My Eternal Portion

A Gunsmoke Story



By Amanda (MAHC)



“Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion,

Scarce can endure delay of execution:

Wait, with impatient readiness, to seize my

Soul in a moment.”



The Task

William Cower (1731-1800)




Chapter One: Delay of Execution


POV: Billy Justus

Spoilers: None

Rating: T

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

Author’s Notes:  I’ve been kicking this idea around for a while.  It will only have about three or four chapters, nothing too much in depth.  Probably more like an episode than an epic.  Still, hope you enjoy it!



Dodge City

4:13 p.m., Friday, June 18


It was time.  Hard to believe, really.  He had waited so long, had lived out this moment over and over in his dreams, night after night.  He almost wanted to slow time down so he could savor it, suddenly considering what would happen when it was over, what would drive him then.  Shaking his head, he cleared his mind of the visions and set to the task.  He couldn’t let foolish notions ruin the plan.  Planting firmly in the dirt of the street, he eyed the broad back as the man crossed a few hundred feet away.  He would call his name to get him to turn.  Whatever else he was, Billy Justus was no back shooter.  His hand twitched over his holster.  One more beat.




The big man turned, his hand already at his gun, but Billy had the advantage of knowing what was happening.  He had drawn and aimed even as the name was called out.  He wanted to paint this picture in his mind for years to come, to sooth him in his old age, to pleasure him in un-pleasurable moments.


Yes, indeed.  This had been a long time coming.  His hunger was great, but vengeance was a tasty dish.






12:02 p.m., Wednesday, June 16


Billy Justus peered out the open windows of the stage, brushing a hand across his mouth in a futile attempt to keep from eating too much dust.  The scene outside had changed drastically as soon as they entered the outskirts of town.  Buildings still framed by raw, unpainted wood told of rapid growth.  Constant movement along the boardwalks and through the dirt streets gave the impression of a city on the rise.  Of course, Billy already knew to expect this.  He had spent the past month reading everything he could get his hands on about Dodge City.  “Queen of the Cow Towns,” they called her, and he could see why first hand now.


If he was inclined to find a place where he could seek his fortune, Dodge might just be the place.  But Billy Justus hadn’t come to Dodge to seek a fortune, or even just to see the sights.  Except for one sight, and he didn’t expect to see it for very long.


The stage lurched to a stop outside a hotel whose sign proclaimed it to be the Dodge House.  Like a gentlemen, Billy tipped his hat to the two ladies who had shared the coach with him from Garden City, and stepped out first, reaching back to assist their egress.  For his troubles, he received two flirtatious smiles, which would have been more welcome if the women had an ounce of pretty between them.  As it was, he nodded, grabbed his carpetbag, and stepped behind the coach, not waiting to see if they were disappointed.


His eyes automatically began scanning the citizens of the town, a challenging task since there were quite a few.   But the citizen he was looking for in particular wouldn’t be hard to spot.  Ten years was a long time, but he figured not so long that a tree of a man didn’t still stretch right up into the sky.


No sir, not hard to spot, at all.


Cautioning himself to remain patient, he headed toward the Dodge House for a room.  He didn’t have much money, but that didn’t matter.  He wouldn’t need the accommodations long.






8:17 p.m., Wednesday, June 16


Feet propped on the porch railing of the Dodge House, Billy peered down Front Street and noticed a familiar name beckoning him. Ten years before, the Long Branch Saloon had been a place where a man could find a poker game, a cold beer, and a little companionship.  He hoped it still provided those things.  Glancing quickly around, he dropped his feet and headed that way, searching his memory for the name of the owner and bartender.  Bill, he remembered, since it was a shared name, but the last part failed him.  Didn’t matter, really, he figured.  Money was a better reminder than memory.


There were differences he noted right off, the main one being the fancy mirror behind the bar.  Other subtle touches told him maybe Old Bill wasn’t around anymore – or maybe the fellow had gotten himself hitched.  This place had the touch of a woman.


A couple of card games seemed to be in full swing, friendly looking.  Not his type.  Six or seven cowboys perched at the bar, the dust of the trail still thick on them.  He’d tried his hand as a drover once, and that had been more than enough to let him know his talents lay elsewhere.  Of course, in hindsight, maybe he’d have been better off on the open plains than caged in that hellhole for more than a decade.   Resentment boiled up inside him, and he fought to push it back down.  There would be time for that later, when he faced Dillon again, when he needed that hatred to fuel his actions, to destroy the man who had destroyed him.


Evenin’ Miss Kitty.”


Justus lifted his head at the bartender’s greeting, ear pricking with the name.  Kitty.  Ten years was not so long that he didn’t remember The Long Branch’s prettiest girl.  It didn’t take more than a quick glance to see that she could still claim that title, although he would definitely have to refer to her as a woman now.  He frowned in disappointment at the change in her clothing, though.  A much-too-conservative white blouse and plain skirt did more than they should of hiding of the figure he could see was still there.


Evenin’, Sam,” she returned, her voice a little lower, a little huskier.  He liked it.  “Been a good night?”


“Yes, ma’am.  With the herds in town, we’re seeing quite a bit of business.”


“Hey! How ‘bout a beer over here?”


Justus leaned against the counter and watched as one of the grimy, drunken cowhands waved a gun in the air.


“Calm down, mister,” the bartender warned.  “I think maybe you’ve had enough beer for tonight.”


“Hell no!” the drover protested.  “I’ll have as many beers as I want.  And if you won’t give ‘em to me, I’ll talk to the owner.”


To Justus’ surprise, Kitty stepped forward calmly.  “I’m the owner, mister.  And you’ve had enough beer for tonight.”


He felt his jaw drop and made a conscious effort to close his mouth.  She was the owner now?  Well, would wonders never cease?  That made for a right interesting side note to his visit.  He wondered if he’d have time before he confronted Dillon – time to get to know Miss Kitty a little better.


If he had expected any protest from the cowboy, he was disappointed.  The man backed down in the face of her strong stance.  “I wuz just tryin’ to have a good time,” he mumbled sadly.


“You go on to bed and come back tomorrow night, and you can have some more fun,” Kitty assured him, her tone patient, almost amused.


With a grunt, he stumbled through the swinging doors, followed by two comrades who were either thoughtful enough to see him to bed or broke enough to be done for the night themselves.


“Thought we might need the marshal,” the bartender said, smiling.


As if he had just leaped into a winter pond, Justus’ blood froze in his veins at the mention of the law.


Kitty sniffed.  “For him?  He’s just blowing off steam.  We’ll let Matt take the hard stuff.”


Billy swallowed, whether in relief or in regret he wasn’t sure.  He had envisioned this trip for so long, had anticipated his moment of victory, that it didn’t quite seem real anymore.  Matt Dillon.  The man had lived ten years longer than Justus had wanted, but his time would soon be up.


“What hard stuff?”


The deep tone spun Justus around so that he stared at the doors of the saloon, stared at the huge man who filled the whole frame, stared at what had brought him back to Dodge.


He had been right.  Dillon still stood halfway to the sky, legs long, shoulders broad.  If anything, he was even bigger than Justus remembered.  The years had only served to make him more formidable.  Shaking off the momentary uncertainty, Justus tugged his hat down a bit and watched as the marshal strode across the floor and stopped in front of Kitty.  He hoped ten years and a full beard were enough to make him unrecognizable.


She smiled up at him.  “Oh, you know, gunslingers and bank robbers.  We’ll save those for you.  Sam and I can handle a few ordinary drunks.”


Ya can, can ya?” Dillon returned, pushing his hat back to show a head full of thick hair that was still dark.


Justus sipped on the beer the bartender had brought him and narrowed his eyes at the two, watching the way she looked at the marshal – and the way he looked back at her.


Arright, mister!  Ain’t no city dude gonna cheat me!”


Chairs scattered suddenly, crashing back and upsetting several glasses of beer.  A stocky cowboy, just as rough and rowdy as his companions, stood glaring at the man who sat across the table from him, fancy coat and ruffled shirt supporting the assessment of his origin.  Justus turned curiously, sliding down the bar to avoid the imminent altercation.


“Now, hold on.”  Dillon stepped in front of Kitty, his hands out toward the cowboy.


But his attempt at settling things peacefully disintegrated a second later when the angry man caught up his chair and swung it hard toward the marshal.  Dillon tried to duck, but he was too tall to get under the swing.  Instead of catching him on the shoulder, the chair smashed against the side of his head.  With a grunt, the big man was flung back against the bar, and his attacker turned the shattered remnants of his impromptu weapon on the dude.  Justus grabbed his beer and retreated a little farther back to watch.


“Matt!”  Kitty knelt next to Dillon, whose struggle to rise was hindered somewhat by the blood that had begun to trail down the side of his face.


General chaos followed as the patrons took sides, randomly it seemed, and hurled themselves at other bodies.  Justus kept an eye on the marshal, the fight, and his beer – in that order.  Chairs flew, glasses crashed, and cowboys swung.  Just when Billy thought there was no hope of stopping the melee, a gunshot exploded into the air.


Across the bar, fists froze in various poised positions.


“Hold it!”  The bark was loud and demanding, and all heads turned at the order.


Justus saw that Dillon had regained his feet and now stood, legs braced wide, gun pointed just over the heads of the brawlers.  Billy blinked in mild annoyance.  He hadn’t seen the marshal draw.


“All right, that’s enough,” Dillon commanded through a grimace.


The fight had stopped, but as Justus watched the tall lawman swaying on his feet, he wondered how he planned to haul all of his violators off to jail.  Then the doors to the Long Branch swung open again and a scruffy fellow stomped through.


“Matthew, you need enney hep?”


Dillon lifted a hand to wipe at the free flow of blood over his left eye.  Justus saw Kitty take hold of his arm to try to steady him.  “Take these men and lock ‘em up, Festus,” the marshal managed as a tall, thin young man scrambled into the room, as well.  “Thad, you – help – “


“Matt!” the Long Branch owner cried out.


