Mulberry Bush

Post-Ep for The Last Apache

A Gunsmoke Story



By Amanda (MAHC)


POV: Matt/Mike

Episodes Referenced: MLS, The Last Apache

Rating: M

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).






Matt Dillon stretched out his long legs and crossed one boot over the other, letting his gaze unfocus as he stared at the dancing flames in Mike Yardner’s fireplace.  It all seemed a bit unreal to him, now that the action was over, now that Beth – his daughter – was safe.


His daughter.  Dear God.


He couldn’t be angry with Mike for not telling him.  Her reasons were all too logical, and with an uncomfortable stab of guilt, he admitted to some relief that she hadn’t.  It would have been – difficult – to explain to Kitty.




As always when he thought of her – and that was just about every other minute – his heart ripped apart anew.  She had been gone over a year now, torn from him not by the hand of a nemesis, as he had so long feared, but by the cruel hand of disease.  At least her suffering had been short, her passing merciful.


He laughed humorlessly.  Merciful for her, maybe, but not for the rest of them.  Not for him.


So he had wandered for a year, committed himself back to the wild, interloping into civilization on occasion, long enough to trade, or to catch up on what the world was doing, but always returning to the frontier that still beckoned him, even after so many years away from it.


It was on one of those interlopes that he obtained the letter from Mike, a bittersweet memory that still visited his dreams once in a while.  And the resulting re-acquaintance had led to the most shocking revelation he had ever encountered – except for the doctor’s heartbreaking whisper that Kitty was dying.


Elizabeth.  Beth.  His daughter.


He had told Kitty about Mike, of course.  They had never kept things from each other, although he sometimes softened the harsher experiences in the re-telling.  And in time, after an appropriately extended period of being thoroughly furious with him, she had forgiven him.  And life had gone on.


And now here he sat, reclining in the same rocking chair from 22 years before.  Beth and Mike had both retired for the evening, exhausted from the incredible journey.  He wondered what would happen now, didn’t know, himself, exactly what he wanted to happen.  He knew one thing, though – he wanted Mike to let him see Beth, to get to know her, to try to be a father to her, even coming this late to the dance.


Surely she would.  Otherwise, she wouldn’t have written him, even if she wasn’t interested in –


A tiny squeak interrupted his thoughts, pulling his attention to the right.  Mike’s door had opened, and she stood in the threshold looking down at him, just as she had all those years before.  He wondered if she could hear his heart thump as he watched her.  But he didn’t budge, didn’t dare assume anything.


“You’re thinkin’ mighty loud out here.”  Her smile softened the accusation.


“Thoughts are kinda havin’ to shout each other down to be heard.”


The smiled faded slightly.  “Guess they are at that.”


In the silence that followed, he let his gaze fall from hers again, returning it to the fire, but after a few seconds her next question drew it sharply back.


“You still wanderin’ around that Mulberry bush?”


They regarded each other for a long, quiet moment, and Matt wondered if she was re-living that night, regretting her invitation – or considering another one now.  Finally, she sighed and held out a hand to him.


“It’s still difficult for a lady to get some sleep around here.”


His heart pounded beneath his ribcage.  For just a beat, he remained still.  Then, pushing up slowly, he let his long fingers entwine in hers, following obediently as she led him into her room and closed the door behind them.






She hadn’t been sure he would accept her invitation, had wondered if he was angry over her not telling him about Beth, even though he said he understood.  But when he rose and took her hand, she thought perhaps her legs would collapse before they made it back into her room.


It had been so long, over twenty years, since her body had felt his touch, but her dreams took her back to that night, over and over.  She hadn’t been celibate all that time, of course.  She had physical needs, emotional needs that a man could satisfy – at least temporarily.  And Chalk Brighton had been an attentive, sweet, caring companion.  But he was not Dan – not Matt Dillon.  It made her feel guilty about poor Chalk, a good man.  A man who had given his life helping save Beth, not even his own daughter.


But still, he was not Matt Dillon.  Other men had been compared to him, other encounters tried to measure up – and failed.


And now, he here was, in the flesh, and she had one more time with him.  She trembled with the pressure to savor it, to make it last for future dreams.


