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

Friends in Need


by Debby K


Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Friends in Need
by Debby K

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

"Well, Kates," Sully pulled his daughter onto his lap. "Are ya gettin' nervous about Monday?"

"No," her voice implied otherwise.

"You can tell me," he caressed her cheek. "Start o' school last year, ya were."

"A little bit," she admitted. "There's gonna be lots o' new kids."

"We just finished with the addition t' the school," Sully smiled. "That's why you're gettin' a late start. An' t'night, the town council's hirin' a new teacher."

"Miss Isabel?" she hoped.

"Maybe," Sully answered.

"Some of the kids say bad things about her, Poppy," the little girl confided.

"Like what?" he asked.

"They say she's a bore," the little girl whispered.

"A bore?" he wondered.

"Or a word that sounds like that," she nodded.

"Is that all they say?" Sully probed.

"Other things I didn't understand," she toyed with his beads. "Why?"

"I reckon they don't understand about forgivin' people for mistakes," he counseled.

"I forgive her," the little girl said. "Even if I don't know what she did."

"Know what?" he touched her nose.

"What?" she giggled.

"Your Ma an' me are takin' ya on a picnic t'day," Sully grinned.

Her eyebrows rose, "Really?"

"Yep," he touched her blonde tresses. "Just the three of us."

"Don't ya want the kids?" she sounded grown up.

"We wanna do somethin' special with our big girl," he kissed her.

"Thank you, Poppy," she tilted her head against his chest.

Sully swallowed hard, cherishing the feel of her next to his heart. He cupped his hand against her head and kissed the top of of it.

"I love you, sweet girl," he spoke low.

She glanced up at him with her mother's eyes, "I love you, too."

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

"Now don't ya go worryin', Dr. Mike," Bridget reassured. "The wee ones will be fine."

Michaela smiled at the twins lying on her bed, "I can't help but miss them when I leave, even for an afternoon."

"I know that, lass," she replied.

"Where's Josef?" Michaela suddenly thought.

"Brian has him outside runnin' around so he'll nap while you're gone," the nanny responded.

"Sully and I need to explain to him why we're taking Katie out for the afternoon and not him," she stated.

"I'll give him a pickle, an' he'll be right as rain," Bridget chuckled.

As Michaela kissed each twin, the babies began to become more active and alert. Noah reached up and clasped a strand of his mother's hair. She gently loosened his hold.

"Beautiful babes, they are," Bridget whispered.

"Very beautiful," Michaela smiled. "We should be home by four."

"Have a grand time," she hugged her.

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

Brian opened the front door and let Josef scamper into the house before him.

"I won, Bran!" the little boy was breathless.

"So ya did," Brian smiled.

"Hey," Sully called to them.

"Papa! Katie!" Josef rushed to his father and sister. "I sit on lap?"

"Sure," Sully repositioned his daughter to make room for him.

"When Mattew be home, Papa?" the little boy questioned.

"Saratoga Springs, New York is a long way, Joe," he replied. "Not for a while yet."

"Why he go there?" the little boy asked.

"He went t' some meetin' o' lawyers," Sully explained. "They're formin' a group called the American Bar Association."

"They gonna drink?" Katie challenged.

Sully chuckled, "I reckon some of 'em will, but this is a different kinda bar."

"What we do now?" Josef changed the subject.

Michaela entered the room at that moment, "Josef, your Daddy and I want to have a little talk with you."

"I do somethin' bad?" he suspected.

"I hope not," Michaela looked toward Brian.

Brian smiled and shook his head, "Come on, Katie. I'll play ya a game o' checkers in the kitchen."

"I play, too," Josef started to rise.

"Not yet, Joe," Sully held him.

The little boy's brow wrinkled, "You goin' away, Papa?"

"Why do ya ask that?" Sully questioned.

"'Cause you an' Mama look sad," he replied.

Michaela sat on the stool at their feet and took her son's hand, "Josef, you know that Katie begins second grade on Monday."

"Uh huh," he frowned.

"We thought we might take her out t' Allard's Meadow for a picnic today," Sully explained.

"I come?" the little boy requested.

"Now, that's why we wanted to speak with you," Michaela endeavored to break it to him gently.

Sully took over, "We were hopin' you might stay here with the babies. They'd sure be lonely without ya."

"You jus' sayin' that, Papa," he was suspicious.

