Mary, Chris and the rest of the gang don't belong to me. Others have that great honor. I'm only borrowing them for a very short while.

This is a missing scene from the episode "Nemesis". It should be placed at the end of the ep.

Glimpsing A Battered Soul

by

C7

The widow stood in the semi-darkness staring out of the newspaper's picture window, arms crossed over her chest as she held the shawl around her shoulders. It wasn't really cold outside, or in the office, for that matter, but an unexplainable chill ran through her as she gazed out at the settled stillness that blanketed Four Corners on this late, Sunday evening.

Sunday? The stray question popped into Mary Travis's head. Turning slightly, she glanced at the clock on the far wall, the soft glow from the lantern sitting on the desk providing just enough light to see the face. Officially, it was now Monday, the hands on the old, worn timepiece indicating that midnight had come and gone almost an hour ago.

A quiet, frustrated sigh escaped Mary's lips. Again, time had slipped through her fingers, and she'd hardly accomplished a thing. Turning a little further, she spied the piles of unfinished work staring back at her. The next addition of The Clarion News was going to be late.

A little disgusted, the widow shook her head. Over the last several days, her ability to concentrate had all but deserted her. Stories needed to be finished and type waited to be set, but she just couldn't find the words, or the will. She'd been distracted, restless. But more than that, she'd been surprised, concerned and saddened, her father-in-law's news affecting her more than she would have believed possible. Chris Larabee had gone to track down the men who had killed his family.

Mary's attention once again focused on the street outside her window. Through the smoky glow of the fires that dotted the dusty road, she saw the gunman perched in a chair in front of the saloon, a glass and bottle keeping him company on the small table standing beside his seat.

The seven lawmen had returned empty-handed this morning. And since that return, Mary's ability to concentrate on her work had deteriorated even further, the look of utter desolation on Chris's face haunting her every thought. Closing her eyes, the widow tried to block the agonizing picture as it again flashed in her head, a stab of pain and sympathy cutting into her heart.

They'd arrived back into town a few hours after dawn. Mary had been pacing around the office during one of her recent bouts of restlessness when she spotted the haggard group slowly making its way down the street, the sight of the seven men causing a calming relief to settle over her distracted mind. They hadn't looked much different from any of the other times they'd returned from a venture out of town--dusty and tired. And thankfully, unharmed. But as she'd watched them stop their horses in front of the livery, an unexpected wave of despair surged through her. She hadn't ever remembered seeing them look so defeated, so conquered. Even though she had been unable to see their faces, there was something in the way they sat on their horses. Disappointment seemed to hang around their collective shoulders like the weight of the world. It had been obvious their search was a failure.

Her concern, and her curiosity, had gotten the better of her then. As the seven had started to dismount, Mary left the Clarion and made her way across and down the street. By the time she had reached her destination, Chris, Vin, JD and Josiah had taken their horses into the barn.

As she'd walked up to the three remaining lawmen, Buck turned to see her arrive, a subdued smile flashing across his handsome face while the shadow of a heavy disappointment veiled his normally bright eyes. "Howdy, Mrs. Travis." His voice had also reflected the lingering sadness that seemed to hold them all in its grip.

"Mister Wilmington." She'd nodded her head. "Mister Standish. Nathan."

"Mrs. Travis." The gambler had bowed his head in her direction, the ghost of an uninspired smile tugging at a corner of his mouth.

"Miz Travis." Nathan had tipped his hat, but offered no smile, his lips set in a grim line.

"I... I don't wish to intrude, gentlemen, but...is everything thing all right?" She hadn't tried to hide her worry as she'd looked from Nathan to Buck, a frown pulling at her mouth.

"Well, ma'am," Buck had looked at the ground for a few seconds as if deciding whether or not to answer her. The hesitation hadn't been totally unexpected, but as the seconds ticked past, Mary felt a subtle irritation begin to build. However, before she'd had the chance to ask the question again, the tall gunman raised his head and looked her in the eye, a faint uncertainty shrouding his blue depths. "Things...didn't go very well." The quiet sorrow still tinged his voice, and Mary had felt a gentle empathy for Mister Wilmington clutch her heart.

She'd waited for him to continue, but none of the men seemed willing to volunteer any more information, and as she'd been about to ask another question, Mary was interrupted by the arrival of a little man riding a huge mule. She'd been unable to stop the amused grin that skirted across her lips, the sight of the tenderfoot relieving some of the unhappy tension that hung in the air.

