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Dylan looked over this morning's catch with a bit of pride as he, Wade and Jesse walked through the woods back to the cabin. They had a decent haul. The traps had been over half-full and they'd downed a couple turkey on the way out. They'd have enough for themselves and to share or barter with others.

Dylan heard the growl of Jesse's stomach and chuckled. The boy was eating non-stop. He'd come to them skinny, almost delicate-looking and was now sturdy and healthy. It gave Dylan a lot of satisfaction that he'd had a hand in that.

Jesse looked up at Dylan and laughed. "I'm hungry!"

"Yeah, I'm feelin' it too." Dylan rubbed his stomach over his thick, blue flannel shirt. The two started discussing in detail the breakfast they had planned until Wade groaned.

"You two are killin' me! Will ya just stop?" But instead, Wade ended up joining the conversation that lasted until they reached home.

After getting their haul settled in the shed until after breakfast, the three burst through the cabin's front door. Tumbling into the house along with a blast of cool morning air, they startled Skye. She sat curled on the couch, wrapped in an afghan, nursing a steaming cup of coffee. Dylan soaked in the sight.

"Get up woman!" Wade said playfully, "You have three starvin' men on your hands."

Skye rolled her eyes as she laughed. "Good thing you all know how to cook!"

Nevertheless, after stretching, Skye got up and started getting out everything needed for the hearty breakfast the men usually wanted. Dylan sent Skye a wink. This was also part of the morning routine. Wade demanding breakfast, Skye starting it and then after they were all washed up, everyone helping cook. It still surprised Dylan that after years of their own routine, he and Wade had happily settled into this one.

Wade was the first of the guys into the kitchen and started the sausage. The community had recently slaughtered two pigs and with the help of a neighbor, the Cole household had made their part into sausage. The fresh, spicy meat was a favorite of the family.

"Where's that girl?" Wade asked and Skye tipped her head toward Sue Ellen's room.

"Sue Ellen!" Wade's voice, which was rarely quiet, now boomed through the house. "Get your heinie out here!"

They heard a slight groan.

"Don't make me drag ya outta here!"

A longer, louder groan, then some stirring. Finally, Sue Ellen stumbled to the door of her room and leaned on the door jam. She rubbed her eye with one curled hand while shoving a tumbled mass of blonde curls out of her face with the other. "You're mean," she mumbled. This was her standard morning greeting to anyone waking her up, which was usually Wade.

"Yep, I sure am. Mean enough to want ya to get your share of breakfast. Now do what ya need to do and get in here."

Dylan eyed the girl as she pouted and scuffed her feet on her way to the bathroom. Sue Ellen hadn't settled in as well as they had hoped but it was early days yet. It was as though, after being with her grandmother, she was pushing all the boundaries with them.

After several angry rounds with Skye over rules, Dylan had put an end to her lip with a few stern words. Since then, she'd barely talked to Skye, let alone have any sessions to see what was really wrong. Though Dylan had to admit that Sue Ellen's behavior was better after he'd had his say.

Besides her brother, it was Wade that the girl seemed to get along with best. Wade's stern side allowed no slacking or no serious mouthing off and his playful side seemed to be able to cajole her even in her worst moods. Skye said give it time, that Sue Ellen would come around, so that's what Dylan was trying to do.

Once the morning meal was done, Wade headed out to the shed to take care of a few things. Jesse and Sue Ellen headed over to the Doc's for some more medical lessons with the other kids from the community.

Skye poured herself another cup of coffee and caught Dylan's hand. She gave it a slight tug as she moved to the couch. Settling in, she leaned against him as he wrapped his arm around her. Dylan felt the light warm glow that he always felt around her deepen.

He loved this woman, he loved her strengths and he loved when she needed him. One of his favorite times of the day was when she rested against him as if she could absorb some of his physical strength to help her through what needed to be done. He would gladly give it to her. He would give her anything.

Dylan slid a finger under her chin, tipped her head back and lightly kissed her lips. Then he gently traced the bluish skin below her eyes with his calloused thumb. "Your still tired."

Skye shrugged and smiled. "Well, as you know, morning and I have never really gotten along on a good day."

But he knew she was making light of the situation. "Ya didn't sleep well again."

Skye wiggled her chin off his hand and kissed it before snuggling her head on his shoulder. "I know it's not my fault but my mind keeps going back to them."

Dylan knew the 'them' she was talking about. The people of Barbarton. He knew it weighed on her. He couldn't say he hadn't thought about it too. If he'd just ignored Skye that day and headed after the three men and took care of them, their lives would have been better and the people in Barbarton would still be alive. But he hadn't.

He couldn't take that on himself any more than... Dylan pushed the old guilt away as he had done so many other times. He had enough that truly laid at his door, he didn't need to pile on what wasn't really his. But regardless of what his brain said, his heart disagreed and his mind took him back to those turbulent years.


A/N: Sorry this is late! I hope you enjoy it. We are leading up to a reveal from Dylan's past. I hope you enjoy this story arc. If so, please press the little star below. :)

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