Long legs buckling, Dillon fell back against the bar.  The two men who had entered to help him rushed to his side, but the marshal shook his head and waved them away.  “I’m – all right – get them – outta here – “


Of course, to everyone who watched, it was apparent that he was not all right at all.  Justus frowned, finding himself in the strange situation of hoping the marshal wasn’t too badly injured.  He wanted to exact his justice on a healthy, worth adversary, not one that was weak and wounded.


“Sit down, Matt,” Kitty urged gently but firmly, tugging at his arm.  The marshal certainly looked as if he needed to.  His shirtfront was now soaked red from the steady stream of blood down his face, and Billy speculated that if the big lawman tried to push away from the bar he would find himself flat on the floor.  No, tonight wasn’t the night.  He could wait if he had to.


“Matt,” Kitty repeated, more forcefully this time.  “Sit down before you fall down.”


He turned to her, and Justus noticed the unusual combination of exasperation and gratitude on his face.  With a reluctant nod, the marshal rested his left hand on a chair back, bracing to lower his tall frame into the seat.  He didn’t make it, though.


From the corner of his eye, Justus saw a rough-hewn drover ease his pistol from his holster.  He was never sure how it happened or what he had been thinking, but some instinct overtook him and he yelled out, “Marshal!” 


Dillon’s gun leveled instantly and fired; the hapless would-be murderer was slammed back over a table and slumped against the wall before his brain even registered that he was dead. 


The marshal stood unmoving for another few seconds, pistol still trained on the fresh corpse.  When he lifted his gaze, his eyes met Billy’s, and Justus froze, terrified that he would see recognition in the cool blue that stared back at him, wondering if he should just jab his gun into Dillon’s belly right then and be done with it. 


But after a couple of ragged breaths, the marshal nodded, gave him a pained smile, and said, “Obliged.”


Heart pounding, Justus swallowed and nodded back, tightening his eyes at the irony of the moment.  He had saved Matt Dillon’s life just so he could take it himself later.  Dillon had gotten a reprieve, a delay to his execution. 


But only a delay.  Justus had waited ten years.  He could wait another few hours.




Chapter Two: With Impatient Readiness


POV: Billy Justus

Spoilers: None

Rating: T

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



Dodge City

10:48 a.m., Thursday, June 17


The Long Branch was slow in the morning, Billy Justus noted, sipping carefully at his drink, the knowledge of his limited resources nagging at the back of his mind.  It seemed as if evening would never come, and he tried not to fidget waiting for night, waiting for his moment.  Of course, he realized it might not happen still.  The talk around town was that the marshal had a concussion and the town doctor had ordered him to bed after he stitched up his head.  Justus frowned at the inconvenience of that bit of bad luck.


Still, it had given him time to step back and take in the scenery.  At the moment, the scenery was made up solely of the striking woman who was seated with an older man at one of the back tables.  With a second look, Justus realized it was Doc Adams, who had tended Dillon the night before.  He sat a discrete distance from them, seemingly lost in thought and beer.  Experience had taught him that a man could learn a great deal that way.


“ – go back up later and sit with him,” Kitty was saying.


“Well, he’ll be okay, but I doubt he’ll protest your company, Kitty,” the doctor returned.  Then he leaned closer.  “He needs to rest, still, though.”


She scowled at him.  “Why, Doc, of course he’ll rest.  What do you think I’ll do?”


“It’s not what I think you’ll do,” Doc told her, raising his brow.


“Listen, I can handle Matt Dillon.”


Ya’ can, can ya’?”


At the sound of the deep voice, Justus choked a bit on his beer and turned to see the tall lawman standing at the swinging doors.  Except for the wide, white bandage around his head, he looked none-the-worse-for-wear, smiling over at Kitty and the doctor.


“What in thunder are you doin’ out of bed, Matt, much less dressed and downstairs?”  Doc growled, standing and confronting the marshal as if he had a two-foot advantage instead of a two-foot deficit.


Dillon shrugged gingerly and stepped into the saloon, his eyes tightening slightly.  Maybe not completely none-the-worse-for-wear, Justus re-assessed.


“I’m fine, Doc,” he protested, waving away the doctor’s steadying hand.  “Just a little bump on the head.  Not like it hasn’t happened before.”  With caution, he pulled out a chair and eased into it, not very successful at masking the grimace that movement caused.


“Just a little bump on the head, huh?” Adams repeated, tugging on his ear.  “A little bump on the head that cost you seven stitches and a concussion.  Not to mention the strained backs of the six men it took to haul you up to my office after you passed out in the middle of the Long Branch last night.


The marshal winced.  “I feel all right, Doc.  Besides, I wasn’t doin’ any good lying in that bed.”


Adams’ scowl deepened.  “Well, you won’t be doin’ much good lying sprawled out on the floor of this saloon, either.”


Apparently sensing he wouldn’t win that particular argument, Dillon chose not to answer.  Instead, he sighed and turned toward the woman at the table.


“Okay, fine, then, “ Doc blustered, throwing up his hands and shuffling toward the doors.  “Maybe the next marshal will listen to his doctor.”  They could still hear him rumbling about stubborn lawmen as he ambled down the street.


Justus watched him go, then allowed a quick glance back at the table.   Kitty had scooted close to the marshal, her slender hand resting lightly on his forearm.  As they talked, Dillon leaned in closer, and Billy got the distinct impression that, had they been alone, he would have kissed her.  He hadn’t heard anyone say the marshal and saloon owner were married, didn’t see any wedding rings on either of them, but they might as well be, judging from the heated looks they exchanged.


He clicked his tongue softly and stifled a strange thrill.  Miss Kitty would make a right pretty widow.  Yessiree.  Right pretty.


Her voice was low, but carried just enough so that Billy heard it.  “I thought I left you in bed,” she told Dillon, soft admonition in her tone.


The marshal cleared his throat and glanced around.  Justus pretended to nod sleepily.


“I’d rather you join me there, instead,” Dillon murmured back. 


Billy clamped down on the urge to stare at them as his suspicions were confirmed.  Ten years ago, he had sworn Matt Dillon had no weaknesses – and maybe ten years ago he didn’t.  But he sure enough had one now.


He chanced a quick glance.


Kitty’s eyes had grown sultry.  “You would, huh?”


Dillon’s gaze didn’t falter from hers.  “I would.”


“Well,” she conceded, “you do need to be in bed – “


Billy felt a jolt of desire flash through him at the intonation.  He would kill to have a woman look at him that way, talk to him that way.  He suppressed a humorless chuckle – he was about to do just that.


Suddenly, he didn’t want to wait; suddenly, the night lay too far in the future.  Carefully, he dropped his hand to the side, fingering the bit of leather that held his gun in place.  Dillon seemed well enough this morning to meet his opponent evenly, he justified.  Justus wouldn’t be taking advantage of a weaker man.  His thumb brushed the butt of his pistol; his finger slid down toward the trigger.  He would have to be careful, didn’t want to hit Miss Kitty.  He had plans for her later.




Frowning, Justus raised his head to see the scraggly deputy clang into the room.  He eased his hand away from the gun and continued sipping at his beer, swallowing hard to slow the furious pounding of his heart.


“Festus,” the marshal returned easily, unaware that he had been only seconds away from death.


Festus touched the brim of his soiled hat and nodded.  Miz Kitty.”


Mornin’ Festus,” she greeted, her lips turned up in an amused smile.  Billy allowed himself to gaze at her beautiful face, fantasizing over how they would be together after Dillon was gone.


“I thought you wuz still ailin’, Matthew,” the deputy frowned.


Dillon pressed his lips together for a moment, then sighed.  “Not you, too.”


Wael, ol’ Doc sed – “


“I don’t care what ol’ Doc said, I’m fine.”


The deputy studied his boss doubtfully.  If’n you say so.  I run inta Doc on thstreet, an’ he said you wuz here.   I jes come ta tell ya ‘bout this chere telee-gram what come a few minutes ago.”  He waved a yellow piece of paper in front of them.


“What’s it say?” the marshal asked, eyes tightening.  Justus couldn’t tell if it was from pain or simply interest.


“’Course yaknowd I wouldn’t go around lookin’ at other folks’ messages – “


Kitty shook her head.  “What’s it say, Festus?”


He dropped the pretense and bent forward, voice sharp.  “Dan Hillen’s escaped.”


The woman turned toward Dillon and frowned.  “Dan Hillen?  Isn’t he that gunfighter you sent off to prison last year, Matt?”


Without looking at her, he nodded.  “Yeah.  You say he escaped, Festus?”


“See, I read in that telee-gram that’s the word th’ warden at the Territorial Prison in Laramie sent fer ya’.”


Kitty’s brow rose.  “You read?”


Wael,” Festus admitted, “maybe Thad hepped th’ least little bit.  Ennyway, bin a week or so.  Thought you mite be interested.”  He leaned closer to Dillon.  “You worried he mite come after ya’, Matthew?  He wuz shore hollerin’ ‘bout getting’ back at ya’ after th’ trial.”


“Matt?” Kitty squeezed his arm, alarm sweeping her features.


Straightening, Dillon shook his head, stopping abruptly and wincing before he spoke.  “Now, there’s no reason to think Hillen’s coming back here.  He’s probably high-tailin’ it taSaskatchewan by now.”


“But he sed – “


“I know what he said, Festus,” Dillon snapped, then caught himself and continued more calmly.  “Listen, I’ll head back to the jail, and you tell Thad to keep an eye out for any new folks coming into town.”


“We’ll do ‘er, Matthew.”


Bracing a hand on the table, Dillon pushed his tall form up from the chair, throwing a slight smile down to Kitty.  “I’ll see you later – “


But he didn’t finish.  Instead, he brought a hand up to his head as he stumbled a step or two forward.  Instantly, Kitty rose, and Festus lunged for him, but the big man was too heavy for them.  Instinctively, and inexplicably, Justus jumped from his own chair and caught the man’s wide shoulders, lending his own strength to the others’ to steady him.  From the close vantage, he saw the sheen of perspiration on the marshal’s forehead.


“Matt, please – “ Kitty urged.


Teeth gritted, the marshal allowed them to ease him back into the chair he had just left.


