GENERATIONS

                         by leigh

                                                            starmaid@excite.com

                                                            starmaid21@aol.com

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Walker finished making his bed and then sat in the chair near the window. It was still dark outside, years of the habit of rising before dawn would never be broken now. The only light  was the glow of a small lamp on the bedside table, and he had carefully closed the door to his room to prevent even that small amount from disturbing the others who still slept. He wanted this quiet time for a while longer yet, they would be up and waiting for him soon enough, he knew.

He slowly reached over to the table and picked up a small photo album that rested near the lamp, one of the few things that still waited to be placed in the suitcase that sat near his feet. Slowly he flipped through the pages. Years of memories in such a tiny place.

The first picture - she was always first - was of Alex. Taken many years before when they were both young, her hair still sunny gold and a wealth of love and life reflected in her eyes. He couldn't even remember when her hair had turned to silver, she had always looked like this to him. She was so beautiful and he still missed her so much that he felt the familiar twist in his gut just seeing the photograph. Not that he would ever stop looking at it or any of the others.

He and Alex had had nearly forty years together as husband and wife, and it hadn't been nearly long enough. Oh, they'd had their ups and downs; and more than one battle royale. You couldn't bring two such strong-willed and stubborn people into a marriage without an occasional bump in the road. But nothing that had ever lasted very long - for no matter how strongly they might disagree on an issue, each remained confidant of the other's steadfast love and devotion. No petty disagreement could be strong enough to break that bond.

The next photo was of their wedding day. She, looking stunning in her long white gown at the chapel. He, looking very much the very nervous groom that he had been. Not that he had even then doubted his decision to finally ask her. Now he only wondered that he had been fool enough to wait so long. Trivette and C.D. were in the photo as well, standing on either side of the couple as they always had, and looking as pleased as though they had arranged the match themselves.

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"Cordell, for cryin' out loud, stand still and let me finish doing up this dang tie of yours!" C.D. muttered.

"Sorry, CD, can't help it." Walker apologized, trying to stop his nervous fidgeting, only to spin and completely undo his friend's work as the door opened behind them.

Trivette entered, grinning broadly at the sight of a thoroughly flustered Walker, certainly something he had never thought to witness. "It's time, Pard, Gordon just brought her in. Everyone's waiting for you to take your place."

Walker released the breath he didn't even know he'd been holding. Some part of him had feared that she would decide not to show. That Alex would think better of the idea of marrying a 'crazy cowboy' Ranger and wait for something more suitable to show up.  "Then let's get going, before she changes her mind!" he said with a grin, finally doing up the tie to his tux himself, before the three of them stepped out into the crowded chapel.

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The next photo had been taken by Trivette. It was of himself and Alex on the day of their first anniversary. They stood in a courtroom surrounded by friends and with a cake.

The courtroom, he mused, a strange place for an anniversary party, but that was what Alex had arranged. She had certainly given him her share of surprises that day. It had been a working day for both of them, but they'd made plans to go out for a romantic evening to celebrate later.

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Unexpectedly, in the late afternoon, Alex had called from her office. "Walker, can you please meet me in courtroom C?" she'd asked, "I have a short hearing to take care of, but I need to talk to you about your testimony in the Shelley trial as soon as possible."

"Sure, Alex, I'm on my way back to the office now. I'll be there in just a couple of minutes."

When he'd arrived the attendant outside the courtroom was waiting. "Hi, Ranger Walker. They've just begun, but Ms. Cahill said she was expecting you and asked me to let you in anyway," she'd told him as she opened the door just wide enough for Walker to slip inside.

The courtroom was crowded, and the Ranger had stood motionless just inside the door. The attorneys were just introducing themselves and he didn't want to disturb anything, Walker figured he'd find a seat as soon as the formalities were completed. His attention was focused on Alex as she rose from her seat to address the judge. She was always the consummate professional in the courtroom and he loved to watch her work.

"Alexandra Cahill-Walker for the prosecution, your Honor!" she had announced in ringing tones, turning to face her husband with a beaming smile as she continued, "Happy Anniversary!" The courtroom erupted in applause.

