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

Cave-in


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Cave-in
by Debby K

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

Michaela and Sully stopped to water their horses. Just off the road between Manitou and Colorado Springs ran a clear brook which offered some relief from the heat of late summer.

"Sure am glad ya came with me," he pulled her close.

"I am, too," she smiled.

"But you're anxious t' get home t' the children," he touched her nose.

"As are you," she smiled.

"Yep," he glanced up at the sky. "That's why we're comin' home a day early, remember?"

"Yes," she massaged his shoulders. She noticed he was looking at the sky, "Is something wrong?"

"Got a feelin' a storm's comin' up," he stated.

"Should we look for shelter?" she asked.

"I think we can ride a bit further," he reassessed. "Maybe it'll blow over."

They mounted their horses again and continued on the road.

Sully's instinct about the impending storm proved correct, and within half an hour, they found themselves searching for a place to stop. The wind began blowing debris and the dust from the road around them. Before the downpour began, Sully spotted an entrance to an old mine.

"Over there!" he shouted. "You get inside. I'll take care o' the horses an' get some firewood in case we need t' spend the night."

As Michaela took their supplies from the animals, Sully secured them to some trees in a grove near the tunnel. With an armful of wood, he barely made it into the haven before the deluge began.

"Will the horses be safe?" Michaela questioned.

"I think so," he drew her further into the mine as the wind swirled near the entrance. "Not enough room t' bring 'em in here."

Michaela unrolled a blanket and sat down to wait for the storm to pass. Sully stood, leaning against a support beam and watching Mother Nature throw her full force.

"Sully," she called to him. "Please step away from there."

He turned and smiled, "Storms always scare ya."

"I'm not frightened," she asserted.

"Can't fool me," he sat down beside her and put his arm around her shoulders.

"Well," she admitted. "Perhaps just a little."

He squeezed her tighter, "If it lets up, we can still be home by dark."

"I hope so," she sighed. "This is the first time I've been away from Josef for more than a day."

"I know," he sympathized. "Funny how our minds turn t' the kids."

She yawned as she snuggled closer to him.

"Ya sleepy?" he teased.

"A little," she nodded.

"Then close your eyes, an' get some rest," he kissed her temple. "I'll wake ya when the storm passes.

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

Katie approached Matthew as he poured over his law books.

"Wead me story, Mattew?" she requested.

He pulled her into his lap, "'Fraid ya wouldn't enjoy anythin' from these books."

"I don't mind," she had no clue what he was reading. Pointing to a passage in his law book, she said, "Wead this."

"Dred Scott v. Sanford?" he chuckled.

"Yep," the little girl smiled.

"Okay," he went along with her request. "...they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjected by the dominant race, and whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and government might choose to grant them."

Katie looked surprised, "Ya find that intrestin'?"

"Well," he laughed. "Not exactly interestin', but important."

"What it mean?" she decided it must be important to her, as well.

"It's a judge's words sayin' a slave who goes int' a free state, isn't considered free," Matthew tried to simplify it.

"What's a slave?" she tilted her head.

"A slave is a human bein' who belongs t' another human bein'," he defined.

"I slave o' Mama an' Poppy?" she inquired.

"No," he suppressed a laugh. "A slave is bought an' sold like property."

"Sellin' human bein's?" her eyes widened. Then her little brows wrinkled unsure of the term. "What a human bein'?"

"A person like you an' me," he pointed. "Slavery's not legal anymore. We had a big fight over it called the Civil War. An' now, the slaves are free."

"That's good," Katie smiled. "Why they wanna be slaves?"

"They didn't wanna be slaves, Katie," Matthew continued. "They were forced t' be slaves 'cause o' the color o' their skin."

"What color are they?" the little girl persisted in her inquiry.

"Dark skinned," he replied.

"Like Miss Gwace an' Wobert E?" her eyes widened.

"Yep," Matthew nodded.

"They slaves?" she asked.

Before he could reply, Brian called from upstairs.

"Matthew," he shouted. "Look outside."

Matthew set Katie down and walked to the kitchen window. The dark clouds foretold of an impending storm.

"Katie," he knelt down beside his little sister. "I need ya t' go upstairs and help Brian with Josef while I put the animals in the barn. Okay?"

"I help ya," she offered.

"Not today," he smiled. "A storm's comin', an' I think Brian might need your help with our little brother."

"Okay," she sounded dejected.

"Good girl," he donned his hat and headed outside.

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

A crack of thunder awoke Michaela with a start. She felt Sully's arms securely holding her when she opened her eyes.

"It's a bad one out there," his voice was calm.

"Do you think the horses will be...." she stopped when a bolt of lightning struck nearby.

"Let's move a little further int' the tunnel," he lit an old lamp which he found.

"Do you think it's safe?" she was hesitant.

"Safer than bein' outside," he could see the torrents of rain slant further into the mine opening.

They gathered their belongings and carried them another twenty feet deeper into the mine. Then they settled in to wait out the storm. The sounds of the rain, wind and thunder echoed through the shaft creating an eerie atmosphere. Sully found an additional lamp and lit it.

Gathering his wife into his arms, he smiled, "Let's think o' somethin' other than what's happenin' outside."

"Like what?" she shivered slightly.

"Like..." he took a deep breath. "How 'bout your happiest day?"

"My happiest day?" she was somewhat taken back.

"Sure," he rubbed her arm. "What was your happiest day?"

She decided to play along, "Let me see. There have been so many. The day I graduated from medical school. The day I began my practice of medicine with Father. The day I...."

She noticed the slight look of disappointment on his face and decided to not tease him any longer.

"But they were all superseded by the day I married you," she beamed.

"Good answer," he grinned.

"What about you?" she turned it around. "What was your happiest day?"

"Mmm," he raised an eyebrow. "I'd have t' say it was the day I learned t' ride a horse."

"Sully!" she playfully poked his side.

"The day I hit the homerun that beat the Travelin' All-Star baseball team?" he continued to vex her.

"Mr. Sully," she spoke in a provocative voice reserved only for his ears.

"Okay," he raised her hand to his lips. "It was the day we got married." Then he raised his finger to add, "But it's really a tie with the day our children were born."

"Agreed," she smiled.

He decided to keep up the game of distracting her from the storm, "What was the best gift ya ever got?"

"Best gift," she pondered it. Then her lips curved up at the side of her mouth, "Katie and Josef."

"I was thinkin' my best gift was the saw the men gave me at my bachelor party," Sully joked.

"What?" she pretended to be shocked.

"I cut a lot o' wood with that saw, Michaela," he tried to maintain a serious expression.

"Byron Sully," she acted as if she were going to scold him.

Before she could, Sully leaned in to kiss her, "Katie an' Josef. Agreed."

They fell silent as the storm turned to a soaking rainfall, and the wind and lightning subsided. The darkened sky and pouring rain persuaded Sully that they should not continue their journey.

"Looks like we'll be here for the night," he pulled her close.

"It appears so," she observed.

"Favorite thing t' do?" he returned to the game.

"Pardon me?" she had forgotten their game.

"What's your favorite thing t' do?" he toyed with the top button of her blouse.

"I believe I would have to say... washing clothes," she refused to say what he wanted her to say just yet.

"What?" he let his hand slide down to her next button.

"Washing clothes," she repeated. "That's my favorite thing to do."

"Well, then ya oughta be real happy," he raised an eyebrow. "Between me an' the mess the kids make, we must give ya hours o' entertainment."

"That's very true," her voice cracked slightly as he undid the next button and slid his hand beneath the material.

"What's your very favorite thing to do?" she began to melt at his fondling.

"Humm," he withdrew his hand and removed his shirt. "I think choppin' wood."

She ran her hands lightly down his bronzed and muscular arms, "You do have quite a knack for that."

"Yep," he undid the last of her buttons and slowly pulled her blouse off her shoulders.