Jock Steele. Orrin had mentioned the writer and his desire to collect information about the "wild west". Actually, Mary had read one of his dime novels, "Twin Guns at Death". He really wasn't too bad, not too bad at all. But he'd certainly picked an inopportune time to show up. And from the impatient expressions that had appeared on all three of her companions' faces, they were in agreement.

Mister Steele had jumped down from his big animal and walked up to the small group. "Well, boys, it's a pity about what happened, but have I ever got the makings of a terrific story. I have to thank you all for letting me tag along."

"There wasn't no 'letting' about it." Buck's exasperation had seeped through in his tone. "You followed us around like a lost puppy. There was no shakin' you."

"Mary." Her father-in-law's sudden appearance had interrupted whatever Mr. Steele might have said. Mary had smiled her hello to Orrin as he stopped to stand beside her, his eyes scanning the rest of the group. "Gentleman."

Various forms of acknowledgment from each of the men had followed before Orrin cast an inquisitive eye around the street. "Where's my prisoner, boys?" His gaze had then shifted pointedly to each of the lawman, his eyebrows raised in silent emphasis.

"Well, you see, Judge Travis..."

"He's dead." Ezra Standish had started to explain, very eloquently Mary had been sure, before he was cut short by the low, steady voice of Chris Larabee.

Mary had turned to see Chris and Vin walking out of the barn, her attention immediately captured by the tall man in black. He'd looked like the rest of his men, dusty and tired--defeated. But there had been something else, something more. The flat-rimmed, black hat had hung from its cord down his back leaving his head bare, handsome face in unfettered view, green eyes out of the shadows. And as Mary had looked into those rugged features, that piercing gaze, she'd been taken aback by the raw anguish she'd seen staring back at her, the searing pain causing an answering pang of sadness to swell in her heart. To her, he had looked the definitive picture of a human being in torment, and she'd wondered if anyone else could see it. At the time, she'd been unable to keep herself from wondering what could cause such complete and utter agony. Even with the loss of his wife and son, and the failure to capture the men responsible, there was something more, something that was tearing him apart. Catching a quivering lower lip with her teeth, Mary had fought to quell the sting of tears that threatened as she ached for the man standing in front of her.

"Mrs. Travis." Chris had bowed his head in recognition before looking to Orrin. "After we sent the telegram, we ran into a little more trouble. Blackfox's body's at the undertakers in Eagle Bend. The sheriff said he'll send you the death certificate. He was also wonderin' who's gonna pay for the burial."

"Well, I need to know exactly what happened, Mister Larabee, but the middle of town isn't the place to discuss it. I'll meet you gentlemen in the sheriff's office in about an hour. We can straighten out the details then." Orrin had then tipped his hat to the group and taken Mary's arm. "Come along, Mary, let's let the men get settled in."

Her quietly insistent protests had had no effect on her father-in-law, and she'd left the group with little information, and a haunting image of Chris Larabee burned into her mind's eye.

Mary opened her eyes again and sighed as she watched Chris pick up the bottle and pour himself another drink. He downed the whisky in one shot and placed the glass back on the table. How long had he been sitting there? How much had he had to drink?

After their talk with the lawmen, Orrin had escorted Mary back to the paper, and after arguing that she needed to know about Blackfox's death for her article, the judge had agreed to tell her what he learned. The meeting at the sheriff's office hadn't lasted long, and as promised, Orrin stopped back at the paper.

As she closed the office door behind her departing father-in-law, Mary had noticed Mister Larabee sitting in a chair in front of the saloon. She'd stood at the door staring at the lonely figure, and again her heart went out to him, his overwhelming sadness reaching through the distance and grasping her tightly. Fowler had died. The man who had murdered Chris's family had paid for his crime. And still Chris Larabee suffered. There was someone else out there who was just as responsible. A person who had yet to pay. Somebody who still wished him dead.

A shudder of dread washed through Mary as she recalled her thoughts from earlier in the day. Pulling the shawl more snugly around her, she watched Chris sit back in the chair and cross his legs at the ankles. Danger surrounded the man. People who got to close to him would most certainly get caught in that danger, become victims of it. Someone had hired Fowler to kill Chris Larabee, but he had failed. Instead, Chris's family had suffered his fate. How the realization must weigh him down.

