CRISIS

By Pam Gooderham

Crunch! Trivette's elbow connected against the crook's jaw and the fit young twenty-year-old was unconscious before he hit the floor.  Trivette looked over quickly drawing out his gun letting off two clean shots to fell a fourth robber who was about to blast his partner in the back. 

Walker looked round briefly then continued to fight off the remaining three men. The last one finally stayed down for the count after an onslaught from the Ranger's fists.

Cordell Walker sat on a small wall by the sidewalk to catch his breath as a few bystanders cheered the victory. A grateful look crossed his face as he let Trivette get nearer and Walker nodded to him. That's all that was needed.  Both men knew the score. This time Trivette had saved Walker, next time it'll likely be the other way round. That's what partners are for.  Although nothing was spoken volumes had passed between them as neither man took their lives nor the situation for granted. They had become more than aware on a regular basis of their own mortality. A split second could mean the difference between life and death.

          Trivette held his hand out to Walker and the older man gave a wry smile as he took it, "let's check out the injured, get the medics and a unit out here and put this bunch of trash in the truck!" Walker brought out his handcuffs from the leather holder on his belt and proceeded to cuff the remaining prisoners.  They had started to come around now and sullenly filed into the back of the truck.

          As they headed to Ranger Headquarters Trivette looked over at Walker. He knew his partner was tired. Their attempts to get him to take a break had to become a number one priority.  Walker was amazing. He could go for ages at maximum capacity, had an outstanding tolerance for pain, and, because of his martial arts background and continual training, was as fit as they come. It was his Achilles Heel however that he wouldn't take a break, and on past occasions Walker had suffered needlessly to the point of burn out. Even resulting in flash backs to his terrible days in Vietnam. 

Trivette remembered this all too well. On one occasion Walker, in flashback mode, had thrown him over his shoulder and started to choke the life out of him.  Trivette had been so shocked he had failed to respond adequately. Sure, it was expected with bad guys, but your own partner? 

Trivette didn't mind admitting he had been scared to death by the incident, and fortunately Walker had reacted positively to their mentor and friend, CD Parker, when CD had yelled at him.  As Trivette looked at the realization dawning in Walker's eye's he had no problem sensing the man's horror at his actions.  Walker had quickly helped him to his feet, apologizing. That he was confused and disappointed in himself there was no doubt, but unfortunately Trivette had not recovered quickly enough to deal with the situation properly, instead mumbling something about talking to Walker in the morning and walked back to their tent.  Walker had called out he was sorry but the incident had shaken everyone, and it was obvious Walker was disgusted with himself.

They had worked it out eventually and since that time it had been somewhat easier to get Walker to take time off. Trivette decided to have a word with CD and Alex to start the campaign that would get Walker to rest.  Alex could do it if anyone could.  Walker had a huge soft spot for her and she had come to know him so well that she could often talk him round when all else had failed. She had a way of breaking down his defenses and seemed to be able melt his heart. 

Trivette also knew she was completely in love with Walker. For the most part she kept herself in check and though Trivette suspected the feeling was mutual, he had no idea why Walker hadn't popped the question to her. Probably Walker didn't even know himself!

He sighed inwardly as they pulled into the Ranger Headquarters, unloaded the prisoners and began the tedious part of the job, the paperwork! Both men shared this unavoidable duty with resignation, but such was Trivette's concern for his partner he decided to shoulder this task alone.

          "Walker! I'll deal with this. You get cleaned up and have a cup of coffee."

Surprised, Walker suspiciously glanced at his partner. "Why?"

"Don't you always moan I don't do anything for you?"

"So why is now any different?"

"Oh man! Will you do as I suggest just once?"

Walker thought about it for a second.      

Trivette pressed his advantage, "well, I'll do this now if you help me out when I need it!"

          Walker finally nodded his agreement and James Trivette quickly took over the process before his partner changed his mind. He had barely started the procedure when Alex Cahill rounded the corner. "Alex! Take this man for a cup of coffee, will ya?"

          Alex had started to smile as they came into her view, only to grin broadly at the suggestion of having Walker to herself for five minutes.  "I could be persuaded to do that!"

          "Why am I deserving of all this attention all of a sudden?" Walker demanded. His hackles starting to show.

          "Because, Cordell Walker, you're a good and kind man and your reward is a cup of coffee with me!  I trust you're not going to object and hurt my feelings?"

          His mouth had opened to comment but he shut it again as he wondered how he could respond to the last part of Alex's statement without offending her "you sure about this Trivette?" He checked one last time.

          "Go! Go!  Jeez!"

          "C'mon Walker, I have some doughnuts that'll go nicely with a cup of coffee.  You look like you need them."  His scowl did not go unnoticed.  Alex knew why Trivette had suggested this, and she knew that Walker knew as well. All that had to happen now was for Walker to come out of denial.  Always a tricky hurdle that one!

          They made idle chat over coffee and Walker's spirits lifted somewhat.  It could have been the sugar fix, but he was well aware that Alex's bubbly nature put him in a better mood every time he saw her.  As he looked at her now a warm glow slowly spread throughout his body.  She is lovely, thought Walker.  Not only lovely, but also caring, kind, clever and a sheer pleasure to be with. "Fancy having dinner with me tonight Alex?"

          "Depends."

          "On?"

          "On whether you'll let me come round to your ranch and cook a meal for you?"

          Now that was tempting. He nodded slowly, the feeling of being railroaded starting to return, however.

          "Great.  You go home, put your feet up, relax. I'll get some things together and be round before you know it."

          Walker began to wonder whether having friends who cared this much was an imposition or blessing. Somewhat ungraciously he opted for the blessing and rose from his chair mumbling he would see her soon. 

          Alex watched him leave her office her smile to him replaced by a worried frown as he disappeared from sight. He was pale, clearly on edge and looked fatigued. The double shift he had pulled the other night had not help his situation.

          "Paul's new baby was sick.  He had to be with his wife in hospital and as we were three men down with flu that left the department short," Walker had matter-of-factly explained to her.

          Alex thought back to the last couple of weeks and the uncharacteristic outbursts Walker had displayed. The last one culminating with the contempt of court against him. Alex had been in her car when her mobile had rung.

          "Alex, its Jimmy." She could tell by his voice that something was wrong. Her heart quickened.

          "What's wrong?"

          "You know we're in court on the rent boy case?  The judge threw it out on a technicality.  Walker went mad and told the judge he should be ashamed of himself.  The judge's put him in the slammer for contempt!"

          "Oh no!"

          "What'll we do?"

          "I'll be with you in about fifteen minutes, Jimmy."

          Alex walked into the station, her presence expected by all on duty. They exchanged knowing smiles to her as she passed by the various offices.

          "He did have a point, Alex!" One officer called out to her, amid further sounds of agreement from his colleagues.

          "That maybe, John, but it won't help though, will it?" She responded without stopping.  The duty sergeant, like Moses parting the waves, cleared her way and she finally came to the cells. The clanking of the outer door unlocking heralding her arrival and she was shown to an open cell where Walker looked up sheepishly. She stood, frowning down at him.

Trivette sat alongside him on the bunk with a cup in his hands. "Hi, Alex.  You wanna coffee?" He appeased.

"No. What do you think you're playing at?"

Walker scowled and was silent.  His rage not really abated.

Alex's years of experience with hostile situations came to the fore and she automatically tried a different tack.  She walked to the bunk, gestured for them both to move up and sat next to Walker. "I can well understand how pained you must have been, Walker. God knows, you did so much work on that case and it meant so much for you to break that hideous ring, but…how will it help us if you're in here?" She raised her eyebrows expecting an answer and Walker shuffled uneasily. Alex put her hand behind his back and comfortingly gave it a rub. "What am I going to do with you?" That was it. He melted.

"I don't know."

You're good, Alex! Thought Trivette, inwardly smiling.

Walker looked at her with pained expression. "I'm not going to get out without giving that toad an apology am I?"

"You got it, cowboy!"

"Oh Alex!"

"Look Walker. Have you thought that the Judge is as upset as you are about this?  He had no choice either!  I spoke to him on the way over and he said he agreed with you! But he can't have an outburst like that in court from you or anyone else.  You can understand that."

"Yeah…..  I guess so."

Alex continued. "He said anyone other than you and he'd keep them in, but you just had to call him, make your peace and he'll sign the release."

          The officer in charge of the cells popped his head around the doorway. "You guys need more coffee?"

"No, Walt, thanks very much." Walker replied.

"How come we don't get coffee?" Came a voice from the cell opposite, followed by disgruntled shouts from other prisoners.

"Shaddup!" Walt retorted, disappearing down the cellblock.

"I'll get the judge on the phone then?" Alex pressed her advantage.

"Please."

Walker's manners had returned. That was a very good sign. Trivette tried not to smile at the situation in case he precipitated its change!

          "Judge Fallings?  It's Alex Cahill." The one sided conversation was interspersed with pauses. "Yes…. Yes…. Yes, he's here, one moment." She passed the phone over and sighing, Walker stood to his feet.

          "Yeah Judge…..  Yeah I'm aware of it….. Yeah, I can see that….. Yes, sir….  Yes, I apologize…….Okay…….. Thank you. Bye Judge."

          Alex and Trivette shot each other a victorious look before Walker could turn round.

          He turned back, handing the phone to Alex. "Don't think I can't guess what you two are doing!" This time it was mock seriousness. Alex stood up and embraced him.

          "I expect a big expensive meal for this!"

          "C'mon," he said to them both, "let's get outta here!"

          They should have seen the warning sighs after that incident. Alex decided to see what the evening would bring and how open he would be once they had relaxed. It was definitely time to put the pressure on.

          The firelight flickered sending it's bright invitations throughout

Walker's otherwise dark living room as Alex entered after helping Walker to clear up after their meal.  The room always had a wonderfully peaceful air to it and Alex never failed to feel at ease here.  She also knew it was Walker's congeniality that helped to promote the welcome. A house usually reflects its occupant quite accurately.

Alex smiled as she looked about and rounding the couch whipped off

the four cushions from the seat.  Laying them down long ways, two by two, next to each other in front of the fire, she stretched out to grasp two of the ample cushions and set them on the floor, propping them half against the couch for comfort.  She had just settled comfortably on one of the makeshift 'beds' when Walker came through the door.

"That was a lovely meal Alex, thanks.  What's this?" He couldn't help

himself becoming suspicious of ulterior motives these days.

Alex patted the 'bed' beside her. "Come!  C'mon, down here." She commanded.  Walker obliged. "Lie back, relax." Came the second command.  The Ranger had no major objections to these orders. Alex smoothed his brow. "Now, close your eyes for a minute… let your mind wander…" Satisfied he was definitely doing as bidden, Alex settled herself down on her back next to him.

          "Now," she continued, whispering, "you feel the warmth of this fire?"

          "Mmmhuh."

          "Well. It's actually the warmth of the tropical sun and we're basking on the beach.  The white sands are deserted, there's just you and me and we're in one of those huge double hammocks gently rocking in the light breeze. Take a deep breath!" Alex inhaled deeply, "the sea air smells so fresh and clean, and with just the merest hint of seaweed!

Tall palm trees with coconut fruit and azure blue seas surround us as our bodies are bronzed by the elements, and do you know the most we have to do all day?" Alex whispered even more quietly, almost conspiratorially, "is to decide when I'm going to give you that massage I promised you! 

I'll put a thick, fluffy towel on the sand, lay you down and pour a light oil with soothing herbal essence all over your back. I start by gently easing it into your skin then start the massage in earnest.  Kneading those tired muscles, pummeling away the stiffness out of your joints, running my hands firmly up your spine.  By the time I'm finished Cordell Walker, your body will feel relaxed and tingly all over!  

We'll go back for a peaceful afternoon nap then in the evening we'll

head down for a wonderful buffet banquet. Freshly caught seafood, spit-roasted boar followed by heavenly chocolate cake desert and liqueur coffees!  We'll stroll by the shore, wade in the warm, illuminated, effervescent waves and we'll kiss under the moonlight.." Alex smiled a huge smile at the very thought!

          "Nnzzzzzzz."

          Alex swung round.

          "Nnzzzzzzzzzz."

          "Oh I don't believe it!"  Alex peered at Walker through the firelight. "You're asleep!"  She blew quietly through her lips as Walker's gentle snores continued then peered at him intently once more. You're not only asleep, she thought, you're FAST asleep! Well, I suppose, I was trying to relax you! I guess I succeeded!

Alex lay on her side to face Walker and carried on her thoughts. It's

really a compliment, I guess, as you're normally such a light sleeper!  You almost sleep with one eye open!  So, for you to be this fast asleep shows how relaxed you must feel in my company!  That, plus the fact you ARE exhausted. Why DO you push yourself so much Walker?  What is it drives you to the point of burn out?  Do you still harbor pain from your past? Is that what drives you? I wish you'd confide in me, or anyone, but………it's not your way is it?  You can be infuriating on so many occasions and yet………. As she continued to watch the Ranger, her heart became overwhelmed with love and affection for him. Her mind raced at the numerous times his bravery and compassion had saved the lives of so many people, herself included.

As Alex lay back to rest her hands behind her head Walker stirred in

his sleep, rolling towards her, his hand flopping round her waist.  His left arm slipped underneath his body and he snuggled his head into her neck as he found the most comfortable position, then once again his breathing continued evenly.

Tilting her head to one side Alex smiled as she rested her head against

his and she put her arm protectively round his back and continued with her musings. You always look after us Walker.  I want to protect you when you need it. I do love you so much. Alex kissed the top of his head and fought her own sleepiness, preferring instead to dwell in this wonderful feeling of contentment, but, before long, she too was asleep.

"Ring, ring. Ring, ring."  Walker woke, blinking, wondering for a

second what he was doing on the floor before he remembered.  Quickly and carefully he untangled himself from Alex and strode over to answer the phone before it woke her too.  He spoke softly, then listened for a minute, glancing at his watch as he did so, 00.30am "Okay.  Tell them I'll be there shortly.  Which stake out car?  Okay. Give me half an hour to reach you."

Walker put the receiver back quietly, turned to look at Alex and

grabbing the pen next to the phone proceeded to write a note.

ALEX. GOT CALLED OUT. MEET YOU AT CD'S FOR BREAKFAST.

WALKER.

  The fire was reduced to glowing embers.  Going to a cupboard to

withdraw a heavy, warm blanket, Walker went back to where she lay, tenderly spreading the downy covering over her and tucking it around her shoulders. The note was placed where she would easily see it and Walker made a mental reminder to call dispatch and have them give her a wake-up call in the morning. Alex stirred slightly, knuzzling into the warmth of the blanket and Walker smiled at her pleasure, kissing her gently on the forehead. Quietly he placed another log on the fire and replaced the guard. 

He looked at her again with affection for a few seconds and made for

the hallway. Grabbing his jacket, gun, hat and car keys, Walker opened the door, quietly closing it behind him.  It was a chilly night. Rubbing his eyes the Texas Ranger strode purposefully to his truck.

*******

It was like a wail! "Oh how he sings……..raggy music to his cattle as he swiiings, back 'nd forwards in the saddle on a horse……….."

"What is THAT?" Trivette's eyes widened in horror as he approached Alex in CD's bar.

Alex smiled broadly. "CD is singing because he's happy."

"Oh my!  Tell me we're not gonna have to wear this all through breakfast!"

Alex giggled as CD's wail was unrelenting. "AND… there's suuch a funny meter to the roar of his repeater HOW THEY RUUUN WHEN THEY SEE THAT COWBOY….."