“You are undoubtedly the most stubborn man I have ever known,” Kitty complained, but Justus saw the concern on her pretty face.  “I told you – “


“I know,” Dillon acknowledged, catching his breath.  “You told me.”  Raising his head, he looked up at Justus.  “It appears I’m obliged again, mister,” he breathed.


Disgusted with himself, and still worried that the marshal would recognize him, Billy dropped his gaze and cleared his throat.  “It’s arright,” he mumbled.


“I’ll get Doc,” Festus announced, disappearing through the doors before the marshal could protest.


“How about a drink, Cowboy?” Kitty offered, sliding her hand along his shoulder and squeezing gently.


Dillon nodded and closed his eyes.  “I could use one.”  When she had slipped behind the bar, he opened them again and returned his attention to Billy.  “You know,” he said, voice tight against the pain, “I don’t think I ever heard your name, mister.”


No, Justus thought.  Not in ten years anyway.  He suppressed the mild panic that fluttered in his gut.  “It’s – uh – it’s William.  William Ju – Jones,” he stammered, remembering the name he had used on the Dodge House register.  “William Jones.”


“Well, Mister Jones,” Dillon said, thrusting out a hand, “Thanks again.”


With only a momentary hesitation, Justus took the huge hand and shook it, marveling at the strange and ironic turn of events.  He wondered what Dillon would do when they faced each other for the final moment, wondered if the marshal would feel foolish for having trusted the man who was about to kill him, wondered if Miss Kitty would fight him too much when he claimed his right to her as spoils.


The marshal’s cool blue eyes narrowed suddenly and he peered more closely at Justus’ face.  “We, uh, we haven’t met before, have we?” he asked.


Billy stiffened, envisioning his hand dropping to his gun.  “No.  No, I don’t think so.”


“You’ve never been to Dodge before?” Dillon wondered.


Deflecting the question, Justus said, “I’m from Yuma.”


Yuma?  I spent some time there a few years back.  You know Jim Sullivan?”


Justus swallowed.  Why had he chosen Yuma?  “No.”


“What about Dick Weylinger?”


Billy shook his head.  “No, can’t say as I do, but I left there when I was just a young’un.  Hadn’t had no real home since.”


Kitty returned with a whiskey and set it on the table.  Dillon turned his attention from Justus and smiled up at her.  “Where are you staying while you’re in Dodge, Mister Jones?” she asked.


Silently, he thanked her for the distraction, deciding not to follow through with his mental image.  “I stayed at the Dodge House last night, but I’m a little short on cash to keep that room.  Figured I’d try a boarding house for tonight.”


“How long are you planning to stay?” Dillon wondered, taking a careful swallow of the whiskey.


Billy shrugged, trying to keep his nerves from exploding.  “Another day or so.  Depends on – well, just depends.”


The doors to the saloon swung open again and a visibly agitated physician re-entered, shadowed by the deputy.  “What good is a doctor if the patient just ignores his advice?  I told you you’d end up on the floor of the Long Branch again, Matt.”


The marshal flushed and grimaced.  “I just got a little dizzy, Doc.  Nothin’ big.”


“Nothing big except that stubborn streak of yours.  You understand you have a concussion, right?  You understand that means that dense brain of yours slammed against your skull and is basically bruised?  You understand that another concussion too soon could kill you?”


They all stared at him, even Justus, who had never heard exactly what a concussion was.  Despite himself, he winced. 


Smoothly, Kitty stepped in front of the marshal, almost as if she were protecting him from the angry physician.  “He didn’t pass out, Doc.  Just got dizzy.  He promised me he’s going to go back to bed.”


Dillon opened his mouth to protest, but one look from Kitty shut it again, and he nodded reluctantly.  Justus marveled at the power this slender female had over such a man.  Yes, Matt Dillon did, indeed, have a weakness.


“Well,” Doc hedged, “if you’re goin’ back to bed – “


“He is,” Kitty affirmed confidently, shooting another glance at the marshal, who could only wince in acquiescence.  “Can you help him, Festus?” Kitty asked the deputy, then surveyed the empty saloon until her eyes lit on Billy.  “And you, too, Mister Jones?”


“I don’t need – “ the marshal started to say as he stood, but stopped abruptly and pressed a hand against the bandage.  A small stain of red had appeared.


“We’ll git him thar, Miz Kitty,” Festus assured her, beckoning to Justus to help.


Unable to do anything else, he took the marshal’s right arm as the deputy caught the left, wondering if they actually had any chance of helping the giant of a man if he really did pass out.  Fortunately, with Doc Adams’ supervision, Dillon was able to manage mostly on his own, and they deposited him safely on the narrow cot in the jail – a compromise to returning to the physician’s clutches.


For a moment, Justus peered at the man lying wounded on the bed.  It would be so easy; just one shot would do it.  His finger itched to pull the trigger.  But his sense of fair play kept his gun in the holster.  Surely Dillon would be better that night and more of a worthy opponent.  Besides, Billy figured graciously, a man ought to have a full day, if it was going to be his last.


As he stepped onto Front Street, he shook his head in amazement at the entire situation.  Here he was, in Dodge again after ten years, ready and waiting to take his revenge on the man who had sent him to prison for that long, long decade, and now twice he had found himself helping the very person he was there to kill.


Life was a peculiar journey.





12:48 p.m., Thursday, June 17



The Dodge House provided an almost adequate respite from the heat of the day.  Fingering the few remaining coins in his pocket, Justus sighed and stepped to the counter.


“Good day to you, Mister Jones,” the clerk greeted.

“Howdy.  What time is check out?”


“Are you leaving us so soon?”


Justus flushed.  “Your rates are a little stiff for a drifter, if you know what I mean.  Is there a good boardin’ house in town?”


The thin man frowned.  “Well, there’s Ma Smalley’s, but there’s no need for you to go anywhere.”


Kain’t you hear, mister?” Billy said, irritated.  “I ain’t got enough money to – “


“But you’re paid up through the end of the week,” the clerk told him.




“Your bill is paid through Saturday night.”


“I don’t understand.”


“Miss Russell, the owner of the Long Branch, came in a few minutes ago and took care of it.”


He frowned, confused.  “She paid for my room?”


“Through Saturday.”




“Well, you’d have to ask her that,” the clerk smiled, “but I have a feeling it has to do with you saving Marshal Dillon’s life last night.”


Justus bit his lip.  “Why would she – “


The clerk leaned over conspiratorially and whispered, “They don’t make much over it publicly, but let’s just say the marshal and Miss Kitty are – friends.”  His eyes widened behind the small spectacles he wore.  Real good friends,” he added pointedly.


Not letting on that he had already figured that bit of information out, Billy touched his hand to his hat and smiled.  “Well, in that case, I guess I’ll just have to be obliged to Miss Kitty.”


The clerk smiled back, happy in his bit of gossip and pleased to keep a customer.





2:24 p.m., Thursday, June 17



As he lay in his bed that afternoon, absently braiding strands of rawhide, Billy contemplated the confusing developments.  Kitty was grateful to him for saving Dillon’s life, even to the point where she paid for his room.  That was promising, but what would she think when he killed her marshal?  For the first time, Justus’ carefully constructed plan developed a crack.  It was mighty appealing to think that Miss Kitty could feel kindly toward him, but that was something that would certainly change if his bullet blasted a hole through that big lawman’s chest.


No, she might not appreciate him so much then.


Closing his eyes, he let his thoughts bump around, searching for a better solution.  After a few moments, he opened them again and pursed his lips in satisfaction.  What if he could kill Dillon without anyone knowing he had done it?  What if he could make it look like someone else did it?  Then maybe Miss Kitty wouldn’t hate him; on the contrary, she would be a widow – or bereft lover, anyway – in need of comfort.  And he would be happy to provide solace for her.


There was just one hitch.  Where would he find a scapegoat to be the murderer of Matt Dillon?



Chapter Three: To Seize My Soul


POV: Billy Justus

Spoilers: None

Rating: T

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



Dodge City

7:18 p.m., Thursday, June 17



Justus surveyed Dodge City at night and decided it was much more interesting in the evening hours than the daylight ones.  The streets fairly jumped with activity, swarms of cowboys whooping and riding and singing mixed with the laughter and hubbub of the saloons, brothels, and pool halls.  Weaving through a rowdy group of drovers, he pushed into the Long Branch, scouting quickly with his eyes until he found the person he was looking for.  It wasn’t too hard.  No one else in the place looked like her.  Not even close.  She leaned against the far edge of the bar, a pencil in one hand, writing in what looked to be a ledger.  Carefully, he negotiated his way through the crowd and stopped a few feet away from her.


“Miss Kitty?” he asked tentatively, holding his hat in his hand


She turned, and Justus felt as if the world had stopped spinning, and everything froze except her smile, her eyes.


“Well, hello, Mister Jones,” she greeted.


“Ma’am,” he managed.  He hoped she wouldn’t grieve over Dillon too long.  He really didn’t favor hurting her.


Her smile faded a little, her brow drew down.  “You all right?”


Get ahold of yourself, Billy, he scolded.  She’s just a woman.  But even as he thought it, he knew he was wrong.  She wasn’t just a woman.  Kitty Russell was definitely not just a woman.


“Yes, ma’am,” he assured her, “I’m fine.  I just – I just come by ta’ thank you for my room, but there wasn’t really no need – “


Her hand waved away his gratitude.  “Yes, there was.  You did the marshal – and me – a good deed, two good deeds, really.  A few days rent doesn’t much stack up to a life saved.”


He didn’t have to work too hard to blush in the face of her gushing.  “Well, I’m just happy things ended up okay,” he professed.


“Sam,” Kitty called, turning toward the bar, “bring Mister Jones a beer.”


Justus tried to refuse, but the cool, foaming liquid convinced him not to put too much effort into it.  To his delight, Kitty sat next to him at the only open table in the room.


“Did I hear you tell Matt – the marshal – you’re from Yuma?”


God, he hoped she didn’t know anybody from there.  Why hadn’t he chosen some place in the middle of Mexico?  “Well, long time ago,” he admitted.  “I’m mostly not from anywhere anymore, though.  Just driftin’ through.” 


