BADGE of HONOR

A Gunsmoke Fan-Fiction

The Gunsmoke characters do not belong to me, and I make no profit from telling my tale.

This story is dedicate to my friends - who have refused to let it die.

one

It had taken a long while for him to recover from the injuries he'd suffered at the hands of Mace Gore's men. Months later, he still looked hollow eyed and gaunt. He had pain too; a sudden ill-planned move would produce a sharp intake of air and unconscious grimace. Most disconcerting were the headaches which stemmed, Doc advised from the bullet that had grazed his brow. Grateful he was alive, Kitty Russell was only too happy to grant his every wish, even if that meant to step back from him.

There had developed an undercurrent of secrecy about him, and she knew without clear evidence there were things he was trying to keep from her. It was to be expected, the badge had always come first. After all he'd made a vow to duty and signed his name in oath, while she on the other hand had garnered no such pledge. One couldn't expect any paperless vows to have priority. At night in bed she'd mull over the mysterious incidents that were occurring on an increasing basis.

The initial episode had taken place three weeks earlier, she'd brought the mail over for him from the post office, as she did from time to time. She hadn't bothered to look at the letters and later wished she had, in the hopes they might have provided some clue to his action.

He had rifled through the envelopes and selected one from the pack for his immediate attention. He'd opened it quickly and scanned the contents.

"Something important?" Kitty had asked.

He'd given it a second glance and she watched his eyes move back and forth across the paper as if memorizing the lines. "No, not important." He'd replied flatly. He had crumpled the paper in a ball and tossed it in the small stove in the corner of the room along with the envelope. The fire had made a popping sound as it consumed the letter.

The incident had been repeated twice more in her presence over the next few weeks. A letter hastily read and immediately destroyed; the action uncharacteristic of the man and troubling to the woman.

There had been other occurrences too; strangers, who passed the time with the lawman but warranted no introduction to any members of Dillon's circle of friends. His late night visits to her had ended as well, and this was the most disturbing of all, for while the badge had his duty pledged, she'd always thought she held claim to his heart.

It had been the day before he'd left town so abruptly that another pair of strangers had shown up. They'd come in on the afternoon stage dressed in the garb of cowhands, but it was obvious to anyone seasoned in frontier life that neither the men nor their clothes had seen active duty on ranch or trail. They'd taken a table near the back of the Long Branch where they could watch all who entered the saloon. When Matt came in he'd chatted with her for a moment and then made the rounds talking with several of the local citizens before pulling up a chair at the stranger's table. He talked with them less than five minutes and certainly to anyone who gave it their casual consideration there was nothing unusual about this actions, but to Kitty Russell the whole situation made her uneasy. She decided then and there to confront the lawman at the first opportunity.

She waited and watched and when he made his late night rounds she was there at the door. The Long Branch was empty by that time as were the streets of town. She pulled him into the saloon and with a finger poked at his chest, ordered him to tell her what was going on, "See here Cowboy, I've got considerable time invested in your health and well being, and I figure that earns me some answers."

He grabbed the offending finger and then captured her hand, "Kitty you're right, you deserve answers in fact you deserve a whole lot more than that, but I can't give you any , at least not now."

"When?" she demanded impatiently.

He smiled at her persistence, even as he studied the way her face looked with the soft shadows from a lamp set on the bar. He'd made a promise to himself to leave her out of this, but he was drawn by a primal desire as old as man and as new as the moment. He kissed her. At first slow and warm, allowing fire the opportunity to take hold. When it did he cursed the need he had for her and his weakness to deny it.

In the morning he told her he was leaving, "I got some business to attend to."

She'd been watching him dress from the beneath the covers of her bed. "How long will you be gone?"

"I don't know." He admitted. "A long time."

She pulled a sheer silk gown over her head before moving to him, "I don't understand."