Trivette tried to ignore it.

"Well?  How'd you get on with Walker last night?"  His gleaming eyes and smile were too much.

"Jimmy Trivette you behave yourself!" Alex admonished jokingly. "We had a very nice evening, except………"

"Except what?"

"He got called out again!"

"What? You're kiddin' me? How come they didn't call me?"

"No idea, but he went anyway.  So much for him getting some rest last night!"

Trivette sighed. "Now what?"

Alex looked past him. "Sshh, he's here."

Walker grimaced towards the kitchen. "What's that?" He asked as he got closer.

Walker looked terrible. Haggard, dirty and with a whopping bruise on his cheek.  Alex was immediately anxious and stood to meet him. "Oh Walker!" She embraced him, but received only a luke-warm response.  Ignoring it she kissed him on the cheek and fingered his bruise lightly.  He pulled away.

"Don't fuss.  It's nothing." With a bothered frown Walker looked back towards the kitchen.

"Okay. Sit down. Let me get you some coffee."

"Thanks.  What's with CD?"

Trivette shook his head and Alex offered an explanation on her return. "Katie's coming to stay with him."

"Katie?" Queried Trivette.

Walker thought for a moment. "His God-daughter?"  

Alex nodded. "She's just got her first car and is driving down to stay with him a few days. She's the apple of his eye.  The only one that really keeps in touch," Alex explained to Trivette. "He hasn't seen her in years."

"But I am now!" CD brought through the plates of food for them. " Yessir.  Little Katie coming down to stay with me, well, y'know, she ain't so little now Cordell."

"I'll bet. How old is she now?"

"Just turned twenty.  She's studyin' to be a doctor.  Can you imagine Little Katie a doctor?  I don't mind telling you, I'm mighty proud."

"It doesn't seem so long she was just a little kid." Walker remarked.

"I know, I know! But that little honey has called me most weeks, sent me letters.  We've got such a good rapport with each other and now she wants to spend time with me!  Can you imagine that."

"She obviously hasn't heard your singin'." Ventured Trivette dryly, receiving laughter from Alex and a scowl from CD. Walker suddenly put down his fork and sat back in his chair.

CD observed him. "You need a break, Cordell." He said pointedly.

There was a long silence to the point of tenseness as Walker's friends wondered which way he was going to go?  Blow up again or see sense.  They held their breath.

"Y'know. I think I'll drop you off at the office and I then I'll go home." Walker was rewarded with three beaming faces that brought on a small smile of his own, the relief around the table tangible.  He also got a pack on the back from CD.

"That's the way, Cordell!"

Walker shot a pleased look at Alex. "Well," Walker continued, "when you've sat in a car all night with 'Ronnie The Face Scobie', it's even too much for me!"

They laughed happily.  Trivette pulled a face, "How much did he eat on the stake-out this time?"

Walker blinked several times trying to keep the jovial atmosphere going while at the same time trying to rid himself of fatigue. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, but at one point I was convinced he was going to spit roast a pig on the dash board!"

This brought more laughter. Alex fondled his arm affectionately. "I'm so pleased you've decided to do this.

"Anything to get you guys off my case!"

"That's right! We never give up," she agreed, "I'd better get to my deposition. I'll call you later when I think you might be awake."

*******

          The Rangers were ten minutes from CD's when the accident happened.  Their truck was the sixth in a line of cars in the nearside lane moving at a steady fifty-five mph when the front car, a red Camaro, blew a tire.  Within the blink of an eye the car skidded out of control as a combination of loss of traction and the driver applying his brakes caused the vehicle to spin wildly.  Cars behind him went every which way in an effort to avoid a collision, but three were unlucky. 

A green Ford Pick-up, a silver Camry and an ancient blue and rust Escort smacked into each other with a noise resembling cannon fire, only to be swept to the side and off the road towards a goods inwards yard.  The Escort and the Pick-up hit each other again slamming the Escort into a brick wall leaving the passenger door hard against the bricks. The Pick-up, rear-ended by the Camry, ended it's journey abruptly by smashing into the Escort a final time before embedding itself within the Escort's tangled body at a 45-degree angle to the driver's door.  The Camry veered away once more, the driver thankfully bringing it to a stop some way past the other two cars.

          Walker's fingers found the hazard warning lights as he brought the Ram to a controlled emergency stop just short of the accident. Trivette had already grabbed the mike to request emergency assistance. Equally aware of the condition of the traffic behind them, Walker checked before leaving the safety of the cab to find that the flow of cars on the busy stretch of road had stopped safely behind them. Quickly and automatically, Walker triaged the scene as he ran towards it.  He crossed to the two vehicles now on fire as the driver of the Pick-up staggered out, collapsing to the ground. Walker grabbed the shocked teenager, dragging him away from the heat and throwing him into Trivette's hands.

"Please, help my husband. I don't think he's breathing!" 

They looked towards the pleading elderly lady from the Camry. Walker glanced back to the two people still in the Escort.

"You help the lady, Trivette," Walker commanded. Laying the injured driver gently on the ground Trivette raced over to the elderly woman who was fast becoming hysterical.  Grasping her husband Trivette pulled him out and laid him flat.  The old man seemed to be free of injury but looked as though he was having a heart attack. Checking for pulse and signs of breath Trivette decided there was no alternative but to start CPR.  Between breaths and compressions he looked around for his partner.

The passenger side of the Escort was hard against a brick wall; there was no entry there.  Walker tried the driver's door again, but it was locked. The rear of the car had dislodged a huge wooden crate from the goods yard and embedded itself in the rear window, and although the front windscreen was cracked, the hood and the front of the car were engulfed in flames.

Standing by the driver's side Walker frantically looked about him for a brick or anything with which to break the window.  Unable to find anything suitable near at hand he took aim with his right fist and tightened his stomach muscles to summon his chi. Leaping in the air Walker rammed his arm down with all the force his martial arts training would afford him. The glass shattered on impact with his knuckles, his hand penetrating part way into the car.

Walker's head reared back in response to searing pain shooting through his hand.  Pulling his arm back, he ignored the jagged slivers of glass protruding from his knuckles and reached in with his left hand to release the door lock. Deep grooves caused by the sharp glass gouged down Walker's hand and arm as he finally located the button and the door unlocked.

Glancing again at the rapidly spreading fire he threw open the driver's door, but due to the angle of the pick-up was unable to open it fully. The driver was a big man, Walker guessing he must weigh at least 280lbs.  Reaching around the man's torso he struggled to release the seat belt, blood trailing behind as his hands and arm bled profusely in his desperate attempts to grasp the buckle. Fire suddenly shot into the cabin. Snaking yellow fingers groped around the dashboard melting the black upholstery in its wake.

"Please, don't leave me." Walker heard the quiet voice about the same time he felt a hand on his arm. He looked round at the woman pleading with him.

"I won't leave you."  Finally the seat belt sprung back! Walker took the strain of the man's body when the arm grasped at him again.

"Please…"

Sweat streamed down the Ranger's face. Walker felt his back taking the heat of the fire. "I'll come back for you.  I can't get you out without getting him out first."

"PLEASE…"

Removing her arm Walker reassured her again. " I WILL come back for you." With a mighty heave he lowered the man out of the cab, struggling for all he was worth to wrestle him through the small opening. Every muscle tensed, every sinew in his neck bulged with effort to force the driver out and suddenly, mercifully he came free, Walker staggering back as they both came clear. Repositioning his arms to get a better grip Walker dragged him to safety as quickly as possible as he anxiously watched the fire spring round the back of the escort and hungrily begin to devour the wooden crate.

Letting the big guy fall none too gently Walker ran for all he was worth towards the burning mass of metal. The blast of the car exploding had the same result as walking into an invisible force field, hurling him backwards as hot air seared the exposed parts of his skin. He landed heavily on the hard concrete, stunned for only a second.

"NNNOOooooo!"

The soul destroying, anguished cry from his partner chilled Trivette's blood. Quickly he looked up to see what had happened. As one of the first paramedics on the scene took over his patient's care Trivette ran over, his eyes on Walker crawling towards the burning inferno. 

Walker tried to stand. Somehow he found himself part way vertical and lurched forward only to be swept up by Trivette.  Carrying Walker in his arms he drew back from the danger as another explosion, this time from the Pick-ups fuel tank resounded in their ears, blasting them again with blistering air.

"I said I'd go back for her…"

"Sshh. Walker..you did what you could."  Trivette eyed the blood stained clothes. "Medic!  Get a medic over here!" His partner unsuccessfully tried to raise himself again. This time Trivette sat on the floor and held him tightly. "Let it go Walker. There's nothing else you could do!" It took a few seconds before Trivette felt Walker's body submit in resignation. "You got one out.  That's something."  As Trivette scanned the casualties being treated, his face fell as he viewed the medics pulling a sheet over the man Walker had fought so hard to rescue.  Trivette made sure his partner was shielded from the sight.

*******

"What happened?  How is he?" 

"He's fine Alex.  They're not even keeping him in." Trivette assured her. He smiled as relief flooded over her face. He explained the events.

"Oh.  That's terrible." Alex pulled a face, empathizing with the horror that must have taken place. "Poor Walker.  I don't understand why everything he does lately is jinxed."

"That is a bit of an understatement."  Trivette agreed.

"Life's so cruel to him at times. Where is he?"

He pointed to a door nearby.  "You can go in. He's decent. Look, now you're here I'll go back and make out the reports.  We'll let Walker do his later when he's recovered more.  Why don't I meet you at CD's in about an hour and a half?  We should both be wrapped up by about then and we can see what he wants to do from there."

 As soon as she saw Walker Alex knew he was stunned by these latest tragic events.  Sitting on the edge of the gurney in silence as a doctor pulled another piece of glass from the depth of his knuckles, his slumped posture was a sure indication of his feelings.  Alex shivered and tried not to look at the wound.  It was as if he hadn't noticed her arrival until she was next to him.  Thankfully, however, when he did, Walker held out his free arm to embrace her tightly.  "Trivette told me what happened.  I'm so sorry." Might as well try now to get him to talk, she though to herself.  She was surprised when he did.

"I tried so hard, Alex." Walker shook his head his voice a whisper, "I promised her I'd go back."

"Please don't go down this road, Walker. Let it go. A man can only do his very best and I know you very, very well. EVERYONE has said how hard you tried. How you came close to giving your life to try and get her out." Alex paused. "Remember what Uncle Ray would have told you, if you couldn't prevent it then maybe this was her time?  This HAS to be the end of it. Okay?"

There was a huge sigh. "Yeah," he said finally. Gratefully he looked at her. "Is Trivette making out the reports?" He asked.

"Yes.  I said we'd meet him at CD's and work out what we're going to do from there."

*******

          Alex took a sip of coffee. "You okay?" There was a brief nod of his head before Walker became pensive again, absentmindedly fingering the bandages over his left arm and right knuckles.  "I wonder where CD went?" Frowned Alex.

          "I don't know.  Diane said he rushed off earlier for something."

          Almost on cue the door to the bar opened with a crash. Alarmed, Walker and Alex looked round to see a disheveled CD thunder through like an enraged elephant. 

CD stopped when he saw them, his face souring. Astonished, they rose to their feet.

"CD?" Walker started, but didn't get a chance to say anything further.

"Don't you darn well CD me!"  The old man pointed his finger at Walker.. "you….you….how could you?"

Stepping a few paces closer to his ex-partner, Walker couldn't imagine what was wrong. "CD?  What's wrong?"

CD half turned away, thought better of it and swung round aggressively to face Walker again. "You stupid…" he could hardly get the words out, "on the damn point of burn out and look what you do.."

"CD!" Alex was almost numb with apprehension.

"You pulled out a dead man!" CD spat the words at him.. "an'….you….you left Katie to die!"

Walker's shoulders slumped as CD's words registered. "Oh my God.  No!"

CD walked up to him, stabbing a finger in Walker's chest, "you…you…" He made a fist and shook it at him, turned away only to have over-powering rage well up inside again.  CD turned back and hit Walker on the jaw.  The Ranger staggered back a few paces.

Alex yelled at him to stop but CD pushed her away and took aim again.  Walker stood transfixed, his face tortured.  He made no attempt to block or return the punches although he could have done so easily.  It looked as if he thought he should take his 'punishment' as CD's fists found their mark again and again, the last one laying Walker on the floor amidst a crash of tables and chairs.

Hanging on to CD's arm for grim death Alex registered a huge sigh of relief to see Trivette at her side, taking over. 

"What the hell is going on here?  CD!  CD!"  Trivette shook his mentor and friend.

CD crumpled in grief as he buried his hands in his face and wept. Shocked, Trivette looked at Walker and Alex.  She was trying to help Walker to his feet.  Shakily, he stood up as Alex held on to him for grim death and Trivette looked to her pleadingly for answers.

"It was Katie in the car, Jimmy."

"Oh, no.." Trivette's face fell, he closed his eyes briefly. "You drive Walker home, Alex.  I'll stay with CD." He commanded. She nodded, grabbed her bag and led Walker towards the door.  He stopped next to CD.

"I..I  tried CD……." Without looking at him, and still in Trivette's grip, CD turned away.  Alex and Trivette exchanged horrified looks and Alex pulled Walker away, out to the car.  She ran to open the passenger door, firmly pushed Walker in, closing it gently.

********

Trivette dialed Alex's mobile and waited what seemed an age for her to answer.

"Alex?"

"Yes Jimmy, how's things at your end?"

Trivette took another sip of coffee and propped his feet up on the couch, "CD's finally asleep.  Took about four large brandies though.  How's Walker?"

Alex thought carefully.  "He hasn't said a word. He went up to take a shower and I found him on the bed asleep.  I covered him up and left him. I think it was just pure exhaustion.  CD was way out of line, Jimmy." She recounted the events to him.

"Walker already blamed himself for not getting her out Alex. You know how much he takes these things to heart.   He's gotta be devastated." 

"Frankly I can't remember seeing him as down as he is now. Even after Lucas' death he knew he had to deal with it and time would heal in due course, but he seems to be at such odds within himself. I hate to see him like this. It breaks my heart. Now with CD grieving as well…there doesn't seem and end in sight, does there?"

Trivette rubbed his eyes wearily, "CD will make it up tomorrow, Alex. You'll see."

**********

"NNNOOooooo!"

Alex shot up right. Leaping from the couch she raced up stairs two at a time and looked in Walker's bedroom.  He was gripping the sides of the bed a look of sheer desperation on his face and panting heavily, his body drenched in sweat. Her arrival chased off his demons.  Walker blinked repeatedly, and looked about him.  Realizing finally that he was at home, his shoulders relaxed and he laid his head on the pillow again.

Alex covered him up again, noticing the new blood had seeped through his bandaged knuckles. For a minute she was stuck for something to say, the whole enormity of this terrible situation coming home to her. "Walker." She stared at him determinedly, "I know you have the courage to get through this." She allowed the words to sink in before continuing, "Hang in there. Okay?"

For a moment nothing seemed to register, but as Walker fought to keep his eyes open, Alex saw him nod gently. She smiled at him trying to will all the love she had in her heart for him to replace his feelings of agony.  She rubbed his arms through the blanket just above his elbows, then held on them until he was asleep again, and sure he wasn't going to wake up for a while, Alex returned to catch some sleep herself.

************

 CD couldn't touch the breakfast Trivette had prepared. "Oh my word.  What have I done?" CD whispered. "I can't believe I did that." He rose up "I gotta make it right with him, Jimmy."

