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

For Dear Life


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
For Dear Life
by Debby K

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

"All in favor, say aye," Jake surveyed the town council. "Looks unanimous t' me."

"The new addition t' the school won't be ready 'til fall," Loren put his fingers in his vest pocket.

"But at least now, we have authorized its construction," Michaela commented.

"If it's gonna have three rooms, we're gonna need a new teacher, too," Jake assumed.

"Reverend Johnson has recommended Miss Isabel Morrant," Michaela smiled in their direction. "I move that we employ her."

"Don't she gotta give us some credentials?" Loren asked.

"I'm certain that she can do that without a problem," Timothy Johnson spoke up.

"Then we'll table her appointment 'til we get it," Jake reasoned. "Any other new business?"

No one offered further discussion, and the meeting was adjourned. Michaela rose slowly from her seat, her back stiff and her tailbone aching. It was six weeks before the baby was due, but the intolerable and uncharacteristically hot Spring was making the wait even more uncomfortable.

Dorothy came to her side, "Need some help?"

"No, thank you," Michaela finally stood straight.

"Care t' join me for a cup o' tea at Grace's?" the redhead offered.

"Brian's waiting for me with the children at the Clinic," she replied.

"Few more minutes won't matter," Dorothy smiled. "Looks like we're both missin' the men in our lives."

Michaela felt a twinge in her heart, "Sully's last telegram suggested they had finished their business at the fort."

"Then they'll be home soon," the friend said.

Michaela silently stared at her folded hands.

Dorothy read her thoughts, "He did the right thing in goin'."

"Yes," Michaela agreed. "Secretary Schurz's offer was quite an opportunity for him."

"Investigatin' allegations of abuses by Indian agents an' conditions on the reservations for the Department of Interior," the redhead nodded.

"Oh, Dorothy," she said. "You should have seen his face light up when he received the letter. It's a chance to make a difference. It's a position with some clout. I'm so proud of him."

"But ya miss him," she added. "He didn't realize it'd take him away from ya so close t' the baby bein' born."

Michaela rubbed her protruding belly, "No, but.... I know he'll be home in time."

"Me, too," the newspaper editor assured. "An' it was good for Cloud Dancin' t' go with him."

"Not only to keep him company," Michaela stated. "He trusts no other man's judgment more than Cloud Dancing's."

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

"I don't know, Cloud Dancin'," Sully shook his head as they rode their horses. "We been trailin' the Army for two days now."

"They are not out here for exercise, my brother," the Cheyenne observed. "The talks did not proceed well."

"When the Bannock tribe gets three rations o' food per week, the Army's gotta know there's gonna be trouble," Sully stated. "Seems like the government's policy is either starvation or war."

"The shooting of the whites at the hands of Buffalo Horn and his band has given the Army its excuse," Cloud Dancing lamented.

"I reckon the Army's got around 75 troops," the mountain man ascertained. "Against 200 well armed Bannock warriors. I figure the Indian's will head for the Lava Beds just past the Camas Prairie."

Cloud Dancing observed the body of troops slowing, "They are going to make camp for the night."

Sully glanced at the sky, "Not a bad idea. The horses gotta be tired."

The Cheyenne followed his glance, "And what will tomorrow bring?"

"If I think there's gonna be fightin'," Sully paused. "I'm gonna step in."

"My brother," Cloud Dancing shook his head. "Do you honestly believe that you can stop this?"

"I gotta try," Sully swallowed hard. "I got the authorization from the Interior Department t' act on their behalf."

"With the Indian agents, not the Army," his friend pointed out.

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

Michaela heard whispers from the children's room and slowly rose from her bed. Making her way down the hallway, she held her aching back.

"No, Katie," Josef was insisting.

"Joey," the little girl countered. "Ya gotta go t' sleep."

"I wait for Papa," the child whispered loudly.

"What are you two doing up?" Michaela entered their room.

"Mama," Katie sighed. "Joey wants t' stay up all night t' wait for Poppy."

"Josef," Michaela eased herself onto the edge of his bed. "Your father would want you to get lots of rest. That won't happen if you stay up."

"He be home soon, Mama?" the little boy wished.

Michaela pulled back a lock of his hair from his face, "Just as soon as he can, my darling."

Josef rubbed her belly, then lifted up, "What we gonna call baby?"

"Your Daddy and I haven't discussed a name yet," she smiled.

"Are ya gonna name it after someone dead?" Katie wondered.

Michaela pondered, "Through your names, we hoped to honor our loved ones, Sweetheart. We didn't mean for you to think we named you merely after... someone who died."

"I don't mind," Katie smiled. "I like havin' Poppy's Mama's name."

"I like Josef," her son added. "I wish I know your Papa."

"I wish you could have known him, too," Michaela stroked his back as he leaned against her.

"He play with ya?" Josef questioned.

"No," Michaela smiled. "He had five daughters, and Mother would never permit any sort of roughhousing in her home."

"Could ya sit on his lap an' listen t' stories?" Katie asked.

"When Mother wasn't looking," Michaela recalled fondly. "Father would pull me up to watch him at his desk. He would...."

"Mama?" Katie saw a tear glisten on her mother's cheek. "What's wrong?"

"I...." she attempted to compose herself. "Sometimes I miss him so."

"I know how ya feel," Josef stood up on the mattress to hug her. "I be like him for ya, Mama," the little boy offered.

Michaela wiped her tear, "My father would be very proud of his grandchildren. And... he would want you to be yourselves.... to follow your dreams."

"I have bad dweams sometimes," Josef said. "I not follow 'em."

Michaela felt the baby kicking, "Katie, come here. Quickly."

The little girl scampered to her mother's side. Michaela guided both of her children to feel her abdomen.

"She's movin' a lot," Katie's eyes widened. "Maybe she'll be born t'night."

"Don't even think it," Michaela feared. "It's too soon."

"Keep her in ya long time?" Josef inquired.

"A few more weeks," Michaela nodded.

"I don' know how ya do it," Josef shook his head.

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

Sully chewed a piece of hardtack as he lay on his side watching the sparks from the small fire.

Cloud Dancing read his thoughts, "She is well."

The mountain man took a deep breath and sighed, "I didn't wanna leave her now."

"Michaela knows you had to do this," the Cheyenne said. "She understands."

"I know she understands, even encouraged me to go," Sully nodded. "But..."

"But you miss her," Cloud Dancing smiled.

"Yep," Sully closed his eyes and pictured what she was doing at that moment.

Trying to find a comfortable position in bed, he assumed. If he were there, he would rub her aching back, then massage her feet. He would assure her that he loved her, since with her growing figure, her insecurities would surface. Insecurities, he mused. How far Michaela had come in that regard.

After nearly eight years of marriage, they had reached a point where they knew the other's very souls. She would occasionally lapse into an insecure moment or two, but.... God, how he missed her. His heart ached as he thought about the geographic distance separating them.

In six weeks, he would again be a father. Marveling at the arrival of his children, Sully knew that this birth would be more difficult for his wife.... not only because of her age, but because this baby seemed much larger than Katie or Josef. Unspoken by Michaela, he knew it worried her, too.

When she was expecting Katie, his wife had feared she would not be able to endure the labor, to feed the baby.... to be a good mother. But Sully never had a doubt in his mind that she could do it all. And she did.... often without his presence.

And here he was again, away from her when she needed him. She understood his desire to prevent another Indian war and even strongly urged him to make this trip. But now, far from her, he swallowed hard holding in the longing he felt to be with her.

"Things will happen as they are meant to, my brother," Cloud Dancing's words brought him back to their situation.

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

Michaela sat up in bed, several pillows padding her back. She reached over and lightly touched the vacant area of the mattress where Sully usually lay. She smiled. Her heart filled with pride at his efforts. But.... God, how she missed him.

Closing her eyes, she pictured what he must be doing at that moment. Perhaps sitting by a campfire with Cloud Dancing discussing the situation with the Bannock Indians and the Army. And she warmed, sensing that he was missing her as much as she missed him.

She rubbed her belly. She was much larger with this baby than she had been with Katie or Josef at this point in her pregnancy. Reaching for her stethoscope, she rested the bell on her abdomen. There was a strong and steady heartbeat.

Then she noticed a set of Sully's beads sitting on the nightstand. He must have forgotten them or given them to Josef to hold, she mused. She lifted them and rested them on her abdomen.

"These belong to your Daddy," she whispered as she caressed the growing child.

Suddenly, she felt an overwhelming sense of foreboding. Attempting to shake the sensation, she took a deep breath. She pulled the beads to her lips.

"Sully," she spoke low. "What is it?"

Her brow wrinkled... could it be... the baby? Her pulse quickened. Her imagination took over, suddenly having a fear that the baby would be stillborn. The dread engulfed her.

"Stop it," she willed herself.

But no matter how much she tried to dismiss the fear, it was there. What if... our baby dies? A tear made its way down her cheek. What if... no, please don't let that happen.

Michaela again placed the stethoscope to her belly. Assuring herself that the baby was fine.... another thought crossed her mind. What if the baby lives, but... I die?

I can't do that, she insisted to herself. I can't leave my baby, my children.... Sully. To lose another wife.... what would he do?

He would go to that dark place again, she agonized. That place where no one can reach him. That place where he would want to die, as well.

"I can't let that happen," she reached for a writing tablet. "I must tell him to go on. I must let him know what he meant to me."

She recalled when they thought they might perish in the mine cave-in, they wrote letters to their children. After their escape, Michaela contemplated throwing out the messages, but Sully preferred that they keep them in her memory box. He told her that he had nothing from his parents, no written word, to convey how much they had loved him, but if anything ever did happen to them, now their children would have a written expression from their parents.

"I won't let that happen with you, Sully," she vowed. "I'll write it all down. How you were my life, my love, my best friend in all the world."

She began her diary with the words, "For My Husband's Eyes Only. My Most Intimate Thoughts for Byron Sully."

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

Sully stretched as a beam of the dawning sun caught his eye. Rolling over, he saw that Cloud Dancing was already awake.

"The Army moves," the Cheyenne observed. "They will chase the Bannock from the Lava Beds."

"There'll be more killin' if I don't stop 'em," the mountain man rose swiftly.

"Be careful, Sully," his friend cautioned.

"I want ya t' come with me," Sully requested. "If you're out here by yourself, a scout might take a shot at ya."

"I shall come," Cloud Dancing nodded.

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

Michaela awoke to find the notes still in her hand. Yawning and rubbing her eyes, she felt the baby moving. She rubbed the area, tenderly communicating her love for the unborn child.

Then she read her notes. She hoped to organize them into a specific thematic order later, but for now she had jotted down her thoughts as they came to her. Last evening, she had chosen to write about Sully's passion. The first example which inspired her to write was her wedding day. Focusing on the words, she held her pen to edit as she read:

"My dearest friend and husband,

I hope in these humble words to convey to you what you have meant to me..... my best friend, my husband, father of my children and tenderest lover.

One of the happiest days of my life was when I became your wife. When I think back to that day... and night, I am filled with warmth beyond my ability to adequately convey with words. Saying our vows, pledging our love, sealing them with a kiss before our family and friends.... these memories are as vivid to me as if they happened yesterday.

We were still rather tentative with one another then... each of us not wishing to totally forgo our independence, yet sensing that our lives would be inextricably connected from that day on. You recognized my nervousness, my fear of intimacy, yet you guided me so lovingly and patiently to a passion that has only deepened with time."

She paused from her writing to recall the details of the first time they made love:

Sully guided Michaela back onto the bed and tugged at the sleeve of her wedding gown. The back and forth movement of the train rocked them gently. Then she felt his lips on her neck. The blood rushed through her veins. Never had his kisses so inflamed her before. She caught her breath.

"You okay?" his warm breath whispered near her ear.

She gulped and clasped the sides of his head, "Sully...."

"Mmm?" he smiled at her reaction.

"I never imagined it would be like this," she could barely speak.

"Gets even better," he loosened the back of her gown further.

Michaela was becoming totally lost in the sensations he was awakening in her. As he trailed his kisses across her, she found her voice again.

"Tell me... what to do," she requested.

Delighted at her desire, he spoke low, "Just what I'm doin'. Your body will tell ya when it's right."

Her eyes widened, and she framed his face between her hands. She kissed his eyelids, then stroked his hair. Sully sat up and lifted the Cheyenne wedding shirt over his head. Casting it aside, he gazed down at his bride.

Michaela reached up and stroked his chest. She had seen him shirtless before, but never had she found his torso so magnificent... so desirable.