He smiled at her, and she took note of the marks the years had left on him.  Face more deeply lined, chest not quite as strapping, limp more pronounced.  But whatever he had been doing the past score it hadn’t been behind a desk.  His body was still hard, his shoulders broad, his legs long and firm.  He was still a fine figure of a man, and she was still hopelessly in love with him.


The first kiss vaulted them right back to that magical moment so long ago, when he was her “Dan” and she had given in to her better judgment and welcomed him into her bed.  This time, though, they both came into the embrace with open eyes and twenty years of experiences behind them.


She wondered vaguely where his woman was, but selfishly decided that it didn’t matter, at least not at that moment.  Even if he left tomorrow, even if she never saw him again, she couldn’t deny herself this night with him.


“Oh, Dan,” she breathed and felt him smile against her mouth.  Sheepishly, she amended, “Matt.”


“It’s all right,” he assured her, bending so that his lips brushed down her neck and pressed over the tops of her breasts, stealing her breath. “You can call me ‘Dan’ if you want to.”


But she didn’t want to.  This was Matt Dillon, Beth’s father.  And he was about to become her lover again – at least for the evening.


Her hands ran over his body, remembering, reacquainting.  Satisfaction dimpled her cheeks when she heard his appreciative groan.  She opened his shirt and let the warmth drift out, her touch drawing chill bumps to his skin.  Yes, he was still beautiful, still very much all man.


Slowly, his fingers coaxed the buttons of her blouse from their holes, baring her inch by inch until she stood before him in only her chemise, her eager breasts stretching the fabric taut over them.  He said her name, his voice both rich and hoarse at once. Oh, how she had yearned for so many years to hear that one word once again slip from his lips.


When he looked at her with a question in his eyes, she answered by stripping off the rest of her clothes, baring her body to him.  His large hands reached out to hold her breasts, the long fingers caressing her nipples.  Twenty years was too long.  Her patience had been exhausted.  Groaning, she urged him backwards until they fell onto the bed, her weight on him. The hard ridge that she had felt only in her dreams since he left pressed into her again.  It took the last of her control to raise her body up enough so that she could tug his trousers down, every nerve in her body surging with the impressive sight.  Their eyes met briefly as he eased her over his hips, holding her steady to guide his entry, so he wouldn’t cause her pain with the first push.  Twenty years.  It had been twenty years since she had felt so full, so complete.  As her body adjusted to him, he slid in farther until she was moaning at the sensation. 


He was everything she remembered – and he was so much more.  How could his touch be so soft while his body was so hard? How could his endearments be so quiet while his thrusts were so powerful?  How could his tongue be so gentle while his grip was like iron?


She looked down at him, and pride and pleasure touched her at the ecstasy on his face, knowing she had caused it.  His head leaned back, his hands pressed against her hips driving her onto him harder and harder.  She realized that he needed this physical contact, this connection.   Later there would be time for a slow love, heat building and building until they could not restrain it, but now he needed the release that she suspected he had denied himself for a while.  He wasn’t the only one.


At first, she thought only to let him come, to relieve him of his intense need, but he surprised her, holding out as his hands touched her intimately, expertly, the slick path of his tongue flaming her desire, until she found herself bucking just as wildly as he was.  Sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip, and she felt him pull her to him, then turn so she was beneath him.  He withdrew long enough to try to rid himself of his shirt, the last remaining bit of cloth between them. 


She moaned, aching for him, and shook her head for him to forget the damned shirt.  The plunge back inside drew a gasp from her lips.  Oh, this was so good.  He was so good, and he was so close, she could tell, and he would come hard, no question about that. 


“Mike!” he whispered, his voice ragged.


She could only nod, assuring him silently that she was with him, that he didn’t have to hold back.  Gasping, he stiffened, and she arched her hips so that he was buried as deeply as she could take him.  The moan was wrenched from deep within as he came violently, pushing, throbbing, pumping.  Over and over, he thrust into her, sweat tracing paths down his face.  His climax triggered an unbelievable explosion inside her, her own muscles clenching around him, and she lurched her head back, crying out his name – his real name – with each pulse. 