Trivette grabbed his arm pulling him back down. "Look, just get yourself together for a second. Let's just take this one step at a time.  I need to know what's happening first.  Have you been in touch with Katie's parents?

"Yes," came the quiet reply "they called me after the police had traced the license plate on the car."

"Do they know…the body will need to be ID'd by dental records?" Trivette probed gently.

CD nodded.

"Is everyone sure this IS Katie?  You said yesterday she was travelling down by herself in her first car."

He nodded again and took a sip of coffee Trivette had poured. "She gave one of her researchers a lift to Dallas.  I didn't know till I spoke to her folks."

"Okay." Trivette replied evenly, "and the arrangements for the body?"

"They're taking care of it." CD stood to his feet again. "I can't leave it like this Jimmy, I've got to talk to Cordell.  See if he'll forgive me."

"You need something in your stomach CD."

CD was out the door. "Not until I've talked to him."

With a deep sigh Trivette followed behind him, "Okay, I'll drive you. Wait up!"

********

They entered without knocking and made straight for the kitchen.  The clanking of pans, the smell of fresh brewed coffee and grilling bacon evidence of activity.  Alex had seen them pull up and was already pouring out three coffees.

"Is he up yet?" The old man asked anxiously.  Alex shook her head softly and gave him a hug.  Grateful, CD hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry." He whispered. Blinking away a tear Alex could only nod. She beckoned for them to sit down.

Trivette grabbed a coffee and took a seat.  "I'm gonna look like one of these shortly."  It broke the ice somewhat.  They had just seated themselves when Walker entered and stopped abruptly when he saw them. He was a mess. Unchanged from yesterday, his shirt open, creased and sweat stained. His hair uncombed and his bandages bloodied.

Hesitantly, CD rose to his feet and took a few paces towards him. "I don't know if you can ever forgive me, Cordell.  I can't forgive myself." He stepped closer. "I know if you couldn't have gotten her out, no man alive could of. I ….felt guilty because she was coming to see me when she was so horribly killed and…I couldn't deal with it yesterday.  I tried to blame you instead.  I …am….so sorry."

Lowering his head Walker pinched the bridge of his nose in an effort to fight back his emotions. Unable to help himself, CD embraced Walker, "Son. Please forgive me." As Walker nodded CD steered him from the room and they talked for nearly an hour while Alex and Trivette made small talk hoping for an ending to the dismal time they had shared. CD reentered and they heard Walker's footsteps briskly ascending the staircase.

"Four for a big breakfast Alex, please."

"So, everything's okay?" Queried Alex hesitantly.

CD paused, "well, sort of.  Well…"

Trivette leaned forward, "well what?'

"I'm pretty sure he's forgiven me, which is good because frankly I still haven't forgiven myself.  I did him an awful wrong yesterday. But.." CD removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes wearily, "he, er… he's gonna have a think about whether he wants to stay in the Rangers or not."

"What!"  Trivette and Alex voiced together.

Alex's eyes flashed, "he can't be serious?'

"Well that's plain ridiculous, man." Trivette's coffee cup banged down hard on the table. "You must have been able to talk him out of that?"

"He hasn't said he IS, Jimmy." CD spoke patiently, "he said he's going to think it over. And no, I couldn't talk him out of that because his minds made up."

"This is nonsense! I'm going to talk to him."

CD grabbed Alex's arm, "I wouldn't advise that right now Alex.  I take the blame for this, but he's in a real peculiar mood.  Best leave it a while and I'll try again."

Trivette cleared his throat, "but what does he mean think about it?"

"He's got plenty of leave owing that's for sure, he said he's going out to the badlands tomorrow before sun up. He don't know when he'll be back."

The three friends sat in silence for a while.

Alex folded her arms, "Great! He's in a real fit state to go off to the badlands like this!"

"Look, Alex.  Leave it for the moment.  Let's get breakfast going." CD rose crossing to the stove as reluctantly, after a few minutes, Alex helped him prepare the meal. 

Some five minutes later Walker came down showered and dressed.  Seemingly still ill at ease, he barely caught anyone's eye as he murmured a good morning to them and reached in the cupboard for a first aid kit.  He sat opposite Trivette sorting through the various dressings, selecting two and proceeded to cut away the bloody wet bandages covering his wounds.

"May I help?"

"I wondered how long it would take you to come over."

"Okay, forget it then." Alex turned away from him fighting with herself not to become overly emotional.

"Wait!" Walker paused. "That was rude of me."

Trivette angrily glowered at him. "I'll give CD a hand."

"You want help or not?" Asked Alex testily.

"Er, please." Walker was briefly silent as Alex took the scissors from his hand and continued cutting off the old dressing. "Look…" Walker started, "yesterday…" Alex didn't look at him. "Everything you did, and last night…. I appreciate it."

Still Alex said nothing.  Before long the new bandages were on and Alex went to clear the old ones away.

"It's okay," Walker told her, "I got it.  Thank you."

Breakfast was a strain and Trivette could hardly wait to go. "See you guys later?" His question was directed at Walker.

"Trivette, I'm going to the badlands for a while, I don't know for how long exactly.  I'll call the captain later."

"Well, I wondered when you get round to telling me." Trivette said it as he moved to the door and was outside before anyone could get another word in. CD and Alex frostily glared at Walker.

"What?"

Holding his hands up in submission CD chose to go too. "I'm outta here."  He stopped by Walker. "I AM sorry about yesterday, Cordell.  You'll probably never know how bad I feel about it." He walked off as Walker chose not to say anything in return. Automatically he stonily looked at Alex.

"I'll give you a hand to clear away." She started to collect the dishes.

"Leave them Alex, I'll do them." It was clear this wasn't up for negotiation.

"So, I guess you don't want to talk about it?"

"That's right."

"Sometimes Cordell Walker, you're your own worst enemy!" Alex too took her leave. She wondered how he was going to get back into town without his truck, but she decided against asking him, and aware of him watching her as she got in her car Alex didn't look back.

**********

"Alex you're crazy!"  Trivette stared at her from across his desk, throwing down his pen in frustration.

Alex leaned forward in the chair "he needs us, Jimmy."

"In a pigs eye."

"He doesn't mean it."

Trivette gave a sarcastic laugh, "the only time Walker really ticks me off is when he gets like this. He was down right rude to you."

"He apologized."

"No! He agreed he'd been rude, but he didn't apologize. There's a difference."

Alex sighed, "he's hurting a lot Jimmy. Cut him a bit of slack."

"Cut him…" Trivette stopped aware that he'd become louder during the course of the conversation and dropped his voice. "You have rose colored glasses on Alex. He's ma partner, he's my friend. I love the guy, but just sometimes….. he tries the patience of a saint!" Trivette composed himself further. "This is the most ridiculous idea you've ever come up with."

Alex smiled. "So you'll come with me?"

Trivette's shoulders dropped, "No I will not come with you and you're not goin'."

"Excuse me?"

"Okay, let me give you the reasons this is not a good idea. Number one, he'd spot you tailing him before you'd got a hundred yards from the ranch."

"I'm not going to tail him," Alex chipped in quickly, "he showed me once on the map where his favorite place is. Sometimes he goes north towards Lubbock, but at this time of year he goes south towards Sonora. I even know where he stops for breakfast! We can go after he's started so he won't see us."

"Number two," Trivette pressed on, "neither of us will last a night out there."

"No problem, between us we can take enough to survive a week. We won't be going like Walker with just a knife!" Alex countered, "we'll have sleeping bags and food."

"And last point of all, Alex.  He WON'T appreciate us doing it!  He'll be furious."

Alex offered up her hands, "this is the beauty of it Jimmy, he'll never know. We'll keep discrete distance away, make sure he's okay and he'll be non the wiser."

"It hasn't got a hope in hell of working Alex. Forget it."

Alex was silent for a few brief seconds, 'okay!"

"Oh no, don't you okay me like that! That's a 'I'm going anyway' okay, and you're not!"

"Really!"

*********

"This is the stupidest thing we've ever done and I can't believe you talked me into it. Man, what was I thinking?"

Alex slammed shut the car door and looked about her.  The sun had come up, and the day was warming up rapidly. "He'll have already eaten breakfast at this diner and started off.  We'll have breakfast and just head on out after him. No problem." Alex strode off in the direction of the diner and disgruntled, Trivette followed after a beat.

They ate their breakfast gleaning from Sammy that Walker had indeed eaten here about an hour ago, and seemingly he was headed in the general direction of the place Alex had indicated on the map. Alex shot a triumphant smile at Trivette. "When's CD back from visiting Katie's folks," she asked changing her voice to one of concern.

"Tomorrow. He's coming back straight after the funeral."

"Is he okay?"

Trivette nodded, "yeah, I think so. I told him your hair-brained scheme."

"And?"

"He laughed. He said Cordell will spot us a mile off and be so angry he didn't envy being in our shoes!" Trivette raised his eyebrows in an effort to get her to see reason.

"You don't have to come, Jimmy." Alex offered.

"Oh yeah.  Leave you to spend the best part of a week in the desert on your own? Alex, please…. see reason here."

**********

"My feet are trying to reject me."

Alex blew through her lips, "I have to admit. This is not quite working out as I had planned." She squinted in the hot sun, shielding her eyes as perspiration trickled down her back. I knew it would be hot, but not like this Alex thought, alarmed. She reached inside her pocket and smothered on yet another layer of suntan lotion, thanking she had had the presence of mind to bring it.

Trivette glowered at her. He was hot, tired and fed up. "This is idiotic. We've come too far to get back before nightfall even if I had the energy to try it!"

Alex was downcast. "I'm sorry.  This isn't easy at all. How on earth does Walker manage it?" 

"He's trained! He can go in any terrain like it's a picnic!  The likes of us, however, fail miserably! And guess what?  I'm miserable! Man! ….How could I be SO stupid as to let you talk me into this? I think that's what's annoying me the most." Trivette stopped his tirade as he realized Alex had already lapsed into a guilty silence and looked as hangdog as he could ever remember seeing her. Crossing over to her and sitting on the rock next to her he put an arm around her shoulders. "You meant well as usual I suppose." He said it more charitably than he felt.

"D'you think he'll be alright, Jimmy?"

"Yeah.  He'll be fine." Trivette gave her shoulders a squeeze.

"But what about his knuckles and everything and he's so down on himself. He can't leave the Rangers, it's his whole life."

"Alex. Quit worrying. If he wants to come out here we can't do anything about it and he can look after himself.  As for the quittin' thing? When have you known Cordell Walker to quit anything? Huh?"  He smiled and shook her, "huh? When? C'mon, give me an example of when he's quit? Can't can ya?" He tickled her, bringing a smile to her face at last. "There you go!"

Alex squeezed his hand gratefully. "I feel dreadful about us being out here now. What are we going to do?"

"Well, I don't supposed by any stretch of the imagination we can see him? Let's have the binoculars again."  Trivette scoured the hostile terrain.  Brush, a few sparse trees, cactus and more rocks than you can shake a stick at. No human beings.  He turned back wearily. "Not a sign. Well, I reckon the sun'll be down in a bout half and hour.  We'd better look for somewhere to make camp and we'll head back tomorrow after a good rest. C'mon."

There appeared to be a good campsite in a hollow below them.  Summoning the final remnants of their stamina they headed in its direction, the sunset just beating them to it.  They stumbled the last few hundred yards in the darkness, Alex's flashlight lighting the way precariously, but when Alex missed her footing it was a hard fall to the rocky ground.

"Ouch! Oh no!"

"Alex! You okay?"  Trivette rushed over, helping her to remove her backpack. "Okay?" he asked again.

The reply was steeped in pure anger and frustration, "I don't believe this!"

"It's alright, you've probably just got a shock."

"It's not! I've twisted my ankle!" Alex tried to stand but the ankle was too painful.  She sat back and pounded the ground with her fist. "DON'T say it. Jimmy!"

"Wouldn't dream of it. Let me see." It was sprained and already beginning to swell. Trivette sighed deeply. "Look" he said as calmly as possible, no problem.  We'll just make do and camp here. I'll put a bandage round it and maybe it'll be better once you've rested a bit. Let's get the stuff out of the packs!"

They did what they could in relative silence.  Alex because she was furious with herself, Trivette because he knew it wouldn't take much to increase the tension. He gathered some rocks together making a circle out of them, and heaped dust along the outer edge to make sure the fire couldn't escape the ring. "We'll feel better once we have a nice fire going and get warm."

"How can it be so hot and then be so darn cold.  It's freezing now!"  Alex had been shivering for the last twenty minutes. Crawling on her backside, she released the ground sheets for them to sit on and expectantly looked out the tin saucepan and coffee -pot. Trivette looked through both the packs.

"Where's the accessory bag?" His voice had an edge to it.

"Which one's that?"

"The gray drawstring bag with the can opener, matches and first aid kit?"

Alex shook her head. "Haven't seen it."

Trivette sat next to her on a large rock and placed his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "I've left it by my front door." His voice was flat. "It was such an important item to remember I left it by the door so I wouldn't forget, then I let you lock the door and I didn't go back in!" There followed an ominous silence.

Alex's shoulders slumped. "We have to have something to eat." Alex took out a can of beans and looked at it. "If we can smash this against a rock it would be okay cold, wouldn't it?" She suggested.

Taking the can Trivette looked around, chose a suitable looking rock and hit it several times. The top and one side dented, but other than that it stayed intact. "I dropped a can the other day when I came back from the stores and it punctured right away.  He stood up. "It fell out of the bag like this." Letting it fall from just above waist height to the ground they both looked expectantly, following its descent and roll.  There was no appreciable difference. This time Trivette hit the tin against the rock in anger, staving in most of the top with still no sign of the contents being released. Shivering himself now, he despondently lowered himself down next to Alex and they sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" It was a stern voice close behind them. It caused an eruption of bodies as shocked, Trivette and Alex flew opposite ways, ending on the ground.

Trivette quickly leaped to his feet only to meet Walker's stony stare.

"I said. What do you think you're both doing?" Walker continued in the absence of a reply, "what part of 'be by myself' didn't you understand?" He glowered at them both. "I can't believe even you would be this intrusive! I need my privacy! Why can't you respect that?" Walker waited for a reply but still there was none. Finally he threw both hands against his sides.

He looked at their 'camp', his anger abating somewhat as he noticed for the first time the bashed tin of beans and lack of campsite amenities. Then he noticed his friends. Plainly they were tired, hungry and cold, and despite his anger concern for their well being crept in. They'd come out here and suffered for his sake even though he was furious with them. "Look," he said finally, his voice quiet. "Why don't you camp with me tonight, …. tomorrow you can go back?"

Neither Trivette nor Alex looked or answered him.

"I don't mind." He confirmed.

The awkwardness continued.

"I have some really good, hot ..erh rabbit stew."

Slowly they looked at each other and finally at Walker. He raised his eyebrows and gave them a small smile. "C'mon. I can't leave you like this." He grabbed one of the backpacks. "C'mon."

Trivette walked up to him and grabbed the pack. "I'll take these. Will you help Alex, she's hurt?"

Walker's concern was immediate and genuine. Crouching at her side as she lay on the ground he started examining her up and down with his eyes as his hands rested on her legs. "What's the matter? What have you done?"

Alex still couldn't bring herself to look him.  She felt completely wretched about this whole affair.  What had she been thinking of?

"Ankle." Trivette's voice came from the side as he stashed their stuff in the packs.

Walker looked in her face, "I'll just check it out." Finding the right ankle and assessing it was a strain he gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "I'm sorry this happened.  A sprain can be painful." Without checking, Walker picked her up easily in his arms and stood up.  "You got everything, Trivette? Okay, follow me. We'll soon have you warm and fed.  Then you can rest easy."

