Ready to head out into the dark, cold dead of night, Kitty pulled her shawl a little tighter. She planned to be safe not stupid, so she'd stick to Front Street, and only venture down a side street or alley if she heard Matt's footsteps there. She reached for the doorknob and heard those very footsteps coming down the hall. Relief washed over her. She dropped the shawl and waited for a tap on the door, certain he wouldn't use his key – not this time. "Come on in Matt." He entered somewhat hesitantly, hat in hand. "Kitty, I – I can't believe I spoke to you that way. I hope you can forgive me." She looked up at him, and in the bright light of her room, could see the deep, dark sadness and exhaustion in his eyes. "Matt, I'm sorry too. I made assumptions that I shouldn't have, knowing you the way I do. Let's start over. Sit down Cowboy, I'll get you a drink." He sank into the settee and dropped his hat on the coffee table. Kitty brought over glass brimming with whiskey, and held it out. He shook his head. She sat beside him still holding the glass. "What happened Matt?" He took a long shaky breath. She was close enough to feel his pounding heart. "I went after the Clayfield brothers – the three of them. It couldn't wait – like I told you before I left." She nodded, remembering how rushed he was when he told her he was leaving. "I know Matt, go on." He stared straight ahead. "I had some trouble picking up the train, but when I did it led to the Sanders' farm, Millie and Jack's place. When I got there it was oddly quiet. It's never quiet at Jake and Millie's, not with little Jimmy, and baby Grace. I knocked on the door and it flew open. I stepped inside and called for Millie and Jack. That's when I saw the blood, so much blood – and then - their bodies. Kitty, they were slaughtered – butchered, all of them - Millie, Jack, 4 year old Jimmy and tiny Grace. I knew they were dead, but I hurried from one to the other hoping for a heart beat or a breath." Matt's jaw clenched. "Kitty, if I hadn't taken that wrong turn before picking up their trail, if I had ridden harder, pushed harder, if I had …."

Kitty grabbed his hand. "Matt, you can't magically appear where and when you're needed. No one can, no matter how much they want to or how hard they work." She shoved the glass of whiskey into his hand, and commanded. "Take a drink – a long one." He did as he was told and wiped his sleeve across his mouth. "I left the bodies. I wanted to bury them, but I had to get after the Clayfields. They had to be stopped. I rode like the dickens and caught sight of them headed to Ben Clyde's ranch. I couldn't catch up so I grabbed my rifle and started firing. Their horses went down. The three brothers saw me and stood their ground. They fired back, but I kept charging right at them. To tell you to truth I don't know why I wasn't hit, but I kept firing and firing and racing towards them. They went down, one after the other after the other. All three were dead when I got to them. Their horses were screeching with pain, so I put them out of their misery. Then I saw Ben Clyde riding towards me. He'd heard the gunfire and came to see what was happening. I asked him to bury the Clayfields and I went back to Millie and Jack's." Still staring ahead, Matt took another drink of whiskey. "I buried little Jackie with his pa and the – the baby – little Grace – with her ma. I – I did the best I could with saying bible words over the graves. I'll talk to the minister about going out there to do it proper." He downed the rest of his drink and set the empty glass on the table. "Then I rode back here. Kitty, when I got to Dodge I wanted, I-I needed to come up here and be with you. As soon as I got into town, and heard the music and laughing coming from the Town Hall, I remembered the sociable. I knew that's where you'd be, but I couldn't make myself go in. I couldn't face the laughing and dancing and everything else, I just couldn't. But, I didn't know where else to go. I didn't want to sit alone in my room or office, so I went to the back of the Town Hall, and sat there. If I couldn't be alone with you, the next best thing was being alone, but kind of close to where you were. I know that makes no sense, but Kitty, I want you to know that if I didn't have you to come home to, I don't know what I'd do."

"Oh Matt." She put a hand on his cheek. "I'm so sorry I laid into you the way I did, when I saw you sitting there. I should have talked to you, asked you what happened. You're right, the sociable is not important, when you think of …" She shook her head with tears in her eyes.

Matt took her hand and looked in her eyes. "No Kitty - I was wrong, you were right. You are right. I kept thinking about it, just now, when I was making rounds. Kitty, I remember when Millie and Jack met. It was at the Ford County Sociable a few years ago. He was new in town, and couldn't take his eye off her. The next thing we knew we were going to their wedding. About a year later I was late for the town picnic, but I got there in time to see baby Jimmy for the first time. And a couple of years after that, at your Christmas party, I remember the way Jimmy's eyes lit up when Santa walked in. And I'll never forget how Doc's eyes twinkled above that long white beard." A slight smile touched Matt's lips at the memory of Doc dressed like Santa Claus. "Kitty, it was my job to stop the Clayfields before they hurt anyone else, and I failed to stop them soon enough. I have to live with that, but I also have those memories of Jake and Millie, and their children. That's how I know their lives were filled with love and joy. It's all important Kitty – the sociables, the picnics and everything else. All of those things give us the memories we make, the bonds we share, the comfort and joy we find with each other." He put an arm around her and pulled her close. "I know I've missed a lot of special occasions. Sometimes, with my job, it can't be helped. But, I promise I'll try harder to be here with you, sharing the good times, celebrating life, making memories."

She put her head on his chest and felt his racing heart slow to its normal strong and steady pulse. She squeezed his hand knowing he'd be true to his word to try harder not to miss special occasions, but she realized what he didn't. Fact was he needed those moments of comfort and joy more than anyone. "Matt, I want you to know that I don't know what I'd do if something happened out there, and you didn't come home to me. But we are here now – the two of us, sharing ourselves with each other in every way. Let's cherish the moment.

He kissed the top of her head. "You're right, it's important."

THE END