"Come closer," she beckoned.

Sully lowered himself slightly so that she could stroke his chest. Then she guided her hand around his neck to draw him down to her. He maneuvered himself to lay beside her.

"Are ya ready for that next chapter?" he asked.

"I.... I am," she nodded.

"Don't worry," he touched her chin. "You're doin' fine."

"I want to please you so much, Sully," her voice quivered slightly.

Her insecurity made her even more enticing to him, "Shhh... It works both ways, Michaela. I wanna please you, too."

"I was taught that...." she stopped when he placed his finger to her lips.

"Let's teach each other," he smiled.

Guiding her hands to the waist of his trousers, he encouraged her to loosen them. Once revealed to her, she thrilled at the thought that the physical reaction of his body was for her.

"Sully...." she tried to control her emotions.

"It's what ya do t' me," he explained. "Ya said ya saw a naked man before."

"Yes," she marveled. "But... he was dead."

"I sure ain't dead," he loved her expression.

"Then there was Uncle Eddie," she chuckled.

"Who?" Sully raised an eyebrow.

"An old mining prospector whom I met when I made the rounds introducing myself," she mused.

"He try anythin'?" Sully was concerned.

"No," she stroked the side of his face. "My virtue has been preserved.... for my husband."

"Your husband," he grinned. "I love the sound o' that."

As Sully slowly sat up and kissed her enticingly, he began to slide her wedding gown from her body. Michaela nervously fidgeted with the material until finally, it was discarded onto the floor. His eyes calmed her as he gently loosened her corset.

Michaela swallowed hard and closed her eyes. The mix of excitement, anticipation and nervousness made his touches even more incredible.

Before she exposed her full figure to him, Sully assured, "You're so beautiful. I love you, Michaela."

"I... love you, too," she tingled.

He read her thoughts, "Please don't ever be nervous around me. I'm your husband now. I love everythin' about ya."

Taking a deep breath, she pulled the corset from her bosom. Her cheeks flushed, wondering, hoping that he would find her pleasing. Sully held his gaze on her eyes and reached up to caress her breasts. Instantly, her body reacted, sending a shiver down her spine.

Then he leaned closer to kiss her, teasingly, enticingly. Michaela lifted her hands to run her fingers through his hair as he continued his tender movements. Sully pulled up again and smiled. Lifting her hands to his lips, he kissed first one palm, then the other.

"Are ya ready?" he whispered.

She whispered, "Yes."

Slowly, he lowered her back onto the pillows, sensuously trailing his hand lightly across her form. Recalling his words, she imitated his motions and stroked his chest, lowering her hands to awaken his need.

"You're a good student," his voice sounded different.

Finally, he positioned himself to share his love fully. His breathing quickened, and he felt as if he would burst. He attempted to gage her expression.... the nuances of her body.

Unable to hold back any longer, Sully moved to be more intimate with her. She gasped slightly, realizing that the moment she had so often wondered about had come. Rhythmically, he commenced their union, mirroring the motion of the train. Every nerve in her body came alive as her body accepted, even craved, what he was sharing with her.

In a culminating wave of energy, Sully delivered every ounce of his essence to her. When his body calmed, he plied tender kisses to her.

"Was I..." she stopped.

"Shhh," he was breathless. "You all right?" he brushed back a lock of her hair.

"Yes," she smiled. "Were you... pleased?"

"I sure was," he grinned.

"I must confess, I've.... never wanted anything more in my life than to make you happy," she turned up the side of her mouth slightly.

He winked, "We need t' practice a little more."

"Practice?" she sounded nervous.

"Need t' work on our timin' a little bit," he ran his finger along her chin. "I... I'm afraid I couldn't wait."

"Oh," she blushed after discerning what he meant. "How soon should we.... practice again?"

"We'll be in Denver soon," he determined. "How 'bout we try this again after we check int' the hotel?"

"I'd like that," her cheeks flushed.

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

Sully looked at his map, "The land the Bannocks are on lies between three geographical departments."

Captain Reuben F. Bernard nodded, "And I have my orders, Mr. Sully. The Bannock must return to the reservation."

"If ya go after 'em, it's gonna mean more killin'," the mountain man reasoned.

"This is a war, sir," Bernard put his hands on his hips. "People get killed. Left to their own devices, the Bannock will join forces with Chiefs Egan and Oytes. With a stronger force, the likelihood for further killing increases."

"There wouldn't be a war if the government would've kept the treaty t' let the Bannock ont' the Camas Prairie t' eat the camas root," Sully explained. "Instead the white settlers came in wantin' t' graze their hogs. The Indians have been starvin'."

"The Bannock will be stopped for their aggression," Bernard asserted.

"I ain't gonna let ya do this," Sully's voice was strong.

"You have no say in the matter," Bernard countered.

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

"Mama, when will Colleen be here?" Katie asked at the breakfast table.

"In four weeks," Michaela placed Josef's napkin on his lap.

"Evwyone comin' 'cept Papa," the little boy stated.

"Your grandmother and Aunt Rebecca will be here in four weeks, as well," Michaela smiled. "They're going to help us when I have the baby."

"Where they sweep?" Josef nibbled on his biscuit.

"We'll decide the sleeping arrangements later," Michaela reached for her back.

Brian noticed, "You're stayin' home t'day, Ma."

She felt in no condition to argue, "Yes. I need to rest."

"I take care ya, Mama," Josef volunteered.

"Matthew was hoping you would spend the day with him," Michaela touched the little boy's hair.

"He was?" the child's eyes widened.

"But who'll watch you, Mama?" Katie voiced her concern.

"I'll be fine," she assured. "I'm going to spend the day off of my feet."

Josef pointed, "Feet gwowin'."

She chuckled, "My ankles are swollen, Sweetheart."

Brian knew things were more serious, "Ma... maybe Colleen oughta come here sooner."

"Her schedule is not clear for another month," Michaela pointed out. "Don't worry. A day of rest, and I'll be all right."

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

"I want two men on Mr. Sully," Captain Bernard directed his adjutant.

"Yes, sir," the man saluted and turned to exit the tent.

Bernard returned to reading his scouting reports, then directed his staff, "We head for the Owyhee River."

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

The quiet in her home was a peaceful break for Michaela. Though she adored her family, she relished too, an opportunity to rest without having to worry about them.

Fanning herself from the heat, she turned to her diary and resumed her writing:

"And I'll never forget our next time, Mr. Sully. It was a hot and humid night, much like this one...."

Her thoughts drifted to that occasion:

"Whew," Sully set Michaela down after carrying her across the threshold of their hotel room. "You puttin' on weight?"

"Sully!" she tapped his chest.

She glanced around the room, drinking in every detail of its decor.

"Hope ya like it," he beamed.

She strolled to the roses on the table near the bed, "Beautiful."

"Just like my bride," he slipped his hands around her waist.

She pivoted in his arms and toyed with the hair at the base of his neck, "I love you."

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

Instantly, Michaela felt longings stirring within her body. Sully detected the increase in her respiration.

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" he grinned.

"A little practice before dinner?" she raised an eyebrow.

"We got a lot o' time t' make up for," he reached up to remove the pin which held her hat in place.

"Oh?" she wondered.

"All the years you an' me could've been t'gether," his voice held a rasp.

"Sully," she became serious. "You'll tell me if... if I'm not doing things right, won't you?"

He smiled, "Michaela, ya gotta know from my reaction when we.... that is.... you did things just right."

"Good," she beamed.

"Sure is hot," he loosened his tie. "Why don't ya unpack, an' I'll go get us somethin' cold t' drink."

"Sounds delightful," she smiled.

He leaned forward to kiss her again, then pulled the pins from her hair, helping it to cascade down her back. Then he lightly cupped her breasts in his hands. Michaela gulped at his boldness.

"Be right back," he grinned.

True to his word, Sully returned shortly. He held a tray with two glasses of iced tea and a bowl of extra ice.

"What's that for?" Michaela placed her last dress on a hanger.

"You'll see," he removed his jacket.

Michaela caught herself watching him, vividly remembering what his muscular form looked like beneath his clothing. Sully pulled his tie from his collar. Then he unbuttoned his vest and shirt.

No longer able to remain reserved, Michaela approached him. Resting her palms against his chest, she leaned forward and kissed him where his shirt lay open.

"You're gettin' an A for rememberin'," he smiled.

He gradually unbuttoned the jacket to her pale blue suit, finding only her camisole beneath it. Without removing the clothing, he guided his hands to caress her, first atop the light cotton material. Pulling it lower to reveal her more fully, he bent down to kiss her.

Michaela gasped, immediately feeling the same tingling sensations that he had awakened in her on the train. As he began to kiss her lips, he slipped the jacket and camisole from her shoulders. Soon his own shirt and vest were gone. Drawing her against his chest, they stood flesh against flesh.

"I think I like this practicing," she swallowed.

"Nice an' easy," he whispered.

When they had divested themselves of their clothing, they lay facing each other on the soft mattress. Sully reached for a piece of ice and placed it in his mouth. As Michaela caressed his face, he pulled the cold cube from his lips and ran it across her chest.

Michaela quivered from the sensation, "Oh, Sully."

Each pass of the ice across her skin drew hard and instant reaction. Soon she took a piece of ice from the bowl and began to reciprocate the touches to his body. With each pass and kiss, she perceived his desires were heightening.

"You ready?" he saw the spark in her eyes.

"Yes," her tone reflected anticipation.

Sully rolled her onto her back, gently raised up, then lowered himself to meet her. The same rhythmic motion that she had felt on the train commenced, but this time her husband seemed to be patiently waiting for her. Michaela closed her eyes, feeling awash with an appetite and desire she had never imagined existed.

With the greatest self control he could muster, Sully increased the intensity of their movements. Michaela felt herself transported with him, her body following and flowing into his.

This time, Sully knew when she was ready, and they came together fully. Her explosive trembling reaction mirrored his own, at the same instant.

"Michaela," he panted. "I knew it would be like this with us."

"Oh, Sully," she thrilled. "That's what you meant by the timing. It.... was magical. Unbelievably and incredibly magical."

"An' that's what I meant about pleasin' each other," he kissed the sides of her mouth. "Sure didn't take much practice."

"I have a marvelous teacher," she ran her hands up and down his sides.

"It'll only get better with us," he was certain.

"I can't imagine it any better," she never wanted the sensation to end.

Alert from her daydream, Michaela set the writing down, "But it has, Sully. Better and better."

Taking a relaxing breath and exhaling through pursed lips, she glanced toward the window. It was late afternoon. Soon her older sons would return with the children. Attempting to look at her feet, she noted that the swelling appeared to have gone down some.

Her pregnancy had gone smoother with this child than with Katie or Josef... until now.

Laboriously, she sat up and held her back, "Oh, Sully. It shouldn't be like this. Not this early. I miss you so."

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

Sully glanced over his shoulder, "They been with us since we left the camp."

"Yes," Cloud Dancing agreed. "Captain Bernard wishes to watch our movements."

"Maybe we oughta surprise him," the mountain man grinned.

"You have a plan?" the Cheyenne recognized the look in his friend's face.

"Let's head in a direction they don't expect," he proposed. "We can double back after we lose 'em."

"South?" Cloud Dancing assumed.

"Yep," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "Got a few hours left before sunset. Let's go."

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

"Colleen!" Michaela was stunned to see her daughter enter her bedroom.

The young woman sat on the edge of her mother's bed and leaned down to embrace her, "How are you feeling, Ma?"

"I'm fine," she attempted to sit up. "What are you doing here?"

"Brian sent me a telegram," she admitted. "I'm gonna stay for a while."

"But your medical practice...." Michaela protested.

"Andrew will cover for me," she glanced toward the window. "I'll open that. There's a nice breeze out."

Michaela admitted a sense of relief, "I have been experiencing some difficulty."

"I'm going to check on you," Colleen informed her. "What kind of difficulty?"

Michaela began to describe her symptoms as her daughter assessed her condition. Swollen ankles, weight gain, aching back. Colleen listened to the baby's heartbeat intently.

"Do your symptoms seem better in the morning than at night?" Colleen questioned.

"Yes," Michaela knew the direction she was taking. "I stayed off of my feet most of the day."

"Ma," Colleen folded her arms. "You know you need to do this from now on."

Michaela's eyes watered, "Yes."

The young woman clasped her hand, "Are you scared?"

"Yes," she nodded, then looked away.

Colleen rubbed her arm, "I'm here."