"You don't think they'd miss ya?" Sully posed the question.

"Miss Bwidget an' Bran's here," the little boy pointed out.

"Sweetheart," Michaela clasped his hand. "Each year, before school begins, Papa and I like to do something special with each of our children. We did it for Colleen and Brian when they were younger. And when you begin school, we'll do it with you, as well."

"Somethin' special?" he pondered.

"Right," Sully rubbed his belly.

"For Katie?" Josef asked. "Not me?"

"It's to give her a special day before she becomes involved in all of her school work," Michaela continued. "Don't you think she deserves that?"

"I come, too," their son implored.

"Josef...." Michaela tried again.

"Joe," Sully turned him around to look in his eyes. "Ya remember when I took ya surveyin' with me?"

"Uh huh," he recalled. "We saw deer."

"Right," Sully smiled. "That was just you an' me."

"I like that, Papa," he hugged his father.

"Why'd ya like it?" Sully rubbed his back.

"Nobody with us," Josef returned.

"So, it was special time for us alone," Sully acknowledged.

The little boy began to perceive, "This time for Katie alone?"

"Right," he smiled.

"Katie like it," Josef nodded. "I help Miss Bwidget with babies."

"That's my big boy," Sully beamed.

Michaela glanced at her husband in awe.

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

Isabel looked up from the desk in the rear of the church, "Timothy, is there anyone else whom we should invite?"

"We've invited the entire town of Colorado Springs," he smiled. "It will be the largest wedding since Dr. Mike and Sully's."

She shook her head, "Except the entire town might not want to be here."

"Those who have the Lord's forgiveness in their hearts will," he reasoned.

"You're absolutely certain that you want to do this?" she attempted to assure herself. "You know I can never give you a family."

"Yes, I'm certain," he extended his hand.

She clasped it and drew it to her cheek, "Then tomorrow after Sunday service, we'll be Rev. and Mrs. Timothy Johnson."

"I like the sound of that," he beamed. "And I hope you've begun preparing lessons for school."

"Do you think they'll hire me after all that's transpired?" she questioned.

"I have faith," he nodded.

"I guess we'll know by tonight," she sighed.

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

"Jacob," Teresa glanced at her husband. "I need you to watch Maria today. I have much to do to prepare for school."

"I can't," his response was slightly slurred.

"Come here," she beckoned.

He swayed slightly.

"You've been drinking!" she accused.

"So what?" he did not look her in the eye.

"You promised me you would never drink again," she reminded.

"An' you promised me you'd be a wife," he shot back.

"I am your wife," her heart sank.

"Yea, well, ya ain't actin' like it since that boycott," he noted. "Every other woman in town is back with her man except you."

"Are you saying that if I return to your bed, you will stop drinking?" she posed the question.

"Maybe," he did not commit.

"Why must you do this just as school is about to begin?" Teresa glanced at the books before her.

"I didn't pick the timin'," he glared. "Isabel Morant did."

"I suppose you will oppose her being hired tonight," she assumed.

"You suppose right," he was terse.

"She and the Reverend are to be married tomorrow," she added.

"Wonder if she'll act like a wife should," he became sarcastic. "Of course, she's already been a whore. Already had her foot in the door, so t' speak."

"Mr. Slicker," her volume increased. "There is no need to be coarse."

"Mama!" little Maria entered the room. "Papa, play?"

"Not now," Jake turned. "I got somethin' t' do in town."

"Pwease, Papa," the little girl's brown eyes implored.

"I said not now!" he asserted.

Tears began to well in Maria's eyes as her father exited the house before slamming the door.

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

Sully slowed the wagon as Katie glanced up at him.

"We finally stoppin'?" the little girl questioned.

"Yes," Michaela smiled. "It took us a while to get here, but it's a very special place."

The child surveyed the scene, "Just a meadow, Mama."

"Do you see that tree?" Michaela pointed.

"Uh huh," Katie nodded. "It's a big one."

"Shall we eat in its shade?" the mother smiled.

"Okay," she consented.

"Come on, Kates," Sully hopped down from his seat and reached up for her.

"It's pretty here," Katie went into her father's arms.

"Ya hungry?" Sully set her down.

"I am," Katie rubbed her belly.

Sully helped his wife from the buckboard, lightly brushing the tear that he saw trailing down her cheek. He spread out a blanket beside the tall trunk of the tree. While he and Michaela busied themselves with the meal, Katie picked wild flowers.

