by Leigh Williams

It was dark now, they'd never bothered to turn on the lights as night set in. Jimmy Trivette, peering across the room, could just barely make out the silent form of his friend and partner. That was Walker. Never a man to waste words. It didn't matter, just his being there was enough. Waiting, listening, being patient. Occasionally on evenings like this one, sitting in the shadows, one or the other of the two men could open up, sharing something that might never be spoken of in the harsh light of day. Jimmy knew that tonight it would be him. He studied his partner's face, then dropped his eyes.

"Y'know, Walker," he began, "much as we all tease you about being a clam, I really think it's just that you know when to talk. And when not to. You've never pushed me for anything, always waiting till I figured the time was right. Letting me do things at my own speed and in my own way. We've joked that silence of yours is a curse, but it's not, really. It's a gift, partner. You know when to just listen, and when to ask a question. Just enough to let the doors swing open, just enough to let the light in. Do you have any idea how much I envy that in you? How you always seem to know just when to reach out and when to back off? No, I suppose you wouldn't. You don't even think about it, it just happens. You've got it down like second nature."

Jimmy grew silent for a moment, watching for a reaction to his words, but Walker didn't give him one. Waiting, the younger Ranger thought, waiting like he always does, to see where I'm heading with this one. To find out what the connection is. Walker always knows when extra words might break the mood. Like now. Jimmy shifted his gaze to the window as he went on.

"Walker? Did I ever tell you about my first partner? I mean my very first one? The guy that got stuck with me right out of the Police Academy? Matt Brice was his name. He was a hell of a guy, Walker. You would have liked him, I think. He was good, really good. Could've moved up the ranks, should've moved up. But Ma.... he liked being on the streets. Making a difference he told me. He said it's all about making a difference, and a cop couldn't make a difference stuck behind a desk somewhere pushing paper around." For a moment he lost himself in the memory, then said, "Yeah, you would've really liked Matt."

Jimmy chuckled at a sudden recollection. "Matt thought I talked too much too, he was always trying to shut me up! But you know me, I always had something to talk about. So he listened... he was always willing to listen. Matt was one of the best cops I've ever met. Taught me more about police work than almost anyone I've known." Jimmy shot Walker another quick look. "Hey, I said almost, pard.

"Yeah, Matt taught me a lot. And he was my friend too. We just really clicked, y'know? Started out, right from day one, hauling me off to his house with him. Guess he could see I was missing something. I mean, much as I love Texas, what with my family all being way back in Baltimore and everything. So he just kind of dragged me into his. They were great people, too. When my probationary time was over, Matt really surprised me. He dropped out as a training officer and got me assigned to him permanent.

"We were a real good team, Matt and I, and man, I loved that family of his, too. I wound up spending weekends, holidays, everything there. Introduced them to whoever I was dating at the time. Played football with his kids. His wife, Joan, she was just the best cook. Man, she could give C.D. a run for his money, I tell you. The way they just welcomed me in their home and made me a part of it. It was great.

"But I lost him. Did you know that Walker? That my partner got killed on me? You've never mentioned it so I always figured you didn't. C.D. knew some of it, and I figured he might've said something to you. Not that it would matter, I know you well enough to be sure that if he did, that's all you know. You're not the kind to pry in. I kind of feel like talking about it tonight. Guess if you don't mind, I'll tell you what happened."

Jimmy paused for a moment, giving Walker a chance to protest, yet knowing his partner wouldn't. Walker would know that Jimmy needed to get this out, needed to talk about it now, and let him. That was the great thing about Walker. He always just knew.

"We'd been partners for almost two years, Matt and I, when it happened," Jimmy started again. "There was a silent alarm that went out, turned into an armed robbery at a jewelry store. Hostage situation, multiple suspects, you know the drill. Our unit was positioned out back with a couple of others. Watching the exits and waiting for the negotiating team to do its thing. We had a major standoff and it looked to be a real long day." He shook his head. "Man, I tell you Walker, the hours just dragged by. You know the brass types, never much for letting the rest of the guys know what was happening. So we stayed on alert. Couldn't relax cause there were too many possible ways the guys inside could decide to try and get out. We had to be ready every minute, just in case all hell busted loose. We just hung in, waiting for something to give. Then, all of a sudden it did. Word was radioed it was all over. Hostages released and suspects surrendering themselves without a shot ever being fired. When the all-clear came, man, I just stood and stretched. It felt so damn good after all those tense hours crouched behind cover just to move and get loose again.

