Walker answer, "Had a little accident, hit a sandy patch and that's where she wound up, Joe Myers is coming out later to help me pull her free of the gully one wheel's stuck in and check her over....."

C.D. shot Walker a strange look, knowing that story couldn't be true....but the look on his friends face told him not to push the issue just now.

They followed Jonah inside to fix lunch.

After they had eaten, Walker looked over at Jonah, "Why don't you help C.D. clean up these dishes, and I'll go outside and start to saddle up the horses for your ride, you come out when you're done?"

"Yes, sir!" Jonah responded eagerly, jumping from the table and beginning to clear it quickly as Walker headed out the door.

Walker had finished saddling Amigo, and was bringing Little Ranger's saddle out of the tack room when he heard C.D. calling to him, "Cordell! You have a phone call!"

Walker looked over at Jonah, who had joined him at the corral a few moments before, "This will just take a minute, then I'll finish saddling Little Ranger...."

"Alright, Ranger Walker," Jonah nodded.

The boy watched Walker stride across the yard to the house, then turned back to the horses. Amigo came up close to him, looking for pats and scratches. Suddenly Jonah was aware that the horse was all saddled and ready to go.....and he sure seemed to like Jonah.....Wouldn't Ranger Walker be surprised if he came out to find him sitting on Amigo's back! He looped Amigos reins around the fence railing Jonah was sitting on to keep him close to the fence, then stood and began to drop his leg over the horse's back. Amigo shied and tried to step away, laying his ears back, but Jonah didn't recognize the warning signs and quickly pulled himself the rest of the way onto the saddle. Amigo shied and danced and Jonah found himself rapidly losing his seat and picking himself off the ground. Hurting from the fall, and angry, he picked up the an extra piece of leather strapping that hung on fence and began whipping Amigo's neck and flanks with it.....

"Stupid horse! Stupid, stupid horse! I'll teach you to do what I say! I'll teach you to do what you're told! Stupid, stupid, stupid!"

Walker had just picked up the phone and turned to glance out the window at Jonah when he saw the boy try to mount Amigo, and just as quickly be tossed to the ground...what he saw next caused a quick gasp! Jonah was whipping Amigo!

"Jonah, NO!" Walker shouted out the window, dropping the phone and running for the door, "No! Jonah, no!" But the boy didn't seem to hear Walker at all, he just kept slapping the strap against the animal's flesh as hard as he could.

C.D., hearing the commotion, followed Walker out onto the porch, "Oh my good Lord!" he said as he saw Jonah....

The boy didn't respond to Walker's shouts at all, and finally reaching him, Walker grabbed Jonah's hands and forcibly stopped him from abusing the horse any longer, pressing the boys arms to his sides, "Jonah, stop!"

Jonah seemed to become aware of Walker's presence all at once, and suddenly he was trembling violently and trying to go completely limp, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! I won't do it again, I promise! Please don't hit me....I'll be good! I'll be good! I won't do it again!"

Walker shook his head in complete dismay, still holding Jonah's arms, but now to keep him from collapsing on the ground like a limp puppet, "Listen to me, Jonah....listen to me....." he tried to reach past the panic in the boy's eyes, "Jonah....calm down.....Jonah, I'm not going to hit you....Jonah.....listen to what I'm telling you, PLEASE!"

Jonah suddenly froze, panting heavily and staring at Walker with eyes big as saucers, listening, but obviously still terrified of what the next moment would bring....

Walker took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, "Jonah, listen to me....I'm not going to hit you....I will NEVER hit you.....but I'm not going to let you hurt the animals either....I will never hit you, but I will stop you....."

Walker watched with relief as the level of fear in Jonah's eyes started to lessen, hoping that Jonah had gotten the message at last....

"I'm sorry, Ranger Walker....I didn't mean to hurt your horse," Jonah said in a small voice, "I wanted to surprise you, and then when Amigo made me fall....I got mad...I'm really sorry....."

"I know, Jonah, I know...." Walker sighed, "Why don't you go inside and get cleaned up, and we'll talk more about this later, okay?"

"Okay, Ranger Walker...." Jonah said as he began to walk toward the house, "I'm really sorry.....really...."

Walker stood to calm his still distressed horse, more than a little distressed himself, and the man and horse leaned close together, each gathering comfort from the other.