"Sully," Michaela whispered. "When should we give it to her?"

"After we eat," he watched their daughter.

"All set," Michaela uncovered the last dish. "Katie! Come on, Sweetheart."

The child rushed to her parents and handed her mother the bouquet she had chosen, "For the prettiest Mama in the world."

"I agree," Sully smiled.

"Thank you," she demurely accepted.

Katie noticed the meal, "It's all my favorites."

"We thought ya might like that," Sully kissed her cheek.

"Thank you," the child was delighted.

After Michaela offered grace, they began to consume the picnic lunch. Michaela and Sully watched their daughter gleefully devour every bite on her plate.

"This is the most special day I can remember," Katie wiped her mouth with her napkin.

"It's a most special place, too," Michaela commented.

"It is?" the little girl turned her head to see. "Why?"

"This is where you came to us," Michaela took her hand.

"I was born here?" Katie concluded.

"Right under this tree," Sully touched her cheek.

The child glanced up at the infinite height of the tree, its branches twisting and turning in every direction.

Michaela brushed back a lock of her hair, "A day we'll never forget."

"I feel kinda funny," Katie remarked.

"You don't feel well?" Michaela touched her forehead.

"I feel like.... like this is where I belong," their daughter said.

"That's cause we first held ya here," Sully drew her onto his lap. "The place where you're born always has a hold on ya."

"You were born on a day much like this," Michaela eyed the location of the sun.

"Ya weren't disappointed?" Katie surprised them.

"Disappointed?" Michaela was taken aback.

"'Cause I was a girl," she specified. "Wendell Reed says men want sons."

Sully swallowed hard, "We got exactly who we wanted, honey."

"Even if I'm a girl?" Katie said.

"Nothin' sweeter on this earth than a little girl," Sully's smile melted her. "But you're growin' up so quick, pretty soon I won't be able t' hold ya."

"I don't ever want that day t' come, Poppy," the little girl placed her hand in his.

Michaela slid closer to them and tenderly kissed her daughter's cheek, "Your Daddy and I have a gift for you."

"Just bein' here is a gift," the child climbed into her mother's lap as Sully rose to get it from the wagon.

"Katherine Elizabeth Sully," Michaela framed her face in her hands. "You are such a blessing to us. You are unselfish, kind and caring. We're so proud of you, my darling."

"Here," Sully returned with a package.

"Thanks!" the little girl beamed.

Tearing the paper from the gift, Katie discovered a beautifully carved wooden box with the emblem of a wolf on the lid. When she raised it, she found a locket inside.

"Mama! Poppy!" Katie was overwhelmed.

"Open it," Michaela pointed.

Katie obeyed. Inside the locket, was a miniature photograph of her entire family, taken at the baptism of the twins.

"I love it!" the little girl embraced her parents. "Thanks!"

"Anythin' else you'd like on your special day, Kates?" Sully linked it around her neck.

"Could ya cut off a little bit o' the tree for me?" she responded.

"Why?" Michaela was puzzled.

Sully understood, "Wanna keep it in the box?"

"Yep," Katie nodded. "T' always remind me o' where I came from."

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

"Afternoon, Bridget," Horace tipped his hat.

"An' a good day t' ya," the woman cheerily greeted the telegraph operator.

He held out an envelope, "Got a message here for Sully."

"He an' Dr. Mike won't be back for a while," the nanny informed him. "Would ya like t' come in for a cup o' tea?"

"Oh, no thanks," he nervously replied. "Gotta get back t' the Depot."

At that moment, from above them, came the wailing of the twins.

"Sounds like you're needed," he smiled.

"Miss Bwidget!" Josef called from the top of the steps. "These kids are cwyin'!"

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

"I'll give Sully the telegram," Bridget accepted it from Horace.

After closing the door, she headed up the stairs. Josef met her outside his parents' room.

"I didn' do nothin'," he held out his hands.

"An' who might have said ya did, laddie?" she wondered as she neared the cribs.

"They need changin'?" he held onto the rungs of his brother's crib.

"That might be the problem," she set a screaming Noah on the bed.

Josef pulled a chair closer to climb up and sit beside the baby. Little Noah's face was growing redder as he continued to sob.

"Maybe they miss Mama an' Papa," Josef lightly placed his hand on his brother's belly.

