Just Friends

This story borrows plot and characters from the Radio and Television Series Gunsmoke and the episode, "Kitty's Injury"

It is fanfiction, written for my entertainment and certainly not for profit.

They were just friends. Close friends to be sure, they'd even shared a quick kiss on several occasions, but never more than that. Both were aware of, though loath to admit, that to do so, to cross that invisible yet powerful line, would initiate a domino effect which might never end. He claimed his job wouldn't allow for a personal life. She'd vowed never to marry a poor man. "I'd rather stay single!" She had declared. "At least then, I don't have to answer to anyone but myself." Truth be told in the school of hard knocks, each had been awarded a masters degree in Independence and Self-reliance; they didn't need anyone. Still they found ways to spend time together; He'd save the saloon for his last stop when he made his nightly rounds. She'd drag herself from bed bright and early, a feat which was totally alien to her nature so she could share coffee with him on the mornings he was in town - along with lunch at Delmonico's, supper at Delmonico's, and those not so by chance meetings at the General Store and Post Office.

Though the sight of the two of them together was a common occurrence, it neither confirmed nor denied the nature of their liaison. For, frankly more affection was demonstrated publicly between the old doctor and the young woman than there was between the virile lawman and beautiful saloon girl. Propriety was their mainstay, if that is possible between two such young and healthy individuals and the good citizens of Dodge City didn't know what to make of them. Some had long ago decided intimacy was what fueled those eye locks which seemed to block out everything but the one for the other. However, without any firm evidence the relationship remained a mystery, one discussed by the Ladies Aid when all religious topics had been exhausted and the minister and his wife had left the building, and debated by cowboy and businessman alike over poker games and whiskey in every back room of every saloon and brothel in town.

It went on like that for five years. Five years of a polite, "See you later." Or "Take care." Five years of turning a blind eye to indiscretions, of past and present. "Kitty knows a lot of men." Dillon would tell Doc and Chester when they questioned him about her late night buggy rides with eastern dudes, or the expensive scent of perfume they knew only too well she couldn't afford.

And she she'd think nothing of "baby-sitting", his former girl-friends or putting up with prospective new ones, oh, she'd tell him often enough these women were up to no good, and he'd usually end up sadly agreeing with her as they shared a beer or cup of bad coffee. For a moment her eyes might capture his, or his hand might inadvertently graze the fullness of her breast. The intensity of the sensations these circumstances aroused were quickly squelched for to give in to them would certainly mean the end to their practiced charade.

They had set a course, as two ships traveling a parallel path, each with a separate destiny in mind; however fate had a different fortune planned for Matt and Kitty.

The course change started out in the most ordinary of ways; a free morning had allowed him the luxury of accompanying her as she rode out of town to visit a friend. For some reason the always well prepared Dillon had failed to fill up his canteen, two hours into the ride in the hot sun and they were both thirsty. Matt had suggested they stop at a nearby farmstead for water. Before they had gotten more than twenty paces a rattler had spooked Kitty's mare throwing her from the saddle. He'd thought she was dead when he ran to her; she was so still, her breathing shallow almost non-existent while a trail of blood trickled malevolently from her ear. He'd seen death, even been close to it himself a time or two and the thought that dark villain might have Kitty in its unholy clutches sent a spear of dread through him that seemed to strike all of his vital organs at once. "Kitty." he breathed, "Kitty." He checked her quickly for broken bones his hands impersonal as he ran them over places he'd never touched before. His fingers gently examined her neck praying it wasn't broken, praying her spinal column was intact, praying she was more living than dead. When he was convinced he'd do more good than harm he picked her up in his arms and carried her to the farmstead.

It was a filthy place, the odors of animal and human waste burned his nostrils and he had to watch his step lest he lose his footing on the debris littering the yard. The folks within were as grubby as their surroundings, a slow witted boy in his late teens stared dumbly at Kitty, while his father greeted Matt rudely and accusingly, "Big U.S. Marshall pushing poor folk around." The woman was kinder; her face revealing the last vestige of what might have once been beauty. She assessed the situation quickly, seeing in the young couple something she'd long lost hope in for herself. It was clear to her in a way it had never been totally apparent to the folks of Dodge City that this pair were lovers. They were lovers in the truest most romantic sense of the word, requiring not the performance of the physical act to have earned the title.

