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

Diplomacy


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Diplomacy
by Debby K

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

"Sully," Michaela found her husband sitting on the front porch. "I ordered that doll I told you about for Katie's birthday."

He looked up, "That's good. Hard t' believe she's gonna be five years old."

"I know," she sat down beside him. "Seems like only yesterday...."

He put his arm around her, "She looks more an' more like you every day."

Michaela sighed.

"Somethin' on your mind?" he perceived.

"Sometimes I just find myself thinking...." she stopped.

"'Bout the baby?" he suspected.

"Yes," she leaned her head against his shoulder. "Right now, I would have been nearly five months along."

He ran the palm of his hand up and down her arm silently. Then an idea occurred to him.

"How'd ya like t' go see a play?" he asked.

"What?" she was surprised.

"A play," he repeated. "I saw a poster at the Depot. It's called 'Diplomacy.'"

"Where?" she warmed to the idea.

"Central City Opera House," Sully replied. "They got some New York actors in the cast."

"When is the performance?" Michaela wanted to know.

"Well," he raised an eyebrow. "So happens they got one the night o' our anniversary."

"Are you thinking of an overnight trip, Mr. Sully?" she asked coyly.

"If you're willin'," he grinned.

"I'm willin'," she imitated him.

"Kids ready for bed?" he asked.

"Yes," she nodded. "Brian is playing checkers with Katie.

"What about Josef?" he chuckled.

"He's trying to take the checkers off of the board before they're jumped," she smiled.

"He's a lively one," Sully spoke fondly.

"Yes," she sighed.

"We got a lot, Michaela," he drew her closer.

"I know," she acknowledged.

"I'll order us some tickets an' book us a room at the Teller House," he stood up and extended his hand to her.

"Good," she joined him.

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

"Poppy, what gonna happen when I'm five?" Katie held her father's hand as he said good night.

"What do ya mean, Kates?" he held Josef on his lap.

"I gonna go t' school?" the little girl wondered.

"Not yet," he was jolted by the realization that his daughter would soon be of school age.

"I wanna learn t' read," she stated.

"Ya know a lot o' words already," he pointed out.

"I read you a story?" she requested.

Sully raised his eyebrows and looked at his son, "What do ya think, Joe? Wanna have Katie read us a story?"

"Yep," the little boy nodded enthusiastically without a clue of what it meant.

Sully reached for Katie's favorite book. The child opened it and began to spin a tale about animals in the woods, survival from the harsh winter, helping the Indians and the heroic mountain man and female doctor who saved them all. None of it was in the book. It was all in the little girl's imagination, but she pretended that it was on the pages as she "read."

"That was a real good story," Sully applauded at the conclusion. "I liked the part about that doctor."

"I put that in for you, Poppy," she smiled.

"Seems t' me you could write your own book," he proclaimed.

Josef had fallen asleep in his father's arms.

"Joey not like it," Katie frowned.

"He liked it," Sully tickled her side. "It just wore him out, it was so excitin'."

He returned the book to its shelf.

"Say your prayers now, sweet girl," he stroked her cheek.

"Mama not here yet," she delayed.

"I'm right here," Michaela appeared at the doorway.

"Poppy, I gotta read Mama story now," the little girl attempted to put off going to bed.

"I heard your story," she answered. "It was quite an energetic tale, Sweetheart."

"How ya hear, Mama?" Katie was amazed.

"From the hallway," she revealed. "I did not want to interrupt you. Now, your prayers?"

Katie sweetly folded her hands and began to say her prayers. In conclusion, she requested blessings on each member of her family, Wolf, and her imaginary friend Annie. The parents kissed her good night, and lowering the lamp, exited.

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

"Sully, do you think it's all right that Katie has a pretend friend?" Michaela brushed her hair.

"Annie?" he laughed. "Just her imagination. Nothin' t' worry about."

"Perhaps you're right," she stared into the mirror.

"Sometimes that happens," he teased.

"Pardon me?" she missed his joke.

"Sometimes I'm right," he removed his shirt.

Michaela watched his reflection through the mirror. His bronzed and muscled torso stirred her. Quickly, she felt uncomfortable. They had not made love since her miscarriage two months earlier. Sully had not pressed her. He never did, when it came to such matters, but the thought of resuming their intimacy was beginning to bother her.

From her wedding night, Michaela had always enjoyed that aspect of marriage, but never before did she fear becoming pregnant. In fact, she had reveled in the notion that each time they made love held the potential for creating a child. Sully's poetry and his romantic heart never failed to stir her. Their mutual satisfaction in sharing their love was a grand and beautiful thing.

Suddenly, anxiety gripped her about their trip to Central City. Sully was trying to take her away, perhaps to help put behind what had happened and resume their intimacy.

As she contemplated this, Michaela did not notice that her husband was watching her.

"What ya thinkin' about?" he knelt beside her.

"Nothing in particular," she became uncomfortable.

"Hey," he placed his hand on her knee. "You can tell me."

The proximity of his body to hers, the touch of him, contributed further to her discomfort.

"Michaela," Sully sensed her tension. "We don't have t' go t' the play if...."

"No," she stopped him. "I'm looking forward to it."

"Are ya nervous about somethin'?" he inquired.

She fidgeted with her hands, "No, I.... I'm simply tired."

"Here then," he helped her rise. "Let me put ya t' bed."

Tenderly, he removed her robe and rested his hands on her bare shoulders. It sent shivers through Michaela's body, and Sully noticed.

"Ya cold?" he pulled back the covers.

"Somewhat," she climbed into bed.

Situating her beneath the sheet and blankets, he joined her. He went to pull her into his embrace, but she turned onto her side away from him. Resting his hand on her arm, he sighed.

Sully wanted to hold her, but Michaela rejected every overture of comfort and warmth he offered. After her first miscarriage, he was still in hiding from the Army and had not been home to witness what she went through. He felt a pang of guilt. He knew she was not ready to make love again. Back then, he had waited for her to broach the subject of trying for another baby. He smiled, fondly recalling that night in the cabin after she recovered from her fall.

Removing his hand from her arm, he sighed and rolled onto his back away from her. He lowered the lamp and closed his eyes.

Michaela felt moisture on her cheek from the tear that ran down the side of her face. She had to speak with him soon. She owed it to Sully to tell him her decision. As a physician, she was aware of methods of birth control. Would Sully accept the idea of no more children? Tomorrow she would ask him.

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

"Sully," Michaela kept her voice low so Katie could not hear. "I've invited a few friends for Katie's birthday."

He glanced toward the anteroom of the Clinic to be certain the children were occupied, "How many's a few?"

"Well," she began to count on her fingers. "Besides family, there will be Cloud Dancing, Dorothy, Robert E and Grace, Loren, Jake and Teresa, the Reverend, Hank...."

"Hank?" Sully sat at her desk.

"He was sitting at the Cafe when I asked everyone else," she shrugged. "I thought it would be rude to exclude him."

"Okay," he acquiesced. "Least ya didn't ask Preston."

"Uh...." she felt awkward.

"Ya asked Preston?" he turned up his nose.

"Actually, he invited himself," she amended. "And there are some children of my patients with whom Katie plays."

"Sounds like more than a few," he leaned back.

"Do you mind?" she queried.

"No," he smiled. "I want Katie t' have a good time."

"Grace will take care of the food and cake," she glanced at her list. "I was hoping you would handle the games."

"Games?" he was surprised. "Me?"

"Yes, you," she smirked. "You know when it comes to children, you have a great affinity."

"That mean I'm just a big kid?" he stood up.

"You said it," she returned to her list. "Not I."

Sully playfully pulled her into his arms and lifted her chin, "I like playin' grown up games, too."

For that moment, Michaela forgot herself and kissed him eagerly. Then, feeling his arms around her, she pulled back, flushed and breathless.

"I... I have patients arriving soon," she walked to her file cabinet.

"Sorry," he hoped he had not pressured her.

"No," she pivoted to see his hurt expression. "I... I'm the one who's sorry, Sully."

"I gotta get goin'," he went to the door. "I told Robert E I'd help him t'day."

"I'll see you at supper?" she anticipated.

"Sure," he closed the door behind him.

Michaela opened her patient file and read the same paragraph over and over. She sighed in frustration. She had to discuss this with her husband. She could not go on like this. He could not go on like this.

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

"Robert E," Sully felt comfortable confiding in his friend. "Can I ask ya somethin'?"

"Sure," the blacksmith removed his cap to wipe the perspiration from his forehead.

"After you an' Grace lost Anthony, I know things were pretty bad between you two," he said.

"It didn't help that Grace started drinkin'," Robert E added.

"Michaela an' me were real worried about ya," Sully recalled.

"Why ya bringin' that up, Sully?" he asked.

"I guess I was wonderin' how ya got Grace t' feel... comfortable again," Sully suddenly felt awkward.

"Comfortable?" the blacksmith folded his arms.

"How'd ya get her t' not pull away when ya touched her.... t' not change the subject when ya said somethin' lovin' t' her.... t' not...." he stopped.

"Sully," Robert E put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I think ya already know the answer t' that."

"I been givin' her time; I tell her I love her," Sully noted. "But nothin' I say or do seems t' help her."

Robert E was certain, "Dr. Mike'll come around. Look how she bounced back after Washita, after her first miscarriage, after bein' shot. She feels things real deep, then she finds an inner strength t' deal with 'em."

Sully pondered his words, "You're right. I guess I was just wonderin' if me bein' around was helpin' or hurtin' her healin'."

"One thing I know 'bout Dr. Mike," Robert E smiled. "When you were on the run from the army, she lost that spark that folks love about her. She needs ya, all right."

"Thanks, Robert E," Sully shook his hand. "If we're finished here, could ya help me with somethin'?"

"Sure," his friend agreed.

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

Sully did not arrive home for supper, and Michaela began to fret. She had tucked in the children and attempted to answer Katie's questions concerning her father's whereabouts. Brian stayed up with her until he could no longer fight his fatigue. Then she prepared for bed herself. Still no Sully. She was uncertain. Was something wrong, or had he gone away to think? In frustration, she went downstairs and made herself a cup of tea.

Michaela sat at the kitchen table, resting her head on folded arms.

"Oh, Sully, I've pushed you away," she sighed to herself.

No, he would not stay away like that. Perhaps before their marriage but not now. Not with all they had been through, their children. There must be something wrong. Standing up, she went to the window searching for any sign of her husband. Then she walked into the living room to rest in a chair. Soon she fell asleep.