A long time later, she found herself sprawled under him, their exhausted bodies slick and sticky.  She reached up a hand to run it through his thick hair, wild and damp. The expression on his face brought tears to her eyes.  He was looking down at her, his blue eyes soft, his mouth opened slightly.  Cupping her chin in one hand, he placed a gentle kiss on her lips, then rolled off her to lie on his back, pulling her against him, her head on his shoulder, a leg draped over his pelvis.  Carefully, she pushed the damp shirt from his body, wanting it out of the way, because they weren’t through for the evening.  Not by a long shot. She had waited too long for this.





He lay against the soft pillows, his right arm beneath Mike so that her head rested against his shoulder.  Her fingers rubbed casually over his chest, straying every other stroke to tease lower over his stomach.  Thoroughly sated, he felt as if his body could just melt back into the bed, and he hoped there was no emergency anytime soon.  He seriously doubted if he could move.  She had given him such pleasure, had surrendered herself to him completely, opened to him with abandon, and he tried to give back with his best effort.  It had been a very, very long time since he had demanded so much of his body in such a situation.  Not since Kitty had gotten sick –


Kitty.  And suddenly the old guilt swept over him. Tensing his closed eyes, he tried to push it away.  Kitty was dead. He wasn’t betraying her – again.


It didn’t help that Mike had made him feel alive for the first time in over a year. 


Conflict surged new energy through him, snapped open his eyes, drew his body from under her soft flesh.  With effort, he swung his long legs over the side of the bed and sat on the edge, head in his hands, the muscles of his shoulders bunched and knotted in frustration. 


Stirring sleepily, Mike propped on an elbow, her fingers skimming down his arm. “Matt? You okay?”


“I’m – I’m fine.  Go to sleep.”


But she didn’t move away from him, just let her hand continue its caress.  “Thank you for staying tonight.”


Tonight.  He wondered if she wanted him to stay tomorrow night, wondered if he wanted to stay.  “I should be thanking you,” he told her gallantly, keeping his back to her.


“I’ve wanted that to happen again for the past twenty-two years,” she admitted, her hand flattening to rub over his wide shoulders.


He didn’t respond.  He couldn’t tell her the same thing, not because he hadn’t wanted to, but because of –


“Is it her?” she asked abruptly, her insight catching him by surprise. 


Apparently, she took his silence as acquiescence.


“You’re not – you’re not still – together. You wouldn’t have let this happen if you were.  I know that.” It was comforting, somehow, to hear that confidence from her.


Together.  Together.


He shook his head, not trusting his voice at the moment.  Finally, he said, “Kitty’s dead.”


“Kitty,” she repeated in a whisper, and he realized that it was the first time he’d ever said that name to Mike.  After only a beat, the fingers closed around his long bicep, squeezing softly.  “Oh, Matt, I’m so sorry.” And she sounded sincere.  But then, she had been there herself with Johnny Yardner.  And, he realized, with “Dan,” too, in a strange way.  “How long?”


“A year,” he mumbled, then added, “and two months.”  He could have told her how many days and hours if she had asked.


“You loved her very much,” she said softly.  “I could tell that twenty years ago, and I can tell it now.”


He didn’t answer.  He couldn’t answer.  But her touch let him know he didn’t have to.  Sitting, she pressed up against his back, encircled him with her arms. His eyes closed against the swirl of pain and pleasure.


“I’m sorry,” he breathed raggedly, still hunched over, his elbows on his knees.


“It’s okay,” she told him, and for the first time in over a year he almost let himself believe it.








Mike had never known her name, had never wanted to, really.  It didn’t matter.  That one look into Matt Dillon’s face when he remembered her said it all.  In that instant, Mike knew she had lost him to his real life – to Kitty.


She must be some kind of woman, Mike had mused that day.  She still figured it to be true, but now that woman was gone, and Mike saw the void that was left in his life.  She couldn’t replace Kitty.  How could anyone replace a soul mate?  But she could, at least, offer some comfort to him, a diversion, and a reassurance that there was still pleasure in the world.