With that stray thought, the source of the gunslinger's terrific pain suddenly became clear to Mary. Yes, it was the death of his wife and son. Yes, it was the frustration of not being able to punish all the people responsible. But it was more, much more. It was guilt. A deep, festering shame that he tried to forget. A burning ache that he tried to drown. Tears of sorrow pooled in the widow's eye as she continued to stare at the tragic figure across the street. His family had died in his place. What greater burden could a person bear?

Blinking away the tears, Mary's attention settled on the bottle sitting on the table. And again, she wondered, How long has he been there?

After she'd pulled herself away from her first glimpse of Mister Larabee on the saloon porch, Mary had tried to get some work done, but without much luck, the memory of the gunman's tormented face playing havoc with her emotions and her concentration. Several times, she'd gotten up to take a restless walk around the office, and each time, she'd peeked out the window to find Chris still seated in the chair. When she'd left to have dinner with Orrin, Larabee was planted in front of the saloon, and when she had returned from dinner, he continued to occupy the chair. He had been there a good part of the day and all night. Well, most of the night. Mary looked back at the clock. Five minutes after one. If he stayed in the chair too much longer, he'd start the next day in the very same spot.

As she turned back to look out the window, Mary noticed Charlie coming through the swinging doors of the saloon. He walked up to Chris. There were a few words exchanged before the bar owner nodded his head and went back inside. The inner doors of the establishment closed, and Mary knew that the barkeep had locked up for the night. One by one, the lights in the saloon went dark.

Her eyes slowly scanned the buildings of the sleeping town. Windows were dark, there was no movement. The citizens of Four Corners rested in preparation for another day. All, that is, except two.

Mary's focus returned to Chris. She couldn't stop the whispered moan of compassion that escaped her as she saw him rest his head in his hands, the gesture of lonely surrender clawing at her heart like some wild animal. Dear God, he was in so much pain. What could she do to help him? The question of whether or not she should do anything to help him pecked away somewhere in the back of her mind, but she refused to listen to it. She couldn't just leave him there to suffer in silence. She had to at least try to reach him, to ease his pain.

But... Mary's train of thought slowed as her eyes dropped to the ground. Why? Why was it so important to her? It was a question the widow found difficult to ignore, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to examine it too closely. Why had she gone through the whole day, in fact, the whole week, worrying about Chris Larabee and the ordeal he was going through? Why had his torture become her torture? Why couldn't she just turn around, walk into her rooms and shut the door?

The widow's jaw tightened as the unwanted questions flashed through her head. Because she understood, of course. It was as simple as that. She stubbornly refused to believe that her motives went any deeper. She didn't feel anything more for this man than sympathy. She knew what it was like to loose someone you loved. She understood the frustration of not being able to punish the people responsible for the loss. Until just recently, she lived with the disappointment everyday. They simply shared the same tragedy. But did she really understand what he was going through? Could she comprehend the guilt he most likely felt?

Mary's gaze traveled back to the solitary form across the street. Through the smoky glare of the firelight, she thought she could see his head moving slowly from side to side as he continued to cradle it in his hands. She reached for the doorknob, and the next thing the widow knew, she was walking down the stairs of the Clarion and across the street. As she got closer to her destination, a little voice in the back of her head begged Mary to turn around, scolding her for the stupidity of this reckless move. Nevertheless, she continued the short journey. Upon reaching the other side of the street, the heat of a fine moisture prickled over the palms of her hands. Resolutely, she wiped it away on the folds of her dress. She had no idea what she was going to say to him, or if he would even allow her to say anything to him, she only knew that she had to try.

Stopping in front of the saloon, Mary remained in the street as she gazed up at the bent head of Chris Larabee. Taking a steadying deep breath, she ventured to speak. "Mister Larabee?" Her voice was hardly above a whisper, and as she recognized that fact, she wondered if the man on the porch had been able to hear her.

Her speculation, however, lasted no more than a second or two as the gunman's head shot up, his surprisingly keen eyes locking on her face. The speed with which he moved caused Mary to take an unconscious step backward in subtle shock. As the startled moment passed, she realized he had gotten up from the chair and pulled his gun, the barrel pointing at her midsection while the orange light from a nearby fire danced on the gray steel.