"Thank you, Colleen," Michaela was warmed by her presence.

"I'll fix you something to eat," she stood. "I saw Matthew in town. He'll bring the children home soon. I wanted us to have a talk first."

Michaela watched Colleen exit. Her heart filled with pride that her older daughter had achieved her goal of becoming a physician. There was a more confident air about the young woman now. And... Michaela admitted, she felt better about having a doctor nearby.

She turned to see her notes lying open on the nightstand. She could hear Colleen downstairs and decided to take the opportunity to continue her message to Sully:

"You have always been my best friend, the person to whom I could confide my innermost thoughts and fears. You rarely angered when I did things on my own. You never judged when I disagreed with you. I think back to that first Thanksgiving after we began courting. The town was in the midst of a drought, and you and I felt differently over the course of action to take. On that occasion, we did argue. Then I came to you, and you took me to the mountain.

I never told you what it meant to me that you shared such a special place with me, Sully. I know that opening your heart like that took an incredible degree of strength and courage. I thank God every day that you took those steps with me, waited for me, were patient with me.

I recall, too, the downpour that started just as we were about to eat the Thanksgiving meal. As I tried to round up the food to keep it dry, you stood so calmly watching, savoring the feel of the rain on your skin. With outstretched arms, you again waited for me. When I felt your arms on mine, I was filled with such pride and love. Proud that a man such as you could want me, need me, love me.

Your patience extends beyond me to our children. I knew that you would make a wonderful father. I never met a man who wanted children so much, and your desire fueled mine to give them to you. As I watched you guide Matthew, Colleen and Brian over the years, I knew that if.... when we had children of our own, you would be the ideal father.

I watch you with our little ones, often when you don't know that I'm looking. It's the way you hold them, caress them, speak to them that takes my breath away. Your gentleness and humor fill me anew with pride and love. How is it possible to think that I cannot love you any more than I do, yet each day find even more reasons to adore you?

And I see so much of you in Katie and Josef. Aside from the physical resemblances, I observe their distinct personalities reflecting the best and brightest of their father. You put it in them, Sully. You tenderly mentor them and patiently encourage their imaginations, their talents and their compassion."

Michaela quickly set the writing aside as she heard Colleen ascending the steps.

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

"Look," Sully pointed ahead. "We caught up t' the Bannock."

"And we have lost the pair of soldiers who were following us," Cloud Dancing observed.

"They'll be makin' camp for the night," the mountain man determined. "Let's go talk t' 'em."

"My brother," Cloud Dancing held back. "Remember they are angry."

"I know," Sully nodded. "But I gotta try t' stop this."

As the duo approached the Bannock camp, they were met with intense gazes from the Indians. After some discussion with several warriors, it was agreed that they could meet with Chief Buffalo Horn.

"I see you have been joined by Paiutes," Sully observed.

"You are an Indian agent?" Buffalo Horn attempted to assess his purpose.

"Not exactly," the mountain man detailed. "But I have a letter from the Great Chief in Washington that lets me tell the Indian agents what to do."

"A letter?" the Chief's brow wrinkled. "Do you think words on a letter mean anything to us?"

"It's my intention t' see that your people get their fair share o' food on the reservation," Sully returned to his purpose. "If you return now, then further bloodshed might be avoided."

"We will die like men," the leader avowed. "Not wait like the hogs on our prairie to be slaughtered."

"I've seen this happen before," Sully shook his head. "The Army won't give up. Please...."

"Our discussion is through," Buffalo Horn waved his hand.

Sully knew it was futile to further debate. He swallowed hard and turned to face Cloud Dancing.

"Let us go, my brother," the medicine man urged.

Sully and Cloud Dancing rode out of the camp, then stopped at a grove to rest for the evening. As they built a small fire, neither spoke.

Finally, Sully voiced his frustration, "He's right, ya know. It is just a piece o' paper... the letter from Schurz."

"Does this mean you are giving up?" the Cheyenne wondered.

"What else can I do?" Sully's shoulders slumped. "Both sides wanna fight."

"Then your job must lie with those who wish peace," Cloud Dancing counseled.

"On the reservations?" Sully clarified.

"Perhaps," the medicine man replied.

"Let's for head for home at sunup," Sully was tired.

"That is a good idea," Cloud Dancing agreed.

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

After sunrise, the sound of gunshots startled Sully and Cloud Dancing. Reaching for his tomahawk, the mountain man swiftly headed for his horse.

"Sully!" the Cheyenne hoped to stop him.

"Stay here, please," Sully urged.

"Do not do this!" Cloud Dancing protested.

"Maybe I can stop 'em," the mountain man rode off in the direction of the gunfire.

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

Michaela had said her goodbyes to her family, and they headed for town. Colleen joined them to handle morning patients at the Clinic but promised her mother to return by lunch.

Michaela lay back to rest, but again found herself in an anxious state about her condition. Reaching for the folder in which she was now keeping her pages to Sully, she began to write:

"My thoughts today turn to your compassion, Sully. From the smallest creatures on God's earth to men who have wronged you, you have shown a tremendous capacity for compassion.

I recall the strained relationship between Loren and you when I first came to Colorado Springs. Yet, you risked your own health by giving your blood for a transfusion to save his life. And when Preston was near death, you could have easily walked away, but you brought him to the Clinic for treatment. No, you could not have walked away.... from anyone.

Most of all, I have cherished the times you have spent filling our children with that same sense of compassion. I marvel at your tenderness with them. You are a tremendous teacher and role model for our little ones, and my heart fills with even more love for you each time I gaze at their adorable faces."

Michaela paused to reflect on his discussion with the children before his most recent trip:

"Kates, Joe, I gotta tell ya somethin'," Sully drew them into his lap.

"You're goin' away, aren't ya, Poppy?" Katie suspected.

"No!" Josef hugged him.

Sully gently rubbed his son's back, "Joe...."

The little boy began to sob, "Pwease, no, Papa."

He felt a lump in his throat, "Josef, you know how much I love ya?"

Still, the child was inconsolable. Katie glanced up at her father and saw a tear on his cheek.

She silently wiped it then spoke low to her brother, "Joey...."

"What?" he turned slightly to look at her, his face covered with moisture.

"I think Poppy's gotta do somethin' important," she surmised.

"'Portant?" he was curious.

"Else he wouldn't be goin' away," she noted.

"Don't care," Josef returned to burying his face in his father's chest.

"That's bein' selfish, then," the little girl announced. "We gotta share Poppy."

Josef again looked up curiously, "Shelfish?"

"I always share Mama an' Papa with you, Joey," Katie nodded. "Ever since they had ya. An' we gotta share them, too. Mama has patients who need her. Poppy has Indians who need him. So, we can't be selfish."

Sully looked at his daughter in awe, "You're the sweetest girl in all the world, Kates."

"Not much longer, Poppy," she smiled. "Mama's gonna give ya a new little girl."

He pulled her forward to kiss her forehead tenderly, "An' she'll have the sweetest sister in the world."

Josef took a deep breath, then sighed, "When ya be back, Papa? When baby born?"

"Before that, Joe," he assured his son. "I was wonderin' if ya could do somethin' for me while I'm gone."

"What?" Josef tilted his head in a manner similar to his father.

"Could ya help your brothers watch after my girls for me?" Sully whispered. "I worry 'bout 'em."

"Sure," the child nodded enthusiastically. "I go watched Mama wight now."

The little boy scampered from his lap and rushed to his mother, who had been listening to the conversation nearby.

Michaela returned to her writing:

"I have been so blessed to have been your partner in raising our beautiful children, Sully. Please know that if I were no longer with you, you will always hold my heart. The heart is the dwelling place for the soul, and I have given that to your tender care forever."

She choked back a tear, hinting for the first time the possibility that she might not survive this childbirth.

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

Sully arrived upon the aftermath of a battle. From what he could determine, the Indians had vastly outnumbered their opposition and had soon routed them. As the smoke from the battle cleared, he stopped to aid a wounded soldier, not much older than Brian.

Wanting to hate him, Sully swallowed hard. The young man held his bleeding stomach, and begged him for some water. Releasing all anger, Sully recognized the wound as mortal and knelt beside him. He offered a few sips and listened to the dying youth's words.

"Thanks," he gazed up with gratitude.

"Take small sips," Sully supported his head an offered him the cool liquid.

His throat was parched, "Are you an' Indian?"

"No," Sully shook his head. "Just someone who wanted t' stop the fightin'."

"I wish ya could have," a tear ran down the young man's cheek. "We was just a bunch o' volunteers from Canyon City. Heard the Indians was comin', an' next thing we knew, we was surrounded."

"Where are the other volunteers now?" Sully wondered.

"Them that can still move retreated," he sighed, then coughed up some blood. "I leave now."

The young man's lungs released the last measure of air remaining in them, and he was gone. Sully closed his eyelids, then gently set him down. He saw the approach of a warrior from the Bannock, whom he recognized from the day before. Raising his hands, the mountain man communicated that he intended to bury the youth.

The warrior indicated that Buffalo Horn and several of their tribe were dead. Sully felt his heart break. He knew this was just the beginning of another war. Another war he could not stop.

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

After burying the volunteer, Sully made his way to the Bannock side. The grief over the loss of their chief embittered the remaining Indians. The mountain man could not dissuade them from continuing their fight against the Army. In truth, he could not blame them for wishing to fight to hold on to their way of life.

Then they took him to the area which had been the site of the attack by the volunteers. Dying and injured covered the ground in a scene painfully reminiscent of Washita. And there were lifeless bodies with the haunting gaze of death. At one point, he glanced down to see a young girl whose head was a mass of blood. Her face had been shot away. There was a deceased boy whose arm dangled from its socket. These children were around the same age as Katie and Josef. He became nauseous.

As he turned, he caught sight of a woman. Kneeling down before her, he suddenly realized that she was pregnant, but a bullet had passed through her abdomen, killing her unborn child and herself.

Sully pulled himself up, his eyes stinging from the scene before him. Silently, he walked to his horse, but before mounting it, had to turn and relieve his stomach. Finally, he mounted his horse and rode as fast as he could back to Cloud Dancing.

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

"Ma?" Colleen entered her mother's bedroom. "I brought ya somethin' t' eat."

Michaela had dozed off until her daughter's voice wakened her, "Colleen, is it noon already?"

"Yep," the young woman loved mothering her mentor.

Setting the tray on the nightstand, Colleen noticed the papers on the bed.

"Are you writing a book?" she mused.

"No," Michaela quickly gathered them, hoping her daughter had not seen their contents. "Just some notes."

"About a patient?" Colleen guessed.

"No," Michaela hedged. "Some of my thoughts."

"Oh," she fluffed her mother's pillows. "Your feet look good today."

"Yes," the mother smiled.

"I'll listen to the baby's heartbeat," she raised her stethoscope to her ears.

Michaela tried to read the expression on her daughter's face, "Is everything all right?"

"I.... I think so," she hesitated.

"Colleen," Michaela's pulse surged. "Is something wrong?"

"Ma," she sat on the edge of the bed. "Let's talk about the weight you've gained in the past couple weeks."

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

"Sully!" Cloud Dancing was relieved to see his friend.

Silently, Sully dismounted. Out of breath and tears streaming down his cheeks, he could not speak.

"You have seen death," the medicine man knew.

Sully nodded and folded his arms tightly across his chest.

"Come," Cloud Dancing guided him to sit by the campfire which still burned.

The friend knew that Sully did not want to, could not, speak yet of what he had seen. He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and brewed a drink made from some roots he carried in a pouch. Chanting softly as he made the beverage, Cloud Dancing looked over his shoulder periodically to watch the mountain man.

The Cheyenne had seen this look before... once... on his friend. It was after the death of his first wife and child and following his return from the Army. It had been many years since Sully had sunk into that dark place. It would not be easy to bring him out of it.

"I shall take you home," Cloud Dancing handed him a cup of the drink.

"No," Sully's voice was almost a whisper.

"My brother...." Cloud Dancing's concern increased.

"I can't see Michaela now," his eyes were red.

"She is who you must see," the medicine man was certain.

"No," Sully shook his head.

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

"I believe that my weight gain has stabilized," Michaela glanced up at her daughter.

Colleen sat on the edge of the bed and felt the position of the baby, "It's very large."

"I know," Michaela swallowed.

"Do you think...." the young woman paused.

"What?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

"Do you think it could be twins?" Colleen completed her thought.

"I.... I've thought of that," Michaela confessed.

