I'll Still Love You Then by Suzy
Summary: After six years of being absent from Four Corners to put his revenge to a rest, Chris comes back home to find he left behind more than he imagined.
Categories: The Magnificent Seven Characters: Buck Wilmington, Casey Wells, Chris Larabee, Chris Larabee/Mary Travis, Chris Larabee/Vin Tanner, Ella Gaines, Ezra Standish, J. D. Dunne, Josiah Sanchez, Mary Travis, Nathan Jackson, Orin Travis, Vin Tanner
Genres: Angst and Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Romance, Western
Warnings: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 15606 Read: 5365 Published: 06 Jul 2006 Updated: 06 Jul 2006
Chapter 1 by Suzy


“I love you,” Mary whispered into Chris’s shoulder. “I love you.” As he loved her with his body rocking close to hers, holding onto her tightly, loving her with his mouth. “I love you, Larabee.”

And when Chris dipped his mouth down to grace her neck and gently suck, Mary came in a ruptured finish and she dropped her hands down on the cool mattress sheets, digging her nails in his nude thighs.

“I love you…”



And then he was gone. Their late night passions full of surprises and unexpected turn of events after Mary came to see Chris in his room on the eve of his long journey. He never said when he would be coming back, or if ever as she did not need his help anymore and Judge Travis relieved all seven men of their duties for the time being. J.D. was awarded the new sheriff in town and Vin and Josiah already set off on their side journey, and they had the proper way of telling Mary when they’d be back.

It was just like the day Marshal Bryce came to town and started ordering everybody around without so much as an introduction first and why he did the things the way he did. He drove out the seven hired gunmen for twenty-four hours until tragedy struck and they were ordered by helpless Mary to come back and save the town from destruction.

All the men left, and came back within those twenty-four hours but before that, before the events that took Marshal Bryce’s life, Chris really planned to leave Four Corners, and for good.

How was this time when he made his announcement he was leaving a few short days different? Why had it made her recoil and cringe to the thought? She was going to lose him once, but to now really lose him was a risk she didn’t want to take unless she knew why.

And when she did Chris had changed her life forever. Not only did he make love to her, he gave her more than she asked for in return, but now he was gone. And he forgot to tell her goodbye or say he loved her back.



Six Years Later…

Mary stood at her desk, flipping through her notes and tried to find something that made sense of what she was trying to accomplish. She’d been working on an article piece for the last two weeks now and she lost the most important paper she needed to complete it. And she forgot where she misplaced it.

“Rebecca?” Mary called out. “Honey?” she walked around her desk to the double layered woodsman shelf, looking through another stack of papers. “Rebecca?” she called out again. “Sweetheart, could you come down here for just one minute. That’s all I need.”

The door of the Clarion threw open and Billy stalked in with his fishing pole in his hand and a wicker basket on his shoulder.

Mary turned to her fourteen-year old son. “Catch anything, Billy?”

“Nothing, Ma. Fish were bitin’ nothin’!”

“Anything, sweetie.” She put her work at a rest in search for that paper and walked up to her son, who grew to her shoulder already. “Not everyday you’re going to catch something.” She lifted his chin to make him look at her. “Maybe tomorrow, huh?”

“Yeah, maybe tomorrow.” He put his fishing pole down in a corner and took off his jacket. “Chris was always good at catchin’ fish. He tried to show me but it was hopeless.”

Mary froze to the sound of Chris’s name coming from her son’s mouth. “Anything is possible, son. Just takes practice is all.”

“After six years, ma?”

Mary looked at Billy with eyes full of hope and sorrow. “Soon…you’ll catch so many fish we’ll be able to fill this entire building with them.”

Billy’s face lit up just to the thought of the newspaper building, his home, where he spent most of his years growing up in could one day be filled with dead fish. He liked the idea. “Yeah, you’re right, ma. I guess I’ll have to go back out tomorrow and begin on my collection of fish.”

Mary gave her son a soft smile, and as she began to say something back, she heard the patter of little feet coming down the stairs.

“Mama?”

Mary turned in the direction of the little voice by the stair railing. “Rebecca, sweetie, there you are.” She walked over to her six year old daughter and pet down her shoulder length blond hair. “I’ve been calling you, where have you been?”

Rebecca wiped at her sleepy eyes. “I was sleepin’, mama. You woke me up.”

“Sleeping in the middle of the day? You haven’t done that since you were—“ Mary stopped her thought and wondered suddenly, “Are you feeling okay?” she touched the little girl’s forehead, and she was clammy. She took a step back and took a good look at her daughter and her complexion was pale and ghost-like. “Do you hurt like you did before?”

“I don’t know, mama, I just hurt.” Rebecca looked up at her mother with her pale green eyes then reached out for her as she began to fall weak in the knees, her back gave out, and she dropped the plastic doll in her arms and fell into Mary’s arms.

“Oh! Rebecca?” Mary said as she held her daughter in her arms tightly. “Rebecca, sweetie?” Terrified, she looked up and right at Billy who stood close by, wondering what the heck was going on with his little sister.

Mary lifted Rebecca off her body and tried to look at her, but her eyes were closed and her body limp. “Oh, no! Billy…quick, hurry...get Mr. Jackson!”



“I was just going through some papers in my office and Billy had just gotten back from fishing and I was calling for Rebecca to come downstairs and help me but she wouldn’t answer me when I called her and…” Mary splattered out as she followed Nathan, who heaved the little girl in his arms, to his expanded room, now open for three other patients he treated. He laid Rebecca in an empty bed as Mary hovered over him. “And she came downstairs moments later and she told me she was taking a nap and…”

“Mary, I’m gonna need you to back up a little bit.” Nathan said and gently tugged on her arm to pull her back some. In a brief second, Josiah came walking through the doors of the rooms with Ezra following.

“What’s wrong now?” Ezra asked.

Mary crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. She didn’t know what was going on with her daughter that she didn’t already know. “I don’t know, Ezra.”

“What can we do, Nathan?” Josiah asked as he stepped on the other side of Mary.

“We pray that I find out what’s wrong again. I’ve been reading up on some diseases going on around the northwest. She may have something like that.”

“Something like what, Mr. Jackson?”

Nathan looked between Mary and Josiah. He didn’t want to tell the mother of this little girl that her daughter could be suffering from the fever again. The fever that never left the Rebecca’s body. A disease that had infected over three hundred people in the last two months. He looked at Josiah in hope that he might say something in his stead so he wouldn’t have to tell the truth right away without doing much of an inspection on the little girl.

“How soon will you know, Nathan?” Ezra broke the silence of all three of them and Nathan looked directly at him. “Give me a couple of hours. I’ll know for sure then.”

Mary couldn’t believe this. Her baby girl might have something deadly, a disease that regular medicine wasn’t good enough. She released her arms around her chest and bent down to bed level so she could meet her daughter at face level. “I love you, baby. Mama will be right back. Uncle Nathan will take real good care of you. Don’t worry.” She kissed Rebecca’s forehead and with Josiah’s help she was led out of the room.



“How could this happen?” Mary asked herself, but with help from Vin sitting beside her outside the Clarion, she had someone to listen to her questions. “She was just fine this morning, and after breakfast. Everything was okay. I leave her for a few hours to do some work downstairs and now all this…It doesn’t make any sense.”

“She’ll be all right, Mary. Nathan has her in his care now. He’ll do nothing but make sure she’s well. Trust Nathan,” Vin said.

“It has nothing to do with trust, Vin. Nothing at all.” Mary leaned on her elbows and held her chin up with a tight fist. “I wasn’t married when I had her. I never wrote Chris and told him I had a baby. That it was his child. I’m being punished.”

“Because you didn’t tell him?”

Mary didn’t have to answer him. Vin knew what she meant. She didn’t tell Chris she was pregnant with his child. She never wrote and told him she had his baby, she never told him he had a daughter. Within those six years and maybe more now, Mary didn’t know how to tell him, and that she had a hint Chris would be angry with her when and if he came back to town and found a little girl who looked just like him; because she did. Rebecca had his emerald green-diamond eyes, she had his long fingers, his curved lips, his blond hair, and Mary’s curled locks. She even had his nose. The spitting image of what Chris would have looked like if he came out a girl. Rebecca was definitely her father’s child.

“I should have told him when I found out. I should have written him—“

“Mary, you didn’t know where he was. Hell, I didn’t know where he was. He’s not the kind of man to keep in touch with things left in his past. It’s hard on a man.” Vin said, looking down at his boots in the dirt. “How could he have known?”

