A Gunsmoke fan fiction story, not for profit with no infringement of copyright intended. Please excuse errors of spelling grammar and Gunsmoke canon.
Kitty was angry and it had taken him a while to figure it out. Oh, not that she was mad; that was apparent from the first icy dagger she shot his way. The question it took him so long to figure out was why. Hell, he'd just come back that morning from a week on the trail chasing after the Sharlow gang. He'd dumped off two bodies at the undertaker's - Hugh Sharlow and Felicity Braun. He felt bad about Felicity. She wasn't much more than a kid; only a few years younger than Kitty. She along with her brother Zeke had somehow gotten mixed up with the outlaw gang. Dillon had shot Hugh and Felicity in self defense, he'd had no choice. Still, it didn't matter how long he wore the badge or how many people he'd shot, killing never sat well with him. Killing a woman left a bigger mark. Matt Dillon was dirty, bone weary and nursing a couple of bruised ribs. A little loving attention from his own woman would have been appreciated. Ah, but that was just it. Kitty wasn't his own woman. Five years earlier they had pledged to a non permanent relationship. He had duty and the badge. She had the Long Branch. Matrimony was not part of either of their plans. No, she wanted to be "Kitty Russell of the Long Branch Saloon, Queen of Dodge City!" … she'd laughingly told him that, but he was certain there was more than a hint of truth to her flippant ambition. She wasn't his woman; she'd never be any man's woman, for in truth, one such as Kitty could not be owned. That deep rooted knowledge did not completely stop him from thinking of her in terms as his own.
The first inkling that there was a problem had been as he walked the horses from Percy Crump's down to the stable. He'd seen Kitty on the other side of the street, obviously returning from the Post Office. He'd called to her, she'd given him a look and then tossed her nose in the air and stomped purposefully away. He knew that look. He'd been the recipient of it often enough. He was in deep trouble, but without a clue as to how he got there.
After handing over the horses to Moss Grimmick at the stable and seeing to his saddle bags, he'd made his way through the muck and slosh of the unseasonably warm February day to the saloon. He stood at the batwings and scanned the interior. At that time in the morning the Long Branch was empty of patrons. Kitty was at the far end of the bar working on her books. She glanced up and held his look. The icy dagger of her glare hadn't warmed. But he forged ahead anyway till he was standing by her side. Her voice was colder than her eyes. "Well, I see you made it back in one piece after all."
He adjusted his hat and gave her a nervous smile. "Yeah, I'm gonna rest up and head out again tomorrow. Just came back to drop a couple bodies off at Percy Crump's."
This time Kitty didn't meet his eyes; instead she concentrated on packing up her bookkeeping supplies. "Well, don't let me keep you from doing what you've gotta do." With an about face which would have done an Army soldier proud she marched to her office letting the door slam with an echo that resounded in the empty saloon.
Sam had been drying beer glasses and arranging them neatly for the mid-day rush - trying to appear as if there was nothing untoward going on between his boss and the lawman, but wishing for a convenient escape route nevertheless. He'd been witness to moments such as this before. The bartender looked up at the solitary figure standing open mouthed at the end of the bar and asked, "Kin I git you anything Marshal?"
Dillon grimaced a smile, "No, guess not Sam." He adjusted his Stetson again and headed out to face the bright winter sunlight.
A bath and shave had gone a long way toward making him feel human again and he questioned if cleaning up first would have made Kitty more hospitable to his advances. He thought about giving it another go, but decided to first tackle the week's worth of paperwork waiting for him at the office. Chester had piled the mail to one side of his desk. Dillon poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down and began to sift through the post.
He was a good way through the stack when Doc stopped by. "Well, I see you finally got back. Did you get 'em?"
"Just Hugh Sharlow and Felicity Braun … met up with 'em at Crow's Crossing."
"They in the back?" Adams asked as he helped himself to coffee and sat down in the chair at the front of the desk.
Adams eyes narrowed, his lips took a straighter line as he gave Dillon a closer look. "You all right?"
"Yeah … gonna head out again tomorrow, I got a hunch what's left of the gang is still around."
"What makes you so sure?"
"Before he died, Hugh told me he'd hidden the bank money."
"He say where?"
"No, gotta be somewhere between here and Crow's Crossing." He tossed a couple of wanted posters in his middle drawer before asking, "Anything going on around Dodge I should know about?"
"No, after you and the posse rode out of town last week, things have been peaceful. Too bad the posse didn't stick with you for more than forty-eight hours."
"You know how it is Doc, they got families and jobs to get back to." Matt picked up an envelope decorated with hearts and arrows. "What's this?" He asked.
The lawman scowled, "What?"
"Valentine. Someone sent you a Valentine."
"What the hell is a Valentine?"
"All the rage in Europe, so I've be informed … Kinda nice, you're supposed to send 'em to someone you're sweet on. I got five of 'em and the widow Haskins made me a plate of heart shaped sugar cookies. That one from Kitty?"
Dillon glared up at Doc before he slit the envelope open and pulled out a card. It was an elaborate concoction of lace, ribbon and colored paper. Obviously, painstakingly hand made. He studied it for a minute and then opened the card. "Yeah," he answered, "it's from Kitty."
