Debby K's Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Fan Fiction

Aftermath


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Aftermath
by Debby K

************
Chapter 1
************

"Got a telegram here for ya," Horace called to Sully.

The mountain man stepped across the railroad tracks to the Depot.

"Mornin', Horace," Sully greeted him.

"This just come in for ya," Horace proudly announced. "It's from Washington."

Sully opened it and silently read the contents.

"Maybe we won't see him around here no more," the telegraph operator commented.

Sully merely replied, "Thanks, Horace."

Turning to leave, Sully sighed. This news provided a surprising twist to the situation of the Cheyenne in Montana. The chilly March air was warmed slightly by the radiance of the sun. The snowcapped mountains and azure sky offered a sight which Sully would normally stop to admire. But instead he kept rereading the words on the page as he walked toward the Clinic.

************

The playful giggles of her children from the anteroom prompted Michaela to smile to herself. Katie had taken to mothering and mentoring Josef, and the little boy simply adored her. Lowering her hand to her abdomen, she felt anticipation.

"Another little one, Sully," she spoke low. "Due in October."

This time, she was certain. After experiencing all of the symptoms, she had asked Dr. Nelson, who was in town visiting his sister, to verify a pregnancy for her.

Michaela debated how to tell her husband the joyful news. Perhaps over a romantic dinner. She loved it when only they two knew things. She had blurted out the news about Katie in front of the entire town, and then there was the one they lost. All but Sully knew before he did, even about the miscarriage. With Josef, they had been able to have the knowledge to themselves for the entire train ride home from Washington.

She sighed again, "I'll share this news with him very soon."

Sully knocked to be sure Michaela had no patients, then upon her beckon, opened the door.

"Sully!" Michaela greeted her husband. "I thought you were going to the mountains to check your traps. Is something wrong?"

Handing her the telegram, he answered, "Read this."

She poured over its contents, "Custer is being summoned to Washington?"

"T' testify before Congress about transgressions of Indian agents," he nodded. "He oughta be testifyin' about his own transgressions."

"Do you think this might signal a change in government policy regarding the Black Hills?" she hoped.

Sully turned to look out the window, "I doubt it."

She approached her husband and placed her hands on his shoulders, "Will it ever end, Sully?"

"Not 'til every Indian is dead," his tone was bitter.

Michaela forced him to turn around, "Don't think that, Sully!"

"I can't help it, Michaela," his blue eyes reddened. "I better get goin' now so I can be home before dark."

He gave her a sweet kiss on the cheek and walked to the anteroom. After a few moments with his children, he was gone.

Michaela sat at her desk and tried to think of a way to help. Then it came to her.

************

"Me go t' Washington?" Matthew was surprised. "What can I do?"

"You can make a case, a legal case, in defense of the Fort Laramie Treaty," she encouraged.

"I don't know if that would sway them, Ma," he countered.

"Matthew, we must use every means at our disposal to make the government see the folly in what they're doing," she argued. "We owe it to Cloud Dancing and the Cheyenne."

Pausing, he looked at her in admiration, "I'll get t' work. See what I can do."

"Thank you," she patted his hand.

There was a knock at the door and Matthew rose to open it.

"Ya wanted t' see me, Michaela?" it was Dorothy.

Matthew put on his hat, "See you ladies later."

"Thank you, Matthew," Michaela called after him. "I'll be with you in a moment, Dorothy. Have a seat."

She went to the check on her children. Katie and Josef were taking their afternoon nap. Michaela entered and made certain they were warmly covered. Then with a tender kiss on each forehead, she returned to her office.

"Somethin' on your mind?" Dorothy brushed back a lock of her red hair.

"An idea," Michaela broached the subject. "What would you think of running a series of articles in the Gazette about the government's activities in the Black Hills?"

"I... I don't know," Dorothy pondered it. "Folks might think I'm biased 'cause o' my closeness t' Cloud Dancing."

"Some people might," Michaela sat. "But if you can get other papers to pick up the story, perhaps it might put some pressure on the government to relent."

"I guess we got nothin' t' lose by tryin', Michaela," she agreed. "I'll start right away."

"Thank you, Dorothy," she hugged her friend.

"Michaela," Hank called from the doorway.

"I'll let ya be," Dorothy went to the door.

Opening it, she greeted the bartender, and was on her way.

"I heard ya wanted t' see me," he grinned wryly. "Finally wantin' a real man in your life?"

"Very funny," she went behind her desk. "I am about to ask you to do me the biggest favor since I've known you."

************

Sully netted three rabbits from his traps. Not bad, he thought. As he stood up from checking the last one, he felt an aura. Then pain gripped his head.

"Not again," he anguished.

Falling to his knees, he closed his eyes and prayed for it to go away. The sun was nearly blinding him. He struggled to pull himself into a shaded area. He had not told Michaela that the headaches had returned. For several days now, he had made excuses to be away from her so that she would not know about them. Why worry her, he thought. But their frequency and intensity were increasing.

Finally, it passed. Weary from the experience, he fell asleep.

************

"Big favor?" Hank was intrigued. "Now ya got me interested. What is it?"

"Before you disagree, hear me out," she started.

"Uh-oh," he rolled his eyes. "I'm in for it now."

"Mama!" a little voice called from the anteroom.

"One o' your kids is callin'," Hank stated the obvious.

"Yes, I know," she stood. "Excuse me."

Momentarily she returned with Josef. He was clutching the ragged stuffed bunny rabbit.

"Can't afford a new toy for your boy, Michaela?" Hank joked.

"He seems to prefer this one," she returned to her desk, holding her son in her lap.

"Pokle," the little boy tapped his mother's arm.

"No, Sweetheart," she bounced him on her knee. "No pickle right now."

"Here I was thinkin' he wanted a game o' poker," Hank chuckled. Pulling out his pocket watch, he sighed. "Don't got much more time t' spare, Michaela. What's this big favor?"

She came to the point, "I would like for the town council to pass a resolution condemning the federal government's actions with regard to the Indians in the Black Hills."

"Are you outa your mind?" he laughed. "Government's got every right t' go in there an' protect the prospectors."

"Hank," she disagreed. "The government is violating its own treaty with the Indians. That land is sacred to them."

"Sometimes ya gotta change with the circumstances," he reasoned. "'Sides, you saw yourself how destructive them Injuns can be."

"The Indians who have at times been violent against our town do not represent all of them," she countered. "What about the Thanksgiving celebrations we've observed with them?"

Hank tired of arguing with her, "It ain't gonna happen, Michaela. There ain't gonna be no town resolution."

With that, he stormed out.

"Mama?" Josef's little brow wrinkled in concern.

"Everything's fine, Sweetheart," she forced a smile. "Let's go check on your sister."

************

Sully's dream was vivid. There were Michaela and Cloud Dancing. She was crying. There was blood all over her hands as she gripped the arms of the Cheyenne medicine man. Sully rushed to them when....

He was awakened by Wolf's paw on his face. Sitting up, he tried to clear his head. He calculated that he had slept for maybe an hour. His back was sore from the uncomfortable position against a rock. Then he thought about his recurring dream. What could it mean? Cloud Dancing. Blood. Michaela crying. A chilling thought gripped him. What if it meant danger, even death for his Cheyenne brother? He had to go to Cloud Dancing and prevent this from happening.

"Reckon we oughta be headin' home, boy," he ruffled the fur on Wolf's neck.

As they trekked through the familiar surroundings, Sully was overcome by a persistent feeling of impending doom for the Cheyenne. He wrestled over and over about what he could do to help them. He knew that even if he went to Montana, he had no power or authority with the government to stop what was bound to happen. Though he had not officially informed the Interior Department, in fact, he had no more desire to work for or with them.

In the distance, he spotted his homestead. Wolf sped up to announce their arrival, but Sully stopped to gaze at the structure that held his heart. Knowing that inside, there awaited his beautiful wife and children, he was reminded of why he could never give up trying to make the world a safer place. He looked toward the darkening sky and offered a prayer that his headaches would stop. Then, with a smile, he continued down the road.

************

"Poppy!" Katie ran to her father, "What ya got in bag?"

"I don't think ya wanna see, Kates," he knew his daughter disliked killing of any animals, even though she did not yet associate his hunting with their dinner.

"Next time, can Joey an' me come?" her brown eyes implored.

"We'll see," he set her down and removed his coat. Then clapping his hands, he called, "Jo-sef!"

The toddler awkwardly speeded toward his father, a small piece of pickle in hand. Sully lifted him high into the air, and the squealing little boy grinned. Then Sully attempted to bite the pickle.

"No, Papa," Josef sternly said.

"Please?" Sully pretended to be sad.

"'Kay," the little fingers offered.

Sully took a small piece between his teeth and muttered as if his mouth were full, "Thank you."

"Pa," Brian came down the stairs. "Catch anythin'?"

"Three r-a-b-b-i-t-s," he spelled so as to not upset Katie.

She overheard and rushed into the kitchen to her mother, "Mama, what spell r-a-b-b-i-t-s?"

Fortunately, Michaela realized what her husband had done, "It spells 'let's eat.' Now, go tell Brian and your father."

Michaela smiled when she saw Sully enter with his catch in one arm and Josef in the other.

Taking the bag from him, she offered a tempting kiss, "Welcome home, Mr. Sully."

"Thanks," he leaned his head against hers. "Sorry for my mood at the Clinic."

"Quite understandable," she assured him. "Would you wash the children's hands, please?"

"For another kiss," he requested.

Without hesitation she leaned forward and met his lips, "I have something I want to discuss with you later."

"Got somethin' I need t' tell you, too," he nodded.

************
Chapter 2
************

Brian volunteered to clean up after dinner, and Katie was permitted to help. Standing on a chair, the little girl was thrilled at the opportunity to do a grown up chore.

"Careful, Katie," Brian instructed.

"I careful," she held a glass under the water while her older brother pumped.

In the living room, Michaela observed Sully's troubled expression as he held Josef on his lap. The baby sensed his father's reserve and simply cuddled in his lap rather than request a game.

Michaela cleared her throat, "You had something you wanted to tell me?"

Sully ran his finger along Josef's chin, struggling over the words to use, "Michaela, I gotta...."

