Missing scene/epilog to "The Road to Black Bayou."

The Journey Back

by leigh williams

Rolling back onto his blanket, Walker tried to ignore the strange red glow he'd noticed on the distant horizon. Whatever the cause, it was too far and too dangerous to risk checking out now. Night was no time to be moving through the unfamiliar bayou country. Restlessly shifting again, he covered his eyes with his arm to blot out the light from the fire.

But he couldn't stop the memories from crowding into his mind. The image of Trivette struggling, dark eyes shocked and confused, as Walker's hand gripped his throat returned to haunt the Ranger. The younger man hadn't had time to say a word. And if C.D. hadn't been here? I might not have stopped. God, I could've killed him!

Biting back a curse of self-loathing and frustration, the Ranger sat up and climbed to his feet. There'd be no more sleep tonight. For a moment he debated waking Trivette, but the remembered look of stunned fear on his friend's face sent him heading away from the campsite instead. Away from his friends, away from the light - if only he could get away from the memories.

Walker knew he couldn't go far, the 'island' they'd camped on wasn't that big, so he simply followed the best lit path through the trees. The nearly full moon reflected brightly off the water as he approached, creating an illusion of daylight that only highlighted the utter blackness of the nighttime shadows. Reaching a spot just a few feet from the water's edge, Walker paused, soaking in the night and its peaceful sounds.

The replayed memory of the evening's events, Trivette's unwitting intrusion into the flashback and his own violent reaction, caused a fresh knot of tension to form in his gut. Sighing soundlessly, Walker rubbed his fingers across his brow. He'd brought that same look of fear to many men’s eyes, even prided himself on his ability to do it. But for the first time it had been a friend looking back at him. Now he couldn't help but wonder what result would come of this night.

Walker knew the fault was his own. He'd pushed himself too far, for too long, and without good reason. It was nothing more than stubborn pride that had kept him from taking more vacation time. The Rangers and the State of Texas had managed for more than a hundred years without him, and yet he'd convinced himself that he couldn't be spared. His drive to get the job done had begun to build into an obsessed belief that only he could do it. Now the trust that made he and Trivette such an effective team had been broken. Even more importantly, could their friendship survive such an obvious breach of faith? He'd gone too far and the truest friend he'd ever had might be the cost. And with that realization came the stark knowledge that the price was too high.

The pattern of his thoughts was broken by a tiny sound that didn't blend with the rest of bayou night noises. The discovery of the discarded cigarette butts opposite the campsite, all but forgotten in the aftermath of the explosion he'd been caught by, raced back into his mind. Stiffening reflexively, he froze, searching for the source of the sound. A moment later it repeated, a tiny 'plop' in the water.

He scanned the moonlit surface of the bayou, finally finding the small tangle of ripples that indicated something had indeed been dropped in. Sliding along the edges of the shadows, he located the cause.

Just over a hundred feet away, sitting on a log at the water's edge, Trivette picked up a small stone from the shore and listlessly tossed it into the bayou. He sat in profile to Walker's position, and from the bright reflection of the moon's light, his troubled features were easy to read. As Trivette cast another stone, sending another set of ripples over the water, his expression never changed.

For a moment, the older Ranger considered slipping back to the campsite without making his presence known. He hadn't meant to intrude on Trivette. But just as quickly he set the thought aside. This might be the best time to deal with what was obviously troubling them both. And if the partnership were going to end? Best to decide it now in the relative safety of the darkness, than to hide from it in the light of day and risk both their lives in the process.

Walker turned, moved a distance back down the path, and then turned again toward where his friend sat. Deliberately allowing twigs to snap beneath his feet, he called softly, "Trivette? Are you out here?"

The younger man turned at the approach. "Over here."

Joining him, Walker eased onto a seat beside his friend, keeping his gaze out over the water as he did so. After a few moments of silence, he asked, "You okay?"

Trivette didn't pretend not to know what Walker meant. "I'm fine, man. Just had some thinking to do."

"Yeah. Me, too."

The two men went quiet again. Finally Trivette commented, "I heard you coming."

"I know. I . . . I didn't want to startle you."

The younger man snorted lightly. "That's a first."

Walker's gut lurched. Trivette was right. His ability to move almost soundlessly was more instinctive than habit now. And he'd used it more than once to surprise his partner, enjoying the outraged complaints, secure in the knowledge that Trivette wasn't really upset. Tonight he'd made a conscious decision to be sure his approach was heard, and they both knew why. He swallowed hard, wishing for a way to undo the change between them.

Once more the tense silence settled over them like a shroud. But both were unwilling to let the problem go, and at last they spoke, almost in unison.

"Trivette-"

"Walker-"

At Walker's nod, Trivette continued, "You wanna tell me what happened before?"

The bearded man looked down, studying his hands intently. "I'm sorry about that, Trivette."

''I didn't ask you if you were sorry, man,'' the black Ranger countered edgily. ''I know you're sorry, you told me you were sorry. I asked what the hell happened?"

"I don't know if I can explain it to you," came the soft reply.

"Try me."

Walker nodded. "I owe you that, at least." He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts and at last said simply, "You walked into a flashback. For a little while, I wasn't here and it wasn't now. I was half-way around the world, twenty-five years ago."

"Vietnam," Trivette stated.

"Yeah."

The younger man processed the information for a moment, then asked, "These flashbacks, you have them often?"

"No," Walker replied with an adamant shake of his head. "In fact, up until the last few days, I haven't had one in years. I meant what I said earlier, I honestly don't know if it was that explosion, or how much this place looks like a jungle. It might be that fall I took from Quinterro's chopper, or that I've been pushing too hard, or a combination. I just don't know."

"Are you going to be able to control them, now that they've started up again?" Trivette questioned.