“You sure drifted through Dodge at the right time,” Kitty said.


“I guess so.,” he conceded, then asked casually, “How’s, uh, how’s the marshal tonight?”


Kitty shook her head. “Doc’s keeping him to his promise to stay in bed.”


“Peers to me that was your promise.”  The words were out before he could stop them.


In a heartbeat, blue eyes narrowed, and he had to leap over a surge of panic as he scrambled to explain.  “I mean,” he clarified, “you told the doctor he was headed that way this morning, didn’t you?”  He certainly didn’t want her to know he had overheard her conversation with Dillon.  Besides, he really hadn’t meant it that way, anyway.


Slowly, her frown relaxed.  “Yeah.”


Swallowing back the near disaster, he let a few seconds pass before he spoke again.  “The marshal’s a little stubborn, I take it.”


Kitty laughed ruefully.  “You have no idea.”


Justus thought back ten years to weeks of relentless tracking through the dry, scorched prairie of Kansas and across the barren waste that they called the Arizona Territory.  Miss Kitty was wrong.  He had a damn good idea about Matt Dillon’s stubbornness.


“Can I buy you a beer, ma’am?” he offered gallantly, even though he wouldn’t have had enough money for his own drink if she hadn’t offered him one for free.


With a knowing smile, she placed her hands on the tabletop, as if she were about to rise.  “Thanks, but I need to get back to the inventory.”


Before she could push herself up, though, he noted, as if it had just occurred to him, “I ain’t seen nobody in particular with the marshal.  He got himself a wife?”


A flicker of something that resembled regret crossed her face before she covered it.  After only a slight hesitation, she said, “No.”


“Just as well, I suppose.  Figure it’s not fair for a lawman ta’ make a woman and kids go through the sufferin’ of knowin’ any day he could come up dead.”  He shook his head sadly and let his eyes cut toward her.


Her lips pressed together tightly for a moment.  Then, with a deep breath, she asked. “Do you have a family, Mister Jones?”


“Oh, no, ma’am,” he smiled, careful to allow an edge of remorse into his tone.  “Hadn’t settled down long enough ta’ find anyone.”  Then, he gave her a shy smile.  “’Course, things change.  I ain’t got the obligations of a lawman.  I wouldn’t expect no woman ta’ wait around for me ta’ die.”


He had expected a frown, perhaps, maybe a wince, but her response was neither of those.  In fact, it was just the opposite: a smile.  A smile so warm, so inviting that he was taken aback at the depth of welcome in her eyes.  He started to say something, wondered if he might be spending the night upstairs at the Long Branch instead of at the Dodge House, wondered if he had misjudged her relationship with the marshal.


Then he realized with a pang that her gaze was not aimed at him at all, but just past him toward the entrance of the saloon.  Turning, he felt his heart kick cruelly when he saw who had elicited that enviable expression.


Matt Dillon stood in the doorway, his lips curved slightly in a responding smile, his eyes locked with hers for a brief moment before he pushed through the swinging doors and stepped down into the room.  Justus saw that the marshal had abandoned the bandages wrapping his head for a smaller patch that rested over his eye.  He was hatless still, his thick hair curling in haphazard scatters over his forehead.


With a nod, he approached their table.  “Kitty,” he greeted casually as if there were nothing more than mild acquaintance between them.  “Mister Jones.”


“Marshal,” Justus returned, deciding not to stand.  Dillon was a good foot taller than him.  He didn’t need to be reminded of the big man’s physical advantage.  Besides, in a little while, the only person worried about how tall the marshal was would be the undertaker who had to measure him for his coffin.


Kitty’s smile widened, and she reached out to touch Dillon’s arm.  “How are you feeling?”


“Better,” he assured her.  “Mind if I join you?”


Forcing pleasantness he didn’t feel, Justus gestured grandly.  “By all means.”


“How are you today, Mister Jones?” Dillon asked, settling into a chair that groaned a bit in protest of the solid frame that tested it.


Justus nodded.  “Just fine, Marshal.  You’re lookin’ a little fitter this evenin’.”  He had taken a few close glances and decided Dillon did, indeed, look much better.  His color was back, and only the reddish-purple bruise and the white bandage it spread from were indications that he was injured at all.


Dillon didn’t answer.  Instead, he turned his smile again on Kitty, and Justus felt a stab of something akin to jealousy at the intimacy that leaped between them.  Knowing emotion could only lead to failure, he cleared his throat and continued.


“Maybe the cowboys won’t be so rowdy tonight.”


“Maybe,” the marshal agreed, dragging his gaze away from Kitty’s.  Justus noted that she let her eyes linger on the big lawman several more seconds before she, too, let her attention shift.


“Between you and Mister Jones, here,” she laughed, “I figure we’re in good hands.”


Billy found himself flattered, and momentarily succumbed to the warm feeling before he forced it back down.  Emotion, he reminded himself, was dangerous.


“Hey!  I said gimmee another beer!”


Their attention was drawn to another ragged drover, one Justus recognized as a friend of the previous night’s rabble rouser, his fist pounding without much rhythm against the bar in front of Sam.  The bartender had removed an empty glass from the counter, and was apparently refusing to refill it.  Smoothly, Kitty rose to address the issue.


“Kitty – “ Dillon began, but stopped when she gave a subtle shake of her head.


“Problem, Sam?” she asked, sliding her hand down the bar and she walked toward the drunken man.


“This fellow ain’t takin’ no for an answer, Miss Kitty,” the weathered bartender told her.


The drover slapped the counter.  “I ain’t!” he confirmed.  “I wannaotherbeer!”


“Why don’t you go on back to your room, mister,” she suggested, voice calm and even.


He took a step toward her.  At the same moment, Dillon’s broad back straightened, and Justus watched him tense to rise. 


Kitty didn’t flinch.  “Well, you’re not getting one tonight.  Not in the Long Branch.”


The man’s growl barely preceded the action, but it was enough for the marshal, who was out of his chair and in front of Kitty before the man’s hand could come down.  Instead of leaning forward to slap the woman, he found himself flying across the saloon, slamming against the steps in front of the swinging doors.  Justus couldn’t help but smile at the complete astonishment on the idiot’s face. 


The marshal had barely straightened from delivering the powerful backhand when a second cowboy jerked up a chair and swung it toward him.  But Dillon was ready.  Not ducking this time, he snapped one hand up and caught the chair leg as it arced toward him, stopping it with a sudden, sure grab, then jerking chair and cowboy over the table and onto the floor beyond.  Stunned, the would-be brawler blinked his eyes once before his head thunked back against the wall and he lay, subdued, waiting for someone to drag him to a cell adjoining his equally hapless friend.


Too drunk or too stupid to take note of his friends’ failures, a third drover growled and snatched at his gun.  Justus’ eyes widened as he saw the blur of the marshal’s hand sweep his own pistol easily from its holster.  In the space between breaths, two shots rang out.  The cowboy fired first, but he was too hasty and his shot damaged nothing but the mirror behind the bar.  Dillon’s followed so quickly it sounded almost like an echo of the first and found its target with accustomed and deadly accuracy.


The dying man used his last ounce of consciousness to stare down at the blossoming crimson that covered his chest.  Then he dropped to the floor.


Pressing his lips together in a conflict of resolve and regret, the marshal replaced his gun in the holster and leaned back.   The room hung in stunned silence for a full minute, dozens of eyes shifting from the three men sprawled about the room to the one man still standing.  Dillon hadn’t been particularly slow before, but Justus observed that ten years had added almost unnatural speed to the marshal’s draw.


Slowly, the crowd breathed easier, and the normal background noises returned; customers turned back to their beer and poker, content to let the evening progress without further conflict.


“Matt?”  Kitty stepped next to the marshal, laying her hand gently on his arm.


“I’m okay, Kitty,” he assured her quietly, as if he had answered that question before.


Billy took in the scene with more than a little awe.  Dillon stood, tall, commanding, seemingly without a hint of his earlier weakness.  Upon closer inspection, however, Justus could see the perspiration beaded again on his forehead, could detect a bit of labor in his breathing.  The man needed to sit, but Justus didn’t figure Matt Dillon would let up until he had the situation well in hand.  At another place, another time, he considered that he might have had a certain admiration for the lawman.  Dillon had sand, he’d give him that.  Only a day after getting smashed against the head, he braved the same possibility and emerged not only unscathed, but more formidable than ever. 


Yes sir, he had sand – as well as two other characteristics Billy admired the most:  skill and damn good taste in women.


Ruthlessly clamping down on that dangerous chink in his shield of revenge, Justus dug down to feel again the pain of years of misery in prison, the ache of months of careful planning committed to repaying Dillon for the waste of a decade of his life – his youth.  Perhaps Matt Dillon could have been spared in another life, but in this life, Billy Justus had put to much effort into his demise.  Still, it had become alarmingly obvious that Dillon’s talents presented an obstacle to Billy’s goal.  The only way to get the advantage over the lawman was for him to be taken by surprise – or even better, taken by someone else.


“Matt?”  The tall, thin young man from the day before stood in the doorway, one eyebrow raised.  He must have heard the commotion from outside.


“Haul those two off to the jailhouse for me, will ya’, Thad?” Dillon asked, hooking his thumbs in his gunbelt. He lifted a chin toward the dead man.  “And take him to Percy Crump’s.”


“Yes, sir,” Thad nodded, reaching down to jerk the first drunk off the floor.


“We’ll git that thar feller ta’ Percy’s fer ya, Marshal,” two other patrons offered, eager to separate themselves from the lawbreakers.


Dillon nodded to them.  “Thanks.”


In a moment, the only evidence that the drovers had even been there were the shattered remnants of the chair one of them had tried to clobber Matt Dillon with and the smear of blood that the bartender had already begun mopping up.


“Let’s sit down,” Kitty suggested, smoothing her hair with one hand and taking Dillon’s arm with the other.


The marshal took a breath, nodded, and lowered himself back into a chair.  Billy watched him closely, noted the quick grimace Dillon couldn’t quite avoid, the long fingers pressing against the bandage, spotted again with red. 


“You okay?” Justus asked, surprised at himself that the sincerity didn’t have to be forced. 