C.D. approached Walker, concerned by what he'd just witnessed, "Cordell, that boy has some serious demons to exorcise.....you sure this is the place you want to do it?"

One arm still around Amigo's neck, Walker turned to face C.D., rubbing his now aching head with the other hand, "I don't know, C.D., he's basically a good kid....and I don't want to see him sent to Juvenile Hall.....but I don't know if I have the resources to deal with all his problems by myself. Maybe if I call Alex, she can give me someone to contact who can help me out with how to help him...." Suddenly Walker remembered, "The phone! I just dropped it and ran! Who was on the phone C.D.? I'll have to call them back..."

"Actually, it was Alex.....I picked it back up after I saw that you and Jonah were gonna be okay out here and told her a little of what happened and why you took out like you did. She said to tell you that she's on her way out here with Jimmy, they have something they need to talk to you about...."

"She say what it was about?"

"Nope, but she sounded a little upset, if you ask me....." C.D. replied.

"C.D., can you stay a while longer? I don't want to have to worry about what to do with Jonah if I need to help Alex and Trivette with something....and he seemed to get on alright with you....." Walker asked.

"Sure thing, Cordell, be glad to.....here's Jimmy with Alex now, guess I'll just go see how the boy is doing and let you all fill me in on what's up later....." Then C.D. turned and headed back to the house to locate Jonah.

As soon as the car pulled to a stop, Alex jumped out and hurried to Walker's side, she could see he was still tense about the situation C.D. had described to her, and she wrapped her arms around him tightly. He returned the embrace gratefully and then gave her a kiss before turning to greet his partner.

Trivette nodded toward the horse still pressing itself tightly against Walker's side, "Amigo going to be okay?"

Walker nodded, "Yeah, he's shaken up, but he'll be fine....so will Jonah, I hope....Alex, I'm sorry I dropped the phone like that on you...."

"It's okay, Walker....I understand completely....that was something you had to deal with right then....." she wrapped one arm back around his waist and gave him another quick squeeze.

"So, C.D. said you two had something you needed to talk to me about? What's up?"

Alex looked at him with a pair of deeply troubled eyes, "Brad Furnell."

"I thought he was locked up down in Huntsville..." Walker's mind jumped to a memory of a big man who had made himself feel bigger still by beating his wife half to death for no good reason.....and gone on a rampage when Alex and her support group had tried to help her break free of him......

"He was....til last night," Trivette explained, "He managed to get himself cut bad enough to rate a trip to the hospital. He used the opportunity to bust out, killed one of his guards outright.... another one and an orderly are in critical condition. When they went through his cell this morning....looking for anything that would tell them where he might be heading, they found some pretty ugly stuff. Seems he's been collecting everything he can get his hands on about Alex, and a couple of unfinished letters they found seem to indicate that what he has in mind is to come after her, and his ex-wife Connie....guess he's never gotten over the fact that first the ladies beat the stuffing out of him, and then their testimony put him away. He wants them dead, Walker.... Connie's left the state, and we're pretty sure he doesn't have any idea where to find her....but he knows where to look for Alex...."

Walker hugged his arm tighter around Alex's shoulders, he could feel her trembling slightly, though she was doing her best to hide it, "We'll get him....." he reassured her, "Trivette, how much information did he have?"

Trivette shook his head, "There wasn't much he didn't know.....the warden said he had a book filled with notations....including Alex's office phone number, her home address, places she's been to, cases she's working on...pretty much everything..."

"What about my place? Anything in the notes about the ranch?"

"No, I don't think there was.....but I could have the Warden double check."

"Okay, Trivette, you do that.... Alex, I want you to stay here on the ranch with me and Jonah, and we'll let Trivette handle tracking Furnell down while you stay out of sight for a few days."

"Are you sure about this, Walker? You've got a lot on your plate already....you sure you're up to another house guest? Especially one with a killer hunting her....."

Walker chuckled, lightening the mood, "Hell, yes! Think I'm gonna miss the chance to have someone out here to help me with Jonah? He's a handful and a half, he is! Did you see what he did to my truck?"

Alex looked shocked, "Jonah did that? When?"

"Last night, 'bout a half hour after I got him here.....he thought he'd take the Ram for a little spin back to town....took it for a spin alright!" Walker grinned, it was a whole lot easier to see the funny side of the incident now.