Walker'd just stood there, stunned, as he realized that the room was filled not with just people observing a proceeding, but with many of their friends and co-workers. Alex had nailed him again. And as she had made her way to him through the sea of well wishers it had suddenly struck him - she had introduced herself as 'Cahill-Walker'!

For the sake of her already well established career, Alex had kept her name Cahill. It had never bothered Walker, he had Alex and didn't need the reassurance of a name on a doorplate. But she had said Cahill-Walker, he was sure of it.

Alex kissed him as she finally made it to his side. "Happy Anniversary, Cowboy," she whispered in his ear, "I hope you liked your gift."

"Cahill...Walker?" he studied her face as he asked quietly.

"Cahill-Walker" she confirmed with a smile, "for now and for always."

The celebration had gone on for most of the afternoon as people drifted in and out between other workday chores to wish the couple a happy first anniversary and many more. But he'd found that the party hadn't been the end of Alex's surprises. The other she had saved for later. They had gone out to a candlelit dinner and then dancing. And as they had moved slowly across the floor to a romantic country song, she'd decided the time was right...

"Walker?"

"Mmmmmmm?" he murmured softly.

"I have something else for you, another gift. Something special."

He'd tipped her chin up with his finger as he smiled into her eyes, "You are the most special gift I have ever been given, Alex. There's nothing else I need."

She blushed, but persisted, "No, really." Alex hesitated, searching for the right words and then finally decided to just put it before him, "Walker...we're...we're going to have a baby."

His eyes widened as he absorbed what she'd just told him, and for a moment he was speechless and she wondered if he were glad. Then suddenly the normally reserved Ranger let out a delighted whoop and picked the beautiful blonde up to swing her around in his arms in a very un-Walkerlike way. Alex found herself laughing in his arms at his exuberance.

When he finally set her back on her feet it was to kiss her passionately, and they separated at last to discover everyone else on the dance floor watching them with obvious curiosity at what could have set off such a display. Walker decided to let them in on the secret.

"It's our anniversary - we're gonna have a baby!" he'd explained, picking her up in his arms once more before continuing, "And I love this woman more than anything in the world!"

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That child was the subject of the next group of photographs. The first was a baby picture.  Clayton Davis Walker, they had named their son, much to the delight of his namesake and Godfather, C.D. The next photos were of that same child. First as a boy, then a youth and last a grown man.

There was one on his son's first day as a Texas Ranger. Clay had jokingly referred to it as going into "the family business"; following his father, his godfather, and "Uncle" Jim Trivette. He stood tall and proud beside his parents wearing his Ranger star for the first time. And in the years since then, Clay Walker had rapidly built a reputation within the Rangers as a man of unflinching dedication to justice, honesty and integrity that was the equal of his famous father's.

Another photo was of Clay and his bride, Susan. He'd waited nearly as long as his father while looking for the woman he would share his life with. For a time Alex had despaired of every having grandchildren. But once the young man had found Susan, he'd made up his mind and settled down with her with far more speed than she would have imagined possible. The next photo showed the couple perhaps two years later, holding their newborn daughter, Lynn. Walker and Alex's first grandchild. Now there were two more; four year old Billy, and Tyler, still in diapers.

Walker remembered how, as Clay had been approaching manhood, he had worried that his own hated 'legend' would somehow harm his son. He'd feared that the boy would feel his father's reputation was something he would never be able to live up to, but he discovered he shouldn't have been concerned. Alex's patient teachings and Walker's own example of genuine modesty had been more than a match for the embellished stories that had been heard. It had never been an issue with Clay, or with any of the children that followed.

The next set of photos were of their second son, James, though as a child he'd always been called 'little Jimmy'. He'd also chosen to follow family tradition in his career choice, but had taken his mother's path. Graduating at the top of his class in law school, Jimmy could have taken his pick of any number of offers at law firms across the country. His final decision had surprised only his parents. The young man had returned to Dallas, taking a position as ADA next to his mother.

Then came photos of their daughter. Born two years after Jimmy, choosing a name had caused more concern this time for the couple. Clay and Jimmy had been automatic, each time they had suggested the same name to the other when the ultrasound had revealed the child would be a boy. But, having honored their two closest friends already, Walker and Alex had begun a search for new suitable names.