Bridget held Annie, "Or maybe they're hungry."

"I feed 'em?" his eyes widened.

At that moment, Brian entered the room, "They okay?"

Over the noise of the twins, the nanny requested, "Could I count on you two t' watch the wee ones while I prepare their bottles?"

"Sure," Brian accepted Annie into his arms.

"Here, Bran," Josef patted the bed. "Sit down."

The older brother soon had Annie calmed, but Noah continued to cry.

Josef commented, "Know what we need?"

"What?" Brian smiled at him.

"Bunnies," Josef answered. "I have bunny when I baby."

"I remember," the older brother nodded. "An' it was Katie's before that."

"We gotta get these kids bunnies, Bran," the little boy leaned closer to Noah.

Josef began to softly hum, and soon Noah, too, had ceased his sobbing.

"Good job," Brian tickled his side.

"I do what Mama do," he shrugged.

Noah's head turned toward Josef. Suddenly a smile appeared on the infant's face.

"Lookie!" Josef pointed.

"I see," Brian lay Annie next to her twin.

"I make Annie smile now," Josef leaned closer to her.

The baby reached up her little hand and touched the boy's lips.

"Why she do that?" Josef questioned.

"Maybe she wants ya t' kiss her," the older brother speculated.

"She sweet lil' girl," he gently kissed his baby sister's cheek. "I startin' t' weally like these kids, Bran."

He chuckled, "I think they like you, too."

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

"Loren," the minister entered the Mercantile.

"Over here, Reverend," the older man called. "Somethin' I can get for ya?"

"No," he answered. "Something you can do for me."

"What's that?" Loren wondered.

"Could we speak in private?" he detected the presence of several customers.

"Sure," Loren guided him toward his corner desk. "What did ya need?"

The Reverend nervously fidgeted with his cane, "I need... a best man."

"A best man," the shopkeeper repeated. "Well...."

"I would be honored if you would be mine," the minister finished.

"Me?" Loren pointed to himself uncomfortably.

"You have been a good friend to me, Loren," Reverend Johnson nodded. "You took me in when I went blind, and...."

"I'd be glad to," Loren dropped his gruff facade.

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

"I wanna pick some flowers for everyone," Katie told her parents.

"Sounds like a good idea," Sully smiled. "We got a little bit more time before we head home."

As the little girl went about her task, Sully positioned himself closer to Michaela.

"Well, Mr. Sully," she linked her fingers in his. "I'd say our daughter had a delightful day."

"How 'bout you?" he kissed her fingers.

"Being here again brings back many memories," she reminisced.

"Like pinchin' my face?" he joked.

She caressed his cheek, "Like being even more in love with you than the day we married."

"Look at her, Michaela," Sully gestured toward Katie. "She's everythin' we hoped she'd be an' more."

"I know," she felt a tear on her cheek. "I can scarcely believe she's entering second grade."

"I see you in her," he leaned against the tree. "'Specially her eyes."

"Just as you ordered," she teased.

"Humm?" he was puzzled.

"When you were building our house," she paused. "We talked about starting a family, and I asked what you would like."

"An' I said a little girl," he nodded. "With your eyes."

With their daughter's laughter filling their ears, Sully reached into the picnic basket and withdrew a book.

"Are you going to read a poem?" she anticipated.

"Yep," he opened to a mark. "Found this last night. Seems so right for our little girl."

"May Katie hear it?" she requested.

"Sure," Sully smiled.

"Katie," Michaela called. "Come here, please."

The little girl soon obeyed and approached her mother, "Time t' leave already?"

"Your Daddy wants to read a poem," she settled her daughter on her lap.

"Good," the child beamed. "Go ahead, Poppy."

He began to read:

"All the bells of heaven may ring,
All the birds of heaven may sing,
All the wells on earth may spring,
All the winds on earth may bring
All sweet sounds together---
Sweeter far than all things heard,
Hand of harper, tone of bird,
Sound of woods at sundawn stirred,
Welling water's winsome word,
Wind in warm wan weather,

One thing yet there is, that none
Hearing ere its chime be done
Knows not well the sweetest one
Heard of man beneath the sun,
Hoped in heaven hereafter;
Soft and strong and loud and light,
Very sound of very light
Heard from morning's rosiest height,
When the soul of all delight
Fills a child's clear laughter.