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

"Michaela," Sully touched her shoulder.

"Sully!" she leapt up to embrace him. "Where have you been? What happened?"

"I told ya I was helpin' Robert E," he removed his coat. "Then he helped me take some lumber out t' the Ward Ranch, an' we got a broken wheel on the wagon. After that, one o' the horses pulled up lame, and we had t'...."

She covered his lips with her own. Passionately, she deepened the kiss. Sully grasped her arms and pulled back.

"Michaela!" his pulse raced.

"I was afraid something had happened to you," she revealed her fear. "Then, I thought perhaps you were staying away because...."

"I wouldn't stay away from ya," he interrupted.

"Under normal circumstances, I realize that, but...." she turned her back, unable to look him in the eye. "I... I've been avoiding you... avoiding us."

"I know ya need time, Michaela," he touched her shoulder. "It's all right."

"No, Sully," she turned to face him. "It's not all right. It's very unfair to you."

"Michaela," he thought she was overreacting. "It ain't unfair t' me. Ya been through hell. I don't expect ya t'...."

She rushed to his arms, "I'm so glad you're home."

"I'm glad I'm home, too," he rubbed her back. "Sorry t' worry ya."

"Are you hungry?" she pulled back.

"Starvin', now that ya mention it," he grinned.

"Let me fix you something," she led him into the kitchen.

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

Before heading for his bedroom, Sully looked in on Katie. He tenderly stroked her cheek and smiled. Then he left her.

Michaela was already in bed, deep in thought when he came to her. Removing his beads, he set them on the bedpost. He caressed Josef's back, then sat beside his wife. Fearing to ask what was troubling her, Sully silently rubbed her hand with his thumb.

She took a deep breath, "I... I've been thinking about us."

"That's a good thing t' think about," he tried to make light.

"Sully, it's been almost two months since my miscarriage, and...." she bit her lower lip. "And I know you have certain needs."

He stroked her hair, "The only need I have is t' see you happy."

"I have needs, too," she confessed. "I need you very much."

"There's nothin' wrong with that," his voice was soothing.

She edged closer to telling him, "But I'm afraid."

His eyes searched hers, "Afraid o' me?"

"No, not afraid of you," she was not making herself clear. "I'm afraid of what might happen."

"What might happen?" he shook his head. "Ya mean afraid t' make love?"

"Yes," she was barely audible as she looked down at her folded hands.

Sully understood, "We don't have t' make love if ya don't want to. I'd never ask that o' you."

"I know you wouldn't," she nodded. "But I don't know if I could stop myself if you wanted to."

"I don't understand," he turned her chin to face him. "If you want me, an' I want you, why does that scare ya? We love each other. We're married."

"I'm afraid of becoming pregnant again," she came out with it.

There was silence.

"Well... that's understandable," he reached for her hand.

She willingly gave it, "What are we going to do, Sully?"

He paused before speaking, "I reckon we do nothin'."

"You don't mind?" she tentatively asked.

"Mind?" he stood up.

"You don't mind if we... do nothing?" she clarified.

He folded his arms and looked down, "If ya don't want more children, I respect that."

"Do you want more?" she now doubted her own certainty.

He delayed answering, "Like I told ya before, I'll love whoever comes along."

"We're very blessed with the children we have," she pointed out.

"No doubt about it," he agreed.

"But..." she noted his tone. "But you would like more."

He sympathized with her, "Michaela, maybe it's too soon for us t' be decidin' this. Our pain is still fresh. We got plenty o' time t' think."

"But I want us to be together," she added.

"You're takin' me 'round an' 'round with your words here," he ran his fingers through his hair. "Ya don't wanna get pregnant. Fine. We'll just not... do... that...."

"That's what I'm talking about, Sully," she saw he was flustered. "I sense that you want us to make love, and I want that, too. I don't want us to wait any longer."

"But if we... make love...." he paused. "It could happen again."

Michaela sighed. Suddenly a part of her felt strangely warm at the thought of another child. This after she thought she could not face the possibility of another pregnancy. She quickly dismissed letting down her guard.

Sully noticed her inner turmoil, "How 'bout we sleep on it?"

He slid into bed beside her, and she rested her head against his shoulder. Each controlled their desire to go beyond this simple contact.

"There are things we could do to prevent it," she spoke low.

"Prevent it?" he turned his head.

"Prevent my becoming pregnant again," she answered.

"Yes," he said. "I know."

"You do?" she wondered.

"I ain't led a sheltered life, Michaela," he smiled.

"Although nothing is full-proof except...." she hesitated.

"'Cept not makin' love at all," he completed her thought.

Michaela added, "And some things are even dangerous."

"Michaela," he gently pointed out. "Let's just think on things for right now."

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

The scent of his wife drove Sully to near madness, and he could no longer control his passionate yearnings for her. Violating their agreement, he reached for her.

"Michaela," his voice was husky.

Feeling the same passions, she rolled over to face him and with a sultry gaze murmured, "Yes, Sully. Yes."

In a flurry of movement, they undressed and became locked in each others arms. Repeatedly they satisfied their desires as they soared to dizzying heights.

"Michaela, I love you," he clung to her.

"I love you, too," she shook him.

"Huh? What?" he stirred from his dream.

"You were talking in your sleep," Michaela ran her hand along his cheek. "You were moving all around the bed and telling me you love me."

He was suddenly embarrassed, "I.... I'm sorry. I mean... I do love ya. Sorry I woke ya."

"It's all right," she smiled. "It was not an unpleasant dream, was it?"

"No," his face was damp. "I... I gotta use the privy. Be right back."

Michaela turned onto her side and fell back to sleep.

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

"Michaela, we gotta talk," Sully's voice stirred her.

She felt her heart skip a beat at the sight of him standing before her, his broad chest glistening in the moonlight. She pulled him down into their bed.

"No," she whispered. "No talk."

"But...." his lips were covered by her fingers.

"Come here," she beckoned him into her arms.

"But what about..." he forgot what he was going to say.

"There is nothing that matters more than our being together," she ran her fingers sensuously through his hair. "I need you, Sully."

"I need you, too," he positioned himself to share his love.

Their bodies could no longer fight the cravings they had tried to suppress. Rolling around on the bed, they succumbed to their passions. Steeped in perspiration, they culminated their movements in a blindingly pleasurable union.

"Oh, Sully," she closed her eyes and sighed.

"What?" he touched her arm.

Michaela was startled.

"Are ya okay?" he asked. "Ya were movin' around an' callin' my name. Havin' a bad dream?"

"No," she settled back on her pillow. "Not a bad dream."

She tried to calm her breathing.

Sully noticed, "Ya sure you're okay?"

"Just a bit warm," she rose from the bed and went to pour water into the basin.

"It is kinda warm in here," he stood up and walked to the window. "I'll open this. Let in some cool air."

"Good," she dabbed a dampened cloth on her face and neck.

Sully stood, mesmerized, watching her. His pulse began to race at the sight of the moisture on her skin. He took a deep breath and exhaled heavily.

"Are you still warm?" she approached him.

"Oh, yea," he turned from her and went back to the window.

Michaela's heart nearly stopped at the sight of his physique. If he asked at that moment, she would not be able to control herself, so heightened was her desire for him.

Sully focused his attention on a tree outside. But all thoughts returned to his wife, standing behind him. If she asked at that moment, he would rush to her, give all to her.

"Sully"--"Michaela" they spoke in unison.

"I suppose we should try to get some rest," she could not take her eyes off of him.

"Yep," he rested his hands on the window sill.

Michaela extended her hand toward his sinewy back. Only inches from him, she pulled back.

Sully sensed the nearness of her. Her scent stirred every fiber of his being. Then he thought about what could happen if he gave in to his desire. The realization that his longing could put Michaela through any pain or anguish quickly sobered his physical urges.

Michaela found herself beside Josef's crib. Touching his little hand, she smiled. He was so like Sully with his beautiful blue eyes. This child was such a gift from God. She recalled the fear they had experienced when, after learning she was pregnant with him, she was abducted in Washington and injected with morphine. Then there was the terrifying blizzard the night he was born... and Sully's brush with death when he went into town to bring home Matthew and Brian. The pain and the pleasure... all part of their life together. She never thought she would be able to think of another child after her first miscarriage, and then... then came Josef.

"We've been through so much," she said aloud.

Sully turned to face her, "But it's all been worth it, ain't it?"

Curling her son's fingers around hers, she smiled, "Very much worth it."

Then her mind turned to the baby she had just miscarried.

"But I can't risk going through some things again, Sully," her voice wavered.

"I know," he reached out to her.

She started to place her hand in his, then stopped, "We'd better go to bed."

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

"Brian," Michaela finished cleaning the table after breakfast. "Have you seen Sully?"

"Said he had some chores t' do outside," the young man looked up from his book. "I got a spellin' test t'day, Ma. Could you ask me some words?"

"I ask ya, Bran," Katie offered.

"You don't know how to spell yet," he chuckled.

"Yes, I do," she sounded offended. "K-a-t-i-e."

"Perhaps you could learn some new words from listening to Brian, Sweetheart," Michaela wiped her daughter's hands.

"Can I go outside with Poppy?" she preferred.

"May I go?" Michaela corrected her.

"You can come, too, Mama," Katie missed the intent of her mother.

Michaela sighed, "Let me put your coat on you first."

Katie fidgeted anxiously as her mother completed the task of preparing her for the outdoors, "Not cold, Mama."

"There's still a slight chill in the air," Michaela finished. "Now, before you go, let me see where your father is."

Michaela opened the door and called out, "Sully! Where are you?"

"The garden," he shouted back.

Katie bounded down the steps, with Michaela watching her until she was in her father's care. Then she returned to the kitchen.

"All right, let's look at those spelling words," she lifted Brian's book.

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

"Poppy, what ya doin'?" Katie sat down on a milking stool to watch her father.

"Loosenin' up the soil," he pushed the shovel into the ground with his foot. "It's almost time for your Ma t' plant her garden."

"What she gonna plant?" the little girl swayed back and forth.

"Lots o' things we like t' eat," he continued.

"I help?" she offered.

"After I get it all dug up," he replied.

Katie became distracted from his monotonous task and ventured a little higher up from the garden to the spot where they had buried the memorial box to the baby they had lost. Sitting down beside it, she ran her hand along the earth.

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

Michaela looked up from the spelling book and glanced out the window. There, on the bank beside the house, she saw her daughter. Her heart filled with love.