The sound of shattering glass reverberated through the room, followed by crying from Katie as she ran up the steps.

"What happened?" Michaela jumped to her feet, a bit light headed from the move.

Sully noticed. Steadying her with his hand, he called, "Anyone hurt?"

Brian came in clutching his hand, "I got a cut tryin' t' pick up the glass Katie dropped."

As Michaela inspected his hand for shards of glass, she asked, "What about Katie?"

"She ain't hurt," Brian turned up his nose at the discomfort. "Just scared."

"This is going to require two or three stitches, Brian," Michaela went to get her bag.

"Ba!" Josef pointed to his older brother's hand.

"Come on, Joe," Sully headed for the steps. "We'll go check on your sister."

As they neared her room, Katie's cries filled the hallway. Sully stood in the doorway and watched his little girl for a moment. She was huddled in a corner of the nursery with her hands covering her face. Sully set Josef down and went to her.

Sitting on the floor beside his daughter, he spoke softly, "Hey there, sweet girl."

Josef toddled to his father's side and sat down, as well, "Ka-tee."

Katie crawled into Sully's lap, tears still streaming down her face, "Poppy... I... huwt Bran... make him... bleed."

"Brian's gonna be fine," he consoled her. "Your Ma's puttin' a few stitches in his hand."

"I sorry," she began to cry again.

"Shhh," he held her near. "It was an accident. He'll be okay."

Josef stood up and stroked his sister's hair in imitation of his father.

Finally, the child started to calm, "I see Bran now?"

"Sure," Sully lifted both of his children into his arms.

************

Michaela clipped the last thread of stitching as her husband and children reached the bottom step.

"I'll bandage that now, Brian," she said. "I want you to keep it clean."

"I will, Ma," he smiled. "Thanks."

"Bran!" Katie ran to him. "I sorry."

He knelt down, "That's okay, Katie. It wasn't your fault. Ma fixed me up."

"Ya not bleedin' now?" she looked.

"Nope," he lifted her up and gave her a kiss. "I'll go clean up the broken glass now."

"I can do that, Brian," Michaela insisted. "You should not exert that hand."

"I'll do it," Sully said impatiently as he placed his children in a wing back chair.

Michaela lifted the baby and took Katie's hand, "Come on, you two. Let's get ready for bed. Say good night to your brother."

"'Night, Bran," Katie waved.

"Ni," Josef attempted.

"Think I'll turn in, too," he tickled Josef's side.

************

Once Michaela had gotten the children ready for bed, she returned to Sully in the living room.

Touching his back, she said, "Thank you for cleaning up."

"That's all right," his mind was elsewhere. "You okay?

"Yes," she was curious. "Why do you ask."

"Seemed like ya were a little dizzy earlier," he responded.

"I feel fine," she preferred to wait to reveal the real reason. "Now, what was it you wanted to tell me?"

Just as he was about to speak, another headache began. This time he could not react quickly enough to get out of the house. His breathing quickened and he closed his eyes tightly. Then he doubled over in pain.

"Sully!" Michaela reached for him. "What's wrong?"

"My head!" he clutched his temples.

"Come here," she guided him to a chair. "What kind of pain is it?"

"I can't describe it," he did not want to talk.

Michaela rushed into the kitchen, put on some water to boil, and returned with a cold, damp cloth. She applied it to his head and examined his eyes.

"Michaela!" he reached for her hand.

"I'm here," she clasped it tightly. "Did you bump your head?"

"No," he could not open his eyes. "Could ya lower the lamps?"

After darkening the room, she sat on the arm of the chair, leaning his head against her. Silently he rested, alternating between kissing her hand and holding his temple.

"I'll be back," she tenderly kissed him and went into the kitchen.

She prepared some tea for him and returned.

Holding the cup to his lips, she requested, "Sully, can you drink this?"

"I'll try," he did as she asked.

"How long have you been having these?" she inquired.

He knew better than to cover it up now, "A few days."

"This is the first time since...." she hesitated.

"Since David came back into your life right before I asked you to marry me," he completed her thought.

"As I recall," she thought back. "It was because something in your body was out of balance."

"Nothin' outa balance now," he said.

"I certainly hope not," she smiled. "In fact, I think things are falling into place quite nicely for us."

He did not respond.

"Sully?" she probed. "Is there something that you're not telling me?"

There it was. He did not want to lie to her, but how could he tell her of his inner turmoil? She knew something was wrong.

"Sully," she repeated. "Please."

He sighed, "I keep havin' a dream with the headaches. I had it again t'day."

"Last night you mean?" she was confused.

"No t'day, when I was up in the mountains," he explained. "I got a headache an' fell asleep afterwards."

"What's in this dream?" she asked.

Sully pulled her hand against his cheek, "You're in it. So's Cloud Dancin'. I see ya cryin', an'... there's blood all over."

"It was only a dream," she tried to put it in perspective.

"Michaela, I think somethin' bad is gonna happen t' Cloud Dancin'," he confessed his fear.

She stroked the side of his head, "Based on your dream?"

"That, plus these real strong feelin's I've been havin'," he relaxed at her touch.

"Perhaps the headaches are making you feel this way," she reasoned.

"I think it's the other way around," he stated. "I think these feelin's are givin' me the headaches."

"Are you feeling any better now?" she kissed his temple.

"Pretty much," he nodded. "Thanks for helpin' me."

"You're welcome. Tomorrow I want to check you more closely, but for now, I think a good night's sleep is in order," she stood up and extended her hand.

He took it, and rose to embrace her, " Sounds good."

************

Sully entered the bedroom after checking on Katie and caught Michaela looking at herself sideways in the mirror, "Why ya doin' that?"

"Doing what?" she quickly ceased her movements.

"Lookin' at yourself like that in the mirror," he answered.

"I.... ah.... I was just seeing how this nightgown fits," she grasped for any excuse.

Sully grinned and slid his hands around her, "Fits ya just fine."

She tingled at his touch.

Then he began to caress her at various places on her body, "Fits ya here. An' here. An'...."

"I think your headache must be much better," she enjoyed his movements.

"I got the best doc in the world," he grinned.

She gently pushed him back, "Much as I enjoy your inspection of how my nightgown fits, I think given your condition, it would be best if you got some rest."

"You're right," he kissed the tip of her nose.

She climbed into bed and pulled down the covers on his side. Rather than join her, he went to the baby's crib and lifted his sleeping son.

"Sully, what are you doing?" she was curious.

"Just wanna hold him a few minutes," he carried his son to the rocking chair.

Michaela lay on her side and watched him rock the baby. Leaning the child against his chest, Sully rested his lips on the baby's hair. Michaela felt her heart grow full with love. Beneath the quilt, she lowered her hand to her abdomen and caressed the new baby growing there.

Sully knew his wife had fallen asleep, and he smiled.

In his softest voice, he spoke to his son, "Josef, Papa's gotta go 'way again soon. I know how much it upset ya last time, but please try t' understand. I love you an' your brothers an' sisters. Along with your Ma, they'll take good care o' ya. Please, my big boy, don't be upset with me."

Joseph whined slightly and opened his eyes. The moment he focused on his father, a broad grin appeared on his little face.

"Papa," he said in a soft voice. "Pokle?"

Sully shook slightly in amusement, "No pickle now, Joe. Sorry I woke ya, but I wanted ya t' know how much I love ya."

"Luv," the little boy yawned. Then he saw his mother asleep. Pointing he said, "Mama"

Sully grasped the little finger and kissed it, "Let's put you back t' bed now."

Once Josef was slumbering again, Sully crawled into bed beside his wife. She stirred.

"Did you and Josef have a nice chat?" she mused.

"Yep," he spooned her against his chest.

"Your feet are cold!" she squirmed.

"Want me to sleep somewhere else?" he teased.

"No," she softened. "I want you right here. How is your head?"

"I'm okay," he assured her.

Pulling his arm across her waist, she guided his hand on her abdomen. She closed her eyes and imagined the unborn little one could hear her thoughts. This is your Daddy's hand. Tomorrow, she thought. Tomorrow I'll tell him about you.

Tomorrow, he thought as he tenderly caressed her belly. Tomorrow I'll tell her that I have to go.

************
Chapter 3
************

Sully tossed and turned all night, and each time he sat up, Michaela was there to soothe him. Finally, pulling himself out of bed, he walked to the window. The stars were fading as the sky began to brighten with the swirl of reds and oranges of dawn. So lost was he in thoughts about Cloud Dancing, Sully did not hear Michaela rise from their bed.

He was startled when she wrapped her arms around his waist, but he quickly recovered to pull her into his warm embrace.

"Beautiful sunrise?" she noticed the view.

"Yep," he sighed.

"Sully, what's troubling you?" she implored him to speak.

He took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly, "I love you, Michaela."

She smiled, "And that's keeping you awake?"

He chuckled, "We'll talk later. Come on, back int' bed."

He situated her under the covers, then snuggled next to her.

"Your feet are cold," he teased.

"Shall I sleep somewhere else?" she turned it around.

"Nope," he pulled her closer and cupped her face in his hands. "Do ya really know how much I love you?"

Her eyes sparkled, "Yes, I do, Sully, and I love you, as well."

"Just wanna be sure," he was beginning to stir at the nearness of her. "What was it ya wanted t' tell me?"

"Tell you?" she was starting to melt at their close proximity.

"Ya said ya wanted t' tell me somethin'," he recalled.

"I'd like to invite you to share a romantic dinner with me tonight," she raised an eyebrow flirtatiously. "Can you make it?"

"Depends," he played hard to get.

"On what?" she wondered.

"On how romantic ya wanna get," his voice was suggestive.

"I want to get VERY romantic," she played along.

"Like this?" he raised her chin for a kiss.

"Mmmm," she leaned back as his kisses trailed across her neck. "And like this."

He stopped and tenderly brushed back the hair from the side of her face, saying:

"The cheeks which sprung from Beauty's mould,
The lips, which made me Beauty's slave."

Again, he brought his lips to hers.

"I love Byron," she smiled.

"How'd you guess?" he grinned.

"I wasn't speaking of the poet," she referred to her husband's first name.

He slid his hand down her form and beneath the material of her nightgown. When he gently squeezed her breast, she winced slightly.

