A Gunsmoke Story
by MAHC (Amanda)
Disclaimer: I did not create these marvelous characters, unfortunately.
The dull throbbing pushed harder against her skull, keeping steady rhythm with her pulse, urging her up through the layers of pain and fear until it finally broke through and awareness gushed over her body like a broken levee.
She lay still for a moment, allowing her brain to focus on the reality of being awake. At least she thought she was awake. An aborted effort to move confirmed her theory. Yep. She was awake. She blinked once, then twice, greeted by the same aches, physical and emotional, that had jerked her from the nightmares plaguing her feeble attempts to sleep since the attack. Acquiescing to the pain, she nevertheless braved a glance about the room. To her surprise, soft, familiar, comfortable colors greeted her. Her own room, not Doc’s office. Her own bed, not Doc’s cot. She didn’t remember moving – or being moved, and wondered how long she had been there, who had carried her.
As usual, with awareness came memory – and fear. Logic told her she was safe, but fear weighed down her chest, and only a tiny portion of that fear was for herself. A slight pressure at her hip drew her gaze down to see a head of tousled brown hair shot with gray resting on the bedspread, a large, strong hand loose in hers at her side. Thinking a smile more than doing it, she untangled her fingers from his and threaded them through the familiar curls just within her reach.
Her thoughts fluttered back to that night, to his stunned eyes. He had knelt by her side, clutched her hand in his. “I need you, Kitty. I need you.”
That plea, as thick with emotion as she had ever heard his deep voice,
had pulled her through the night, had given her a reason to stay, to live.
But he had been gone when she woke again. Gone after Jude Bonner. Gone to avenge her. Gone not as the marshal of
Doc had said he would be back, had said the day hadn’t come when Matt Dillon couldn’t take care of himself, but that didn’t make it any easier to know he was gone in the first place. For eighteen years she had lived in dread for that day to come. At least in previous times, he had approached the danger with a cool head, in control. But this time – this time she had seen it in his eyes: pain, fear – and reckless fury.
“I couldn’t live without him, Doc. You know that,” she had admitted to Doc as they waited, wondering if Matt would return.
But he did – just as Doc promised.
She dropped her hand back to his and took note of the bloodied and bruised knuckles. Dust and dirt clung to his shirt and vest. Had he killed Bonner with his bare hands, she wondered, beaten him to death? She wasn’t sure if she wanted it to be true or not.
He stirred, grunting softly as stiff muscles protested. After only a few seconds, however, his head jerked up, and his blue eyes were searching even before they could focus. The pain and fear still creased his features, but the fury had dissolved into some other unreadable emotion.
She looked closer now, saw the bruises on his jaw, the blood at the corner of his mouth. Apparently, he hadn’t bothered with having Doc tend to his wounds when he returned. Between the two of them, they made quite a pair.
“How long?” she asked, confident he understood.
He did. “Three days.”
Three days. Three days since the attack. Three days since Bonner. Three days since Hell.
He caught her hand again, wrapped his long fingers around it and brought it to his cheek. She felt the rough stubble of his beard on her smooth skin, and considered the sight before her.
Matt Dillon. Big. Strong. Hard. But now the shadows that crossed his face betrayed vulnerability, loss.
“How do you feel?” he asked, jaw tightening, bracing for her response.
“Great.” Sarcasm had always been one of her talents, but she abandoned it when she saw the devastation in his eyes.
“Kitty, I’m – “ He swallowed, and she stared at the tear that rolled down his cheek. In all their years together, she had never seen Matt Dillon cry. Not once, even through his own impressive array of injuries. He took a breath, tried to gather himself. “I’m so sorry, Kitty. I’m so – “
“Shh.” Her hand slid from his to wipe away the moisture.
But he shook his head. “No. I shouldn’t have – you shouldn’t have been – “ His eyes shifted away, tormented, regretful – guilty.
She watched him, unable to form the words of comfort. Maybe deep down, she did hold him at least a little responsible.
“I never wanted the things I’ve had to do to reach you,” he whispered, still not meeting her gaze. “I’ve tried to keep things away from you. That’s why – “
“I know,” she said.
But he shook his head again and grimaced. “I thought if we weren’t – if there was no legal connection, you would be safer. No one would – “ His voice broke, and he gritted his teeth in an effort to hold himself together. “Worked great, huh?”
