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fic: The Price of Survival 2/3

Title: The Price of Survival
Author: ocean gazer
Fandom: Walker, Texas Ranger
Season: six, using the DVD numbering system
Spoilers: for "Survival"...this story is an alternate ending to that episode
Pairing: Alex/female friendship, Alex/Walker canon relationship
Summary: What if Walker didn't arrive in time to save Alex from the Trammel brothers?
Category: AU, hurt/comfort, angst, major Alex-whump
Rating/Warning: Adults only, for rape, violence, and dark content. The descriptions aren't extremely explicit, but there's some definite intensity to them, so proceed with caution if rape is one of your squicks.
Archive: AO3, Passion and Perfection. Anyone else, please ask first.
Disclaimers: I think we all know I don't own these characters; I'm just borrowing them for a little while. They belong to Norris Brothers Entertainment, the Ruddy Greif Company, Top Kick Productions, CBS Productions, and various others. This story is writing practice and experimentation for me, and I've made no money from it.
Author's Note: So, this was supposed to be just a short piece, an experiment in writing in present tense using third-person restricted POV. The next thing I knew, it had grown like kudzu. I have no idea what happened. I'm also not quite sure why my brain is stuck on such dark themes these days. This story is an alternate ending to the episode "Survival," so if you haven't seen that, it may not make a whole lot of sense. (It may not make a lot of sense even if you have seen it, but that's an entirely separate issue.) It's an Alex-centric story, with an emphasis on two of the minor characters in "Survival." For those familiar with my writing, it's the kind of f/f friendship story I write when I'm not writing actual femslash...lol. Let's see...what else? Not beta read, so all mistakes are my own. Feedback is always appreciated and adored, but never required. Thanks for reading.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By the time she and Sally emerge from their bedroom, Alex's tears dried and wounds salved, night has fallen. Walker and Jimmy are sitting at the table, a map and other papers spread out in front of them. Vanessa is sitting next to Trent, their chairs a few feet away from the table, his arm around her back and her head resting against his shoulder, talking a mile a minute about how grateful she is and how happy she'll be to see her family.

Alex glances at Sally, sees the dark-haired woman's not-quite-smile, turns her attention back to the young woman. Clearly, Sally is not at all surprised to see Vanessa so easily warming up to virtual strangers. Alex supposes it makes sense, particularly since said strangers have saved them all from the brothers.

But since she's still incredibly gun-shy around the men in light of what the brothers did to her—even though she knows and loves them—it surprises her that Vanessa isn't.

She feels the brush of a hand against hers, turns her attention back to Sally. Sally's voice is low. "This is how we know our sacrifices were worth it. She can still trust. She's not scared. She'll be okay."

Though the words are meant for her ears alone, a quick glance at Walker's face tells her he heard them as well, his senses obviously as uncanny as ever. She's grateful he knows better than to ask. They'll talk about it in time, but not yet. It's too soon.

Alex limps painfully across the room, moving even more slowly than normal, pulling her stool up to the table across from Walker and Jimmy. The dress she's wearing is unbuttoned in back and she shivers slightly in the chill of the room. Without a word, Sally goes to the woodpile, adds two logs to the fire in the stove, comes over and sits in the empty chair next to Alex.

Vanessa stops chattering and sits upright, turning to look at them both. Her smile lights up her whole face and she says, "Isn't it great? It's finally over. We can all go home and get back to our lives."

Alex doesn't quite know how to respond to that. Attuned to Sally as she's become in recent weeks, she can feel the tension radiating from her friend. It's not that either one of them begrudges Vanessa her excitement. It's just that for the two of them, things aren't quite that simple.

After a moment, she manages to say, "It's a relief that it's over and I'm happy that we all survived."

Vanessa smiles at her again, clearly taking her words at more than face value, before leaning back against Trent's shoulder. Trent studies Alex for a long minute as she struggles not to squirm under his gaze, then turns his attention to Walker and Jimmy. The men hold a silent conversation with their eyes, one that she doesn't even try to follow, numbed as her brain is from exhaustion and pain and the surreal rescue.

After a moment, Trent stands, and she watches as he holds out his hand to Vanessa, helping her up. He suggests, "Why don't we go fetch some water so that we can all wash up after we eat something?" The young woman nods enthusiastically and he drapes Jimmy's coat around her shoulders as he steers her out the door.