He leaned forward to kiss her neck. Then with a finger, he slipped the strap of her camisole away and trailed his kisses down her shoulder. Michaela rose to her knees and enjoyed the caresses of her husband across her chest. They continued to stir delightful sensations in one another.

Suddenly, Sully stopped, "We never made love in a mine shaft."

She framed his face between her hands, "That's true, but I have a suspicion, it's not going to stop us."

"Michaela?" he feigned surprise. "Ya sayin' you'd be willin' t' do that in here?"

"You know perfectly well that I do not wish for us to stop," she pulled his fingers to her lips.

"I gotta confess, ya really amaze me," he teased.

"Oh?" she placed her hand on a most sensitive place on his body.

He gulped, "That feels good."

"I'm glad you like it," she continued to excite him.

He took a deep breath, "God, I love you, Michaela."

"I think I've discovered a favorite thing that surpasses laundry," she lay back on the blanket and pulled him close.

"What's that?" he raised an eyebrow.

"This," she began to tingle at his flesh against hers.

"It is a beautiful thing," he whispered.

"I adore you," she closed her eyes to savor his tender kisses.

"We gonna talk anymore?" he was nearly ready to explode.

"Perhaps not for a while," her voice was low.

"Good," he gently positioned himself.

With each of them ready to accept what their bodies were about to give, they commenced a ritual which became more intense and anticipated by the second. Forgotten was the storm and their location. All that mattered was the satisfaction of their most intimate desires. As they concluded their passion, Sully lay his head against her bosom, and tenderly kissed her.

"My most favorite thing t' do," his voice was raspy.

She stroked his hair, twirling her fingers around the tresses at the base of his neck, "What would I ever do without you?"

"A lot less washin' clothes," he smiled, rising from her side.

As he covered her with a blanket, she was startled, "Where are you going?"

"Goin' t' check on the horses," he pulled on his buckskins. "Be back in a second."

She ran her hand along the warm spot on the blanket where he had just lain. Her heart leapt at what reaction her body and her soul had to this man.

Sully saw that the horses had weathered the storm and were somewhat calmer than he imagined they had been amid the thunder and lightning. Then he heard a rumbling sound. The ground began to shake. Traces of dust sprinkled down from the opening of the mine shaft.

Quickly, he ran toward the entrance, as rocks and boulders began to shower down in front of where he had just been with his wife.

"Michaela!" he cried out.

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

Sully instantly made the decision to lunge forward and dove through the falling rocks at the mine entrance. The noise of the cave-in was deafening. He rolled further into the tunnel, away from the opening and tried to get his bearings.

As the dust began to settle and the earth stilled, he could hear his wife's screams. The dim light of the lanterns he had lit earlier guided his way.

"Michaela!" he saw her cowering along the corner of the shaft.

"Sully!" she squinted to make out his form.

"I'm here," he rushed to her.

Pulling her into his arms, he realized that she was still undressed from their intimacy of several minutes earlier. He wrapped the blanket tightly around her and showered her with kisses. He could feel her shivers begin to ebb as he stroked her long hair and kissed her temple.

"Are ya okay?" he asked tenderly.

"Y... yes," her voice still shook.

She ran her hand lightly along his face, "Sully, you're cut."

"It's nothin'," he did not feel the pain. "Here, let's get dressed."

Reaching for their clothing, they were able to put on their clothes in the dimly lit tunnel.

"Let me look at your cut," she lifted her medical bag.

They knelt down, and she ministered to his abrasions. Then they again embraced, silently fearful of their fate.

"Were you outside when it started?" Michaela leaned against his chest.

"I was.... on my way back in," he replied.

She looked up with doubting eyes, "Sully, you had the chance to save yourself."

"I figured ya might need me," he grinned.

"No," she shook her head. "You could have stayed out and...."

He quieted her with a kiss.

Then he pulled back, "I'm where I wanna be. Where I need t' be."

"But the children....," she thought about them without their parents.

"I'm gonna get us both outa here, Michaela," he vowed.

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

After Brian and Matthew went to sleep, Katie tiptoed into her parents' room. She ran her hand along the empty bed where her Mama and Poppy slept. Then she went to her brother's crib. The baby boy was sound asleep, his arm curved up toward his mouth.

"Joey," Katie whispered.

The baby did not stir. Katie began to lightly rub her hand along his back.

"Poppy not here t' tell us story," she spoke low to her little brother. "So, I tell ya one."

The baby remained unaware of her presence, as the little girl began.

"One pond time," she started. "There was little boy named Joey. His sister Katie taught him words."

Josef's little nose twitched as if something had tickled it. Katie did not hear Brian enter the room.

"One day, sister taught Joey t' say 'Mama,'" Katie continued. Leaning closer to the rungs of his crib, she encouraged, "Mama. Say 'Mama,' Joey."

"Might work better when he's awake, Katie," Brian spoke softly.

"Bran," she turned quickly. "I twyin' t' teach Joey t' say 'Mama'."

"I know," he smiled. Then kneeling down beside her, he scooped her into his arms, "I remember when I first called her Ma."

"Ya do?" she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Brian sat down in the rocking chair, "Yep. An' I remember when she used t' rock me t' sleep in this chair."

"She take care o' ya when your Mama die," Katie recalled her parents' telling the story to her.

"Yes," Brian smiled. "I wasn't much older than you are right now when my Ma died. Dr. Mike took us in and gave us lots o' love. She didn't know anythin' about raisin' children then."

"Ya teach her?" Katie's eyes widened.

"I reckon we did," he chuckled. "Matthew, Colleen an' me sort o' broke her in so she'd be a lot more experienced when you an' Josef came along."

"Ya teach her good," Katie smiled. "She weal good Mama."

"Yep," Brian agreed. "An' I also remember when she an' Sully brought ya home right after ya were born."

"I born by a twee," the little girl also recalled her parents' relating the story of her birth in a meadow.

"You were so tiny," he took her hand. "Sully had ya wrapped in his buckskin jacket. It was almost like your Pa had his arms around ya."

She was amazed. "I little like Joey?"

"You were even smaller than he was," Brian informed her. "But at least he was born inside the house. You'll always be special 'cause you came int' the world close t' Mother Nature."

"Who Mother Nature?" she yawned.

"Just another name for the outdoors an' all the things that live there," Brian stroked her hair.

"Poppy live outdoor long time 'go," she said.

"Yep," he nodded. "'Fore he married Ma. I think it was the happiest day o' their lives when they got married."

"Me, too," she imagined it.

"An' when you an' Josef were born," he rocked her back and forth.

"Yep," her voice trailed off as another yawn came.

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

Sully finished inspecting the rocks and boulders covering the mine entrance.

"I want ya t' stay here while I go deeper int' the mine t' see if I can find anythin' t' help us outa here," he clasped his wife's shoulders.

"No, please Sully," she implored. "I want to go with you."

"I don't know how safe it is," he reasoned. "I'd feel better with you here."

"You'll be careful?" she hugged him.

"I will," he pledged. "An' I won't be gone long. You sit right here."

Reluctantly, she sat down beside the faint light, as Sully took another lamp and headed away from her. She reached for her saddle bag and pulled out some photographs. Her wedding. Katie's christening. Colleen's wedding. The family in Boston when Katie had just turned three. Josef's baptism.

Michaela ran her hand lightly along each picture, straining to see them more clearly in the dimness of the mine. Closing her eyes, she held the photographs against her heart and began to weep.

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

Sully came upon a storage area where supplies were once kept. There was canned food, pick axes, fuel for the lamps. He was uncertain how old the tins of food were or if they were still edible. Then he discovered maps of the mine shafts. Gathering as much as he could, he headed back to his wife.

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

When he returned, he saw Michaela lying on her side, her body trembling from crying.

"Michaela," he rushed to her side. "Are ya okay?"