"E-s-t-a-b-l-i-s-h-m-e-n-t," Brian concluded.

"Excellent," Michaela closed the book.

"E-x-...." the young man began.

"No, Brian," she chuckled. "That was it. I was merely saying that you have done an excellent job with your spelling."

"Oh, thanks, Ma," he smiled.

She rested her hand on his shoulder, "I'm quite proud of you."

Brian blushed and gathered his books, "I best be goin' now. See ya later in town?"

"Yes," she nodded. "We'll finish planning Katie's party for tomorrow. I think it would be best to have it in town. Oh, before I forget."

"What?" he pulled on his coat.

"Sully and I are going to Central City for our anniversary," Michaela informed him. "Would you and Matthew..."

He stopped her, "Sure, Ma. We'll watch the kids. It'll be fun... except for tryin' t' get Katie t' go t' bed. I guess my stories don't measure up t' Pa's."

"Why not ask her to tell you the story?" Michaela suggested. "She has quite an imagination. You should have heard the one she told last night."

"I'll try that," he donned his hat. "See ya, Ma."

"Good-bye, Brian," she glanced toward the baby. "What would you like to do, young man?"

"Papa," he pointed to the door.

"Would you like to go watch Papa dig the garden, as well?" she smiled.

"Yep," Josef nodded.

"Well, then, let's get you ready," she lifted him from the high chair.

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

"Mama! Joey!" Katie ran down the gentle slope when she saw them come through the kitchen door.

"Papa!" Josef pointed.

"Ya wanna dig, Joe?" Sully paused to look at his son.

"Yep!" the toddler nodded.

"Joey too little, Poppy," Katie took him seriously.

"He's only kidding," Michaela stroked her daughter's hair.

"He is?" Katie was curious. "How ya know?"

"Your father has a certain look about him," Michaela raised an eyebrow.

"Poppy look handsome," the little girl stepped into the dirt beside him.

"Katie," Michaela scolded. "You'll track that all through the house."

Sully lifted his daughter up, "I'll go dump her in the creek, Michaela. That oughta clean her up."

"No, Poppy!" the little girl was frightened.

"Sweetheart," Michaela smiled. "Look at your father's face."

She did, "Ya kiddin', Poppy?"

"What do you think?" he pulled her close and kissed her cheek.

"Yep, ya got that look," she hugged him.

"Here," he set her to the side of the garden. "You go help your Ma take care o' Josef."

Michaela set the little boy down and he quickly ran to his sister.

"Ka-tee," Josef held up a ball.

"Throw it here, Joey," she urged.

Josef lobbed the ball in her direction, but it did not quite reach her.

"I teach Joey baseball," Katie retrieved it.

As the children played, Michaela walked up to the spot where they had buried the memorial box and sat down. Like Katie had done earlier, she ran her hand along the earth. Sully noticed and decided to join her.

"I was thinkin' we oughta plant somethin' there," he pointed to the bare ground.

"That's a good idea," she felt a pang of sorrow.

He sat down and reached for her hand, "I love you, Michaela."

"I love you, too," she linked her fingers in his.

She glanced toward the children, "Look at them, Sully."

"Nothin' sweeter than the sound o' children laughin', he watched them. "Who'd have thought."

"Thought what?" she gazed at him.

"Who'd have thought seven years ago when I proposed t' ya that we'd be sittin' here one day lookin' at the two most beautiful children in the world," he smiled.

"It's the way I dreamed it would be," she revealed.

"It is?" his grin broadened.

"In truth, it's more wonderful than I imagined it would be," she smiled shyly.

Sully clapped his hands when Katie caught the ball, "I sure am glad ya said 'yes.'"

"Was there any doubt that I would?" Michaela teased.

"Well...." he was reminded. "There were some stumblin' blocks."

She glanced down at the ground again, "I thought about something last night."

"Thought about a few things myself," he vividly recalled his dream of making love to her. "What did ya think about?"

"About how we wouldn't have Josef now if I had let my fears get the better of me," she noted.

"Ya mean fears o' gettin' pregnant again after the first miscarriage?" he clarified.

"Yes," she felt better discussing this with him. "At that time, you and I saw so little of one another, Sully. With you in hiding, and our encounters so brief, I had a great deal of time to think about what had happened. I didn't put such pressure on myself."

"No need t' feel pressured, Michaela," he quickly responded.

"I think our going away may do me some good," she smiled. "I'm looking forward to seeing 'Diplomacy.'"

"Good," he rubbed her arm.

An out-of-breath Katie ran to her father, "Hello, I'm Annie."

"Where'd Katie go?" Sully winked at his wife.

"She had t' go t' work," the little girl fantasized.

"Isn't she a bit young to work?" Michaela inquired.

"No, she go every day," Katie continued.

"Where does she work?" Sully pulled Josef into his arms as he ran by.

"In town," the little child was vague.

"Where in town?" Michaela persisted.

"At Mr. Lawson's," Katie stated.

"What!" her mother's jaw dropped.

Sully burst into laughter, "What does she do at Mr. Lawson's."

"Sully!" Michaela tapped her husband's arm. "Don't encourage her in this matter." Turning to her daughter in a serious tone, Michaela spoke, "Katherine Elizabeth."

"Katie in trouble?" the little girl assumed.

"No, but I would like for her to be with her family right now," Michaela stated firmly.

"I go get her for ya," Katie took off for the front of the house.

"Ka-tee," Josef pointed. "Bah."

"She'll be back, son," Sully bounced the boy on his lap.

"Sully," Michaela was upset. "I can't believe that...."

Katie's return stopped her from completing the sentence.

"Mama, Poppy, I home from work," she shouted.

"That's good, Kates," Sully smiled warmly.

"Good," Josef imitated.

"Come here, Sweetheart," Michaela pulled her into her lap. "I want to speak with you about your job."

"Michaela," Sully put his hand tenderly on his wife's arm. "Let it be. No use makin' a big deal out o' it."

"But don't you think that...." she stopped herself.

"What ya wanna speak about, Mama?" Katie asked.

"Nothing," she hugged her. "Let's get ready to go to the Clinic, shall we?"

"I stay with Poppy t'day?" the little girl requested.

"Sully?" Michaela wondered.

"Sure," he winked.

"Joey, too?" Katie implored.

"Papa?" Michaela raised an eyebrow.

"Yep," he nodded. "We'll go hikin'."

"Yea!" Katie clapped, prompting her brother to do likewise.

"Could be an adventure," Sully leaned over to kiss his wife.

"You'll have your hands full," she smiled. "I wish I could come with you."

"Why don't ya?" he invited. "We'll go up t' Benson's Pond."

"I have a patient this morning," she stated. "Perhaps I'll join you after that."

"Come on, kids," he stood up. "Let's go have an adventure."

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

Sully held Josef on his lap and demonstrated for the little boy how to toss a pebble into the pond to create ripples. Katie nestled next to her father and applauded her little brother's effort.

Resting his chin lightly on his son's head, Sully spoke tenderly from a Wordsworth poem,

"Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher."

"Nature a school?" Katie pondered his words.

"Yep," Sully smiled at her perceptiveness. "It's a real good school."

"You go t' a real school, Poppy?" she picked up a rock and lobbed it into the pond.

Josef clapped, "Good, Ka-tee!"

"Not for very long, Kates," he sighed. "But I love t' read an' learn stuff. Just lookin' around at things can teach ya, too."

"I wanna learn stuff," Katie glanced at him with her mother's eyes.

His heart melted, "You're smart enough t' learn anythin' ya want. School's good. So's your own powers o' observation. For example, your Ma's about fifty feet behind us right now."

Katie swiftly turned her head to look, "No, Poppy. I don't see Mama."

"Keep watchin'," he did not turn around.

Soon, Katie leapt to her feet, "Mama! Mama! Poppy know ya were here."

"Did he, now?" she sat down beside them.

"How he know?" the little girl was fascinated.

"Perhaps because you are downwind of where I was walking and he smelled my perfume," Michaela reasoned.

"That true?" the child turned to her father.

"Partly," he grinned. "I heard Flash, too."

"Poppy smart even though he not go t' school long," Katie spoke in admiration.

"Your Daddy is the smartest person I ever met," Michaela rubbed Josef's back. "He knows how to do many things, but most importantly, he knows about human nature and the human heart."

"Mama," Josef reached for her.

Drawing him into her arms, Michaela kissed her son's cheek.

"Your Ma's the one with the book learnin', Kates," he affirmed.

"Always, remember, Sweetheart, that learning can come from many sources. Your education may be from books, from observation or from stories told to you," Michaela advised. "A love of learning is a great gift."

"I love learnin'," she nodded. "Poppy, I know somethin' from smell."

"Ya do?" his eyes widened. "What?"

She held her nose, "Joey's diaper need changin'."

Michaela lifted the baby, "I brought some clean diapers in my saddle bag. Come with me, young man."

"Poppy, teach me somethin'," Katie implored.

"What would ya like t' know?" he pulled her into his lap.

The little girl paused. Then she spotted a mole digging into the ground.

Pointing, Katie asked, "Why that aminal live under the dirt?"

"The mole?" Sully chuckled.

"Yep," Katie nodded.

Sully smiled as Michaela and Josef rejoined them.

"I once heard an Indian legend about that," he spoke softly.

"You hear legend, too, Mama?" Katie wondered.

"No," Michaela began to clean her son. "But I'd love to."

Sully began:

"There was once a man who fell in love with a woman, but she disliked him an' wanted nothin' t' do with him. He tried everythin' t' win her over, but she still disliked him."

Katie interrupted, "This about you an' Mama?"

"No," he laughed. "Your Ma an' me got on great from the moment we met."

"We did?" Michaela pretended to be surprised.

"Well," he hedged. "We just took a spell t' admit how we felt."

"More story, Poppy," Katie encouraged.

Sully continued:

"The poor man was gettin' so sad, he was almost sick, 'cause the woman he loved didn't love him."

Katie could not help herself, "What this got t' do with mole?"

Sully sighed, "I'm gettin' there, Kates. One day while the man sat alone on a log, a mole came up t' him an' asked what was wrong. The man told him how he was in love with a woman who disliked him. Then the mole told him he could help. Not only would the woman fall in love with him, but she'd come t' him of her own free will."

"What did mole do?" Katie was intrigued.

He resumed the story:

"That night, while the village was sleepin', the mole dug underground t' the woman's lodge, an' he took out her Spirit Heart. He came back the same way t' the man who loved her an' gave it t' him. But the man couldn't see the Spirit Heart, even when it was in his hands."