"You send her one?"
"Explains it then."
"Why she's been in such a disagreeable mood."
"I wasn't even in town, how was I going to send her a … a Valentine?"
"Well, good heavens Matt, if you woulda listened to her last week, when we were all having dinner at Delmonicos you woulda known about Valentines and woulda made sure you had one ready for her."
Now that the old man mentioned it, he vaguely recalled the conversation. "Hell, Doc, she knows I'm not one for lace and ribbons and such."
Doc rubbed his thumb across his scraggly moustache. "In my experience there are times when a man has to do certain things that are against his grain to keep a woman happy."
"You got a lot of experience with women do you?"
"Well I got a sight more Valentines than you did, if that's any judge."
Matt frowned. "You really think that's what's upsetting Kitty?"
"Makes sense to me."
Dillon shook his head at the absurdity of it all. Kitty, the most reasonable and practical of all women, at times clear headed and unsentimental to a fault had fallen victim to some sort of commercial conspiracy called Valentine. If he wanted the comfort of Kitty's heartbeat sharing a bed tonight, and he sorely did, he figured he better fight fire with fire. He took a piece of paper from his desk drawer and began scribbling a short message. Doc studied him over the rim of his coffee cup, effectively hiding his smirk. Dillon picked up Kitty's valentine again and reread the romantic sop. The big man sighed and gritted his teeth. Like some lovesick schoolboy, he drew a crude heart and decorated it with his and Kitty's initials inside. He folded the paper, shoved it in an envelope and handed it to Adams. "Would you deliver this to Kitty?" He asked.
He was making his rounds early; with the plan of the Long Branch being his final stop. He held high hopes, that his note had made up for his lack of attention to Valentine's Day. He had a fairly good idea the heart and initials would do the trick and he smiled at the earthy warmth that thought brought his way. He was on the far end of Front Street when he heard the echo of repeated gunshots coming from the center of town. Pulling his gun free, he turned and ran up the street. The disturbance was coming from the Long Branch. By the time he got there, the saloon was shrouded in an unnatural silence. He pushed his way in and past the crowd to see one man lying in a pool of his own blood. Beyond him near the far side of the bar another crowd had gathered. He saw Doc kneeling on the floor, his body shielding the victim's face from view. All that was visible to Dillon's eyes, was a feminine arm stretched out. Clutched tight within the stilled fingers was a piece of paper, on which was crafted a crude but loving heart.
His oath to badge and country rang in his ears. The two pledges becoming as one. They were his creed, his doctrine, they determined his actions. I, Matthew Dillon, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. I will execute all lawful precepts, directed to the Marshal for the City of Dodge City, State of Kansas, under the authority of the United States Government, and true returns make, and in all things well and truly, and without malice or partiality, perform my duties so help me God.
The words identified his very existence as an honorable man. They resonated through his brain like the refrain of an anthem, "Faithfully Protect and Defend without malice or partiality." Now he found himself faced with a choice, which, if he abided by his doctrine, really wasn't a choice at all. He dammed that within himself which decreed it must be so. The oath dictated it was the man with the gun to whom he must go.
He stood like a giant towering over the dying man. Dillon recognized him, despite features distorted by pain. This was Felicity's brother. The motive of his assault clear, Zeke Braun had come to avenge the death of his sister. Knowing, as most men knew, be they righteous or outlaw, that nothing could wound Matt Dillon more than harm coming to Kitty Russell. Dillon dropped to one knee and yanked Braun up by the collar of his shirt, "Talk." he ordered.
Blood bubbled from the outlaw's mouth, nevertheless his lips turned upward in a cruel sneer. Impending death, not yet quelling his voice, "Go watch … your girlfriend … die … Dillon … watch the life … slip outa her … and know … it's your fault …it's … your …" Zeke Braun coughed; choking on his own blood, his eyes rolled back, before his body went slack. Dillon let go the outlaw and he fell to the floor with a thump like a sack of garbage
He pushed himself back to his feet. The crowd had moved away out of respect, giving him a clearer view of Kitty. Red blood blossomed across the right shoulder of her white blouse, increasing in size as he watched. Doc glanced over at him, urgency and emotion powering his words, "We got to get her up to the office."
Dillon crossed the distance in two strides of his long legs, and lowered himself to his knees beside Adams. "Kitty." He breathed.
"Matt! We got to get her to the office. Now!"
With great gentleness, Matt Dillon placed an arm under her legs and then carefully worked his other under her shoulders, pulling her to him as though she were a young child. Tender as the movement was, it caused pain and a cry slipped from her lips. "Shhhh." He soothed, holding her tightly against him. Her warm blood seeped through his own shirt. The coppery smell invaded his senses. He rose to his feet and she cried again. The sound tore at his heart. "Shhhh." He whispered. He hesitated knowing more pain was inevitable. He bent his head until he was close enough to feel the flutter of her eyelashes against his cheek, "Easy honey, Doc will make it right."
Dillon lit the large lamp that hung over the surgery table, it held two reflective shields that gave the fixture the strength of three lamps. Doc busied himself taking a prepared tray from a drawer in the chest that held his medical supplies. He handed Matt a scissors, "Cut that blouse off and remove her undergarments."
