Kitty's eyes fluttered as consciousness began to return and her brain registered Matt's sweat-soaked dirty smell.
"There's a little food and coffee in the packs on the horses." Marshall Dillion was saying, his head turned towards Chester as a small fire crackled to life under the deputy's watch, "Go get it and I'll see if I can't get a little food into her."
His voice brought her all the way back and her eyes widened with relief when she realized she was safely tucked into his arms.
"Matt…?" she whispered as Chester slipped outside, disliking the graveling parched feeling in her throat.
His head swiveled back, the smile lighting his face as bright as the summer sun. "Hey, look w-who woke up!" his voice caught for a moment.
"Matt," she interrupted before he could say more, putting a hand on his thick shoulder to pull herself upright, "what happened?"
"Take it easy, Kitty." he answered, adjusting his arms to help her, "You fainted a few minutes ago but we're gonna get some breakfast going for you."
"But—" she tried again.
"Jed and Billy are dead, Kitty." he answered, shortly, "It's over."
"Thank God…" she let out a long shuddering sigh, closing her eyes and going limp with relief.
"Hey, hey—" his soft voice was tinged with alarm as he adjusted his arms again, propping her up, "Stay with me, Kitty. Stay with me."
"Always…" she answered, popping her eyes open as a surge of warmth raced through her body; she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and buried her face into his neck, feeling comforted by his sweaty smell again, "Always, Marshall."
"Kitty…" he brushed aside a lock of her flaming red hair, feeling strongly tempted to kiss her then and there.
"Well, Miss Kitty!" Chester's sudden reappearance snapped both their heads up as the deputy pulled the cabin's door shut, "Dang it, it's good to see you awake!" He hobbled over to the fireplace, waving a couple of packs in the air, "I'll have breakfast ready before you know it, Miss Kitty. Don't you worry."
"I could use the coffee." she admitted, sighing glumly, as she eased back into Matt's shoulder to watch the proceedings.
"You gotta eat something too, Kitty." Marshall Dillon reminded her, his mouth tickling her ear, "You just fainted."
"I'll try, Matt." her lips twisted into a lopsided smile.
"D-did they treat ya alright, Miss Kitty?" Chester gave her an anxious look, pausing after he'd set the coffee on to boil.
"Well, they were pretty stingy with dinner." she admitted ruefully, not missing Matt's adam's apple working up and down in anger, "and when they did offer me a drink, I threw it in Jed's face."
"Kitty!" Matt stiffened, his large hands tightening around her, "You could have been killed for that! For less than that, if I know the Gunther brothers!"
"I know, Matt…" her face reddened, at his tone, "I know." She swallowed hard to keep her voice steady, but it didn't work for long, "I was just so tired of it all. The shock of being taken, riding all day, not knowing where I'd end up—if I'd ever see Dodge again—if I'd ever see you again." Her voice caught for a moment, "Then that poor ole cowboy, who hadn't done anything wrong. He was trying to help me, Matt! And they shot him and left him there to suffer!"
Marshall Dillon pulled her close as tears leaked down her cheeks, "It's alright, Kitty. He did help us. We found him before he died. He told us about this cabin. That's why we got here as quick as we did. He didn't die alone either."
"Thank God…" she murmured, gripping his shirt as she began to relax again, murmuring, "Everything else…"
"What's that?" Matt's hands stiffened around her again.
"I-it's nothing, Matt." she shook herself, smiling up at him.
"Look, Kitty…" he coaxed cautiously, "I don't want you to talk unless you're ready, but I do want to know what happened to you yesterday—last night."
She started to shake her head; he didn't need to know. Nothing had happened anyways. Then she caught herself. She loved this man, more than any man she'd ever known before, and she didn't want there to be secrets between them.
"Alright, Matt," she answered, straightening up on his lap with a tiny apologetic smile, "The truth is, the Gunthers were heading to California. Jed wanted me to come with them—and when I refused, he wouldn't let me eat any food until I gave him the answer he wanted." Hugging him tightly as both men's eyes bulged out, she whispered in his ear, "So I didn't eat anything last night."
Silence reigned for several minutes as Matt and Chester gasped for breath, trying to wrap their heads around what they'd heard.
Finally, the deputy found his tongue.
"Well, Mr. Dillon," he said, "that right there is the meanest thing I've ever heard of!"