"I thought I might have detected a second heartbeat," Colleen drew back a tress of blonde hair from her face.

"It would explain my size and...." Michaela stopped herself.

"Ma," Colleen saw the look of concern on her face. "I'm here for you. I even delivered twins not long ago."

"You did?" Michaela smiled slightly.

"Yep," the young doctor attempted to allay her fears. "But if it is twins, they're most likely gonna come before your due date."

"I know," she nodded. "And a Caesarean procedure may be necessary."

"The main thing is that you need to avoid stress," Colleen pointed out. "We'll get through this together."

"I wish Sully were here," she voiced her concern.

"Can you see his face when you tell him it might be twins?" Colleen chuckled.

"We're still not certain," Michaela said. "But if it is, how on earth will we manage with two babies?"

"Just like you always do," the young woman grinned. "And as Pa would say, it's just more to love."

"He has such a way of putting things into perspective," Michaela rubbed her belly.

"He's always here for us," Colleen placed her hand atop her mother's. "Now, I'm gonna go get supper started. The kids will be home before we know it."

"Colleen," Michaela clasped her hand. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," the daughter leaned closer to kiss her mother's forehead.

Michaela listened to her daughter whistling as she descended the stairs to begin fixing their evening repast. Pulling her notes for Sully closer, she resumed her description of what her husband meant to her. The words flowed freely from her pen, with great urgency:

"I want to talk about something nearly as intimate as our first time together, Sully. It's about your touches. Knowing you as I do, I am certain that you have never even thought about it, but your soft caresses are ever with me. Each one conveys without words what your heart is feeling.

There is the loving touch which you give when you want to lift my spirits after a difficult day at the Clinic. There is the provocative touch when you want to tell me that you long for us to be together. It never fails to stir me.

Then there are the touches that you give when we are alone in bed, spooned so closely together, we can hear one another's heartbeat. These are the touches I relish most. I feel my cheeks flush as I write these words, but I need for you to know what they mean to me. The touch when you teasingly want to get my attention. The touch when you want to feel as close to our baby as I am. The touch when you convey to me that, in spite of my figure, you still find me desirable.

I shall always remember the first time you touched me in a desiring way. It was when I was trying to teach you to dance for the Sweetheart's Dance. You asked me to lift my skirt so that you could see my ankles to show you the steps. Then you stood and pulled me into your arms.... your arms around my waist, your chest against me.... it took my breath away.

I was instantly frightened of my feelings. But as you always did throughout our courtship, you proved to me that touching was a wordless means of communicating how much we love one another. I wish I could always feel your touches, Sully, holding me safe from fear, making me feel so incredibly loved and needed."

She looked up from the pages when she heard the arrival of her children. Soon, they would surround her bed, tell her of their day, be full of questions questions, and want their Daddy to come home soon.

"I want that, too, Sully," she sighed. "Why do I have such an overwhelming sense of foreboding? How I long for your touches to assure me."

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

Two days passed, and there was no word from Sully. Matthew, Colleen and Brian knew that the strain on their mother was increasing. While her physical condition had improved dramatically, they caught glimpses of her worried expressions.

She put on a brave facade for them, sat for long chats with the children, helped Brian and Katie with their homework, but ever present was the undercurrent of tension.

Matthew pulled his older sister aside, "I'm gettin' worried about Ma."

"Her swelling is greatly reduced, and her vital signs are good," the young woman informed him.

"You know what I mean, Colleen," his eyes met hers. "Somethin's wrong. Somethin's different about her."

"I know," she sighed. "Shouldn't Pa have been home by now?"

"Yes," Matthew's jaw tensed. "If he isn't back t'morrow, I'm gonna go lookin' for him."

"But you don't know where to go," she said.

"His last message was from Boise," he recalled. "I'll contact the fort there. See how long ago he left."

"Matthew," she placed her hand on her brother's arm. "What if something's happened to Pa?"

"That's what worries me," he kept his voice low. "He wouldn't go this long without tellin' Ma that he's okay.... 'specially in her condition."

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

For two days, Cloud Dancing rode with his friend. Hardly a word was exchanged between them. Sully was unresponsive to any of the medicine man's suggestions. Though they had directed their journey toward Colorado Springs, he knew that Sully was in no condition to return to his family. Yet, Cloud Dancing knew that it was exactly his family, specifically Michaela, who was needed to help her husband.

When they reached Denver, Cloud Dancing was able to send a telegram to Dorothy. He informed her of what had happened near Canyon City. Without sharing the details, the Cheyenne asked her to relay the message to Michaela that Sully would be home soon.

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

"Miss Dorothy," Colleen smiled and welcomed the redhead into the homestead.

"I come t' check on your Ma," Dorothy handed Colleen a pie.

"She's upstairs," the young woman accepted it. "Go on up. I know she'd enjoy the company."

"Is she doin' all right now?" she asked.

"She's.... she's doing fine," Colleen nodded. "Just misses Pa a lot."

"That's why I'm here," Dorothy stated. "I got a telegram from Cloud Dancin'."

"Is he still with Pa?" she found it curious.

"Yes," Dorothy nodded. "I'll go on up now, if that's all right."

"Sure," Colleen wondered why Sully had not contacted her mother yet.

Dorothy paused at the door, catching a glimpse of Michaela crying softly. Clearing her throat, the redhead knocked on the door frame.

Michaela quickly wiped away her tears, "Come in."

"Michaela," Dorothy pretended to not notice. "I came t' give ya some news."

"Oh?" her eyes lit up.

"Sully an' Cloud Dancin' are in Denver," the redhead revealed. "They'll be home real soon."

"Denver?" Michaela wondered why they did not simply continue on to Colorado Springs. "How do you know? Are they all right?"

"Right as rain, I'm sure," Dorothy continued. "I got a telegram from Cloud Dancin'. How 'bout you? You're lookin' fine."

"I feel fine," Michaela rubbed her belly. "The baby is very active, however. There is almost constant movement in there."

"It won't be much longer now," Dorothy smiled.

"What aren't you telling me?" she returned to the telegram.

"Nothin'," Dorothy assured.

"Why hasn't Sully sent me a wire?" Michaela's forehead creased.

"He was prob'ly just busy with a lot o' paper work," she excused it. "Ya know how government bureaucracy is."

"Did Cloud Dancing say anything about my husband?" Michaela was direct.

"He said t' tell ya they'll be home soon," Dorothy repeated.

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

Sully sat staring into the campfire. He had neither shaved nor bathed in days. He ate only enough to prevent his stomach from growling. And in his eyes.... Cloud Dancing could see the haunted stare in his best friend.

The medicine man sat down beside him, "Do you wish to stay here tonight?"

"Don't matter," Sully answered with a monotone.

Cloud Dancing sighed, "Michaela will be worried."

The mountain man did not respond.

"It is not good for her to worry with the child so close," Cloud Dancing watched for a reaction.

He did notice a slight tensing of Sully's jaw.

"Do you want to be alone now?" the medicine man observed.

Again, there was no reaction from his friend. Cloud Dancing took a deep breath and rose. Making up his mind, he mounted his horse and departed.

Within the hour, he arrived at the homestead, and knocked on the door.

When Matthew opened it, the young man smiled broadly, "Cloud Dancin'! Good t' see ya."

"Thank you," he replied. "It is good to see you, as well. How is your mother?"

"She's doin' okay," Matthew nodded toward the living room. "Come on in."

Michaela had heard their voices, "Sully?"

Cloud Dancing knelt before her, "Michaela...."

Her heart stopped, "Where is he?"

"He is near," the medicine man replied.

She extended her hands outward to him, "Take me to him."

"Ma," Matthew protested.

"He needs me," she instantly perceived.

Cloud Dancing looked up at Matthew and nodded.

"I'll get the wagon ready," he swallowed.

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

"The little ones will be fine," Cloud Dancing sensed Michaela's torment.

"They've missed their father terribly," she folded her hands as they rode along.

The medicine man glanced toward her belly, "This child will come soon."

She rested her hands on her abdomen, "I fear sooner than I originally thought."

"My brother is in need of fast medicine then," he replied.

Michaela quickly looked at him, "What happened to him, Cloud Dancing?"

"He saw things," the Cheyenne began. "Things he will not tell me. But I know that they haunt him. He dreams of them."

"He saw this on the reservation?" she assumed.

"It was after a battle between the Bannock and the Army," he specified.

"Does... does he not want to come home?" she feared.

"He does not wish for you to see him like this," Cloud Dancing responded.

Michaela dreaded the condition he would be in, "Did he know you were coming for me?"

"No," he shook his head as he slowed the wagon. "He sits up ahead. I will help you down, then leave you to be with him."

He stopped and assisted her from the buckboard. Michaela rubbed her back, then lifted her medical bag from the wagon. Slowly, she made her way to the spot where her husband sat.

With his back toward Michaela, Sully made no movement, though he heard someone approaching. When she reached him, she touched his hair. Instantly he turned as if awakened from a trance.

His reddened eyes glanced up, "Michaela?"

"I'm here," she spoke low.

"I ain't dreamin'?" he needed to be certain.

"No," she smiled slightly.

He swiftly rose to his feet and embraced her. Then, they kissed.

"May I join you?" she motioned.

He assisted her onto a blanket. After kissing her hand and holding it briefly to his cheek, he returned to his previous position, legs crossed, shoulders slumped.

"You shouldn't be out here," he swallowed hard.

"I need to be with you," she spoke tenderly.

"I ain't much t' be around at the moment," he shook his head.

"I can't think of anyplace I'd rather be," she reached for his hand.

He clasped it, a bit uncertain of what to say.

"Can you tell me what happened, Sully?" she came to the point.

"I don't wanna talk about it," his tone changed.

She paused to note his expression, then changed the subject, "The children are well."

"That's good," he spoke absently.

"Colleen came home early to...." she stopped herself.

He turned, "You all right?"

"I.... I am now," she answered.

"Now?" he was puzzled. "Was somethin' wrong?"

"It was nothing," she dismissed it.

He sensed otherwise, "Michaela, what is it?"

"Just some swelling," she said.

He requested, "Le' me see."

She raised the hem of her skirt slightly. Minor swelling had returned around her ankles.

"Ya shouldn't've come here," he folded his arms.

She touched his shoulder, "Nothing could keep me from you."

He tensed, "I gotta work through this."

"That's why I came," Michaela lifted her hand to caress his temple. "To help you."

He closed his eyes, half wanting to tell her all that he had seen, but he held back. She noted his inner turmoil.

"There was a battle...." she broached the subject.

"Michaela," he shook his head. "I can't."

"All right," she resumed massaging his temple. "Then we'll just sit."

"It ain't good for you or the baby," he protested. "Ya need t' be home in bed."

"I need to be with you," she countered.

"Why ya gotta be so stubborn?" he pulled away.

"You used to like my stubbornness," she smiled.

"Go home," his voice was sterner.

"Not without you, Sully," she was firm.

"Then I'll have Cloud Dancin' take ya," he stood up and extended his arms to pull her up.

When she stood before him, there was a moment when he nearly embraced her, but he held back. Michaela rested her hands on his arms, then drew his palm down to caress the baby.

The attraction he felt for her and their child could not be resisted. For a few minutes, he closed his eyes and forgot the horror. Michaela was beside him again, and all was well.

The baby moved, and Sully half smiled.

"She's been quite active while her Daddy was away," she informed him.

Sully stepped back. It was then that he noticed for the first time how much Michaela had grown since his departure.

She read his mind, "There's something I need to tell you.... when you feel like discussing it."

"What?" his brow wrinkled.

"It will wait for now," she held her back.

He took her hand and began to walk, but she stood her ground.

"I'm staying with you, Sully," she protested.

He released her, "Michaela, ya gotta let me do this my own way."

"No," she was adamant. "I see something in your eyes that tells me you need me."

He lowered himself to the ground again.

She approached and placed her hand on his shoulder, "You can still do things your way. I only want to be certain that if you need me, I'm here."

"I best fix ya somethin' t' eat if you're gonna stay," he glanced toward the campfire.

Michaela rested against his saddle and watched him busy himself at the task. When the meal was ready, Sully did not partake. In fact, he did not even watch her eat. Instead, the mountain man stared at the crackling fire.

"Sully," she finally requested. "Could you help me up?"

He made no verbal response, but complied with her wishes and assisted her in rising. Michaela began to walk away.

"Where ya goin'?" he became interested.

"I have to.... you know," she still maintained her propriety.

"Oh," he nodded. "There's a spot over there ya can use for privacy."