Immediately, the marshal dropped his hand, as if suddenly aware that it was evidence of his pain.  Staring across the room to the bartender’s mopping, he shrugged.  “Yeah.”  Then, Billy saw another kind of pain flicker across his rugged features.  “Needless,” he mumbled.




“Needless,” Dillon repeated.  “That man’s death.  If he just hadn’t drawn – “


Genuinely confused, Justus said, “You couldn’t do nothin’ else.  He was gonna kill ya.”


Those blue eyes lifted to look right at him, and he almost reeled from the regret that filled them.  “Why?  Over a beer?  Over pride?”


Justus stared at the marshal, seeing, for the first time, someone besides the iconic lawman who had become the epitome of his nemesis over the past decade.  He was disturbed to feel something too close to sympathy with him.


Without apparent concern about propriety, Kitty reached up and let her fingers touch the stained bandage over the marshal’s eye.  “That doesn’t look too good, Matt,” she said, her voice carrying both concern and reprimand.  More softly, she suggested, “Why don’t you go lie down for a while.  You can use my room – “


“I’m fine,” he returned quickly – too quickly to convince anyone.


Frowning, Kitty shook her head.  “I swear, you are absolutely infuriating.”


Billy found himself grinning at her futile efforts, remembering her rueful comment about the marshal’s stubbornness.  Then, realizing what he was doing, he gritted his teeth in anger at his own weakness and looked away.  He was getting too close, too involved.  Damn Dillon.  Damn Kitty Russell for complicating his plan, for making him want her.  And damn that idiot cowboy for smashing a chair against the marshal’s head and keeping him from taking care of business as soon as he had arrived in Dodge.


A semi-talented piano player clanged out mostly-recognizable songs; glasses clinked against rings, poker chips, and themselves; chatter grew in volume as the crowd returned to normal. 


Suddenly, Kitty dropped her voice and clutched at the marshal’s sleeve.  “Matt,” she whispered, nodding toward the entrance.


Justus’ eyes automatically lit on the man who pushed through the swinging doors.  There was something that drew attention, that declared he was one to be reckoned with.  He stepped up to the bar and ordered a whiskey, his voice sharp, all business.


The man was slight, clad completely in black with a Mexican-style flat hat hovering low over his eyes.  Kitty’s hand closed over Dillon’s forearm as she stared at the new customer.  The marshal had turned slowly, and Justus couldn’t see his expression, but he saw hard muscles tense across broad shoulders.


“Don’t, Matt,” Kitty warned, her eyes pleading.


He rose anyway and took two steps toward the bar.  If the man saw him, he gave no indication of it.


Hillen,” Dillon called after another few seconds, his voice dangerously quiet.


After a moment of frantic footsteps while men dashed out of the line of fire, the room collapsed into silence once again.


The man didn’t turn.  “Marshal.”


“What’re you doin’ in Dodge?”


Hillen took a sip of his whiskey and continued to stare ahead.  “Just visitin’.  Didn’t know there was a law against that.”


“There’s not,” the marshal responded, “but there is law against breaking out of prison.”


“That so?” Hillen asked.


“That’s so.”


Finally, the smaller man let his head shift toward their table.  “Some men’ll do a lot to pay back a debt.  And I owe you one, that’s for sure, Marshal.”


Justus’ eyes widened as he considered the irony in Hillen’s comment.


Dillon braced himself, hands at his sides.  “Don’t be a fool, Hillen.  You give up and I’ll tell the judge you went back voluntarily.”


The fugitive laughed, a harsh grunt.  “I’ll probably go back, all right,” he admitted, “but it ain’t gonna be voluntarily.” 


Slowly, he turned so that he faced the marshal squarely.  Dillon’s arms hung loosely, fingers spread slightly in the familiar posture of the draw.


Justus let his gaze slide between the two men, his blood flowing warm with sudden enlightenment.  This was it.  It was perfect, of course.  Hillen would solve his problem and never be the wiser.  If he was lucky, Dillon would take the other man down just as he breathed his own last breath. 


And Billy Justus would have his vengeance – and his woman.




Chapter Four: In a Moment


POV: Billy Justus

Spoilers: None

Rating: T

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



Dodge City

8:45 p.m., Thursday, June 17




For one of the few times in its already legendary existence, the Long Branch Saloon was completely silent.  Even though the place was packed with customers, not a muscle twitched, not a throat cleared.  All eyes were glued to the scene that played out before them, a scene that was not unusual to Dodge: Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger.  Normally, that ended in the quick and efficient demise of the gunslinger.  But this time was different.  This time it had only been 24 hours since they had seen the lawman collapse onto that very floor.  This time, he still bore the bandage and wound that served as evidence of a head injury serious enough to put him to bed – where he most likely should still have been.  This time, they understood all too well that the outcome might not be quite so certain.


The two men stood, one slight and short, one broad and tall, squared off, hands dangling near holsters, guns waiting to be snatched first, to be fired first.  Justus held his breath with the others, the culmination of ten years of planning and waiting mere seconds away.  He almost couldn’t believe it.


He wanted to look at Kitty’s face, wanted to judge how she felt, what she might need when it was all over and Dillon lay dead at her feet.  But he couldn’t spare a glance, couldn’t risk missing the moment.


Another second passed.  Then another.  He was behind the marshal, and couldn’t read his eyes, but Hillen’s flamed for just a moment, and Justus knew he was about to draw.  It was time.


“Matthew, I heerd – “


The voice snapped the tense silence like the sharp twang of a broken guitar string.  Hillen’s head jerked around toward the door where Dillon’s deputy stood.  Before he could blink, Justus watched the room explode into action.  Hillen ducked behind an unsuspecting patron, gun suddenly in his hand and firing toward Festus Haggen.  The bullet pinged off the doorway, sending splinters of wood into the air.


Spinning to look at Dillon, Justus saw that the marshal’s pistol was up and aimed, but he couldn’t get a clear shot at Hillen, who was now inadvertently protected by innocent townspeople.  Teeth gritted, Billy realized he was losing his moment.


Desperate, he called out, “Hillen!” in hopes that the outlaw would turn back and fire toward the marshal. 


His plan worked, but not quite as he envisioned it.  As he scrambled through the swinging doors, Hillen swung his arm around and aimed, but the barrel was pointed at the sound instead of the man, and Justus found himself staring straight down that tunnel of black.  Well, damn!  This was not how he wanted it to end – not at all.


The gun fired, and Justus briefly closed his eyes, cursing his luck.  All that planning, all those year of waiting – gone in an instant of chance.  But instead of the sharp pain of the bullet, or the explosive darkness that would follow, he opened his eyes to find a massive body hurling itself in front of him, a solid barrier between him and death.  Stunned, he watched as Matt Dillon dived across his path, his pistol blazing in the general direction of where Hillen had stood.  But his mark found only empty air as the gunman threw himself out into the night.


The big man’s momentum took him on past Justus, and he crashed hard into a gaming table, its top and legs shattering around him.  Looking up, Billy saw the deputy recover and sprint after Hillen.  Several other customers headed outside, as well, but a few turned back toward the figure now lying sprawled amid the mangled pieces of wood and green felt.


Shaking himself back to action, Justus stepped over the debris and touched the marshal’s shoulder, dragging him partially onto his back.  The sight of crimson on the light blue shirt electrified him.  Even though he had wanted it to happen, he found it hard to believe.  Hillen had actually shot Matt Dillon.  It was over.  Just like that, ten years worth of vengeance was over –


“Matt!”  Kitty’s cry broke the silence as she stumbled through the mess and fell to her knees at the marshal’s side. 


Her hands ran over the bloody shirt, tearing at the cloth to get to the wound.  The sheer panic and pain in her eyes struck Justus suddenly, twisted uncomfortably in his heart.  He had not expected to feel sympathy for her, had only planned to take advantage of her grief – after an appropriate period of mourning, of course.


Still, maintaining his role as innocent bystander, he peered curiously over her shoulder and watched as she jerked open Dillon’s shirt, unconcerned as buttons flew.  Pushing the material away, she hitched up the hem of her dress and wiped at the flow of blood from his left side.  Justus managed to look past the shapely legs the move revealed, but he couldn’t tell how bad the wound was.  Dillon looked ashen, though, making the bruising on his forehead stand out even more against skin that was uncharacteristically pale.


He blew out a breath as the shock of the moment settled over him and he realized that it could have very well been him lying there staining Kitty’s skirt with his blood.  If Dillon hadn’t leaped in front of him –




He stared ahead, comprehension slamming into him abruptly.  Matt Dillon had saved his life.  He had thrown himself in front of the sure death that sped from the end of Hillen’s gun, placing his own life in jeopardy and taking a bullet that would have unquestionably gone right through Billy’s heart. 


He fought against the unexpected conflict inside him, shook his head at the irony that – against all his plans – Dillon himself might have fulfilled his mission for him.  He stood, staring, unable to move, as voices called for Doc, as Kitty ripped the hem from her skirt and pressed it against the marshal’s side in a vain effort to staunch the generous flow of blood.  All this because Dillon had leaped in front of that bullet, had saved his life.  And now he was dead for it.  It wasn’t conceivable.


But a closer look showed that the wide chest still moved, rising and falling as the lungs continued to work.  He wasn’t dead – not yet, anyway.


“Did it come out?” Billy found himself asking.


Kitty looked up, and he swallowed at the fear in her eyes.  “What?”


“Did the bullet go through?”


Understanding, she quickly slid her hand around the marshal’s side, pulling back to reveal fingers coated in blood.


Justus nodded.  “That’s probably good, then.”  If he didn’t bleed out, of course.


“Where is he?”


They turned at the sharp bark from the door to see Doc Adams, in as much of a hurry as he could get, coming down the steps, hatless and coatless, but bag in hand.


“Here, Doc,” Kitty called.


But before Adams could get to them, Dillon groaned and shifted.  Billy stared.  Not only was he alive, but somehow he was awake, as well.


Putting her hand on his shoulder, Kitty ordered, “You stay right there, Matt.  Doc’s here, and you just stay right there.”