"Everybody got a Spirit Heart?" Katie asked.

"Until they give it t' someone else t' care for," Sully informed her.

"Why he not see it?" the little girl inquired.

"'Cause ya can't see a spirit," Sully answered.

"Then how ya know it there?" his daughter queried.

"Some things ya just know from believin' real strong, even though ya don't see 'em," he replied.

"What man do with Spirit Heart?" Katie returned to his story.

Sully returned:

"The mole told him t' swallow it, an' the woman would be so drawn t' him, she'd come t' him. So, the man swallowed the Spirit Heart an' immediately felt a warmth in his soul as it went down."

"Not get tummy ache?" Katie thought.

"Nope," Sully shook his head. "Holdin' someone's Spirit Heart inside only makes ya feel good."

"Did woman like him then?" Katie hoped.

Sully responded:

"The next mornin', the woman woke up an' thought about the man right away. She felt a real strange need t' be with him. She didn't understand 'cause she had always disliked him, but the feelin' was so strong, she got up an' went t' him."

"Yea!" Katie clapped.

"Yea!" Josef clapped, as well.

"Yep," Sully grinned. "When the woman found him, she told him she loved him an' wanted t' be his wife. They got married right away."

"Good story, Poppy," Katie felt warm. "But what that got t' do with mole diggin'?"

"Everyone in the village was surprised when the two got married an' wondered what caused her t' change her mind about him," Sully took Katie's hand in his. "They found out it was the work o' the mole. But they always thought moles were unimportant. Then they got jealous an' threatened t' kill it. So t' this day, the mole hides underground."

Katie giggled, "Good story, Poppy, but that really why moles dig hole?"

"Ask your Ma," he looked up.

"Mama?" the little girl glanced toward her mother.

"I couldn't have explained it any better," Michaela touched Katie's nose.

"That how Poppy get ya t' love him?" the little girl guessed.

She grinned, "Something like that."

"Ya ask Poppy t' marry ya?" Katie wondered.

"Your Ma an' me did it both ways," Sully chuckled.

"Ya both ask t' marry?" Katie was interested.

"Yes," Michaela informed her. "Your father and I don't always do things according to convention."

"We don't?" he pretended to be shocked. "What do I do that's unconventional?"

She whispered, "You recite poetry."

Sully leaned over and spoke for his wife's ears alone:

"All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame."

"Keats?" she ventured a guess.

"Coleridge," he smiled.

Josef slid from his mother's lap and went to the edge of the pond.

"Careful, Sweetheart," Michaela called to him.

"I teach Joey t' swim," Katie volunteered.

"I think he's a bit young for that," the protective mother replied. "Besides, the water is too cold."

"We could take him t' hot spring," Katie suggested.

"Sully?" Michaela hoped he would think of an excuse.

"Sounds like a good idea," he nodded.

"But...." she was disappointed.

"Sooner he learns t' swim, the better," he reasoned. "'Sides, it's warm out t'day."

"Then I'd better go home to get our change of clothing," she stood.

"I'll take the kids an' meet ya there," he smiled.

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

Having gathered the clothing for her family, Michaela set out to meet them, but her mind began to race along the route. She thought about the dangers and pitfalls of teaching Josef to swim. What if he fell and hurt himself on the slippery rocks? What if he went under and they could not find him? What if he caught a cold from being wet outside?

By the time she rendezvoused with her family, she had convinced herself that the little boy would die from the experience. Sully noted his wife's appearance as he helped her from her horse.

"What's wrong?" he said. "You're pale as a ghost."

"I don't want Josef going into the water, Sully," she informed him.

"Why not?" he rubbed his hand across his upper lip.

"Something could happen to him," her voice trembled.

"Nothin's gonna happen," he assured her. "We're with him."

"Sully, please!" she raised her voice.

"Shhh!" he pulled her closer. "Michaela, ya wanna tell me what's really botherin' ya?"

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

"What's bothering me is that Josef could be hurt or even worse if we put him in the water," Michaela informed her husband.

"Listen t' yourself," Sully said. "We ain't leavin' him unattended, Michaela. We're teachin' him how t' swim, just like we did Katie. Now she swims like a fish."

She sighed.

"Come on, everythin' will be all right," he smiled. "Did ya bring my drawers?"

"Yes," she pulled his underwear from the bag.

Sully took them and walked behind some bushes to change while Michaela prepared their children for the water. The weather was sunny and warm, and the hot spring would be ideal for teaching her son, but she wavered.

Sully stepped forward, securing the tie-string around his waist.

"Poppy," Katie ran to him. "We go in water now?"

"Yep," he lifted her up and placed her in the pool.

The little girl began swimming around like an expert. Sully joined her, and together they playfully splashed one another and laughed. Michaela lifted Josef and kissed his cheek.

"Hand him here," Sully requested.

Michaela reluctantly walked to the edge of the water and gave the little boy to his father.

"Come in, Mama!" Katie called.

The sight of her family enjoying the water dispelled her concerns, and Michaela stripped down to her undergarments. Gingerly, she stepped forward and dipped into the soothing water.

Sully cradled a giggling Josef in his arms until Michaela was ready to help with his instruction.

"Come here, Kates," Sully beckoned. "Let's show Josef how t' kick his legs."

Katie obeyed. Josef observed his sister and began to imitate her movements. Within fifteen minutes, the toddler was swimming with the loving guidance of his parents.

"Look at him, Michaela!" Sully beamed.

"I see," she smiled. "You were right, Sully."

When the children began to tire, Michaela and Sully carried them from the steaming water and thoroughly dried them off. Then Katie and Josef were dressed and set on a blanket while their parents took their turns drying off. Soon the children were napping peacefully. Sully covered them with another blanket and built a fire.

"Were you planning on our staying the night out here, Mr. Sully?" Michaela ran a towel across her hair.

"No, but I figured we might dry off faster if we had a fire," he took the towel from her hands and began to dry her back. "Ya better get outa these wet things so ya don't catch cold."

Michaela glanced over her shoulder to make certain that her daughter and son were sleeping before starting to remove her clothing. Sully pretended that he was not watching her, but he could not help himself. Then he began to remove his damp drawers. Michaela, too, stole glances in his direction. Both were well aware of the clinging effects the water had on their undergarments, and both could not fail to notice the physical reaction of their bodies as they resisted their attraction.

Finally, when each was in dry attire, they sat down on the blanket with their children in between them. There was awkward silence between them for several minutes.

"Katie's gift arrived today," Michaela spoke at last.

"That's good," he nodded.

"And all of the arrangements have been made for the party," she kept her voice low.

He made small talk, "Can't believe it's been five years."

"I know," Michaela folded her hands.

Again, there was quiet. Then Sully slid closer to his wife.

"What are you doing?" she felt a tinge of excitement.

"Just movin' closer t' make sure you're warm enough," he innocently replied. "Soon as the kids wake up, we can go home."

"They certainly were a delight today," she observed.

"Yep," he answered.

Each sat with folded hands on their laps. Neither felt comfortable in speaking about what was truly on their minds. So they said nothing for several more minutes.

"How long we gonna do this?" Sully was blunt.

"Do what?" Michaela was evasive.

"Pretend like we don't feel the way we do," he came out with it.

"I... I don't know what you mean," she fibbed.

"Yes, ya do, Michaela," he turned to look at her with the eyes she cherished.

She took a deep breath, "I thought we agreed to not... do anything, while we think about things."

"I know we agreed," he picked up a twig. "But when I look at ya, so beautiful, so desirable like this afternoon... I sorta get all mixed up inside."

"You sound like an adolescent boy," she teased.

"I feel like an adolescent boy when I'm around ya like this," he laughed. "Reminds me o' before we got married. I had t' control myself."

"I'm sorry, Sully," she felt guilty. "Perhaps I should stay in town until...."

"No, Michaela," he quickly interrupted. "Ya know I won't ask ya t' do anythin'. I don't want ya t' stay away from me."

She touched his hand, "I don't want to stay away."

"I... I'll sleep in Matthew's old room 'til we sort things out," he offered.

"You don't mind?" she tried to read his expression.

"Oh, I mind," he grinned. "But I know we'll both sleep a little easier if we ain't in the same bed."

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

"Dinner was delicious, Brian," Michaela smiled. "Thank you for fixing it."

"That's okay," he wiped his mouth. "I felt like doin' somethin' special t' celebrate."

"Celebrate?" Sully wondered.

"For gettin' all my spellin' words right," the young man announced.

"Wonderful!" Michaela stood up and went to him.

"Good job," Sully patted his back.

"Thanks," Brian hugged his mother.

"What ya spell, Bran?" Katie was intrigued.

"Were there any words not on the list I asked you?" Michaela sat down again.

"Diplomacy," Brian informed her.

Sully grinned, "Sounds like Miss Teresa was checkin' t' see if anyone read the poster at the Depot."

"You're right, Pa," he chuckled. "Good thing my folks are goin' t' see the play, or I might not've noticed either."

"What mean diplomacy?" Katie queried.

"Diplomacy means dealing with people in an understanding way so that their feelings are not hurt," Michaela responded.

"Ya got a story 'bout it, Poppy?" the little girl finished her meal.

"I'll work on it, Kates," he winked.

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

Michaela and Sully tucked in the children for the night. Then, facing one another in the hallway, they stood in silence.

"Reckon I'll turn in," he whispered.

"I have some reading I want to do, then I'll do likewise," she informed him.

He reached for her hand and raised it to his lips, "I love you."

"I love you, too," she caressed his cheek.

They both took a deep breath and entered separate bedrooms. Sully closed the door to Matthew's old room and leaned against it. Michaela closed her door and walked to the crib to check on Josef, then she pulled out her medical book and opened it. Turning to a dog-eared page, she began to read aloud in a low voice.

"Fortunately, this text predates Mr. Comstock's law defining contraceptive information as obscene." Then after reading the first paragraph, she noted, "I don't know if I would want us to try any of these methods, Sully." She could not separate her medical persona from her needs as a woman. "This one could cause impotence or hardening of the uterus," she squirmed. "And this one is a disgusting mixture of things that I would never put into my body." She fingered another paragraph, "Here's one.... no, my monthly is not predictable enough for that." She sighed, "Oh, my... no, not this at all. How could a man wear that?"

Michaela shut the book, and lowered her lamp , but sleep did not come easily. Her body longed to be with her husband, to have his arms around her and his lips on her skin. The words which Sully had told her about children rang in her head, "I'll love whoever comes along." There seemed to be no solution to her dilemma.