“I should have tried harder to find him. When Rebecca was first sick, I should have done something to find Chris. He needs to know.”

“He’ll know, Mary. He will.”

And in the whisper of a quiet moment, neither Mary or Vin heard the stiff footsteps of Nathan walking down the wooden staircase. Then immediately the bounty hunter stood up, but the journalist didn’t flinch when she looked up into Nathan’s solemn stare.

“Is she all right?” Vin asked in Mary’s place.

“I got the fever down a bit.” Nathan said. “She’s still sleeping.” He looked down at Mary as she watched him closely. “Mary, why didn’t you come to me sooner with this?” Nathan knew Rebecca had been sick for quite some time but it comes and goes and he’d treat her and send her on her little merry way back home, but now it was getting worse by the hour and this type of fever was way out of his league. He needed to tell Mary to telegram for someone better. Smarter than he when it came down to certain diseases. He didn’t want to take any chances with this little girl. Especially when this little one who belonged so dear and loved by her mother, Mary, and his old comrade, Chris Larabee.

Mary stood up and wondered about the concern in the healer’s eyes. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Just the same as last time only this time, I think the fever spread down to her throat. She was complainin’ about it hurt to talk.”

“I thought we passed all this two months ago. She didn’t have one complaint about how she felt.” Mary said, tightening her voice before it gave out on her and tears would flow.

“It comes and goes.” Nathan said, shaking his head. “You need to hire someone to get down here and examine her more thoroughly. I don’t want to take any chances of my own until we know what’s wrong exactly.”

“But you sure it’s still the fever?” Vin asked.

“Yes. Nothing else to show me otherwise. She still has all the symptoms.”

Mary shook her head and controlled the coming about tears on the rim of her eyes. “Please, Nathan, tell me she’ll be okay.”

Nathan looked hard and direct at Mary as she waited for an answer from him. He felt the breath in his mouth swoop right out and fall to the dirt. He couldn’t tell her, I don’t know, because he didn’t know. And he couldn’t just flat out and say, No, because that would just tear the woman’s heart out for open examination. He owed her more than that, and more than just a few small answers.

All he could offer was, “You better have a look at sendin’ a doctor down here. He’ll have a better idea.”



A couple of hours later, Nathan left the room where little Rebecca resting, her small chest rising and falling with every breath, and her blond curls spread over the down pillow.

Mary didn’t leave her side after the small conversation with Nathan and Vin earlier. She didn’t care about her work, not now, and she knew JD and Casey had a good watch on Billy while she was away. She never wanted to leave her daughter’s side until she had Rebecca with her.

Mary brought her hand down the bed length and reached for her small hand resting against her upper thigh and she closed both her hands around it.

“Mama’s here, baby.” Mary whispered, again trying to keep her tears in. Oh, she hated doing this. It was the third visit in the last two months to see Nathan about this oncoming fever. Mary thought it was just a cold that’d go away in the next couple of days, but it turned into chills that ruptured into severe headaches and nausea. You don’t get nauseated from seasoned colds.

And just when she thought the worst was behind them after several weeks of nothing but a few sniffs here and there, Rebecca was back in the care of Nathan Jackson, the infamous, non-licensed doctor. An angel at work, Mary called him, an angel who had all the answers up until now.

She sent a quick, nervous telegram to send for a doctor right away before coming up to be with her daughter. She needed a doctor tonight, right now, but with the weather being so crazy this time of the year, she knew it’d be at least twenty-four hours before someone came.

As Mary held her daughter’s hand in her lap then she turned her stare away from her sleeping face to the window over her shoulder. The sun was beginning to set, the clouds hiding for the night and all the stars in the sky would soon come out and shine.

Then Mary remembered a night like this one…Chris. She remembered him leaving and the last time she saw his face. The last time she kissed him. The last breath she sucked out of his mouth when her body trembled beneath his. The night he gave her their baby girl.

How crazy could she have been to not tell him about Rebecca? A mistake she called it. If only she knew where Chris was, she’d send for him right away. Knowing that maybe if her daughter didn’t make to see the next new moon, Chris needed to know about her and see her alive first.

Oh, Mary didn’t want to think about her baby dying. She was so little still, not yet experienced life for what it was. A child still growing and learning and wondering about all things.

But where to begin? She couldn’t ask around for help in search for Chris. Vin didn’t know anything. He hadn’t received a letter from Chris for over four years now and Buck was clueless just the same. She had no one to help her.

Mary sighed, “Oh Chris, where are you?” she looked away from the door and back down at her daughter sleeping. “You have to come home.” She spoke aloud as if Chris might hear her voice somewhere in this world. “Please don’t abandon the daughter you know nothing about. The daughter you have to know exists. Our child you gave me. Please come home to us…before it’s too late.”



The next day flew by like the blink of an eye and the doctor didn’t make it to Four Corners till that evening. Judge Travis arrived before Dr. Newly, and the older man hurried his way to Nathan’s small boarding home to find his granddaughter in complete misery.

He found Mary and told her how sorry he was this was happening again. He asked him if she heard from Chris yet, and Mary looked at him with a look of are you kidding me. Travis knew that Chris was the father of his second grandchild, and that it was his grandchild. When Rebecca didn’t come from the Travis family blood, she came from Mary, his son’s wife, and a gunslinger who the Judge had more respect for than any man alive. He didn’t blame his daughter-in-law for not getting in contact with Chris. He understood she couldn’t find him. It wasn’t as if Chris left any clues for someone to follow him one day when they really needed him. And they desperately needed him now, especially Mary.



“Anything change?” Buck asked as he walked up the stairs and across the walkway to meet a grieving Mary and Vin. He joined the small gathering with the Judge also around and Nathan was inside the room with Dr. Newly.

“Nothing yet,” Vin answered.

“How long have they been in there?” he next asked.

“A little under an hour. The doctor didn’t want anyone else in the room. In case…” Mary’s voice trailed off, trying to find something to finish her thought.

“Now, Mary, don’t be thinking anything like that.” Vin said and brought the mother into his body and gave her a tender squeeze to let her know he was there for her, as well as Buck and her father-in-law.

“I just hate all this waiting.” She cried, releasing gentle tears. “She wasn’t born to suffer like this.”

“She’ll be okay.”

“I want to know for sure.”

Then Vin felt a sudden release of pressure from Mary’s body as she left him when the door behind him opened and Nathan and Dr. Newly walked out. The doctor took a few layers of his clothes off, including hat and jacket, and his left his vest open as if he needed some room to move around and breathe a little easier. He held a white cloth in his hands and wiped at his hands.

“What’s going on?” Mary asked.

“Is she all right?” Buck shot out.

Dr. Newly took a deep breath then released a second later. “She has scarlet fever. She’s had it for quite sometime now. It comes and goes so often but when it comes there’s…not much we can do.”

“Scarlet fever?” Mary repeated softly.

“Not much we can do about it…what exactly are you saying, Dr. Newly?” Vin asked.

“Didn’t you notice the rashes, Mrs. Travis? Around her neck, her arms, her legs? Anywhere?”

Mary swallowed and turned her head for a quick second to glance at Judge Travis. “Yes, I was aware of some rashes but I only thought she’d developed them from poison ivy. Rebecca loves to explore around the town, the forests. But she was always with someone. What…”

“Did she complain about her throat hurting?”

Defectively Mary felt a right jolt punch in her stomach. “Yes.”

Dr. Newly calmed down with his right quick questions and focused his attention on the important matter: getting this little girl well. But he didn’t have to speak what Mary knew he was thinking. That she didn’t take very good care of her children. That if she had been watching them closely everyday, her littlest child wouldn’t be in such a condition. If her newspaper wasn’t such the main focus of her attention every new day, Rebecca would be as healthy as a young pup.

And Buck saw this look in Dr. Newly’s eyes and Judge Travis did too. He was accusing Mary for her daughter’s problem, blaming her for the illness.

“This isn’t Mary’s fault,” Buck said aloud.

“Her business has nothing to do with any of this,” the Judge said and stepped toward the doctor. “I’ve heard about Scarlet fever. It came from Europe, then spread throughout America. Mary didn’t prevent her own child to receive the illness. It just happened, and now we’re here trying to see what we can do about all this.”

“We don’t have a clear mark on the fever just yet, Judge.” Nathan told him, trying to ease the anger down in his friend. “But that’s what she has and we’ll do everything we can.” He turned to the mother of the child. “Mary, I give my word.”