She sat up quickly and brushed away her tears, "Did you find anything?"

"Just this," he set the items down. "I don't know how old the food is. We still got some food an' water of our own. If we ration it, we can make it last."

"For how long?" her eyes expressed her fear.

"'Til we get out," he knelt down and spread out the map. "Found this, too."

"What is it?" she slid closer.

"A map o' the mine," he began to study it. "Maybe there's another entrance we could make our way to."

"Do you think so?" she hoped.

"Could be," he pulled both lamps close.

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

"No," he shook his head. "You go ahead an' eat."

"Sully," she was concerned. "You haven't eaten since breakfast."

"I'm fine, Michaela," he assured her. "You eat."

She pulled some hard tack and beef jerky from her saddle bag and ate just enough to settle her stomach. Then she took two sips of water.

"Thirsty?" she offered it to her husband.

"No, thanks," he continued to pour over the map.

"Do you see anything?" she placed her hand on his shoulder.

"No," he sighed.

Glancing toward the pick axes, she asked, "Do you think we'll be able to dig our way out?"

"I don't know," he took a deep breath. "I figure we need t' rest before we try. It's gotta be late."

She pulled out her pocket watch, "It's nearly midnight."

Sully rolled up the map, "Let's try t' get some sleep."

She cuddled up in his arms and closed her eyes. She began to pray for their safe return to their family and soon drifted off to sleep.

She woke once, briefly checking on Sully's cut. Then she spooned herself against her sleeping husband and dozed off again.

Sully saw himself in the bowels of the earth. Blackness. Dust filling his lungs. So hungry, he could feel his ribs. No hope. No hope. Twenty-one days in this hell. Twenty-one days without seeing the sun or inhaling fresh air. The anguish. The despair. It was happening again. Another cave-in. God! No! Please! Not again.

"NO! Not again!" he sat up suddenly.

"Sully," Michaela ran her hands along his perspiring face. "Sully, I'm here."

"Michaela!" he held her tight. "I... I.... was...." he was still slightly disoriented.

She pulled a cloth from her medical bag and wiped his face tenderly, "Tell me, Sully. Tell me about your dream."

His breathing began to return to normal, "I... I forget."

"No," she ran her finger along his chin. "You didn't forget. You remembered something."

He closed his eyes, "It was when I was trapped in the mine a long time ago."

"Oh, God," her heart went out to him. "I'm so sorry."

"Please, hold me," he felt the need to be in her loving arms.

"Here," she quickly embraced him and stroked his damp hair. "Sully..."

"I love you, Michaela," his eyes burned from the tears and dust.

"And I love you, my darling," she kissed his hair.

Sully slid down to rest his head in her lap, as she continued to softly rub the side of his face.

"Sleep," she spoke low. "Sleep now."

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

Michaela woke to the sound of her husband's chipping away at the rocks which blocked the entrance to the mine. It seemed that the air in the shaft was thinner than when they went to sleep. Pulling out her watch, she noted the time as 8 a.m.

"Sully?" she called to him.

He stopped his labors and wiped his brow. Out of breath, he came to her and knelt down.

"Ya okay?" he took her hand.

"Yes," she touched his face. "You must be exhausted."

"Not too bad," he removed his shirt.

She reached for her canteen, "Drink some water."

He shook his head, "No, thanks."

"Sully," she insisted. "You must keep up your strength. You don't need to save water for me."

"Just a sip," he acquiesced and sat down.

She removed the lid from the canteen and raised it to his lips. He gulped down a mouthful. A slight amount ran down the side of his mouth and onto his chin. She ran her finger along the excess, then raised it to his lips. Her touch against his stubbled chin felt so warm and tender. His heart melted.

"I promise I'm gonna get us outa here, Michaela," he framed her face between his blistered hands.

She leaned her head against his lips, "The air is thinning."

"I know," he started to get up. "I gotta work faster."

"Let me help," she stood up.

"There's a pick," he pointed. "I'm workin' on this spot here."

Together they took turns striking the rocks and trying to break through the tiniest hole. They lost track of time as they worked, but Michaela began to notice symptoms from the lack of fresh air.

"Sully," she felt faint.

"What?" he was panting.

"We need to rest," she pulled the hair from her face.

"Can't stop," he shook his head and resumed the pounding.

"No, Sully," she tugged at his arm. "We must."

"Michaela," he raised his voice. "We don't have time t' rest. We gotta get out o' here. Stop bein' lazy an' help me now!"

She dropped to her knees and felt overwhelmed with fear. Wrapping her arms around her chest tightly, she began to weep.

"No, Michaela," he sank down and reached out to her. "I'm sorry. I... I didn't mean it."

"I know," her tears were now out of control.

He pulled her against his damp chest and kissed her hair, "Please don't cry. Please. We gotta be strong."

"Sully," she pulled back to hold his face in her hands. "We're slowly suffocating."

"Not yet," he tried to reassure her. "I'll get us out."

"Look at the support beam," she pointed. "Gauging by that, the rocks reach at least ten feet in from the entrance. We'll never dig that far in time."

He knew she was right, "Then we'll think o' somethin' else."

"Our minds are being affected by a lack of air," she assessed. "It will soon distort our perceptions, cloud our judgment...."

"No!" he affirmed. "I'm not gonna let that happen t' us." Taking her hands in his, he looked her straight in the eyes, "We ain't gonna die. Not like this."

Her heart wanted to believe. Then she grabbed her medical bag. She pulled out a bottle of ammonia. Removing the lid, she waved the bottle back and forth under her nostrils. Inhaling the vapors, she coughed.

"Here," she handed it to him. "It will revive us for a little while."

He did as she said.

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

"Matthew," Brian looked at the clock. "It's goin' on supper time. Shouldn't Ma an' Sully be home by now?"

"I didn't wanna say anythin'," Matthew kept his voice low. "But yea. I'm gonna ride int' town an' try t' contact their hotel in Manitou."

"Maybe there's a problem with the road after that storm yesterday," Brian suggested.

"That's possible," Matthew put on his hat. "I'll be back soon as I can."

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

Sully and Michaela were exhausted from their digging and scooping of rocks from the entrance of the mine. Sitting next to one another, she held his hands and applied some salve, then wrapped them with bandages.

Michaela picked up her canteen and removed the lid. When she raised it to her lips, it was empty. She tried to hide the fact from Sully, but he noticed.

"Here," he reached for his. "Drink this."

"No," she held up her hand. "I... I can last a while longer."

He turned over her hands and saw the blisters, "Let me put some o' that stuff on you."

Gently, he applied the soothing salve and wrapped her hands as she had his.

"You're a good student," she attempted some humor.

Sully leaned back. Folding his arm behind his head, he sighed. Michaela looked down on him and ran her hand along his chest.

"What time is it?" he turned to look at her.

She pulled out her watch, "It's nearly eight o'clock."

"Mornin' or night?" he had lost track.

"Night," she answered.

"So we've been in here over twenty-four hours," he said.

"How much longer do you think we can..." she stopped.

He pulled her hand against his chest, "We got a strong will t' live."

She touched the silver bracelet that she had given him in Denver last month.

"Nice an' snug," he smiled. "It's got a strong hold on me, just like you."

She positioned herself along side him, "I think we should do something tonight."

"What?" he wondered.

"Write letters to the children," she answered. "While we still have our wits about us."

"Michaela...." he stopped when he saw the expression on her face. "Do ya have paper?"

She pulled it from her saddle bag, and gave him a sheet. Silently, each began to compose a letter to their children.

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

Matthew returned to the homestead after dark.

Rushing into the living room, he called, "Brian!"

"Shhh," he came down he steps. "I just got the kids t' sleep."

"Miss Grace'll be here shortly t' stay with them," Matthew began to load supplies into his saddlebags.

"What's wrong?" Brian's heart skipped a beat.