Laughing and talking, the three worked together putting the riding gear away for this afternoon, and once Walker was certain that Amigo was sufficiently calmed and reassured, he put all the horses into the pasture to browse and play for the remainder of the day. Finally they headed back to the house to find C.D. and fill him in.

That evening, Walker found that having Alex there really did help a great deal. Jonah, still upset about the incident with the horse, was hesitant to even talk to Walker, but the boy liked and trusted Alex and gravitated to her easily. After they had gotten him off to sleep, the pair went outside to sit on the porch swing and talk. Alex gently plied Walker with questions until she had the full story of the events of the previous twenty four hours.

"The two of you have had quite an eventful first day," she commented.

Walker smiled, "I thought you said I was the one with the gift for understatement! I'm just hoping things calm down a little tomorrow....."

The next morning Jonah went again with Walker to do the early chores in the barn. The other horses were fine, but Amigo pranced and snorted any time Jonah came within reaching distance....

"I wish he wouldn't do that! I said I was sorry!" Jonah was genuinely upset.

"Amigo can't help it, Jonah. He doesn't understand 'I'm sorry' like you or me, he just knows that he's still afraid right now. Remember that I told you how you have to earn trust and respect? Well, what happened yesterday hurt Amigo's trust in you.....but if you really want to, and work at it hard enough....you can win his trust back. It will take some patience, he won't forget that he was hurt easily, but you can get him to give you another chance....if you really want to...."

Jonah gave Walker a sideways glance, how come he got the feeling old Ranger-man wasn't just talking about horses all of a sudden?

Later that morning, Jonah finally got his first riding lesson....and the three of them took a leisurely ride down toward the river and back before lunch.

After they had eaten, Jonah picked a book off the shelf and flopped down on the couch to read, while, still at the table, Alex gave Walker a considering look.

"What?" he asked with a smile.

"I was thinking, Walker, that it's been a while since we've had time for a lesson or two....and I could use a little refresher just about now....."

"Okay," he agreed, recognizing Alex's need to feel prepared, "Lessons it is.....Jonah, Alex and I are going out to the barn, you can find us there if you need anything...."

"Right...." Jonah replied, involved in the book and not really paying attention, "you're in the barn...."

The first hour or so of Alex's lessons went smoothly. Walker put Alex through the paces of a good stretch and warm up with him, and then began calling out moves....checking her positioning and balance carefully, and correcting when he saw deficiencies in form or technique. Finally he called her out into the middle of the straw covered floor, which was as good as any matting he had ever encountered.

"Okay, Alex, let's see how you do..." Suddenly Walker made a move toward her, Alex pivoted, gripped his arm and flipped him easily to the ground.

"Good, very good," he nodded approvingly, then moved into position to try another attack....

Gradually the structured lesson began to deteriorate, and when Alex managed to get Walker pinned beneath her by distracting him with a kiss to the back of his neck while he was preparing to flip her, a good natured free-for-all ensued. Before she knew it, Alex was completely overwhelmed, laughing and then screaming and begging him to stop as he tickled her mercilessly.

Inside the house, something cause Jonah to break away from the story he had become engrossed in. He listened carefully and then heard it again, a woman.... screaming....Miss Cahill! He jumped off the couch and ran out the door, following the sounds to the barn. Peering through the door, Jonah saw Ranger Walker kneeling over Miss Cahill....

"Walker! NO! Don't do that again! Walker! Stop! Please, Walker....Walker....No!" Alex was begging piteously.

Jonah was enraged, he was hurting her! He was hurting Miss Cahill! Turning behind him quickly, he spied the woodpile and grabbed a log that he could heft with one hand...he wouldn't let the Ranger hurt Miss Cahill! Not as long as he was here to make him stop! Slipping silently into the barn, Jonah approached the struggling couple...Alex saw him just as he lifted the log and her eyes widened in shock but she didn't have time to warn Walker before Jonah swept it down in a stunning blow to the side of the Ranger's head.

Walker dropped to Alex's side, dazed and shocked.

Jonah rushed at him, kicking Walker in the ribs and screaming at him, "I won't let you! I won't let you hurt her! I'll kill you! I'll kill you!" He raised the log to deliver another blow when Alex finally managed to catch his arm and pull him away...

"Jonah, NO! Walker wasn't hurting me! We were wrestling and playing, that's all! He wasn't hurting me, Jonah.....Walker would never hurt me!"