Despite the objections of her husband, the wife led them to a back room, throwing the rags which served as cover from her bed and using the one clean blanket she possessed to conceal the stained mattress. With a gentleness she'd forgotten she possessed she covered Kitty with her own mother's linen tablecloth.

Matt had been frantic with his desire to help her. He hovered over Kitty as the woman fussed with the makeshift sheet. Seeing she was settled and in the woman's care, he prepared to leave to get help, but Kitty, fighting desperately for lucidity begged him, pleaded with him, "Don't leave me … please don't leave me…" To deny her was not in his power.

The word slipped out, "You just rest easy honey." He was not a man given to endearments, he'd have told you they were childish had you asked, but he said it now, and that word could have been exchanged for any other endearment thought up by mankind and it wouldn't have meant more.

Lutie, the boy was dispatched amid objections of both father and son, and when night fell and Kitty's condition worsened and the boy did not return with the doctor, Matt forced the man to ride into Dodge for Adams. For by that point no power on earth could have forced him to leave her. The night was interminable as he sat by her side, running a wet cloth over her brow, taking her hand in his to study the splay of her fingers against his own, and whispering the endearment as much for his ears as her own, "Rest easy honey, everything is going to be alright." With every passing minute what she meant to him became a clearer image and he couldn't imagine his life without her. Near dawn Dillon stepped from the house to fetch fresh water, it was at that point Lutie returned, not with the doctor but with a farm wagon he'd stolen.

"I got me a plan, I'm gonna run off with that there pretty woman." He declared.

"You can't, she's badly hurt. She needs a doctor." Matt told him, but the boy didn't seem to understand, his mind was made up. He forced his mother to tie Dillon to a chair and left the house to prepare for the trip. In Lutie's absence the woman quickly untied Dillon and mindful of what she was doing and the ultimate consequences of her actions gave him a gun to shoot down her son with.

There was no reasoning with Lutie, if he'd ever had the capacity for rational thought it had been clouded over by a madness born of environment and mind. In the end the gun and the bullet were the only remedy for his insanity. The father had returned with Doc, just as Matt was preparing a burial for the boy, the old man showed no remorse over the death of his son, only worry that he should be accused of being an accomplice to his son's lawlessness. Dillon gave him little regard for his thoughts were on Kitty as he followed Adams into the shack.

The doctor's main concern was to get Kitty out of that hovel, though still unconscious they moved her to the wagon Lutie had taken, cushioning her from the hard boards by straw covered with a clean blanket Adams had brought in his buggy. With the lawman's buckskin, Kitty's mare and the doctor's rig tied to the back of the buckboard they started off back to Dodge. Matt carefully watching for every rut on the trail which might cause a jolt to his precious passenger, Adams kneeling beside her to steady her when the wheels dipped at the unavoidable.

"Wouldn't she be better off in the buggy?" Dillon called back to the doctor.

"Oh no Matt, I've got to keep her lying down, she's going to be alright though." Adams assured him, "She's conscious."

"She is!" and there was no hiding the joy and relief in his voice as he pulled the team to a stop.

There was a light to his eyes that lit up his face as he leaned over the wagon bed, "It sure is good to have you back honey."

"Guess I caused you some trouble." she whispered back, her voice husky and weak.

"Lady, you'll never know how much, how do you feel?"

"I'm thirsty …" She replied.

Dillon smiled, the doctor laughed and Kitty sighed thankfully. She closed her eyes again, her thoughts not following an altogether straight path lingered for a moment on the knowledge he hadn't left her when she needed him. It would be several days later when the impact of the spoken word hit her.

But Matt Dillon was aware and for the first time in a long time he understood what it meant to need someone. He took his hat from his head and readjusted the fit. The smile still hadn't left his face and now it broadened again in anticipation. He knew with certainty and acceptance they would never be just friends again, and he was looking forward to finally crossing the line.