"Ma an' Sully checked outa their hotel yesterday mornin'," Matthew spoke nervously. "They shoulda been home long before now."

"We gonna go look for 'em?" Brian reasoned.

"Yep," Matthew nodded. "Jake, Hank, Horace, an' Robert E are comin', too."

"Good," Brian ran upstairs to prepare.

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

Michaela glanced over Sully's shoulder as he signed his letter, "May I read it?"

"If ya want," he never felt comfortable about his composition skills.

She read aloud:

"Dear Kids:

If you're reading this, it means I didn't make it out of here. I know you will take care of each other and love one another. Robert E an' Miss Grace will watch over you. Matthew, don't give up on your law books. There's a lot you can do to help make the world a better place. Colleen, you're going to pick up where your Ma left off helping and healing folks. Brian, keep on writing and letting people know the truth, even if they don't want to hear it.

Katie, my sweet girl, you hold my heart in your little hands. You have a lot of talent for music and art, but whatever you choose to do, know that I'll be proud of you. Look after your little brother. Josef, you're so young, but I wouldn't trade our short time together for anything. Your happy heart and smile filled my life with such happiness. You both came to us because of love. Always share that love with each other and with others.

No man could have asked for a better family. I love you with all my heart. Sully."

Michaela wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"Could I read yours?" he requested.

She handed it to him, and he read out loud:

"Dear Children:

I hardly know where to begin this letter. First I want to say what I hope you already know and that is how very dear you have been to me. Love does not seem a strong enough word. It's such a small word for such a powerful emotion, but I do love you so much.

Matthew, Colleen, and Brian, I shall never forget the first day you showed up at the old homestead. Little by little, you opened your heart to me, and I have treasured your love and loyalty. You taught me what a mother's love means. I know that you will look after one another and our little ones. I am proud of who you have become--caring, considerate and compassionate young people. Charlotte would be proud, as well.

Katherine Elizabeth Sully, my little girl, my princess, my sweetheart. Robert E and Grace, along with your older brothers and sister, will help you in the years ahead. Listen to them, and always remember that I loved you, from the moment I first held you in my arms to the end of my days.

Josef Michael Sully, my little boy, my happy little boy with your big blue eyes and your sweet smile, I'll always be with you and your sister. Whenever you feel lost or discouraged, turn to one another. I'll be there. Never forget where you came from and the adoring parents whose love brought you into this world.

Your father and I have known the greatest love imaginable, and it will live on through your hearts. Your Mother, Michaela."

Sully choked back his emotions as he concluded her note. Michaela took them and neatly printed the names and address of the children on the letters. Then she placed them in her saddle bags.

"I feel better now," she said.

"Me, too," he agreed.

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

Sully drifted off to sleep after they composed farewell messages for their children. Were it not for her pocket watch, they would have lost all concept of time. Michaela rested her head against her husband's shoulder, but could not sleep. She rolled over onto her stomach and ran her hand across the hair on his chest. He stirred slightly but did not wake up.

She raised up high enough to kiss his chest. Why was she doing this now, she wondered. He needed to rest, as did she. Why was she suddenly sexually drawn to him? She could neither explain it, nor stop herself.

"Michaela?" he woke up and lifted her chin with his finger.

"I'm sorry," she felt tears welling in her eyes.

He took her shoulders in his hands and tenderly pulled her closer, "Don't be sorry."

"I shouldn't have wakened you," she regretted her lustful feelings.

"Hey," he grinned. "When did I ever refuse ya?"

"Well," she smiled. "After your fall, when you injured your...."

"Other than that," he interrupted.

"You have never refused me anything, Sully," she felt another tear. "I appreciate all that you have done for me."

"I ain't through doin' for ya," he played with a strand of her hair.

"I must look a mess," she dreaded.

He rubbed his hand across his face, "Well, I ain't exactly presentable, but you... You'll always be the most beautiful woman in the world."

"I've never tired of hearing you say that, Mr. Sully," she touched his chin.

"I've never tired of sayin' it, Dr. Quinn," he winked.

"Mrs. Sully," she caressed his cheek. "In your arms, I'm always Mrs. Sully."

"Mrs. Sully," he spoke it in a raspy voice. "I love you."

"And I love you," she hesitated. "Sully, would you mind if...."

"If what?" he whispered.

"If we made love right now?" she was overwhelmed with her need for him.

"Mind?" he rubbed her back. "Never."

"I... I can't explain why I need to...." she fumbled for the words.

"Shhh," he placed his index finger to her lips. "No need t' explain anythin'."

"But," her voice trembled. "This could be our last...."

"If it is," he interrupted, "then we'll make it the most special."

"How could you even remotely find me attractive when I look like this?" her heart was in turmoil.

"Remotely?" he chuckled. "Sometimes it takes all the willpower I have t' not make love t' ya every minute o' the day."

"Really?" she was shocked.

"Really," he kissed the sides of her mouth. He wanted to lighten their mood, "Anythin' new you'd like t' try?"

"New?" Michaela said.

"Ya know," he teased. "Somethin' we never tried before."

"There are things we didn't try?" her eyes widened.

"Well...." he continued to joke.

"Sully," she wanted to please him. "Is there something you wanted me to do differently?"

"Not one thing," he could not tease her another second. "You're my perfect mate."

"Then why did you mention...." feelings of insecurity were taking over.

"T' tease you," he grinned. "I shouldn't have said anythin'. Truth is, every time we've made love has been beautiful an' perfect."

"And..." she searched for the right word. "Have you been... well.... you know.... satisfied?"

"Ya mean ya can't tell?" his eyes gleamed. "Michaela, that's not somethin' a man can hide."

"Well, I know there are specific reactions that...." she felt her cheeks heat up and knew she must be blushing.

"How 'bout you?" he ran his finger along her lips. "Have you been... satisfied?"

"My goodness," she gulped.

"Did I embarrass ya?" he spoke low.

He waited patiently.

She resorted to her medical background, "As a doctor, I am aware that certain biological reactions occur in the female body which indicate fulfillment of...."

Sully again placed his finger against her lips, "What about as a woman? Have ya been satisfied as a woman?"

"As a woman?" she did not know why she felt so shy.

"Yep," he enjoyed when she divulged her innermost feelings.

"I.... I don't know what to say," she was speechless.

Sully began to wonder if indeed his wife felt the way he had about their intimacy through the years, "Just the truth."

"The truth," she felt even warmer. "At first... I didn't know if what I felt was what I was supposed to feel. Mother had not adequately prepared me for...."

"You were disappointed?" he could not turn back now.

"No! No, never," she shook her head. "The effect that you had on me in those early days made me feel so... so full of love, I didn't know if it could last."

He stopped holding his breath, "So ya were satisfied?"

"Satisfaction is not the word I would use," she said.

"Ya wouldn't?" he did not know where she was going with this.

She expanded, "No, I think I would say that I felt... alive. Alive for the first time in my life. It was as if a new world burst into my life, and every time we have made love since our first time has only heightened that feeling. Dizzyingly so. Electrifyingly so. To the point that I came to realize you are the part that makes me whole."

"Whew," he smiled. "That's a relief."

"Sully," so many thoughts swirled through her head. "If we don't make it out...."

"No, Michaela," he could not bear to hear the words.

"Please, let me tell you," she implored.

"All right," he rubbed her arm.

"We shall go to sleep," she said. "Without air, we shall simply go to sleep."

"I know," his voice choked.

"But in the interim," she continued. "Our perceptions of reality may change. Our thinking will become impaired. So, while I still have my senses, I want to tell you what you have meant to me."

He sighed, "God, Michaela, I don't know if...."

"You are my breath, my soul," her eyes watered. "So little time we have had, but so much life in that span."

He touched each tear that trickled down her cheeks, "You saved my life, Michaela. Not just when I fell or was injured. You saved my life by givin' me a reason t' live."