Confused, Jonah stared at her for a moment, then a look of absolute terror swept over him and he ran out the door toward the shed. Alex thought about following the upset boy, but heard Walker beginning to regain his senses  and raced to his side instead, lifting Walker's head and cradling it in her lap.

Walker managed to force his eyes open, seeing Alex's distressed face through a veil of stars that still swept his vision. "Alex? What happened?" he questioned, pulling himself up to a sitting position slowly.

"Oh, Walker! Thank God you're alright!" she hugged him tightly, "It was Jonah....he heard us and thought you were hurting me....he snuck up and cracked you over the head with a piece of firewood..."

Walker shook his head slowly. "So much for things calming down some today...." he said slowly. "Where's Jonah now?"

"He ran off toward the shed....Walker, he's really upset, I was going to go talk to him, but I was so worried about you! I'll go find him now...."

"No, I'll talk to him, Alex...don't worry, he'll be fine...." Walker wrapped Alex in a reassuring hug and gave her a kiss to seal it, then rose to his feet to find Jonah.

It only took him a few minutes to find the boy, huddled in the farthest corner of the shed, shaking like a leaf and staring at Walker with those terrible, terrified eyes that broke the Ranger's heart. He wondered if anyone would ever be able to help Jonah past the awful memories of his childhood. Slowly, Walker lowered himself to a seat on a bench near Jonah's side. He watched the boy intently for a moment, blew out a long breath and said,

"Thank-you, Jonah."

Jonah was stunned, and looked at Walker like he was insane, "You gone crazy, Ranger-man? I just knocked you silly with a big old hunk of firewood, and you come in here and say, 'thank-you'?"

Walker shook his head, "Nope, I haven't gone crazy, Jonah.....what you just did took a lot of courage....You went up against a much bigger and stronger man to protect Alex when you thought she was being hurt." He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, forcing Jonah to move in a little closer to hear the Ranger's next words, "You know....I really like Alex a lot, she means an awful lot to me....and the idea that you would go up against somebody as big as me, all by yourself, to try and help her....well, that's why I said thank-you." Then he grinned and winked at the boy, "You've got a good arm, you know that don't you? That was a hell of a knock you gave me!"

Jonah grinned back.

Holding out a hand to help Jonah to his feet, Walker said, "C'mon, let's go find Alex, she was worried about you..."

As they went out the door, Jonah turned to Walker, "You know what, Ranger-man?"

"What?"

"You ain't half bad....I guess we could get on alright."

Walker laughed, "You ain't half bad yourself, Jonah, not half bad yourself....."

It was just after dinner when Walker got a phone call from Joe Myers. He'd pulled the Ram out of the gully the evening before, and towed it to his shop to give it a once over...leaving Walker with a loaner. He was finished and ready for Walker to pick up his truck whenever he wanted to.

"Alex, will you two be alright for half an hour or so while I go switch vehicles?" he asked her.

"Sure, we'll be fine," she smiled, then added with a lifted eyebrow, "....so the Ram's gonna make it?"

Walker shook his head at her playful jibe, "Yeah, the Ram's gonna live....still got a dent in the side, but Joe said he could pound that out anytime.....and no damage was done under the hood or to the suspension."

Alex gave him a quick hug and kiss, then whispered in his ear, "Hurry back, I'll miss you." Then she turned to Jonah, "How about if you and I take care of getting the horses in and settled for the night while Walker's gone?"

"Yes, Ma’am," Jonah agreed easily, "Could I take them out some carrots?"

Walker nodded agreeably, "Just one each, Jonah, and don't forget to be patient with Amigo." Then he put on his Stetson and went out the door.

Alex and Jonah had been working for more than twenty minutes, putting out fresh hay and feed for the horses, and filling their water buckets, and were just leaving the barn to go collect the horses and bring them inside when she heard someone walking quietly up behind them. Thinking that Walker had returned, she turned with a bright smile lighting her features. The smile turned to shock and dismay as she saw Brad Furnell just a few dozen paces away, and stalking toward them with an evil glare on his face!

"Jonah! Run!" Alex cried, grabbing his arm and pulling the boy along with her. Furnell was between them and the house, and to get back to the barn they'd have to run toward him, something Alex had no intention of doing....her only other option was to get to the horses....if she and Jonah could get on one of the horses they should be able to stay far enough ahead of Furnell to be safe until help arrived. Walker should be returning any moment.....she just needed to buy a little time.......