Hillen,” he managed through gritted teeth.  Awake and talking.


“Gone,” Billy supplied.


Amazingly, Dillon braced his right hand on the ground and pressed his left hand against the wound at his side.  Gasping, he struggled to sit.


Her voice furious, Kitty snapped, “Where do you think you’re goin’, mister?”


“I’m – okay – “ the marshal insisted, grimacing hard and convincing no one at all.


“Matt,” Doc said, stopping beside him, “you just lie back and let me see that wound.”


But the big lawman ignored them.  “I’ve gotta – stop – Hillen.”


“You’re not gonna stop anybody,” Adams told him.  “Except yourself when ya’ bleed to death.”


Somehow, in spite of his companions’ concerted efforts, Dillon pushed first to his knees, then to his feet, swaying precariously for a moment until he was steady enough to move.  “Hand me my gun, “ he ordered Billy, blood oozing through his fingers as he kept his hand over the hole in his side.


Justus stared at the ivory-handled pistol lying on the floor, let his gaze shift between Doc’s and Kitty’s, then looked back into the determined blue eyes again.  Dillon was pretty damn impressive – especially for a dead man.  Bending, Billy scooped up the weapon and slapped it into the large hand held out waiting for it.  The marshal nodded and stumbled toward the door.


“What the hell are you doin’, Matt?” Doc called after him.  When he got no answer, he added, “Damn pig-headed fool!”


Billy expected Kitty to add her own attempt to stop him, but a quick glance back at her showed only a strange expression of resignation and sadness.  He watched the marshal fall hard against the door frame, take a breath, and step onto the boardwalk.


Suddenly weak-kneed, Billy fell into one of the remaining in-tact chairs.  Kitty still sat where she had briefly tended to Dillon.  Frowning, the doctor rested a hand on her shoulder.


“He’ll be okay, Kitty,” he muttered.  “You know it takes more than one bullet –   But he stopped without finishing, and Kitty didn’t help him.  She just sat staring at her dress, fingering the material soaked with his blood.


Turmoil churned inside Billy.  He vacillated between bitter resentment and reluctant gratitude toward Dillon.  What the hell had the marshal done that for?  Why hadn’t he just left well enough alone? 


“Why’d he do it?” Justus asked aloud.


Doc frowned.  “What?”


“The marshal.  Why’d he save my life like that?”


Kitty looked up from where she sat and smiled sadly.  “You did the same for him yesterday.”


“No,” Billy insisted.  “I just warned him someone was drawing on him.  He deliberately took a bullet – for me.  Why?”


Doc exchanged a look with Kitty and, despite the concern that creased his brow, he almost chuckled.  “Because he’s Matt Dillon.”




“That’s what he does, son.  He protects.”  Then he added, a bit ruefully, “Everybody.”


Justus still couldn’t comprehend.  “But he barely knows me,” he protested.


Doc shrugged.  “Doesn’t matter.  It’s deep in him.”


He looked at Kitty again, and she seemed to gain strength from that statement.  With one last glance at her bloodied skirt, she pushed from the floor and negotiated a path to the bar.  “He’ll need a drink when he gets back,” she decided confidently, reaching for a bottle.


“At the very least,” Doc agreed.


Justus continued to stare at them.  Damn Dillon.  He hadn’t asked to be saved, had he?  Didn’t make the marshal leap in front of him, did he?


They waited several more minutes.  Billy wasn’t sure what he thought would happen, wasn’t sure what he wanted to happen.  He half expected to see Hillen come flying back through the doors, propelled by the toe of the marshal’s boot.  Then again, it could be Dillon crashing into the saloon, the outlaw’s bullet finally finishing him.


As it turned out, it was neither.  Ten minutes after the marshal had stumbled out, he re-appeared with Festus Haggen, who struggled under the weight of the lawman.  Dillon’s long arm was flung over the deputy’s shoulders, and it looked as if that might be the only thing holding him up. 


Hillen got plum away,” Haggen announced to those remaining in the room, voice straining as he practically dragged the marshal toward a chair.  Ain’t no way we’re a gonna find him tonight.”


Doc Adams pushed up from the table and started toward them.


“I’m – okay,” Dillon mumbled again, but as he spoke, his body slumped further in the deputy’s grasp, bringing both of them to their knees. 


Instantly, several hands thrust out to catch the two as Festus slid out from under Dillon’s arm and tried to ease him to the floor.  This time, the marshal was in no shape to refuse Doc’s assistance, and the physician knelt beside him.  Kitty hurried to Dillon’s side, sinking down next to him and taking his head in her lap.  Pushing the sticky shirt aside, she bared his torso for Doc’s inspection.


“I’m – all right – Kitty,” the lawman murmured, attempting – and failing – to lift a bloody hand to her face.


She stroked his hair, brushed gently at the discolored bandage on his forehead.  “Sure you are, Cowboy.  Sure you are.”


“Went clean through,” Adams muttered after a quick look. “Doesn’t seem to have clipped anything important.  He’s damn lucky.”


Justus thought he heard Kitty catch back a sob, but when he looked she still maintained a thinly veiled calm.


“He’s lost an awful lot of blood, though,” the doctor added.  Rising, he motioned toward the onlookers.  “You men stop staring and start hauling.  Get him up to my office.”


Billy watched as Sam, Festus, and four other men gathered up the marshal, their muscles straining under his solid weight.  As they struggled with their burden, he wondered when Hillen would try again.  And he would try again.  Justus recognized the burn of vengeance in the dark eyes.  He had burned that way himself.


Kitty followed behind them, the worry not quite as raw on her tense features.  Judging from the scars he had just seen across the firm muscles of Dillon’s chest and abdomen, Justus figured she’d played this role several times before.  He suddenly realized how close to home he had hit with his earlier comment to her about lawmen’s women just waiting for them to come up dead.  Maybe she wouldn’t have to live that way much longer.  Knifing through his earlier confusion about Dillon’s actions, he pinned his emotions on his anger at Dillon for making her live with such fear, and it gave him a strange satisfaction to know he would soon relieve her of that burden.






4:00 p.m., Friday, June 18



It was another hot day in Dodge.  Billy Justus had spent much of it inside, even though the small room at the Dodge House was only minimally cooler than standing in the middle of Front Street.  At least it shaded him from the sun.  The Long Branch, on the other hand, offered an enticing bonus of liquid refreshment, and he had found himself patronizing it near lunchtime.  He felt confident in his relative laziness, knowing nothing would happen with Dillon shot and Hillen still in hiding. 


The town was buzzing with the gossip about the previous night’s shootout.  A few sources related the story with comparative accuracy, but most had variations of the truth.  All ended the same, though.  Matt Dillon had been shot – and badly enough to land him in Doc Adams’ care for what promised to be a good long while.  He gathered from the talk that Dillon getting shot wasn’t that strange.  It seemed it occurred frequently enough not to be too sensational anymore.


“Most times,” Festus Haggen had confided during a midday conversation over a beer he had wrangled out of Sam, “olMatthew’ll jest shake off that thar bullet and head on back ta’ work.”


Justus doubted it was quite that easy, but he took the deputy’s comment to mean that the marshal had been pretty lucky in the past, even when he was shot.  This time, though, he had taken the hit right on top of suffering a head injury, surely enough to keep him out for a few days at least.


Yep.  Billy figured his day would be calm and uneventful.  Just enough of a break to get him ready for the showdown he figured was no more than another day or two away.  With his room paid up for another two nights, he didn’t see any need to be impatient.  Besides, he was growing rather fond of Dodge again.  And if he played his cards right, and Hillen was the one who took the wrap for killing the marshal, Billy would be in the catbird seat with Miss Kitty Russell.  


Satisfied, Justus kicked back in the chair on the porch of the Dodge House and propped his feet on the rail.  Closing his eyes, he whistled a tune he had heard the Long Branch piano player tinkle out the first night he was in town. 


Before too long, he felt the heat of the day tug once more at him, coaxing him to consider crossing the street again for another beer.  Not wanting to disturb his peace too much, he allowed one eye to peek out and take in the lazy movements of the afternoon.  All seemed normal.  A few folks strolled in and out of shops, but the night crowds were still a few hours off.  Now would probably be a good time to –


Squinting, Billy let his gaze settle on a subtle movement just at the side of the Long Branch.  He sharpened his eyes, blocking out everything except that area, then let them widen when he recognized the ugly flat Mexican hat.  So, Hillen hadn’t gone too far, and now he was braving the streets – or at least the alleys – of Dodge again.  Justus wondered if he’d heard about Dillon, if he knew the marshal was out of commission for a few days at least.  Maybe the outlaw didn’t care.


But he didn’t have a chance to consider that for long because at that moment, Kitty Russell walked out of the Long Branch.  Billy froze, waiting to see what she did, and what Hillen did. 


But he hadn’t expected what happened next.


The door of the jailhouse opened, and Billy felt his mouth drop.  His feet dropped, too, as he watched the tall figure step onto the boardwalk.  Blinking, Justus rubbed at his eyes and leaned forward.  Surely, that couldn’t be –


Son of a bitch.  It was Dillon.  There was no mistaking him for anyone else in Dodge – or in Kansas for that matter.   But how the hell could it be Dillon?


Somehow the man had not only survived the night, but had managed to convince the doctor to let him out of his clutches – or more likely had escaped when Adams was otherwise occupied.  Justus watched him carefully:  The long stride had shortened, the pace slowed, but the man was moving with a steady, even gait.


A few yards past the jail, Justus saw the lawman grit his teeth and step gingerly off the planks and onto the street.  Billy nodded in acceptance.  The scene was set, and this time nothing could stop the inevitable ending.  He would kill Dillon – or the outlaw would.  Either way, the marshal who sent him to prison for ten years of his life would be dead.


He drove back any doubt, any nagging reminder that Dillon had saved his life.  Planting firmly in the dirt of the street, he eyed the broad back as the man crossed a few hundred feet away.  He would call his name to get him to turn.  Whatever else he was, Billy Justus was no back shooter.  His hand twitched over his holster.  One more beat.