Then Michaela thought back to the lonely nights following her first miscarriage. For months afterwards, she had erected a stone wall around herself, never wanting to be pregnant again. Sully was gone. She had suppressed her physical longings for him.... until that night in the cabin. That night, alone with him, with their future more secure and with her husband safe, her thoughts had turned to having another child.

"Why do I create such pressures on myself?" she sighed. "Why can't I be more like Sully? He seems to accept the way things are and believes that one should simply let nature take its course. Nature take its course.... Oh, Sully, what should I do?"

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

Sully instinctively knew that his wife was grappling over her feelings. Resting the back of his head on his folded arms, he felt great frustration that this was something he could not help her with. He lifted his prayers to the Great Spirit, "Please let Michaela find her way. Help her to find the path that will make her happy."

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

"Make a wish and blow out the candles, Katie," Michaela held the cake.

The little girl did as her mother instructed, and everyone applauded. Michaela handed her daughter a beautifully wrapped package.

"This is for you, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed her.

Opening the gift, Katie's eyes widened, "Oh, Mama, Poppy, she pretty!"

The doll's auburn curls resembled the style of Katie's own locks. A pretty blue and white striped dress with white lace trim adorned the doll.

"Now Swirl an' me got another friend," the child smiled. "I gonna call her Annie."

"That's a wonderful name," Michaela said.

"Thank you, Mama," Katie reached up to hug her. "Thank you, Poppy."

"You're welcome, honey," Sully said. "Ready for those games now?"

"Yep," Katie hopped down from her chair.

"Come on, kids!" Sully called. "In the meadow."

Lifting Josef, off he went, followed by a throng of children.

"Look at him, Dorothy," Michaela said to her friend.

"Hard t' tell which one's younger," Dorothy joked.

"He's been so understanding and supportive," Michaela commented.

"Things back to normal yet?" the redhead inquired.

Michaela sighed and folded her hands, "I want them to be."

"But ya don't feel ready," Dorothy completed her thought.

"Is that wrong of me?" Michaela wondered.

"'Course not," she answered. "But the longer ya wait, the harder ya make it."

"What do you mean?" Michaela sat.

"I mean that right now, ya probably feel like ya don't wanna risk gettin' pregnant again," Dorothy perceived.

"You're right," she looked down shyly.

"Oh, Michaela, it's all part o' life," Dorothy counseled. "Wantin' t' be with your husband. Wantin' t' have children. Losin' folks ya care about. Every day's a risk. Every day we take chances. Every day we find joy."

"How long after your miscarriages did you wait?" Michaela inquired.

"It was different for me," Dorothy's jaw tightened.

"How so?" she thought.

"Let's just say, Sully's a lot more understandin' than Marcus ever was," the redhead responded.

"One moment, I feel as if I want to throw my arms around him and...." Michaela was embarrassed. "The next moment, I pull back thinking of the consequences."

"Maybe ya think too much," Dorothy came to the point.

Michaela chuckled, "I've been told that."

"It's true, Michaela," Dorothy patted her hand. "Look at all ya would have missed in life if ya let your fears an' hesitations get the better of ya."

A baby's cry interrupted their conversation. Michaela recognized her son's voice and swiftly made her way to the meadow. Sully was cradling Josef in his arms when she reached him.

"What happened?" Michaela lifted the crying toddler.

"He fell down," Sully stroked Josef's hair. "Just scared, is all."

"I'll try to settle him," she carried him back with her.

By the time they reached Dorothy, the little boy was smiling and chattering some barely understandable words of what had happened. He kept pointing toward the meadow saying, "Papa."

"Looks like he wants t' go back t' the games," Dorothy observed.

"I think he should rest first," Michaela pulled him closer.

"Sometimes, folks need t' pick themselves up an' get back int' things after they fall," her friend stated.

"That isn't always wise if they've been injured," Michaela said.

"I guess it depends on whether the injury's on the outside or inside," Dorothy's meaning was clear. Standing up, she touched her friend's back, "Things will work out, Michaela. I'm gonna go find Cloud Dancin' now, if you'll excuse me."

Matthew approached his mother, still consuming a slice of birthday cake, "Mind if I join ya?"

"Please do," she made room for him on the bench.

"Matt!" Josef beamed.

"Looks like the kids are havin' a great time," he tickled his little brother's side.

"Yes," she agreed. "Have you heard from anyone in Washington yet?

"No," he shrugged. "T' tell ya the truth, Ma, I don't think anythin' will come from my visit there."

"Who knows?" she patted his hand. "You may have influenced a vote or two. The most important thing is that you tried to make a difference."

"Thanks," he finished the last bite of cake. "Looks like Sully's got his hands full."

The squirming little boy on her lap convinced Michaela that he was fit to return to the games. Excusing herself from Matthew, she carried Josef to the meadow and waited for Sully to notice. With a broad grin, he approached.

"Ya feelin' okay now, big boy?" Sully clapped.

"Yep," Josef wanted down to run.

Michaela set him on the ground, and the child rushed to his sister.

"Have they worn you out yet?" Michaela noticed he was out of breath.

"Nope," he slid his arm around her waist. "I think the exercise is doin' me good."

"Why?" she was surprised. "You're certainly in good condition."

He winked, "I got a lot o' excess energy I need t' work off."

She blushed, "Sully!"

"Did ya see who I got runnin' Pin the Tail on the Donkey?" he motioned.

"Preston!" she laughed.

"Sometimes it's hard t' tell which one's the donkey," he chuckled.

"Poppy!" Katie beckoned.

"Gotta go," he kissed her cheek.

"Michaela!" Hank called from a table. "Sully's got me mannin' the lemonade, here. Want a sip?"

Her face reddened, "Have you added anything to it?"

"Would I do that?" he smirked.

"Let me smell it," she took the cup from his hand.

"Hank!" she was upset. "How could you put liquor in this? It's a child's birthday party."

"I got a different container for the kids," he raised his eyebrow. "So, do ya want some?"

"No, thank you!" she put her hands on her hips. "Just make certain you don't mix up the containers."

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

"Mama," Katie snuggled into bed. "I had best day ever!"

"I'm glad, Sweetheart," Michaela sat on the edge of her daughter's bed.

"Where's Poppy?" the little girl asked.

"Your father is a little sore right now," she replied. "Carrying all of those children today took a toll on his back. But I'm certain he'll be in shortly to tell you good night."

"I love Annie," Katie lifted her new doll.

"She's very pretty," Michaela admired it. "Just like you."

"I hope she get along with Swirl," Katie sounded serious.

"Oh?" Michaela smiled. "Do you think there might be a problem?"

"Might not wanna share," Katie told her. "Ya know how sisters are."

"Oh, yes," she chuckled. "I am familiar with that. What do you think you can do to make certain that they get along?"

"Gotta treat 'em nice," Katie pondered it.

"That's a good place to start," Michaela brushed back a lock of her daughter's hair. "I love you, my five year old."

"I love you, Mama," Katie lifted up to embrace her.

"Got a hug for your Pa?" Sully spoke from the doorway.

"Poppy!" Katie was pleased. "Mama say ya got sore back."

"I reckon I gave one too many horseback rides," he grinned.

"All the kids think you the best father," the child informed him.

He sat down beside his wife, "That's 'cause I got the best kids."

Katie yawned, "I think the girls an' me better turn in."

"That sounds like a good idea," Michaela kissed her. "Say your prayers."

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

Sully stood in the hallway, stretching his aching back. Then he felt Michaela's hands kneading his sore muscles.

"Why don't you get in bed, and I'll give you a massage?" her voice was inviting.

"That would be nice," he headed for Matthew's room.

"You don't have to go in there, Sully," she put her arm on his.

"Maybe it'll be easier if I do," he entered the spare room.

Sully lay down on his stomach, and Michaela sat beside him. Lovingly, she began to work her hands across his back. He sighed as the tension and aches magically began to disappear with the touch of her healing hands. But Sully was not the only one to find healing in her actions. The feel of her husband's skin, the scent of his freshly washed face began to relax her, as well.

It had been weeks since she touched him, so intimately, so lovingly. All of her anxiety began to fade as her need for him heightened. Leaning closer to him, she kissed his back. She was surprised that he did not react.

"Sully?" she spoke low.

No response.

Michaela stood up and went to the other side of the bed. Glancing at his face, she realized he had fallen asleep. She unfolded a quilt and draped it over her husband.

"Good night," she lowered the lamp. "I love you."

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

Michaela was awakened in the middle of the night by the creak of her floorboards.

"Wha-," she was startled.

"It's me, Michaela," Sully whispered. "I thought I heard Josef."

"Is he all right?" she rose from the bed.

Sully stroked the sleeping little boy's hair, "He's fine. Must've been my imagination. I'll leave ya now."

"Sully," she touched his arm. "Don't go."

"I don't wanna...." he felt her finger tips on his lips.

"Would it torment you to stay with me?" she asked.

"Torment me?" he was taken back. "'Course not."

"I mean, just to lay beside me?" she clarified.

He took her hand, "Ya know better than that. Come on."

Guiding her to the bed, he lovingly stroked her forehead and kissed her. Then he crawled into bed beside her and tenderly circled his arms around her.

"How's your back?" she rubbed his arm.

"I'll survive," he grinned. "Now, let's get some sleep."

"I love you," she spoke low.

He kissed her temple, "I love you, too."

"Sully?" she felt a comfortable calm. "Would you recite some poetry to me?"

"A little Elizabeth Browning," he rested his chin on the top of her head. "It goes:

...what I am, doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of Love enhances Nature's."

"I'm looking forward to our trip to Central City," she ran her hand along his chest.

"Me, too," he placed his hand atop hers as it rested on his heart.

It was a start, he hoped.

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

The bellman at the Teller House placed their bags on the bed and discreetly held out his hand awaiting a tip. Sully reached into his pocket and handed the young man a coin, then closed the door behind him.

"Last time I stayed here was when President Grant visited three years ago," he removed his jacket.

"And you left me a letter and poem for each day that you were away," she smiled. "It was very romantic, Mr. Sully."

"Glad t' have ya with me in person this time," he loosened his tie.

"What shall we do before dinner?" she folded her hands.

"Well," he looked around. "Are ya tired?"

"Not particularly," she replied.

"We could take a walk," he offered.

"That sounds delightful," she pulled on her gloves.