They were halfway to the corral when Alex felt Furnell grab her arm and pull her back toward him, "Run, Jonah!" she shouted desperately. "Run as fast as you can!"

As Furnell spun her to face him, Alex tried to take a defensive stance but he never gave her a chance to position herself, doubling up his fist, Furnell delivered a full punch to her stomach....and as Alex doubled over in pain, he swung the arm back and hit the side of her face hard with the back of his hand. Alex's head was spinning....

"Stupid Bitch!" he growled, "I'll teach you to turn my woman against me! You and all that woman's lib crap of yours!" Still holding onto Alex's arm, he swung his hand forward in a violent open-handed slap, then immediately reversed the motion, backhanding her again, repeating the pattern two more times before releasing her arm suddenly, sending her reeling to the ground, stunned.

Walker drove back into the yard of the ranch with a smile on his face, he had his truck back with no serious damage and it looked like he and Jonah had finally reached an understanding. He was looking forward to a quiet evening at last. As he climbed out of the truck, he heard Alex's voice over near the barn, ....'Jonah, run!' she was screaming! Walker took off full throttle, Oh God....he shouldn't have left them alone.....

As Furnell reached to grab Alex by the hair to continue his assault, suddenly Jonah leapt onto the big mans back, tearing at his head and pounding on his arms and shoulders, "NO! You leave her alone! Don't you hurt her!"

Without missing a beat, Furnell reached up and grabbed one of Jonah's arms and flipped him effortlessly onto the ground. The impact drove the wind out of the boy's lungs and he lay still, dazed. Alex was in a similar state a few feet away.

With an ugly grin, Furnell reached into the waistband of his jeans and pulled out a pistol he'd jammed there, "Dumb kid.....should've kept running like the bitch told you!" he said as he began to level the gun at Jonah's head.

Suddenly Walker was there, but his angle was bad....if he delivered a kick or a punch to knock the aim of the weapon away from Jonah, there was too great a chance that the bullet, driven wild, would strike Alex lying on the ground nearby.....Walker rushed forward instead, driving himself between Jonah and the gun and grappling with Furnell for control of the weapon.

Alex, beginning to recover slightly from the pounding she had been given, looked up to see Walker and Furnell wrestling violently together. Looking beside her, she saw a sturdy piece of tree fall wood and picked it up, then forced herself to her feet....she had to help Walker......gathering all her strength, she drew the branch back like a baseball bat and swung it forward, delivering a massive blow to Furnell's head. At that same instant, both Alex and Jonah jumped at the sound of a gunshot. For an second, both men stood frozen, still locked together. Then the gun dropped to the ground between them and Furnell fell unmoving beside it. Alex stared at Walker, who stood apparently surprised that the battle was over so unexpectedly. He cut his eyes to look at her, checking to see if she was okay. When she nodded in the affirmative, she expected him to move toward her....but suddenly the color rushed out of his face and Walker sank to his knees.

"Walker! Oh no!" She cried, closing the distance between them and catching his head and shoulders as he fell backward onto the ground. Looking down she suddenly realized that Walker's left pant leg was drenched in blood from just above the knee, and she could see that he was quickly losing even more....too quickly. Pressing her hand firmly over the wound to try and stop the blood flow, she looked over at Jonah, still sitting in shock on the ground and staring at the scene before him.....

Jonah stared at the Ranger....Miss Cahill's hands were covered with his blood....so much blood.......and the Ranger didn't move.....

Suddenly Jonah was nine years old again, back home in Austin....His father was in the living room, calling for a beer. Dad liked his beer in a hurry, so Jonah hurried....but he tripped on something, and fell....the beer spilled everywhere. Dad picked him up hard and slapped him even harder....then Mama was there, trying to make him stop.... Dad tossed Jonah into the corner and hit Mama instead....hit her for trying to stop him....hit her for crying....hit her for being there....Jonah didn't dare to make a sound....didn't dare to hardly breathe.......Mama was bleeding......Dad's hands were red with her blood....and she didn't move anymore.....

"Jonah, give me your belt!" Alex shouted, shaking him out of his daze and bringing him back to the present, he fumbled at his waist....still staring at Walker as he pulled the belt off.