"I never knew just what Matt saw that signaled him something was wrong. Movement on the roof when there shouldn't have been any, or maybe sunlight off the gun barrel. But whatever it was, he caught it. Matt let out a yell and dove for me. Knocked me to the side just as the shots were fired. He saved my life, Walker, no question. I had no idea it was coming.

"One of the other units got the shooter a second later. Turned out it was one of the suspects from inside the store. A two-time loser who didn't want to go back inside. So he climbed up onto the roof with his gun and figured to take out a cop or two before he got taken out himself. I was the first man who came out from cover. The gun was aimed at me. But the bullets took Matt instead. He didn't even hang around long enough for the ambulance to get there. He was just gone. My partner, my first partner, and my friend, this guy who took me into his family. He was gone cause of a bullet that was meant for me."

Jimmy swallowed hard, trying to contain the emotions churned up by the long-ago memories. "I went through the motions, Walker. But all I could hear, day or night, was Joan crying. I couldn't even make myself look her in the eye. Matt was gone and it should have been me. I could barely talk to her. I mean, God, Walker... all I could think was how it was because of me they were hurting so much! I tried, I really tried to be there for them. I'd go over all the time, help out around the place, just sit sometimes. They always seemed glad to see me. Never said a word about how it was all my fault, but I knew it was. It was supposed to be me gone and Matt was supposed to be there, looking after his family. And I couldn't undo it.

"When Joan told me she was taking the kids back to San Antonio to be near her folks... man, Walker, I was glad. It was such a relief that I wouldn't have to face them all the time! I mean, after they left, I called a few times, sent some letters, some cards, but it just sort of drifted off, y'know? And I was finally able to let it go some, losing my partner that way. Try to get past it and go on. Some of it still hangs on though, guess it always will.

"You know how I drive you crazy sometimes? When I go ballistic on you because you've done some crazy stunt or something and didn't give me time to back you up? When I just lose my cool and lay into you for taking some dumb risk? That's not the way I mean it. I'm always sorry later that I've jumped all over you. After all, how are you supposed to know what's going on in my head? Guess now you know where that's been coming from. That it's because I'm remembering Matt and thinking what it's like to lose a partner. But even without knowing, you've never held it against me. I know I've ticked you off big time once or twice, but you let it slide. I've always appreciated that, pard. Guess I should've told you a long time ago just how much.

"But today... Today, man, it really came back. Every bit of it. Worse than ever." Jimmy's voice broke as he rose from his chair and went to Walker's side, studying his partner's face in the dim light, taking in the bruises, the bandages, the IV's, the respirator tube inserted in Walker's throat, the machine hissing as it pushed each breath into his partner's lungs. Jimmy looked up again at the heart monitor measuring his friend's life in tiny electronic jolts on a green screen. The blips sometimes appeared irregular, coming slow and then giving a sudden erratic jump again. Jimmy carefully gripped his friend's hand, a tear falling down his face as he spoke again, "Why did you have to do that, Walker? Why did you have to shove me out of the way when you saw that grenade coming down the steps? God, Walker, why?"

Jimmy sank to his knees beside the bed, resting his forehead on Walker's arm for a moment before he looked up again. "Alex and C.D. are on their way back now, partner. I wanted her to get some rest... finally convinced her to get out of here by telling her I was worried about C.D. He went along with it. She's having a tough go with this one. But they're coming now. After that last scare you gave me a little while ago... Well, the Doc called them and told them they'd better come back. So you hang on, huh? Wait for them to get here, okay?"

His voice dropped to a strangled whisper as he continued, "What am I gonna do, Walker? What am I gonna do if you don't come out of this? How will I ever be able to face them? They both know what happened. You pushed me out of the way, you saved my life, and took the worst of it yourself. Just like Matt. I'll lose another family. ..... . it'll just bust him wide open, man. And Alex... God, how will I be able to look at her again, Walker? She loves you so much, and she needs you. How can I stay and watch her dealing with losing you, knowing it's because of me? For my sake again?" Anger now strengthened his voice. "What makes me so damned special that I'm worth saving, huh? Don't do this to me, Walker. I've never asked you for anything before, but I'm asking now. Don't do this. Please. Don't die for me. I can't take it again."