Sully ceased immediately, "Michaela, I'm sorry. Did.... did I reminded ya of...."

"No," she assured him.

"Then why'd ya react that way?" he was concerned.

She fumbled for an excuse for her tenderness, "I... just had a crick in my back."

"Ya sure that's all?" he doubted.

She pulled his hand back to her breast, "I'm certain."

Sully found himself being swept away by her love, and it fueled his desire further. Slowly, sensuously, they began to stir one another's passions. Michaela ran her hand tantalizingly along his chest, followed by feathery kisses which aroused every fiber of his being.

Sully turned her over onto her back and carefully lowered himself onto her. She positioned herself to receive his love. As their rhythmic movements began, he sensed something different in his wife. Subtle, but there. Her passion, her ardor, her hunger for him invited him to share his very soul. And as they came together, they gave of themselves in such totality, the world seemed to stop. Nothing but their love existed for those dizzying moments. Both found themselves breathless from the encounter.

Silent, they lay in one another's arms until they heard Brian going downstairs to prepare for school.

"Another beautiful day begins," she rubbed his arms.

"You're the one who makes each day beautiful," he kissed her temple. "Michaela..."

"Mmm?" she murmured.

"What just happened.... " he sought to express in words what he felt. "It was incredible."

"It was," she smiled.

Then they heard Katie stirring around in the nursery.

"Why don't you stay in bed a while longer?" he sat up. "I'll take care o' the kids."

"Thank you," she sighed. "I'm still a bit tired."

"Ya sure you're okay?" he held her hand.

"I'm wonderful," she still felt the warmth of their love. "How about your headache?"

"I feel good," he slipped on his buckskins.

"Sully, I'd like you to stop by the Clinic for me to check you more thoroughly today," she pulled the sheet up.

"I'm fine, Michaela," he went to the basin to wash up.

"Doctor's orders," she reminded him.

He walked to her and sat on the edge of the bed, "I'll be there then."

"Good," she pulled him close for another kiss.

Josef stirred in his crib, "Mama!"

Sully stood up and walked to his son.

Lifting the baby, he kissed his cheek, "Mornin', big boy."

"Mor, Papa," Josef clutched the stuffed bunny.

"Hank wanted to know why we let him keep that old thing," Michaela sat up and slipped on her nightgown.

"When did Hank see the baby with this?" Sully was curious.

"He stopped by the Clinic yesterday. I'll tell you more about it tonight," she reached for her son.

"Mama, up," Josef commanded.

She kissed him, "Wouldn't you like to sleep a while longer, young man?"

"No," he pointed to the door. "Ka-tee."

"Never did see two kids so close," Sully pulled on a clean shirt and tucked it into his buckskins.

"Not even Matthew, Colleen and Brian?" she wondered.

"Okay," he amended. "Never saw two kids outside o' ours so close."

"Papa," Josef noticed his father approach the door. "Pokle."

"For breakfast?" Sully chuckled.

"Josef Michael Sully, you're going to turn into a pickle," Michaela tickled the giggling little boy.

Picking up his son, Sully added, "Let's go see what your brother an' sister are up to."

"Thank you, Sully," Michaela smiled.

He leaned down and kissed her, "Go back t' bed."

************

Sully spent the morning preparing for his trip north, then remembered his promise to let Michaela examine him. As he approached the Clinic, Loren called.

"Sully," the shopkeeper faced him. "I think Dr. Mike's taken total leave of her senses."

"Why's that?" he was surprised.

"This business about havin' the town council vote t' condemn the federal government for violatin' treaties," he answered. "It's just plain crazy."

Sully paused to contemplate what Loren had said, then smiled at his wife's initiative.

"She ain't crazy, Loren," he folded his arms. "She a carin' woman who's done a lot for folks around here. An' she stands up for what's right."

"I know she does," Loren shook his head. "Even when she's wrong. How's it gonna look for us t' go buckin' the federal government when we're about t' get statehood?"

"Sorry ya feel that way, Loren," Sully turned to leave.

"She'll be sorry," he cautioned. "It's just askin' for trouble."

The mountain man stopped and pivoted to look at him. In a stern voice not often used, he vowed, "Nobody better give Michaela trouble."

Loren softened, "I didn't mean it like that, Sully."

Sully did not respond, but headed for the Clinic.

************

"There you are!" Michaela smiled when he entered.

"Would've been here sooner, but I got stopped by Loren," Sully kissed her.

"Take off your jacket," she put her stethoscope to her ears.

"What's all this about havin' the town council vote on somethin'?" he sat on the examining table.

"Shhh," she placed the bell of the device on his chest to listen.

Sully grinned at her seriousness, and he loved her all the more for her concern.

"Your heart is sound," she removed the stethoscope from her ears.

"It ain't enlarged?" he asked.

She took him literally, "Enlarged? You show no symptoms of having....."

He chuckled and pulled her closer, "Full of love for you."

"Oh," she blushed. "Your heart is healthy. Let me check your eyes now."

Playfully, Sully responded to each aspect of his examination by pulling his wife into his arms and kissing her.

"You know," she raised her eyebrows. "If all of my patients did this during an examination...."

"They better not!" he interrupted.

Finally, she concluded her assessment of his condition, "I can find nothing to indicate the cause of your headaches other than...."

"Michaela," he took her hands. "I gotta tell ya somethin'."

"Mama!" Katie called urgently from behind the anteroom door.

Michaela rushed to open it, "What is it, Sweetheart?"

"Look at Joey," the little girl pointed to her brother.

Josef had fallen asleep beneath the bed.

"He go under an' not come out," the child indicated.

"Sully," Michaela beckoned in a low voice.

"Poppy!" Katie rushed to her father's arms.

"Look," Michaela showed him their son.

"Can't be too comfortable under there," he grinned.

"I'll put him in the crib," Michaela stooped down to slide the baby out.

As she started to lift him, she stopped suddenly, feeling a pang in her abdomen.

Sully noticed her expression, "What's wrong, Michaela?"

"Nothing," she kissed Josef's forehead. "Could you put him in bed for me?"

"Sure," Sully set Katie down and lifted the baby.

While Katie made certain her brother was tucked in, Sully helped his wife up.

"Here," he guided her to Katie's bed. "Sit down."

She brushed back a lock of hair from her face as Sully knelt before her.

Taking her hands in his, he asked, "Ya sure you're all right?"

Her fast breathing began to calm, "Yes, I'm fine."

"Mama," Katie came to her mother's side. "I ask ya somethin'?"

"Certainly," Michaela smiled.

"What's a best friend?" the little girl queried.

"A best friend?" the mother pulled her closer. "A best friend is the one person in the world to whom you can tell everything. The person who will always be there when you're in need. Why do you ask, Sweetheart?"

"I hear Miss Dorothy say you this town's best friend," Katie played with the hem of her mother's apron. "Who's your best friend?"

"Mine?" Michaela put her hand on Sully's shoulder. "Your Daddy."

"Who's yours, Poppy?" she was intrigued.

"Your Ma's my best friend," he hugged Katie.

"I not got one," the child's lower lip turned under.

"You have us," Michaela assured her.

"How 'bout Joey?" Katie's face lit up.

"That's a wonderful idea," Michaela encouraged her. "I'm sure Josef would love to be your best friend."

"'Specially if ya give him a pickle," Sully mused.

"I gonna draw Joey a picture," Katie rushed to her table.

"You do that," Michaela smiled.

Then Sully and Michaela stood up.

"Everything is ready for this evening," she grinned.

"This evening?" he pretended to be ignorant.

"Our romantic dinner," she reminded.

"Oh," he raised an eyebrow.

"Brian is staying at the Clinic, and Robert E and Grace are watching the children," she slid her arms around his waist.

"I'll see ya t'night then," he kissed her. "I got somethin' important I wanna talk t' you about, an' I got some things I need t' do in the meantime."

After he left, Michaela rubbed her belly, "I can't wait until tonight."

************
Chapter 4
************

"Thank you for stopping by, Dr. Nelson," Michaela was nearly ready to depart for home.

"That's quite all right, Dr. Quinn," the physician removed his overcoat. "I'll be in town for a few more days. Now, what can I do for you?"

"Today," she began. "I leaned down to lift my son, and I felt a pain."

"Humm," his brow wrinkled. "Let's take a look."

The older physician gave Michaela a thorough examination. When he concluded, he began to wash his hands.

"Well?" Michaela was nervous.

"Everything appears to be normal," he stated. "But with this pain episode, I think some precautions should be taken. I would recommend that for the duration of your pregnancy, you do no more lifting of your children or any heavy objects. Do not ride your horse. Avoid stress as much as possible, and no more..."

"No more.... relations with my husband," she knew.

"Correct," he nodded. "I must be going now. If you need me, I'll be at Sarah's."

"Thank you, Dr. Nelson," she escorted him to the door.

************

Sully arrived home before his wife, and climbed the steps of the quiet homestead. He was mystified, though not displeased, at Michaela's desire for a romantic dinner tonight. It was past her birthday and not yet their anniversary, and it wasn't because he had been away from home. He shrugged and prepared to clean up. Laying out his best suit on the bed, he lathered up his face for a shave.

************

"Dinner was delicious," Sully smiled.

"There was a time when I thought I would never hear someone say that about my cooking," she mused.

"You've come a long way," he winked. "So what's this about a town council vote that Loren was talkin' about t'day?"

She smiled, "I thought perhaps something could be done about what's happening with the Cheyenne and other tribes, Sully. I've asked Matthew to prepare a legal argument against their violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty. Dorothy is going to print a series of articles about it, and..."

Sully's heart filled with love and pride as she went on. Her compassion and dedication to doing right were what Sully first fell in love with. No, he thought. It was her smile.

"And even if I cannot persuade the entire council, perhaps just the fact that such a vote has been taken might prove an embarrassment to the government," she concluded.

"You're somethin'," he beamed.

"I just couldn't sit back and watch this happen," she stated.

"Me either, Michaela," he placed his hand atop hers. "I'm curious, though. Why'd we have a candlelit dinner just t' tell me this?

"There's something else that I want to share with you," she looked down shyly.

"What?" he raised her chin with his finger.

No, he thought at that moment. It was her distinctive eyes that first captured his heart.