"You showed me that there was more to life than a career," she rested her palm on his heart. "And you gave me the most beautiful children imaginable."

"We'll still be alive in them," Sully swallowed hard.

"And I know that we shall be together after we leave these mortal remains," she caressed his temple.

"We'll be with the baby we lost," he cupped the back of her head in his hand.

"I don't know why it has to end this way," her voice shook. "But I'm not frightened with you beside me. Thank you for allowing me to be your wife."

He raised her left hand to his lips and kissed her rings, "Thank you for sayin' you'd have me."

His gaze mesmerizing her, and Michaela's pulse began to quicken. He was doing it again, as he always had for five years. He was awakening that part of her that was tantalizing beyond imagination. As he softly stirred her soul, she held no inhibitions about expressing her joy.

He loosened her clothing and with feather light touches plied kisses across her body. She moaned in delight. Her reaction aroused him even further. She began to reciprocate the moves on him. The touches, the kisses, the anticipation she was creating led him to release sounds of enjoyment.

Each wanted the joining of their bodies to commence, but held back, heightening the excitement. Finally, when neither one could contain their desire, they came together. Throughout the tunnel echoed their cries of satisfaction and fulfillment. Over and over, the feeling intensified, feeding on the sound and the feel of one another. Eventually, it became physically impossible for him to sustain their link. He pulled a blanket over her and wrapped her in his arms.

She spooned her back against his chest. Then Sully felt his arm grow damp from the tears streaming down her cheek. He wanted more than anything to console her. Stroking her hair, he softly uttered in her ear:

"Love is indestructible,
It's holy flame forever burneth;
From heaven it came, to heaven it returneth."

She looked over her shoulder, "Was that Byron?"

"No," he pulled back her hair from her face. "Robert Southey."

Michaela turned in his arms to face him.

Her eyes reddened by tears, she expressed her fear, "I'm not afraid to die, Sully, but... I don't want to leave our children."

"I know," his heart was heavy. "I know."

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

Sully looked at his sleeping wife and lifted her watch. Seven o'clock. Morning or night? He couldn't tell. Morning, he thought. Did it really matter now?

They had kept one of the lanterns burning at all times, but the flame was not as large as it should be. The air was thinner yet. Their water was gone. Their food was gone except for the tins of unknown safety. He struggled to clear his mind. Michaela was right. It was becoming harder to think clearly. But he had to. He had to concentrate. There must be a way.

Sully reached for the maps of the mine shafts and unrolled them. He forced himself to concentrate on them.

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

Michaela was in a field. The sun was so bright, it was nearly blinding. On the horizon, she could make out Sully walking toward her. He was dressed in white. Then she looked at what she was wearing. White, as well. As Sully neared, she saw that he carried something in his arms. And his smile filled her heart. What was in his arms? She struggled to see more clearly. Then she made it out. It was a baby. The baby they had lost. He tenderly handed the infant to her and enfolded her in his arms.

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

It was dawn by the time the search party got started for Manitou. They brought the wagon in case either Michaela or Sully could not travel. For the buckboard, the road was nearly impassible from the mud, but they dared not stray from it, or they could miss a clue.

Several miles into the journey, Hank stopped the group to rest, "If they started for home early, they might've been hit by the storm."

"So they'd look for shelter," Jake figured.

"Maybe we oughta split up," Robert E suggested. "Two of us follow the road an' the rest search away from the highway."

"That's a good idea," Matthew nodded. "Jake, you an' Horace stay on the highway. Robert E, Brian, head toward Manitou on the left side o' the road, say about fifty yards away. Hank, you an' me can take the right side."

"We oughta be close enough t' each other t' holler out if we see somethin'," Hank nodded. "We'll all converge again when it nears dark."

"That mean we meet up again?" Horace asked.

"Yea, Horace," Jake rolled his eyes. "Come on. Let's get goin'."

They split up and continued their journey.

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

"Time," Sully's eyes were losing focus. "Runnin' outa time. There's gotta be somethin' in these maps."

Then he saw something. A side shaft marked "Exp." That could stand for explosives. He closed his eyes and rubbed them, just in case he was imagining it. When he looked again, it still read the same.

"If there's still explosives there, I might be able t' blast us out," he felt a glimmer of hope. Then he pondered, "Should I wake Michaela? I don't wanna get her hopes up. I gotta leave her t' go look for the dynamite. But if she wakes up an' I'm not here, she'll...."

"Sully?" her eyes opened. "Are you speaking?"

"Just t' myself," he ran his fingers through his hair.

"I had a dream about us," she sat up. "We were with the baby we lost."

He rubbed her arm gently, "He'll always be with us."

"We were all in white and holding him," she described her dream.

"Michaela," he decided to tell her. "I think I may have found somethin'."

"What?" she was curious. "A way out?"

"Not exactly," he pointed to the map.

"I think I found where they kept the dynamite," he rose. "I'm gonna go look."

"I'll come with you," she stood up.

Ordinarily, he would oppose such a move, but under the circumstances, he did not wish to be parted from her.

"Let's go then," he lifted the lamp.

Suddenly he stopped.

"What's wrong?" Michaela asked.

He set down the lamp and map.

Pulling her into his arms, he spoke low, "I love you, Michaela."

She rested her head against his chest, "I love you, too."

"I... I don't know what lies ahead in there," he fought his emotions.

"We'll face it together," she became his strength.

He leaned down for a lingering kiss. Then he bent down and picked up the lamp and map. Michaela followed close behind him as he headed into the unknown.

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

The temperature was much colder as they made their way through the passage. Michaela stumbled and found her legs barely able to carry herself, but she forged on, unwilling to be a hindrance to her husband.

Sully stopped, "Here. The shaft branches off here toward what might be the explosives."

As they made the turn, the lamp suddenly went out. In total darkness, they now stood.

"Sully!" she reached out.

He let her voice be his guide and embraced her.

"What do we do now?" she asked.

"I need ya t' stay right here," he commanded. "This is where we turn t' go back toward the openin' of the mine. I'll go int' this shaft t' get the dynamite. The sound o' your voice will guide me back when I find it."

"All right," she was frightened.

Sully left her side and inched into the blackness of the passage, "Keep talkin' t' me."

"What about?" she asked.

"Michaela," he continued on. "I never knew ya t' be short on words. Anythin'. Talk about anythin'."

"How about the Boston Hymn by Emerson?" she thought.

"Fine," he called.

She kept her voice steady and concentrated with all her might:

"The word of the Lord by night
To the watching Pilgrims came,
As they sat by the seaside,
And filled their hearts with flame...."

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

"Miss Gwace," Katie called from across the living room. "What ya doin'?"

"Fixin' ya somethin' t' eat, child," Grace responded.

"I help?" the little girl offered.

"Sure ya can," she leaned over to look at the sleeping Josef in his bassinet.

"What I do?" Katie asked.

"Just break these beans an' put 'em in the bowl," Grace helped Katie stand up on a chair.

"Okay," the child smiled. "I ask ya somethin'?"

"Yes," Grace sat down to watch her.

"Why ya colored?" Katie inquired.

"Ya mean why's my skin dark?" Grace smiled.

"Uh-huh," Katie continued her work.

"Far, far away, there's a place called Africa," Grace explained. "Millions o' dark folks live there. That's where my family came from."

"D' ya miss Afwica?" Katie was curious.

"Do you miss Boston?" Grace turned it around.

"Boston?" Katie said. "Mama's from Boston. Gwanma an' Aunt 'Becca live there."

"But do ya miss Boston?" Grace repeated.

"No," Katie shook her head. "I live here."

"Same with me," Grace responded. "I don't miss Africa 'cause I live here."

"I glad ya live here," Katie leaned over and hugged her godmother.

"Me, too," she embraced the little girl. "You 'bout done with them beans?"

"Nope," Katie took her time. "Miss Gwace, you a slave?"