“I trust you, Nathan.” Mary heard herself say but her motions and lack of emotion in her voice told the healer a different story. This was way beyond her. She never had to deal with the loss of a child before, her child, and she shouldn’t have to do this alone.

“There is…” Dr. Newly interrupted the quiet moment. “I have a way to flush out the fever, but there’s a chance the little girl won’t survive it.”

Mary shot her head straight up and looked at the doctor. “Then don’t try it. If there’s a chance for my little girl’s life to be taken away, then don’t even think about trying it, doctor.” She wanted to run to this man and fight him with fists and tears for even thinking about the idea but she remained locked in her position.

The pained mother’s voice ached in Judge Travis’s ears. He hated seeing his daughter-in-law like this. She was a good woman and an excellent mother. Why must she suffer this way? The Judge asked, “What is your one option, Dr. Newly that could save my granddaughter’s life?”

“I don’t understand any of this. She was fine just this morning after she ate her breakfast. She was fine when she went out to play with Lily Potter. When she had her walk with Ezra, everything was… she was fine!” Mary grew irrational that she started to slur her words. “She’s been healthy the last few weeks!”

“Mrs. Travis, it comes and goes, like I told you. Now my only option, with Mr. Jackson’s help, is to bleed out the fever. I’ll need to take several vials of her blood. She’ll be weak, near…” Dr. Newly looked at the hopeless, drowning mother. “But I won’t lose her, Mrs. Travis.” He couldn’t promise he wouldn’t lose the little girl but what else could he tell her. He didn’t want to mention anything about death. From the looks of the woman, she’d cave if he mentioned the word.

“No. You can’t do this.” Mary spouted out before she could catch herself. “Bleeding the fever out will…” she stopped herself then from saying the unthinkable. “There has to be another way.” She looked near exhaustion, and as Vin reached for her elbow to hold up with support, Dr. Newly turned and walked back into the room.

“Dr. Newly?” Mary called out.

Nathan had his hand on the doorknob and looked around the small group of concerned eyes fixated on him.

“We got this now, Mary. We got this.” He said, and as he began to step into the room, Mary ripped out of Vin’s hold and walked up to Nathan, putting her hand over his on the doorknob.

“Please, wait just one second.” She made Nathan release the doorknob and she walked into the room right up to Rebecca’s bed. She bent to her knees and grabbed her little hand again. “Mama’s gonna be right outside that door, baby, okay?” she kissed her daughter’s hand. “I promise I will be just right outside that door. You scream all you want, and I’ll be right here in a second’s time.” Even though Rebecca was lost in a dream, Mary bent down and kissed her sweaty forehead, and felt a wave of heat flush through her. “Stay right here, Rebecca. You stay here with Mama, and Billy. Promise me.” Mary leaned away and kissed her hand. “I love you so much. You’re mama’s little girl, you know that? You’ll be all right…you’ll be just fine.” Mary felt pressure on her back and when she was forced to stand to her feet by Vin’s strong hands, she hissed for him to back off, and when Dr. Newly looked up at Nathan standing over Vin, he glared his eyes for him to get Mary out before too late was too late.

But Mary didn’t have it that way. Just the look of her daughter lying hopeless and asleep on the bed tore her heart into pieces. She didn’t want to leave her side. She didn’t want the doctor to drain her daughter’s blood. She didn’t want any needles poked into her, knowing she would hear tender screams there after. She didn’t want to let go…

“Come on, Mary.” Vin said as he again put his hands on her back for her to stand up.

“No, Vin. I can’t leave.” Mary said hard but when he forced her to stand back up; she tried to lean away from him and back down to her daughter’s face.

“Mary, we have to go.”

“No, Vin! She’s my baby, I can’t let her go!”

“Mary!”

“No!” Mary kicked at Vin but he moved out of her kick reach and before she knew it, Buck entered the room and grabbed her by the arm and both he and Vin had to heave a now crying in hysterics woman. “My baby! I don’t want to leave my baby! Please! She needs me! Rebecca!!!”



This was taking a long time. Longer than Mary thought as she sat down low by the closed door where Rebecca was just inside under the care of Dr. Newly and Nathan. Nathan would come out sometimes here and there and give her any news for support, but like any other time, he’d tell her nothing had changed. She was still running the fever, and they had at least taken two vials of blood. It took a long time, Nathan told her, to fill one vial and the doctor was very careful each time injecting the needle into a vain on Rebecca’s small arm.

“She doesn’t like needles,” Mary sniffed through tears.

“She’s still sleeping, Mary. I don’t think she knows.”

And then Nathan was gone, disappeared back in the dark shadows of the room.

Mary wasn’t allowed in the room during this time. Dr. Newly needed to stay concentrated so that’s why Nathan could only come out every so often to give her updates. And like she promised Rebecca, she wouldn’t leave the outside door for anything.

She leaned her head back against the wooden panel and closed her eyes as she let the cool desert breeze soak her face, dry up her tears. Vin stayed with her through most of the evening and Buck, too, and when Josiah and Ezra showed their presence, Mary knew she had some good help and supporting friends to lend a hand. They all knew Chris was Rebecca’s father and they never once looked down on her for not being married or raising a child on her own. Each of the seven even tried their own way to contact Chris somehow, but they always came up blank. It was as if he was wiped off the face of the earth. And they didn’t know how Mary Travis did it. How she raised two young children alone, but she always had to remind them that she wasn’t alone. She had them, and they were more than willing and anxious to take around the newborn child when Mary brought Rebecca into this world.

But now that child who’s loved all around town was fighting for her life.

A new wave of tears washed over her and she opened her eyes to release them as they fell down her cheeks.



He stopped in front of the livery, as he always had when he entered the town from a long trip, a short trip, or just a ride back from his shack in the hills. He unsaddled that horse he had for many years now. He wouldn’t trade that old horse for anything in the world. Not even for the finest tasting beer a world could offer in a lifetime.

Chris grabbed the rim of his hat and lifted it off his brow as he took in the darkened town he use to once say he was a lawman of. He aged six years, but not yet getting the gray side of his blond hair to show under that black hat. He turned on his heel after tying up his horse for the night and walked slowly down the town lot, like he’d done so many times before.

But Chris was a different man then. Not as friendly now as he was then, not to anything, or anybody. He aged six years and within those six years everything had changed. Before he left, he made a promise to himself that he would not stop hunting down that woman who killed his family. And he wouldn’t even bring himself to say her name. He was cold, and when he walked by someone familiar from six years ago, he wouldn’t look at them or say hello like he’d use to. It was as if the other half of his burnt soul was gone now. He had nothing to smile about. Rejoice. Praise of what he’d done to that woman. Nothing anymore to think about except getting the sleep he’d only dreamt about wide-awake.

And then he remembered Mary Travis. The only woman who’d admired him for the man he was even with knowing about his past. She loved him anyway, and she wasn’t the working girl he’d usually find himself drowning into on sleepless nights. He remembered the night before he left, the night before he promised he wouldn’t stop searching, that he showed Mary just how much he cared for her support. Her angry tears he knew she’d shed when Ella came into town and swept him off his feet. And how in love he was to see any evil in that woman. Mary knew, and Buck, and Vin…

Vin?

“Chris?”

As Vin hadn’t said the absent gunslinger’s name for six years, Chris mentally shook his head and looked at his old bounty hunter friend with a hard glare. He wanted to say hello and shake his hand like he’d done many times before, but he couldn’t now.

Surprised and shocked as ever that Chris would come back this night, this night with everything that was going on with Mary and Rebecca…Chris’s Rebecca that he had no idea about, Vin tried to make sense of it all and he closed and opened his eyes to make sure he was looking right at the man he’d only wished would come back everyday.

And this day he did.

“Chris…where you’ve been?” Vin asked, and stuck out his hand but Chris didn’t acknowledge it.

“I’ve been busy, Vin.”

“Six years straight busy?” Vin said, his tone coming out harsher than he’d expected.

And Chris heard that harsh tone and he tried to walk around his old friend he wanted to turn and shake hands with and ask what all had been going on while he was gone. He wanted to ask all these questions…about Mary, if she was still in town, if Buck was still around these parts…if he’d ever gotten married yet. He wanted to be the Chris Larabee these locals around town knew him as before.

“My room still there?” Chris said instead but Vin stepped in his way before he got away.

“Where have you been?”

“I’m tired, Vin.”

“We’re all tired, Chris. That gives you no excuse for what you did those six years ago. What you did to Mary.”