He stopped after a few yards. "Alex? Look, relax huh? It makes it hard to carry you when you're rigid."

"Oh…. sorry." Alex forced herself to become more pliable and melted into his arms.  She felt Walker's muscles, his strong biceps, and wished she were in a better frame of mind to enjoy it. He seemed to read her mind.

"You can rest your head on my shoulder, y'know. I sure won't mind." Walker smiled as he said it, trying to get her to be more at ease.

After a few more yards Alex sighed in resignation and somewhat tiredly lay her head against him for the ten minutes or so it took to get to Walker's camp.  He had built a fire near a sheer wall of rock, the face of it reflecting back the light and warmth of the fire.  It was a cozy feel.  Waiting until Trivette placed one of the ground sheets down he lay Alex on top, as near to the fire as possible.  The aroma of cooking was mouthwatering.  Trivette peered into the makeshift metal pot Walker had found earlier.

"Hmmm.  What else is in it?"

"We got various roots, y'know tubers similar to carrots and potatoes, then there's herbs. A couple of snails. I erh  ..wasn't expecting company…do you have plates with you?" They did and it took an eager Trivette all of two seconds to look them out and hand them to Walker.  He took out a spoon from his top pocket and began to dish out the meal evenly.

"Ah ha! So you did come with more than just a knife!" Trivette joked, his spirits lifting with the offer of food and the warmth from the fire starting to make it's way through his body.

Walker smiled.  Getting up he gave a plate to Alex. Only half glancing at him awkwardly she mumbled her thanks. He rubbed her shoulders gently for a few seconds before sitting again and handed over Trivette's plate, taking the pot for himself. "Actually, it's very nice to have friends over for supper!"

Alex merely glanced suspiciously as Trivette replied formally, "thank you for having us."

There was silence again as they ate and after a short time Walker looked from one to the other.

He said quietly, "I know you were looking out for me.  I appreciate it." He took a beat, "what I said earlier, "I didn't mean it."

"Yes you did."

Trivette sighed.  Begrudgingly he had to hand it to Alex she never let Walker overwhelm her when she had her dander up.  Maybe that's what Walker liked in her?

"Okay, maybe I did, but  ….now I'm glad you're here.  Can we at least call a truce for a while?"

She nodded, finally looking him in the face. "It was all my idea. Jimmy just came because he knew I'd come by myself anyway. It was stupid of me." She conceded.

"Yeah.  It was." Walker agreed, "but good of you to think of it just the same. Might as well make the most of it now we're all here, huh?"

His two friends nodded, the atmosphere already beginning to lighten.

"How did you know we were there?" Trivette wanted to know.

Walker laughed, "I wondered who was wandering around the middle of the badlands with a flashlight!  To be truthful I was so caught up in my own thoughts I never even picked up someone was behind me till then.  It's a good job I hadn't gone very far."

"This is not far?" Walker's partner made a face.

Walker laughed again, "I've normally gone twice this distance by now!"

Alex forced a smile. "This stew is good. How did you catch the rabbit?"

"Did I say rabbit?" Walker frowned, "oh, sorry, I meant rattler." He shot a sideways glance at his partner.  Trivette had stopped in mid bite.

"Walker!"

Alex and Walker laughed, "well you didn't know and I knew if I said what it was straight away you wouldn't even try.  You said it was good, remember?" Alex watched Walker. He was enjoying this. He became aware of her scrutiny and smiled in her direction.

"You're amazing do you know that?" Alex put down her empty plate and Walker moved to sit in front of her. Taking off his tan jacket he looked at Trivette. "First aid kit?"

"Er, left it behind. Along with the matches and can opener.

Alex noticed that Walker had removed all the dressings from his arm and hand. She looked on quizzically as Walker undid his blue shirt removing it completely, and taking out his knife he deftly slit a hole in the seam at the top.

"Walker!"

"Got to bind up that ankle Alex and I think once you take your shoe off you're not going to get it back on again," he warned.  The shirtsleeves were cut into long strips and Walker bound her ankle for support. She nodded when he was done.

"Gosh that feels much better already. Thank you," she added, the appreciation apparent in her voice. Walker smiled happily at her again and put the remnants of his shirt back on.  Getting up he walked a few yards away from camp looking about him as Trivette and Alex watched and wondered.  He came back a few minutes later with a hefty forked stick about four feet long. Putting the forked end in his hand he demonstrated for her by putting some of his weight on it to use it as a make shift crutch.

"It's in case you want to er.. go for a walk?"

"Oh," she exclaimed, "thanks. I'll need that. You're being very nice.  Thank you."

"No problem. I'm sorry you got hurt on my account." Walker hesitated.  More than anything else he wanted to put his arms around her.  Not only was he unsure it would be welcome, but as much as anything he didn't really deserve it after his behavior of late. Why did these things have to happen?

          Walker added more wood to the fire as Trivette helped with the clearing up. "Where'd you get water from?" he wondered.

          "Did I see you with a coffee pot?" Walker interjected.

          "Yeah."

          "Then I'll show you and we'll have some coffee before we turn in." Trivette followed closely behind his partner wondering how on earth he could get his eyes to adjust to the night so easily.  They went down the side of the rock face for a minute or so, rounded the corner and climbed up a few large flat rocks leading to a small cave opening. "Notice down on the plain there's more vegetation? In the daylight you'll see it go right down for a few miles, ….well it's because the water table's quite low in these parts and forms an underground stream" Walker explained, "I like this spot because in this cave there's a fresh water pool.  It gets low during the really hot months, but you can usually rely on it."  Reaching down he filled the coffeepot.

          "And if there wasn't any?"

          "Well, sometimes you can dig down a few feet and reach it, but other than that I get moisture from certain types of cactus.  It gets really cold in the desert at night and allows a small amount of condensation to run down plant stems.  It's just enough for these kinds of plants to survive on."

          "Guess nature's got it all worked out."

          "Sure has."

          "Walker." Trivette hesitated. "About you quittin' the Rangers.."

          His partner turned away. "I haven't decided either way, Trivette.  But I promise you'll be the first to know.  Let's just leave like that for now, okay?" Faced with no other options and still apprehensive regarding the possible outcome, Trivette left the matter alone.

          "Coffee was good. I'm gonna turn in now guys." Trivette said his good nights, and began to settle himself.  Walker strode over to Alex.

          "How's that ankle now?"  He proceeded to help her with her sleeping bag.

          "Oh. As well as." Shivering slightly she lifted herself into the quilted warmth and watched as Walker zipped it up round the three sides. "What'll you do?"

          He smiled at her, "I'll be fine.  I've saved that large piece of wood to put on the fire so it should last quite a few hours. I'll just be over here, call me if you need me, okay."  He looked directly into her eyes.

          Alex wondered what she should do, if anything. "Thank you, and… I'm sorry." She said finally, probing the way.

          Walker's voice was whispered and husky, "I don't mean to be ungrateful."

          Alex nodded. She desperately wanted to hold him, but refrained. She smiled warmly instead. "Goodnight Walker."

          Walker wondered whether he could kiss her. "Goodnight." He said.

          She watched as he placed the wood on the fire and removed his jacket, using it as a pillow for his head.  He hardly seemed to bother that his arms were bare where he had used the sleeves of his shirt as bandages the cold not seeming to affect him. Finally he closed his eyes and settled down as well.

*********

          It took a moment for Alex to realize where she was.  She gazed at the stars until the hard ground and the quiet throb of her ankle reminded her. There was a noise.  A moan, a murmur? Sitting up she looked about her to see Trivette doing the same thing.  She turned her head to look at his pointed stare as the mumbling got louder. It was Walker! His sleep agitated, his head tossed from one side to another, his arms and legs moving slightly as he fought who knows what?

          "I'll …come …back.. .  Promise... No! No!"

          Alex signaled to Trivette by putting a finger to her lips.  Quietly unzipping her sleeping bag all the way around she shuffled that and the ground sheet next to Walker, gently covered both of them and grasped his hand. She knew he had awakened as she approached him, but he did nothing. As she lay besides him Alex felt Walker's heavy breathing reduce to a more normal rate and sensed him wiping away the perspiration on his brow.  There was a few seconds pause and Alex felt his arm seek out her body.  Lifting her neck to accommodate him she rolled towards him, snuggling into his side, his arm becoming a pillow for her head. There was a kiss on her forehead.  It took only a few minutes and they were asleep again.

*******

          Warm, surprisingly comfortable and with a satisfied sigh, Alex opened her eyes to see Walker watching her while she slept. Embarrassed Alex coyly looked down.

          "Morning." He whispered, and was rewarded with a small smile. "You're lovely."

          "Walker!" Alex whispered back. She felt him laugh silently. Looking at him again it was impossible not to join his pleasure.  "I hope your arm's not numb?" She worried after a few seconds.

          "Completely dead."

          "Oh!"  Alex removed her head and Walker groaned quietly as he endeavored to get the circulation going again. Alex helped and as life slowly seeped through the veins once more, Walker used the same arm to slowly draw her head closer to his.  Gently they kissed as Walker fondled her hair until the embrace became more passionate. Finally they pulled away and Walker caressed the side of her head with his hand. She smiled broadly, "there's something about this combination of you, the outdoors and sleeping bags!"

          Walker quietly laughed again. "I'd better get some wood for the fire."

          "Stay."

          Undoubtedly there was love in his eyes. Walker sighed deeply, "No." Then regretfully, "I'd …better get some wood."  As he left the warmth of the sleeping bag Walker crouched down to whisper in her ear. "You're too much woman for me Alex." Then with a grin and cheeky wink of his eye he strode off.

          Chuckling happily Alex laid back to savor the moment.

**********

          It was roughly ten minutes later Walker returned to find the camp empty and a few minutes after Alex painfully limped back.  Looking up from stocking the fire Walker went to her aid, gently lifting her the ten feet or so back to the camp.

          "You see Trivette before you left?" The Ranger asked, setting her down.

          "Thanks.  Yes, he's gone to fill up the coffee pot."

          "You okay?"

          Alex sighed, I'll live.." She smiled, "but, with all this attention I'm getting, I'm beginning to think the pain is worth it!"  Walker smiled.

          Without warning a loud gunshot rang out echoing noise throughout the rocks.  Walker swung round instantly. "Trivette!" He took to his heels almost immediately, "stay here Alex."

          Taking off across the campsite towards the corner of the rock face Walker's hand automatically reached to his right hip but it wasn't his habit to take his gun on his trips to the badlands. He cursed under his breath as his feet flew across the terrain. Rounding the rock Walker's face fell as he saw Trivette's still figure. His eyes darted back and forth in an effort to spot the shooter and as he got nearer, still in the cover of boulders, Walker stopped.  Wouldn't do Trivette any good for him to be shot as well. Seeing no threats near at hand Walker scanned the horizon.  Sniper?  Kids up to no good, maybe? A hunter making a genuine mistake? He could see nothing.

          "Trivette!" He called out. Trivette didn't move. Walker decided to risk crossing to him. He had gone but a few feet when bodies appeared from behind the larger rocks pointing their weapons at him.

          "HANDS UP!  Right up!"

          Walker looked about him to see the barrels of various firepower trained on him. He studied the men behind the weapons. Eight of them, ranging in ages of young twenties to late forties, all well built, fit mercenary-looking types. What on earth were they doing out here? Bringing his hands up the Ranger slowly continued his walk towards his partner.

          Walker reassured them. "Okay, you got it… just let me help my partner."

          The eldest of the bunch stepped forward. "Hold it!  Don't take another step. Put your hands behind your head."  Walker complied. "Felix!  Check him out."

          "Spread your legs!" Felix kicked at Walker's shins, "spread 'em." Walker heard one of the shotguns being cocked.

          "Rangers! Texas Rangers! Bastards!  I got one let me blow this one away as well Anders."

          As Felix frisked Walker Anders came even closer to study him further. "So!  Texas Rangers!  How 'bout that?"  He smiled turning to his buddy, shaking his head, "no, Felix, not this time…but when the merchandise is shipped. Then you can have some fun, huh?" This appeased Felix and he nodded enthusiastically, a big grin breaking out on his sweat stained face.

          Satisfied Walker was unarmed Felix stood back and nodded to Anders. Anders then looked at Walker again and pointed to Trivette. "Pick him up."

          Walker eyeballed Anders for a few seconds and then dived to help his partner. "Trivette?" Gently Walker rolled him over, his eyes quickly scanning his partner's body.  They stopped as they saw a blood stained patch on the left side of Trivette's abdomen.  Walker didn't even bother to undo the buttons on his shirt, they were sent flying in all directions as he ripped it off his back and rushed to tie it round in an effort to stop the bleeding. "Hang in there Trivette." His concern brought sniggers from the group.

          "Sure likes his 'boy' don't he?"

          There was a general round of laughter.

          Pulling Trivette forward Walker placed one hand between Trivette's legs and pulling on Trivette's left shoulder, managed to hoist him across his shoulders and stand up.  Walker tried to be as careful as possible.  He redistributed Trivette's weight over his body and glowering looked to Anders. Lazily Anders pointed his gun. At least it was away from their campsite.  Maybe Alex had managed to hide and if they saw the camp they would see only two sleeping bags. But how would Alex manage, she could hardly walk?  Picking his way carefully across the terrain Walker worried for her safety and wondered how he could get Trivette some help. Why were these guys here? They're some kind of private military outfit judging by the way they're dressed, so perhaps they have a doctor back at camp. Walker hoped so. 

Sweat poured down his face as he labored on unable to do anything but go along with things for now. He tried to look into Trivette's face to see if he was okay while taking the opportunity to shift his partner's dead weight. Satisfied that his friend was still breathing at least, Walker kept going.  Their camp turned out to be about a mile away and still in the throws of being assembled, which would explain, Walker reasoned with himself, why he hadn't seen it.  They must have arrived at early dawn, started to check out the surrounding area and saw Trivette as he went for water. Entering the camp Walker looked for a shady spot to rest Trivette and walked towards a tent when he was called back and directed to an awning.  Walker hurried to the place slipping Trivette down from his back while he held on to his arm so he didn't hit the ground too hard. Turning round quickly Walker reached for Trivette's head, laying it back carefully. He looked to his captors.

          "Please. Let him have some water." Walker waited desperately. His partner had to have some water even if it were just a few mouthfuls. Finally the nod came from Anders and someone tossed a canteen to him. Hurrying to take the top off Walker lifted Trivette's head causing a moan from his friend.

          "Trivette!" Walker held the canteen to Trivette's lips as he wrestled with the weight of Trivette's head, "c'mon. C'mon Trivette."  The water trickled slowly through Trivette's lips.  The young man stirred slightly, his mouth moving to swallow the water. "That's it Trivette, atta boy, just a bit more now..easy..there you go."  Walker placed the canteen to one side and lowered Trivette back on the floor, running his hand across the black man's brow.

          "Well ain't that touchin' now!" Felix laughed at them, egging on some of his colleagues to join him.  Walker scowled up and then away, grabbing the canteen to drink. Suddenly it was out of his hands, the force of Felix kicking it away sending it spinning on the ground. Felix's steel capped boot caught Walker's right eyebrow splitting it.  Walker held a hand to the brow and look up.

          "You hear me give you permission to drink, scumbag?"  Walker was silent and the group laughed at his expense when a noise from the side distracted all of them.

          There was a high pitched female voice "put me down. Let me go."