It had been Walker who suggested the solution they had finally chosen. This time they had refused the offer of knowing what sex the child would be. If it was a boy, Alex would pick the name; and if a girl, Walker would choose.

As her due date drew nearer, Alex had leaned toward the names of John and Ray and Gordon, never quite able to make up her mind. But Walker had steadfastly refused to reveal what name he might have in mind should they have a daughter.

"I don't want to jinx it," was all he would say when anyone, including Alex, tried to press him on the issue.

So it had been a surprise to everyone when, after their daughter had been delivered into her mother's arms, the time had arrived for the final formality.

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"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Walker, and congratulations on a lovely baby girl," the head nurse had greeted them with a smile as she entered the room. "Just one last bit of paperwork and she's all yours. We need to fill a name in on the birth certificate."

Raising her eyebrows at Walker, Alex had merely smiled, waiting for his answer.

He'd grinned back at the two women in his life now as he responded, "Alexandra."

Alex's reaction had been immediate. "Absolutely not, Cordell Walker!" she had protested, "You don't name girls after their mothers!"

"I do! I LIKE the name. It happens to be my favorite. And we did agree," he'd retorted  with a chuckle.

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Oh, how she'd fought him on that. But he'd held her firm on their agreement and Alexandra the baby had been named. It hadn't taken very long before it had been shortened to Lexi. Walker couldn't remember just who had done it the first time, but the nickname had stuck.

And it was Lexi Walker in the next photos in the book, including one of her standing with Alex and himself on the day she had first pinned on her own Ranger badge. 

Lexi had helped with the reestablishment of another family tradition. By the time she was qualifying as a Ranger, Trivette had finally accepted promotion, he captained Texas Ranger's company B. When a retirement left his own son, Dylan, without a partner, Trivette had unhesitatingly assigned the next qualified candidate - Lexi Walker!

A few had looked askance at the pairing, but Trivette had merely shrugged his shoulders and grinned. "Lexi Walker is the next in line, and besides, why mess with a winning combination?" he'd said simply.

Trivette's wisdom had quickly been proved out. Trivette and Walker, paired together in a new generation, had quickly become one of the most effective teams the Rangers had. Alex had always claimed it couldn't have been any other way.

The next pictures were of their youngest son, Cordell, Jr., more frequently called Cord. Walker had argued long and hard against "saddling" the boy with such a name, but Alex had been insistent that if she had to have a namesake in the family, so did he. And he hadn't been able to convince her otherwise.

Cord had been the one to break the family mold though. Choosing neither law enforcement or a career in the courtroom, he had returned home one day to announce that he planned to study medicine. C.D. had enjoyed that plan thoroughly...

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"Medicine?" Walker questioned after his youngest son's announcement to the entire family, as well as to the Trivette's and C.D., who were over for dinner that night. "Where did that come from?"

"From you, Dad. And from White Eagle, and the other medicine men on the reservation. I've been thinking about it for a long time, and it's what I want to do," Cord responded. "I hope you're not too disappointed. It's just that guns and law books don't hold the same interest for me as the others, I need to go my own way."

That had startled the father, "Disappointed? No! Of course not, Cord. You just surprised me. I guess I've always known you didn't feel the pull to police work or the law like the others. I just didn't know quite where you did feel it. You've kept it under wraps. Don't you know anything that makes you happy makes your mother and I happy?"

The seventeen year old looked somewhat abashed, "I just always assumed you expected me to fall in line with the others. Reckon I should have talked with you about it, huh?"

"I reckon so!" the red-bearded Ranger had replied forcefully. "Son, I never meant to say or do anything to make you feel pressured to choose any job. I'm sorry if I did."

C.D. had broken the solemness of the moment with a snicker. When the entire group had looked at him questioningly the elderly man had finally managed to explain.

"Danged if this Walker clan here don't need it's own Doc right handy! To keep 'em patched up and on the straight and narrow when it comes time to do some decent healing! And won't it be tough on you all to have a Doc who knows as much about fighting as any of ya? It won't be so easy to slip out on him!"