"Where'd you learn about that, child?" she was surprised.

"Mattew told me 'bout Cereal War," Katie announced.

"Civil War," Grace corrected her. "What did he tell ya 'bout the Civil War?"

"Not much," Katie shrugged. "I don't know what is war."

"War is men killin' each other for...." her voice trailed off.

"What?" Katie encouraged her.

"For reasons they think are important, I guess," Grace wiped her hands on her apron.

"Ya know men in war?" the little girl sat down.

"Yes," Grace pulled her into her lap.

"They get killed?" Katie wondered.

"Some did; some didn't," the godmother answered.

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

Michaela continued to recite:

"Call the people together,
The young men and the sires,
The digger in the harvest field,
Hireling, and him that hires."

She paused, "Sully?"

Her voice echoed through the chamber. Quite faintly, she thought she discerned his voice, so she continued:

"And here in a pine statehouse
They shall choose men to rule...."

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

Sully could no longer hear his wife, but he knew she was still reciting. He was able to make his way, cursing himself for leaving the matches behind with their belongings. His hands ached. His mind was losing focus, but he mustered the will to go on. Then he reached something. Extending his hands, he felt the crates. This had to be it.

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

Grace led a prayer of thanksgiving for the meal, as Katie bowed her head and folded her little hands.

When Grace concluded the prayer, Katie requested, "Miss Gwace, could ya pway for Mama an' Poppy, too?"

"Sure," Grace added. "Any reason?"

"I scared for 'em," the little girl responded.

"Why, Katie?" Grace patted her hand. "They're fine. Just fine."

"I think Bran an' Mattew not here 'cause they scared, too," the perceptive little girl stated.

"Don't you be scared," Grace lifted Josef to feed him. "They'll come home t' ya real soon."

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

Michaela concluded:

"My will fulfilled shall be
For, in daylight or in dark,
My thunderbolt has eyes to see
His way home to the mark."

She was startled by Sully's lips on hers.

"Found my way home to the mark," he joked.

"Sully!" she could tell he was carrying a crate. "You found it?"

"I found somethin'," he agreed. "I couldn't read t' see what it is, but I opened up the box, an' they sure feel like dynamite sticks."

"Now we have to find our way back," she said.

"I counted how many paces it took us to get here," he informed her.

"You did?" she smiled. "That was very clever of you."

"Not really," he responded. "I had to t' follow the map. Come on. Let's go."

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

"I think it's just a few more paces," Sully guided his wife.

He struggled to carry the crate, and several times along the way, he nearly dropped it.

"Stop here," Sully directed her. "I'm gonna set down the box an' go on alone t' be sure it's the right place.

"All right," Michaela handed him their unlit lamp. "Take this."

Sully stepped gingerly, then got down on his hands and knees. He felt something. It was... Yes, it was his jacket. He reached inside the pocket and found the matches. Striking one, he was quickly able to light the lamp.

Michaela saw the faint glimmer in the distance grow brighter as he approached. When Sully reached her, he crouched down to illuminate the crate.

"It's dynamite!" Michaela exclaimed.

"Carry the lamp," Sully requested.

As she led the way back to their base, he transported the box. Finally, physically and emotionally spent from the trek, they found their way back to the blocked mine entrance.

"Now what?" she collapsed on the blanket.

"Now, I gotta determine the best place t' put sticks an' how many t' use," he walked to the rocks.

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

"It's gonna be dark soon," Horace stated the obvious. "I reckon we best stop an' make camp."

"You leadin' this expedition?" Jake turned to him.

"No," Horace shook his head. "But...."

Matthew pulled up with Hank, "I reckon we best stop an' make camp."

"Good idea," Jake agreed.

"But I just said that," Horace was offended.

"It wasn't a good idea then," Jake halted the wagon.

Robert E and Brian soon joined them. Brian's worried expression caught his brother's attention.

"They'll be all right, little brother," Matthew patted his back. "Sully knows how t' take care of them."

"I know," Brian swallowed hard.

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

Sully slowly and methodically worked until he felt dizzy. He had to concentrate. One miscue could mean their death in the explosion.

"Here," Michaela touched his shoulder.

She handed him the bottle of spirits of ammonia. Sully inhaled the vapors, then coughed.

"You can do it," she sensed his hesitation.

"This is either gonna get us outa here or blow us t' kingdom come," he took another whiff of the ammonia.

"Then we'll go there together," she kissed his cheek.

"I ain't sure about the placement," he expressed his concern. "I don't know if my mind's thinkin' right."

"Just do your best, Sully," she rubbed his arms.

With his wife's encouragement, he continued to insert the sticks of dynamite into the rocks. Then he attached the fuses and made them long enough to allow them to be out of the way of the explosion.

"Michaela," he requested. "I need ya t' help me carry as many rocks as we can over there t' build up an area we can hide behind."

As swiftly as they could, they labored to create a protective wall. Exhausted beyond measure, they finally built up a sufficient number of rocks. They stopped to catch their breath.

"When are you going to light the fuses?" she wiped her brow.

"Soon," he replied. "We gotta get our stuff behind the barrier here."

Finally, they positioned themselves behind the barricade of rocks and tried to prepare themselves for what was to come.

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

Grace attempted to calm the crying baby. She rocked him back and forth, but Josef would not stop wailing.

Katie rose from her parents' bed and walked to them. She handed Josef the ragged stuffed bunny, but that did not settle him. She rubbed his back and hummed a sweet melody, but still the little one cried.

"I got idea, Miss Grace," Katie raised her finger.

The little girl went to the cupboard and pulled out one of their father's buckskin jackets. She struggled with the weight of it.

"Katie," Grace rose from the chair with the baby. "What are ya doin'?"

"Gotta put Poppy's coat on bed," Katie asked.

Grace reluctantly assisted her. Then the little girl climbed up. She spread out the jacket on the bed.

"Put Joey here, Miss Gwace," the child pointed to the open jacket.

Grace shrugged and did as Katie instructed. When she lay Josef on his father's jacket, Katie wrapped it around him. Instantly, the baby ceased his tears.

As his hiccups subsided, Josef began to smile, "Pa."

Grace's eyes lit up, "Well, I'll be."

"He okay now," Katie lay down beside her little brother.

Allowing the baby to play with her hair, Katie kissed his cheek and began practicing what she hoped would be his next word, "Ma."

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

"Sully," Michaela snuggled next to him.

"I know," he reached for the lantern. "This is it."

"I love you," she ran her finger along his lips.

"I love you, too, Michaela," he held her firmly and kissed her.

They kissed as if it would be their last, then he pulled back.

"Stay low," he lifted the fuses.

Sully lit them, then pulled his wife into his arms to wait.

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

An explosion startled the search party.

"What the hell...." Hank jumped up.

"Came from over there," Robert E pointed.

"Let's go!" Matthew rose from the fire.

"We best take some lanterns," Hank lit several.

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

Michaela could smell the fresh air rushing into the shaft amid the falling debris and dust.

"Sully!" she struggled to see his face. "It worked! We can get out."

There was no response. She felt his face. It was wet and sticky. Blood she thought. She felt for a pulse.

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

"It's a mine entrance!" Brian called.

"Look!" Matthew pointed. "Their horses!"

They rushed to the entrance of the mine.

"Anybody in there?" Hank called. "Sully? Michaela?"

From inside came a faint voice, "In here! Please help us!"

Hank was the first in, "Michaela, where are ya?"

"Over here," she beckoned. "Sully's hurt. We need to get him out."

"Ma!" Brian rushed to her and knelt down.

"I'm all right," she kissed him.

Then she saw her other son and friends, "It's so good to see you all."

Robert E held a lantern next to Sully's head as Michaela cradled it in her lap.

"He's alive," she told them. "I need to treat his injury."

"We brought the buckboard," Matthew said. "We can get him back t' the Clinic."