          Walker's heart sank.  He rushed from under the awning. "Alex!" He was past Felix before the man even had time to react. She was with another two burly types, one carrying her over his shoulder to great amusement of himself and his compadre. They were startled by Walker's charge. Palm-striking the big man as he grabbed Alex, almost in one movement Walker had placed her protectively behind him and brought his right leg from the outside inwards catching the second man cleanly in the face.  The assault was so fast the others barely had time to think before it was a fait accompli, but they soon sprung into action. Walker was deluged in bodies pouncing on him from all quarters.

          Alex screamed, "WALKER!"

          Out of the chaos four big guys staggered to their feet each with one of Walker's limbs in their arms. It took all four every effort to hold him.  They looked at Anders.  He in turn looked round. There was a large, old, weather beaten telegraph pole suspended across two big rocks in the center of the camp, perhaps the victim many years ago of a former flashflood and carried down by the torrents only to be tossed like a match stick and left by the receding waters.

          "Chain him to that. At least we'll all be able to keep an eye on him."

          "No!"  The plea came from Alex.  She tried hobbling in his direction to be swatted back, falling towards the awning and Trivette.  She spotted him for the first time. "Oh no!  Jimmy!   No." She looked from one to another unable to decide whom to help first. With Walker being manhandled into the middle of the camp and the clinking of chains being unraveled she despondently headed for Trivette.

"Jimmy. Oh no." Aghast Alex looked at the stain coming through the makeshift bandages.

She checked his pulse, found one and lifted his head, cradling him in her lap.  Alex looked at Walker's plight.  He fought with every ounce of strength in his body not to be chained to the large pole.  His arms were pinioned on either side across the top, the chains thrown over and wrapped around his limbs, but still Walker fought against it.  Horrified Alex watched as every muscle, every sinew in his body rebelled against the captivity to no avail.  A padlock on each side held the links together and satisfied, the men, panting and sweating with their efforts, stood back to look at their handiwork. On his knees with his back to the hot wood, both arms stretched out and chained, Walker breathlessly brought his head up gasping for cool air.  Blood still running down from his eyebrow he squinted around looking for Alex.

 Spotting her he mouthed. {"You alright?"}

Alex looked at him doubting she could possibly love him anymore than she did at this moment. Shackled to a log in the middle of the hot terrain, hurt, and yet…his concern was for them. She nodded, feeling herself becoming emotional. Alex tried to hold it back. It wouldn't do him any good for her to cry and she needed to keep her wits to help Jimmy.  He never wanted to come on this foolhardy trip.  What if the worst should happen, how would she live with herself? Alex looked at the dispersing group of men.  Why? What were they doing here? She watched as three went into the tent next to the awning and the others busied themselves with different chores leaving Walker to himself.  Alex was unable to take her eyes off him, watching as he tried to find a more comfortable position for his bent legs. Distracted momentarily Alex turned her head towards the tent, her ears tuning into the conversation of the three men.

"Vehicles off loaded yet?"

"One left.  Should be completed within the next half hour."

"Good."

"Alhamidi should be in range in about then.  I'll raise him, get an accurate ETA."

"You think he'll try and stuff us for the money?"

There was a laugh, "He can try!"

This brought other laughter.

"No, I think he'll be a good customer. He has a righteous war in the Middle East he wants arming. He's not gonna freakin' well diss on this deal. He'll want to use us again you wait and see."

"What the hell we gonna do with the Rangers and the girl?"

There was a pause. "We'll get the exchange done.  They'll be coming over Mexico under radar.  I can't see there's going to be anyone coming after us, but we'll hang on to our guests for a bit just in case then stiff them when we go."

Alex's blood chilled. She looked round at Walker.  Damn her ankle! There was a murmur.

"Jimmy?  It's okay, I'm here. Schhhh." Ripping the sleeve from her blouse Alex drenched it in water from the canteen and wiped Trivette's forehead. He relaxed slightly. Alex checked the bandage again to make sure the blood had stopped.  Just a tiny bit of bleeding.  Good. Grabbing the canteen Alex got to her feet and painfully hobbled slowly towards Walker.  Just as well there was a wrapping round her bad foot, the ground was hot and she only had on one shoe. 

"Hey?"

Alex stopped.

"Anders?" The owner of the voice popped his head in the tent, "she's gonna give the Ranger some water!" Relaying Anders reply their captor nodded his head to her. "Okay ….but don't take too long!"

Reaching him Alex sat on the floor to be at the same level. "Oh Walker, you okay?" He nodded looking at the canteen. Without further delay Alex held it to his lips gauging the flow so he wouldn't choke.

Finally he had his fill "Thank you." He whispered.

"Walker." Alex ripped off her other sleeve, wetting it while trying to give Walker as much information as she could as she worked. "They're meeting an Arab here.  Sounds like an illegal arms deal. They're going to kill us afterwards." She looked at him, bringing her face closer while she wiped away the dried blood from his face and freshened him up.  Walker relished the treatment, his expression grateful.

"It'll be okay.  Don't worry."  He forced a smiled.  Alex looked at him with raised eyebrows.

"It'll be okay?" she repeated.  "Yeah right.  Look at you!" Alex observed him noticing the sweat covered bulges as his muscles were flexed. "Why don't you try and relax?" She suggested. 

"How's Trivette doing?" He asked, ignoring her question.

"He seems stable but they're hardly going to bother with a doctor when they're going to kill us are they?"

"Did they say when the deal's going down?"

"Only that they'll be in range in half and hour.  They're flying in under the radar from Mexico."

There was a shout from the side.  "That'll do it!"

Alex looked at Walker intently.  Suddenly unable to help herself she pressed her cheek to his and blurted it out, "Walker, I love you so much."

A look of astonishment crossed Walker's face then his eyes seemed to soften, his mouth falling slightly open. With a tear sliding down her face Alex pressed against him one more time and struggled upright, Walker watching as she limped heavily back to the shade.

There were various comings and goings during the next half-hour, then the camp seemed to be in waiting mode growing quieter as the sun heightened in the cloudless sky. Alex looked anxiously in Walker's direction.  It was hot in here let alone what he must feel like and it wasn't the height of summer yet. Trust this week to turn out a particularly hot one. Why didn't he relax?  He seemed so tense even though his head had rolled forward as if he were cap napping.  Alex decided to chance giving him some more water when there was a burst of activity from the tent next to her and the sound of a mobile phone.

"Where?"  There was a few seconds silence. "Damn!" More silence. "Revised ETA?" Pregnant pause. "Okay. Same arrangements tomorrow, but if you don't show that's it. We're not waiting any longer." There was a sound of plastic snapping against plastic.  "Shit! That's all we need! One of the choppers went u.s. so he's delayed. Felix! Ring the bank.  He's supposed to have deposited another fifty thou. as a gesture of good will. Check it out. If he has then we'll keep the same arrangements as tomorrow." There were murmurs of disgruntlement and various comments and some fifteen minutes passed before the confirmation of the deposit.

"Alright, listen up" was the command. "We hadn't panned an extended stay, so this is what we'll do. No point in all of us staying in this shit hole.  We'll take three shifts of four each.  Brad, Mace, Jesse and Ralph, you take the first shift.  The rest of us'll go back to the main highway. There's a bar open all hours about three miles south.  Larry, Dave, Rod and Mikey will come back and spell you. We'll do the last shift. All be back regardless at 0530 hours. There were remarks of approval all round and about another three-quarters of an hour passed before the main bunch started to leave.

Walker watched intently as they departed, his shoulders sagging as they took all the vehicles.  He cussed under his breath and bowed his head again. With the dust still swirling from their exit, Alex checked on Trivette one more time and made for Walker again with the canteen.  She looked first to the nearest of their captors sprawled on a chair inside the opening of the tent.  She held up the canteen and directed it at Walker. Lazily flipping the side of the canvass with his boot he looked at his prisoner for a few seconds, watching as Walker's head slowly fell to one side. Giving Alex an up and down scrutiny of appreciation with his eyes he smiled lewdly before nodding his head. Alex turned away and shuffled over.

Walker looked up as she came close, his eyes blinking several times before focusing on the canteen. With the top already removed Alex held it to his lips and poured. She waited a few seconds for him to finish swallowing and repeated the process, giving him longer to quench his thirst before drawing it back.  Raising it over his head she doused it thoroughly.  Walker's eyes closed, the water giving him relief from the heat and taking the rag she used earlier, Alex soaked it liberally and sponged the back of his neck.  As his head came forward she propped her shoulder underneath it taking his weight for him.  Alex felt his shoulders relax and Walker sighed.  They stayed in the unusual embrace for a few minutes until finally Walker slowly took the weight back, heaving his shoulders upright.

"Thank you," he whispered.

Alex poured more water over his head again and smoothed his hair back from his brow.

"Trivette?"

She nodded. "He seems as comfortable as he can be under the circumstances but he's not going to survive without help."

Walker closed his eyes for a second. "Hang in there, okay?"

Alex shot a look in the direction of the tent to see them watching her. Giving him one more drink and a small hug she left him again.

It must be about an hour since the others left Walker calculated after a while.  He stared at the tent.  It was quiet and he hadn't heard any conversation for some time He looked at Alex and Trivette, Alex having laid on the ground as against her will fatigue caused her to doze. Walker made his move.

He looked to either side of him at his chained arms. It was an old trick…keep tense when you're being tied up then when you relax it should give you enough slack with which, hopefully, to maneuver your way out. He'd done the same trick in Nam.  Walker smiled at the memory ….it had been a great feeling to get out then, the same as it would now ….if he could pull it off.  Slowly he forced his body to relax using a white screen meditating technique. Picturing a white canvass in his mind's eye he dispelled all other thoughts, focusing only on calmly allowing every muscle to relax in his shoulders, arms, hands, and torso.  He concentrated again on his arms and shoulders knowing that after such a prolonged period of strain it would take a while for them to totally give way. Eventually he felt them giving and sagging.  Disenfranchised, Walker looked towards his left arm.  The chains were positioned around the limb ending across his hand. In his now relaxed state Walker could slip his fingers to the side, bring them back as far as he possibly could and stretching them as much as they would go.  It seemed for a moment that his idea hadn't worked but the sweat caused by the drink he had just been given eased the last finger from under the links. There was movement throughout the chain as it slackened.

Leaning his body to the right Walker bent his elbow to force the next circle of chain nearer his hand, and with just a bit of difficulty slipped it over making an even bigger loop.  Slowly he lifted his arm completely away from the log being careful not to make a sound. His right arm was chained much tighter. Looking at it Walker used his left hand to ease the chains downwards.  A tenth became an inch as he slipped them further and further, trying to force himself to relax after each attempt in order to get some leeway to move the chain down again. Getting stuck at one point, Walker quietly sat on his butt and swung his legs to the right, his legs rebelling against him as they found a new position for the first time in hours. Walker screwed up his face in pain trying to combat the pins and needles that now spiked meanly at his muscles.  Lifting his legs he sought chain on the under side of the log which still bound his right arm and pushed it down with his feet getting it to move an inch or so. This gave him just the purchase he needed to shift the last link down his right hand far enough to enable him to squeeze it past his torn knuckles. The links became looser!

Walker checked up quickly.   There was still silence and all was quiet in the camp.  He worked furiously to untangle himself and free of the bindings, stalked over to the tent to come round on the blind side of the first captor dozing in the chair. There was hardly a movement as an arm snaked round the man's neck, pressure was applied and the man's head dropped to one side. Walker kept an eye on the three other men.  The next nearest was a young blond who had started to stir, opening his eyes in horror to see this half naked fury rushing towards him.  Walker's thudding right elbow put him back to sleep. The other two woke in panic not sure what exactly was happening, but instinctively knowing it wouldn't be good.

Alex woke to the sound of the tent erupting and bodies flying against the canvas amidst thuds and sounds of pain. Looking to the middle of the camp to see the bare log and empty chains, a huge smile crossed her face.

Walker looked for the radio but couldn't see it and frisked the unconscious men looking for a cell phone.  They wouldn't have been left out here without communications. His euphoria at finding one was short lived when he pulled it from a pocket and it fell into pieces of unfathomable electronics. The guy must have fallen on it when he went down. Walker could hardly believe his bad luck and stood in dismay for a second before galvanizing himself into action again.

 Checking Trivette again, worrying to see still hadn't moved Alex looked up as Walker came out of the tent. He looked like wild man, his upper body red from the sun, his arms showing white marks where the chain had been.

"Walker?  How did you do that?"

"Never mind." Walker knelt beside her, looking at her directly. "The phone got smashed." There was an ominous silence between the two and Walker looked at Trivette, checking his pulse. "He showed any signs of coming round?" He asked worriedly.

Alex shook her head. "No. I'm so frightened for him.  What are we going to do now?" She looked as Walker surveyed the camp again.

"They've taken all the vehicles." He sighed. "We got to get out now. Get some distance. Try and hide out till nightfall."

Alex took a deep breath and grabbed Walker's arm. "You've got to get help for Trivette.  I'll slow you down.  Take him and get out of here now."

Walker's eye's narrowed with affection for a second and suddenly he took off back to the tent. He started by hauling the men to the center of the camp.  When he had all four together he used the two lengths of chains to tightly pin their bodies together.  He knew it wouldn't hold them for very long but he couldn't find any other rope and only had the two padlocks.  It had been lucky he found the key in the pocket of one of the unconscious men when he was looking for the phone. He darted back to the tent, picked up another canteen and put that, plus the one they had already, over Alex's head. "C'mon.  Help me get him on my back." Sitting Trivette upright Walker picked him up and slung him gently across his shoulders ignoring the pain of too much sun. Walker looked at her. "Now, grab a hold of my belt and use that to support you."

"I'll slow you down." She protested.

"Do it!" Walker glared at her making sure she knew further objections wouldn't be welcome.  Alex reached for his belt and took a few tentative steps. "Okay?" He asked, his voice softer, kinder.  She nodded. "I'm not leaving you here," he added. Alex looked at him briefly and they started off into the sun. "We'll head back the way we came then detour into the bed of the gully."

It took them only a few minutes to get in step and about two hours after that for Walker to grimace with effort and Alex be on her last legs.  Walker looked about unsuccessfully for shade. He came to a shaky halt. "I'll have to stop." Alex helped him to lower Trivette to the ground and Walker rolled on to his back panting, his body covered in sweat and trembling from his labors.  Alex wrestled the strap of one of the canteens from her neck and undid the top.

"Walker?" Pausing before he opened his eyes Walker looked up and reached for the canteen.  Sitting up stiffly he poured the liquid down his throat carefully, only taking a few mouthfuls. "You rationing already she inquired? He nodded, beckoned her to take some and reached for it again.

"We need to get some down Trivette somehow."  Shuffling around Alex helped to sit Trivette across her lap and Walker held the canteen.  They moistened Trivette's lips first, sprinkled some water over them and watched.  Trivette's lips moved. "Trivette!" Walker raised his voice.  "C'mon Trivette. Open, you can do it. C'mon." He trickled more in and looked to Alex. "You still got a rag?" Alex reached into her back pocket and passed the cloth to him, watching as Walker wet it thoroughly and sponged Trivette's face and back of his neck.  "At least we don't need to worry about him getting sun burnt.  How you doing with that?" He looked at her arms for the first time to see they were tinged with red. Walker nodded in the direction they were headed. "Hang on till we get down to the dry river bed and I'll get you something that'll help." Walker lay back down closing his eyes. "I'll just take five minutes."