No one had even considered arguing that point, and it had been with smiles and laughter that they had finished listening to Cord spell out his plans for his schooling.

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The choice of a profession was the only way Cord had changed tradition, however. Like his brothers and sister, he excelled in his field and had his pick of what to do once he graduated. He, too, chose to return home.

He accepted a position at County hospital, and twice a month he journeyed to a small clinic on the Cherokee reservation where his father had grown up. There he practiced both modern medicine and the old tribal remedies that had piqued his interest in the field.

It was there that Cord had met the young woman he had married just over a year before. Walker smiled softly as he thought about the child they had only recently discovered they were expecting.

The final baby photo was alone - there was no adult photo to accompany it - and Walker gently touched his fingers to the image. Their last child, another girl, unexpected and late in life. It had been a difficult pregnancy for Alex, and a difficult delivery. Then, after all that, their tiny daughter had lasted only a short half hour before releasing her tenuous hold on life. Walker had held her in his arms as she slipped away from them, there had been nothing the doctors could do. C.D. had taken the one photo they had, for Alex - who never had a chance to hold the infant.

Then, before Walker had time to begin to deal with the loss, the doctors had told him that Alex was in danger as well. He'd almost lost her, too, and by the time she was on the way to recovery, he had safely covered over his pain. He'd needed to be strong - for the other children - who came so close to losing their mother. And for his Alex, who's heart was broken by the death of their child.

But in the end, Alex would not allow him to internalize this grief as he had done so many times before. Soon after her return home from the hospital, she arranged for Walker and herself to be alone one night when he came from work. She'd insisted they talk about the lost child again and again until she had broken down his defenses and he wept in her arms. Able at last to express the grief there had been no time to share before.

Walker had chosen the name Angela, their tiny angel, and they had buried her there on the ranch, in a quiet meadow near the river.

Turning the page of the album, the next photo was of C.D. alone. C.D. His dear friend, former partner, and mentor. C.D. had passed on quietly in the night more than ten years ago now, in his room at Walkers ranch. He had moved in at Alex and Walker's insistence after a heart attack scare had made him decide he "wuz too damned old to be runnin' any dangfool bar!"

The ex-Ranger had actually lived many more years after that, taking a place in the family. The children had named him 'Granpa C.D.', which the old gentleman had loved, and C.D. had more than a small part in the successful raising of his beloved 'Walker clan'. His down-home sincerity and goodness had made him a natural confidant for all the children, especially when 'Ma' and 'Pa' just couldn't be approached on a particular topic, although C.D. always managed to steer them back to Walker and Alex in the end.

C.D.'s death had been the first major one that the children had to deal with, having been too young to fully understand the loss of Angela, and it had been tough on them. They had borne up well. Walker had been glad that with Alex gently nurturing them, none of them had adopted his long grown habit of refusing to share pain and grief. The four younger Walkers had leaned on one another as well as their parents and come out of it stronger and with a renewed sense of the importance of family and friends.

The next photo was of Trivette, his wife Sara and their three children.

Trivette had married Sara about two years after Walker and Alex had finally wed, and they, too, had wasted no time beginning a family. Walker chuckled lightly as he remembered the  good natured complaining on his partner's side that the Walker's had "stolen all the names he would have used."

Dylan, Lexi's partner, was the oldest, and he had then been quickly followed  by Cody - who had also chosen a career in law enforcement, and was also aiming for the Texas Rangers.

Jamie, the youngest and only daughter, had taken enthusiastically to the martial arts training Walker had given his friend's children as well as to his own. She'd followed the sport with a dedication and risen through her ranks. Now, in her mid-twenties, she was a ladies champion in her own right and had recently opened a Dojo of her own in Dallas. It looked like her only problem might be an overabundance of students. 

He and Trivette had remained partners for many years, until the younger man, at Walker's urging, finally accepted the promotion that Walker himself had refused. When questioned as to why he turned down the job, but then encouraged his own partner to take it, Walker had responded simply and honestly...

"I'm a street cop, I need to go out there and get my hands dirty, and me and paperwork just don't get on. Trivette has always been able to mix the two, he's the better choice for the job." 