"Would you dance with me?" she smiled.

"What?" he chuckled. Then, giving in to her flight of fancy, he rose, "May I have this dance?"

"I'd love to," she stood and took his hand.

"I don't have t' worry so much about keepin' up with the tempo when there's no music," he joked.

"Mr. Sully," she toyed with the hair at the base of his neck. "The music is not why I love to dance with you."

"No?" he raised his eyebrows.

With the back of her hand, she guided his head lower and kissed him.

"Mmm," he licked his lips. "That was nice."

She leaned her head back to gaze into the deep blue of his eyes, "You dance quite well."

"You inspire me," he grinned. Then he pulled her close and said:

"When music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes look'd love to eyes which spake again,
And all went merry as a marriage bell"

"Wordsworth?" she spoke near his ear.

"I thought you were startin' t' catch on t' Lord Byron," he pretended to be disappointed.

"I prefer to catch on to my Byron," she ran her hand down his arm.

"Michaela," he was becoming lost in their movements. "Ya seem kinda different the past couple days."

"I am different," she stroked his temple.

"Why?" he did not know what to think.

"Here," she guided his hand to her abdomen. "I'm different here."

"Ya sick at your stomach?" he guessed.

"No, Sully," she laughed.

He stopped dancing and looked at her in earnest, "What then? What's different?"

"We're going to have a baby," her eyes shone with love.

"A baby!" he was excited. "Are ya sure?"

"Yes," she laughed. "Dr. Nelson confirmed it."

"Oh, Michaela," he threw his arms around her. "I'm so happy! When? When's the baby due?"

"I'll let you do the calculations," she teased.

"Huh?" he unconsciously stroked her belly.

"Remember our New Year's Eve experiment?" she reminded him."

"Ummm," his voice was husky.

"The experiment was quite a success," she placed her hand atop his.

"That's why ya were dizzy last night an'...." he stopped. "Michaela what about that pain ya had t'day at the Clinic?"

"I had Dr. Nelson examine me before I came home, and he said everything was fine," she informed him. "But I do need to take some things easy.... cut back on certain things... cut out other things altogether."

"'Course ya do," he guided her to a wing back chair. "Can I get ya anythin'? Do ya feel all right?"

"Yes, Sully," she beamed. "I'm perfectly fine, but I can't lift the children until after the baby."

"No problem," he knelt beside her.

"No more horseback riding either," she noted.

"No problem," he repeated.

"And...." she glanced down. "No more... intimacy."

He did not hesitate, "Michaela, that's okay. We'll do all we can t' protect you an' the baby." Then he realized, "What about this mornin'? We shouldn't have...."

"It's all right," she stopped him. "It didn't hurt the baby or me."

A grin crossed his face, "Another baby. I can't believe it. It don't seem real."

"He's very real," she smiled.

"He?" Sully loosened his tie.

"Well, you've forbidden me from giving you girls, remember?" she reminded him.

"I did?" he unbuttoned his top shirt button.

"Yes," she noted. "You said you could not handle the thought of so many suitors lined up at our door to court them one day."

"Oh," he again rubbed her belly. "I was only jokin'."

"I know," she suddenly felt fatigued. "Sully, I know that you said you had something to tell me, too, but I'm rather tired this evening. Could it wait until morning?"

"Sure," he helped her stand.

Leading her toward the steps, he paused and enfolded her in his arms.

"Thank you, Michaela," he ran his finger along her cheek. "Thank you for this new baby. Every time I look at our children, I see the future, an' it renews my desire t' make things right for them."

"I feel the same way," she spoke low.

"I love you," he kissed her.

"And I love you," she replied.

************

As Michaela slept, Sully fretted. He did not want to leave her at a time like this, especially since Dr. Nelson had advised caution. He thought about the new life growing inside his wife. Conceived on New Year's Eve, he smiled. Then a terrible uneasiness hit him. Michaela was attacked by that vile man after she had become pregnant. What if she had lost the baby because of that? What if he had not broken free of those ropes and come to her rescue?

He pulled Michaela a little closer, thanking the Spirits that he had been able to fend off the assailant. He thanked the Spirits, too, that the baby they had hoped so much to have was safely growing in her now.

Sully sighed loudly, fearing that if he fell asleep, the dream would return. The dream of blood and Cloud Dancing. What could he do?

Rising from their bed, he quietly descended the stairs and went to stoke the dying fire in the living room. He sat down in front of it to gaze into the embers. Then he grinned, thinking again of the baby. Maybe this one would be born in a normal way. Not out in a meadow against a tree. Not during a blizzard. Maybe with a real doctor to bring it into the world.

But... the more he thought about it, he would not have traded the experiences of delivering his children for anything. Even if his cheeks and ears had paid a price from Michaela's grabbing them. Michaela.... his heart filled with love at the mere thought of her name. And how would their other children react to a baby? Katie will have another little one to pamper and play with. Josef.... now he's gonna be a big brother. Brian and Matthew will be overjoyed, he was certain.

It was so much to absorb.... so much to love. Without being aware, Sully had stretched out before the hearth. And soon he slept. Then the dream came. Blood.... Cloud Dancing.... Michaela. Reaching out to him. Crying.

************
Chapter 5
************

"Sully?" Michaela stood beside him holding a lamp. "Why are you sleeping on the floor?

"Mmm?" he awoke disoriented. "I... I came downstairs t' think, an' must have fallen asleep."

"What were you thinking about?" she sat down beside him.

"Things," he was vague.

"The baby?" she wondered.

"Yes," he smiled and rubbed her arm.

Then she recalled his earlier concern, "Did you have another headache?"

He loved the sight of her in the glow from the fire, "You're so beautiful, Michaela."

She blushed, "Just wait until I'm the size of the barn."

"I've seen ya that way, remember?" he teased. "Ya know that you'll always be beautiful t' me."

"Thank you," she leaned in to give him a sweet kiss. "Do you think you might be more comfortable upstairs?"

He sighed, "I reckon."

"Don't you want to sleep with me?" she teased.

"You know better than that," he stood up and helped her rise. "What time is it, anyway?"

"Around 5 a.m.," she guided him toward the stairs. "We have another two hours before Brian brings the children home."

"Let's get some more sleep, then," he smiled.

"Sully," she stopped. "When do you think we should tell the children about the baby?"

He tilted his head, "When do you wanna tell 'em?"

"Can we keep it our secret for a little while?" she asked.

"I'd like that," he answered. "Let 'em wonder why you're glowin'."

"I'm glowing?" she laughed.

"Brighter than that lamp," he pointed. "Come on."

As she settled into bed beside her husband, Michaela stroked his face, "Sully, I want you to tell me the truth."

"'Bout what?" he hedged.

"Did you have the dream again, last night?" she inquired.

He paused, then simply replied, "Yes."

She tried to interpret his expression, "You feel you must go to Cloud Dancing."

"I do," his eyes saddened.

"Then go to him," she urged.

"Now?" he was torn. "I don't wanna up an' leave ya, when ya might have a rough time with the baby."

"I'm fine, and you need to go to him," she sympathized. "These dreams won't end until you do."

"I don't know," he was perplexed.

She pulled him closer, "Come here."

Wrapping her arms around him, Michaela kissed his forehead tenderly.

"We'll be all right, Sully," she promised. "Everything will work out."

************

"Mama! Poppy!" Katie called. "We home!"

Sully bounded down the steps and whisked her into his arms, "Kates! I missed ya."

The little girl beamed, "I miss ya, too. Where's Mama?"

"She's upstairs in bed," he set her down. "Why don't ya go up an' tell her you're home."

The little girl quickly obeyed.

"Papa!" Josef reached for his father.

"Come here, big boy," Sully cradled him in his arms.

"Up!" the little boy requested.

Sully lifted him above his head, prompting giggles from the baby.

"Brian," Sully patted his son on the back. "How's everythin' in town?"

"Okay," he smiled. "I helped Miss Dorothy with the first article she's runnin' in the Gazette today about the Indians. Do ya think it'll do any good?"

"I don't know," Sully set the baby in the high chair. "Did ya eat?"

"Yep," Brian removed his jacket. "Miss Grace fed us a real good breakfast. I saw Matthew, too. He said t' tell you an' Ma that he'll stop by later."

"Good," Sully nodded.

"Why ain't Ma up yet?" the young man noticed. "She not goin' int' the Clinic t'day?"

"She's pretty tired," Sully replied. "Maybe later." Then changing the subject, he said, "Brian, I'm gonna be headin' up north soon. I wanna check on Cloud Dancin'."

Brian's face reflected his dismay, "What's gonna happen t' the Cheyenne, Pa?"

Sully took a deep breath, "I don't know, an' I'm worried. I'd appreciate it if ya took real good care o' your Ma an' the children for me."

"Sure," Brian agreed.

************

"I been lookin' over the contents o' the Fort Laramie Treaty," Matthew sat at the dinner table with his family. "Listen t' this:

Article II set aside the Black Hills apart and undisturbed and says that 'the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons except those herein designated and authorized to do so, and except such officers, agents, and employees of the Government as may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations in discharge of duties enjoined by law shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon or reside in the territory described in this article.'"

"The government's been breakin' every part o' the Treaty," Sully felt his jaw tighten.

Matthew agreed, "An' that same article says that no railroad survey teams are allowed on the Reservation or Black Hills."

"And they have violated that," Michaela added.

Matthew went on, "Here's the key part o' the Treaty, Article 16: The Government agrees that the country north o' the North Platte River an' east of the Big Horn Mountains shall be held and considered to be Unceded Indian Territory, not part o' the formal Reservation, and that no white person or persons shall be permitted to settle upon, occupy, or pass through any portion of it without consent o' the Indians."

"That's what started the Indian raids in the first place," Sully wiped his mouth. "The government's been sendin' in railroad survey teams, then Custer."

Matthew looked up from his papers, "An' once Custer's men discovered gold in the Black Hills...."

"The prospectors started movin' in," Brian sighed.

"What we talkin' about?" Katie was confused.

Sully patted his daughter's hand, "We're tryin' t' figure a way t' help the Indians keep what belongs t' them, Kates."

"It stealin' if ya take what don't belong t' ya," the little girl recognized.