Alex was silent as instantly Walker seemed to fall asleep. Despite the heat the floor of the badlands slowly broke into life with the odd beetle and small bug scuttling from one hole to another while over head two eagles soared lazily on the warm thermals. It was quiet and peaceful and, Alex thought to herself, would be fascinating had they been properly equipped and under different circumstances. It was difficult to rid herself of the butterflies in her stomach as she wondered how much more of this Trivette could take. She shuffled quietly around to keep her body between Trivette's head and the sun so he would be in shade and looked down at Walker. He had a nasty cut and bruise over his right eyebrow where he'd been hit in face, his arms were burnt and the tops of his shoulders skinned due to the chaffing by Trivette's body. The stitches on his knuckles were torn and the wounds exposed presumably where he had prized his arms out from under the chains on the log. Alex marveled at his ability to ignore pain wondering if it was his Indian upbringing or his days in Vietnam. Admiringly she appreciated his body, his lean muscular physique and was thankful. If they did make it out of here they would owe it to Walker's training regime and dedication to his beloved martial arts.

Blowing through his lips then taking a deep inhale of air Walker slowly opened his eyes and sat up. Looking towards Alex at her worried expression Walker shuffled nearer, put his arm around her and kissed her.  She drew back in surprise.

"I…needed that.  Thank you."

"You ready?" Walker gave her a small smile as he said it and stood up as she nodded.  Alex helped him lift Trivette to a sitting position yet again and Walker crouched down, grasped his partner firmly and hauled him up and across his shoulders. This time he was unable to stop himself from exclaiming as Trivette's body claimed some more skin from his already tender shoulders.

"You alright?"  Alex hung on to Walker's arm as he swayed slightly. Walker nodded only then opened his eyes. They were still narrow with pain as he beckoned with his head for her to take hold of his belt. He turned in the direction he wanted them to take and began walking.

"We're not going to be able to keep walking in this heat for much longer, and the others will be coming back shortly" Walker looked at her briefly "they'll come looking for us. We need to speed up as much as we can, get as far as we can and then we'll lay low.  Rest, keep out of the sun and out of their sight."

Alex increased her pace with his determined not to let him see every step was agony for her as her ankle screamed for mercy.  She tried to concentrate on other things to take her mind off it. "How will we rest up where they won't find us?

"We're leaving a trail now, but as we get nearer the dry river bed it gets rockier. Flat bedrocks …much more difficult to pick up our trail.  About two and a half miles down there's one large rock overhang where the river eats away the under side when it flows through after the rains.  You can't tell very easily unless you know it. We have to bank on the hope they don't.  It'll be real cramped but it should hide us and give us shade."

Over two miles? Alex prayed she would make it and quickened her pace, yet again forcing herself to remember the pain was just temporary and whatever damage that was done to her ankle could be repaired when they were safe.  Trivette's the important one now! A mile and a half down, just before they hit the rocks Alex spotted a stick.  Releasing Walker's belt she limped heavily over and picked it up, and returning tried it out as a crutch.  Walker was covered in sweat and panting. She forced a smile at him. "I thought it would ease your burden a bit."   Walker nodded in appreciation and carried on. Reaching the rock bank Walker set Trivette down and looked back to Alex some two hundred yards behind, his heart going out to her.  She was trying so hard and she must be in agony.  Striding quickly back to her Walker picked her up in his arms and protesting weakly Alex fell into them almost collapsing in a heap.

"Walker…you've done enough. ….I'll be okay."

He ignored her and within moments her head flopped on his chest with exhaustion.  Setting her down near Trivette Walker unlooped a canteen from her, giving first her a drink, then a few mouthfuls to his partner and finally two controlled gulps for himself.

"I'll be back in a minute," Walker said softly, walking deliberately in the looser ground then up to the rock bed.  He went down the river side the opposite way keeping mostly to the rock but every so often setting a foot or two on the softer bottom mimicking Alex's heavy limp.  After about two hundred yards or so he turned and hurried back.  Stopping when he reached them Walker crouched down and firmly grasped Alex's shoulders.

"We've got a mile, mile and a half at the most.  Now get yourself together Alex.  We can do this." His voice was hard. "Another five minutes then we go.  I want you to really push yourself." Alex's shoulders sagged and her head bowed only momentarily as Walker shook her, "you can do this, Alex.  C'mon, where's that Cahill spunk?  We're going to do this.  Yes?" He shook her again.

"Yes." Came the bone weary retort.

"That's more like it."  The concern in Walker's face and the love in his eyes were at contrast to his words.  He longed to put his arms around her to comfort her but he couldn't afford to go easy with her now, they HAD to make it to shelter.  "Look" he said, pointing to one of the cactus growing by the side of the river. "See this cactus?  He looked at her directly as he went over, trying to take her mind off her discomfort "this kind of cactus has roots that always search for water.  The tubers usually grow down as far as the water table.  Watch." Walker dug with his hands around the base of the plant, scraping and digging and after a minute an ooze of liquid seeped up. "See?"

"We can't drink it can we?" Alex asked while she tried to rally herself.

"No."  Walker picked her up and set her down near the cactus.  Caking his hands in the muddy residue he covered her red arms, smearing it carefully. "It'll stop the sun getting to you as much."

"Oh. It feels so lovely and cool."

"There you go." He smiled at her encouragingly and with two fingers daubed a band of mud across her forehead and down across the bright redness of her nose. 

"Y'know if it didn't feel so darned good I'd mind looking like this."

Walker chuckled, "I always said I'd make an Indian of you!"

Alex smiled cheering up somewhat. "What about your sunburn?"

"Well, if the skin wasn't broken I'd do it, but the risk of infection's too great. Now," Walker continued, "let's do it! Big effort then we can rest for the night." He raised his eyebrows at her.

"Right!" Alex said more convincingly than she felt, and as Walker set her down on her feet, waiting till she had got her balance before handing her the stick, she looked up and spoke even more determinedly. "This way?"  Walker nodded, winking an approval of her attitude. She smiled in return, "you need a hand with Trivette?"

"No. You go ahead.  Make sure you keep to the rocks as much as you can now." Walker looked down at his partner and slopped a bit more water down Trivette's throat.  Trivette responded again instinctively swallowing but showed no signs of consciousness.  Maybe it's just as well thought Walker.  If he does come round now he's not going to be very comfortable travelling this way.  Heaving him once again on his shoulders Walker hurried after Alex giving himself a positive talking to in an effort to chivvy the physical and mental side of him for the task ahead. 

*******

The natural inner alarm bell Walker seemed to possess sounded and he stopped abruptly and looked back beyond Alex.  Way in the distance he detected a small swirl of dust. "ALEX! We've got about half a mile and that's it! Pick it up.  C'mon." Walker stormed ahead with urgency checking all the time for pointers to mark the spot of the overhang.  He didn't dare miss it now. It was another ten minutes before his eyes focused on something familiar, the rock outcrop from this side resembled the edge of an arrowhead.

Panting heavily Walker swayed over the terrain dropping to the river floor as he checked this was definitely the spot.  It was.  He laid Trivette down and peered at the entrance.  The high rapid water had eroded the rock away at this particular point and the under currents heaped sand and shale near the mouth. Walker looked back at Alex and ran towards her.  She was trying as hard as she could he had no doubt of that but was getting slower with each step as her stamina depleted. Picking her up again Walker hurried back dropping her near the opening.

Looking quickly about him the Ranger scoured the terrain until he had spotted what he was looking for. A dried cottonwood plant.  It must have been displaced with the torrents that besieged the river, been deposited and dried by the sun.  He ran to it and grabbed that and a similar tumbleweed brush and was running back as he saw Alex make a move in the shelter.

"Alex NO!"

There was a high pitched cry. "Ahhh!" Horrified Alex shot out the shelter on her backside staring into the eyes of a poised rattlesnake.  With it's rattle indicating his fury it struck out with speed freezing in mid strike as Walker dived in it's path catching the reptile firmly around it's throat, it's head stopping a few inches from Alex's nose.  Her eyes wide as saucers Alex gave a loud, deep gasp.

"It's okay I got it. It's okay." It took only one blow with a stone to kill the snake out right. Walker grabbed Alex's stick and went headfirst through the narrow opening. "There's no more. Grab Trivette's feet." Alex was still frozen. "Alex!" He shouted as he wrestled Trivette's head and shoulders into the shelter. "C'mon."

His voice roused her from her paralysis and she grasped at his partner's legs taking the weight as Walker eased him over the silt and into the cave. Walker beckoned to her. "C'mon get in."

Apprehensively Alex stuck her head through and Walker grabbed her shoulders pulling her quickly inside.  He raced out throwing in the dead rattler at the same time and with the dead bushes lightly swept away their tracks from all around the riverbed back to the entrance. Ending feet first in the shelter while still removing all evidence of their presence he looked at his handiwork, and satisfied, placed the brush over the opening.

Exhausted Walker leaned back taking a few seconds before he looked at the other two. Alex had given Trivette more water and that now done was trying to replace the cap on the canteen. Her hands trembled and silently she fought for breath as tears streamed down her face blurring her vision.  The canteen was taken from her, the cap put on securely and two arms reached out.  Pulling her tightly into his body Walker lovingly consoled her.

"Ssshh.  It's okay." He held her head close to his chest, placing his head on top of hers.

It was a minute or so before she found her voice "This is all my fault."

"No." Walker shook his head.  "Just a set of circumstances. Wait a second." Releasing her Walker checked on Trivette. His wound was no worse than before and his breathing seemed stable now they were resting.  He felt the young black man's brow and frowned. It was hot. "Let me have those rags again."  Walker wet one laying the saturated cloth across Trivette's forehead. He couldn't do much more for him now but come hell or high water he had to get him medical help tomorrow.  Turning his attention back to Alex Walker wet the other rag and cleaned her face from the mud and tears. Then he lay down forcing her next to him, her head on his shoulder with one arm firmly round her back and the other holding her arm as it lay across his chest.  Walker pressed his head against hers feeling her small gasps throughout his body as he held her tightly.

The shelter was cool and dark and a wonderful contrast to the heat and sun they had endured for so long and he hoped it would help uplift her spirit. As Walker continued the embrace a warm glow seeped into his being confirming how much this special lady meant to him and how empty his life would be if she were not there.  It wouldn't make this next decision any easier but he refrained from telling her for the moment. Enough for now they had this small amount of time together.  Feeling as safe as they had for sometime it took only a few minutes before they fell asleep.

The sound of an engine close by woke Walker with a start while he mentally admonished himself for not keeping awake.

"Sssh." He warned Alex, releasing her to rise on his knees peering up and through the bushes.  They heard voices.

"Cal? Anything?"

"Well….I don't think so."

"I'm coming over. MIKEY?  HEY! I'm going over by the river."

There was a revving of an engine and the sound came closer stopping almost on top of them. A jeep for sure.  How many were there wondered Walker.  If I can get their vehicle? 

"Pick up any tracks?" Another new voice.

"I thought so, but now I'm not so sure."

An engine noise came into hearing like the sound of an angry raging bull. One of the Humvees Walker reckoned.

"PICK IT UP!"

Anders! He wouldn't be alone. I can't take a chance now Walker reasoned looking behind him at Alex's worried expression.

There was a sound of boots on the rocks above and someone jumping down.

"Hey I think I got something!"

Walker beckoned for Alex to get to the side of the shelter and both pressed their backs against it.

"Mikey!  I think there's a cave or something here."

"Quit yawing an' check it out."

 The barrel of a rifle toyed with the brush.  Reaching down slowly to the side of him Walker picked up the dead rattler and shook its tail.

"Shit! I ain't going in their there's a freakin' rattler!"

The vehicle started up again. "Get back in, we'll go down further."

Anders voice was commanding.  "Hurry it up, another few minutes and we'll have to head back. I don't think they'd have got this far in the state they were in anyhow."  There was a roar as both vehicles headed off in different directions and once again silence descended.  It was broken again with an anguished, choked exclamation.

"Oh my …."

Walker swung round to see Alex frozen, her eyes screwed tightly closed.  He couldn't see at first what the problem was until a slow movement on her leg caught his eye. The mother of all tarantulas crawled her way up Alex's body.

"Oh Alex!"

Walker coaxed the black hairy spider on to his palm and opening the bushes threw it outside.

"Well that's just great! What if it comes back in the middle of the night!"

"It won't."

"But how do you know that!"

Walker made a face "I just know that's all."

"You're unbelievable sometimes. NO! Most times!" Alex shivered with the recollection, glowering at him.

"You two aren't arguing again are you?"

They both swung round on hearing the weak voice beside them.

"Trivette!"  Walker was unable to keep the broad smile off his face.

"Jimmy.  You okay?"

Alex held the canteen up.  Trivette nodded and tried unsuccessfully to sit up.

"Wait on pard."  Walker shuffled an arm behind raising Trivette's head while Alex took the weight of the canteen and waited till he had finished. She held it up for Walker. "No, it's okay, you take some."

"Walker you need water too."

He smiled. "You take it."

Alex took one mouthful and held it up for him again. "We'll share." She replied forcefully. Walker gave her a look of thanks and took one swig, swilling it around his mouth before taking his time in swallowing.

Trivette looked at his side, "what happened?"

They described events to date and Trivette looked somber at the end of the tale. "So. In a bind, huh?" He looked to Walker. " What you got in mind?"

"It's dusk now. Who's hungry?"

Trivette looked cagey, "depends man, on what you're bringing back."

Walker couldn't help but laugh. "Well how about I forget the grubs and just bring back some roots we can eat? I'm pretty sure they won't be anywhere near here now its dark so I'll cook him too." He held up the snake. "You enjoyed him before."

An hour and a half later Walker checked the snake meat on the skewer. "I'm not going to cook it too much so it'll be moist to eat on it's own.  Breaking off a piece he handed it to Alex who popped back and gave it to Trivette.  He wasn't entirely comfortable but was at least sitting upright, one hand tightly gripping his side.

"Thanks." He sighed.

"I'm so sorry, Jimmy." Alex shook her head. "If it wasn't for me you wouldn't be in this situation. I feel so badly about it and haven't a clue how to make it up to you."

Transferring the rattlesnake to his other hand Trivette reached out for her and hugged her. "It's just one of those things, Alex."

Looking inside Walker observed the exchange and smiled, turning back to the small fire.

They ate, Walker got rid of the evidence of cooking, and they settled back down in the shelter once more thankful that the warm food off set some of the evening chill.  It wasn't too long before they all felt the numbing cold of the desert.

Propping his back on the side of the shelter Walker helped Trivette rest against one side of his body and gestured for Alex to do the same on the other side.  He put his arms around his two friends drawing them close trying to keep them warm.  Alex shivered uncontrollably.

"How can my arms be on fire and my body be do darned cold?" She asked of no one in particular.

Walker gave a deep sigh. "Listen, guys." There was a pause, "tomorrow….." He spoke softly. "I reckon we're about five miles from the highway. I'm going to make a start before dawn and run to the road to get help.  I'll …..leave you here.  I think it'll be best."

Alex and Trivette were silent.  Walker gave her a squeeze. "I'll be rested, fresh, I'll make in an hour and a half, two at the most."

Trivette answered, "sounds like a good plan to me."

Walker squeezed Alex.

She nodded her answer brave but not convincing, "yeah. That's the best thing." Walker kissed the back of her head. "Let's try get some sleep."

After a seemingly endless, uncomfortable night all round Walker checked the time and decided to make his move.

"Okay. You've got enough water there's some cooked rattler and a few roots left." Walker took a mouthful of water. He paused, his breathing becoming deeper. Looking to Trivette now laying back flat again Walker touched his partner's shoulder. "You be alright?" Walker noticed the beads of perspiration on Trivette's brow and knew that infection was setting in.