The big man turned, his hand already at his gun, but Billy had the advantage of knowing what was happening.  He had drawn and aimed even as the name was called out.  He wanted to paint this picture in his mind for years to come, to sooth him in his old age, to pleasure him in un-pleasurable moments.


Yes, indeed.  This had been a long time coming.  His hunger was great, but vengeance was a tasty dish.




Another person called out to the marshal, but neither voice had been Billy’s.  Instead, Dan Hillen stood, his own gun drawn, a direct bead on the marshal.  Still, it might have been almost a fair fight – Justus had no doubt Matt Dillon could outdraw a man who had already drawn himself.


Yes, it might have been a fair fight – except for Miss Kitty.


Horrified, Justus saw that Hillen had seen the woman – and she no doubt seen him and yelled a warning at the marshal.  Her petticoat flounced as the outlaw jerked her against him, using her as a shield against the bullets of her own lover.  He hadn’t counted on that, hadn’t anticipated that she would be in danger.


“Drop your gun, Marshal!” Hillen demanded.


Dillon stared, his teeth gritted, his eyes furious.  Every hard muscle in his body bulged with the effort not to fling himself at the man who held his woman.  But Justus saw acknowledgement stiffen the broad shoulders.  The marshal was helpless.  Dillon knew it.  They all knew it.  He couldn’t fire on Hillen without hitting Kitty.


“Let her go,” Dillon yelled.  “You’re fight’s with me, not her!”


But the outlaw didn’t budge.  “I mean it,” he cried.  “Drop the gun or I’ll kill her.  I’ll kill her right here!”


For several long moments, Justus watched, wondering if the big man had some alternate plan, calculating the odds that he could drop Hillen before the gunman could kill Kitty.  But it didn’t take too long for him to make his decision.  Straightening slowly, the marshal took a ragged breath, then tossed his pistol a few feet away.  It landed with a soft thump in the dirt.


Breath held, Justus waited for Hillen to make his move, to release Kitty and gun down the marshal before Dillon could retrieve his gun.  Instead of backing away as expected, though, Hillen just grinned maliciously and tightened his grip on the woman. 


“I’d a thought you wuz smarter ‘n that, Marshal,” he crowed.  “You just give me a straight shot right at you.”


A well of disgust boiled up Justus’ throat. Even though he had wanted Dillon dead himself, he at least had the decency to make it a fair fight.  He realized, too, that Hillen didn’t intend to let Kitty go – at least not yet.  He watched the finger tighten on the trigger, saw the determination in the outlaw’s jaw.  There was only one chance to get the gunman, only one man who could do it – but he was currently unarmed. 


The battle Justus had warred with his emotions suddenly swung in one sure direction.


Knowing there was no time to contemplate the consequences of his actions, he yelled out, “Hillen!”


Startled, the slight man turned, still clutching Kitty in front of him, and fired, just as Justus knew he would.  It was perhaps the first completely unselfish act Billy had ever had.  As the bullet slammed into him and shoved him to the ground, he managed to keep his eyes open long enough to see Matt Dillon dive into the street, the pistol sliding up into his hand with perfect timing, the blast from the marshal’s gun plunging his own bullet into the exposed shoulder of Dan Hillen. 


In disbelief, the outlaw stumbled back, loosening his grip on Kitty long enough for her to stumble away from him.  Dillon’s second bullet tore straight through the man’s heart, and he was dead before his corpse hit the dust.


A strange sense of satisfaction drifted over Justus, somehow dampening the fire that spread through his chest, as he watched Matt Dillon slowly push to his feet, half-bent over with his hand pressed to his side – but standing.  With a grunt, the marshal even managed to catch Kitty as she threw herself into his arms.


Vengeance was tasty, Billy thought ironically as darkness swept over him, but it wasn’t the only dish being served.




POV: Billy Justus

Spoilers: None

Rating: T

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



Dodge City

9:47 a.m., Friday, June 25




The stage for Wichita waited in front of the Dodge House, its team of horses fresh and ready.  Standing just off the boardwalk, Billy Justus took a breath and nodded to the driver, who had loaded his single bag.  He was leaving Dodge.  What he had come there to accomplish was finished – in a different way than he had expected, but finished, nevertheless.  He let his gaze swing toward the Long Branch, that center of fate for many a visitor to the “Queen of the Cowtowns,” and Billy was no exception.  His epiphany had blossomed there before it eventually came to flower in that moment of decision on the dust of Front Street.


At mid-morning, the activity was minimal in the saloon, only a few townsfolk sneaking an early drink, or left-over cowboys nursing hangovers from the night’s carousing.  A turn executed a little too quickly brought a wince to his eyes, and he took another breath to force away the worst of the pain from his wound.  Despite that, he figured he’d live.  A week’s stay at Doc’s office had gotten the better part of healing done for him before he decided it was time to move on.


Turning back to the stage driver, he asked, “How much longer?”


The man looked up from tying off the various bags on top.  “Oh, at least another thirty minutes.”


Thirty minutes.  Time for a final beer before they headed out into the dry country.  After all, Miss Kitty had told him drinks were on the house for the rest of his stay, and he hadn’t had the chance to take her up on that offer, yet.


The smell of hops and leather and sawdust greeted him as he stepped into the relative coolness of the saloon.  The barkeep – Sam, he remembered – threw a craggy but friendly smile his way.  “Come for that beer?”


“Sure did,” Justus nodded.


“How’re yafeelin’?”


“A sight better.  Seems Doc Adams knows what he’s doin’.”


Sam chuckled and tilted his head toward a table near the stairs where the physician himself sat.  “He gets his share of work.  Have a seat.  I’ll bring it to ya’.”


Easing his way through the chairs, Billy cleared his throat as he neared the doctor, who appeared to be daydreaming into his beer.  “Howdy, Doc.”


The older man looked up, then smiled politely.  “Well, Will, thought you were headed out on the morning stage.”


Justus smiled at the name.  Over the course of a week, Doc had decided that Mister Jones was too formal, had started off using “William,” then shortened it to “Will.”


“It’s running a little late,” Billy explained.  “Half hour or so.”


Adams pulled out a pocket watch and held it at arm’s length.  “In that case, it’s an hour earlier than usual.  This is your lucky day.  Have a seat.”


“Thanks.”  He lowered himself into a chair and glanced around, trying to sound casual.  “Miss Kitty around?” 


Although she had visited him a few times at Doc’s and brought him some broth from the cafe, he’d found out from Festus that she had been nursing the marshal for most of the week.  He sighed as he imagined the benefits to having Kitty Russell as your nurse over Doc Adams.


Doc pursed his lips for a moment before answering.  When he did, his eyes cut just briefly toward the upstairs rooms of the saloon.  “She’s around.”


Catching the hint, Billy accepted what that meant and took a gulp of the beer Sam had set before him.  “I’d like ta’ thank her before I go.  You know – for the room and all.”  He paused, then added.  “I guess I need ta’ thank you, too, Doc.”


Adams waved away his gratitude.


Consciously keeping himself from looking toward the upstairs rooms, Justus asked, “How’s the marshal?”  In truth, he still wasn’t quite sure why he had helped Dillon there on Front Street, tried to tell himself it was merely to save Kitty’s life, but as he lay up in Doc’s old iron bed for the better part of a week, his reflections nagged him to admit that there might have been more to it.  He had to acknowledge that the vengeance that burned his soul for ten years had somehow faded to quickly ebbing embers.


Adams shook his head and grunted.  “Oh, he’ll live, thanks to the expert skills of his personal physician.”


“That’s good,” Billy said, almost surprised that he meant it.  He had been fighting himself for several days, trying to push back the persistent admiration for Dillon.  After all, he’d come to kill the man, hadn’t he?  It just hadn’t worked out like he planned.  And now –


“He’s a right tough fella,” Billy observed.


“He’s too ornery to die,” Doc complained, but Justus heard the affection and relief through the rough tone.


“I hafta say, though, I sure wasn’t expectinta’ see him up and about the mornin’ he shot Dan Hillen.  Didn’t figure he’d be healed up by then.”


Doc lifted an eyebrow in acknowledgement.  “He wasn’t – not by a long shot.  By golly, that man has more stubborn in him than a team of mules.  Maybe even more than Festus.”  Looking up suddenly, he added, “But don’t tell either of ‘em I said that.”


Billy smiled.  “That’s why I was surprised you cleared him.”


Doc’s eyes opened wide, and he slapped the table.  “Cleared him my foot!  If he wasn’t so blasted big, I woulda sat on him to keep him in that bed!”


A frown pulled down Justus’ brow.  “Then why – “


Tugging at an earlobe, Doc took another sip of beer.  “Matt didn’t want to take a chance on Hillen gunning down someone else while he waited.  So, he set himself up as bait.”  Shaking his head, he added, “Damn fool thing to do.”


Doc’s words from a week before echoed in Billy’s head again:  That’s what he does, son.  He protects – everybody.”


“Fool or brave,” Justus clarified, the grudging respect continuing to punch holes through his crumbling shield of resentment and bitterness.


The doctor swiped at his mustache.  “Do you know how much blood he lost?  Dad-blamed fool shouldn’t even have been conscious – much less parading down the middle of the street as a target for some gunslinger.  Just ignored my advice – same as usual.”


“You run a strict hospital, Doc.  I can attest to that.”  He brought a hand up to brace the healing wound on his upper chest.


“Yeah, well, you followed orders, see, and now look at ya’ – almost well and ready to head out on that stage.”  Movement drew his eyes to the balcony above them.  “Too bad all my patients can’t be so cooperative,” he said loudly.


Justus followed the doctor’s gaze and saw the intended recipient of his pointed remark.  Matt Dillon stood at the top of the steps, one hand gripping the banister so tightly that the knuckles were white, the other hand bracing his side.  Kitty Russell stood just behind him, an arm around his waist.  As soon as he saw that they had an audience, though, he eased away from her and straightened, dropping the hand from his side.  The one on the rail remained, probably out of necessity.  Justus heard Doc click his tongue.


Despite the effort to mask his discomfort, Dillon could not avoid a grimace as he made his way slowly down the steps, Kitty matching his careful pace.  Billy watched pride and concern battle in her expression and wasn’t sure which won.  He considered how magnificent it would be to have a woman look at him the way she looked at Dillon.