Chris stopped dead in his tracks but left his back toward Vin.

“Yeah, I thought you might like to hear this.” Vin stepped around Chris’s firm backside to face him again. He wasn’t exactly angry with Chris, just frustrated and so damn confused about why he left in such a hurry and didn’t bother to show up until six years later. “Let me ask you something, Chris.”

“What happened to Mary?” he asked, getting straight to the point.

“Let me ask you something, Larabee.” Vin shot right back in his face. “Why do you think I bothered stickin’ around these parts after you left? Why do you think I’m still here protecting this town?”

Chris looked at the bounty hunter hard, “Pays good?”

“Hell no.” Vin could have hit Chris for that comment but he kept it cool. “I stayed for Mary. Because she needed me. She needed us to stay.”

“Us?”

“Buck, JD, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra. We stayed for Mary. Not because the town needed us to protect them anymore. We stayed for her. Where the hell were you?”

“I had some things I needed to take care of, Vin. Nothing that needs to concern you. Leave it be.” Chris turned and walked by Vin and left him behind him until what he said next knocked the breath right out of him. “Your daughter is dyin’.”

The hardened gunslinger left his eyes wide open and clear as the whites glowed in the darkness. His daughter? What daughter? He turned on his heel and looked at Vin from a sideways glance full of confusion and question.

“My daughter?”

“Mary gave birth to a baby girl six years ago, Rebecca, and she’s dyin’, and she’s yours too.”

Chris didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. Hell, he’d just gotten into town and all of a sudden his entire world flipped upside down. He tightened his fists to stand in control of his emotions, his feelings, his true awakenings of what might come out of his mouth next. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Scarlet fever.” Vin took a step toward Chris. “We had to send for a medical doctor from Carson City to have a look-see at her. He arrived last night and he’s been with her ever since.”

Chris shifted his weight and looked hard and stern with a narrowed brow. What was he talking about? “I have a daughter?”

Vin watched Chris take another breath, but he stood still. “She’s beautiful, Chris. Most beautiful child I’d ever seen.” He stepped closer to the gunslinger and he already felt Chris lose interest and begin to shift back. “I don’t know where the hell you’ve been, what you’ve been up to, and why you hadn’t come back until now, but the little girl’s dyin’. I just don’t know how to tell Mary is all. She’s heartbroken.”

“She should be.”

Vin stared Chris down. “You should be too, but then again, you weren’t there for her birth. You weren’t there the day she took her first steps, when she said her first word, and it was papa. And she looked right at me as she said it. And I tell ya, Chris I had never felt so much love and overwhelming strength inside before that I knew I was meant to be this child’s protector. Not her papa, just someone she could always rely on. Someone who will always protect her. So, how the hell do you think I feel now?” Vin swallowed hard tears he wouldn’t allow to cloud his vision.

Chris tightened his hands again and bit his tongue as hard as he could and screamed inside at Vin Tanner, the man he once knew to be a great companion, someone to trust. He screamed because he was angry he didn’t know about this child he had with Mary Travis until now, and then he had the nerve to tell him she was dying. Why tell him at all if she only had so little time to live? Why put him again through torture of losing another child? He knew he shouldn’t have come back here.

“The saloon still open for business?” Chris asked, pretending he didn’t hear a thing Vin told him, his heart poured out here in the darkness in the shadows between two strangers they’d come to be. Chris didn’t want to get caught in the middle of all this. He never met his daughter, he hadn’t seen Mary so far, and he’d rather keep it that way. Too much had happened while he was gone. He lost too much to just smile and come back to town and pretend like nothing happened. He couldn’t go back to that sort of friendly gunslinger who said little or no words a day. For the way he felt now, he couldn’t have cared for another soul in his life, for however long that may be. For what he’d done…he just couldn’t go back and change history.

So as much as it ached and stabbed his breaking heart, he had to turn away from Vin Tanner and forget about what he just said that he had a daughter that Mary grieved for. This wasn’t his business, and he didn’t see Vin, or any of the other guys welcoming him with open arms and hard handshake just to show they cared he was home.

But he wasn’t home and he wasn’t happy, and he wasn’t ready to stay. He needed a drink, that’s all he needed now.

And he didn’t want to look in the eyes of Vin Tanner for what he might receive back in his misguided glare. “Don’t you care you son of bitch?”

“I need a drink.”

“Larabee!”

Chris didn’t answer him as he walked along the town lot toward the saloon where wild music and happy cheering gathered just inside.

Vin watched the poor soul walk away…unbelievable! He hadn’t been back in town for six years, he told him about his dying child he knew nothing about, didn’t know she existed, and all he could think about was getting drunk? No, this wasn’t the Chris Larabee who used to be full of concern about children. This wasn’t the Chris Larabee who went out of his way just to protect a young child, a mother and her child, a woman, and even men in fact. What happened to him during those six years? Just what happened that made him darker than the devil himself?



Chris stopped his walk until he came to the divide between an alley and the saloon floorboards. He cocked his head to his shoulder and glanced beyond to see if he saw Vin still standing there. He wasn’t, and he broke out in a painful serge of tears. Overwhelmed and exhausted from the ride back to Four Corners killed him to the bone but he managed to keep strong in his appearance and not let up to crack an expression of emotion.

He had a daughter…her name was Rebecca…and she was dying. His nightmare was happening all over again! Chris couldn’t tell from reality to this nightmare he faced every day of his life. Why won’t it ever end? He screamed loud in his head and turned abruptly to face the dark town lot and he knew exactly where he wanted to go.



She slept hard. She curled her arms around her face to lie lazily against them as her legs curved her belly and touched her breasts in a ball. She laid hard on the wooden walkway boards as her breathing skipped and her mouth opened then closed with every breath she took.

There were still tears in her eyes, knowing the pain reliever the doctor and Nathan were doing was wrong. She had the nightmares that the doctor overpowered Nathan and made him do every little thing he asked. And that meant taking the life of a child. Mary knew Nathan had the right to say no if things had gotten too serious, but Mary wasn’t allowed to come in after her rude awakening emotions that wouldn’t let her leave the room. A mother’s intrusion, she thought. But this was her baby, the child she brought into this world, a child from a man she still loved. And even when she hadn’t seen that man for six years and he had no idea about the love of a child he gave Mary…she wasn’t angry with him. He had his faults, his lost emotions he had to get back, and she forgave him the moment he left her.

But now…if Rebecca wasn’t going to live to see the bright new morning…and if Chris did come back…what could she say to him? Would she tell him at all? Would she let him know he once had a beautiful, growing baby girl?

Mary shuddered to the thoughts of past tense as she slept, allowing her nightmares to take its coarse. She slept lightly in the darkness of night, promising her daughter she would never leave her side…even if Rebecca couldn’t see her.

Then with all the sorrows that made up the mother’s wounded heart, she felt a pressure on her back and heave of a man’s grunts as she was lifted off the wooden boards and into the care of Josiah.

Mary allowed her head to fall into the ex-preacher’s chest and she didn’t know she performed the actions as she wrapped her arms around his neck and he turned from Nathan’s door and walked down the staircase to take her home and sleep for the rest of the night till morning.

The journalist didn’t have a choice and she was too weak to fight off Josiah as he walked down the town with her in his arms. She made a promise to her daughter and in the mind of Josiah, he knew he wouldn’t allow Mary to break that promise, but if she could keep her promise through mind and soul, she didn’t have to stay at the door all night long. And once she woke, she would have the strength to run back to Nathan’s door and be right there for her daughter again.



As he took each step up the staircase, Chris listened to cracks of the wooden stairs as he walked the distance to the top and across the walkway to Nathan’s closed door. And once he made it, he gave a grunt that came up from an empty stomach that quickly filled with butterflies.

Why did he have to be nervous for? He was more or less angry with himself than Vin or anyone else who didn’t bother to search for him when the news of Mary’s pregnancy became public news. Someone should have told him then he wouldn’t have let suddenly and without saying much of a goodbye. Hell, he wouldn’t have left at all if he’d known Mary was expecting a child. His child!

The past six years, he had grown use to not having to love without torturing someone. He had to deal with being around Ella Gaines again with knowing her true identity…the murderer of his wife and son. That bitch he had to live with and pretend he cared for and loved her again…like he had so many years ago. He had to put himself into a state of mind which made him forget all sense of the woman and have her trust him all over again. But then when the timing was right, he’d make his move and kill her like he’d dreamt of doing to the killer for as long as he could remember after his family’s death. Only, this time it was a little more difficult when he found out it was a woman he used to love. A woman he once shared his dreams with of a wife, children, a farm and ranching. He confided in her with these dreams…making her think it was she he wanted to have all his life but when a rude awakening struck her cold when Chris confessed he had to leave her for good…something sparked in Ella Gaines’ mind and she went crazy…but like him, she kept it all inside and only on rare occasions she’d spit out her demon fires.