Sully donned his jacket again, and off they went. The bustling town was the residence of around 30,000 people in summer, Sully informed her. Mostly miners. But in the winter months, that total fell to about 1500. They strolled leisurely, witnessing the impact of the gold rush that had prompted the town's establishment 13 years earlier. There was a certain Spanish flavor to some of the architecture, notably William's Livery Stables.

Past the Wells Fargo Express Office and McKay and Company Hardware, they finally arrived at the Opera House. Preparations were being made for the evening performance, and they met one of the staff who graciously provided them with some of the background of the building. Made of native granite, the structure stood as an opulent contrast to the gambling halls and saloons frequented by the miners. The walls were four feet thick, and the acoustics perfect for operatic, symphonic or dramatic productions. The ceiling fresco was by noted San Francisco artist John C. Massman.

"It is magnificent," Michaela admired as they left.

They stopped to read the marquee.

Michaela read aloud, "From London and New York, Victorien Sardou's 'Diplomacy,' starring Mr. Maurice Barrymore, John Drew, Josephine Baker, Ben Porter and Ellen Cummins. Look Sully, it's sold out!"

"Must be pretty good then," he said. "Even though I never heard o' any o' them names before."

"I recall Rebecca's mentioning Mr. Barrymore," she pointed to his name. "Apparently he became quite popular last year on the New York stage."

"Guess we're lucky t' get him here in Colorado," Sully smiled. "Wanna eat dinner now?"

"I am rather hungry, now that you mention it," she nodded. "Shall we eat at the hotel?"

"Sounds good," he offered his arm.

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

The patrons and staff at the Teller House restaurant were abuzz with the stars of "Diplomacy" dining there. Coincidentally, Sully and Michaela were seated near the entrance as Maurice Barrymore and his entourage strode in. Michaela could not pass up the opportunity for an introduction.

Maurice Barrymore's good looks were striking. His dark, wavy hair, parted in the middle, piercing eyes and cleft chin provided a dashing appearance that understandably had elicited excitement among females who frequented his New York stage productions.

"Mr. Barrymore," she extended her hand. "I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn, and this is my husband Byron Sully. It's a pleasure to meet you. We look forward to attending your play this evening."

"Doctor?" Barrymore's inflection was English. He took her hand, "It is a pleasure to meet you and Mr. Sully."

Sully smiled and shook his hand.

"This is my wife Georgiana, my brother-in-law John Drew, and his fiancee Josephine Baker," the handsome actor introduced his companions.

"How do you do," Michaela nodded to them. "We'll let you dine in peace."

"Please," Barrymore spoke up. "Won't you join us?"

Sully set his hand atop his wife's, "Thanks for the invitation, but it's our anniversary."

"My compliments," he responded. "I hope you enjoy the show."

"I'm certain that we shall," Michaela smiled.

Sully waited until the actors had gone to their table, "Think he's from England?"

"Perhaps," she glanced in their direction. "It's rather exciting, don't you think?"

"What?" he noticed her flushed appearance.

"Dining with a famous actor nearby," she leaned forward. "And one who invited us to join him, at that."

"Did ya wanna eat with them?" Sully asked.

"Of course not," she patted his hand. "It's our anniversary."

"From the way you're actin' you'd think he was...." Sully stopped.

"Are you jealous, Mr. Sully?" Michaela teased.

"Of him?" he set his napkin on his lap. "'Course not."

"Well, let me assure you that for the rest of the evening, you have my undivided attention," she gave him a sultry glance.

"Even durin' the play?" he wondered.

"Especially during the play," she responded.

He cleared his throat, "Now that I got your attention...."

"Yes?" she was focused on him alone.

He pulled a small package from his pocket, "Got somethin' here for ya."

"Thank you," she held the gift in her hands. "I have something for you, as well."

She reached into her purse and pulled out a small package.

"They look the same," he observed.

"Perhaps they are," she smiled.

"One way t' find out," he chuckled. "You go first."

She opened her gift. Inside was a dream catcher.

"Oh, Sully," a tear glistened in the corner of her eye. "It's beautiful."

He reached for her hand, "Let's think of it as a new beginnin' for new dreams."

"New dreams," she ran her hand along the edges. "I like that. Your turn."

He opened the box which she had given him. Inside were two bite-size pieces of chocolate, each in the shape of a heart."

"Mmm," he grinned. "Sweet treats."

"Look closer," she pointed.

On each piece of candy was written, "Spirit Heart."

"Michaela," he smiled. "Thank you."

"I thought we could share our Spirit Hearts for our anniversary," she picked up one of the chocolates and offered it to him. "I love you, Byron Sully."

"I love you, Michaela Quinn," he opened his mouth and accepted her gift.

Then Sully shared the other piece with her. They held hands as their eyes met. Then he leaned forward to kiss her.

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

The Opera House audience was mesmerized by the performance of "Diplomacy." The drama of political intrigue and diplomatic treachery was performed with flawless aplomb by Barrymore and Drew. They were exceptional as the leads, Henry and Julien Beauclerc, and an enthusiastic standing ovation greeted them at the final curtain.

Sully noticed his wife's shivering as they stepped into the cool night air. He took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders.

"Thank you," she felt his warmth in the clothing.

"Wanna stop an' get a cup o' coffee?" he noticed a sign over Nat Harvey's Lunchroom near the hotel.

"All right," she nodded.

Upon entering the establishment, Sully and Michaela observed that a screen had been set up to separate the eating bar from the saloon. They found a small table in a dimly lit corner and sat quietly sipping their steaming coffee. Then several of the cast members from "Diplomacy" filtered in. There was Ben Porter, Eileen Cummins and Mr. Barrymore himself.

"Wanna get some autographs?" Sully teased.

"No thank you," she reached for his hand. "I'm content to sit here with my husband."

As they sat holding hands and chatting about the play, they overheard Ben and Ellen order coffee and Maurice a light ale. Barrymore drank the beverage, then excused himself to go outside.

Michaela covered her mouth as she yawned.

"Can't handle this excitin' night life?" Sully joked.

Then they saw a customer enter the side door and go directly to the saloon. He stood over six feet tall, weighed 220 pounds and had a large black mustache. Over his huge torso was a white sombrero and a dark frock coat. Sully noted his staggering walk and assumed he was drunk.

"Maybe we oughta be heading back t' the hotel," he felt uneasy.

The drunk called out for a glass of water, and Nat Harvey quickly approached him.

The man was boisterous, "Maybe I oughta have a little budge with it."

"Ya better go slow, Jim," Harvey recommended with some trepidation. "Ya look like you've had enough."

Harvey knew that Big Jim Currie was not a man to be kept waiting. Even when sober, he was known for having a violent temper, and he managed to avoid jail only because of his brother Andie, the mayor of nearby Blackhawk. Big Jim had recently shot and killed three men under mysterious circumstances while serving as a detective for a local railroad.

Sully suspected the obnoxious man was armed and knew how belligerent behavior such as his could quickly escalate into violence.

"I said, put some liquor in it," Currie demanded.

Harvey obeyed. As Big Jim gulped it down, he noticed Eileen's reflection in a long mirror beside the bar.

"There's a high priced whore, if I ever saw one," he boldly announced.

Michaela's face turned red in embarrassment for the young woman.

"Come on, Big Jim," Harvey joked. "She's behavin' herself, an' I'd rather ya not make such remarks."

Currie stood up to speak with Eileen, and as he approached, Ben Porter leaned back with his hands clasped behind his back.

"You threw your hands up when I passed you," Big Jim glared at Porter. "Ya can't give me any guff like that."

"My friend," Porter lowered his hands. "If you allude to me, I hadn't thought of you. I was talking to this lady here."

"Ya callin' me a damned liar?" Currie towered over them.

"Sully," Michaela put her hand on his arm.

"Shhh," he did not want to draw attention.

Porter defended his companion, "I'm in the company of a lady and prefer that you didn't use such language in her presence. But if you would like to discuss it further, you can step outside with me."

"Hell of a lady, she is!" Currie swaggered.

"Jim!" Harvey called from across the room. "Jim, stop that!"

Having overheard the discussion from outside, Maurice Barrymore reentered, "Go away. There's a lady here."

"You wanna do somethin' about it, whoremonger?" Currie spat.

"Michaela," Sully spoke low. "Real slow, I want ya t' get down under the table."

"What?" she feared for what may happen.

"Get down!" his voice was stern.

She quietly lowered herself to the floor, and Sully sat resting his hand on her shoulder.

Barrymore turned to Porter, "Get Miss Cummins out of here."

Reluctantly, Porter took his fiancee by the arm and left.

"So ya wanna fight me?" Big Jim laughed.

"I am unarmed," Barrymore said.

"So am I," Currie lied.

"Haven't you a pistol?" the actor noticed the bulk to the side of his coat.

"No," Currie glared at him.

"Will you swear to it?" Barrymore asked.

"Yes," Big Jim sneered.

Barrymore then removed his coat. He had not mentioned that he had been England's Amateur Middleweight Boxing Champion at the age of 22. Confidently, he assumed his stance.

Currie then drew two Smith and Wessons from beneath his coat.

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

Big Jim Currie opened fire with his guns. Turning over their table to buffer them from stray bullets, Sully hit the floor to shield his wife.

Maurice Barrymore had only time to say, "What...." when the first shot rang out. It tore through his left arm and embedded itself in his chest. The force of the shot threw the actor backward. He frantically looked for something with which to defend himself. Before he could act, another shot struck Barrymore's boot. The injured man fell toward the door and attempted to escape.

Sully held his wife near, "You okay?"

"Yes," she replied. "Please don't leave me, Sully."

He kissed her head, "Barrymore's gonna be killed if somebody don't do somethin' fast."

Swiftly, Sully circled around behind the screen, a third bullet struck a wooden barrel nearby, and from it flowed forth a stream of water onto the motionless actor.

At that instant, Ben Porter ran back into the restaurant, "For God's sake! Don't murder an unarmed man!"

"I can kill the whole lot o' you!" Currie pulled his trigger.

The bullet tore through Porter's stomach. He staggered toward the doorway and collapsed.

Fearing for her husband's safety, Michaela called from behind the table, "Sully!"

Currie turned toward the sound of her voice, but was distracted by the entrance of Eileen Cummins. She screamed at the sight of her fiance sprawled on the floor.

Next, John Drew arrived, in search of his brother-in-law. He froze in terror as his eyes met Big Jim Currie's. The gunman prepared to shoot him point blank, when Sully burst through the screen and lunged for the madman's weapons. Currie was stunned just long enough for Sully to wrestle the guns from his hands.