Characteristically, he straightened after a moment, and turned to face her, carefully masking the despair he had almost allowed her to see earlier.  In its place there was calm, and a slight twinkle in those beautiful eyes.


A smirk curved his lips.  “I don’t suppose – “


“What?” She smiled back, intrigued by his expression, so boyish, almost mischievous.


“I don’t suppose you could still get, uh – “


It dawned on her, then, what he was asking, and the laughter bubbled up inside.  “Oh!  Oh, no, that’s not – well, this filly’s just an old mare, now.  What a thought.”


“You still look like a filly to me, Mike,” he told her sincerely.


“Oh, Matt.” Softening her tone, she added, “Thank you for suggestin’ it was still possible.”


He shrugged. “Just checkin’.”


Hesitantly, she asked, “What if it was possible?”


“Well, guess maybe I’d have ta’ stay around,” he said, his shoulders lifting in a shrug.


Just like that.  “Guess maybe I’d have to stay around.”  Dear God. For a moment, she almost wished she could still get pregnant.  But she hadn’t used that to bring him back twenty years before.  She wouldn’t use it to keep him now, even if it were possible.


She wanted to know, though, felt compelled to confirm what she had wondered that day she realized he had left her with a part of himself. “You’d – you’d stay if – “


“I couldn’t leave you like that,” he said, sounding incredulous that she would think so.  “I wouldn’t have before, if I’d known.”


She wondered if that was really true, couldn’t see him abandoning his other life once he got it back.  But it was nice to imagine he might have.  The situation was different now, though.  What if –


Gathering up her courage before it disappeared, she asked, “What about now, even though it’s not possible?”


His eyes locked with hers, and he let their gazes burn together for a long moment.  Then, quietly, he asked, “Is that a proposal?”


It was an echo of the question he had given her that night, but her answer wouldn’t be the same this time.  “Do you want it to be?”


“I’d like to – to get to know Beth better.  Maybe make up just a little for all those years I wasn’t around.”


“That’s not your fault, Matt,” she began, but he shook his head, relieving her of any responsibility for that decision.


“You were right.  My life then didn’t – didn’t have room for a family.”  She thought she saw pain flash across his face, but it wasn’t physical pain.  “I would only have placed you and Beth in danger, just like – “ Taking a frayed breath, he let the rest of the sentence remain unspoken, but she understood.


“You’re welcome to stay, Matt,” she assured him.  “As long as you – as you need to – for Beth.”


He lifted his hand to brush a stray lock of honey hair from her face.  After a moment, he asked, “Just for Beth?”


Breath wouldn’t come, not until she forced the air back into her lungs.  What had he said?  It took a moment, but she managed to catch his hand in hers and pull it against her cheek.  “Matt?”


“Mike,” he said in that rich tone that she heard in her dreams, “I can’t – I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the future, but if you don’t mind – if you and Beth don’t mind – “ He drew in a quick breath.  “I think – I think I’d like to stay.”






His own voice sounded foreign to him as he made the confession to her, so familiar, so much like he had told her twenty years before.  “I’d like to stay.”  Only this time there was no other life that pulled him back.  There was no abrupt revelation that he was Matt Dillon, United States Marshal.  There was no beautiful redhead waiting for him to return to her – not anymore.


He had never expected to outlive anybody, had never thought much past the present, had never thought he would need to plan a life after being a lawman.  Lawmen didn’t retire.  Lawmen didn’t settle down.  Lawmen died.


But he hadn’t died.  Not yet.  He had wandered for a year just living, wondering how much longer the Good Lord would keep him around, wondering what he was around for if it wasn’t for Kitty or for keeping the peace.


It had taken a year, but now perhaps he knew.  Maybe there was a reason he was still on the earth after all.  Maybe there were two reasons.


Mike Yardner was looking at him with something akin to love – something he hadn’t seen in a long time, something he hadn’t allowed himself in a long time.  Tenderly, he leaned forward and touched his lips to hers, barely brushing them before he drew back. The hope in her eyes spurred him over the final barrier.


Drawing in a decisive breath, he repeated, “I’d like to stay.”






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