They were no longer young.

But they were not really old.

Their bodies bore scars.

But they were still beautiful.

Their eyes saw only each other,

seeing with their hearts.

Kitty awoke early, not needing to look at her calendar to know the date. Seventeen years ago today she and Matt had first seen each other, creating an eternal bond.

She lay back, watching the first rays of sunlight filtering through the lace curtains of the partially open window by her bed. Soft, sweet sounds of birds announced the beginning of this special day.

Her hand touched the indentation beside her, still warm from her man's big body. He had dressed in the dark, gently kissed her without awakening her, and headed back to the office to prepare for a necessary trip to Fort Dodge.

The tread-bare, faded blue shirt Kitty wore had been Matt's, and he had laughed the first time he had awoken to see her kneeling on the bed, modeling it for him, years ago. His laughter had turned to appreciation and desire when she had slowly unbuttoned it and let it fall open.

Kitty had marveled at the miracle of their love. How they never tired of each other. Not just the pleasures of each other's body, but the sharing of their deepest or lightest thoughts and feelings. They truly were each other's best friend, and their love deepened over the years, never to be taken for granted.

She loved how his pale blue eyes would sparkle when first seeing her, after days or mere minutes. How those piercing eyes would follow her as she made her rounds in the Long Branch, and when he would leave to do his own late night rounds, how his deep voice would say so much more than the words, "See you later, Kitty."

Yes, they had both changed over the years. Both of their bodies bore scars of injuries, his many more than hers. She knew the location of every healed wound on his body, and as he slept would trace them with feather soft fingers, sending up a thank you over the healing of each one. Her own physical scars were few, but her inner ones went deep, and were never totally forgotten. Matt had patiently held her and healed her with his love, and still enclosed her tightly when the nightmares infrequently returned.

They always had a private, candlelit dinner in her room above the Long Branch on this anniversary, and by some miracle, plus strenuous effort on Matt's part, never missed one. He knew how much it meant to her, but she also realized how much it meant to him to acknowledge his gratitude for their eyes meeting so long ago. Not an openly sentimental man, Matt showed his love and appreciation in more subtle and frequent ways. He knew the power of an exchange of looks, the undercurrent of a special smile, the effect his rumbling voice had on her.

Turning the large oval sapphire ring on the third finger of her left hand, she knew in her heart that it stood for the commitment she and Matt had for each other. He had wordlessly slipped it on her finger fifteen years ago, looked into her yes and soul, and deeply kissed her. No words were ever needed. Five years later he had presented her with a beautiful rectangular diamond that he had saved for and thought more appropriately traditional. She still loved the sapphire, and alternated wearing it with the diamond, but always put it on for their anniversary.

It is true that every once in a while she wished for a more traditional, legal marriage, but the thought came to her less and less often now. Over the years she had observed married couples living in and around Dodge, and many were desperately unhappy arrangements, mostly for the wives. She felt very fortunate and blessed to be in the longest "non-permanent" relationship ever, and would not change one day of it.

Matt had said he would be back around sunset, so she busied herself cleaning and tidying her room, setting the small table with a linen tablecloth, matching napkins, fine china and silverware, sparkling crystal wineglasses, and tall candles in heavy silver holders. She had prepared the steaks and baked potatoes, peas, and fresh bread down in the Long Branch kitchen, having honed her cooking skills over the years. Fortunately, Matt liked simple food too, and she had gotten him to appreciate the annual fine champagne.

Knowing Matt loved her in blue, she put on her royal blue satin gown with the sparkling accents, carefully arranged her still gorgeous natural red hair in upswept curls, and carefully did her makeup the way he liked it.

When all was ready, she sat in a comfortable chair by the window where she could see his return to town. Even after sixteen anniversaries, Kitty smiled that she still felt as excited as a young girl eager to be with her man.

As the sun began to set, golden red streaks lit up the scattered puffy clouds, and backlit the tall Marshal slowly riding into Dodge. As he has done for now seventeen years, as he neared the Long Branch, his eager eyes looked up to her window and met her welcoming ones. Nodding slightly, he headed for the office where he would clean up and put on his "courting" clothes before going over to Kitty's room.

Fifteen minutes later, per their tradition, Matt knocked on Kitty's door rather than letting himself in as usual. Kitty was already standing near the table in the middle of the room waiting.

"Come on in, Matt," she said in a low, throaty voice.

The door opened and the tall, handsome man in shined boots, black pants, white shirt, black string tie, and thick grey suit jacket tailored to accentuate his masculine build, stood looking in at her. His brown curls were slicked back, and his pale blue eyes looked at her in the way that still made her tingle inside.

He pulled his right arm from behind his back and held out a large bunch of bright blue wild chicory blooms.

"I would have been back a little sooner but I saw these growing wild and thought of you, Kitty. They're the same beautiful blue as your eyes. And they're wild like you are!"

He stepped in, shut the door, put his left arm around her waist, pulled her into a tight embrace and gave her a warm, wet kiss.

"Happy anniversary, my Darlin.'" Matt whispered into her ear, "I love you more every minute, every day, every year."

As Matt hugged her tightly, Kitty put her hands up into his hair and entwined her fingers in the curls she loved to see tousled.

"Maybe we can eat later," she whispered in his ear and then kissed it.

Matt swept her up into his big arms, and carried her towards the big brass bed, pausing to blow out the candles on the table and set down the wildflowers.

"We can pick more tomorrow!" he laughed.