He'd been right too, Trivette was probably the most popular Captain any Ranger company had ever had because of his ability to get down to it when he needed to, along with his stubborn refusal to be buried under the political possibilities of the job. The black man had never accepted any further advancement, even though it had been offered more than once. He'd said his heart and soul was in Dallas and with Company B, and he was happy to remain there as long as they would have him.

Although, technically, the younger Ranger's promotion had ended their partnership - making Trivette Walker's superior - in fact they had often continued to work side by side on difficult cases. Together, they would reestablish their now famous and very effective teamwork, silencing quickly the pointed remarks from newcomers about "old dogs that should stay in the doghouse so the younger dogs don't have to look after them". Trivette's skills and Walker's fast reflexes and flying feet had frequently saved the life of a much younger man, even in the last few years. And it was always Walker to whom Trivette went when he needed advice on how to handle a particularly sticky situation.

Walker had remained active until the day of his voluntary retirement. He had conceded to his age enough to cut down some on his cases, serving more frequently as adviser and coordinator, and concentrating on the training of new recruits. But he had continued to be able to pass the physicals and readiness tests and no one had been able to keep him off the streets completely. Shoot, no one really tried, he thought with a smile. Often just seeing the bearded Ranger's approach had been enough to get a difficult suspect to put down his weapon and give himself up.

Walker had only retired when Alex had been diagnosed with the cancer, choosing to stay with her, where he knew he belonged. He could still remember the cold shock that had swept through him when the doctor's had called them both in after a routine checkup to discuss something 'unusual'. Further tests had provided the diagnosis and an ache had settled in his heart that had never gone away after that day.

The cancer had, in a way, been kind. Although by the time it had been discovered it was far too late for medicine to be of any help, her symptoms had actually been few and Alex had not been in pain until the very end. In fact it had been one of the symptoms that had raised the warning flag for an alert doctor. There'd been a strange increased sensitivity of her skin to rough textures and she'd mentioned a rash caused apparently by the abrasiveness of what had been one of her favorite sweaters to her wrists and neck.

Walker glanced up from the photo album to the window, noting the rapidly lightening sky, and caught his own reflection in the dresser mirror. The sight brought an unconscious touch to his ever-present beard. Ever-present except during those last few precious months...

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Sharing a quiet breakfast one morning with Alex, he caught her staring at him oddly several times before finally questioning her on it.

"What?"

"Nothing," she said, averting her gaze, but a moment later the look had been back.

"Alex? What's on your mind?" he pressed again, bringing a smile to the lips of his wife.

Giggling slightly, she finally explained, "I was just thinking that I've never seen you without that beard, and was wondering what you've been hiding all these years."

He chuckled himself, his beard had long been something she'd joked about, even to the point of once threatening to take a razor to him as he slept. "Wouldn't you like to know, lady!" was his teasing reply as he enjoyed the sparkle of laughter in her beautiful eyes.

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It had only been later that he'd wondered why the topic had come up so unexpectedly. Thinking back, he'd remembered having noted a slight rash on her cheek and neck that morning and it had clicked. His beard - her skin. The sensitivity was making her chafe where his beard touched her face and neck when they kissed or held close. The decision had been made in an instant, and he'd never regretted it for that long.

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Alex gasped in surprise when he appeared later that evening clean shaven for the first time in most of his adult life. The sight of her face set him into a fit of laughter as he wrapped his arms around her. "I sure hope you like this, hon," he told her, eyes twinkling, "Cause I honestly couldn't remember what I was going to look like without it and it's done now!"

Stunned, Alex stepped back, gazing at him before hesitantly reaching up to touch where the beard had been for so long. Finally she whispered, "You look wonderful. You did this for me?"

His voice caught for a moment before he could say in a chiding tone, "Alex, You should know by now I'd do anything for you."

She merely nodded, then reached up to hold him tightly, trembling as she touched her cheek to his for the first time ever.

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The beard had stayed off, she'd loved to touch his smooth jaw line and would tell him again and again with shining eyes how handsome his face was. In spite of the creases of age that he knew were there, when she said it, he believed.