And Chris went back to her just so he could have her wrapped around his finger this time around. Just so he could play mind games on her and strike when he felt good and ready to. He hated that woman to the very day he took her life in his own hands and strangled to her death. He had to finish what he started.

Death was all too familiar with him, and to see someone else die in his hands he’d get over it in a blink of an eye, but now this…the death of a child was so much different than the death of a grown adult. The child hadn’t yet to know life for what it was. They hadn’t learned from their lessons, their mistakes. They haven’t experienced life. The death of a child…Chris didn’t understand and he knew he never would. Not now…not when the child was his!

Still he stood in front of Nathan’s door he used to come in every now and then to question an injured man or woman asking for help. Instead of walking in, Chris thought the only polite at this time of night, in this kind of manner, and coming back to town out of nowhere, he’d prefer to knock. Arm up, hand neared the door, he aimed to knock a solid one but just as he did, the door opened and Nathan walked out…or didn’t.

There stood the healer and the gunslinger face to face, just looking at the other. Six years since Nathan saw Chris Larabee, and it was a bit of a shock to see him now standing here when all but happiness was going on. He let out a soft, tiring sigh and wanted to reach out and shake the hand of the man who taught him a lot about life and love with an old relationship of his, but he couldn’t now.

“Nathan,” Chris murmured.

Nathan looked over his shoulder into the dark room, catching a sight of Dr. Newly, before walking all the way out of the room and closing the door behind him. “Uh…Chris, this really isn’t the best time.”

“I want to see her.” He blankly hissed.

“Do you even know who she is?” Nathan said just as quick. The healer looked into the harden gunslinger’s eyes before giving up the stare and looking down at his feet to let out another breath of air. “Forgive me. It’s been a long day.”

“Let me see her, Nathan.”

“I don’t know if you should.”

“Vin told me what’s going on. I have to see her.”

Nathan shook his head and wiped at his hands with the cotton cloth. “Where have you been, Chris? You had done us a lot of good while you were away.”

Sarcastically, Chris figured, was how Nathan meant by his comment. “Look, I don’t want to get into this right now. Vin already gave me an ear full. I don’t need it from you either.” He tried to push past him but Nathan put pressure on the gunslinger’s shoulder.

“You can’t go in there, Chris. Not now.”

“You can’t stop me, Nathan. She’s my daughter.”

Nathan looked blandly cold into Chris’s eyes. “No, she’s not.”



What the hell did he mean by that? That ill little girl was his. Vin told him so. Naturally, Rebecca was his six year old daughter. Nathan was so confused and tired and over himself with all this death that he said the only painful words that could have stung Chris’s half beating heart. Metaphorically, the healer was referring Rebecca that she wasn’t Chris’s in all the ways she needed a father figure in her life. She had Vin and Ezra and the other guys to lend a helping hand to Mary whenever possible. Vin stated before Chris wasn’t a part of his daughter’s life and somehow in the back of his mind, he knew Vin wanted him to leave right then. That he didn’t care that his daughter was dying, and all he could think about was getting drunk for the night.

But that’s not what Chris had in mind when he arrived back home at all. He wanted to settle back in Virginia’s hotel and sleep for some heavy hours until his brain woke back up a couple days later without anyone really knowing he was back in town and then he’d do the right and figured things out for good. He had done his revenge, he had calmed his soul, and now his thoughts were sleeping. That now he could move on from all the heartache and fear of never being able to lose a goodnight sleep knowing Ella Gaines was out there somewhere having a ball of a time. He could relax now and he needed that most of all.

“Is that my little girl in there?” Chris demanded an answer. “Is that my little girl in there?!”

“Chris—“

After the quick argument with Nathan, Chris entered the room and found a bent forward doctor holding a stethoscope on the little girl resting in the single bed, and Chris’s heart all but dropped to the pit of his stomach.

Dr. Newly looked away from the barely breathing little one and up toward Nathan and the opened door with a lone stranger dressed in black blocking the moonlight.

“Dr. Newly, this is Chris Larabee.” Nathan said.

The doctor didn’t acknowledge Chris and instead went right back to treating the little girl, then said. “What is his business here, Mr. Jackson?”

Nathan wanted to bite his tongue in all the wrong places and not give one hint who this man standing beside him was. As much as he was tired and weak, the healer couldn’t forgive Chris Larabee right now, and for how he ran off the way he did. He just couldn’t.

“He is Rebecca’s father.”

Dr. Newly looked back up with a sudden wide eyed outlook now. “The father of this child? Does he have consent from Mrs. Travis?”

“Yes, Dr. Newly, but…”

Chris didn’t wait to hear the but from Nathan and stepped out of the door frame and right up to Rebecca. He walked around the bed and kneeled slowly on the opposite side of the doctor.

“Sir, if you’re not allowed to be in here, then I suggest you leave before—” Dr. Newly was silenced by a Chris Larabee glare.

“She’s sleepin’. Have some respect, will ya?”

“Respect, Mr. Larabee? We’re doing everything we possibly can to get this fever out of this child you claim is your blood. We’ve been here for hours on end getting her well again.”

Chris ignored the doctor and his voice was about a mile away from him at the second as he gazed down at his sleeping daughter he never knew he had. And she was beautiful, just like her mama. “Baby…I’m so sorry.” Blond hair so crispy and curled around her chubby cheeks, sun-kissed skin, and tiny fingers that could wrap around his in one tight hold. And her eyes…

He couldn’t see her eyes and his heart caved in when the thought entered his mind that he might not ever see what color they are.

“We’re doing everything we can.” The doctor’s voice hummed through his lost mind. Chris wanted to shout, or punch something just to release some anger. He hated this!

“Everything you can?” he asked, fighting back raging tears. He eyes ran along her tiny arms to the hand that connected in Dr. Newly’s hand. Then something that sparked his nerves to complete shock, Chris tried everything in his power to keep his hands steady and not go for his gun on his hip. He discovered a clear middle finger sized cylinder in the doctor’s hand connected to a small vile, connected into his little girl’s arm where he saw a needle.

“What are you doing, doctor? You’re bleeding out my little girl, is that your idea of doing everything you can?” Chris stood to his feet. “You’re bleeding her out and you think that’s going to make it all better!”

Nathan stepped into the room and put a restraint on Chris’s raising arms. “Calm down, Chris. Calm down.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down! He’s goin’ to kill her! Bleeding out a fever victim does no good!”

“He’s a doctor. He knows what he’s doing!”

Chris wanted to leap over the bed and pound Dr. Newly’s aging face in, but didn’t because one, Nathan had a firm grip on him, and two, he didn’t want to wake Rebecca, and he lowered the raise of his voice to a calm whisper.

“Nathan, you have to know this isn’t right. Put some cold compressors on her forehead. You have to keep her cool. Please, don’t do this. Stop all this right now before you take her life and if you do that, so help me God, I will put you down just as slow.”

“Chris!” Nathan grip tightened and he nudged for the irrational gunslinger to budge from his standing and move toward the door to leave.

“No, Nathan. You know this is wrong! Help her! Help her now!”

“We are helping. We’re not leaving her, and she’s not leaving us.”

“Put some cold clothes on her, that’d help with the fever, and please tell him to stop taking her blood!” he tried to charge back into the room but to his surprise, Nathan had grown stronger in the last years and Chris, being as weak as he was with this sudden news of his dying daughter and he was helpless to do anything about it, was shoved out of the room and Nathan followed.

“Go get some sleep, Chris. Now. You’ll be the first to know about her progress.”

“No,” Chris said. “Tell Mary first. She needs to know first before anyone.”

Nathan was going to say something back to him, but stopped when he noticed Chris opening his mouth again. “Please…put some cold clothes on her. Nathan, please.”

Nathan saw the sincere in Chris’s once hardened eyes, but truth be told with the raging anger that just took place, Chris wasn’t angry, he was scared and he was sorry for going away for so long. He was sorry that he put all his friends in a position to watch over his doing when he should have stuck around long enough to find out Mary was pregnant. But how would he have known. It wasn’t like he slept with any woman and left a piece of him with her that grew into a child.