Things were all backwards.......the Ranger had saved his life, Jonah knew it. The man that was lying on the ground nearby had worn the same look his father had the day that his mother had died.....now it was the Ranger who was bleeding and not moving.....and Miss Cahill was trying to make the bleeding stop......Dad had just hit and hit and hit.....Jonah shook his head in confusion.....it was backwards.....

Grabbing the belt from the boy's hand, Alex began to loop it around Walker's leg with her free hand just above the point where the bullet had struck, slipping the free end through the buckle.....she yanked it at tight with all her strength and held it. Almost immediately the blood loss from the wound lessened considerably.

Breathing a small sigh of relief that the bleeding was under control for the moment, she turned to the boy again, "Jonah, I need your help.....I can't keep this on too long! Go to the house and dial 9-1-1, tell them you have a critical gunshot victim at Ranger Walker's ranch and to send a med-evac chopper.....Then hit speed-dial 1, that will put you in touch with Ranger Trivette....tell him what's happened! Hurry, Jonah! Hurry!"

The boy shot off the ground and ran for the house with everything he had in him. Alex knelt at Walker's side, holding the belt as tightly as she could with one hand and still applying pressure to the wound with the other. "Hang on, Walker...." she whispered, "help is coming, just hang on....please......" Nervously she eyed Furnell's unmoving form just a few feet away.....wondering what she would do if he woke....then she turned her attention back to Walker....

A few moments later she glanced up to see Jonah racing back across the grass. "They're coming Miss Cahill, they said it would be just a few minutes....and Ranger Trivette said he's on his way...." he panted as he reached her.

In the distance Alex could just begin to hear the distinctive Whump whump of an approaching helicopter, but it was still far off, her hands were busy and she didn't know what kind of condition Furnell was in.....

"Okay, good....Jonah, I need you to do something else for me......"

"What, Miss Cahill?"

"Get that gun over there, and bring it to me, I want to have it close if he wakes up," Alex said as she nodded over in the direction of Furnell, "Then watch him for me, Jonah, until help gets here.....tell me if he moves even a muscle....."

Jonah nodded, "Yes, Ma'am, I can do that....." he carefully picked up the pistol lying near where Furnell had fallen, and placed it close by Alex's side, then he picked up the branch that Alex had struck the man with and sat nearby, watching intently for any sign of movement.

Alex's arms were burning from the strain of trying to keep the tourniquet tight, and she was beginning to worry about it.....she knew that a tourniquet needed to be periodically loosened to keep the restricted blood flow from causing damage to the rest of Walker's leg.....but for the life of her, she couldn't remember how long she should wait! Oh why didn't that chopper hurry!

To Alex it seemed like hours, but only moments later the helicopter finally touched down in the field near the house and two paramedics hurried over. Alex finally released a deep breath of relief as they took over the task of controlling the bleeding and stabilizing Walker's condition. She picked up the gun as she stood, her eyes shifting frequently between Furnell, making sure that he didn't move, and Walker, praying that he would. They were just preparing Walker to be placed on a stretcher when Trivette arrived.

"Alex!" he called to her as he ran to her side, "Are you okay? How's Walker? Jonah told me he was bleeding bad...."

Alex hugged tightly onto her friend, trembling now that the crisis was over, and quickly relinquishing the pistol to him, "The paramedics think he should be okay, Jimmy...."

Trivette held her for a moment, then released her and went to check on Furnell, cautiously covering him with his drawn gun while one of the paramedics looked him over quickly.

"This guy's taken a good knock, but he's just unconcious....there's no indication of anything life threatening....we'll radio from the chopper for an ambulance to come pick him up."

Trivette nodded, then knelt and cuffed the man before turning back to Alex and Jonah, who were watching Walker being loaded onto the helicopter at last. "Alex, I'll look after Jonah.....go ride into the hospital with Walker....we'll meet you there as soon as we can. I'll take care of calling C.D., too."

Alex hugged him gratefully, then hugged Jonah, too, before hurrying to climb aboard the chopper.

Hours later, Walker finally opened his eyes slowly to find himself lying in a hospital bed. He felt Alex's hand stroke his forehead before his eyes located her standing at his side. A wave of anger swept through him as he saw her face, both her eyes were blackened, her cheekbones were cut and bruised, and he detected the distinctive pattern of bruising on her upper arm where she had been gripped cruelly..... Furnell....the bastard!

"Alex.....you okay?" he said in a gravelly whisper, reaching up with one hand to try and touch her face gently.