He didn't hear the door swing open from behind him a few minutes later. Wasn't aware of C.D. and Alex stepping inside.

The ex-Ranger stepped to the side of the bed, pulling Jimmy to his feet and hugging him hard. "Don't you give up on Cordell now, son. You know that boy's as tough as they come and he don't never quit. So don't you be giving up on him, hear?"

Alex took Walker's hand and stroked his forehead, then bent down and brushed his lips with a kiss, whispering something the men didn't catch. When she stood again, she kept her hold on Walker's hand as she reached out with her other arm and wrapped it around Jimmy. "It's going to be okay, Jimmy. We'll make it through."

"You don't understand, Alex," Jimmy shook his head. "The do.... he said--"

"Son, we know what the doc said. He explained it all to us on the phone, everything that happened and what he figures to happen next. But Cordell's a fighter, and he's still fightin'. I'll tell you this too. . . Alex and I were talkin' about it on the way back over here. Whether Cordell wins or loses in this, we still have each other, and that's the most important thing of all. That we stick together and hang on to each other. 'Cause you know that's just what he'd want. He'd want us to be helping each other just like we are now, 'cause we're family. All of us together are family--"

Loud alarms suddenly rang from the machinery nearby. Three sets of eyes jumped to the heart monitor, which wasn't registering any activity at all. The door flew open as doctors and nurses poured into the room. Jimmy blinked hard as the bright lights snapped on. Someone took his arm, and he realized they were being urged to the door.

"I'm sorry, you'll have to wait outside," the nurse told them gently. Jimmy looked back, saw someone pushing on his partner's chest, heard someone else calling out rapidly falling vital signs.

"Oh God! No!" he choked. "Walker!"

The door shut behind them as they were pushed out. Suddenly Jimmy couldn't stand it anymore. He ran. Fled down the nearly deserted corridor, found the stairs and pounded down them. Reaching the ground level he shoved the door open and burst out into the cool night air. Dropping onto his hands and knees into the damp grass, he sobbed. "No, Walker, no..

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Jimmy didn't know how long he stayed there. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Lost in grief and loneliness, he didn't hear anyone approaching until he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Jimmy... get up, son. It's time to go back inside now. It's gonna be okay."

"I can't, C.D.," he whispered, anguished. "I can't look at Alex. I just can't."

C.D. again pulled Jimmy to his feet, grabbing the younger man's shoulders and shaking him firmly, then looking him straight in the eye. "Son, you're not listening to me. I said it's gonna be okay."

For the first time in what felt like forever, a faint hope stirred in Jimmy's heart. He studied his mentor's face intently before responding quietly, "Okay? You mean Walker--"

C.D. smiled, a full, broad smile, "Yeah, I mean Cordell's alive! He had another rough go there, but they got him back and he's been gaining ever since. The docs don't know what to make of it! He's really gonna be okay, Jimmy. We're not gonna lose him. Alex is settin' with him now. C'mon, let's go back up and keep her company until he wakes up." As they turned to go back up the stairs, C.D. wrapped an arm around Jimmy's shoulders. "Y'know, this wasn't your fault. Not one bit of it. No more than it was your fault that Matt Brice died that way."

Jimmy shot his friend an astonished look. "You knew about Matt Brice? How it happened? I never told you the whole story."

"'Course I knew," the ex-Ranger grumbled. "Always kept track of you, followed how you were doing along the way. Brice did what any good cop does, he watched out for his partner. Just like Cordell did today. Just like you woulda done had the situation been reversed. You can't hold yourself responsible for things like that, Jimmy. They just happen. And you can't tear yourself away from the folks that love and need ya outta some misplaced sense of what should've been. What should have been, is what happened. Plain and simple. You think on that some, and one of these days, we'll talk on it again."

With those words, Jimmy felt something hard and tight finally ease away from his heart. And in a day or two, when Walker was stronger, he'd tell his partner again about Matt Brice. Then maybe he'd take a couple days off, go find Joan in San Antonio, and talk to her, too. It was time.