“I’ll do that now, Chris.” Nathan said. “Just go get some rest.”

But sleeping was the last thing on Chris’s mind now…



Mary ran her hands along a cool sheet that she was none to familiar with when she remembered where she fell asleep at. Taking it slow to come to realize where she was again, back in her bedroom at the Clarion, she shot up from lying lazily across the bed where she didn’t remember coming to in the night.

Then forcefully she started to panic when Rebecca resurfaced to her grieving thoughts and she put her feet on the hardwood floor and found as she stood she was still completely dressed in the same outfit as the previous day. She hadn’t changed into something more comfortable as a nighty to fall asleep in. No that would require much more thinking than she wanted when all she could think about was her daughter still ill in the care of Nathan Jackson and Dr. Newly.

So, how did she get back home? She didn’t want to think on how but when and what had happened that caused her to lose all consciousness to recollect all that had happened in the night.

But it was still night time and she knew by the where the moon was high in the sky after she glanced outside her open window she remembered earlier was closed and locked.

Thanking the Lord that she was still dressed and in a suitable appearance to go out in public and race back to Nathan’s door to see if there was any news about Rebecca.

Her appearance? What? Mary couldn’t believe a thought ran across her mind about her appearance. What crazy thoughts ran through her mind when all she needed to think about was getting back to her daughter. And now as she realized she was away from Rebecca, she was angry at the man who took her away in the still of the night back to her home and back in her bed. She cursed at the man. She made a promise to her daughter and without knowing, and the fact that she fell asleep, she broke that promise.

In a big huff and hurry, Mary slammed open her bedroom door and raced down the small staircase to the business part of her home. And as she was heading down, she caught a candlelight blaze coming from the front of the building.

Mary walked all the way down and stared long and hard at the bounty hunter’s leaned backside.

“Vin?” she said aloud.

He turned halfway around and came across the worried mother’s eyes. “What y’ doin’ awake, Mary?”

Ignoring his question, she asked, “Did you bring me here?”

“Josiah did. He thought you needed a break.”

Mary was livid. “There are no breaks when you’re a mother.”

“This time there is.” Vin turned completely around with a candlestick in his hand. He walked up to her slowly across the room and she couldn’t read his eyes as they stared her down.

“Vin, what’s wrong?” Mary wanted to know why this man she knew for so long, a father to her children in a leave-whenever-you-want sort of way carried this crazed look in his eyes, and it practically burned Mary to the bone with chills. And she prayed that the worse didn’t happen and she wasn’t there for it. “Vin?”

He came nose level to her, and she could have sworn she felt the fire in his nostrils burn her complexion. “He’s back, Mary.”

The candlelight glared in Vin’s eyes and Mary took a step back to understand what he meant by his last comment. “Who?”

“Chris.”

And there it was. Mary’s heart was torn from her chest, beating loudly in the open quiet room, in the comfortable cool night. “What?”

“Yes, and he’s as cold as a harsh winter.” Vin took the step Mary made herself take back.

“You didn’t tell him about Rebecca, did you?” Mary fought hard against heartfelt tears, her pulse beating faster, harder knowing Chris Larabee was back in town to what…ruin her life again…watch another child he helped bring into this world die?

No, Mary wouldn’t allow that to happen. Even if she was powerless to stop from death coming for their daughter, she wasn’t going to let Chris deal with another loss of a child.

And when Mary looked back into Vin’s tender glare, she instantly broke out into tears. “Vin why? He doesn’t need to know all this!” she turned around to face the darkened office and held a hand to her mouth to keep from crying out loud. “He can’t suffer another death of a child. Don’t you understand that? It’ll kill him.”

Vin ran up to Mary’s backside and held onto her with all his weakening strength of having to go through all this with Mary when really, it should have been Chris all those years ago. It should have been Chris to be in the birthing room where Mary gave Rebecca life. It should have been Chris to hear her say her first words, and it should have been him teaching her how to walk and read and write. Vin helped Mary with all of that.

He was angry with Chris, and he’d tell him so time after time that he missed out on so much this time around. That God granted him another chance to make it right with Mary and this child he helped create. Mary was the kind of woman Chris needed to see things straight…why did he have to be so goddamn stubborn to see the good in his life was back?

“He needed to know, Mary. He just had to know what he missed out on. That he had another family right back here and he just ran. He never came back. It was his damn fault for leaving in the first place. Don’t feel pity for this man.”

Mary peeled Vin’s arms off of her body and turned to face him. “I love him, Vin. And those six years ago, he showed me just how much he loved me. He didn’t even have to tell me he did. He gave me a child. A beautiful baby girl and now that same baby girl is fighting for her life. Chris doesn’t need to know he has responsibilities for her because he doesn’t at all.” She took a shaky breath. “I am not angry with him for leaving me and I do not blame him for never coming back until now.” Mary wanted to give up this argument with Vin and go search for Chris, if she had the desire to, but most of all she wanted to get out of this and go back and be with her daughter. “We couldn’t find him when I found out I was pregnant, and it wasn’t his fault that we couldn’t, so we need to put this battle with him to a rest and worry about more important matters like Rebecca!.”

Mary walked around Vin and opened the Clarion doors and walked right out, leaving Vin behind.



When the pace was slow and the air calming down to the normal temperatures of the midnight desert it had came to be that time, Mary walked hurriedly as her feet would take her to Nathan’s room. She felt like she was walking on air when her heart beat faster with every new step, and the painful stab in her lower stomach knowing Chris was back in town and he knew about her troubles. And he knew about Rebecca, the daughter he never knew he had conceived six years ago.

And Mary had planned to keep it that way for as long as she could but when the fever suddenly came back and hit Rebecca hard this time around, and now with Chris in town, it was hard to keep her daughter’s deadly virus a secret.

When she reached the bottom of the tall staircase, she looked up it and her heart ached tighter that it’d take a great amount of strength and courage to climb those stairs and meet whatever fates lay before her.

Mary took the first step up but as she did she heard hollering and gunplay going on in the saloon right down from where she stood. The popular Ritz saloon was hopping even at this late of night when all the locals were sound asleep on their land or in their house on the Four Corners in town property.

When she decided to take another step up the staircase, her gaze dropped from the endless stairs and back over to the saloon where she now saw a large crowd of the usual saloon guests fall out of the dusty place, hollering and yelling back inside to whoever kicked them out.

Mary didn’t want to leave her daughter alone and in pain under the care of this Dr. Newly but she had no choice and wanted to see what the big deal over at the saloon was all about. Without a shawl protecting her from the cool midnight air or a light jacket, she walked against the roaring wind toward the saloon, passing the drunks as they strode home.

A gust of heavy wind blew her way as she held onto the saloon’s swinging doors, and a saloon lady ran right past her, out of the watchful eye of the gunslinger facing the bar with his pistol erect in his hand, his hat thrown at the end of the bar, and that black duster Mary grew so fond of back years ago. The black duster that was now covered in soot and dust from his rowdy parade that caused all the business to fly out the window tonight.

“Get out!!!” Chris yelled, piercing through the town’s peaceful night. Mary wanted to cover her ears, or scream herself to release tension building in the pit of her stomach. She wanted to do something before Chris discovered she was in the room with him. The first time she’d been in a room with him since he made love to her.

Mary looked around the saloon and it was pure as empty and she didn’t understand why Chris kept shouting get out! Get out!

“Chris?” she said carefully and he spun around with his peacemaker still locked in his grasp. He looked right at her, the stare of his harden green eyes made her shiver.

“Get out now.” He said this time calmly, but Mary didn’t budge. Instead she looked him right back in the eye, hers soften and understanding and grieving all at once. The room was half lit with the chandelier candle lights rocking in the wind, threatening to darken the building altogether.

“Chris…it’s me.” Mary said again as careful.

“I don’t know any me.” The gunslinger grunted.

Okay, so he was drunk. Heavy drunk and Mary had to find a way through the haze and confusion of every corner he’d look at trying to make sense of it. She wanted him to walk a straight line without crisscrossing his feet and really look her in the eye in doing so. She needed to tell him everything he missed out on. Everything she tried to do to find him six years ago, and how she truly never gave up.

“Chris, just stop and listen to me.”

“I don’t wanna talk!” he shouted and turned his back on her again. “Get out of here before I have you killed!”

He couldn’t have been serious. It was just the liquor in him saying all these harsh words.