Trivette raised himself up "Well, now you come to mention it, no."

Worried, Walker frowned at him. "Is there anything else I can do?"

"Yeah." Trivette reached for his arm. "Tell me you won't quit the Rangers!"

"What? Trivette!"

"I'm a sick man, Walker. You said you'd do anything for me." Trivette shot a crafty look at Alex.

"I meant other things.  This is blackmail."

"I'm just doing what you'd do….anything it takes!"

They looked at each other.  Walker smiled. "Well.  Be pretty hard to quit the Rangers when the likes of those dirtbags get my dander up so much." Trivette and Alex smiled. "Alright," he carried on, "I'm staying in."

Forcing a grin Trivette painfully lay back again. "Okay, you can go then.  Just hurry up man." Trivette looked at the two of them and closed his eyes, his way of affording them some privacy.

Walker shook his head knowing he'd been had! "You wait, James Trivette!" His look changed again as he instructed Alex. "When the suns up take the brush, get rid of the tracks and make sure you stay in here."

She nodded. "You take care."

Walker held her head in both hands and looked into her face but was hardly able to say the words, "I WILL come back for you."

Alex saw the torture in his eyes.  She smiled and kissed him.  "I know you will Walker."

  Walker's breathing was deep "what you said to me back at the camp…..I love you too Alex. Very much." He kissed her even though he knew he had shocked her and finally she responded.  Stealing one more kiss Walker went through the opening and was gone.

*******

Walker refrained from running until the sun had cast it's rays over the horizon and he could see the ground.  Last thing he needed to do was sprain or break an ankle too. He ran for half and hour at a time then walked for fifteen minutes, doing anything he could not to think about the long, cool glass of water his body craved. Must be only two miles left Walker gauged while running. It was actually just over the two hours when he tumbled on to the tarmac and a few minutes later tried to flag down a passing car.  It wouldn't stop despite his pleas.  Next along was a truck. Walker ran to catch up with it as it stopped some fifty yards past him.  He looked up to the driver.

"I'm a Texas Ranger.  I need to use your CB, and if you have any water.."

Twenty minutes later the sirens of police cars cut off as they reached the scene.

"Ranger Walker?" A thin young officer looked apprehensively at Walker's appearance. "We've been told to help you all we can."

"What's the word on the choppers?"

"One was already on it's way to you."

Walker frowned. "How can that be?"

"A C.D. Parker had already initiated a search party, he'll be here in a few minutes."

Smiling broadly Walker reached in the vehicle grabbing the mike.  Put through to the chopper he recognized his old friend immediately. "CD it's Walker!"

"What the Sam Hill you three been up to?  You had me worried to death. You okay?"

"Trivette's been shot.  What's the word on the Medivac?"

It's twenty minutes behind us, I'll be with you in about seven.  Will Jimmy be okay Cordell?"  CD's voice was tinged with worry.

"So long as he gets help soon CD.  What about my request for air support to intercept the choppers coming over the border?"

"Airforce and FBI have them covered.  Me and the boys here will pick up your guys once we've got you. See you in a few minutes."

Replacing the mike there was nothing else to do. Walker looked at his watch. If they kept to the same timetable as yesterday they may just make it so Anders would think their helicopter was the Arab's.  It would be close though.  Walker thought of the relief that Alex and Trivette would feel when he returned and looked gratefully to the sky hearing the blades of the chopper beating the air.  It took only a minute for them to land and for Walker to run and jump on board.

Walker raised his voice over the noise "to the left" he pointed "then follow the river bed." All that ground covered on foot running most of the way was backtracked in fifteen minutes and Jim settled the helicopter down.  Walker could hardly wait till it came to a stop.  Leaping out he dashed over to the bank and dropped into the riverbed.  Trivette was half in and out of the entrance.

"Walker…" Trivette was agitated, pained and his temperature had sky rocketed.  Walker turned him on his back and cradled him, looking for Alex to come out.

"Medivac's a few minutes behind."

"Walker…" Trivette tried again, grabbing his partner's arm.

"Is he alright?"  CD sat on the ground with them.

Breathlessly Trivette tried to control his breathing, "they came…."  Walker's body froze. Trivette screwed his eyes to ward off another wave of pain, "she knew they were gonna look….in the cave." Trivette looked directly at Walker, "I tried to…stop her…but she gave herself up so….they wouldn't find me." Trivette looked miserably at CD, "she….wouldn't listen…."

Walker looked back at the chopper gesturing for Ranger Bob Dewers. "Bobby, stay with Trivette till the Medivac gets here."

"You got it Walker."

"Trivette, we'll get her back.  Just concentrate on getting well. We'll see you when we can."

With that they ran back to the helicopter and were immediately airborne. Walker gave directions and they sat in silence, CD not having to look at Walker's face to know his frantic worry. Reassuringly he patted Walker's knee. Another thirteen minutes passed.

"Walker?"

Walker looked down. "Okay get ready." They checked their weapons and Walker addressed the six men "They were expecting two choppers, they got one and no radio contact, which means they're going to be jumpy." Walker looked round, "Lopez?" Walker smiled,  "You look the swarthiest.  You know any Arabic?"

Lopez laughed. "Only one word. Had to transport an Arab to New York once. He kept using it."

Tom Fairs laughed. "What if it's a swear word?" This brought a general round of laughter.

"Well" Walker mused, "if we don't know my guess is they won't either!  Looks like you got the job."

The camaraderie shared was not frivolous, they were all acutely aware of the task ahead and the plight of Alex but this was the bonding of men knowing they were going into a tough, dirty situation with the thought that some may not come back alive.  This was part of the ritual, the confirming of trust between them to watch each other's backs. The chopper came into land, hovering the last few feet.  Walker took that moment to observe their quarry from the window as the men on the ground shielded their eyes against the blast of sand thrown up by the helicopter blades. Using this as an advantage they landed and the big side-door of the Bell 212 opened enough for Lopez to hop out

Lopez gestured wildly and tried his best Arabic. "Sabah al khair."

"Now!" Walker said quietly. Simultaneously both side-doors were thrown open and the Rangers piled out from either side.  Shots rang out immediately with some of the dealers never even recovering from wiping their eyes before they were pounced on.  Fights broke out all over as Walker made a beeline for Anders, leaping on him as he raced for a vehicle.

Both men dived in the dirt grappling for each other. Walker got to his feet first only to have them stolen away by a reverse sweep when Anders whipped his right leg in a circle thudding hard into Walker's legs knocking him to the ground. Automatically Walker tucked in his chin using his hands and arms to break his fall as he crashed into the hard ground. With Anders bearing down the Ranger recovered fast, twisting to his side, his right boot seeking a target and slamming into Anders stomach.

Now it was Walker's turn for a reverse sweep and the mercenary leader fell heavily.  Walker leapt on top of the prone figure his right fist landing twice before Anders responded with a knee in Walker's back, throwing him off balance. Using the momentum to roll forward they were both on their feet at the same time.  Walker was the faster.  Arcing his right leg to the left the toe of his boot whipped Anders chin to right. A sidekick followed soon after and as Walker's opponent was doubled over, a front kick knocked Anders head back and he was out.

Walker quickly looked round.  It was almost over. His eyes searched for Alex when Walker spotted Felix rounding the rock face making a dash for the vehicles.  Sprinting in his direction Walker intercepted his getaway aiming his gun.  Felix sneered.

"Well Ranger. Looks like it's all over." Felix slowly released his grip on the handgun and it fell around his fingers. He brought his hands up. "I give up. Gun's goin' on the floor." Kneeling slightly he dropped the weapon and stood straight again. Walker noticed for the first time the disheveled clothing.

"On the ground."

Felix complied with a smile. "I'll go to jail a happy man."

He continued as CD approached with handcuffs.

"Oh, yes Ranger, I'll spend some real happy nights with ma memories of your girl." Felix grasped his crotch and laughed.

Walker froze, his face suddenly registering fear.

Equally anguished CD looked at Walker, his voice rasped as he spoke, "I got him."

Holstering his gun Walker took off in the direction he saw Felix come from stopping in his tracks a few feet further.  Alex's still body was laid across the rocks, her legs buckled at an odd angle. Hardly able to look Walker slowly approached, his face a mask of dismay and anguish as he observed the badly beaten face.

His voice was choked with emotion, "Alex."  Walker checked for a pulse and shakily stood back. Her pale blue jeans were undone. Slowly Walker zipped them up, fastened the button, and, slipping an arm behind her head and the other under her legs, reverently picked her up to walk back.

"Cordell…" CD stopped in his tracks. "Oh my Lord." He looked in his ex partner's face. "The Medivac's already been called. It'll be on the ground in few minutes. Is she….alive?"

Suddenly incredibly weary Walker sunk to his knees.  CD and Lopez rushed forward.  Lopez tried to take Alex from Walker but he wouldn't let go.

"Cordell, son, come on now. Give her to me." Dazed Walker released her on CD's command. The old Ranger frantically searched for a pulse. It took a few seconds. "She's got one.  It's real faint, but it's there." Walker's head came up and CD only briefly glanced at him as he continued to assess Alex's injuries.  Black eyes, broken nose, busted lip then CD paused, examining the deep bruise on Alex's brow. She'd been hit on the head, perhaps pistol-whipped?

Walker's dream-like state continued while he watched medics secure Alex for travel and load her into the helicopter. Finally he shook himself out of his numbness and climbed in only to look for CD

CD was behind him. "I'll get this sorted," he started to shut the door, "you go with those two and I'll see you at the hospital."

Walker looked round the cramped space for Trivette to see him peaceful and sleeping, IV's hydrating his body as he slept, then his view returned to the two medics working on Alex. They secured her airway with a tube and she too had an IV inserted. When it was decided that no more could be done at this stage the medic beckoned to Walker, but he shook his head. He felt completely drained, devoid of all feeling, his head pounding like a jackhammer in protest to his exhaustion and lack of water. He didn't remember becoming unconsciousness until he came to on the gurney in the emergency room. Stitches were being sewn in his knuckles once again and the searing pain across his shoulders now a dull ache thanks to a smothering of soothing salve. Walker waited until the last stitch was put in and sat up slowly.

"The people who came in with me, my friends…."

"Ranger Trivette's in surgery, and the lady's still being examined. She's had a bad blow to the head causing severe concussion. She's getting a CAT scan now." It had been a doctor who provided the answer. In his early forties, Dr. Watts had a sharp appearance and keener mind. "Do you feel up to helping us with some questions?"  Walker nodded.

Watts was cautious. "The lady. Is she …special to you, are you married, engaged.." his voice trailed off inquiringly.

"Special." Walker said flatly.

"Okay." Watts looked for kind way to ask when he was preempted.

"You want to know if she may have been sexually assaulted?" Walker's voice was quietly matter-of-fact.  Watts nodded somberly. "There are bruises to her breasts and thighs. We've taken samples of skin from under her fingers."

Walker nodded. "I don't know exactly what happened but I suspect ……that maybe the case. You need to do an ultra violet inspection to check for semen. Alex is an Assistant District Attorney …she would want that. She'd want him prosecuted if we can prove it." Nodding, Watts placed a grateful hand on Walker's arm and left the room.

"I'll call you when she's back."

"Cordell?" CD's head peered round the curtains. "I stopped off at the store next door, bought you a cotton vest.  Wasn't sure your shoulders could take a shirt." He looked round at the nurses.  "He done here?" When they nodded CD grasped Walker's arm, pulling him slowly. "Thank you ma'am.  Come on, we're getting some breakfast." Unprotesting Walker followed CD to the canteen. He was sat in a chair and CD brought over two platefuls of food, orange juice and coffee.  He arranged it on the table, placed the tray back and sat down again.

"Cordell.  Eat."

The orange juice whetted Walker's appetite and he had a few mouthfuls of the omelet and all but one piece of the bacon. CD sat back and observed him.

"Don't you dare go down this road."

Walker looked at him. "What?"

CD's head shook slowly from side to side. "Known you for too long Cordell. There's too much water under the bridge.. you don't fool me none." When his ex partner was silent CD continued. "You ain't got the luxury of wasting time blaming yourself again.  Katie WASN'T your fault.  Alex and Jimmy aren't your fault. We've got to spend the time constructive.  We have to get them well again."

"What about Alex.  What if she was….."

There was a small pause.

"Well, we'll get her over it. How do you feel about it?"

Walker scanned CD's eyes. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean."

"You know me better than that CD."

"Then say it."

Walker slightly raised his voice "of course it won't make any difference to me. I'll still think the world of her."

"That's all that's going to matter to her then.  That'll be the only thing she'll be worried about and so long as you make it clear you'll stick by her she'll get over it." CD leaned forward, raised his eyebrows and patted Walker's hand,  "never doubted you would.  But sometimes these things need laying on the table. Gets it squared away…calls for a plan to be made."

"A plan" Walker quietly repeated.  His face took on an intense look for a second then he nodded to CD. "Let's get back."

They stood and made their way back, CD keeping a close eye on Walker.  He knew he was exhausted.  CD had made plans of his own requesting that Trivette be placed in a room with two beds and Alex be close by so it would be easier for them to keep an eye on each other.  It was his intention to get Walker to rest in the spare bed and it would leave CD to keep watch over Alex in the meantime.  Not surprisingly when Alex was brought back Walker wouldn't leave her.

"Oh darlin'." Even though he had seen her before when he gazed at her face again CD was still upset. "How in this wide world could someone do this to you?" He shook his head at the unfairness, picking up her hand to kiss it gently. He looked at Walker across the other side of the bed as Walker stared at her, his look pained and haunted.

Walker's voice rasped, "she looks worse now than she did before."

"The bruising will come out all the time now." The two friends looked behind at hearing Dr Watt's authoritative voice. He continued with a small shake of the head, "no signs of semen, but evidence of some bruising at the top of the thighs. It looks like we suspected and at least an attempt was made. More importantly though, she's only got a bad concussion.  There's no fracture, no evidence of hematoma, er..blood clots." The two men nodded. "She's been conscious.  She was a little agitated so I gave her a small sedative just to allow her body to start healing." He stopped, eyeing Walker. "You could use some rest."

Walker nodded. "Yeah. I'll get some now." Nodding Watts left the room.

"You're gonna stay here aren't you?" CD asked.

"Walker brought the chair up next to Alex's bed. "Yeah.  I'll be fine here."

"I knew it!" CD sighed. "I'll be next door then."

*********

Alex fought to get her thoughts together while trying not to panic.  Why did she feel so strange? Why couldn't she breathe through her nose?  Why did she have this incredible throbbing over her eyes? Eventually Alex risked opening them anyway, cringing at the brightness of the lights in the room while puzzling how she came to be here. She shielded them under her free hand. Suddenly she remembered. The badlands! "WALKER!"

"I'm here Alex." Alex felt a kiss on her hand.

"OH!"

"Ssshh."

She felt weight on the side of the bed and a strong firm hand clasp the side of her face and neck by her ear. Panting heavily Alex clung to his wrist with both hands.  She felt his other hand rub hers gently up and down.

Walker's voice was calm, soothing and quiet in his special way.  The way he spoke when he was the most intimate with her, those times when she knew he really did love her. "You'll be just fine. I'll be right here with you.  Try and relax. Let me dim these lights for you." Walker made to let go.

"No!"

"Alex I'm not going to leave you."  She felt another kiss on the hand.

"You came back for us." Alex tried a small smile.