When they're gone, Alex slumps slightly on her stool. She glances at Sally, sees her own weariness and hurt and uncertainty mirrored in dark eyes.

Jimmy clears his throat, speaks quietly. "We called the sheriff's office on a satellite phone, let them know we've neutralized the Trammels and found three women they were holding captive. We gave them the coordinates of the cabin and they'll be sending a helicopter to retrieve us in the morning."

Walker adds quickly, "If you don't want to spend the night in here, I'll rig up a shelter for you outside and keep a fire going so you'll be warm enough."

She shares a look with Sally, speaks for both of them. "We'll be okay in our room for one more night."

She glances at Walker, suddenly worried about how he's taking this—her being unable to seek comfort in the arms of the man she loves, turning instead to her fellow captive. But there's nothing but compassion and understanding in his eyes. As if he's reading her mind—and for all she knows he is—he says softly, "I'm just glad the two of you have each other to lean on after what you've been through."

His words ease a worry she hadn't known she'd been carrying. Of course he understands why she's shying away from men right now, even him. Of course he understands why she's leaning on the person she's bonded with during her ordeal. It doesn't matter that he doesn't know the specifics of what she's endured in these past months; he clearly understands that it was traumatic and life-altering.

She blows out a quick breath. "So what happens tomorrow?"

It's a silly question on the one hand. But on the other, she really doesn't know. It's Jimmy who answers, his voice soothing. "We take you to the hospital; get you checked out and let them take care of you. We send a team of deputies to pick up the Trammels and haul them off to jail. And we call Carlos and tell him you're safe."

"Is...is he okay?"

She feels Sally's hand slip into her hand, knows her voice sounds small and scared. She hasn't yet asked about what happened in the rock slide.

Walker replies instantly. "He will be. His ankle was smashed by a boulder and he had to have surgery. He'll make a full recovery, but he's stuck in a wheelchair until he's a little farther along in his recovery. Trivette tried to push him out of the way after Carlos triggered the trap, but there were too many rocks."

Her voice is still small. "And you guys?"

Walker smiles reassuringly at her. "I sprained my knee pretty badly and ended up on crutches for a few weeks, but I got off lucky. Trent gave himself a nice little concussion—was on bed rest until he recovered. Trivette thought it would be fun to puncture his lung and get to lie around in a hospital bed for a while. I think he just wanted to have pretty nurses waiting on him hand and foot."

Jimmy butts in. "Yeah, well at least the nurses like me because I'm a cooperative patient, unlike some people I know."

Though the list of injuries is serious, Alex manages a tiny hint of a smile at their banter. Her friends all survived the trap. They're all going to be okay. None of them died because of her.

She doesn't realize she's spoken the last words out loud until she sees the twin looks of dismay on Walker and Jimmy's faces. Both men speak at once.

"Alex, you're not to blame for what happened."

One part of her knows they're right. The other part—the scared, traumatized part that's spent months being punished for nothing more than existing—knows only that if she hadn't been kidnapped, they wouldn't have been following her, and if they hadn't been following her, they wouldn't have been caught in the trap.

She sees the look they share, knows they're picking up on her disbelief. Before either one can say anything, Sally speaks.

"The brothers are to blame. No one else."

It's a typical Sally statement. Short, sweet, and to the point. Alex turns her head, sees the certainty blazing in dark eyes. She's spent so long with Dwight's taunting voice in her head that she can't quite process the thought. She stares at her friend for a long moment, lost in the dark gaze, until Sally continues softly, "They laid the trap, you didn't. Just like they beat us, abused us, raped us. Their actions. Their choices. Not ours. Unless you blame yourself for what they did to you..."

Alex gives a single, emphatic shake of the head. No, what the brothers did to her, what they put her through, none of that is her fault. She knows that in her bones. Sally's right. What happened to her friends on that trail, it's not her fault. It never was. The sudden lifting of that weight off her shoulders makes her light-headed.

She's suddenly aware that Walker and Jimmy are still within earshot, that they certainly heard what Sally said. Even though she knows they've already guessed all of that, having the words spoken aloud makes it real in a new way. Her cheeks are hot with humiliation as she sneaks a glance at the men to gauge their reactions. They're both staring at the far wall, clearly trying to give her and Sally the dignity of as much space as possible in the small space. She can see the sorrow and anger in their eyes, knows the sorrow is for their suffering, realizes the anger is at the brothers, not at her, and it reassures her.