"That's correct, Sweetheart," Michaela smiled.

"The army's runnin' all through the Unceded Territory lookin' t' get the tribes out now," Sully shook his head.

"From what I can find out, Custer's in hot water back in Washington 'cause o' some scandal involvin' Indian agents an' shady dealings at trading posts," Matthew expanded.

"Do you think you have enough for a legal case, Matthew?" Michaela came to the point.

"I'm gonna try, Ma,' he vowed. "With each paragraph o' that Treaty, I can cite example after example o' government violations. I'm leavin' t'morrow mornin' for Washington."

"Can I co....," Brian stopped himself remembering his pledge to Sully.

"What were you going to say?" Michaela noticed.

"Nothin'," he smiled. "I... was just thinkin' how proud I am o' Matthew."

"We all are," she gazed at her oldest son in admiration.

************

Sully tucked in his children for the night, "Kates, Joe, I wanna tell ya somethin'."

"A story?" Katie was excited.

"No, not a story. I gotta leave home for a while," he stroked his daughter's hair. "I'm gonna go see Cloud Dancin'."

"We comin'?" she urged.

"Co, Papa," Josef bounced in his lap.

"No," he caressed the baby's head. "I want ya t' stay here an' look after your Ma for me."

"Mama," the little boy clapped.

"When ya come home, Poppy?" she wondered.

"Soon as I can, honey," he leaned down to kiss her. "Promise me you'll help Mama."

"I help," her voice saddened.

"Ka-tee," Josef perceived his sister's mood.

"I love you," Sully spoke low.

Katie bolted up and threw her arms around his neck, "I love you, Poppy."

"Luv," Josef imitated.

************

Michaela was awakened by her husband's entry into the bedroom. He set a sleeping Josef in his crib and began to undress.

She yawned, "I dozed off. I'd better go say good night to Katie."

Sully pulled out his travel bag and had started to pack by the time she returned.

"You're leaving tomorrow?" she surmised.

"Yep," he nodded.

She slid her arms around him, "We'll be all right, Sully. Please don't worry."

He kissed the tip of her nose and rubbed her abdomen, "I always worry 'bout ya, but I'm glad ya understand why I gotta do this."

He sat on the edge of their bed and pulled her onto his lap.

"I'm not giving up on the town council vote," she slid her hand across his chest.

"I know ya ain't," he grinned.

She placed her hand atop his as it rested on her belly, "Last night at this time, I told you about him."

"An' I think he's grown," Sully joked.

Michaela pulled him closer and twined her fingers lovingly through his hair. Sully closed his eyes at her tender touches. How he would miss her, dream of her, long to be beside her.

"I'll miss you, too," she read his thoughts.

"Better get t' bed," he guided her under the covers. "T'morrow's gonna be a busy day."

"I know," she felt a tear run down her cheek.

************
Chapter 6
************

Michaela reached for her husband and felt his space beside her in bed empty, "Sully?"

"Right here," he immediately came to her. "Ya okay?"

"My stomach's a bit queasy," she admitted.

"Want me t' make ya some tea?" he offered.

"What time is it?" she squinted.

"Little after 6 a.m.," he informed her.

"I'm glad Matthew spent the night here," she sat up.

Sully noticed her pale complexion, "Ya sure ya feel okay?"

"My stomach," she could barely speak. "I... I'm going to throw up."

Sully responded immediately and brought her the basin. Michaela vomited.

"I'm sorry," she felt faint.

Sully dampened a cloth and wiped her forehead, "Looks like this baby's gonna give ya a rough time."

She lay back and tried to calm her stomach. Sully took her hand and stroked her hair.

"I need to get up to say good-bye to Matthew," she had no coloring in her face.

"No," his voice was forceful. "I'll send him in here."

"Wait," she urged. "I think I feel another wave of nausea coming on."

Sully tended to her as she dealt with the morning sickness. Finally, she appeared to have improved.

"I'll clean up the basin an' make ya some tea," he caressed her cheek.

"Thank you, Sully," she tried to smile.

When he left the room, Michaela began to cry. She wanted her husband to stay home with her, but understood his need to find their dear friend, his Cheyenne brother. As her tears flowed, her son entered the room.

"Hey, Ma," Matthew's voice was soft. "Sully said ya ain't feelin' good."

"I'm fine now," she quickly wiped her tears. "Matthew, I'm so proud of what you're doing."

"Thanks," he smiled. "That means the world t' me."

She reached up and cupped the side of his face in her palm, "I love you."

"I love you, too," he leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Hope ya feel better soon."

"Mama," Josef stood in his crib.

"Matthew, could you take the baby down to Sully, please?" her voice was weak.

"Sure," he went to the crib. "Hey there, little brother."

"Mat!" Josef beamed.

Lifting the little boy, Matthew stopped briefly for Michaela to greet her youngest, then with a final squeeze of her hand, he said, "Bye, Ma."

"Good-bye," she forced a smile.

"Bah!" Josef waved as Matthew carried him from the bedroom.

************

Sully slipped quietly into the bedroom with her tea, "Can ya sit up?"

"Yes," she leaned forward as he propped some pillows behind her head.

"See if ya can drink this," he held the cup to her lips.

"Thank you," she sipped.

"I've decided t' delay my trip 'til I'm sure you're okay," he stated.

"You don't have to, Sully," she attempted to sound sincere.

"Yes, I do," he offered her some more tea. "Nothin's more important t' me than you an' the kids."

"Cloud Dancing may need you more at the moment," she protested.

"Michaela," he touched his finger to her lips. "I'll go when I know you're all right."

"Thank you," she could not contain her relief.

"Try t' get some rest," he patted her hand. "I'm gonna help Brian feed the kids. Need anythin' else?"

"Only you," she gazed lovingly at him.

************

By noon, Michaela was feeling her old self. Descending the stairs, she caught sight of Sully holding Josef on his lap and playing Katie a game of checkers.

"Crown me, Poppy," the little girl exclaimed. Then she saw her mother and rushed to her, "Mama!"

Michaela embraced her, "Are you letting your Daddy win?"

"Nope," she shook her head. "He win without my help."

Sully carried the baby to her for a kiss. Michaela longed to hold her children, but settled for a hug and kiss.

"Mama," the little boy held out his arms to her.

"I'm afraid I can't hold you, Sweetheart," she felt a tugging at her heart.

"Why not?" Katie interjected.

Michaela looked to her husband.

"Mama's not feelin' so good, Kates," he explained. "Doctor says she needs t' take it easy an' not lift you or Josef."

"Mama's a doctor," Katie reasoned. "She can say it's okay t' lift Joey an' me."

Sully sighed, "I'm gonna go check on the animals. Looks like we're in for some snow."

He set the baby in the high chair and donned his jacket. As he opened the front door, he gasped.

"Cloud Dancin'!" he hurried to support his staggering friend.

Michaela rushed to his side, "What happened?"

"I had to come to you," the medicine man was exhausted.

"Does Dorothy know you're here?" Michaela wondered.

"No," Cloud Dancing shook his head.

"Sully, help him to the chair," Michaela directed.

"Cloud Dancin'!" Katie rushed into the living room.

"Greetings, little one," the Cheyenne smiled. "It is good to see you all."

"We're glad t' see you, too," Sully stoked the fire. "But I didn't expect to."

"I had a dream," he informed them. "You needed me."

"What kind o' dream?" Sully was taken back.

He looked at the little girl standing beside him and hesitated.

"Kates," Sully picked up on his friend's hesitation. "Go in an' watch Josef, please?"

"Wanna see Cloud Dancin', Poppy," she protested.

"Kates," it was his serious voice, and Katie immediately obeyed.

"Your dream," Sully encouraged his friend.

"I saw you and Michaela," Cloud Dancing began. "I was with you, and there was blood."

Michaela and Sully looked at each other, stunned.

"When did ya have the dream?" Sully inquired.

"The night after my people were attacked," the medicine man replied. "The Spirits told me I was needed here."

"You were attacked?" Michaela wrapped a blanket around him.

"Yes," Cloud Dancing nodded. "March 12 by your calendar. At the Powder River. Colonel Reynolds."

"What happened?" Sully wanted the details.

"Our scouts knew the army was near," Cloud Dancing began. "A blizzard had swept in. It was so cold, we could see the soldiers draw their forks through hot ashes so the metal would not strip their tongues."

"My God," Michaela sat down.

Their friend continued, "One of the columns came upon our village and moved for a surprise attack at dawn. But a young boy watering his horse saw them and sounded the alarm. We fled to a bluff from which our warriors could shoot the soldiers. We aimed at their horses and mules. More of the troops came...."

He stopped, overcome by what he was describing.

"Let me get you some tea," Michaela offered.

"Thank you," Cloud Dancing smiled.

When she got up to leave, the medicine man grabbed Sully's arm and whispered, "There is danger."

"What?" Sully was stunned.

"The dream," Cloud Dancing warned.

"I had that same dream," Sully stated. "I thought it meant you were in danger."

Before his friend could say more, Michaela returned with the tea.

"Thank you," he accepted it.

"Go on with what happened," Michaela urged.

Cloud Dancing continued, "The Army began firing into our teepees, which contained caches of gunpowder in kegs, metallic cartridges, bullet molds and lead. Some of the teepees did not burn, they exploded. And lodge poles flew through the air like sticks."

"What happened next?" Sully asked.

"Some troops began to collect the great wealth contained in the lodges--prime pelts of beaver, deer and elk, great buffalo robes and huge quantities of food, all of which were to have been traded by for guns and ammunition," he described.

"I can't believe you got away, Cloud Dancing," Michaela felt relieved.

"That's when something very strange occurred," he noted.

"What?" Sully could not imagine.

"The army retreated," he responded. "Even before they had finished looting our teepees."

"Why?" Michaela could not imagine.

"I do not know," Cloud Dancing shook his head. "Just before General Crook arrived. The retreat enabled most of us to get away."

"Thank God," Michaela noticed his cup was empty. "Can I get you some more tea?"

"Yes, thank you," Cloud Dancing handed her the empty cup.

With Michaela back in the kitchen, Sully's voice sounded urgent, "Is Michaela in danger?"

At that moment, Katie skipped merrily into her father's arms, "Joey fallin' asleep, Poppy."