Walker blew out a long breath. "I won't lie to you, Trivette. I don't know that either. The flashbacks are the biggest reason the doc insisted I take some time off. I got past them before, with Uncle Ray's help. But that doesn't guarantee they'll stop this time."

The black Ranger stared out over the water again. "So. . . What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to try, Trivette. And I'm going to make you a promise. If I can't, I won't be going back to the streets. I'll leave the Rangers."

Trivette startled, turning again to face his friend. "Walker! I'm not asking you to do that!"

"I know you re not," Walker replied seriously. "But I won't put you, or anyone else, at risk by not knowing, one hundred percent of the time, that I'm focused and in control." The night settled around them again as both men thought about the conversation. At last Walker spoke again, "Now, I've got a question for you, Trivette."

"Okay," the younger man replied, curious. "Shoot."

"Tonight I lost control. I lost myself, and I could have killed you. You need to think about this. Are you going to be able to work with me again? Are we still partners?"

There was no hesitation. "Absolutely."

Walker shook his head, insistent. "Not so fast. This is important, Trivette. You have to trust me, and I have to know you're with me. Take some time, think it through. I'd rather have you at my back than any man I've ever worked with. But if you're not absolutely sure, I'd rather you walked away."

            It was Trivette's turn to nod, understanding how important the issue was . . . for both of them. "Okay, Walker, I'll think about it. But I can tell you now, my answer won't change. You made me a promise a few minutes ago, and you've never broken your word to me. If you're on the job, I'll be at your back, no doubts."

Walker didn't reply, but he felt some of the knotted tension drain away at the surety of his partner's response. Maybe they could get past this, maybe the trust hadn't been completely destroyed. He hoped it was true.

Trivette stood and stretched. "I don't know about you, man, but suddenly I'm beat." Extending a hand to Walker he added, "You know C.D.'s gonna want to be up fishing at the crack of dawn, how about we go get a couple hours sleep?"

The older Ranger gripped his friend's hand gladly, pulling himself to his feet with a smile. "Sounds like a good idea, pard."

As they moved back down the moonlit trail toward the campsite, Walker asked "By the way, Trivette, what was it that you wanted before?"

"Oh, yeah," the black man replied. "It was about that smell at the cabin today. I could swear it was chemicals, like a meth lab. I was thinking, maybe in the morning…..”

"Man, are you sure your information was right, Walker? We been here three days . . three days! And no sign yet."

Walker hid his smile. "They'll show, Trivette," he said confidently, turning back toward the window and lifting his binoculars to scan the area once again. "Stoney's never steered me wrong."

"He'd better not be making this the start, then," the younger man groused, getting to his feet. "Want some coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks."

The Ranger listened as his partner made the trip down the narrow corridor toward what passed for a kitchen in the dilapidated apartment they'd taken as their observation base.

For a stake-out on McNally's Bar, located right across the street and reported favorite hangout of Sly Gordon whenever he passed through Dallas, it was ideal. They had a clear view of both entrances to the dive as well as the approaches, and the building they were in, while run-down, was still occupied. Lights and movement from the apartment drew no attention.

But as a place to be spending twenty-four hours a day while they waited for him to show, it left a lot to be desired. Dingy and dark, half the electrical outlets in the apartment didn't function and the other half weren't reliable. Only one burner on the stove worked, occasionally, and the refrigerator barely kept things tepid. After a rude discovery that enough hot water to take a shower was a non-existent luxury, Trivette had joked that next time he'd warm the water in the refrigerator first. By the second day, that hadn't been funny anymore. Gordon and his cronies couldn't show up soon enough.

Walker kept his post at the grimy window. Stakeouts weren't arduous, but he found the sheer monotony more draining than a tour through the Hunt Club just before closing time. Although his eyes were constantly scanning for the object of their attention, the bearded Ranger allowed his thoughts to wander.

Dusk was approaching. Pretty soon he'd need to make sure the lights in their observation post didn't reveal his position. It would be hell if the long days and nights of watching wound up wasted by a detail as seemingly insignificant as lighting.

Behind him, he was barely aware of the sound of footsteps approaching from the kitchen. Much as Walker razzed Trivette about making too much noise, the fact was the younger man moved nearly as quietly as a cat -- and was getting quieter as the years of their partnership continued.

Walker was certain most men wouldn't be aware of the minute changes that indicated Trivette had re-entered the room--the barest sound of feet on the carpeting, a faint aroma of the coffee the younger man carried. Only years of habitual and constant attunement to even the slightest changes in the environment around him allowed Walker to pick them out.

So far, though, the younger Ranger's approach had truly startled Walker only once. Walker's mind drifted back to the Louisiana bayou fishing trip, six weeks ago. It hadn't turned out to be much of a vacation.

The bearded man could tell Trivette was right at his back now, almost felt the hand come up - reaching for his shoulder. Then his breath caught and held as the gesture wasn’t completed.

In that instant Walker's heart raced, wondering if they could ever truly get back the easy partnership they'd once shared. Trivette had said he trusted Walker's judgment. That he would never doubt his own safety with Walker at his back. And yet this situation was the mirror of that moment in the bayou -- and the younger man wasn't sure. Damn!

Then the minuscule pause was over, Trivette's hand gripped his shoulder -firmly confidently.

"Here, take this. . . Let me watch for a while."

Walker slowly let his breath out as he took the styrofoam cup of coffee his partner was holding out to him. He sipped, savoring the hot beverage without moving from his position. Slowly Walker grinned. "Thanks, partner."

Jimmy grinned back, squeezing slightly in a show of understanding. Then he turned, hand still resting on the older man's shoulder companionably, as they both gazed out into the city street below.

Taking another sip of the coffee, Walker offered silent thanks upward. The test had come, and they'd both passed. They were as solid as ever, maybe even more so. He knew that now.