The sudden opening of the door as Trent and Vanessa return puts an end to the awkward conversation. On auto-pilot, she and Sally both get to their feet, ready to go make dinner. Walker motions them to sit back down, says softly, "We've got this."

******

Dinner is quiet. Even Vanessa has picked up on the subdued mood and keeps her excitement to herself. After they eat, Trent washes the dishes, Walker and Jimmy build up the fire. They sit at the table, make bits of conversation, but no one seems inclined to talk much. There's both too much to say and nothing to say.

They all turn in early. Trent and Jimmy take the room Dwight and Luke shared. Vanessa heads to her usual spot in Buddy's bed. Walker makes a nest out of a pile of blankets in the middle of the common room, planning to sleep there. Alex knows it's so that if a threat arises during the night—a bear, a nightmare, one of the brothers getting loose—he'll be able to respond quickly and protect everyone.

She's missed his protective presence. She's glad he's here now. She tells him that.

She and Sally head to their room. Alex's back is starting to hurt badly again. Sally directs her to lie down on her stomach, rubs more salve into the wounds. It burns, but Alex clenches her fists and doesn't make a sound.

It takes her a minute to decide how she's going to sleep. The obvious idea—to sleep on her stomach—isn't appealing because the weight of the blankets against her shredded back will undoubtedly hurt. At long last, she moves carefully, lies on her left side. Her back is still throbbing, but at least she doesn't have to worry about waking up with fabric stuck to the wounds.

Sally slides in in front of her, but doesn't snuggle back against her. They've slept entwined long enough now that Alex misses the contact, even if she's usually the one being spooned. "C'mere," she whispers, and she's relieved when Sally scoots back, snuggling up close. Her back protests as she moves, as does her wrist, but she ignores the pain and drapes her arm over her friend's side in a loose hold.

The woman's familiar presences grounds her and despite her pain, she manages to fall asleep.

******

Their arrival at the hospital the next morning is somewhat chaotic. Despite Jimmy's warning that Alex and Sally not be separated, the ER doctor tries to do just that. Sally has a panic attack when the man takes her arm and starts to lead her over to a gurney. Alex tries to get out of her wheelchair and get to her friend, but doubles over in pain as the sudden motion causes some of the wounds on her back to start bleeding.

Walker steps in then. He none-too-gently shoves the doctor away and tells him to go look after Vanessa, then directs Trent to stay with the young woman. He puts a light hand on Sally's shoulder and steers her over to the seat next to Alex's wheelchair, gently helping her sit down. Alex reaches out, her hand finding Sally's, and they hold on for dear life, grounding each other. Walker watches them for a moment, then leaves Jimmy to hover protectively over them while he tells the desk nurse just what needs to happen. The nurse is a practical sort, less interested in the letter of the law than in getting her patients treated.

Alex and Sally are put in the same room, examined in each others' presence by a female doctor and the desk nurse. Walker and Jimmy stand guard in the hallway to make sure no one else disturbs them.

******

Vanessa comes to visit them that evening. She's been examined and released; the brothers hadn't laid a rough hand on her in over three months, and her anemia and malnutrition can be treated at home. She's already got follow-up appointments scheduled with her family's doctor in Salt Lake.

Her family—her parents and all her brothers and sisters—arrived at the hospital a few hours ago to greet her and take her back home. Her eyes are glowing and she can't stop smiling.

Alex is glad to see Vanessa like that, glad to know that she's got the love and support of her family, that she's going to be okay.

******

Sally's dad and sister arrive the next day. Alex would give them privacy if she could, but between her mangled back and the torn muscles in her groin, she's confined to bed. And Sally is drained and exhausted and doesn't want to leave the security of their room.

It's a bittersweet reunion. Sally's happy to see them, but many things have changed while she was held captive—her mom died, they sold the family home and moved to California, her sister's divorced and her dad's dating his high-school sweetheart—and it's a lot to take in at once.

Alex lies on her side with her eyes closed, playing possum, while the three of them talk quietly. Sally's family catches her up on various things that have happened in the four years since her kidnapping; Sally tells the the bare bones story of what she's been through.