At that moment, Sheriff Seth Wilson arrived to help Sully and Drew subdue the gunman

Wilson spoke, "Jim, I've come t' arrest ya and take ya t' jail."

"All right," Currie said. "I'll go with ya."

Astonishingly with that calm statement, the confrontation ended. Sully rushed to his wife. She threw her arms around him.

"Why did you do that?" tears streamed down her face. "It was too dangerous."

Eileen Cummins' sobs brought their attention back to the carnage which they had just witnessed.

John Drew recognized Michaela from dinner, "Dr. Quinn! Please, can you help?"

Michaela hurried to the victims and began to treat their wounds. As she did so, Sully conversed with the sheriff, recalling their work together to save President Grant from an assassination attempt three years earlier.

"Ya sure bring excitement when ya come to town, Mr. Sully," the lawman shook his head.

"Not the kind o' excitement I like," Sully noted. "I best get t' the hotel t' fetch my wife's medical bag. Looks like she's gonna need it."

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

A waiting room of the Teller House Hotel was transformed into a makeshift hospital. Michaela worked frantically to resuscitate Ben Porter, but the young man died shortly after being transported into the room. As he was being undressed, the bullet which had killed him fell out of his back.

Maurice Barrymore was gravely injured, but clinging to life. The town physician B. F. Eads arrived and challenged the wisdom of allowing a female physician to treat such a serious injury, but Georgiana Barrymore insisted that Dr. Quinn be the one to operate on her husband. With Dr. Eads' assistance, Michaela discovered that the bullet had fractured Barrymore's scapula before coming to rest beside an artery in his back.

Through the night, Michaela immersed herself in saving the man's life with the delicate touch of her scalpel and expertise. Finally, at dawn, she completed the surgery that saved the actor's life. Removing the slug that nearly killed him, she placed it in her pocket.

Sully had sat quietly in the lobby with the acting troupe as they kept a vigil. When Michaela entered to speak to Georgiana Barrymore, Sully came to her side.

"Mrs. Barrymore," her voice reflected fatigue. "Your husband is unconscious right now, but I believe he will make a full recovery."

"Thank God," her hand rested on her abdomen. "I thought our baby would lose his father before he's even born. Thank you, Dr. Quinn."

Michaela looked down, feeling a slight pang at the woman's reference to her unborn child. Then reacting to Sully's hand on her waist, she raised her head.

"If you'll excuse me," she said. "I'm rather tired. Dr. Eads will monitor your husband's condition, but I'll check on him later this afternoon."

"I appreciate all that you've done," Georgiana smiled.

"Do you know where I might find Miss Cummins?" Michaela thought of the young fiancee of Ben Porter.

Mrs. Barrymore motioned, "She's in the dining room with my brother."

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

"Miss Cummins?" Michaela approached the grieving girl.

"Dr. Quinn," she stood when the doctor and her husband neared.

"Please don't rise," Michaela said. "My husband and I want to offer our condolences to you."

"Thank you both," her eyes were red.

John Drew extended his hand, "Mr. Sully, you saved my life. I am forever in your debt, sir."

Sully replied modestly, "I did what I could. I'm real sorry about Mr. Porter."

"We'll leave you now," Michaela excused them.

"Thank you again," Eileen returned to her chair.

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

"Michaela," Sully helped her into bed. "I'm gonna go over t' the telegraph office t' wire the kids an' let them know we'll be stayin' 'til t'morrow."

"Oh, Sully," she pleaded. "I hate to be away from them another night."

"They'll be okay," he assured her. "Ya need t' get some rest. Now, close your eyes, an' I'll be back 'fore ya know it."

Michaela grasped his hand and brushed back a lock of his hair. Then she noticed an abrasion above his left eye.

"What's this?" she tenderly touched the scrape.

"It's nothin'," he downplayed it.

"You cut it when you tried to stop that man last night," she sat up.

"I'm fine," he said.

Reaching for her medical bag, she stated, "Let me treat it, Sully."

Knowing she would not rest until she cleaned and disinfected it, he sat on the edge of the bed.

"That's better," she began to minister to his cuts.

Sully closed his eyes. Surely, he thought, there was not a more angelic touch than that of his wife.

"What are you thinking about?" she noted his expression.

"How lucky I am," he kept his eyes closed.

When she completed her work, she leaned closer and softly kissed him.

"Thanks," he opened his eyes. "Now, I want ya t' get some rest."

"You'll be back soon?" she hesitated.

"Promise," he settled her into the bed.

Michaela reached for the dream catcher, then lay back and closed her eyes. It was not long before she was asleep. Soon a dream came. Sully and she were walking in a field dotted with wild flowers. He picked a bouquet for her and pulled her into his arms. They sat down, cushioned by the soft grass, and began to kiss. Soon their kisses ignited more powerful emotions. The sound of a door opening roused her from her reverie.

"Sorry," it was Sully's voice. "Didn't mean t' wake ya."

She yawned and looked at her pocket watch, "That's all right. I should go check on Mr. Barrymore anyway."

"'Fore ya do, I got somethin' for ya," Sully sat on the edge of the bed.

"What?" she could not imagine.

He pulled a bouquet of wild flowers from behind his back, "These."

"Oh, Sully," she smiled. "Thank you. They're beautiful."

He leaned down to kiss her, "Just like my wife. The hotel gave me a vase t' put 'em in."

Michaela stood up and arranged the flowers in the glass container. With her back to him, Sully was tempted to go to her.... to put his arms around her, kiss her.... but he hesitated, not wanting to press her.

She pivoted around to face him, "I've been thinking."

"About what?" he asked.

"About our.... waiting," she responded.

He took a deep breath, unsure of what she would tell him, "I.... I don't mind waitin', Michaela."

She turned up the side of her mouth in a grin, "I appreciate your self-control, Mr. Sully."

He looked down, "So, what were ya thinkin' about.... as far as waitin'?"

"The events of the past few days have given me much food for thought," she began. "In the last few months, I find that I've become overly protective of the children... fearful of taking any risks. And, after last night, I am painfully reminded of how fragile life is."

"Ya didn't used t' fear takin' chances," he reminded her.

"I know," she folded her hands. "But it's not just myself that I have to think about anymore. There's you and the children. Sometimes I think I would like for us to just hold up in the house and not come out, so fraught with danger is the world out there."

"I know what ya mean," he nodded. "But if ya only keep t' yourself, ya miss all that life offers. You showed me that, Michaela."

"I did?" she was pleased.

"Did ya ever meet anyone as reclusive as I was?" he chuckled.

"No," she smiled.

"Well, look how ya brought me outa my shell," he reminded her.

"I'm happy that you're no longer a recluse, she noted.

"We got so much," Sully reminded her. "An' most of what we got is 'cause we took risks. Ya took your biggest risk when ya married me."

"I don't consider that a risk," she toyed with the flowers. "I've never been more certain of anything in my life than loving you and wanting for us to be married."

"Maybe love blinds us t' the risks involved," he suggested. "I wish I could protect you an' the children from ever bein' hurt, Michaela. But ya know it ain't possible. So, we gotta live our lives an' take the bad that comes along with the good. The most important thing is bein' t'gether through it all."

"That's what I've concluded, as well," she gazed into his eyes.

"That look," he said. "Do ya have any notion what it does t' me when ya look at me like that?"

She blushed, "Does it have something to do with our earlier discussion about adolescence?"

He teased, "I'm all mush inside."

"With a little ham thrown in," she laughed. Then her expression became serious, "Sully, I want us to be together again... completely... totally.... fully. I'll accept whatever may happen from that, risks and all."

"Sort o' like our weddin' night," he recalled her trepidation. "But ya were willin' t' take the risk o' findin' out how complete love could be once ya set aside your fears."

"You're quite good at helping me overcome my fears," she stated.

"You, too," he grinned.

"I've helped you overcome fears?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Ya scared me t' death," he laughed.

She picked up the dream catcher from the table, "New dreams, Sully."

He opened his arms. She did not hesitate to go to him. Leaning her head against his chest, she closed her eyes to savor his embrace.

Sully lifted her chin and captured her gaze:

"And her face so fair
Stirr'd with her dream, as rose-leaves with the air."

"My Byron?" she spoke low.

"Always your Byron," he sweetly kissed her.

"I was thinking...." she paused.

"Yes?" he ran his finger along her chin.

"After I check on my patient, I would like for us to spend some time together," she caressed his cheek. "We didn't get to complete our anniversary celebration, after all."

"I'd like that, too," he smiled. "I'll try t' work ya int' my schedule."

"What?" she tapped his side.

"Okay," he teased. "I'll definitely work ya int' my schedule."

"See you shortly?" she delighted him with her tempting expression.

"Can't wait," he kissed her.

Michaela's pulse began to race and she pulled back, flushed from the encounter, "Until later, Mr. Sully."

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

"Mr. Barrymore!" Michaela was surprised to see him sitting up and alertly chatting with his wife.

"Dr. Quinn!" he flashed his charming smile. "My wife informs me that you saved my life."

"You have a very strong will to live," she modestly replied. Then remembering what was in her pocket, she pulled out the slug that had nearly killed him. "This is what did all of the damage."

Holding it up between his index finger and thumb, he observed its tiny size with astonishment, "I'll give it to my son Lionel to cut his teeth on."

Georgiana stroked her abdomen, "It might be a girl, my dear."

"No, Georgie," he was certain. "Our second will be a girl."

"Dr. Eads will be treating you from this point on," Michaela informed him. "My husband and I are departing for home tomorrow."

Barrymore took her hand and raised it to his lips, "I am forever in your debt, Madam."

She blushed.

"If you are ever in New York City," he raised an eyebrow. "Look us up."

"We'll do that," Michaela nodded. "Good-bye, and good luck with your baby."

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

Michaela entered their hotel room and found Sully sleeping peacefully. Not wanting to waken him, she crept quietly to the basin to wash up. He stirred.

"Barrymore all right?" he rubbed his eyes.

"Yes, he's conscious now," she washed her hands. "Go back to sleep."

"I'd feel better if you were beside me," he patted the mattress.

Drying her hands, she walked over and stood next to him.

"What ya lookin' at?" he noticed the intensity of her gaze.

"You," she smiled.

He took her hand in his and raised it to his lips, "Would ya like t' look a little closer?"

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, she stroked this temple, then let her fingers run through his hair.

Sully knew where these overtures were headed, "Ya sure?"

"Very sure," she leaned over him and kissed his forehead.