Mary couldn't find her next breath until she saw the recognition dawn in Chris's harsh, unrelenting stare. His features soften slightly as he lowered the weapon and shook his head. His expression may have relaxed, but the hard edge still reflected in his quiet tone. "Mrs. Travis, what theā€¦ What are you doing out here at this time of night? I might've shot you." He slid the gun back into its holster.

Releasing the breath she held, the widow climbed the few stairs to the walkway in front of the saloon. The impatient note in Chris's voice caused her to bristle slightly, but she tried to stifle the reaction. His fears were well founded, and she understood his concern. Pulling her shawl a little tighter, she finally found her voice. "I'm sorry I startled you, Mister Larabee. But I could ask you the same question. What are you doing out here at this time of night?" As she finished the question, her eyes traveled to the glass and bottle sitting beside his chair.

"I'm thinkin', Mrs. Travis."

The unexpected reply pulled Mary's attention away from the table. She hadn't expected to get any kind of a real answer from him. If anything, she had been prepared for him to tell her to mind her own business. Maybe this answer was just his of being rude? That certainly wouldn't be a stretch. But as she confronted shadowy, green eyes, she knew that he spoke the truth. He was thinking. And from the sadness now shrouding his handsome face, the thoughts were anything but pleasant. Up until this point, she had seen nothing in either his manner or his speech to suggest he'd been nursing a whisky bottle all day. In fact, she was amazed by how alert and controlled he appeared. Maybe this uncharacteristic drop in his usually impenetrable guard was the only evidence she would see? If so, she would have to take advantage of it while she had the chance.

"About what?" Mary's gentle voice held a note of encouragement as she tried to coax this hardened enigma into relinquishing some of his secrets, letting go of some of his pain.

Chris opened his mouth as if to answer, but quickly closed it again before his eyes fell shut. Mary watched with discouraging sorrow as his lips formed a hard line, the granite frown mirrored in his furrowed brow. She stood very still, almost afraid to breathe, as she witnessed his silent struggle against the paralyzing grief. The desperate need to comfort him in someway surged forward, and Mary reached out to place a tender hand on his arm. "Please, Mister Larabee... Chris, you're not alone. I understand."

With the contact, or the words, or both, Chris's eyes sprang open, a harsh unforgiving light entering the gloomy depths. "Do you?"

The bitterness in his voice sent a splinter of fear slicing through Mary.

"Do you really?" Chris's gaze narrowed with the biting accusation. "Tell me, Mrs. Travis, did you kill your husband?"

The alarming question made Mary flinch, the shock of it sending a jolt of disbelief coursing through her. Is that the way he saw it, that he had killed his wife and son? No. Oh, no, the somber denial ran silently through her head. As she looked into the grievous, unyielding face of Chris Larabee, a penetrating misery seeped into the widow's mind. She'd never see such torment, such guilt. How could she even hope to begin to break through the terrible wall of blame? Did she really know what he was going through?

Yes, she stubbornly thought. She knew very well. She'd felt the guilt when Steven had been killed. The 'if onlys' had kept her up for many a night afterwards. If she'd only been at home that night, maybe Steven would have lived. If she'd only come home a little earlier, maybe Steven would have lived. If she'd only... Yes, perhaps her guilt hadn't been as deep as Chris's, but she had felt it, and she'd worked through it.

A small spark of resolute irritation joined the widow's sorrow as she continued to look into Chris's face. He was trying to dismiss her experience just as he'd done that day in Potter's store. She didn't appreciate it then, and she appreciated it even less now. The indignation grew a little brighter, and her back stiffened with a newfound determination. "No, Mister Larabee." Her voice was calm and steady when she finally spoke. "I didn't kill my husband. And you didn't kill your wife and son. As I understand it, a despicable man by the name of Fowler was the one responsible."

It was Chris's turn to be surprised. Mary watched with a subtle satisfaction as the sad frown melted into puzzled disbelief. Maybe he hadn't expected her insight, or maybe he hadn't expected her to reply at all. She didn't know, but she was pleased she'd caught him off guard. It didn't take long for the dark frown to cloud Chris's features once again, but as Mary watched it return, she was relieved to see that the harshness seemed to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.

Sadly, the gunslinger shook his head, his eyes intent on Mary's face. "They died because of me. If they hadn't been in my life... If I hadn't met Sarah... If I'd just stayed away...."