Sully folded his arms and sighed as he watched her walk away. After sufficient time had passed, he wondered why she had not returned. Finally, walking in the direction she had gone, he found her sitting on the ground crying softly.

"Michaela?" his heart always broke when he saw her tears.

Quickly, she wiped them away, "I... couldn't get up."

He melted at her expression, "Here."

Linking one arm in hers and supporting the other around her back, he was able to help her up. Then he guided her back to the camp.

She found a comfortable position, "Thank you."

Sully made no reply. Michaela began to study more closely his features. His hair was disheveled and his beard scruffy.

Then she noticed faded blood on his shirt, "Sully, were you injured?"

"No," his voice held no emotion. "It's from....."

He stopped himself. She ran her hand up and down his arm for encouragement.

He closed his eyes, "Michaela, I appreciate ya comin' out here, but it was a mistake."

"It's never a mistake for me to be with you," she turned it around.

"Ya can't understand," he closed his eyes.

Michaela leaned as close as her body would permit, "I love you, Sully. You can tell me anything."

"Not this time," he was shutting down.

She tried a new approach, "Aren't you going to eat?"

"No," he was barely audible.

"I'm rather tired," she attempted to make herself comfortable.

"Ya need t' be home with the kids," he pointed out.

"They need both of us," she reasoned.

Sully shook his head, "Michaela Quinn...."

She patted the ground beside her, "Do you think you could sit with me until I fall asleep?"

"Here," he offered his blanket and positioned himself near her.

"I don't believe I need it," she wiped her forehead. "It's been so hot, I've had difficulty sleeping."

When she finally settled, he pulled back a strand of her hair from her face and held it lovingly between his fingers.

When he was certain that she was sleeping, he whispered, "I love you, Michaela."

She did not open her eyes but had heard.

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

Sully awoke to the smell of bacon. He rolled over and saw that Michaela was cooking a hearty breakfast on the fire. Leaning back on his elbows, he yawned, nearly forgetting the circumstances of their being there.

"Good morning," she smiled.

"Mornin'," he held his hand to protect his eyes from the morning sun.

"I made you something," she handed him a plate.

"I ain't hungry, Michaela," he did not accept it.

"Then I'll eat for the three of us," she retorted.

"You..." he hesitated "You been eatin' a lot?"

She nodded affirmatively since her mouth was full. He was amazed at the quick work she made of the meal. It was unlike Michaela to consume such quantities of food at one sitting.

"Is it good for ya?" he wondered.

"I'm afraid my appetite is ravenous," she responded.

He placed his hand on her belly and rubbed the area with love. She paused from her meal and rested her palm on top of his hand. When their movements stilled, they could feel their unborn child moving.

"I don't think she ever sleeps," Michaela quipped.

"What was it ya said ya needed t' discuss with me?" he returned to her comments from the previous day.

"I want to make certain that you're all right before I broach that subject," she smiled.

"Tell me," he urged.

She raised his hand to her lips and kissed it, "There is a possibility of something happening with regard to my pregnancy."

"What?" his brow wrinkled.

"I.... we might be having twins," she came out with it.

"Twins?" his eyes widened.

"Um hum," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "How do you feel about that?"

"I...." he attempted to grasp the notion. "As long as you're okay.... it's good."

She was silent.

"Ya are okay, ain't ya, Michaela?" he hoped.

"Yes," she replied simply.

"What makes ya think it could be two babies?" he asked.

"My weight gain," she specified. "And Colleen thought she might have detected a second heartbeat."

Sully caressed her abdomen again, "Two babies. I guess we didn't plan on that."

She savored his attentive touch, "We haven't even thought of a name for one, let alone two."

"A name," his thoughts drifted.

"Sully," she hoped to bring him back. "If it is twins, I would probably have my labor sooner than we thought."

"How soon?" he focused on her.

"Very soon," she noted.

"Even more reason t' get ya home," he stood up.

"Only if you're coming, too," she insisted.

"I... I'll come home," he agreed.

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

"Poppy!" Katie spotted the wagon first. "Mama's got Poppy!"

Josef rushed to the homestead window to look out, "Yea!"

Colleen lifted her little brother, "Come on. Let's go see them."

All five of the children rushed out of the home and down the steps to greet their parents. Sully received extra hugs from his family to welcome his return.

Both Katie and Josef insisted that he hold them.

"Poppy," Katie stroked his beard. "Ya need t' shave."

He smiled.

"I shave, too," Josef announced.

Matthew and Brian assisted their mother from the buckboard while Colleen looked on in concern. As the boys escorted Sully and the children into the house, the young woman pulled her aside.

"Ma," Colleen said. "Ya look tired."

"I.... I think I need to lie down," Michaela felt exhausted.

"Come on," the daughter escorted her up the steps. "Up to bed."

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

Brian and Matthew sat on the front porch listening to the sounds emanating from the barn.

"How long's he been in there?" Matthew turned to his younger brother.

"Since supper," the young man replied. "Sounds like he's buildin' somethin'."

"I doubt it," Matthew shook his head.

"Ma said he won't talk about things," Brian spoke. "Said he saw somethin' real terrible between the Bannock an' Army."

"He'll talk when he's ready," the older brother counseled.

"But...." Brian stopped when they heard the front door open.

Colleen looked out, "Pa's still in the barn?"

"Yea," Matthew nodded.

Josef peeked out the slit of the door, "I come out?"

"Come on," Brian clapped his hands for his little brother.

"What ya doin'?" the child rushed to him.

"Just talkin'," Brian kissed his cheek. "Where's Katie?"

Colleen sat on the steps beside them, "She's upstairs working on her reading with Ma."

"I wead," Josef tapped Brian's knee.

"Ya do?" Brian's eyes widened.

"Uh huh," Josef fibbed.

Then the little boy heard the sounds from the barn.

"That Papa?" he asked.

"Uh.... yea," Matthew wondered how the child would react.

"I go see him," Josef started to climb down.

"No, Josef," Matthew reached for him. "He's workin' on somethin'."

"I help," the little boy reasoned.

"He's gotta work on it by himself, little brother," Matthew explained.

Josef's lower lip turned under, "I wanna see Papa."

Matthew hugged him, "He'll be in soon. Come on. It's nearly your bedtime."

The siblings reentered the house as the noise from the barn continued.

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

"There is not much need for that many logs this time of year," Cloud Dancing's voice interrupted Sully's swing of the ax.

Dripping with beads of perspiration, the mountain man wiped his brow, "Had t' do somethin'."

"You could talk, my brother," the medicine man advised.

"Don't wanna talk," Sully reached for his canteen.

"How is Michaela?" Cloud Dancing inquired.

"I'm worried about her," he confessed as he sat on a bale of hay.

"Then why are you out here?" the Cheyenne probed.

Sully sighed, "I can't go in my home an' pretend like I'm the same man."

"You are the same man, my brother," Cloud Dancing stated. "You care about your wife and children, don't you?"

"'Course I do," Sully was taken aback.

"Do you still care about what is right and just?" the medicine man sat beside him.

"You gettin' at somethin'?" the mountain man wiped his upper lip.

"What has changed about you, Sully?" the Cheyenne questioned.

"Me thinkin' I could make a difference," he looked down.

"You are right," Cloud Dancing nodded. "I forgot that you have done nothing for my people."

"You know what I'm talkin' about," Sully protested.

"There are some things we cannot stop, my brother," he observed.

"How can you be so calm about what's goin' on?" Sully asked.

"Calm?" Cloud Dancing raised an eyebrow. "I am not calm. But I know that there are limits to what I can do. Sometimes you have to win a war one man at a time."

"That's what this is," the mountain man folded his hands. "It's a war where one side's got all the advantages. An' winnin' one man at a time ain't winnin'. It's waitin' t' lose."

"What troubles you lies deeper than this war," the Cheyenne noted.

"What d' ya mean?" Sully sat up straighter.

"You saw more than the aftermath of a battle," Cloud Dancing stood. "You saw yourself."

"Myself?" Sully was puzzled.

"I must go," the medicine man walked to the barn door. "I will be near if you need me."

With that, he was gone.

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

When Sully entered the darkened homestead, the lights were low. He spotted Brian and Wolf asleep on the living room floor. The animal wagged his tail when his master neared.

Sully knelt down and stroked his fur, prompting Brian to stir.

"You okay, Pa?" the young man lifted his head.

"I'm fine, son," Sully smiled slightly. "Go back t' sleep."

Sully went into the kitchen and pumped some water into a pitcher, then climbed the steps. He paused outside the first bedroom, softly opening it and looking in on Matthew. Next, he stopped at the open door of his younger children. Colleen and Katie shared a bed, and little Josef peacefully slumbered in his.

Then Sully turned and saw a slit of light from beneath his own bedroom door. He wondered if Michaela had waited up for him, but hoped that she had not. She needed to rest.

As quietly as he could, he opened the door and immediately looked toward the bed. Michaela lay in it, her eyes closed. Sully approached her. Kneeling down beside her, he saw that her skin was moist with perspiration from the heat.

He poured some water into the bowl, and dampening a cloth, began to wipe her. As he ministered to her, his heart filled with love. The light cotton shift that she wore hugged her bulging figure snugly.

When he finished cooling her, he lightly placed his hand on her abdomen, then leaned forward to kiss it.

Michaela opened her eyes and placed her hand on her husband's head, "Are you all right?"

"Fine," he glanced up at her with the eyes she adored. "How 'bout you?"

"It's terribly hot," she sighed. "I can't get comfortable and feel as if I'm burning up."

"Here," Sully lifted the hem of her gown. "Let's get ya outa this. You'll be cooler."

"Sully," she sounded embarrassed.

"What?" he did not understand.

"I... I don't want to sleep in nothing when I'm.... like this," her cheeks flushed.

"Michaela," he pointed out. "It's only me who'll see ya, an' I'll cool ya off with the water."

She finally acquiesced and permitted him to remove the gown. Tenderly, Sully began to apply the moist cloth to her skin. It was working. She began to feel much better, but then something else happened. She was starting to fill with longing for her husband.

Sully noticed and leaned down to lightly kiss her breasts.

Her breathing quickened, "We can't."

"I know," he drew back slowly. "I just wanted ya t' know how beautiful ya are t' me."

She framed the sides of his face in her hands, "Have you come home to me?"

He thought the question odd, "'Course I'm home."

"Truly home?" she repeated.

Sully raised up, "I gotta wash up."

Michaela instantly regretted her question. She knew that he did not want to talk about what had happened with the Indians and was growing more frustrated about how to get him to express his emotions.

She watched him, "I'm sorry, Sully."

"Nothin' t' be sorry for," he removed his buckskins and continued to bathe his body.

Then, lowering the light, he went to the window to feel the breeze against his skin. Michaela glanced at his magnificent form silhouetted against the moonlight, and her heart leapt.

"I love you," she spoke low.

Sully turned to face her, "I love you, too."

"Come be with me," she extended her hand.

He approached their bed, then climbed in beside her.

"Would you... hold me?" she requested.

He slid his arm beneath her shoulders.

"For dear life," she drew his hand to her belly.

"What?" he wondered.

"Hold on for dear life," she completed her thought. "Sometimes I feel as if that's what we must do."

"You okay?" he thought her comment strange.

She did not respond.

"Michaela?" he raised up to look at her more fully.

She had fallen asleep that quickly. He tenderly kissed her, then stroked the hair from her face.

"I can't tell ya, Michaela," he whispered. "I can't tell ya what I saw."

She stirred slightly. He clasped her hand, then raised it to his lips.

"Know how much I love ya," he spoke low.

Then softly resting his hand on her belly, he closed his eyes.

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

During the night, the baby's active movements wakened Michaela. She was able to pull herself upright and raise the lamp. Sully, with his face away from her, remained unchanged in his position. She extended her palm and lightly caressed his hair.

Then she opened the nightstand drawer and withdrew her notes. The words came freely:

"As you lay beside me, so still, yet so tormented, I think about how awkward our first efforts were at being husband and wife. It was very difficult for us to totally share our thoughts and innermost feelings with one another.

When we returned from our honeymoon and spent our first evening in the homestead, I remember how we reacted to being together with the children in the house.

"Thank you for helping me clean up the broken bowl," Michaela took her husband's hand.

"Brian was so funny with his comment about us sleepin' t'gether," he chuckled.

"I must confess I was rather embarrassed," she smiled.

"Michaela," he helped remove the pins that held her hair. "We gotta be quieter now."