Then she positioned herself beside him. Stretching out on her side, she slowly, sensuously loosened his shirt, kissing his chest after each button was undone.

"We belong together, Sully," she felt flushed at the nearness of him.

He slid lower to meet her lips, "Nothin' can separate us."

"Six years," she entwined the hair on his chest between her fingers.

"They said it wouldn't last," he joked.

"They were wrong," she smiled.

"No fear, no doubt?" he cupped her face in his hands.

"None," she replied in earnest.

He ran his finger tenderly down her nose to her mouth. She tilted her head to kiss it. Sully pulled her closer and began to kiss her neck.

"I love how you smell," his voice was husky.

His warm breath inflamed Michaela's senses. As he continued to claim her neck with his lips, his hand strayed down to the buttons on her blouse. She leaned back to enjoy each nuance of his touch as he slid his hand beneath the material.

In turn, Michaela took her time removing her husband's shirt. The passion she stirred in him was intensifying. Soon each knew the other was ready to receive the full complement of their love. But they held back. Sully did not want to rush her, though his body was ready to explode with longing. He waited for her to initiate the culmination of their union.

With a look, she cued him, and his love burst forth into her, filling every cell of her being with unimaginable energy and warmth. Michaela closed her eyes, her body craving every ounce of him. She continued to invite his movements with a fevered appetite. Finally, spent from their encounter, they slowly regained their composure.

"Sully," she was breathless.

He clung to her, his body still not finished with its reaction to their love. Neither wanted this sensation to ever end.

"I love you," he brushed back the hair from her eyes.

"And I, you," she touched his cheek.

Sully was certain from his wife's ardor, that she had held nothing back in giving herself to him.

"Michaela," he captured her heart with the way he said her name.

"I'm fine," she knew he would wonder.

"Even if..." he hesitated.

"Even if," she kissed him.

"I don't know about you, but I'm a little tired," he grinned shyly.

"I'm not surprised, Mr. Sully," she raised an eyebrow. "What would you think if we took a little nap?"

"Long as you're tucked right here beside me," he pulled her closer.

"There is nowhere I would rather be," she spooned her back against him and draped his arm across her.

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

Matthew met Michaela and Sully at the Depot, "Looks like ya had an excitin' time in Central City. It's in all the papers."

"The shooting?" Michaela assumed.

"Yep," Matthew handed her several papers.

Sully read over his wife's shoulder, "They all give a different account."

She pointed, "This one says Porter and Currie had been gambling, the two men argued and Big Jim fired in self-defense."

Matthew indicated another newspaper, "This one says Porter was shot in the right eye, went through his brain an' killed him instantly. Then Currie went on a shooting rampage that ended with him walkin' up t' a dog an' stompin' on its head."

"It didn't happen that way," Sully shook his head.

"Oh, Cloud Dancin' left ya this note, Sully," Matthew handed him an envelope.

"Thanks," Sully opened it and began to read.

"Looks like Currie's brother's arrangin' for his defense," Matthew added. "He's employin' one o' the best law firms in the territory."

"If that man gets off, there is no justice," Michaela spotted their bag. "Where are the children?"

"With Miss Grace," the young man nodded. "I gotta get back t' work, but I wanted t' say hello."

"Thank you, Matthew," she kissed him. "Can you join us for dinner this evening?"

"I'd like that," he grinned.

"Six o'clock," she noticed her husband's reserve.

"I'll be there," Matthew tipped his hat and left them.

"What is it, Sully?" Michaela placed her hand on her husband's arm.

"Cloud Dancin's headed back t' Montana," he folded the note.

"Did he say why?" she felt uneasy.

"Tribes are on the move again," he lifted their suitcase. "Let's go get the kids."

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

Through dinner, Michaela could see that Sully was miles away , his concern for Cloud Dancing weighing heavily on his mind.

"Ma, Pa, do ya think we could go t' the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia?" Brian asked. "When we were there a couple years ago, ya said it might be possible."

"Sully?" Michaela solicited his thoughts.

"Mmm?" he looked up.

"The Centennial in Philadelphia?" she repeated.

"Oh," he set his fork down. "I... I don't think I'll be able t' go."

"I could take Brian, Ma," Matthew volunteered.

"Me, too?" Katie sat up straighter.

Michaela patted her daughter's hand. "No, Sweetheart, you're staying with your father and me."

"You can go if ya want, Michaela," Sully did not want her to miss the event. "There's bound t' be lots for a doctor t' see, an' ya can visit with Colleen."

"No," she clasped his hand. "My place is here with you."

"So could Matthew take me?" Brian implored.

"Guess that'd be okay," Sully forced a smile. "You boys can bring us back lots o' stories."

"I'll get us the train tickets an' wire Colleen t'morrow," Matthew stated. "We can leave after school lets out for the summer."

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

"Poppy," Katie put her little hand in his. "Tell Joey an' me story."

He tenderly stroked her cheek, "What would ya like t' hear?"

"Tell 'bout the play ya went to," she requested.

Michaela strolled in holding Josef, "'Diplomacy' was the name of it, Katie."

"It had a lot o' characters who did some bad things, Kates," he reached for the baby.

As Sully cradled his son, Michaela began to massage her husband's tense shoulders.

"But you say diplomacy mean makin' sure feelin's don't get hurt," the bright little girl recalled.

"Sometimes folks use a word t' say one thing, but mean another," he explained.

"Diplomacy not mean what ya said?" she was confused.

"No, it means what we said," he grinned. "But it wasn't how people were actin' in the show."

"Like when ya say ya happy an' ya ain... aren't?" she surmised.

"Sorta like that," Sully nodded.

"I not unstand why folks do that," Katie concluded.

"Me either, Kates," he stroked her arm. "'Cept I guess maybe sometimes they think tellin' the truth might hurt someone's feelin's."

"You should always tell your Daddy and me the truth, Katie," Michaela counseled.

"I do, Mama," she arranged her dolls. "Ya always tell me truth?"

Sully did not want to tread on thin ice, "We always tell ya what ya need t' know, sweet girl. Now, it's time for you t' go t' sleep."

"Joey already sleepin'," she observed.

"Say your prayers, little one," Michaela kissed her.

"Mama," Katie delayed.

"What?" she asked.

"Ya happy?" the child inquired.

"Yes, Katie," Michaela leaned over. "I'm very happy."

"Poppy?" the little girl turned to her father.

"Yes, Kates," he touched her nose. "I'm real happy."

"Tellin' me the truth?" Katie wanted to be certain.

"What do you think?" Sully grinned.

"Ya got that look," his daughter responded.

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

After setting the baby in his crib, Sully removed his beads and medicine pouch.

"Our little girl is quite a handful," Michaela sat on the bed.

He chuckled, "Yep."

Sitting down in the rocking chair, he removed his shoes and socks. Then he closed his eyes and sighed.

Michaela went to him and sat at his feet. Sliding up his pant leg, she began to massage first one leg, then the other.

"That sure feels good," he leaned over to grasp her upper arms.

"Think you might be more comfortable over there?" she glanced toward the bed.

"I love you," he smiled.

Casting aside his low spirits, he surprised her by scooping her into his arms and depositing her on the bed. She laughed, then quickly lowered her voice so as to not wake the children. Framing his face between her palms, she teasingly offered to kiss him, then pulled back.

Unable to resist her tempting gesture, he moved toward her. She resisted no longer and deepened their kiss.

"Mmm," he pulled back. "That's sweet."

"There's more," she whispered.

"Thank you, Michaela," he suddenly sounded serious.

"For kissing you?" she chuckled.

"No," he grinned. "Thank you for bein' patient with me."

"Sully," her look intensified. "I know that you're upset with this news from Cloud Dancing, and I know that you want to go to him. I'll abide by whatever you choose to do."

"Ya will?" he pretended to be surprised.

"Yes," she tapped his side. "I didn't say that I'd like it. I pray that you'll return safely and soon."

He pulled her arms around his neck, "I got lots o' reasons t' come home fast."

"And as for being patient with you," she ran her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck. "I believe that where your wife is concerned, you are the master of patience and diplomacy."

"Makes me sound pretty good," he grinned.

"You are pretty good," she slid her hand across his chest. "And, in case you haven't' noticed, I adore you."

He was reacting to her caresses, "I'm noticin' just fine, thanks."

"Shall we get some sleep?" she invited.

"I was thinkin' I might like t' practice a little diplomacy with ya first," he suggestively uttered.

"Well, they say practice makes perfect," she felt her heartbeat quicken. "Where shall we begin?"

Sully reached over and lowered the lamp, "Right here."

THE END

EPILOGUE

The events concerning the shootings of Maurice Barrymore and Ben Porter really happened. However, I took some license with dates and locales. To begin with, the Central City Opera House did not open until 1878, two years after this fan fiction's time frame.

The shootings by Big Jim Currie of the "Diplomacy" actors Maurice Barrymore and Ben Porter actually took place in Marshall, Texas in March 1879. Newspaper accounts of the crime were as varied as I depicted. The New York Times reported on the shooting eight times during the spring of 1879.

Barrymore made a full recovery and was able to testify at the trial. Eight lawyers defended Currie, and 23 witnesses were called in an attempt to prove he had acted in self-defense. Later the claim was switched to insanity. The jury reached its verdict in 10 minutes--not guilty by reason of insanity. There is strong evidence that they had been bribed.

Andie Currie (his brother and mayor of Shreveport) later sent Big Jim to Mexico, where he was set up running a saloon in partnership with a mining prospector. He soon killed his partner, was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He served two, thanks to the intervention of Andie. A few years later, a Mexican bandit fatally shot Big Jim in the chest at close range.

Barrymore's wife, Georgiana Drew--a comedic actress from a prominent acting family-- had already given birth to their son Lionel on April 12, 1878, but the quote about cutting his teeth on the bullet was real.

The Barrymores went on to create an acting dynasty with their children Lionel, Ethel and John. Today the legacy lives on in Maurice's great-granddaughter, Drew Barrymore (named for Georgiana's maiden name).

The fatally wounded Ben Porter was awaiting a divorce from his first wife when he proposed to Eileen Cummins. The brokenhearted actress returned to her native Louisville and seldom set foot in a theater again.

"Diplomacy," by French playwright Victorien Sardou (immensely popular in his day), was one of 70 plays he wrote. Many were for famous actors and actresses of the time. For Sarah Burnhardt, he wrote "La Tosca," (1887) which later became the basis for Puccini's opera "Tosca."



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