For a moment, she felt the old fire in her eyes and lifted her chin. “I’ve always been proud to be your woman, Matt Dillon.”
But her declaration only drew more shame to his cheeks. “Why? What has it brought you except – “
“Except a man who is brave, and strong, and handsome – and good. I haven’t regretted one day of being with you, Matt.”
He looked skeptical. “What about – “
“Not even three days ago. Jude Bonner couldn’t hurt me. Not really. Not when I’ve been with a real man.”
His head dropped again, his lips pressing against her hand. She felt the tears that had never fallen before wet her skin. “Kitty – “ he groaned, a sound full of agony and apology. It only made him more of a man in her eyes.
“Did you – did you kill him?” she asked, not sure what she wanted the answer to be.
He breathed out hard and cleared his throat. When he lifted his head, the tears were gone, but the despair remained. “No.”
Relief and disappointed vied inside her. “Okay.”
His harsh laugh held no humor. “Not for lack of trying,” he admitted.
“I tried to kill him. By God, I wanted to kill him. I wanted to smash in his skull.” His tone was black, his eyes hard.
“Why didn’t you?” she whispered, still not sure she was glad he hadn’t.
“Festus stopped me.”
Kitty caught her breath at the hate darkening his words. “You wouldn’t have,” she reasoned.
Blue eyes held steady to hers. “I would.”
“But if you had – “
“If I had, some of those dog soldiers would have killed me.”
“I’m glad Festus stopped you.”
He hesitated, and she couldn’t tell if he was glad or not, but after a moment he smiled – almost. “Yeah.”
She shifted, and the pain from her side drew a sharp breath. He stood, his right arm sliding around her as if he could shield her from the discomfort.
After a moment, she was able to nod reassurance. “I’m all right.”
But his lips pressed together dubiously. “Uh huh.”
“Really, Matt. I am. Or I will be.” She squeezed his hand. “I have all I need now.”
He let his left hand brush through her mass of red hair. “Kathleen.”
Her given name. He hadn’t used it in years. In fact, not since their first time together. Maybe he felt it was softer, she didn’t know. A smile covered her surprise, and she returned the sentiment.
Fingers still entwined in her curls, he said, “I’ve been sitting here thinking.” He’d had plenty of time for that, she reflected.
“‘Bout what?” But she could guess.
of course, an “us.” Despite the lack of
a license, everyone in Dodge knew. Hell,
“Kitty, you know how I feel.”
“I do. It’s nice to hear it every once in a while, though,” she reminded.
Chagrin – and guilt – flashed over his rugged, handsome face, and she immediately regretted the words. “I didn’t mean – “
“I love you, Kitty.” Simple, easy. “I love you very much.”
She knew it, of course. Had heard it from him on occasion. But something about this time reached in and wrapped around her heart. “I love you, Matt.”
He knelt suddenly. “I figure I’m about seventeen years too late, but – “
Her pulse quickened, adrenaline surged through her veins. He wasn’t going to –
“I want to marry you, Kitty,” he said, blue eyes boring into her. “If you’ll have me. All this time I thought I was protecting you – I’ve been a fool not to ask before.”
Tears burned her eyes, but she didn’t bother wiping them. Instead, she reached out and cupped his jaw, tugging gently so that he leaned toward her until their lips touched. His mouth moved softly against hers, mindful of the still-tender skin. After a moment, he pulled back, eyes bright and searching.
“Is that a yes?’
“Matt Dillon, you are a fool,” she declared.
He grimaced and lowered his head so that his eyes looked up at her from under uncertain brows, that little boy expression that never failed to wrench her heart. “I think I’ve owned up to that already.”
“What do you think we’ve been all these years? There might not be a civil piece of paper to file at the courthouse, but there’s just as much commitment even without it. Besides, I figure in God’s eyes we’re about as married as the next couple. You are my man, Matthew Dillon. And I am your woman. Have been for eighteen years.”
He smiled warily. “Does that mean you’re turning me down?”
Laughing for the first time in three days, she said, “Hell no. When he comes back, you just go on and send Festus out for the preacher. Just ‘cause you’re a fool, doesn’t mean I’m gonna be one, too.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he agreed, leaning in to kiss her again. “Yes, ma’am.”
The throbbing began again, but this time it was not her head, but her heart that took the lead, pounding not with fear or with pain, but with joy. And the new awareness that gushed over her cleansed them both.