“It’s me… Mary. I need you to get that through your head. It’s Mary.” She couldn’t deal with this. He was drunk because of her, and what she hadn’t told him, and how he had to find out about his daughter through another man, and she was dying. If he didn’t know, he wouldn’t be like this now. He wouldn’t be cruel and distasteful and ugly to her.

“I don’t know you.” At least he didn’t yell that time. He rocked against the bar counter then slammed his fists down hard, and he began a series of misguided mumbling. “This can’t be happening, this isn’t happening, this can’t be happening, no, this can’t be happening. Gonna wake up soon, I’m gonna wake up soon and be back with Sarah and Adam. Tell me this is a bad dream. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. I wanna wake up now. I wanna wake up.” He pushed back a wave of tears surfacing his eyes and he stared hard at a shot of whiskey in front of him. “When I drink this, am I gonna wake up from this nightmare or die?” he took the glass and tossed it down his throat and he wiped his mouth then when nothing he thought would happen, he threw the glass down in a fit of anger and shot off another round of bullets.

“Chris!” Mary yelled and walked a small distance toward him, but didn’t allow herself to close around him and lend him her body for comfort.

“Get out of here, woman! I don’t know you! I don’t wanna know you!” he turned back around to face her, but stopped his sluggish movements to wipe at his eyes again. He dropped his hands down to his sides with his gun waving around. Chris’s expression dropped from a sane, collected gunslinger to a pulse ranting drunk.

“She wanted me to stay with her. She said she was the only woman I wanted. The only woman I loved. How dead wrong she was! Just how wrong!”

Mary was confused. What was Chris talking about but she didn’t ask when she saw him open his mouth to go on explaining just what.

“So I went to her. I found her living her happy life with a couple of suitors and workers and chefs, and farmers…just like she was doing on her ranch when I’d last seen her. My gut instinct wanted to kill her right when I saw her walk out and greet me. I wanted to wrap my hands around her neck and watch her die slowly, and I had all the strength in the world to do it but I just didn’t. Not yet. Married her, loved her, just like a husband should to his wife, but it was all for fun. My game, my tease on her but I could only last for so long with this knowing she done wrong in her life. So, on our sixth anniversary, I killed her. And just with my own two hands.” Chris looked at his hands, knowing it had only been a few short days since he took Ella Gaines’ life… and how sick and twisted he enjoyed seeing her die right before his very eyes.

“I had to!”

“What are you talking about, Chris?”

Chris turned around and aimed his pistol right at Mary standing before him. “Leave me alone, woman!”

“I’m trying to help you!” Mary didn’t care if he had his gun directly on her. A bullet wasn’t going to stop her heart from pouring out for this man who so desperately needed someone to love him. And she did. She wanted to love him and hold him, and just have him.

“Leave me!” Chris didn’t have it that way and the roaring liquor circling in his veins caused his senses to scream out for kill and loneliness. He had to drown himself away from this woman he yet hadn’t identified to his memory. The booze clouded it whole.

“Chris, stop this now! You don’t have to suffer like this anymore! Let me help you!” Mary yelled, trying to knock some reality back into him.

Chris was tired of all this yelling and his head throbbed from the high pitch of female. He turned his back on Mary again, and when the image of a little girl laying hopelessly on a cot reigned his memory now, he screamed out loud, ear splitting and rose his peacemaker toward the ceiling and fired off bullets until he was empty and out of breath from the torturing scream.

Mary had to cover her ears from the noises of man and bullets parading about. She didn’t like this. She didn’t want to see Chris grieve like this anymore. And when she walked closer to him, after he dropped his peacemaker on the wooden flooring of the saloon, she heard soft whimpers and watched a deadbeat gunslinger look human again with tender tears.

“Chris…” she tried to attempt a soft hand on his shoulder, but he turned around again and what Mary saw snatched the breath right out of her lungs. His eyes swollen with the tears she knew he cried, the wet cheekbones from the tears running down his face, the soot clearing a clean path falling to his neck, and to his clothes. His hair a mess shadowed over the teary eyes, and his lips shaking from the uncontrollable anger.

“Rebecca.” Chris mumbled through a swallow of spit. His gritted his teeth together and tried to open his eyes to look at the blond woman before him. “What have I done?”

Mary shook her head, “It’s not your fault.”

“I left you.”

“You didn’t know.”

Chris swallowed a second time and inhaled a shaky breath. “But I left you.” Mary knew that wasn’t right, and she wanted to tell him she wasn’t angry with him for leaving when he had, the way he did. She wasn’t angry, and blinking tears out of her eyes, she wanted to tell him just that, but Chris’s actions faltered when he dropped heavily to his knees. “I’m so sorry, Mary!” He leaned his head into her stomach, crying out. “I’m so sorry, Mary! I’m so sorry! Please, forgive me! Please! Mary!”

Mary’s whole body trembled to this sudden change of events, and she looked directly in front of her as Chris cried his hardest against her body. She dropped her jaw and tried with everything feeling in her body to control her tears but hearing and watching a man cry ate her up inside…especially a man who gave her so much, did so much to her…someone she loved. She couldn’t listen to someone she loved cry.

And she couldn’t slide away from him after Chris’s arms had wrapped around her waist, bringing her closer to his tearful face. All Mary could do was wrap her arms around his head and keep him as close to her as humanly possible. She let him cry on her, his hardest if that be, and she never wanted to let him go.



Forty-eight hours later…

Chris woke up with a throbbing headache. He loosened his grip on the pillow at his head and threw off the tangled sheets he was loosely wrapped in at the waist. His gun belt and pants along with his traveling gear were scattered on the hotel floor as if he’d just crashed into the room, dropped everything in his arms, and tossed himself on the bed for the last forty-eight hours because he couldn’t remember a single memory he’d done or said.

But he remembered Rebecca, his little girl, and he remembered the confrontation with Mary and the tears he shared with her, and the confession he’d forever had bottled up inside about his past with Ella Gaines in those last six years. He slept the entire day after talking with Mary, and then some and he hardly came out of his hotel to seek the day and find Buck, or JD to catch up on some news he’d missed out while away.

Though Chris knew talking to his old friends like he use to wouldn’t be the same. Not now with everything that had happened here in Four Corners from his absence. And he found no true desire to stay any longer. He knew his presence were no longer welcome from Vin, his right hand man who protected his back for a lot of years when he use to call himself a peace officer of the town. When he last saw Vin, after Vin spilled to him that Mary had given birth to a baby girl all those years ago and how Chris didn’t once bother to check up on her, or anyone else who’d always worry where he was.

Vin was angry with Chris, and if he was angry with, then Buck would be too, or too busy to notice he was in town to give a talking to. Buck and JD were busy with their own lives, with their own work, and so was Mary, and Nathan. Josiah finished his church, and he didn’t need much help in that, and Ezra was now the official owner of the Standish Tavern.

Chris was no longer needed and that’s why he came to the conclusion he needed to pack his horse back up and leave and this time for good.

When he finally broke out of his hotel room in the middle of a hot summer day, he walked to the livery to retrieve his horse and began to saddle her back up to begin another day of riding.

As he tightened the reins and adjusted the seat to make both he and his horse comfortable, Chris thought about Rebecca and where she was, and how she was feeling. It couldn’t have gotten any better than last time he saw her, and he wondered if Nathan did as he demanded to put heavy cold compressors on her to keep her cool and comfortable. Chris never did go back and see if they did or not, but by the looks of the booming town, nothing so much as a swollen knee was the town’s misery.

He wanted to go back up the stairs that was just a few feet from where he stood saddling his horse and say at least goodbye to her, and kiss her, and tell her he loved her even though she didn’t know who he was.

He was just a friend he’d tell her if she ever asked. Chris didn’t want to ruin her happiness with Vin’s father figure or Buck’s. He was the man who took the part in creating her life, but he wasn’t in the category to play the part of the man in her life. The man to raise her, show her life, but he would always love her. She came from him after all and he’d never stop loving his baby girl.

“Leaving Larabee?”

Chris knew that sudden, familiar voice at his back and he looked over his shoulder to find Vin walking toward him. “It’s best I do.”

Vin shook his head then put all his weight on his right hip and hooked his thumbs in his gun belt. “For you or Rebecca?”

Chris didn’t answer and went back to strain his saddle.

Vin wanted to apologize for the outbreak of emotions he poured out on Chris two nights ago. He had no right to let out all his worries about the little girl, and Chris just so happened to be in the right place at the wrong time. In fact, he wanted to tell him he was glad he was back. Only still a small part of him was sore from his long absence and not a single word explaining why.