"I'm fine.....we're all just fine...." she soothed him as she caught his hand in her own and pressed it to her lips, "everything is going to be alright, now...."

"What happened?"

"The gun went off while you and Furnell were struggling over it, the doctor said the bullet nicked your femoral artery, just above the knee on the inside of your thigh. We were lucky...it didn't hit the bone.....but you lost a lot of blood and had us pretty worried for a little while there." She smiled and bent to kiss his forehead, "Now get back to sleep...you need your rest...."

"Furnell...." Walker pressed, "what happened to Furnell?"

"He's in the prison ward...." she grinned, "I took a leaf from Jonah's book, and nailed him across the back of the head with a chunk of wood.....he'll live....but he's got a mighty big headache......"

Walker studied the bruises on her face again. "Too bad...." he said tightly.

Alex ran her hand across his brow again, "Sssshhh.....no time for that now....relax....I want you better soon......"

The combination of her gentle touch and soft voice swept the anger away, and Walker closed his eyes once more.

Only once the deep, regular rhythm of his breathing told her that Walker slept soundly did Alex tiptoe out of the room. C.D. and Trivette waited with Jonah on seats just outside the door.

"He woke up for a minute, but he's asleep again now..." she told them, then she reached out and took Jonah's hand, "I never did get a chance to thank you. That was twice in one day you took on a much bigger man to try and protect me....you're a very brave young man..."

Trivette cut in, "Twice? What else happened on the ranch today, Alex?"

Alex just smiled, "I'll explain later, Jimmy, right now it's getting late.....C.D., I'd really like to stay with Walker....would you take Jonah back to the ranch for the night?"

"Surely, darlin', I'll look after him tonight and we'll both come back in the morning."

"Jonah, would you make sure the horses are brought in from the corral? We never did finish that part of our chores...."

Jonah nodded solemnly, "Yes, Ma'am, I'll make sure it gets done.....Ummm, Miss Cahill....can I talk to you for a minute....private?"

Alex walked with Jonah a short way down the corridor and then sat beside him on a bench, "What did you want to talk to me about, Jonah?" she asked.

"Why did Ranger Walker do that?"

"Do what?"

"Let himself get shot, over me.....That man was pointing that gun at me when Ranger Walker jumped in like that.....I could've understood it if the guy had been pointing the gun at you.....he likes you! But, it's not like I'm a friend of his....he hardly even knows me....he could've stayed out of the way and not got hurt like he did...."

She smiled at him gently, "First of all, Walker's not like that...he'd never stand back and let one person hurt another without trying to stop it from happening. That's just the kind of man that he is. Second, I think Walker would very much like to be your friend....if you wanted to let him.....and......" Alex gave Jonah a speculative look, "Actually, I think maybe you remind him a little bit of himself...."

Jonah was stunned, "Me? Like Ranger Walker? I don't think so, Miss Cahill....what could make him think I was anything like him?"

"Walker wasn't always a Ranger, you know......when he was just a little younger than you are now, his mother and father were both killed and he was left all alone. He went to live with his uncle, but he didn't really feel like he belonged there....he was very angry at everyone and everything for what had happened and for a long time he didn't trust anyone but himself. His uncle finally helped him learn that not all people are bad, just like not all people are good.....but that if you don't look for the good, all you will see is the bad. I think that's the part of himself that Walker sees in you, the part that has forgotten to look for the good....and he wants to help you see it again, just like his uncle helped him."

The boy was staring at her thoughtfully, obviously putting deep consideration into the idea that he and Walker might have anything in common.

Alex gave Jonah a hug, "But you have to be willing to give people a chance, and sometimes you have to give them more than one.....mistakes happen....seems to me that you and Walker have hit a few bumps in the road in the last couple of days, but Walker knew that the things that happened were mistakes, and gave you another chance each time, right?" He nodded as Alex continued, "Consider doing that, too, Jonah......you'd be really surprised to find how many people out there would like to be your friend, if you'd just give them a chance...and let them give you one."

She grinned at him, "Now.......it's getting late, and it's time you were getting back to look after those horses and I was getting back to look after Walker!"

As they were going back up the corridor to rejoin C.D. and Trivette, Jonah suddenly asked, "You want to know a secret, Miss Cahill?"

"Sure, Jonah....if you want to tell...."

Jonah pulled her head down a little closer and whispered in her ear, "Ranger Walker really likes you a lot!"