Michaela returned with a full cup of tea and handed it to Cloud Dancing, "We should get word to Dorothy that you're here."

"I'll go int' town t' tell her," Sully offered. "I wanna bring Brian home from school before the snow gets worse. I'll pick up some supplies for us, too."

"Thank you, my friend," the medicine man rested comfortably in the chair.

Sully pulled his wife aside, "Michaela, I feel better with Cloud Dancin' here t' keep an eye on ya. I'll put Josef in his crib. I don't want ya liftin' him. Understand?"

"Yes, of course, Sully," she was surprised by his serious tone.

He kissed her, "I'll be home soon as I can."

He put Josef to bed, said good-bye to Katie and was on his way.

Michaela stood at the doorway watching him depart. How strange, she thought. He seemed nearly frantic that she not lift the baby, but she had no intention of doing that. Shaking her head, she closed the door.

Suddenly, Josef's cries could be heard from overhead.

************
Chapter 7
************

Michaela rushed up the steps to her bedroom to find Josef lying in his crib screaming. His face had turned beet red. Michaela's first instinct was to lift the child into her arms, but instead she rolled him onto his side and gently rubbed his back to calm him. Suddenly his breathing stopped altogether.

"Josef!" she screamed.

Lifting him up, she reached into his mouth. She could feel something lodged in his throat. Swiftly she pulled the object free. It was a small piece of pickle. Still, the little boy did not breath. Leaning him against her chest, Michaela began to pat her son's back.

"Breathe, Josef!" she implored.

Next she set the baby on her bed and began to blow air into his mouth. Finally, the child responded and resorted to crying again.

She lovingly cradled him, "That's the most beautiful sound I've ever heard."

Katie entered the room, "Mama, why Joey cryin'?"

"He was having trouble with a pickle he ate," she kissed her son's forehead and swayed back and forth. "We're going to have to be certain that we feed him very small pieces."

"Poppy say ya not s'posed t' pick us up," she reminded her mother.

"I know, Sweetheart," she explained. "But this was an emergency. Josef is fine now."

"Cloud Dancin's sleepin' in chair," the little girl pointed out. "We gonna take nap, too?"

"I was thinking about lying down," Michaela smiled. "Would you care to join me?"

"Yep," Katie climbed into the bed. "I take care o' ya."

Michaela tenderly placed Josef in the middle of her bed, then lay down beside him. Katie reached across her brother to stroke her mother's long tresses. Michaela sighed.

"That feel good?" Katie wondered.

"It feels wonderful," she responded. "Katie, you love your little brother a lot, don't you?"

"Yep," she began to twirl several strands of her mother's hair. "Wish I have 'nother little brother."

"You do?" Michaela was surprised.

"You an' Poppy got lota love, 'member?" the child recalled her parents' explanation to her for wanting Josef.

Michaela chuckled, "Yes, I remember. You're quite remarkable. Do you know that?"

"What demarkable?" she rolled onto her side.

"Remarkable," Michaela corrected. "It means special. The most special little girl I've ever known."

Katie giggled.

"Are you laughing?" Michaela turned onto her side to face her daughter.

"You funny, Mama," the child was amused.

"What's funny about thinking my little girl is special?" Michaela treasured this time with her.

She shrugged, "Poppy tell me that, too." Then she pointed to her mother's face, "Mama, why ya got eyes like that?"

"You mean two different colors?" she asked.

"Poppy got blue eyes, Joey got blue eyes," the little girl observed. "You got one bwr... brown eye an' one green."

"My father told me it was because I was special, too," she touched Katie's nose.

"But both my eyes brown," the child observed. "I not so special."

"Oh, Sweetheart," Michaela pulled her into her arms. "Everything about you is special. Your eyes. Your smile. The way you sing and play music. The way you draw pictures. The way you hug your Daddy and me. The way you love your brothers and sister. Everything."

Katie's face beamed, "I love you, Mama."

"I love you, too, my darling," Michaela kissed her. "Think we can nap now?"

Katie nodded and curled up against her brother. Michaela placed one arm above her children's heads and rested her free hand protectively across her abdomen. Like this, mother and daughter fell asleep.

It was not long after they drifted off before Michaela felt it. At first, it was a small cramp. It woke her up. Perhaps it was indigestion, she thought. Then came another, more severe. Immediately, she recognized the sensation. No, God, please. She sat up and placed both hands on her belly.

She shook Katie's arm, "Sweetheart, wake up."

Katie yawned and pulled herself up, "Why we get up, Mama?"

"Katie," Michaela tried to remain calm. "I want you to run downstairs and see if your Daddy is home. If he's not, wake up Cloud Dancing and tell him I need him right away."

"Ya sick?" the child guessed.

"Quickly!" Michaela urged.

Katie slid from the bed and bolted for the door. Michaela tried to breathe regularly, steadily. Indigestion, she told herself. Then another cramp gripped her. More than a cramp. A sharp pain.

"NO!" she shouted.

Josef burst into tears at the sound of his mother's scream. Cloud Dancing appeared at the door.

"Michaela," he rushed to her.

"The children...." she panted. "Please put them in the nursery."

The medicine man lifted Josef and took Katie by the hand, leading them down the hallway. Within moments, he returned.

"You are in pain," Cloud Dancing reached for a pouch on his belt. "I have something that may stop it."

"NO!" Michaela was gripped by the sensation again.

Suddenly she felt moisture between her legs. Cloud Dancing noticed, and knew what was happening.

"I am sorry," he placed his hand on her shoulder.

"I.... I've got to stop it," she shook loose.

In desperation she reached her hands down to try to control the bleeding. By now a large stain was appearing on the sheets of her bed, and her hands were awash in blood. Michaela felt her heart breaking.

"I can't lose the baby," she cried. "Not again. Please!"

Cloud Dancing began to chant softly in Cheyenne.

Michaela hysterically reached up and grabbed his arms, "Make it stop! Can't we save my child?"

"His spirit goes to be with his grandfathers," Cloud Dancing felt a tear trickle down his cheek.

"NO! NO!" Michaela wept uncontrollably.

Sully rushed into the bedroom, "Michaela!"

There, vividly before him, was the nightmare he had repeatedly seen so clearly in his dream. His heart sank. Cloud Dancing looked at him with a pained expression. Michaela curled nearly into a ball on the bed sobbing and still bleeding.

"Cloud Dancin', would ya go get Brian an' Dorothy t' be with the children?" Sully requested.

"We must stop the bleeding," the medicine man stated.

"Michaela!" Sully pulled her into his arms. "Tell me what t' do. We gotta stop your bleedin'."

"I don't want to lose him, Sully," she touched the crimson sheets.

From down the hallway, they could hear Katie and Josef crying for their mother.

"Cloud Dancin'," Sully begged. "The kids."

"I will go to them," Cloud Dancing retreated from the room.

"We gotta stop your bleedin'," he repeated. "Please."

"Towels," she simply replied in a defeated voice.

Sully retrieved several towels.

"Put them between my legs," her face was now expressionless.

Sully did as she instructed. After pouring some clean water into the basin, he started to wash her hands free of the blood.

"No!" she pulled away.

"Let me clean ya," Sully tenderly took her hands.

She allowed him to wash her as a new wave of tears swept over her. With his own reddened eyes, he held her close.

"I've lost our baby," she wept. "Why, Sully?"

"I don't know," he stroked the back of her head. "I don't know."

Then the realization hit her.

"It's my fault," she clutched his arm.

"No, it ain't," he tried to reason with her.

"I... I lifted Josef," she revealed.

"What?" he was shocked. "Why would ya do that after what Dr. Nelson told ya?"

"He was choking on a slice of pickle," she began to sob. "He.... he had stopped breathing."

"Oh, Michaela," his heart broke at the thought that she had been faced with such a decision. "Is Josef okay?"

"Yes," her tears would not cease. "But now our baby's gone."

"No, please don't blame yourself," he pleaded. "We don't know if that's why ya had a miscarriage. I'm gonna send for Dr. Nelson."

"Don't leave me, Sully!" she cried.

"I ain't leavin'," he raised his hand. "I'll be right back."

Soon he returned and enfolded her in his arms. Her cries had faded to whimpers. Sully stroked her temple and finally was able to get her to lay back. Without objection from her, he checked the towels under her skirt. They were saturated with blood.

Closing his eyes, he prayed to the Spirits to spare his wife. Then Cloud Dancing appeared at the door.

"I will make something for her," he offered. "It will give her strength."

"Thanks," Sully looked up.

"Cloud Dancing," Michaela beckoned him.

He sensed her indecision of what to say, and looked down modestly, "You must reach out for each other. Do not let go."

With that, he turned and left them alone.

"I remember when Snow Bird lost their baby," Sully gulped.

"There was nothing I could do to stop it," she recalled.

************

Throughout the early evening, many townsfolk, now aware of what had happened, came and went in spite of a steady snowfall outside. Grace and Robert E brought food and offered to take Katie and Josef home with them. Sully preferred that they remain near his wife.

Dorothy and Cloud Dancing stayed at the homestead to help with the children as Hank, Horace, Jake and Teresa, the Reverend all visited the Sully homestead.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Dr. Nelson concluded his assessment, "Dr. Quinn, you know you have suffered a miscarriage."

"Yes," she fought her tears.

He closed his bag, "The bleeding has subsided, but you will have some spotting over the next week or so. I want you to soak in a tub before bed tonight."

"Yes," she nodded.

The physician was not unsympathetic, "I believe there can be more children."

"No," she turned away from him. "I'll not go through this again."

************
Chapter 8
************

"Michaela," Sully stroked his wife's hair after Dr. Nelson departed. "Ya gotta eat somethin'."

"I'm not hungry," her look was vacant.

"It's important," he urged.

"Why?" she snapped at him. "Why is it important, Sully?"

"T' get back your strength," he answered tenderly.

There was a soft knock at the bedroom door, followed by Katie's voice, "Mama?"

"It's Katie," Sully said. "She's been wantin' t' see ya."

"I can't see her right now," Michaela turned away.

"I'll talk t' her," Sully went to the door and opened it.

There stood Katie, arms on her hips, "Poppy, Joey an' me wanna see Mama."