Letting out a careful breath as his boots stepped onto the floor of the Long Branch, the marshal pushed a smile to his face, and greeted Justus.


“Hear you’re leavin’ us, Mister Jones,” he said.  Although his voice still held the same full, deep tone, the timbre was a little too tight.  “Doc’s lettinya’ out of his clutches?”


“Some folks pay attention to their physicians and actually heal,” Adams noted.


Justus scratched at his beard.  He had suffered the dedicated mother-henning of the doctor for the better part of a week, and, although he certainly appreciated all Doc had done, he was more than glad to get out of there.


“Doc, I’m fine,” Dillon protested.


Adams cast a dubious look at the still-pale face and pain-tightened eyes.  “Don’t know why I even bother,” he muttered.


Yagotta have somebody to practice on,” the marshal reminded him with another smile that was not quite so forced.


Adams snorted.  “Well, you – you sure enough give me that.  I could write a book.”  Fingers snapping suddenly, he looked up.  “By golly, I think I will.  Maybe a whole series.  One for every bullet.”


Dillon winced as he eased his big frame into a chair.  Justus noted that he wore his six-gun.  He wondered if the lawman ever took it off.


It’s deep in him,” Doc had said.  Billy had seen first hand what that meant.


“We’ll call ‘em the ‘Dillon Dime Novels’,” Adams continued.  “They could just go on forever!”


His delighted smile faltered a bit with the glare from a distinctly un-amused Kitty.  “Doc, that’s not even a little funny,” she scolded.


Justus didn’t know how the physician managed to look chastised and amused at the same time.


“Uh, it’s about time for the stage, isn’t it?” Dillon announced with a timely distraction.


Nevermind,” Kitty told him, giving Doc a final scowl before she turned sweetly to Billy.  “I see you have your beer already, Mister Jones.”


“Yes, ma’am, and I’m obliged.”


“You want one, Matt?” she offered.


Dillon looked toward Doc.  “Okay?”


The physician studied the marshal carefully, apparently not particularly liking what he saw.  “I think I’ll make it doctor’s orders.”


“I’ll get it,” Kitty answered, letting her hand slide gently down Dillon’s arm as she left.


Justus watched the marshal watch Miss Kitty, and his eyes widened at the unexpected tenderness that touched Dillon’s handsome features.  He thought back to that day over a week ago when he’d had the revelation that Matt Dillon did have a weakness, and now he wondered if even the marshal realized just how much of one it was.


Letting his gaze admire her as she walked to the bar, Justus observed, “Woman like Miss Kitty – she sure is somethin’.”


“She is that.” Doc agreed, lifting his glass slightly in a private toast.


“I can’t figure how she ain’t married.“  Oh hell.  He hadn’t really meant to say that aloud. 


Adams lifted his head. “Yeah, how ‘bout that?  I’ve wondered the game thing myself plenty of times. “ He turned to the marshal.  “You ever wondered that, Matt?”


Dillon’s lips pressed together, and his blue eyes darkened in clear warning.  The doctor ignored him.


“Well,” Billy figured, trying to climb out of the hole, “I just meant that if she was my woman – “


“She’s not.”


He swallowed at the sharp tone and saw that Dillon’s gaze had turned even darker.  Billy had only dug himself in even deeper.  No one spoke for a long moment, not even Doc, who had suddenly developed a deep interest in his beer.  Justus wondered if, after all that had happened, they might yet get that showdown.  As it turned out, though, Kitty herself solved the problem.


Gliding back from the bar with a beer in each hand, she quickly surveyed the situation and asked, “Everything all right?”


“Oh!”  Now that reinforcements had arrived, Doc jumped in eagerly.  “Well, we were just having an interesting conversation.  Weren’t we, gentlemen?”


“Uh – yeah,” Billy agreed tentatively.


Kitty’s eyes narrowed.  “What about?”


Almost gleefully, Doc answered for them.  “Marriage!”


Dillon flinched.


“Marriage?” Kitty echoed, surprised lifting her eyebrows.  She glanced at the marshal, who scooted down a little lower in his chair.


“Yes, ma’am,” Doc continued, clearly enjoying himself.  “Will was just askin’ why – “


Any revelation he was about to make was lost, however, in the sudden appearance of the coach driver at the swinging doors.  “We’re about to head out, Mister Jones,” he announced without entering the bar.


Before Justus could respond, Dillon cut back quickly, “Thanks, Jim.  He’s comin’.”


“Don’t you want to finish your conversation?” Doc asked, but the big lawman had already pushed to his feet, not even bothering to mask the grunt that escaped him.


“Matt?”  Kitty questioned.


“It’s time for Mister Jones’ stage,” Dillon explained, all too eagerly.  “Don’t want him to be late, do ya’?”


He held the door for Kitty, who threw him a curious glance as she and Doc walked out.  Justus eased by the big man as quickly as possible, thankful for the chance to slink out of that hole.


Kitty and Doc waited by the stage, eyeing him curiously, and he realized suddenly that it was time.  Ten days after he had arrived in Dodge, a mission of vengeance burning in his heart, Billy Justus – now known to the townspeople as Will Jones – was leaving.


She stepped away from Doc, leaned in and kissed Justus on the cheek, her soft lips leaving a tingle of warmth.  “You take care of yourself, Will.”


Trying to commit the sight of those clear blue eyes to memory, he assured her, “I will, ma’am.”


She smiled and moved to the side to make room for Adams.  The doctor patted him on the back.  “Good luck in Wichita, son.  You can always come back here if things don’t work out.”


No, I can’t, Justus answered silently, darting a glance toward the marshal, who was just joining them.  Aloud, he just said, “Thanks.”


“Mister Jones,” Dillon said, extending his right hand.  Justus took it, and they nodded to each other for the length of the shake.  When it was over, Justus climbed carefully into the coach and took his place by the window.


Then, he leaned out and called to Dillon.  “Can I tell you somethin’, Marshal?  In private?”


The lawman took a step forward, thumbs hooked in his gun belt, hat pulled down over his eyes.  “What is it?”


“I’ve been thinkin’.”




He swallowed.  “I’ve been thinkin’ that sometimes revenge blinds a man to the thing he needs to see the most.”


Dillon lifted his chin and studied Justus.  After a moment, he said, “That so?”


“That’s so,” Justus confirmed.  “Just wanted you to know.  Could you, uh, could you tell Miss Kitty something for me?”


“You don’t want to tell her yourself?” Dillon wondered, tilting his chin toward Kitty and Doc.


“No.  I’d like for you to tell her.”


The marshal caught his lower lip between his teeth, then nodded once.  “Okay.”


“Tell her I was – I was wrong.”


“Wrong?”  Dillon asked, frowning.


“Yes, sir,” Justus said.  “I was wrong about – lawmen.  In more ways than one.”


Both of Dillon’s eyebrows rose, and he cocked his head slightly, an unspoken question on his lips.


“Would ya’ tell her that, Marshal?”


After a beat, he nodded.  “I’ll tell her.”


Justus gave a smile of satisfaction, expecting the marshal to step back and let him go, but Dillon didn’t move.  Instead, the lawman leaned in closer, placing one hand on the stage window.  “There’s just one more thing.”


Justus caught his breath, a tremor of anticipation and fear rocking his insides at the calculation on those firm features.  Dillon looked out from under his hat just enough to hold Justus’ eyes with his own. 


“Good luck,” he said quietly.  Then, with a single nod, added, “Billy.”


Justus’ jaw dropped and he stared, heart pounding, breath caught in his throat.  He found his fingers twitching in reflex over the butt of his gun.  He opened his mouth to answer, to question, to dispute, but nothing came.




With his eyes still locked on Justus, Dillon raised two fingers to touch the brim of his hat in a casual salute.  Billy continued to stare, too shocked to register fully what that simple farewell meant.  Somehow, over the pounding of his heart, he heard the stage driver call out to the team of horses.  Dillon took a step back, out of the way of the coach, breaking his gaze with Justus, who watched as the lawman moved up onto the boardwalk next to Kitty and Doc. 


Good luck – Billy.


Justus looked out the window again, a final view of the town that had changed his life twice.  He watched as Dillon leaned down and whispered something in Kitty’s ear.  She looked up at him, then turned toward the stage, those beautiful eyes meeting Billy’s.  The smile she gave him wasn’t quite the same one he had seen her give Dillon, but it was good enough for Billy.


He nodded and smiled back, then watched as she hooked her arm around the marshal’s, stretched up on tip toe and let her lips brush across his cheek.  If Dillon was surprised by that public demonstration, he didn’t show it.  On the contrary, he demonstrated himself that he could be quick on the draw in ways other than gunplay.  While her lips still touched him, he let his head turn to capture her mouth with his.  It wasn’t a long kiss, but Justus could almost see the sparks that snapped between them.  When Dillon pulled back, Kitty stared up at him, amazement and love plain and unmasked on her face.  Then the marshal, realizing that they had drawn more than a few stares of interest, straightened and cleared his throat, while Doc stood by, grinning widely.


Billy found himself grinning, as well, even past the lingering twinge of jealousy as the coach lurched forward, and the tall marshal and his woman disappeared from view.  Within minutes, the last buildings of the town fell behind, and the dry, flat prairie stretched endlessly out before them.


As the dust of Dodge was knocked off the wheels by the prairie grass, Billy felt the last vengeful embers ebb, replaced by the spark of respect he had failed to douse.  His soul, which had been seized by hatred and vengeance ten years before, was now tempered by what he had seen of humanity and sacrifice – and love.


Ten years hadn’t made a difference, but ten days had. 


Maybe he would come back to Dodge one day.  Maybe in another ten years he’d return to see if Matt Dillon had survived the men to come.  Men whose souls burned.   He couldn’t help but believe somehow that, when he did come back, the man would still reach halfway to the sky, still pack a knockout punch, still draw lightening fast.  And still have Kitty Russell by his side – one way or another.


Billy Justus – Will Jones – figured that was enough for any man’s soul.





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