"What?" she turned.

He stroked her cheek, "When we... ya know. With the kids here...."

Her cheeks flushed, "Should we wait until they're gone?"

"Do ya wanna wait?" he did not contain his disappointment.

"No," she smiled slightly. "I want us to be together.... often."

He slid his arms around her and pulled her near, "Good."

"Mr. Sully," she began to unbutton his shirt. "Have I told you how much I love our new bed, our new home?"

He recalled her reaction before their wedding when showing it to her family, "Ya didn't always feel that way."

She stopped her attentive gestures, "Sully... I... I regret...."

He saw the pain in her expression, "Michaela, I'm sorry. I shouldn't've said that. I never want my words t' hurt ya."

She leaned forward to kiss his chest.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, "God, how I love ya.... want ya."

"I feel the same way," she glanced up invitingly.

The momentary hurt that his stinging words had caused in his wife filled him with an even greater need to share his love with her. Urgently, they began to undress. Michaela was swept away with new sensations.... so ravenous for his arms, his touch, his kisses. Sully wanted her so much at that moment, he could scarcely control his body's cravings. Unlike the slow and gradual buildup of their previous newlywed encounters, this time was intensely impelling.

As pulses raced, they positioned to exchange their love. Rapidly, their bodies took over, melding, molding to one another's contours. Soon, the fruits of their appetites were reached in a breathtaking culmination that left both of them in awe.

She whispered, "I need you so much."

He spoke low, "I need you, too."

I recall that next morning, as well, Sully. When I awoke, you weren't beside me. I found you at the barn preparing to leave. You seemed different. At first, I thought perhaps I had done something wrong. Needing you as much as I did... would it smother you?

I remember your telling me later why our encounter that night had frightened you. You said it was because never before had you felt the need to give so completely of yourself to someone. You feared you would lose who you are.

But, how far we have come since then, Sully. We have given so totally of ourselves to one another, that I sometimes cannot distinguish where my heart ends and yours begins. It no longer frightens either of us. It completes us.

I learned, as time passed, that there are times when you need space from me, but that it's not because you don't love me. There are times when your heart is deeply troubled, that you retreat into a place that frightens me. But it is precisely at those times that I long to be with you most. To protect your heart from hurt, to soothe your soul from ache, to share my love in a most intimate way with the hope that you know how dear you are to me.

Now, as I contemplate my own mortality, I beg you for our children's sake, if I do not live, find that piece of my heart in you to give you the courage to go on. Share it with our baby so it will know how much its mother loved it.

I write these words out of the most profound love for you. I do not want to leave you or our family, but I am filled with an overwhelming sense of foreboding about my ability to survive this childbirth.

I have never meant to push you or make you do anything you did not want to do, but I must be certain with the words on these pages, that if I do not make it, you will be strong for our children.

Tell the baby how much I loved it and wanted it with my whole heart. Teach it that it was conceived through the most incredible love of its parents. Guide it so tenderly as you have our other children.

And most of all, Sully, know that you were my life. At times I exasperated you, challenged your patience and made you wonder why you ever married me. But I know, too, that you have loved me, been faithfully devoted to me and filled me with happiness beyond my dreams.

I pray that it does not become necessary for you to ever read this.

Your loving wife,

Michaela"

Sully heard the rustling of her papers and opened his eyes. All night long he had dreamed of the haunting images. When he turned, he saw Michaela quickly return the pages to her drawer.

"What're ya doin'?" he sat up.

"Nothing," she responded.

He kissed her cheek, "How'd ya sleep?"

She rubbed her tummy, "Not very well."

"Michaela," his forehead creased. "When will we know if it's twins?"

"I'm going to have Colleen give me a more thorough examination," she told him. "But even then, there might not be a definitive answer."

"If it is twins.... is it dangerous for ya?" he feared.

She took a deep breath, her voice quivering slightly, "Somewhat. I may require a Caesarean procedure."

He had heard of the method, "Ya said they might come early. Ain't that dangerous, too?"

She nodded as a single tear trickled down her cheek.

"I'm sorry," he felt his heart break.

She reached up to caress his cheek, "Don't be sorry, Sully. Colleen has done it before."

"I'm sorry I wasn't here for ya the past couple weeks," he specified.

"You're here now," she smiled slightly.

"Not the way ya need me t' be," he glanced down.

"If I tell you something, would you promise to not be upset with me?" she began.

"I couldn't be upset with ya," he replied.

She continued, "I know that you have seen something terrible... something so heinous, you feel unable to discuss it with me or anyone."

He began to protest, but she raised her finger.

"Let me finish," she resumed. "When I first saw you yesterday, I wanted to hold you in my arms and make the pain go away. I wanted to grieve with you for the loss you felt."

"Michaela...." he choked back his emotions.

"I wanted to caress and kiss your temples," she lowered her voice. "To help your heart heal.... to have you touch our baby to insure in your soul that even though life is lost, new life is born."

He rubbed her belly lightly.

"Please," her voice implored. "Tell me what has so profoundly hurt you."

"I.... I can't, Michaela," he swallowed hard.

"Does it frighten you?" the timbre of her voice was tender.

He rose from the bed and began to dress.

"Where are you going?" she feared.

"I got some things t' do," he was vague.

"Sully," she extended her hand. "Please stay."

He linked his fingers in hers, "I'll be back."

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

Sully stood at the cliff, staring intently at the raging rapids below.

"You still have not told her," it was Cloud Dancing's voice.

"No," he folded his arms. "I can't."

"Can't or won't?" the medicine man distinguished.

Sully stepped back and leaned against a rock.

Closing his eyes, he anguished, "How can I burden Michaela with what I've seen?"

"Because she shares your spirit," his friend counseled.

"Cloud Dancin'," Sully turned to him with reddened eyes. "I'm afraid I might lose her."

"What makes you believe so?" the medicine man wondered.

"She might be havin' twins," he revealed.

"Twins?" Cloud Dancing smiled.

Sully nodded, "She doesn't say much, but I can see the fear in her eyes."

"As she sees the fear in yours, my brother," the Cheyenne spoke. "Do not underestimate Michaela. She is a strong woman."

"The strongest person I ever met," Sully amended.

"Then use her strength," Cloud Dancing advised. "She will guide you from the darkness."

"I don't wanna put any more stress on her," he resisted the idea. "She's real vulnerable right now."

"This is the same woman who put herself between a charging army and my people," the medicine man stated.

Sully ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, "I couldn't bear t' lose her."

"She is even stronger when you are with her," Cloud Dancing observed.

Sully bowed his head. The Cheyenne placed his hand on his shoulder. As Sully lowered himself to a squatting position and clasped his head, Cloud Dancing retreated to give him the opportunity to think in private.

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

"Mama," Josef approached his mother.

"In here, Sweetheart," she called from the living room.

"Ya need anythin'?" the little boy asked.

"Not at the moment," she smiled at his consideration. "Do you need anything?"

"Hold me?" he requested.

"I think we can arrange something," she drew him up to sit on the arm rest of the chair. Michaela supported him with her arm, "How's that?"

"Good," he leaned against her shoulder.

"Your brothers and sisters will be home from town soon," she stroked his arm.

"Papa, too?" he wondered.

She kissed his temple, "Papa will be home when he can, Josef."

"I need him," the little boy's lower lip curled under.

"He needs you, too," she spoke tenderly.

"Where he go?" Josef questioned.

The front door opened, and Sully entered his home.

"Papa!" the little boy rushed to him.

Sully lifted him and kissed his cheek, "Hey, big boy."

"Where ya go?" the child queried.

"Just out t' Macon's Bluff," he replied.

Josef whispered to his father, "Mama need ya."

"Michaela?" he neared her. "You okay?"

"Yes," she was brief. "How was your day?"

"Did some thinkin'," he replied.

She glanced up with anticipation, "And?"

"An' I was wonderin' if we could go for a ride after supper," he requested. "If you're up t' it."

"I'll be up to it," she agreed.

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

After Colleen's assurances that her mother could make the trip if she stayed off of her feet, Sully informed the children that Michaela and he would be staying the night away.

They reached the mountain at sunset. Their mountain. The mountain where he would often go to think. The mountain which he had shared with her when they began their courtship.

Sully helped his wife down from the wagon, "Ya sure you're okay?"

"Yes," she nodded.

"Thought it might be cooler t' sleep out here t'night," he reasoned.

He clasped her hand and led her to a comfortable spot to sit while he prepared their camp. Michaela watched him busy himself, preparing their sleeping area and finally settling down with her.

He positioned himself behind her, his legs straddling her body so that her back was to him. Then he began to gently massage her shoulders and back.

Michaela relaxed at his tender touches, "That feels good."

"Figured your back might be achin'," he pulled her long tresses aside to kiss her neck.

When he was certain that she was comfortable, he came around to her side.

"Ya need anythin'?" he asked.

She chuckled, "Your youngest son asked me the same thing today."

"And?" he smiled.

"And I asked him if he needed anything," she stroked his arm. "He requested that I hold him."

Sully caressed her abdomen, "Tell me what's troublin' ya, Michaela."

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

Michaela hesitated, "Troubling me? About what?"

"The baby," Sully clarified.

She avoided looking at him directly, "I... I've been thinking about.... names."

"Names?" he knew she was avoiding the topic. "Did ya decide?"

"Not without you," she replied.

He stroked her arm, "What names have ya been thinkin' about?"

She swallowed hard, "I was wondering if you would like to name a daughter after Abigail or Hannah."

He smiled at her thought, "No, but thank you for considerin' it. How about after Marjorie?"

"No," she contemplated. "When I was expecting Josef, we thought about naming a girl Charlotte. What about that?"

"Remember the dreams I had when I went t' meet Chief Joseph?" Sully reminded her.

"Yes," she nodded.

He spoke softly, "I think, boy or girl, or even twins, we should name them in memory o' the Indians."

"A Cheyenne name?" she wondered. "Sully, do you think we would we be giving our baby a name that might prompt other children to taunt him or her as they grow up?"

"I guess I didn't think about that," he looked down.

"We still have a little time left to consider it," she assured. "Perhaps there is a compromise we can reach."

Sully lay back and glanced up at the sky, "When I'm away from ya, I sometimes look at the stars an' think you're watchin' the same thing I am."

She touched his shoulder, "I do the same thing."

He rolled onto his side to face her, "You'd tell me if there was somethin' botherin' ya, wouldn't ya, Michaela?"

"As you would tell me," she turned it around.

"I... I'm gonna try," he avowed.

"Try?" she placed her hand on his.

"Try t' tell ya what I saw," he specified.

"I'm listening," her gaze was intense.

Sully rolled onto his stomach to watch her expression.

Then he began, "One mornin' after Cloud Dancin' an' me had lost an Army scoutin' party that was followin' us, we awoke t' gunfire. I made Cloud Dancin' stay at our camp while I went t' check on things."

He paused. Michaela squeezed his hand for encouragement.

"When I arrived, I found a young volunteer from a nearby town," he resumed. "He was about Brian's age, hurt bad in the battle an' deserted by his men."

"How terrible," she whispered.

"He died in my arms," Sully described. "When I was about t' bury him, one o' the Bannock warriors arrived. Told me their chief had been killed. Then I went t' check on the Indians.... That's when I saw."

She felt tears welling in her eyes as he confided in her. She reached to stroke his hair and temples. Sully closed his eyes, savoring her healing touch.

"I saw.... you an' the children," he finally expressed to her. Lowering his head to the ground, he trembled, "I saw you."

"Sully," her figure prevented her from moving closer to him.

He lifted up with reddened eyes, "There was a little girl, about Katie's age. Her face had been blown away... just like...."

He could not go on. He drew closer to Michaela and buried his face in her neck.

She stroked his hair and kissed his temple, "Our little girl is safe now, Sully. She's safe."

He composed himself enough to continue, "There was a little boy, 'bout Josef's size. His arm had been torn from its socket. He was just lyin' there in a pool o' blood all...."

Again, his face contorted in agony. Michaela wiped away his tears with her thumbs.

"There was more," he gulped. "I saw more."

"You saw me?" she assumed.

"A woman expectin' a child," he agonized. "Shot through...."

"Oh, Sully, no," she closed her eyes tightly.

"I can't do it anymore, Michaela," he shook his head. "I can't go on workin' for the government."

She stroked his cheek, "I know how much this new offer from Secretary Schurz meant to you."

"It's just a piece o' paper," he slammed his fist on the ground. "I don't trust any of 'em."