"Mama's real sick, honey," he lifted her into his arms. "'Sides, it's time for you two t' be in bed."

"Joey sleepin' with me?" she raised her eyebrows.

"Would you watch after him?" he carried her to the nursery.

Dorothy was there preparing Josef for bed when Sully entered his daughter's room, "She doesn't wanna see 'em?"

Sully shook his head no.

"Maybe I could talk t' her," the redhead set Josef on the bed.

She left the room, leaving Sully to tuck in his children.

"Poppy," Katie became comfortable under the covers. "Why Mama cryin' so much?"

Sully took a deep breath and decided to tell her the truth, "Kates, Mama was gonna have another baby."

"Another brother?" she was excited.

He patted her hand, "Might've been. But he's gone now."

"Where he go?" she did not comprehend.

"He died," Sully felt a lump in his throat.

"I wanna see him," she requested.

"Ya can't, Katie," he looked at Josef, who was nearly asleep.

"What we name him?" she noticed the tear on her father's cheek.

"We didn't name him," Sully responded.

"We gonna put him back with Mother Earth?" she wondered.

Sully was uncertain of what to say, "I don't know what t' tell ya, Kates. Right now, we gotta make sure Mama gets better."

"Mama be sad," Katie observed.

"Yep," his voice choked.

"You sad, too, Poppy," she sat up and hugged him.

"Oh, Kates," his voice quivered. "I love you, my sweet girl."

"I love you, Poppy," her little brow wrinkled. "Joey an' me still be your babies."

He was too overcome to speak. Tenderly, he guided his daughter back against the pillow and caressed her cheek until she fell asleep.

************

Dorothy insisted, "Michaela, let me clean things up in here for ya."

Laying motionless in the bed, Michaela did not react.

"Everyone in town's real worried 'bout ya," she began to work around Michaela to strip the bed of the bloody sheets. "They care a lot about ya."

Michaela was polite, "Please thank them for me."

"You can still have more children," her friend unfolded clean white sheets. "The sooner, the better. After my miscarriages, I...."

"Dorothy," she did not want to hear this right now. "I know you care, but..."

"The Reverend says it's God's will," Dorothy continued. "You were lucky it happened early on in your pregnancy."

"God's will?" Michaela bit off the words.

"It would be harder t' bury a baby that's gone full term," the redhead added. "I ain't sayin' this t' upset ya, Michaela. Ya know that I understand how ya feel. It's just that ya gotta talk about things, an' remember the two children ya got. Empty as ya feel right now, think about what ya got."

************

Sully met Dorothy in the hallway.

"I gathered all the sheets, towels and Michaela's clothing," her arms were full. "I'll wash 'em for ya."

"No," Sully reached out for them. "Thank you. I'll take care o' them."

"If ya set up the tub an' fill it, I'll help Michaela with her bath," Dorothy volunteered.

"Did she talk much?" he asked.

"No," she looked down.

************

Sully took the soiled items out to the barn and placed them in a small, hinged wooden box. He thought if he did some chores, it might help his emotional state, but after pitching some hay for the animals, he slumped down to his knees and began to weep. Pounding his fist on the dirt floor, he anguished over what Michaela had been through in the past two months that could have caused this. The journey to and from the Cheyenne village, the attack near Yellowstone, concern over his headaches, the intensity of their making love.

And now Michaela was pushing him away. Maybe she blames me, he feared. I should have stayed home today instead of goin' to get Brian and Dorothy. She's got every right t' blame me, he thought.

His heart was breaking from the overpowering feeling of loss that enveloped him. This was the third child he had lost. And he had not known any of them. Would this one have been anything like Katie or Josef? Closing his eyes, he languished further.

Then he felt a moist sensation on his hand. It was Wolf licking him.

"Hey, boy," Sully petted the animal. "I guess it ain't right for me t' sit out here feelin' sorry for myself."

Wolf whimpered.

Picking himself up, Sully took a deep breath and returned to the house.

************

"Michaela," he entered the darkened bedroom. "I got your bath ready."

She did not respond.

"Dorothy's gonna help ya," he spoke low.

"I don't want any help," she was curt.

"Why are ya doin' this?" he was direct.

"Doing what?" she could not look at him.

"Pushin' me away," he did not want to argue.

"You don't understand," she was on the brink of tears.

"I'm tryin'," his voice faltered.

"It doesn't matter," she gathered her things for the bath.

Stung by her words, Sully followed her to the door and down the hallway. When they reached the bottom step, the bright lights of the kitchen caused her to squint.

"Could you turn down the lamps?" she requested.

He did as she asked, and started to get Dorothy from the living room.

"I'll do this by myself," she called to him.

"You don't have to, Michaela," he stopped.

"Yes, I do," she replied.

Sully left her and went into the living room to sit with Brian, Cloud Dancing and Dorothy. They spoke in hushed tones in order to not disturb Michaela.

After pinning up her hair, she undressed and stepped into the tub. Lowering herself into the water, she immediately thought back to that moment a little over three years ago when she had suffered her first miscarriage. The memory prompted her to begin weeping.

Hearing her, Sully bolted from his chair.

"Wait, Sully," Dorothy advised. "She wants t' be alone."

"I won't let her be alone," he disagreed. "Not like last time."

He rounded the fireplace and stepped into the kitchen. Michaela, clutching the sides of the tub, did not hear him enter. Softly, he knelt down beside her and put his hand on her back. She shivered.

"I'm here, Michaela," he whispered.

"Oh, Sully!" she pulled him closer. "I need you."

"I need you, too," he cupped the back of her head in his hand, "We'll get through it t'gether."

He lathered his hands and rubbed them across her, gently conveying with his touch that he loved her. As she soaked in the tub, her tears began to flow again. When he finished bathing her, Sully held out a towel for her. Michaela stepped from the water and into her husband's arms. Leaning her head against his chest, Sully draped the towel around her and began to dry her. He was now drenched, but it did not matter. Michaela had allowed him to be part of her grieving.

He helped her into her robe and guided her toward the steps. She stopped and turned to her son and friends.

Her voice trembled, "Thank you for being here."

"If ya need anythin', Michaela..." Dorothy stopped.

"I just need to rest right now," she looked down.

As they neared the nursery, Michaela paused at the door, "Sully, does Katie know?"

"I told her," he nodded.

She took a deep breath and opened the door of the nursery. There in bed were Katie and Josef, peacefully sleeping. Michaela held back her tears and went in. Sitting on the side of the bed, she leaned over to kiss Katie. On the far side, Josef was tucked against his sister, his breathing steady. Michaela grasped his little hand for a moment. Then she stood.

"Let's get ya int' bed," Sully counseled.

Listlessly, Michaela leaned back in their bed, wanting to talk, yet not wanting to. Wanting to scream, yet lacking the energy. Numb, yet full of guilt.

Sully removed his shirt and dried off. Then he took a nightgown from the cupboard and brought it to Michaela. She stood up and undid her robe. Sully helped her into the clean bedclothes.

Michaela spoke as she watched her husband prepare for bed, "Dorothy said it was for the best. That I was lucky it happened now rather than to lose a baby at full term. How can someone think that, Sully?"

"She means well," he washed his face.

"She told me the Reverend said it's God's will," she went on absently. "He doesn't know what this is like. How could a man possibly understand?"

Sully came and stood before her, extending his hand.

"I didn't mean that, Sully. You do," she clasped his hand. "You understand."

"If I would've been here with ya, maybe...." he sat down beside her.

"No," she shook her head. "Don't think that. I let you down."

"No, Michaela. Don't ya see?" he was upset. "It was all in my dream, only I thought it was Cloud Dancin' who was in danger. But it was you. It was our baby."

She countered, "None of this was your fault."

"Oh, Michaela," he leaned his head against her. "I'm so sorry."

She wrapped her arms around him. In all of her grief and agony, she had lost sight of how much her husband ached. He had lost his baby, too. He had been her strength, but now, like a little boy, he craved her consoling embrace. For several minutes, they wept in each other's arms.

Then the words of Cloud Dancing came back to her, "You must reach out for each other. Do not let go."

"What?" he raised his head.

"Cloud Dancing said that to us," she said. "I'm sorry I pushed you away. I never want to let go of you, Sully."

"An' I won't let go o' you," he met her gaze with his blue eyes. "It's gonna take us some time, I know, but I think I know where we can start t' cope with what's happened."

************
Chapter 9
************

Michaela stirred in her husband's arms. She had not slept well with the events of the previous day playing out repeatedly in her mind. She felt incredibly empty. Only yesterday morning, she had awakened with such high hopes and dreams for their future. Now, it was all gone, swept away on her bloody sheets.

She looked at her husband, his long hair covering his eye. Pulling it back, she gazed upon his handsome face. He would have looked like you, Sully, she said to herself. Running her finger along Sully's lips, she thought.... he would have had your mouth. Stop it, she told herself. He's gone. Your baby's gone.

Michaela felt her tears welling again, just when she thought she had no more left to shed. The idea of facing everyone was overwhelming to her. It would be difficult enough to discuss with her own family, but how could she endure the reaction of well-meaning townsfolk and patients? She knew what they would tell her. It was for the best. You can have more children. Get pregnant again as soon as possible.

Did they not comprehend that this was not some nameless, faceless creature inside of her? It was a baby, a human being. It was a part of Sully and her. It had a future, and now it was gone. She sighed.

Sully sensed her restlessness and woke up, "Thinkin' about the baby?"

"Yes," she looked toward him as he rubbed her arm. "I don't know what to do, what to think, Sully."

"Ya don't have t' do anythin' ya don't want to, Michaela," he advised.

"Should I go back to work right away?" she thought.

"If ya think that would help," he agreed.

"But I don't want to be around people yet," she struggled. "Perhaps it would help if I could understand why this happened. Why did we lose him?"

"I been thinkin' about that, too," he confided.

"And?" she waited.

"Maybe he gave his life t' save Josef's," Sully felt a lump in his throat.

"What?" Michaela was surprised.

"Josef was chokin'," he reminded her. "He stopped breathin', an' ya had t' pick him up t' save his life."

She pondered his words, "Would God do that? Make me chose between my children?"