Alex had remained happy and as active as possible, even helping with the planning for her youngest son's wedding. She'd proudly sat and watched him take his vows with Kari Morningstar just a few short weeks before she'd passed away.

She'd grown weaker, often needing to be carried from their room to the living room, but she'd remained at home rather than going to a hospital which could do her no good anyway.  The children had all gathered to be near, but at the last, it was Walker alone who was with her.

She awakened him late one night...

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"Walker? Will you take me downstairs?" Alex whispered. "I can't sleep, and it's such a beautiful night. I'd like to count the stars with you."

Wrapping her warmly in her favorite blanket, he carried her down the stairs and silently outside. She rested in his arms as they sat on the porch swing in the moonlight, whispering together. For a short time, he was able to forget the many years that had passed, it felt as though they were still young lovers with their whole lives in front of them.

Alex had fallen silent, listening to him sing an old Cherokee prayer that she loved, when he felt her touching his cheek tenderly. Looking down, he met her soft eyes with his own and knew.

"You can grow your beard back now," she whispered with a smile and then kissed him gently.

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The children had found him still holding her and weeping when the sun rose the next morning. They had buried her beside Angela, with C.D. watching over them both.

It had been more than a year, and he still grieved every day for her as though it were the first. He knew he would never get over Alex, she had been his heart, and without it he was incomplete. For the sake of their children, he now tried to hide how deeply he still ached with missing her, but the pain of the loss in his eyes was unmistakable and they all knew.

The final photo was of all of them, taken at Cord's wedding - Alex, Walker, the entire family. Trivette and his family were also there, standing with them as always. Smiling, joyful, the way Alex would want him to remember.

Walker closed the album and looked out the window. The sun had risen at last and from the downstairs he could hear the sounds of his children as they rose, performing the chores that needed to be done on a ranch before they could gather over breakfast and coffee. Today they would say farewell.

He and Alex had talked about what he would do next often in the last months they had shared. But in the final analysis, there had really been nothing to discuss. His career with the Rangers was over, and without her the ranch meant very little to him either.

All he had left was the children and his Cherokee heritage. When he was younger, White Eagle and Uncle Ray had taught him much. So now he would return to his boyhood home and take his place there, teaching what he knew of the old ways to the younger members of the nation. Far too few of his generation had taken an active interest in learning about their history and traditions, and at least he felt he would be useful there. There was still much he could learn, as well.

Slowly, Walker stood once more. He picked up the small suitcase and resting it on the bed, opened it to receive the last items that remained to be packed. The photo album he had been leafing through, C.D.'s pocket watch, which Walker kept near him always. And a framed photo of Alex, also never far from his reach. He snapped the case shut with finality and opened the door at last.

He was met halfway down the stairs by Clay, "Here, Dad, let me take that for you."

They were all waiting for him in the living room and as he swept his gaze over his family, he experienced a feeling of pride.  They were a fine group, and a fitting tribute to Alex. Others had referred to his reputation in the Rangers as his gift to the generations to follow, but he knew those gathered before him now were his true legacy.

He gratefully accepted a cup of coffee from Susan, Clay's wife, who held the hand of his eldest grandchild, Lynn.

"Granpa? Do you have to go away?" the six year old asked with solemn sincerity.

Walker knelt and ruffled her hair affectionately, "It's time for me to go to my other home, Lynn. But I'll be close by and you can come and visit me. We can learn more about the animals and the plants, okay?"

She wrapped her arms around his neck, "Okay, Granpa, but I still wish you were staying here. I'm gonna miss you!"

"I'm going to miss you too, Lynn. I'm going to miss all of you, but we'll see each other often, I promise," he whispered as he hugged her tightly in return.

As the ex-Ranger stood once more, Clay approached him. "Dad, we've kind of had a family meeting going on for a while now about all this. You know that at first we all wanted you to stay here. This is your home, but, I guess, we understand why you want to move on." He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts before continuing, "This place, the ranch...well, it's important to all of us. And even though you signed it over to Susan and me, we wanted you to know that it's part of all the Walker's."