Alex looked at him and raised her eyebrows in surprise, "You think so?"

"Yep! I'm sure of it!" he confirmed with a big smile.

She smiled back at him, "Well, I'll tell you another secret.....I like him a lot, too...."

The two were laughing together conspiratorially as they finally reached the two men waiting for them.

"What are you two plotting together?" C.D. asked with a chuckle.

Alex put on her best innocent voice, "Oh, nothing, C.D....we were just trading secrets, weren't we, Jonah?"

"Yep, trading secrets...." he agreed.

Alex was still there the next morning when Walker woke again, already feeling much stronger with a good nights sleep behind him.

"Morning...." she greeted him cheerily, giving him a tender kiss. "Nice to see you looking bright eyed again!"

He grinned wickedly, "I'll show you how bright eyed I'm feeling...." He wrapped one arm around her neck and pulled her to him for a more passionate greeting.

When he finally released her, she was breathless, "I guess you ARE feeling better! I suppose that means you're up to receiving visitors, too...and there just happen to be some waiting outside....."

She opened the door and beckoned, Trivette was the first one to come in. He stopped to give Alex a hug and a peck on the forehead, "Morning, Counselor...." then he turned to Walker, "Hey pard....your looking a whole lot better than the last time I got a look at you! You were a little pale then....."

Walker threw him a smile. "Feelin' better, too, Trivette," he agreed, cutting a look at Alex, ".....bright eyed......"

Trivette didn't miss Alex's sudden blush and grinned broadly.

"Cordell...." C.D. began, even as he gave Alex a quick embrace, "You have just got to quit doin' this to us, son.....It's gettin' so folks think we live here!"

"Sorry, C.D., I'll try to do better...."

C.D. chuckled, "Now when have I heard that before? .....Oh yeah, last time you were in here, I do believe! Cordell, sometimes I think you say that just to get me to be quiet...."

Walker shot him a hurt look, "C.D., I can't believe you'd think that of me! Would I do that to you?"

They were all laughing when Walker realized Jonah was standing at Alex's side.

"Jonah.....good to see you......how are you?"

"I'm good, Ranger-man, I'm glad you're good too....."

"Jonah here said he needed to talk to you this morning, Cordell, so I brought him along after he got done looking after the horses. He did a fine job, too...." C.D. informed him.

Walker smiled, "I'm sure he did...he's a hard worker. How are you and Amigo doing, Jonah?"

Jonah gave him a broad smile, "He let me give him a carrot this morning...and help groom him too!"

"That's great! I knew you could win him back!"

The boy moved forward until he was standing at the side of the bed, he stuck his hand out to Walker, "I wanted to say thank-you, Ranger Walker. Thank you for saving my life.....and thank you for being my friend....even when I didn't think I wanted you to be......"

Walker reached out and shook Jonah's hand, "You're welcome, Jonah. I wanted to thank you, too....I saw what you did when Furnell was hitting Alex....twice in one day! I think Alex has found herself a protector in you!"

"Again with the 'twice in one day' thing!" Trivette complained, "will someone please explain to me what you mean by that? What else happened on the ranch yesterday?"

"It's a long story, Trivette.....I'll explain later..."

"Oh, come on! That's what Alex said!"

Jonah grinned as Walker winked at him and said, "Trivette hates to be kept in the dark, so let's just keep it our little secret.....it'll drive him nuts!"

C.D. was chuckling over the look of complete frustration on Trivette's face when he remembered, "Cordell, Jimmy and me promised Jonah a look around Ranger headquarters and some lunch at my place after....so I guess we should be headin' on out of here for now. We'll stop by and see you later, though.... Alex, you want to come along with us?"

"No, C.D., I think I'll stay here for a little while longer....but thanks," Alex replied as she reached over and took Walker's hand.

After Trivette, Jonah and C.D. had said their goodbyes, Alex sat quietly on the side of the bed and stared out the window thoughtfully.....

"What's on your mind, Alex?" Walker said, interrupting her reverie with a brush of his hand across her hair, "you're a million miles away......."

"I was just thinking about Jonah," she replied as she turned back to him, "he's made some wonderful progress just in the last few days....but, it's not going to be that easy....as much as we wish it could be...."

Walker nodded, "I know....he still has a long way to go.....and a lot of things could set him back.....but, it's a beginning, Alex.......now at least he has a chance....."

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