"I know … look Kitty, I'm sorry, I wish I could tell you more, but … the job …"

She thought she'd fought through the invisible wall he'd constructed between them. He'd just spent the night making love to her, yet here he was talking about the job. Frustration and jealousy for the badge powered her sudden anger. "Damn the job."

"Kitty."

"Damn the job and damn you."

He hung his head, her words had hit their mark and it hurt.

"Go then … there's nothing to hold you. Get the hell out of my room, get the hell out of my life. I wish to God I'd never met you."

He looked up giving her a long sad look before quietly turning opening the door and leaving.

It had taken a trio of heartbeats for her to come to her senses and run after him; down the stairs and through the deserted saloon. "Please … don't go, please." He'd stopped in his tracks and waited for her to come to him. "I'm sorry." She said simply.

He'd pulled her into his embrace, wrapping his arms around her bare shoulders. They'd rocked back and forth, clinging to one another, not knowing when they'd be like this again, He, afraid to let go, but aware life never stands still and all things both good and bad pass.

It was later that day, after he'd ridden out of town that she discovered his badge on top of her dresser.

GS GS GS GS GS

There had been no answers to his abrupt departure from Dodge. Festus and Doc were just as confused as she was by his leaving. Hagen tried to fill Dillon's boots keeping a lid on the cow town, but Dodge needed an experienced lawman and several weeks after Dillon left a telegram arrived stating a new Marshal would arrive to take over. Not long after that the Dodge City Post reported some troubling news.

With trembling hands, Kitty picked up the newspaper to read the article that went with the headlines. Doc Adams, her old friend had been keeping her company that afternoon in an effort to shield her from curiosity seekers, "It's not true Doc, you and I both know it."

The old man agreed, "I'd need a lot more proof than just words on a paper to believe Matt Dillon had anything to do with that string of stage holdups." He'd read the article and heard the talk and had tried to put together this absurd jigsaw puzzle but none of the pieces fit. Matt's sense of honor was too great to ever be lured into taking up against this side of the law. He'd sooner die fighting to protect it, a fact he'd proven when Mace Gore had taken over Dodge City.

GS GS GS GS GS

Now, there was a price on Matt Dillon's head. New law came to town, Hiram T Mahoney, an Irishman who hailed from Iowa and had fought in the war and who like Matt had joined the US Marshal's Service shortly after Appomattox. He was met with a distrustful eye for those in Dodge who'd come to feel they could depend on the law, now felt the bitter blow of deep betrayal.

During sleepless nights, and restless days Kitty Russell would go over the final words they'd spoken. Matt had told her it was the job, and the idea that somehow his infidelity to duty and honor was the ultimate price of the paper oath he'd take kept repeating itself in her head.

Festus Hagen was despondent; there was no place for him in the new administration ruling Dodge and those who had held him up to respect for the alliance he'd had with Matt Dillon, now saw him as a cohort to a criminal. Kitty too was looked upon suspiciously and she'd heard more than one comment questioning when she'd leave town to take up with that outlaw Dillon. "Outlaw", the cruelest word of all to be attached to Matthew Dillon.

GS GS GS GS GS

Sitting around the back table of the Long Branch, Matt's friends tried to make sense of the situation. In the center lay a Wanted Poster with is picture on it. "$5,000 Reward Dead or Alive", it read.

"I'm a goin' to look fer him." Festus announced pushing to his feet.

"Just hold on there." Doc ordered.

"I been a holdin' on Doc, and I ain't gonna no more. He's done gone loco, ain't been right since Gore hit town, and you know it and Miss Kitty knows it too. I reckon it's a better thing I stop him than one of them bounty hunters."

"Is that it Doc?" Kitty questioned. "Did something happen to his mind when that bullet grazed his head?"

It was the old man who got to his feet now; he turned his back to his friends and made his way over to the bar to pour himself another drink. Truth be told, he'd been drinking a little too much lately and he knew he should slow down. But, he needed something to dull the hurt in his heart and he figured this was a better alternative than laudanum. "I don't know. I just don't know anymore."