"I don't know much about religion," he sighed. "I just know that part o' life is gettin', an' part o' life is losin'. We got two beautiful babies an' had two taken from us before we ever knew 'em. I don't know if we're meant t' truly understand why."

"I never thought I could go through this again after we lost the other baby, Sully," she choked back her tears.

"Think about how happy we were for that little bit o' time that we had him," he told her. "A little life we never saw or knew made us so happy."

"Will we ever feel that way again?" her voice quivered.

"We'll know happiness again," he pulled her closer. "We'll laugh. We'll watch our children grow, but.... A little part of us died, an' that pain never totally goes away. After Abigail an' Hannah died, someone told me 'bout losin' a child. They said when a baby don't live, it's 'cause its soul ain't ready t' come t' earth yet, but eventually it will in a new baby."

She thought back, "What did you mean when you told me last night that you know where we can start to cope with this, Sully?"

"When someone ya love dies, ya need t' do certain things t' grieve an' make peace," he stated. "But if there's no body, it's harder. I remember how it devastated women when they lost their men in cave-ins. It was bad enough losin' a loved one, but the widows didn't have a body t' bury, didn't have a grave t' visit."

"But there's nothing we can do about that," she observed.

"Maybe there is," he said. "If you're up to it."

************

Sully assembled Brian, Katie and Josef in the kitchen, then holding her hand, he escorted Michaela downstairs.

"Mama!" Katie ran to her and threw her arms round her mother's waist.

Michaela silently stroked her daughter's hair, then went to Josef and caressed his head.

"Mama!" he smiled. "Luv!"

"I love you, too," she struggled to remain composed.

Brian came to her and hugged her for several moments. Michaela touched his face, then gingerly sat down.

Sully cleared his throat, "I was thinkin' about what we could do t' help us get through losin' the baby. I thought it might help if we all contributed somethin' to a box and buried them with the baby."

"What do ya mean, Pa?" Brian asked. "There's no baby t' bury."

Sully suggested, "Somethin' Katie said, gave me an idea."

"What, Poppy?" the little girl was curious.

"I was thinkin' we should name the baby, put a face on him, tell him how much we loved him, give him somethin' of us and have a proper burial," he stated.

"I... I don't know if I can do this," Michaela wavered.

"Yes, ya can, Michaela," he was certain.

"How do ya know it was gonna be a boy?" Brian wondered.

"I'm goin' by your Ma's feelin's," Sully responded. "She was right about Katie an' Josef, an' she thought this baby would be a boy."

"So did ya think about any names?" the young man queried.

"We didn't really have time t'...." Sully stopped when his wife spoke.

"Samuel Charles Sully," Michaela interrupted.

"Where'd ya get those names?" Sully touched her hand.

"Samuel for Sam Lindsay," she recalled the woman who had recognized the incredible bond between Sully and herself. "And Charles is the masculine for Charlotte."

"For my Ma?" Brian was touched.

"It's a fine name," Sully held back his emotions.

"What would he have looked like?" Brian fetched a piece of paper and pencil for his little sister. "Katie can draw him."

"What do ya think, Michaela?" Sully encouraged her.

"He would have had his father's smile," she envisioned wistfully.

"And his Ma's nose," Sully squeezed her hand.

"He have a brown eye an' a green eye," Katie spoke up. "'Cause he was special."

"Just like you, Ma," Brian grinned.

As they continued to describe this little boy whom they would never know, each of them began to make peace with their grief, and each left in turn to retrieve something from themselves to give to the baby. Sully went to the barn, returning with the wooden box.

Michaela met him at the door, "What's that?"

"Your things," he revealed.

"What things?" she did not comprehend.

With the children out of sight, he set the box on the dining room table and opened it. There were the bloodstained sheets, towels and clothing that Michaela had worn.

"Sully," it disturbed her.

"I didn't mean t' upset ya," he closed it. "Dorothy was gonna wash 'em, but..."

"But what?" her voice trembled.

"I couldn't stand the thought o' washin' him away," Sully pierced her soul with his eyes. "Is that wrong o' me?"

"No," she thought about it. "We should bury them."

Sully situated the material so that the blood was not visible, then called the children to place whatever they wanted into the box for Samuel. He lifted Josef into his arms and helped Katie stand on a chair. The little girl held up her artwork for her parents' approval. They marveled at the drawing.

"It's the best picture ya ever drew, Kates," Sully beamed.

The little girl proudly put it into the box.

Brian stepped forward with a carved wooden train engine, "I thought he might like this. You made it for me when the railroad first came t' Colorado Springs, Pa."

"When ya thought ya might like t' be an engineer someday," Sully recalled.

Michaela pulled a woven white object from her pocket.

"A dream catcher," she set it in the box. "So he'll always have pleasant dreams."

Josef observed his family intently, not understanding what was going on, but perceiving that they were placing something they liked into the box.

"Do, Papa," the baby squirmed.

Sully assumed that his son had tired of watching and wished to go play, so he set him on the floor. Then Sully took a strand of beads from his neck and laid them in the box.

"I reckon that's it," he prepared to close it.

"Papa," Josef had returned.

"What ya got there?" Sully knelt down.

"Bun," the little boy held up the ragged stuffed rabbit.

"Joey wanna put bunny in," Katie concluded.

"But it's his favorite toy," Brian noted. "Do ya think he understands?"

"He understands," Sully lifted his son and kissed his cheek.

Josef handed the bunny to his mother, "Mama."

The baby pointed into the box. Michaela set it on top of the other objects, then they closed the lid.

Handing Josef to Brian, Sully walked to the door and pulled on his coat, "I'll go dig a place on the hillside above the garden."

"Sully," Michaela approached him. "I didn't think I would be able to go through with this, but... I believe you were right."

"We'll bury him, soon as I get it dug," he stated. "Might take me a while with the snow an' hard ground."

************

Sully chose a spot along the slope beside their home. His wife and children joined him, as he tenderly set the box into the cold ground. Each of them spoke some words, and Michaela read from the family Bible. Sully concluded with several lines from Shakespeare:

"When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun."

************

Loren arrived at the homestead just as the memorial service and burial were concluding. He watched the family descend the hillside and approach him.

"Loren," Sully nodded.

"I don't wanna bother ya," he removed his hat. "I was comin' out t' pay my respects, an' Horace mentioned ya got a telegram from Washington. I offered t' bring it out with me."

"Please, come in," Michaela invited.

"This for the baby?" he noticed their black apparel.

"Yes," Sully removed his daughter's coat.

"Wanna play checkers, Mr. Bway?" Katie's eyes lit up.

"Maybe another time, Katie girl," he smiled. "Right now, I'd like t' talk t' your Pa."

"If you'll excuse me, I need to lie down," Michaela headed for the steps.

"I'm real sorry 'bout what happened, Dr. Mike," the older man offered.

"Thank you, Loren," she said.

"I'll take Katie an' Josef upstairs," Brian volunteered.

Alone in the living room, Sully and Loren stood in awkward silence.

"Can I offer ya somethin' t' drink?" Sully removed his coat.

"No, thank ya," the older man played with the rim of his hat.

"Somethin' on your mind?" Sully walked to the fireplace to warm his back.

"Sully," Loren began. "I wanted t' say how sorry I am about the baby. I know how much you an' Dr. Mike love kids an'...."

"Thanks, Loren," he was astonished at how their relationship had changed over the years.

Here was Abigail's father offering him condolences for the loss of a child, when he had once blamed Sully for her death and that of his infant granddaughter.

"Thing is," Loren could not look him in the eye. "I know Dr. Mike's hurtin', but I also know what you're goin' through losin' a baby."

This was a side of Loren Sully had never seen, "I appreciate your thinkin' about me."

"I never told ya this, but Maude an' me...." he hesitated. "She had a miscarriage before Abigail. I had t' be strong for her. No one knew how I felt."

Sully swallowed hard, "It means a lot that you'd share this with me, Loren."

"One more thing," he wiped his nose. "Tell Dr. Mike the town council's gonna vote on that resolution she wanted. I promise ya it'll pass."

"I'll tell her," Sully smiled.

The older man shook his hand, then pulled back, not wanting to seem so sentimental, "Well, I best be goin'. Oh, 'fore I forget, here's your telegram."

"Thanks," Sully saw him to the door.

************

"This came from a friend o' mine in Washington," Sully handed the telegram to Michaela on the bed.

She opened it and read it aloud:

"Custer testified before congressional committee. President Grant has replaced him as commander of 7th Cavalry. Reno to take over."

She folded the paper and sighed, "Perhaps this is an opportune time for Matthew's visit. Do you think any good will come from Custer's demotion?"

"I don't know," he rubbed her arm. "Loren wanted me t' tell ya that the town council's gonna approve your resolution on condemnin' the government's actions."

"They are?" she was pleasantly surprised.

"Yep," he looked down. "He's an amazin' man."

"I never thought I'd hear you say that," she observed.

"Sometimes we get insights int' people's hearts in the aftermath o' tragedies," he noted.

She held her palm against his chest, "I love you so much, Sully. And I always will. You are my heart. I need you more than I ever could have imagined."

"We'll get through this, Michaela," he vowed. "Long as we're t'gether, we can handle anythin'."

"Thank you," she closed her eyes, still clasping his hand.

He leaned forward and tenderly kissed her forehead, "I love you."

THE END

EPILOGUE

Regarding the Battle of the Powder River on March 12, 1876, General George Crook was bitterly disappointed in the retreat order given by Colonel Reynolds. His column could have seriously crippled the ability of the strong combination of Sioux and Cheyenne to make war. Reynolds' retreat order destroyed that opportunity. Reynolds was court-martialed and suspended from command for a year. The Army had not achieved a complete victory. In fact, the Sioux and Cheyenne decided they had won a very important victory and were emboldened with great confidence for the future.... a future that would include a place called Little Big Horn 3 months later.

Custer did testify before a Congressional Hearing on March 29 and April 4, 1876. President Grant demanded that he be replaced as commander of the 7th Cavalry on April 28, and on May 5, Major Marcus Reno received the command. In fact, Grant prohibited Custer from accompanying the expedition in any capacity. Three days later, however, the President relented due to pressure from Sherman, Sheridan and Terry. He gave Custer back his cavalry but put General Alfred Terry in command of the expedition.



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