"You bet I did, and I'm not going anywhere.  I'm walking over to switch off these lights then I'm coming back." Slowly Walker slid his hand from hers, walked away, flicked the light switch and returning quickly placed his hand on top of hers again.  He reached up behind her, angled the small reading lamp away from her eyes and switched it on. "Try that." He said, sitting back down on the bed.

Blinking several times, Alex squinted at him, releasing her grip on his wrist only for a second before reattaching herself. Walker ran his free hand up one of her arms.

"That's better isn't it?"

She nodded slightly but was silent.

"Just relax. Come on." Walker wiggled her hands. "Relax these" he requested with a kindly cajoling tone of voice. "There you go" he commended as he felt the muscles in her arms slacken, "that's better. I'm staying right here." It seemed to reassure her finally and her whole body took about a resigned demeanor. He prompted her again. "If you want to go back to sleep, that's fine. You're safe now.  Quite safe." While he watched her maroon, swollen eyelids grow heavy and close, Walker waited until her breathing became regular. Tucking in both her arms he drew the blankets up to her shoulders making sure she was comfortable before resuming his vigil from the chair.

***********

Alex had been awake for sometime. She had awoken to find Walker fast asleep, the upper part of his body slumped over the bed, his head nestled in her side. Afraid to wake him she lay piecing together the fragmented puzzle of memories until the jigsaw of events were complete in her mind. Gingerly she felt her face. It must be a mess. She sighed deeply.  A streak of light, a creak of the door and footsteps approached while she waited expectantly for a head to appear in her vision.

"CD." She whispered quietly, emotion getting the better of her and a tear sliding down her cheek.

"Now, honey.." CD whispered back, "none of that! There's no need. You'll soon be on the mend, and Jimmy's on the mend."

"Jimmy.  How's Jimmy?"

"He's chatting up some of the more good lookin' nurses already," CD broadly smiled at her.  It brought a small smile all the constraints a fat lip would allow. CD continued with the jokes to downplay the situation, "y'know I don't think you'll need to bother with lip stick for a while!" It stopped the tears and he squeezed her hand looking to Walker.

"How's sleeping beauty?" CD felt her laugh a little.

"He looks like he should get to bed for a bit."

"Well" CD looked at her kindly "he was so worried for you no one could drag him away. Y'know what he gets like when he's made his mind up."

Alex frowned, her expression becoming pained. CD was about to comment when Walker's head came up slowly and recovering his wits he looked from one to the other, smiling at Alex.

"You look much better."

"Oh yeah."

"You do."  Walker automatically sought her hand. "CD. Trivette?"

"Yeah, he's bright, awake, giving me orders like you wouldn't believe." This brought a little laughter from Walker and Alex. CD looked at them before heading to the door. "Well.  I'll see you shortly.  If you hear hollerin' in the corridor pay no attention…I'll have just lost my patience with him already!"

Walker chuckled. "Tell him I'll be along again in a minute."

He looked at Alex again and sat on the bed. "You want to sit up? Have something to drink?"

She nodded.

Walker scooted up the bed so he was sitting by her shoulders. Alex sat up with his help and leaned against him as he altered the rake of the pillow support to a greater angle, propping the pillows against it. Taking her weight with both arms he lifted up her body ensuring her head and torso rested evenly and comfortably. 

He was aware of her lack of eye contact. Reaching to the nightstand Walker chose a spouted cup, poured water from the pitcher and handed it to her carefully. He attempted to lighten the moment. "I'll ask for some tea. We need to leave it stand though. You don't want anything hot near a busted lip.  Believe me, I know!" Walker's attempt fell on deaf ears. He took the cup from her and replaced it.

"Walker. If you don't mind…could I be alone for a while? I…."

"Sure." He cut her off. Walker became apprehensive. There would never be a good time for this. Might as well go for it. "Don't tell CD or Trivette, but….I sure could use a hug right now."

Alex stared at him with a look approaching amazement, observing the tired expression, the raw shoulders, messed up arms and knuckles. Maybe he did feel the need for contact, but if he knew what happened……perhaps he wouldn't be so keen.  Maybe this would be the last chance she'd get.  Alex reached out, her breathing deepening as his powerful arms wrapped gently around her. Finally they found a comfortable spot that hurt the least for both of them and they remained in the embrace taking sustenance and comfort from each other.

"I thought for a minute back there…they'd killed you." Alex felt Walker tighten his grip. "I couldn't find a pulse at first.  When CD said he'd found it….I was so grateful." There was a pause. "Alex. I want you to become my wife."

Alex took a sharp intake of air and looked away shaking her head. "You can't want me like this…"she became flustered.

"Yes I do."

"You don't understand…" Alex held a hand over her face and cried.

Walker reached for her again. "I do understand."  He paused awkwardly. "Felix ….told us."

Alex broke down.

"Let it out.  Let it all come out." Walker kissed her neck and rubbed her back lovingly. Alex wiped the tears away.

"Then how can you still want me?"

"That won't make a difference to me.  You're still you.  Still the person I've grown to love and admire. The one who knows me sometimes better than I know myself and loves me anyway."

"It won't work….you won't want me now."

Walker paused for a minute. "What you did back there, Alex….giving yourself up so Trivette wouldn't get caught, coming into the badlands after me…" Walker shook his head, "that takes guts and I admire you for it.  I guess its what I've always loved about you. The way you got over La Rue." He paused and carried on, "that's why I know you'll get over this too. But …it's difficult for me to know what to do…to hold you when you may not want me to…to be with you when you may not want male company.  That's why I asked you to be my wife, so you'll have no doubt how special you'll always be to me. I'll wait till you're ready. Till you're sure you want me too."

"It's not that…!  I feel so safe when I'm with you.  It's…I DO love you very much, but…." She danced around the words "he…you can't want me….after he's……" She sighed a huge sigh.

"Look" Walker said quietly "will you tell me what happened, step by step. Will you tell me about it?"

They sat in silence for a while until she nodded and started apprehensively. "He….they" she swallowed, wiped away another tear and started again. "They took me straight to the rendezvous point with them. He kept putting his hand on my thighs when we were in the jeep." Alex looked away and then down again as she spoke. "When we got there they threw me on the floor.  Anders was furious they hadn't found you and Jimmy and then they made contact with the Arab and lost it." She stopped again until she felt a gentle squeeze on her arms. "I didn't understand what was happening at first. Felix broke away from the group while they were deciding whether to wrap up the operation or stay.  He ……dragged me away, out of sight ……." Walker felt her shudder, "then he started to kiss me…..he……..clutched the top of my legs…..."

Alex looked at him properly for the first time as the words came tumbling out "I remembered what you taught me, I tried ……I kneed him in the groin.  He got so mad. He kept hitting me over and over." Alex clenched Walker's arms tightly. I remember the Arabs helicopter landing……  I tried to get away from him.  He was saying he didn't have much time….he'd have me whether I was conscious or not.  The last thing I remember was seeing a gun in his hand and….my head had a terrible pain.  I remember him over my body and …..I must have passed out."

Exhausted and sobbing Alex leaned into Walker's chest. He rocked her gently. "Alex.  He didn't get to you.  The Arab's helicopter was intercepted when it came across the border.  That was us you remembered. Felix wouldn't have had time. He was lying.   The doc did an ultra violet scan on you. It was negative."

Alex looked up. "It ….was blank?"

"Yeah. You just got some bruising …it must have been where he groped you when he tried to kiss you."

"Then …..he…didn't rape me?" Alex held her breath.

"No."

She sighed with relief. "Thank God." She looked at him. "Oh thank God.." Alex closed her eyes for a moment. "Walker?"  He waited. "You thought he'd raped me, yet …..you still proposed?"

"I preach to young gang members and juveniles every week about making the easy choice or the smart choice.  The easy choice for me" Alex felt Walker's muscles tighten  "is to march into that cell and rip that bastards heart out for hurting the people I love. But that would ruin everything I ever worked for. The easy choice for you is to feel dirty and tarnished and not rise above it to know you're still the lovely person you've always been." Walker sighed, "the smart choice for both of us is to make this strengthen our relationship, not destroy it. Besides, in sickness and in health, Alex. I'd been wondering how to ask you to marry me for some time.  It's as good as in my book and it wouldn't have changed how I feel about you.  We'd work through it."

"Now you know he didn't …..I …don't hold you to it, but I appreciate what you were trying to tell me."

Walker smiled. "I'm not in the habit of making empty gestures. The offer stays." He kissed her. "I …..love you very much, Alex. You've got all the time in the world…think about it.  Look…I'll give you some space. Will you be okay on your own?"

She nodded. "Walker. Thank you."

Walker's eyes narrowed as he smiled. "I'll be back shortly."

******

"You're as bad as your dang partner.  You lead me a merry dance all of ya! Now stay in that bed!"

"Need some help CD?" Walker smiled as he strolled in.

"Oh right Cordell! You're a great example! You're even worse!"

"How you doing pard?"  Walker stretched out his hand to have it received gratefully by Trivette.

"I'll live!  Thanks to you."

Walker eyed him up and down "you look pretty good."

"I feel great.  Few aches and pains, but a shot of the old antibiotics and boom!  Man, the body responds. I'm outta here in no time."

More than a little relieved Walker laughed. CD came close, putting a hand on his back. "How is she?" They waited expectantly.

Nodding Walker explained, "she's going to be fine. Seems we got there before he had a chance to rape her…he was just spouting hot air.

Trivette blew threw his lips, "Phew."

Walker nodded, "yeah. I reckon she's going to wrestle with it for a while, but she'll come through."

"Yeah, she's a toughie." CD started to think ahead. "When she likely to get out?"

They sat in various chairs as Walker explained. "I've just seen Dr Watts.  They want to keep her in overnight as a precaution and she can leave tomorrow, but he recommends she not stay on her own for a few nights. He doesn't see a problem but head injuries can be unpredictable…best be on the safe side." Walker looked to CD.

"Sure, she can stay with me.  You too Cordell."

Trivette raised his hands "Wait a minute, I'm not staying here on my own. I'm coming too."

"Jimmy! The doc said at least five days!"

"You wouldn't even argue if it was Walker!" Trivette glowered.

CD shot Walker a dirty look, "that's just because he's pig headed and I know it wouldn't do any good!"

They all left together. The night before they went home Walker wouldn't budge from Alex's room preferring instead to sleep on the chair. It was an uncomfortable night, Alex waking several times with anxiety only to cling on tight to Walker until she slipped back to sleep again. Finally she managed to have a good few undisturbed hours.

CD picked them up and they arrived at his ranch to see lunch prepared.  Walker and Trivette shared the spare room with twin beds, with Alex in the second room. Still shaky on his feet Trivette had his lunch in bed, joined by everyone else.

"How was the bar in your absence CD?" Alex inquired.

"Good.  No problems. Diane is first class, she's got it covered." CD collected the plates. "Now. You're all going to your beds and resting. Especially you!"  CD looked pointedly at Walker who was by now far and away looking the worse for wear.

"CD.." Walker got no further.

"My house. My rules now, son."  CD would take no truck, besides he knew Walker shared the outlook so couldn't do anything but agree.

Slowly Walker nodded his head. "I guess I'm going to bed." He looked at Alex. She was much more herself except the looks were deceptive; the bruising coming to its worst looked awful.  They all agreed with CD.

"Walker you do need to sleep horizontally in a proper bed."

"Yeah, pard. You've no need to keep looking after us now.  Time to sort yourself out."

Walker was like a sheep dog that just wouldn't stop looking after his flock.

CD smiled. "Trust me. I'll take great care of them."

Trivette lay in silence making no noise and after a restless start within half an hour Walker was in a deep sleep. Creeping out of bed Trivette carefully fingered the jumbled blankets to cover up his partner. Walker snuggled into the new warmth finally resting soundly free from the stress, strain and physical exertion of the last few dreadful weeks. His body decided to make up for lost time and Walker slept the best part of the next few days, only getting up to go to the bathroom and briefly having one small meal.

When he surfaced again it was the early evening of the second day. He showered, changed into clean clothes CD must have brought him and wandered through the ranch finding his friends on the porch taking in the air of the warm evening breeze. They looked up at his arrival.

"Hey!"

"Walker!"

"Cordell! Glad you've joined the living. Come on over, buddy."

Still groggy Walker rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Hi." He looked about him, the only room available next to Alex on the swing seat. He inquired with his eyes and she patted the seat so he sat down.

"Nice night."

"Sure is." CD got up disappearing into the house.

"Better?" Alex asked him.

Walker smiled, "I'll let you know." There was a pause. "How about you two?"

"No problems, pard.  We're good aren't we Alex."

Alex looked at him determinedly, "yes…just fine.

"Here Cordell." CD handed him a warm plate of stew, mashed potatoes and a coffee. Thanking him Walker was hungrier than he realized and it took only a short time for him to finish.

CD took the plate from him, "Jimmy!" CD made a move to go back in. He looked back at Trivette who hadn't stirred. "Jimmy!"

"What Big Dog?"

To the amusement of Walker and Alex CD made huge gestures with his head.  Embarrassed Walker pulled a face.

Trivette got the message, "Oh! Yeah" He got up making his way inside. "I'll help with the dishes."

There was the sound of clanking plates and hasty footsteps along with "dunderhead! Whaddya think I meant?" Before the door creaked closed.

Sighing Walker shook his head. "Subtlety's not a strong point here."

Alex grinned. They shot a quick glance at each other and both looked away. Walker shuffled uncomfortably in his seat and there was silence as each wondered how to pick up the conversation.

"You look"

"Did you"

They'd spoken together, stopped and laughed nervously. Alex's hand slipped on to the swing seat between them, Walker catching sight of it out the corner of his eye. Tentatively rubbing his leg he slowly lowered his hand too.  They were only inches away from each other. Walker moved his hand closer until they touched to feel Alex place her hand on top of his. He grasped it firmly, brought her fingers to his lips and kissed them.

"There's no rush. You can take all the time you need y'know."

 Her breathing quickening, she looked at him intently and careful not to place her bad ankle on the floor, slipped on to his knee burying her head in his neck. Walker raised his legs so she leaned against him and gratefully wrapped his arms tightly around her body. After a few minutes Alex raised her head to his shoulder.

"You sure you want a wife who looks like this?"

Walker froze. "You mean…" He pulled apart to look at her.

Alex smiled at him. "Yes….if ..you're certain it's what you want." Her eyebrows raised at the question, but looking into his face Alex had no doubt about his love or sincerity.

Walker came forward to kiss her but drew back quickly, "how's your lip?"  He asked anxiously. Alex laughed. "We'd better find out."

Turning to kiss they moved closer only to stop dead. As one Walker and Alex glanced behind them and upwards to see two beaming faces through the window.  CD and Trivette had a grin from ear to ear.

"Dang and blast it you guys!"

Trivette was hopeful "can we bring out the champagne now?"

"What!" Chagrined Walker looked at Alex. "You told!"  She had a hand over her mouth laughing. Walker smiled at her obvious pleasure, a stark contrast to the last few days.  He weakened,  "oh, come on then." He beckoned to them with his hand and looked at Alex "you know we've got to put up with this for the rest of our married life?" Alex nodded happily.

As they watched the elder man and his black friend tiptoe on the porch like two naughty schoolboys carrying four glasses and a frosted bottle of Dom Perignon, Walker broke into a grin and looked at Alex again, "I know.." he confirmed her thoughts, "but what would we do without them?" As Alex agreed the subsequent whoops and hollers of delight resounded into the night. The beginning of happier times to come.

The End