"I don't blame you, Sully," her heart ached for him.

Finally, he broke down in his wife's arms. The hurt, the anger, the anguish that had been pent up these many days finally was set free as he lay next to Michaela. She cried with him and for him.

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

Preston sipped a whiskey as he leaned against the bar talking to anyone who would listen. Loren and Hank happened to be the recipients of his conversation on this evening at the Gold Nugget.

"Would you gentlemen like to hear what I learned about Miss Isabel Morrant?" the banker smirked.

"What?" Loren was suddenly interested.

"Well," Preston lowered his voice. "She was a teacher in Denver all right, but had to leave."

"Why's that?" Hank leaned on his elbows.

"She was rumored to have been engaged in an affair with a married man," Preston revealed.

"Ya don't say!" Loren was intrigued.

"I would imagine this would put a damper on her chances of being hired by the town to teach at the school," the banker noted.

"We gonna base our decision on a rumor?" Hank asked.

"At the very least, a rumor that should be investigated," Preston advised. "I have some well placed connections in Denver who can investigate the allegations further."

"Yea," Loren nodded. "It oughta be investigated."

"Ya think the Padre would take up with a woman like that?" Hank lit a cigar.

"From what I understand, the good minister was not always a pillar of the community," Preston interjected.

"He's right, there," Loren conceded. "I say, go ahead an' check up on her."

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

At sunrise, Sully still slept, his body tucked beside Michaela's. She rested her lips on his forehead. How like a little boy he seemed to her at that moment. But he was a man. A man for whom she would do anything to relieve him of his pain.

He moved slightly, and she stroked his hair.

His eyes opened, "Did I wake ya?"

"No," she moved stiffly. "I haven't been to sleep yet."

"I guess it wasn't such a good idea for us t' say here," he ran his finger along her chin.

She drew his finger to her lips and kissed it, "I've enjoyed the cool breeze and the warmth of you next to me."

He kissed her, "Thank you, Michaela."

"For what?" she wondered.

"For comin' here," he mentioned. "I know it ain't the most comfortable place for ya."

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "How are you feeling?"

He sighed, "Relieved t' have told ya. Mad at the Army... the government."

"What do you want to do now?" she broached the subject.

"This minute?" he grinned.

"No," she caressed the side of his face. "With regard to the government work?"

"I told ya last night, I don't wanna work for 'em anymore," he stiffened.

"If that's what you want," she nodded.

"What?" he wondered. "You think I should?"

"I don't want you to anything against your conscience," she responded.

He became defensive, "They're lyin', deceivin' bast...."

"Sully," she interrupted his expletive. "I know you're angry and hurt right now."

"That ain't gonna change or mellow, Michaela," he sat up.

"Have you discussed this with Cloud Dancing?" she touched his back.

"A little bit," he conceded. "Before the battle."

"What did he say?" she questioned.

"He says I oughta work with the men who want peace," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "Maybe on some o' the reservations."

"Have you ruled that out now?" she spoke softly.

He took a deep breath and sighed, "I don't know. I just don't know anymore."

"I believe that you'll find your way, Sully," she stated. "I believe in you."

He turned to glance down at her. She was rubbing her abdomen. Sully placed his hand atop hers.

"Baby botherin' ya?" he searched her eyes.

"No," she answered.

"Not much longer," he drew closer.

"I know," her voice trembled.

"Tell me," he spoke low. "Tell me what's botherin' ya."

"Nothing's bothering me," she dismissed it.

"Michaela," he lifted her chin. "You can share anythin' with me. Ya know that."

"I love you," she attempted a smile.

He kissed the palm of her hand and recited:

"Love me, for I love you--and answer me.
Love me, for I love you--so we shall stand
As happy equals in the flowering land
Of love, that knows not a dividing sea.
Love builds the house on rock and not on sand,
Love laughs what while the winds rave desperately;
And who hath found love's citadel unmanned?
And who hath held in bonds love's liberty?

She guessed, "Was that Robert Browning?"

"Christina Rossetti," he grinned.

"Ever my poet," she smiled.

Sully noticed the pallor of her skin, "Michaela, I'm takin' ya home now."

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

When Sully pulled up to the homestead, Matthew and Brian came out of the barn, having busied themselves since sunup with chores. The young men immediately rushed to the back of the buckboard where their mother lay.

"Help me get your Ma in the house," Sully requested.

Michaela clutched her abdomen as they carried her to her room. Gently, they set her down. Then the brothers occupied their younger siblings while Colleen rushed into the bedroom with her medical bag.

Sully clasped Michaela's hand, "Colleen?"

"Maybe you oughta wait downstairs, Pa," she suggested.

"No," he insisted. "Michaela needs me."

"Please," the young woman urged. "It would be better if you waited with the children."

"It's all right, Sully," Michaela attempted a smile. "I'll be fine."

Reluctantly, he gave her hand a final squeeze, kissed her forehead and exited the room.

"Now," Colleen sat on the edge of the bed. "Let's make sure you really are all right, Ma."

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

"Poppy," Katie sat on her father's lap and tapped his hand. "Is somethin' wrong with Mama?"

"Colleen's checkin' on her now, Kates," he glanced toward the steps nervously.

"Is it the baby?" she surmised.

"Everythin's gonna be all right," he kissed the top of her soft hair.

"Are ya scared?" she turned around to look at his face.

He did not answer.

"Ya are," she nodded.

Katie took a deep breath and sighed.

"I'm scared, too," she confessed.

Sully enfolded her in his strong arms, "We gotta be brave for your Ma, honey."

"Can I be brave an' scared at the same time?" she wondered.

"I reckon so," he spoke low.

"I'm gonna pray for Mama," Katie folded her hands.

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

"All finished," Colleen washed her hands.

"You're a fine physician," Michaela looked up at her daughter, hiding her true fears.

"I had a wonderful mentor," the young woman smiled and sat beside her.

"So, do you agree with my assessment?" the mother stroked her abdomen.

"I do," Colleen clasped her hand. "Do you want me to get Pa?"

"Please," she agreed.

Colleen stepped to the door and opened it. No sooner had she called for Sully than he was there.

"Everythin' okay?" he held the door frame.

"I'll let Ma talk to you," the young woman stepped out.

"Michaela?" he positioned himself on the edge of the bed.

"Could you get me a glass of water?" she pointed toward the pitcher.

"Sure," he swiftly returned with the cool liquid.

Michaela took several sips, then set the glass on her nightstand.

"Well?" Sully was growing more anxious.

She informed him, "I must remain in bed for a few days."

"Everythin' else okay?" he searched her expression.

"I need to eat properly," she added. "More meat in particular."

"I'll take care o' that," he pledged. "An' the baby?"

"The baby....." she paused.

"What ain't ya tellin' me, Michaela?" he pulled her hand to his heart.

"Things are as they should be," she was vague.

"What's that mean?" he probed.

She did not respond.

"Michaela?" he turned her chin to look at him.

She averted her eyes.

"Look at me," he insisted. "I know you're scared. I know ya ain't tellin' me everythin'."

"Sully," her eyes welled.

"Please," he leaned closer. "What is it?"

"I.... I am frightened," she was barely audible.

He kissed her forehead and embraced her silently.

"I don't want to leave you," she confessed.

Sully felt his shirt moisten from her tears, "I won't let ya leave."

"There are no guarantees," her voice trembled.

"We'll get every doctor in Denver here," he pledged.

"I... I've had such a terrible sense of foreboding, ever since you went away," she continued.

"I never should've gone," he filled with remorse.

"No," she insisted. "You had to go. You had to try to help."

"All I ended up doin' was realizin' how powerless I am," he gulped. "An' how much I wanna protect you an' the kids."

She lowered her hand to the baby, "Please protect this little one."

"Michaela," his voice choked. "Don't give up. Please."

"I don't want to give up," she stroked the side of his face lovingly. "I want to stay and watch our children grow."

"You will," he avowed. "You can do anythin'."

"You've always believed that, haven't you, Sully?" she smiled slightly.

"An' ya never proved otherwise," he nodded.

Again, they silently embraced for several moments.

"Here," he fluffed her pillows. "Ya need t' get some sleep. That's it. Ya need more rest."

"Sully," she held his hand tightly. "Stay with me."

"Always, Michaela," he looked intently into her eyes.

He touched her arm as she closed her eyes. Soon she was asleep. Sully gulped, a flood of fears washing over him. Then he spotted the partially opened drawer of the nightstand. He reached to close it but stopped when he saw the papers inside.

Curious about their content, he pulled the drawer open and began to read Michaela's notes.

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

After the first page, Sully paused. Why was Michaela writing these memories of their marriage? It was as if...

"No, Michaela," he swallowed hard. "Not your last words to me."

He could not continue.... would not accept the notion. Somehow he had to help her be strong... to overcome the fear and foreboding. But how?

He returned the papers to the drawer, then came around to his side of the bed, removed his boots and crawled into the bed beside his wife. Then he heard a soft knock at the already ajar door.

Slowly, it opened. Sully observed the top of his son's head.

"Shhh," the father raised his finger to his lips. "Your Ma's sleepin', big boy."

"I sweep, too?" he stood on tip toes to see.

"Come here," Sully tapped the bed.

The little boy walked to his father, who tenderly lifted him up.

"I touch Mama?" Josef requested.

"Real soft," Sully whispered.

Josef leaned over and lovingly ran his hand along his mother's cheek, "She pwetty."

"Most beautiful woman I ever saw," Sully rubbed his back.

"Papa," Josef turned his blue eyes to his father. "I wanna give Mama pwesent."

"A present?" Sully tilted his head.

"Uh huh," the child nodded.

"Why's that, Joe?" Sully kept his voice low.

"T' tell her I love her," the little boy indicated. "An' tell her I not be 'fwaid no more."

"Afraid?" Sully wondered.

"When ya go 'way, Papa," he toyed with the beads around his father's neck. "Mama say ya come home, an' ya do. So, I not be 'fwaid."

"I think ya oughta just tell your Ma how ya feel, son," Sully drew him into his arms. "That would be the best present."

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

The baby's kicking wakened Michaela. When she glanced to her left, there lay Sully and Josef, asleep beside her. She reached over and brushed back locks of identical hair from their eyes.

"Mama?" Josef stirred.

"Shhh," she whispered. "Let Papa sleep."

"I tell ya sometin'," he crawled closer to her.

"Feel this," she placed his hand in hers and held it to the active life growing in her.

"Baby kickin' ya!" his eyes widened.

"Just as you did," she smiled.

"I sowwy," he shook his head.

"You were simply letting me know that you were all right," she caressed his chin. "Now, what did you wish to tell me?"

"I not 'fwaid when Papa go," he informed her.

"Do you mean when Papa makes his trips?" she clarified.

"Uh huh," he rubbed her abdomen. "Ya tell me he come home, an' ya wight. Ya always wight."

"Not always," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "But when it comes to telling you that your Daddy will come home to us and be here for us, of that, I'm certain."

"I not be 'fwaid then," he reached for her hand. "You make me bwave."

"You are brave, my darling," Michaela said.

"'Cause o' you," he returned his hand to feel the baby's kick. "Mama, baby all wight."

"Josef," Michaela felt a tear trickle down her cheek. "Thank you."

He raised his eyebrows, "Me?"

"Yes," she wiped the moisture away. "You've reminded me of something I had lost sight of."

"Ya not see?" the little boy interpreted.

"I see very clearly now," she wrapped her arm around him.

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

Hank caught up to Preston as he neared the Depot, "Hey."

The banker stopped, "Yes? You wanted something?"

"You off t' send a wire t' Denver?" the sheriff asked.

"As a matter of fact, I am," he nodded. "The sooner we know the true character of this woman, Isabel Morrant, the better."

"She give us any indication that she ain't a decent an' law abidin' woman since she's been here?" Hank probed.

"No, but...." Preston was interrupted.

"How many folks d' ya think would keep their money in your bank if they knew all your dealin's before ya got here?" he questioned.

"What do you mean?" Preston was clearly flustered.

"I mean I doubt if you been lily white in your own background," he returned. "An' what if folks knew it was your Daddy's money that bailed ya outa debt after the Crash?"

"I've done nothing illegal," the banker defended. "What are you getting at?"

"I think I'd reconsider sendin' that telegram, if I was you," Hank shined his badge.

"Is that an order?" Preston took umbrage.

"Nah," he folded his arms. "Just a warnin'."

"The truth always comes out, sooner or later," the Boston banker countered.

"For your sake, I'd hope it don't," Hank turned and left him.