"Good," she tenderly held her husband's head as they carried him out.

"I'll take care o' the horses an' your belongin's," Hank stated. "Get goin'."

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

The townsfolk gathered outside the Clinic, while inside, Michaela assessed her husband's injuries. Concussion. He remained unconscious. The trauma to his head was alarming to her. If he woke... WHEN he woke, there might be paralysis, blindness, or who knows what? But was she thinking clearly? Exhausted herself, Michaela cleaned his wound and fought back the tears.

There was a light knock at the door.

"Come in," she wiped her face.

"I brought ya some fresh clothes from home," it was Brian. "Miss Grace is gonna bring the kids int' town shortly."

"Thank you, Brian," she sat down.

"Can I do anythin'?" he felt helpless.

"We need to get Sully upstairs to a recovery room," she pulled her hair back from her face. "Then I'm going to clean him up."

"I'll get some men t' help carry him," he went to the door.

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

Michaela was alone with her husband in the recovery room. She lathered a damp cloth and began to wipe the grime from his body. His perfect body, she thought, as her hands lovingly tended to him. Brian and Matthew had offered to assist her, but she wanted to be alone with him. As long as he was unconscious, she could imagine that he was only sleeping. Not that he was hurt or in pain.

It was a struggle, but she finally had him washed and into a long night shirt. Then she reached for his razor. She lathered his face and tenderly ran the blade along his cheeks, mouth, chin and neck. A smile crossed her face as she recalled the first time he had let her shave him on their trip to Yosemite to meet John Muir.

Next, Michaela cleaned herself, then put on the clothes that Brian had brought. Pulling out her stethoscope, she checked Sully again. No change. With a sigh, she sat on the edge of the bed, holding his hand. Then she lay down next to him, closed her eyes and prayed.

"Mama?" Katie called softly from the doorway.

"Katie!" Michaela leapt up. She scooped her little girl into her arms, "Katie, my darling."

Katie hugged her tight, then noticed her father, "Poppy sleepin'?"

"Yes, Sweetheart," she lavished her daughter with kisses. "He's very tired. Why don't you go sit beside him and hold his hand?"

She set the little girl down just as Grace arrived with Josef, "Dr. Mike."

The baby's face beamed when he saw his mother.

"Josef," she cradled the little boy in her arms.

She lifted him above her head, and he curled his legs and giggled.

"How can I ever thank you?" Michaela turned to her friend.

"No need," Grace felt tears. "How's Sully doin'?"

"Still unconscious," she rested the soft hair of her son against her cheek.

"I'll leave ya now," Grace turned. "If ya need anythin', just holler."

"Thank you, Grace," Michaela carried her son to the bed.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, she looked at Katie, "Are you talking to your father?"

"No," Katie's little brow was wrinkled. "Poppy hurt head."

"Yes," Michaela spoke softly. "He's sleeping right now so that his head can heal. But... if you speak to him, I believe he can still hear you."

"He can?" the little girl's eyes brightened.

"Yes," Michaela set down Josef beside his father.

Katie spoke, "Poppy, it's me, Katie. I hope ya can hear me. I think ya gotta get better."

Michaela supported Josef's back as the baby curved his little fingers around his father's thumb.

"Pa!" the baby called. "Pa!"

Then he began to babble something indistinguishable.

"Poppy gonna wake up?" Katie feared.

"I believe so," Michaela tried to be strong. "Perhaps if we say a little prayer for him, it would help."

Katie lowered her eyes and clasped her hands together, uttering the only prayer she knew, "Now I lay me down t' sleep. I pway the Lord, my soul t' keep. If I should die 'fore I wake, I pway the Lord my soul t' take." Then she looked up, "That okay, Mama?"

"Perfect, Sweetheart," Michaela touched her husband's arm. "He heard you."

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

"Ma?" Brian quietly crept into the recovery room.

She glanced toward him, "Yes, Brian?"

"Ya okay?" he came over and sat in a chair next to her.

"I'm fine," she sat up, careful not to disturb Katie and Josef, who were tucked into bed between Sully and her.

"No change?" he nodded toward Sully.

She took a deep breath, "I'm afraid not."

"Is it okay that he's been unconscious so long?" the young man fretted.

"We got very little sleep in the mine," she shivered slightly.

"Hank brought your things," he informed her. "They're downstairs."

"Thank him for me," she glanced in the direction of the children.

"Want me an' Matthew t' take the kids home?" he offered.

"No, thank you," she shook her head. "I think it's good for Sully to have all of us here."

"I guess so," he stood up and walked to Sully's side of the bed.

Brian knelt down and touched his father's sleeve. Michaela saw a tear trickle down the young man's face.

"The Reverend's havin' a prayer vigil for him," Brian looked up.

"Speak to Sully, Brian," she urged. "I believe he can hear you."

The young man hesitated, then took a deep breath, "Pa, we need ya t' come back t' us. Remember how ya talked t' me when I was shot with that arrow? I could hear ya. It gave me the will t' live. I love you."

Brian rested his forehead against Sully's arm. Tears streamed down Michaela's cheeks.

Then her son stood up, "Mind if I bring Matthew up?"

"No," she smiled. "Please ask him to join us."

All through the night, the family stayed with Sully, holding his hand, telling them they loved him, willing him to live.

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

As morning light filtered through the windows of the recovery room, Sully opened his eyes and tried to focus. Before moving, his senses told him his family was with him. Was it a dream, or was he still in the mine?

He could smell the sweet scent of his children. Slowly, he turned his head, and there was Katie, tucked against him. And Josef with his little body curled up next to Michaela. He rotated his head and looked to the other side. In chairs next to the bed were Matthew and Brian, all still asleep.

He determined they were at the Clinic. His head throbbed. Raising his hand, he felt a bandage. His throat was dry. He attempted to shift onto his side.

"Michaela," his voice was weak.

"Mmmm?" she stirred and struggled to open her eyes.

"Michaela," he spoke again.

"Sully," she sat up. "Sully, you're awake!"

Matthew and Brian awoke.

"Pa!" Brian was elated.

"How ya feel, Sully?" Matthew smiled.

"Couldn't be better," his body ached.

"Let me look at you," Michaela came around to his side of the bed.

In her physician's mode, she tested his reflexes, checked his eyes and his hearing. Then the wife in her took over.

Leaning over to kiss him, she whispered, "Welcome back."

"How long was I out?" he squinted against the brightening room.

"About twelve hours," Michaela answered.

"Where'd these two come from?" Sully extended his arm around his sleeping children.

"They've been with you all night," she smiled. "Now, I want you to try to move your legs."

She pulled back the sheet, exposing Sully's legs.

"Michaela!" he modestly reached to cover them again.

"I'd say his reflexes are just fine," Matthew grinned. "How 'bout Brian an' me go over t' Miss Grace's t' get some breakfast for everyone."

"Thank you, Matthew," Michaela responded.

"Come on, little brother," Matthew tapped Brian's shoulder.

After they departed, Michaela turned up the corner of her mouth, "Now, may I check your legs?"

"I reckon so," he reluctantly agreed.

She poked and prodded, then asked, "Can you move your legs?"

"'Course I can," he raised and lowered them, then wiggled his toes.

"Good," she began to massage his legs. "How about your arms? Can you move them?"

He extended them and clasped her shoulders. Pulling her toward him, he guided her to sit on the bed next to him.

"This okay?" he said.

"Perfect," she leaned forward and kissed him. "Your lips seem to be in good working order, as well."

"How 'bout you?" he caressed her cheek. "Were you hurt?"

"I'm fine," she replied. "You shielded me with your body."

"Nah," he disagreed. "I was just clumsy. Fell over you."

"Your wife knows better," she ran her fingers through his hair. "We made it, Sully. You brought us back to our family. Thank you."

"We got a lot t' live for," he glanced down at the sleeping babies in his bed.