His fingers touched the silk, pulling it free from her skirt. The blouse was new, she'd worn it for the first time just last week. He'd puzzled about the garment at the time. "Why'd you want a shirt that buttons down the back?" He'd asked."It looks pretty." She had replied.
"Don't see how you can twist around enough to get the thing done up proper."
She'd laughed at him then. "It's not that hard. I leave it buttoned, all except for the top three and pull it over my head."
He'd laughed too, "Well then what the hell am I doing messing with all these damn buttons, let's just pull it off and get down to business."
She was giggling now, "You dumb Cowboy, it's supposed to be seductive - unbuttoning the buttons."
"Oh, Miss Kitty, it's not the buttons that do that job."
It had been mighty sweet after that - laughing and loving until the moment of release, and then, the climax that exploded like fireworks on the 4th of July. He closed his eyes tight for a heartbeat pushing the memory away. His fingers trembled as he cut the fabric, the scissors protesting as he tried to work through the sticky blood soaked silk.
The door to the doctor's office opened and Ma Smalley hustled in. "You need me Doc?"
There was a measure of relief in the physician's voice. "Take over for Matt."
"Give me the scissors Marshal, you go sit down before you fall down. Good heavens, you're white as a sheet. Doc don't need two patients on his hands."
He sat down at the chair beside Doc's desk, head in hands elbows on knees. He couldn't watch, couldn't stand to see her white skin, shadowed in shades of gray, her mouth slack as her breathing labored, couldn't bear to see her blood. It was bad enough to listen as Doc probed for the bullet, to hear the tell tale click as metal hit metal, to hear Doc grunt and curse as he attempted to pull free the bullet from her flesh.
Kitty. She asked so damn little of him. A valentine, she'd wanted a valentine. Such a small thing and he'd thought it foolish. He was a man who lived by an oath to duty and the badge, he had no need for hearts and arrows, lace and ribbon, and fancy words of love. It had taken but a heartbeat for a bullet to change his perspective on what he needed. He needed Kitty Russell. The new refrain echoing in his brain was simply, I need you Kitty, I need you.
He'd heard the phrase, 'Time lost all meaning' but that sure as hell didn't apply here. The ticking of the clock bringing the meaning home with each swing of the pendulum. He was sitting next to her, holding her hand. Talking to her when he thought of something to say. But, mostly he was in shock that it was Kitty lying there with a bullet hole in her and not him.
Doc had finished boiling his instruments and now Ma was putting them away. "You best talk to the crowd out there Doc, half the town is waiting for some word. Folks think pretty high of Miss Kitty."
Doc nodded and went to the door. Cold damp air rushed in when he opened it, and Dillon thought it was the best thing he'd felt in a while. The old man stood at the open threshold. His voice was still strong despite his night's worth of labor, "She's going to be all right. When she wakes up, I'll let her know you were all here. Now, go on home and get some sleep."
He came back in his office, "Coffee's ready." He remarked. "You wanna cup Matt?"
Dillon nodded, his eyes not leaving Kitty's face. "You sure Doc?"
"You sure she's going to be okay?"
"The wound's bad, but it coulda been worse. Providing she gets rest, and a chance to heal up and no infection sets in … yes, she'll be fine."
He brought her hand to his lips and then placed it gently back on the operating table. "Should we get her in bed. This table isn't too comfortable to wake up on you know."
"I'll turn the covers down." Ma offered as she scurried to the infirmary bed.
"All right, just be careful picking her up, don't want those stitches pulled." It wasn't like Matt needed to be warned to be careful. It was just the need Adams felt to protect his patient.
She moaned when he put his arms under her, her eyes fluttered. He eased back. "Hello there." He said.
The corners of her lips lifted and light came to her eyes. "Sor - ry." she breathed before the light went out again.
It was dawn when she came to again. He was in the chair beside her bed his elbows on knees and head resting on folded hands. His eyes were closed. He'd been that way for a while now, suspended somewhere between prayer and exhaustion.
"Matt …" Her voice, not even a whisper, but it roused him to instant wakefulness.
"Kitty." He dropped to his knees to be closer to her lips, the better to hear her words.
"I … m so …rry." she said again.
"Sorry?" He was puzzled, what could she be sorry for? It should have been him begging her forgiveness. It was because of him, because of what he did that she'd been shot. He was the reason she was suffering now.
"Honey … it's not your fault, you have nothing to be sorry for. You just rest now. I'll get doc."
"No … not yet … need to talk …
"Kitty … shhh … save your strength we can talk later … you need to rest … "
"No … have to tell you … "
He gave in, "tell me what?"
Her voice gained strength, "I was foolish … the valentine … " Tears pooled in her eyes.
He let go her hand and reached inside his vest to pull out the tattered remains of the piece of paper, with the crooked heart crudely drawn upon it. Bloody fingerprints, both his and hers marred the surface.
He looked at it for a moment. Regretting the haste and thoughtlessness with which he had made it. The beat in his chest quickened. Then with great gentleness, he wrapped her fingers around his valentine. "To Kitty, from my heart to yours." he said.