"We've come up with a way to make sure it stays that way. This is our home place, you and Mom made sure of that, and it always will be. I can't explain the legal mumbo-jumbo that Jimmy here came up with, but basically what we've done is set this place up as a perpetual trust. As long as there's a Walker living who wants to be here, the doors will always be open, no questions asked, no notice required. For as long as the family goes on."

"And if there ever does come a time when there's no one who wants to be here, or there's none of us left, the house and land all go to the state of Texas as a park and reserve for the benefit of everyone. With the stipulation being that it can never be sold or broken up, it has to remain the way you've always kept it. We... we all hope that you approve."

Walker looked into the eyes of his eldest son, then to each of his children in turn before he responded. "I approve," he said simply, "I approve very much. It's a good plan and I thank you for telling me about it. It sets my mind at ease about what's gonna happen to the place where your Mom and sister and C.D. are resting, and where I will too, someday."

"There's something I want to tell you all, too," he paused, taking a breath as he gathered the words he wanted to speak. "I know that this isn't a last goodbye for us. God willing, I still have some years left in me and I'll be seeing you all often, but, this just seems a good time to say it anyway. I know I've never been a man of many words with you all. Your Mom helped some. Before her, getting me to tell anybody anything was some kinda tough work," He grinned at their smiles. It hadn't been much easier after Alex had begun to work her magic on him, he knew.

"Anyway, I know that there's been lots of times that I haven't said things to you that I should have. I always tried to show you as best I could, and I reckon since we all still get along I must've managed it at least a little. But today I want to say it. I'm proud of each and every one of you. You're fine, upstanding people. And I want you to know how very much I love you all. You are the best of your Mom and me, the part that goes on, and I count myself lucky to be able to claim you as my own."

It was Lexi who broke the silence left in the wake of his words, she walked up to him softly and wrapped her arms around him tightly for a moment before stepping back slightly, "Dad, we have always known how much you loved us. You said it more often than you remember, I think, and in more ways than just the words."

"We could see it in your eyes and on your face every time you looked at us. You showed us every time you picked us up, and dusted us off, and set us back on the path again when we fell. It was in your hands when you comforted us when we were scared, and in your words when you taught us about...oh...so many things."

"And we felt it when you would come home late and sneak into our rooms just to hold us in the dark for a while. Did you know we all remember you doing that? You thought we were asleep, but not always, Dad. Sometimes we'd wait for you, 'cause we knew you'd come."

She stopped for a moment, considering her words before continuing, "You know, one time, Mom told me that was one of the things she loved best about you. You always thought you were so rough and tough, but you were really so soft and gentle. She could see right through you. And so could we."

"Dad, you have always been the most loving father, and you never even knew it. We've been the lucky ones. We love you too."

Walker didn't try to hide the tear that fell at her words, he just embraced her again for a moment before looking in her eyes. "I was right when I chose your name," he whispered, "you are so like your mother."

Slowly he went to each member of his family, holding them and saying farewells to each, for this would begin a new chapter in their lives as it was in his. At last he took a deep breath and looked around.

"Well, I guess it's time to hit the road. I want to make it home before dark." He smiled as he went on, "Who's got my suitcase?"

"It's already in the truck, Dad." Cord responded, then added with a grin of his own, "You know, that old Ram of yours is on it's last legs. You really ought to get rid of it and let us get you something more reliable."

Walker put on an exaggeratedly shocked face, causing his grandchildren to giggle as he replied exactly as Cord had known he would, "Get rid of my truck? I love that vehicle! I'd sooner get rid of my right arm!"

With laughter on their lips, they all escorted him out to his truck and saw him on his way with hugs and promises to visit soon.

When Walker drove down the dirt road toward the highway, he didn't look back...

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this story was born way back in the days when everyone went to Sony chat, when we spent one evening discussing what might lie in Walker and Alex's future should they wed. it's been a long time in the works, and I hope it was worth the wait.

I would also like to extend my amazed thanks to Gail, who read a first draft and came back with the idea for the beard scene. I think it came out beautifully Gailfriend, and it never would have been without your inspired suggestion! THANK YOU!!!

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

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