"I love you," Michaela whispered.

"I love you, too," he kissed her.

"Poppy!" Katie bolted up. "Poppy! Ya wake up!"

Sully lifted her up and sat her on his chest, "Yep. I'm awake."

"I was scared," she confessed.

"Everythin's okay now, sweet girl," he touched her hair. "I just needed t' rest."

Josef rolled onto his back, then attempted to sit up.

He looked up with sleepy eyes and saw his father, "Pa."

"How's my big boy?" Sully scooted him closer.

"Pa," Josef broadened his grin and tapped his father's side playfully.

Michaela walked to the other side of the bed and sat beside the little boy, "Katie, perhaps it would be best if you did not sit on your father while he's recuperating."

"It's okay," Sully felt no discomfort.

Michaela lifted Josef, and kissed his cheek.

Then without warning, the baby uttered, "Ma."

"What?" Michaela turned him around to face her.

"Ma," he repeated.

"Michaela!" Sully was overjoyed. "He said it!"

"Yep," Katie smiled knowingly.

"Did you have something to do with this, young lady?" Michaela eyed her daughter.

"We pwactice while ya gone," Katie informed them.

"Thank you, Sweetheart," Michaela leaned over to kiss her little girl.

"It's gonna be impossible havin' 'em both talk now, Michaela," Sully joked.

"I don't think I'll mind," she hugged the baby.

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

Grace helped Matthew and Brian bring breakfast to the Clinic. As the family dug into the meal, Grace stepped back and clapped her hands.

"Ya should've seen your Katie with little Josef," Grace laughed. "When he started cryin', she wrapped him in one o' Sully's jackets, and the baby stopped."

"What?" Michaela was incredulous.

"I think I know why she did that," Brian spoke up. "I told her about how when ya brought her home as an infant, she was wrapped in his buckskin coat, like her Pa's arms were around her."

"Is that why you did that, Sweetheart?" Michaela broke a buttermilk biscuit for the little girl.

"Yep," Katie nodded. "Poppy had arms awound Joey."

"Good thinkin', Kates," Sully's heart swelled with pride.

A knock at the door interrupted their discussion. It was Hank.

"Well, ain't this a pretty picture," he folded his arms.

"Thank you for helping to find us, Hank," Michaela looked up.

"Ah, that's okay," he waved his hand. "Too quiet in town when you two ain't around. I brung this over."

In his hand were two folded pieces of paper.

"They fell outa your saddle bags when I took 'em off the horse," he handed them to Michaela.

They were the farewell letters Sully and she had written to their children.

"Thank you," she looked at her husband.

"Appreciate it, Hank," Sully extended his hand.

Hank stepped forward and shook it, "Well, I best be gettin' back t' the Gold Nugget. The hired help just don't water down my whiskey as much as I like it."

"What's whiskey?" Katie glanced at the tall bartender.

"Never mind," Michaela cast a disapproving glance.

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

By week's end, Sully was feeling his old self, though his sons helped with the heavier chores around the homestead. Michaela found herself busier than usual at the Clinic, and soon they fell back into life's routine.

Sully and the boys arrived at the Clinic early one afternoon.

"To what do I owe this honor?" she smiled.

"Poppy, Mattew, Bran, lookie what I draw!" Katie called from the anteroom.

"Be with ya in a minute, Kates," he looked at his sons.

"We'll go see what Katie drew," Matthew grinned and nudged his younger brother into the children's room.

"Are you plotting something?" Michaela was suspicious.

"Me?" Sully grinned. "Just think ya been workin' too hard."

"I have been rather busy," she regretted. "But I'm free now."

"Good," he raised an eyebrow. "The boys are gonna take the children home."

"And what about us?" she removed her apron. "Aren't we going home?"

"Eventually," he was vague.

They bid their farewells, then Sully led her out to their horses.

"May I ask where we're going?" she mounted Flash.

"Sure," he replied simply.

"Well?" she waited. "Where are we going?"

"I didn't say I'd tell ya," he grinned. "Just follow me."

He took off at a gallop, and she followed close behind.

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

About a mile from town, they reached a meadow where he reined in his horse to stop. Dismounting, he began to pick wild flowers. Getting down off of Flash, Michaela spread a rolled up blanket on the grass. When he had gathered a handful of the colorful flowers, he approached and extended the bouquet to her.

"Thank you," she inhaled their scent. "What's the occasion?"

"Just wanted t' spend a little time with ya," he removed his jacket and plopped beside her. "Tell ya how much I love ya. Bein' out here like this with ya makes me glad t' be alive."

"I feel that way, too," she set the flowers down. "You seem rather pensive."

He pulled something from his pocket, "Brought these along."

She quickly identified them as the letters they had written to the children when they were uncertain if they would make it out of the mine alive.

"Why?" she wondered.

"I wasn't sure what t' do with 'em," he lay back to gaze at the cloudless sky.

She leaned back and rested her head on his shoulder, "Should we destroy them?"

"Ya really want to?" he ran his hand along her arm.

"What do you think we should do with them?" she rolled onto her side to face him.

"I think ya oughta put 'em in your memory box," he suggested. "Save 'em."

"In case we find ourselves in that sort of predicament again?" she queried.

"No," he looked down at her. "In case the kids need t' know how we feel about 'em."

"Sully," she was curious at his mood. "We tell them all the time."

"Sometimes folks ain't around," he said. "Or they get too busy."

"Do you think I'm too busy?" she became self-conscious.

"Never too busy t' say how ya feel," he smiled. "Michaela... I know my Ma loved me, but I got nothin' left o' hers that say the words. 'Times when I was all alone, if I could've had somethin' she wrote t' me, maybe it wouldn't have been so painful."

"Sully, I'm sorry," she brushed back a lock of his hair. "Your childhood must have been terribly lonely."

"That's why I always want our kids t' feel loved an' wanted," he avowed.

"And if we save these letters... when we are no longer with them, our children will have something from us to hold on to," she touched his cheek.

"Right," he smiled.

"I shall keep them in my memory box then," she took the letters and set them under the flowers. "Is there anything else on your mind?"

"Why do ya ask?" he evaded.

"Because we could have had this discussion anywhere," she replied. "The Clinic, the homestead...."

He cupped the back of her head and drew her lips to his.

"Maybe I just wanted ya t' myself for a little while," he toyed with a strand of her hair.

"Have I been neglecting you, Mr. Sully?" she loved the taste of him.

"Just a little," he revealed.

"How can I possibly make it up to you?" she slid her hand under the material of his shirt.

"By doin' your favorite thing with me?" his voice was suggestive.

"Laundry?" she recalled.

"Yep," he began to unbutton her blouse. "Reckon we gotta take off our clothes before ya can wash 'em, though."

Tenderly, he gathered her into his arms. His touches aroused the sensual delights that she adored. As he positioned himself to consummate their love, she ran her hands up and down his back. Together, they began to move. Rhythmically. Passionately. Explosively. Finally, drained from the experience, they embraced breathlessly.

Michaela brought his hand to her breast and stroked his silver bracelet. Then, one by one, she kissed his fingers. Sully closed his eyes hoping this feeling would never end. He pulled himself up on his elbow and planted gentle kisses along her body. She shivered at each.

Sully reached for his buckskin jacket and covered her.

"Like having your arms around me," she recalled.

He slipped his hands under the coat and drew her near, "I prefer the real thing."

"This is the one we brought Katie home in, isn't it?" she recognized the sewn up rip in the shoulder of the coat.

"Yep," he caressed her under the jacket.
Then he lifted one of the flowers and ran it along her chin, reciting:

"Flowers are lovely;
Love is flower-like."

"Is that Keats?" she ventured a guess.

"Coleridge," he kissed each side of her mouth. "Ready t' go home now?"

Beneath the jacket, she pulled herself against his flesh, "Home? Where I'm with you is home."

THE END



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