A/N: Let me start by saying, no, I'm not starting another story. This one is actually done. There will be another chapter, but it's written; it's just sitting on my computer waiting for some final editing. So, you shouldn't have to wait too long for it. I did want to tell you that this story was inspired by the Brantley Gilbert song, Stone Cold Sober. If you're not familiar with it, go to YouTube and look it up. I think it's worth taking a few minutes of your life to listen to. I'll finish by saying this, I do like the episode Obsession, but I have a long list of issues with it, one of those being the way Chris just seems to forget about Mary with no reasoning ever offered as to why he behaves like a grade A jackass for most of the show. And by the way, neither Chris nor Mary belong to me.
"I love you."
Mary closed her eyes at the softly spoken words, her breath hitching some as his breath brushed her cheek. She'd waited so long to hear those words and had begun to accept she never would, not from him. Now he was finally telling her what she'd only dreamed of hearing, but they didn't bring the pleasure she always thought they would. They left her feeling cheated. The breath brushing her cheek reeked of too much whiskey for the proclamation of love to make her feel anything but a deep sadness.
Mary forced herself to push away. He was too drunk to realize what he was saying. It wasn't fair to either one of them to let him continue, tempting as it was. "You need to be in bed, Chris."
He looked at her, his eyes cold, and smiled. "You comin' with me?"
In his drunken state the smile was more of a leer. She'd seen that look before, when he'd first come to Four Corners. He'd worn it too often then, and it had always filled her with disgust. Even then she had seen something in him that had told her he was better than he acted. She'd hated seeing him waste his life like that, drowning himself in alcohol. Hated to see that he seemed to care so little for his life. Seeing him wear that look now was a little different. Oh, she still hated it, but it wasn't disgust that filled her now, it was pity.
She could pity him now because she'd seen firsthand what kind of man Chris Larabee really was. She'd seen the man she was sure he'd been before suffering his terrible loss. She'd seen the man who had a deep capacity for love, the man who would do anything for the downtrodden or those he really cared about. She'd seen the Chris who had undoubtedly been a devoted husband and loving father. She had watched as he'd risen from the ashes of his heartbreak, and become that man again. She'd also watched over the last several weeks as he'd slowly reverted back to the man who had first wondered into town, a man who had to drink just to make it through the day. And it was a heartbreaking thing to see.
"No," she said softly in response to his earlier question.
A look of hurt flashed in his eyes. "I don't wanna be alone."
She smiled sadly, putting the smallest of distances between them. "I don't think you'll know the difference."
His reply was a simple "no", but Mary wasn't sure if that was an affirmation of or a contradiction to her statement.
He took an unsteady step towards her and leaned in for a kiss. "It's cold tonight."
She stepped back again. "Chris, please." She was trying hard not to think about all the times in the past she had wondered what it would feel like to fall asleep in his arms, to wake up beside him; to be a lover and not a friend. He was offering her that now, the chance to find out the answer to those questions, but Mary wouldn't accept. She had her pride and she wouldn't settle for a cheap imitation of what she'd spent months hoping for.
Chris was tenacious always, but being drunk seemed to make him especially persistent. He stepped forward closing the distance she'd put between them. "I love you, Mary."
He doesn't know what he's saying, she reminded herself sternly. He would never have persisted like this if he were sober. He would never have tried this if he were sober. Mary knew all that was true, but even so, when he leaned in again, she allowed the kiss. She shouldn't have let it happen, but she couldn't help herself; she'd wanted it for too long. Even if it wasn't given in the spirit she'd wished for, it was better than nothing. Wasn't it?
She was expecting him to be rough, perhaps even desperate given his state, but the kiss was surprisingly tender. Her eyes drifted shut, relishing the contact. He was even better than she'd imagined, and she didn't stop him when he deepened the kiss. Nor did she stop herself from wrapping her arms around his neck. It was wrong for her to let herself get carried away, but she couldn't help it.
Mary had loved her husband, and after she'd lost him she wasn't sure another man would ever turn her head, until Chris Larabee had stepped into her life. Oh, she'd been aloof, maybe even snobbish, at first, and there was no doubt sparks had flown between them when they'd first met. Still, it hadn't taken her long to see past the stoic, gruff, "bad element" persona he projected to the man he really was. It was the debacle with Wickes that had changed things. That was the first time she recalled really seeing and understanding who Chris Larabee was. He'd risked a lot to help Lydia and the other girls when they'd come to town, and he'd risked even more to help her. It was shortly after her rescue that she remembered looking at him, or any man since Stephan, and really wanting to be made to feel like a woman again. Right now, that's precisely what Chris was doing, and it was just as wonderful as she'd always dreamed it would be.
It had been a long time since she'd really felt like a desirable woman. When she'd first lost Stephen, she'd had to be so strong, even hard at times, just to survive. She hadn't been able to afford to let herself feel like a woman, not when every day was a fight. Not that there hadn't been men, she had been wined and dined a few times by men like Marshal Brice and Governor Hopewell, but those times had so often felt like business meetings. Then there had been Gerard. Gerard certainly hadn't made her feel like a business associate, and she believed he really did love her, but even he hadn't awakened the feelings that being in Chris' arms did. She couldn't yet say she loved Chris, but she didn't think it would take much to get to that point.