The sight of tears brimming in Chris's eyes brought an answering lump to Mary's throat. He stood before her, a tough, world-weary gunman feared by many who knew him, but she had come to see him as so much more. Chris Larabee was a man of principle, someone who had a fierce belief in right and wrong. He was a dedicated leader, his men's loyalty evidence of that dedication. He was capable of a degree of tenderness she'd never thought possible, her son's devotion proof of that compassion. And he was a man capable of deep emotion, the tears shining in his eyes proof of those hidden feelings. He was a complicated person, and as she stood bathed in the mist of his pain, Mary realized she wanted to know him better, the recognition drawing both surprise and fear from her.

Blinking, the widow pushed back her own threatening tears, Chris's words echoing in her head. 'If I'd just stayed away....' Mary took a step closer to the gunman while the hand on his arm gave a reassuring squeeze. "You loved your wife and son, and they loved you. Would you give that up, wish it away, regret their entrance into your life? How can you treat their memory so cruelly? Cherish them, Chris, don't regret them." Another gentle squeeze of his arm. "The tragedy wasn't your fault. It wasn't your fault." With the last plea, a faint desperation entered the widow's voice, her need to convince him storming to the surface.

A silent rejection hardened Chris's face, the hovering tears disappearing from sight. "It was nobody else's fault but mine." He shook his head in obstinate defiance. "They died because they were close to me. There's no other reason, no other explanation."

"No!" The word shot from Mary as her desperation manifested itself in a growing impatience with his refusal to listen to her. "They died because there are evil, ruthless people in this world. The explanation goes no further than that, Chris. You're not responsible for the cruelty of others. You're not responsible for your family's death. You're not."

"I wish I could believe that." The gunman's quiet voice was tainted with regret.

Mary's spirits fell a little more when she heard the words, but she refused to give up on him. He had to understand. He had to forgive. "You've got to believe it, Chris. You've got to believe it because it's true."

In the next instant, Mary felt a rough, callused hand cover hers as it rested on his arm. A shiver darted up her spine, and her grip on the shawl tightened. But as she looked down at their joined hands, she knew the night air wasn't the reason for her reaction. No, she silently scolded herself. She didn't, she wouldn't, couldn't...have feelings for this man. She had come to realize she would welcome his friendship, but she couldn't get any closer. She couldn't. Raising her head, the widow looked back into Chris's solemn face, his features softened slightly by a gracious smile. He remained silent, but the look he gave her was one of gratitude.

"Well," Mary eased her hand from the gunman's arm, and again pulled the shawl a little closer. "It's terribly late. I should... We should be getting inside. Dawn isn't very far away." She cast him a quick smile. "Goodnight, Mister Larabee.

"Goodnight, Mrs. Travis."

Turning, Mary descended the few stairs in front of the saloon and started across the street. Before she had the chance to take more than a few steps, she heard a whisper from behind her.

"Thank you, Mary."

She almost faltered, her eyes closing briefly with the gentle sound, but she kept up her steady stride and made it to the Clarion without stopping. Once inside, Mary locked the door and moved to her desk. She blew out the lantern and turned to face the front of the office. Stepping closer to the window, the widow saw Chris standing on the porch across the street staring at the Clarion door. He remained rooted to the spot for several long seconds before retrieving his hat from the table beside the chair. Hesitating, he took another quick look in the direction of the paper and then started to make his way up the walkway toward his room.

Mary watched Chris slowly move down the street. She noticed the same defeated posture she'd seen earlier in the day, his shoulders drooping while his head hung low. With the recognition came the intense need to comfort, to try and soothe the despair. As the desire came flooding back, Mary Travis again asked herself why, the force of her longing taking her by surprise. She'd tried to tell herself that it was simply because she hated seeing anyone suffer so keenly, that she would feel this need no matter who the person was. But as the sympathy for Chris tightened its grip on her, the justifications suddenly seemed very hollow. He wasn't just anyone, not any more. Her desperate need to ease his suffering came from a tender feeling that continued to grow in her heart. The reluctant confession scared the widow to death. Even as she'd tried to convince him that he wasn't responsible for his family's death, Mary couldn't help but be frightened by the danger that surrounded him.

Walking to stand at the window, Mary's eyes followed Chris as he climbed the stairs to his room. Had she made a dent in the condemning grief, helped to ease the burning ache? She wasn't sure. Something in the back of her mind told her no. And as she watched him close the door behind him, a single tear rolled down the widow's cheek. It had been a heartbreaking experience, this glimpse at a battered soul.

The End