Preston began to step toward the Depot again, then paused. Taking a deep breath and sighing, he pivoted around and headed back to his bank.

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

"The Reverend an' Miss Isabel's downstairs," Sully informed his wife. "Thought they might call on ya since ya couldn't come t' church t'day."

"That was very thoughtful of them," she fussed with her hair.

"Ya look beautiful," he smiled. "Want me t' bring 'em up?"

"Yes, thank you," she pulled the sheet up.

In a few minutes, the minister and Isabel entered her bedroom.

"Good afternoon, Dr. Mike," Isabel smiled.

"How are you feeling?" Reverend Johnson inquired.

"I... I'm feeling much better," Michaela responded.

"We missed you at church," the minister commented. "If you'd like, I could offer a prayer for you now."

Michaela reached for her husband's hand. Sully clasped it.

"Yes, that would be very nice," she was pleased.

Reverend Johnson lowered his head and began to pray for Michaela and her unborn child. He asked, too, for blessings on Sully and the children. Finally, he requested that Isabel read from the book of Psalms.

She cleared her throat, "Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth, who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength...."

"Yes, strength," Michaela nodded as she squeezed Sully's hand.

He noted a change in his wife's demeanor as Isabel concluded the reading.

"Thank you, Reverend, Isabel," she acknowledged. "I truly appreciate your coming here."

"If you need anything, just ask," the minister stood to depart.

"I'll see ya downstairs," Sully stood and escorted the duo from the room.

Soon, he returned.

"Are ya hungry?" he sat down beside his wife.

"Ravenous," she agreed.

"Colleen's fixin' a big supper," he informed her. "Oughta be ready soon."

She sighed with a expression of contentment on her face.

"What's changed?" he observed.

"Everything," she reached up to cup his cheek in her hand.

"Wanna tell me about it?" he invited.

"Our marvelous little boy gave me a present," she revealed.

"He did?" Sully wondered how Josef had managed something. "What?"

"A reminder of where to find courage when I need it," she spoke low.

"Where?" he marveled.

"Right here," she touched his heart. "You give me the most incredible courage imaginable, Sully. I let my doubts and fears obscure the fact that the very man who gave me our beautiful children also gives me the strength to bear them."

"I wish ya didn't have t' go through the pain o' delivery," his eyes glanced lovingly at her. "I'd do anythin' t' take it away from ya."

"The pain is an instant in a lifetime of love," she spoke from the heart.

Sully leaned forward and kissed the sides of her mouth. She clasped the nape of his neck and drew him closer for a deeper expression of her adoration.

"Whew," he pulled back slowly. "I gotta give ya credit, Michaela."

"For what?" she coyly asked.

"For still havin' the ability t' take my breath away," he lowered his hand to caress her. "T' make me want ya every second o' the day."

"You'll have to wait a while before we can... you know," her cheeks flushed.

"I'll wait," he grinned. "'Cause I know it's always worth it. 'Course, I su'pose I could always stop off at Hank's t'...."

"Sully!" she tapped his side. "You wouldn't!"

"Ya know I wouldn't," he chuckled. "I'd never so much as look at another woman when I got the best right here." He kissed her left temple, "The most desirable...." He kissed her right, "The most temptin'...." He lifted her chin to kiss her lips, "The most incredible woman."

Colleen knocked at the door, "I got supper for you, Ma."

Sully stood to open it.

Colleen noticed her mother's reddened cheeks, "You taking it easy?"

"As best I can," Michaela glanced up at her husband.

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

"Say goodnight t' your Ma now, kids," Sully brought the children into their mother.

"Night, Mama," Katie lifted up and kissed her cheek. "Your feet look better."

"Good night, my darling," Michaela stroked her cheek. "I love you. Sleep well."

"I not wanna sweep," Josef requested.

"Joe," Sully lifted him. "Say good night."

"Papa," he looked up in protest.

"What did you want to do, Josef?" Michaela reached for her son's hand.

"Wanna talk," he delayed.

Sully rubbed his side, "Talk about what?"

"Uh...." the child struggled to think of something.

"That's what I thought," Sully grinned. "Say good night."

"I talk about baby," he pointed.

"Baby's fine," Sully tickled his side.

"Papa!" Josef squirmed.

"Shhh," the father tilted him toward Michaela. "Give your Ma a kiss."

"Night, Mama," Josef acquiesced. "Love you."

"I love you, too," she smiled.

"Come on, you two," Sully stated. "I'll tell ya a story."

"Yea!" Katie applauded. "Hurry up, Joey."

Sully winked at his wife, "I'll see ya in a little bit."

As he left the bedroom, Matthew, Colleen and Brian entered. While the boys made pleasant chitchat with their mother, Colleen put her stethoscope to her ears and checked Michaela. Then she examined her ankles.

Brian asked, "Everythin' all right?"

"Very right," Colleen smiled.

"I want to thank you all so much," Michaela held out her hand to them. "Your being with me has meant so much."

"We're a family, Ma," Matthew spoke for the group. "We'll always be here for ya."

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

"Whew," Sully sighed as he began to change for bed. "It took two stories t' get them settled down."

"Two?" Michaela raised an eyebrow. "I guess there are none left for me then."

"You wantin' a bedtime story?" he grinned impishly.

"That would be delightful," Michaela fancied the idea.

"Hummm," he removed his clothes and began to wash up. "Let's see if I can think o' somethin'."

"While you do," she smiled. "I want to thank you, Sully."

"For what?" he dried his face and approached their bed.

"For the past few days, I've had some time to reflect on my life," she held out her hand to him. "My life particularly since I came to Colorado Springs. I've thought about all that you and I have experienced together. I've recalled the many things you've done for me over the years. Following me to Boston.... Coming with me to Washington.... Most of all.... saving my life."

He climbed into bed and slipped his arm beneath her shoulders, "Seems t' me we're even on that score. You saved my life, too. More than once."

She continued, "And I want to thank you for all of the many romantic interludes. Your poetry.... your gifts.... reminding me so often of how lucky I am."

"We are," he amended. "I figure when a man's got a wife as beautiful as you, he has t' win her heart every day."

"Every day?" she smiled. "You won my heart for life, remember?"

"That ain't how women are," he toyed with a lock of her hair. "A man's gotta prove t' her all the time how special she is."

"This woman appreciates it then," she leaned her head toward his.

"Now about that story," he returned to her request.

"Yes," she warmed. "Tell me a story about us."

"Ya want me t' make up somethin'?" he teased.

"No," she retorted. "Something special that you remember about us."

For a passing moment, he recalled reading the first page of her notes to him.

"How 'bout somethin' romantic we did?" he grinned.

"Yes," she warmed. "I'd like that very much."

"There's been so many," he contemplated. "But the one that comes t' mind just now is the night you an' me spent in the cabin after ya injured your head in that fall."

"When we told one another stories to help me stay awake?" she recalled.

"Yep," he replied. "I remember ya told me what had been botherin' ya for some time.... losin' the baby.... Not talkin' about it. But it was what happened next that sticks in my memory."

"When I asked what you would think of having another child," she remembered.

"An' I told ya I couldn't think o' anythin' I'd like better," he linked her fingers in his.

"That was an incredible night," she agreed.

"Just you an' me, so warm by the fire," his voice grew raspy.

Sully and Michaela began to vividly recount the experience:

He slowly, sensuously removed her clothing and leaned closer to kiss her neck, her chin, her shoulder. Lightly running his finger along the scar near her collarbone, he kissed it, as well.

Michaela's senses were heightening by the second. She reached up to unbutton his shirt, then caressed the hair on his chest. Next she began to undo his buckskins.

"I want us to make a baby, Sully," she whispered.

"We'll sure enjoy tryin'," he grinned.

"I love you so much," she gazed intently into his eyes. "All those months in hiding... all those lonely nights without you.... I feel as if we're falling in love all over again."

"I fall in love with ya every time I look at ya," he ran his finger along her lips. "Every time I kiss ya."

"Love me," she invited in a whisper.

He guided her back on the blanket, "Ya sure ya feel all right?"

"Very right," she anticipated.

Divested of their clothing, alone with no distractions or concerns, they commenced their movements. Each wanted to savor the sensations that were building. So, as on their honeymoon, they gently explored and rediscovered one another's bodies.

"You're so beautiful," he spoke low as he kissed her earlobe.

She maneuvered her hands, as she had learned during their initial experiences of intimacy after their wedding, awakening his appetite even further.

His breathing quickened, "That sure feels... good."

He gulped as she touched a particularly sensitive area.

"Sully," she spoke in the voice that enticed him.

He rolled her onto her back and gently rested his weight upon her frame. Slowly, he initiated their movements. With greater intensity, their passion grew and grew. In an overwhelmingly powerful surge of energy, they united as one. Their breaths magically mirrored one another as their hearts and souls joined in love.

Returning to the present, Sully rubbed his wife's abdomen, "That sure was a time t' remember."

"Indeed," she felt the baby kicking.

"This baby has t' be twice as active as Katie or Josef ever were," he observed. "Think that means somethin'?"

"Twice as active?" she glanced toward him. "What do you mean?"

"You know somethin' I don't?" he suspected.

"Something you don't?" she repeated.

"Michaela," he lifted up slightly. "You were real vague after Colleen examined ya when we got home from the mountain. Wanna tell me what's really goin' on?"

"I told you that things are as they should be," she indicated.

"But...." he began to want more.

She touched her fingers to his lips, "Don't worry anymore."

"I wanna know," his eyes implored.

"You'll know soon enough, Mr. Sully," she cupped his cheek in her hand.

He lay back and sighed.

"Are you pouting?" she raised an eyebrow.

"No," he answered simply.

"Brooding?" she wondered.

"I don't brood," he sounded boyish.

They suddenly burst into laughter.

"It's good t' hear ya laugh," he snuggled closer.

"You, too," she pulled back a lock of his hair. "Particularly after what you've been through these past few days. I'm so relieved that you talked with me about your experience, Sully. What finally prompted you?"

"Somethin' Cloud Dancin' said," he related. "When I was agonizin' over things an' worryin' about ya, he told me that you're stronger when I'm with ya. I figure it works both ways, Michaela."

"That's how I feel, as well," she drew his hand to her lips and kissed it.

She attempted to move in a more comfortable position.

"Le' me help ya," he lifted her slightly.

They stopped their movements, captured by the look in each other's eyes.

"I love you," she stroked the side of his face tenderly.

He leaned closer and kissed her, "I love you, too."

She smiled slightly, "Might I be the one to quote some poetry?"

"Be my guest," he grinned.

She recited:

"O Love! O fire! once he drew
With one long kiss my whole soul thro'
My lips, as sunlight drinketh the dew."

He leaned closer and kissed her, "I love it when ya quote poetry."

"I thank Mr. Tennyson then," she caressed his temple.

"Could I have a clue?" he changed the subject.

"A clue?" she tilted her head.

"About what ya ain't tellin' me about the baby?" he returned to their earlier topic.

"A clue...." she hesitated.

"Mmmm," he rubbed her belly.

"Our children have the most magnificent father," she spoke low.

"That's my clue?" he teased.

"Mmm-hum," she smiled.

"Children's plural," his eyes widened. "So we're havin' twins?"

"I was referring to all of our children collectively, current and future," she defined.

"Oh," he sighed.

"Be patient, Mr. Sully," she told him. "Good things come to those who wait."

"Things?" he raised his eyebrows. "That's plural, too."

"Sully," she tapped his side. "You'll know soon."

"I guess I got no choice," he pretended to be disappointed.

She felt the kicking sensation in her belly again. Michaela drew his hand to feel it with her.

"Good night, Papa," she whispered.

"Night," he lowered the lamp.

"Hold me?" she requested.

"For dear life," he enfolded her in his arms and rested his chin on her shoulder.

THE END

EPILOGUE

I took a little license with the month in which the Bannock War began. The incident which sparked the war actually occurred in May 1878. The clash with volunteers in which Chief Buffalo Horn was killed was in June.

The Bannock regrouped and joined with the Paiutes. The regular army under General Howard (who had fought the Nez Perce) and his cavalry officer Captain Bernard mobilized out of Fort Boise and chased the Indians through Oregon and Idaho.

During July and August, various bands from the Indian force surrendered to the Army, but the fighting continued until a final group of the Bannock was captured east of Yellowstone Park in September 1878.

After being held in military posts for a time, the Bannock prisoners were allowed to return to their reservation on the Snake River in Idaho.



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