Mary's mind was feverishly processing all these thoughts as she allowed Chris to carry her further away from good sense. She was no longer thinking about a drunken Chris, mumbling things he wouldn't think of saying sober, she was only thinking of the real Chris Larabee, a hard but fair and honorable man, and how good it felt to be in his arms. Then Chris shifted some and exhaled slightly, and the scent of the alcohol on his breath hit her anew. Reality came crashing down around her. Chris was drunk. He didn't mean the words he had just spoken. Even if he meant them now, he wouldn't mean them in the light of day, if he even remembered saying them. Her fantasy had been just that, a fantasy. Reluctantly, she pulled away.
Chris briefly tried to reclaim her lips, but when she took a step back he didn't fight her. He just stared at her with those beautiful green eyes of his. They weren't hard and icy anymore, there was nothing but hurt in them now. "Mary," he said softly. He reached for her hand, stopping when she pulled back, the hurt in his eyes growing. "Please."
Mary felt a stab of guilt knowing that she was adding to his pain, but she refused to waver. She had her pride after all. If she allowed things to keep going the way they were, there was a good possibility she would simply give in to Chris, and the possibly that she would hate herself for doing it was just as good. As much as she thought she could enjoy loving Chris that way, she couldn't do it like this. He was so drunk now it was doubtful he'd remember any of this in the morning, and Mary wouldn't do that. She deserved more than a drunken fit of loneliness and passion.
She cleared her throat, choosing to ignore his earlier plea, and the ache in her own heart. She had never dreamed things would have taken this turn. If she had she never would have taken charge of him when she'd seen Ezra getting Chris back to his room tonight. She was now realizing that trying to help had likely been a horrible mistake on her part, and she needed to take control of the situation again.
"I told Ezra I'd take care of you tonight," she said using her newspaper editor voice. It was a tone she felt carried more authority, and to some men made her less attractive as a female. Chris had never been one of them. "You need to be in bed; to sleep some of that off."
Chris looked down for a moment and when he met her eyes, his look had changed again. He now looked utterly defeated. It was unsettling to see that expression on the normally strong and stoic Chris. He reached for her hand again, and this time, she didn't pull back, which encouraged him to close the distance between them once more. "I'm sorry, Mary. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Mary felt her heart crack at those words, but she felt hopeful too. She'd been so sure Chris reciprocated the feelings she had for him, and before that awful Gains woman had come to town she had felt like he was very close to acting upon them. Then he'd just been gone, and when he'd come back, everything had changed. She'd been waiting for weeks for Chris to talk to her, to explain things to her; this was the closest he'd come to doing either of those things. It was rather sad he had to be thoroughly intoxicated to do it, but it gave her some hope that maybe things could be mended between them. "I know you didn't. You're not that kind of man."
Chris shook his head some. "You're too good. She was safe."
Mary wasn't sure what Chris meant but she wasn't surprised. She was amazed Chris was still standing, much less that he was talking, words slightly slurred but clear enough. She had the feeling he was nearing the end of his rope, however, and he'd soon be in the bed whether he wanted to be or not.
"It was easy," Chris mumbled. "Safe, she was safe. She was . . . sick." He met Mary's eyes again and the look of defeat was gone to be replaced by anger. "Why? Why did she do it? She killed my wife. She took my boy from me. Why!?" Chris' voice had risen steadily, the last question being yelled, but as quickly as the anger had come, it faded. "Why?" he asked again, in little more than a whisper, his gaze plaintive. "I don't understand."
Tears were now standing in his eyes and for a moment, she panicked. Chris would be mortified if he cried in front of her. If he were sober he would be mortified, she realized. As it was she hoped he would forget this just as he would likely forget his declaration of love.
She felt her own eyes well up. "I don't know, Chris." One of her tears escaped and ran down her cheek. "I don't understand either."
Chris stepped in even closer and wiped it away. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Mary. I didn't mean for it to happen that way. I love you."
Mary closed her eyes at the unexpected jolt of pain those words brought. She still didn't trust that Chris really knew what he was saying. "Please, stop." He did stop but Mary didn't know if it was because she had asked him to, or because the alcohol was finally starting to catch up with him.
Taking a deep breath, Mary forced a smile. "Let's go to bed," she said as brightly as she could manage.
"Me," Chris mumbled as he turned towards his bed. "You won't stay."
Chris warily sank on the bed and lay down. "I love you, Mary. I do. Was a fool not to see it."
Mary let her smile drop, it was too painful to keep it in place. The next time she saw Ezra getting Chris home, she was going to mind her own business and leave the southerner to it. Regardless of the problems the ex-conman and his leader were having. "Just sleep, Chris," she said as she pulled a blanket over him. She needed to get out and soon. She moved to leave and Chris grabbed her hand.
"Stay?" he asked quietly.
There was desperation in his eyes again, and Mary might have been tempted if she hadn't already resolved in her mind what she had to do. She still didn't understand what had happened between them, or rather what had happened to keep something from happening between them. Or what had happened between Chris and that Gains woman. Until she did understand, she couldn't pursue anything between them. Until Chris talked to her, sober, things would have to stay the way they were. "I can't."
She leaned over and kissed him gently. "Goodbye, Chris." With that, she blew out the lamp and left the man's room.
Goodbye she had said. Not good night, goodbye, and she'd meant it. She couldn't continue like this, waiting for Chris. If he had something to say, he was going to have to come out and say it, until he did, she was washing her hands of Chris Larabee.
It was a good plan, but even as she explained it to herself, Mary knew she couldn't follow through with it. She couldn't forget him, couldn't drive him out of her mind or her heart. That become apparent when she lay down in her own empty bed, and Chris was the first thing on her mind. Her bed was cold too, and once more she found herself wondering what it would feel like to have his arms around her. What it would be like to become his lover. Then she thought about a slurred, drunken declaration of love, and she cried herself to sleep.