Alex is amused to discover that Sally wasn't just taciturn and quiet solely because of the captivity. The woman comes by it honestly. Sarah, her sister, can carry on a normal enough conversation. But getting her dad to say more than three words in a row is like pulling teeth.

Still, at least they're talking, starting to get comfortable with each other again. It's awkward—Alex can tell that even with her eyes closed. But it makes sense that it would be.

Things aren't the same as they were for any of them. Sally's lived a nightmare; her father and sister have mourned various losses. At least the three of them recognize that life has changed and realize that in many ways, they have to start over.

******

Alex is still in the hospital when Sally is released a week later, though she's no longer confined to bed. Sally will be leaving soon, going to Santa Rosa to stay with Sarah for a while.

The two of them sit side by side on Alex's bed, hands touching but not saying anything. The silence is familiar, comfortable. There may come a time when they sit down and talk to each other about what happened. That time may not come. They don't necessarily need it. Not with each other. Sally witnessed most of what Alex went through. Alex can guess, based on her own experiences, some of what happened to her friend.

At long last, Sally speaks. "Promise me you'll stay in touch."

Alex nods. "I will."

She reaches with her good hand for a bag on the table next to her bed, hisses as the movement pulls at one of the fresh scabs on her back. Sally sets a hand on her knee and she stops moving, lets her friend reach over and pick up the bag and hand it to her. Alex reaches inside, pulls out a bracelet, hands it to Sally. "I got this for you."

It's not entirely true—while she's the one who picked it out while leafing through the catalog of a nearby jewelry store, Walker is the one who paid for it and went to pick it up. But it's the same difference.

Sally holds it up, looking it over. The bracelet is simple—a sterling silver cuff adorned with a wreath of oak leaves. Alex holds her breath, not sure how her friend will like it. They've never talked about meaningful symbols or anything like that.

Sally stares at it for a moment, then slips it on her wrist. For the first time, Alex sees an actual smile on her friend's face. The sight brings her to grateful tears and Sally reaches over, touching her cheek to wipe them away. The dark-haired woman's voice is soft, but full of wonder. "It's perfect. Thank you."

Then, Sally digs into her pocket, fishes out something. Her voice is light. "Apparently, you and I have some kind of psychic thing going on."

Alex gasps in surprise as the woman hands her a pendant. It's a gold-plated heart on a gold chain, inscribed with the word "Hope." For a moment she can't speak, a lump in her throat and tears brimming in her eyes.

She smiles as Sally reaches up, fastens it around her neck. "It's beautiful." She turns to look at her friend. "Thank you. I couldn't have asked for a more meaningful gift."

There's warmth and caring in Sally's eyes, and Alex is certain her eyes reflect the same thing. She knows their paths will diverge from here; their lives are in different places. But they have a bond, forged in the fire of adversity, and she has no doubt that distance will not diminish it.

After a moment, there's a knock at the door and Alex isn't surprised when Sarah simply walks in without waiting for an invitation. She notes that the woman doesn't seem remotely perturbed by their proximity, merely stands a few feet away, hands tucked in pockets as she watches them. In keeping with the family tradition, Sarah asks simply, "Ready to go?"

Sally's reply is equally simple. "Ready as I'll ever be." The dark-haired woman slips off the bed.

"Take care of yourself," Alex says softly. "And call if you need anything."

Sally leans over, kisses her forehead. "I will. You too."

The minute the sisters are gone, Alex slumps over, her head in her hands, feeling unexpectedly sad and alone.

She doesn't hear the door open, doesn't hear any sound at all. But suddenly Walker is sitting on the bed next to her. She looks up, only slightly startled by his abrupt presence, and sees the concern in his eyes. "Are you okay?" he asks.

She starts to deflect, as she so often has in the past, then slowly shakes her head. His voice is almost impossibly gentle. "What can I do?"

"Just hold me."

Carefully, clearly mindful of her wounded back, he draws her into his arms and she leans on him. It's the first time she's been so close to him after her ordeal at the hands of the brothers, and she's tense at first. But his smell and touch are familiar and soothing, in the same way Sally's touch is, and she closes her eyes at that revelation, overwhelmed by relief that her trauma hasn't stolen away everything from her.

In his reassuring embrace, a fierce wave of grief rushes over her. She shudders with the force of it and he holds her closer.

For the first time since the day of their rescue, Alex lets herself cry.
Tags: fanfic, walker texas ranger
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