But none of that mattered anymore. He was just concentrating on Rebecca and how Chris planned to handle it. If Vin knew Chris like he did, he knew he would do the right thing in the end.

“Now I don’t know why y’ were gone all those years, Chris, but you’re here now and you need to stay.” Vin said.

Chris tightened his jaw, “For who? I’m doing what I shoulda done nine years ago.”

“What’s that, Chris?” Vin asked, not at all amused.

“You know what. Never should have taken Judge Travis’s proposal to stay here in town and protect these people.”

“You took his offer just like the rest of us, Chris. Look at where I was…I still have a bounty on my head and I stuck around for the hell of it to see where this town would lead me. I got involved just like you did. I had to mend my problems, my life at stack, and now you have to mend yours with Mary. You left her with a child.”

“I didn’t know,” Chris groaned.

“You do now. So, what are you gonna do about it?”

Chris turned away from his horse and faced Vin. He was right; Chris wanted to say Vin was right about everything. He just couldn’t put it into words or say it allowed. He was running away from another happy ending. A family he can really have. A family he dreamt to have again. And he had a child who needed him just as much.

And then he left without a handshake telling Chris he understood, and he forgave him. Vin just left him in silence.

Chris went back to work on his horse and messed with his saddle bags, finishing up what little work he had left and then he’d be on his way. Thinking about Vin’s last question, nothing clear came to him about what he was going to do besides run, and running away seemed like the best option, his only option. He didn’t want to live in a town who didn’t need his services anymore. He didn’t need to have a woman living in town watch him everyday to see what he’d do in personal situations about gunplay and rowdy fights. He didn’t love Mary, not the way he loved his wife, but having a child with her pushed back all the differences between them. When he made love to her the night before he left town, he pushed back everything about the woman that meant so little to him.

And now after pushing away those differences and really showing Mary what he was made up from the inside, he left her and the truth of his tragic hunger came back and bit him hard. He just didn’t want to go through the death of another child he helped bring into this world, and he sure as hell didn’t want to stick around to see how she was going to be taken out of it.

“Rebecca.” Chris heard another familiar voice softly speak. He turned again to find Mary standing close to him. So close he’d be able to feel her warm breath on his skin.

“What?” he heard himself ask.

Mary took another step forward and what she did knocked the thoughts right out from beneath him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and brought his stiff manly build in contact with hers as she held on warm and tight.

Her body shivered against his and he had no where to put his arms except around her waist and put on as much pressure as she gave him. “Mary, what’s wrong?” he asked when he heard the soft purrs of tears.

“She’s going to be okay, Chris.” She cried out with pure bliss. “Our baby girl is going to live.”

Chris felt the air from his lungs drain and he tried his best to capture what he could of it before it escaped his lips entirely. Rebecca was going to be okay, and he was shocked as hell as how that was possible. Did a miracle finally happen? Was all Mary’s praying worth a damn to the Lord O Mighty in the skies? Was there still a sign of hope in his life to understand that not everything is about killing, and the grievance of what was instead of is?

A heavy weight lifted from Chris’s shoulders even from these past couple of days of being back in town was a relief to him. He came back to Four Corners livid as the devil himself, found out he had a daughter who was dying, his friends were still there but not like they were, and now this…with Mary in his arms. His life changed so much without a warning and already he was happier that he had been, at this point of his life where he wanted nothing more but to sleep the rest of the way through. But he couldn’t…this was his second chance to be the man he’d always thought of being. It was time to change into that man and be a husband to Mary Travis and a father to Billy and their daughter, Rebecca.

From the news of his daughter’s recovering health, Chris knew he was given that second chance.

“She wants to meet you.” Mary said, pulling away only so much to look into his eyes.

Chris wasn’t sure how to answer but to say, “She knows who I am?”

“She must. She keeps asking about a man she’s been seeing in her dreams. A man she described as you just without a name.”

How was that possible? Chris tried to figure out what Mary meant by this, by what Rebecca only dreamt about but Mary asked again if he wanted to meet his daughter for the first time.

“I—“

“It’s okay, Chris. I know.”

She knew what? That it was okay to move on with another woman, another child? It was him who knew that was going to be okay. That it was okay to let go of what he had and give in to what he’s been offered. Though Mary and Rebecca, and even Billy were not Sarah and Adam, they were enough to fill the blacken holes.

Then Chris nodded to Mary’s question and she gave a heartfelt smile that mentally melted his body.

“She wants to come out and see the sun.” Mary said. “I’ll have Nathan bring her down.”

“She shouldn’t be getting out of bed so soon, Mary.” Chris said.

She let out a soft sigh, “I know, but we’ve been through this kind of mess with waiting and wondering before.”

“What about the doctor?”

Mary went to explain that Dr. Newly had left the town and went back home to his own practice and left Rebecca’s life up to God. That very thought grumbled in Chris’s gut and he looked up to find Nathan walk out of the room where Rebecca was just inside.

Mary couldn’t hide her happiness, “I just want you to meet her.” The mother turned around and felt Nathan’s presence waiting for an answer. “Bring her out, Nathan.”

“Will do, Mary,” he responded. “She says it’s too dark.” Nathan laughed. “And I gotta hand it to her; it is sort of depressing in there.” The healer said who once pushed with all his might for Chris to exit the room just two short nights ago. To now see Nathan smiling instead of the pained expression he saw left a satisfying feeling in Chris.

Mary turned to him then and gazed into his green eyes. “This is your big debut. Are you ready?”

Chris’s heart dropped down to the pit of his stomach. He didn’t know what to say and he told Mary that with soft eyes.

“Well, come on, stud.”

Buck.

Chris turned his head to the side and saw Buck and JD walking up.

“She’s been waiting six years to see her daddy.”

Chris’s tongue was tied and he could hardly take relaxing breaths because his heart was beating so fast. Why was he nervous to see his own child? Maybe because he hadn’t seen Rebecca her whole entire life and this was the first time she would indeed remember the man who looked her right back in the face. A man she looked like. Chris didn’t know whether or not to be scared of that.

“Six years too long,” Josiah said, joining the group.

Mary didn’t once remove her eyes from Chris’s soft expression and she curled lips into a smile. “I’m right here.”

“She’s already comin’.” Vin said. He popped out of nowhere Chris caught and he was already up the stairs to assist Nathan to bring Rebecca down from the room.

Mary moved her hands down his arms and linked his fingers. She gave him a tender squeeze, not breaking their gaze just yet.

“Well, there’s sleeping beauty.” Ezra said with awe as he walked up to the gang, watching as Vin carried down the little girl with curly blond hair shaping her six year old cheekbones, and the glitter in her green eyes as he made each step as slow and easy as possible.

“Mama?”

Mary turned around to the sound of the small voice, breaking her gaze with Chris but not their hands as she stood with her back to him and looked at Rebecca coming down the stairs.

“Rebecca, baby.” There was that mother’s tender voice as Mary walked toward Vin and Rebecca, who hardly had her eyes open but she wanted to see what she’d been missing the last couple of days. Like many children her age, she never liked going to sleep at night for she always thought she’d might miss something important because of sleep.

“Daddy?” Rebecca groaned, and rubbed her eyes.

Chris couldn’t move. His arms were numb, his legs were plastered in the dust at his boots, and his eyes gave to release light tears. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening.

Mary wanted to cry right then but held it deep in her throat. “Yes, baby, this is your daddy.” She released Chris’s hand and allowed him to take his own actions to work.

Chris moved closer to Mary’s back but didn’t step beyond her when she separated him and Rebecca. He wasn’t sure what to do about all this. Everything so new but what he did stole Mary’s heart and gave it that much more to Chris than she ever thought humanly possible.

Chris bent down to one knee and stood in front of his little girl, those beautiful green eyes, he couldn’t look away from. He extended his hand out to shake her hand but she hesitated to take it. Chris understood why because she’d never seen this man before in her life. But knowing those dreams she dreamt about three days ago while she was severally ill and unconscious, she knew this was the man she was destined to know one day. A man who protected her from her demon dreams. A man who saved her life. And now she knew this man was her father, and she was never letting him go again.

“Won’t you stay, daddy?” Rebecca begged.

Chris lost his breath again to the sound of her pleading voice and all said was, “No. I’m never leaving you again.”

“Never?”

“Never.”

“And hope to die?”

Chris relaxed on her last question, taking in the sweet sounds of the child. He was never going to leave now. Not ever, and he had to promise her that. “Cross my heart.”
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