Golden bells of welcome rolled
Never forth such notes, nor told
Hours so blithe in tones so bold,
As the radiant mouth of gold
Here that rings forth heaven.
If the golden-crested wren
Were a nightingale---why, then,
Something seen and heard of men
Might be half as sweet as when
Laughs a child of seven."

Michaela wiped the moisture from her cheeks, "That was lovely. Who was the poet?"

"Algernon Swinburne," he closed the book.

Katie leaned over and kissed her father's cheek, "I liked that." Then she returned to her mother, "May I finish gatherin' flowers?"

"Certainly," the mother consented.

Michaela smiled as Katie skipped from flower to flower, "Such energy and a zest for pleasing her family. It warms my heart to watch her with her brothers and sisters. We weren't certain how she would react."

"Josef's the one we wonder about," Sully chuckled.

"I have a suspicion that he will open his heart more and more to the babies," she drew back a lock of his hair.

"What makes ya think so?" he inquired.

"Because he has so much love to share," she observed. "I believe he's learning more and more about sharing."

Sweetly, they kissed. Then Sully glanced toward the horizon, his demeanor seeming to change.

Michaela suspected something was troubling him, "What are you thinking about?"

"Michaela," his expression became serious. "I've been hearin' some stories about the Cheyenne in the Indian territory."

"What kind of stories?" she grew concerned.

"They ain't gettin' what the government promised," he informed her. "Poor rations, no medicine t' fight disease."

"Oh, no," her heart went out to them.

"I don't know how much longer they can last like that," he shook his head.

"What tragedies they have already endured," she sighed. "Sand Creek, Sappa Creek, Washita...."

"Little Wolf an' Dull Knife ain't the kind t' do nothin'," he commented.

"Have you informed Secretary Schurz?" she asked. "It seems to me that the Indian agents there must not be doing...."

His jaw tensed, "The politicians turn a deaf ear."

"Not always," she clasped his hand. "Write him again, Sully. He has listened to you before."

Katie rejoined them and plopped on her father's lap, "Think this is enough?"

"Looks like ya picked the whole meadow," he tickled her side.

"We got a big family, Poppy," she looked quite serious.

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

Teresa glanced up from her books when she heard a knock at the door. Looking at Maria to see that she had not wakened from her nap, she stepped forward and opened the door.

"Isabel?" Teresa was surprised.

"I saw your husband arrive in town and took the opportunity to come here to speak with you alone," Isabel stated.

"Please, come in," Teresa stepped back. "Would you like some tea?"

"No, thank you," Isabel turned to her.

"Is this about school?" Teresa questioned. "If it is, I have not heard...."

"No," Isabel interrupted. "It's about my wedding."

"I plan to attend," she nodded.

"I know this is putting you on the spot," Isabel hesitated. "But.... since the news about my past came to light, you have been very supportive of me. And... I was wondering if perhaps you would be my matron of honor."

"Me?" Teresa was surprised.

"Yes," Isabel swallowed hard. "If it's too uncomfortable, I understand your not wanting to...."

"No," Teresa assured. "I would be glad to be your matron of honor. Thank you for asking me."

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

"Miss Bridget!" Katie rushed into the homestead. "Lookie!"

The little girl proudly displayed her new necklace, then handed the nanny several flowers. She smiled as Michaela and Sully entered the house carrying the picnic items.

"For you," the little girl beamed.

"Thank you, darlin'," the nanny kissed her cheek. "What a beautiful necklace that is. Did your Mama an' Papa give it to ya?"

"Uh huh," Katie nodded. "Where's Bran and Joey?"

"Josef is nappin' with your baby brother upstairs," Bridget informed them. "Brian is in town talkin' t' his professor."

"What about Annie?" Michaela queried.

"She's in her bassinet," the nanny pointed toward the living room. "She just doesn't want t' sleep, that one." Turning to Katie, she inquired, "Would ya like t' help me put these flowers in water?"

"Okay," the little girl cheerily agreed.

Katie led the way toward the kitchen water pump, but Bridget remained and pulled an envelope from her pocket. As Michaela left them to check on her baby daughter, Bridget handed the telegram to Sully.

"This come for ya," she stated.

"Thanks," Sully opened it and began to read. Then, he folded it silently.

"Is it bad news?" the nanny inquired.

"Yes," he nodded.

At that moment, Brian entered the homestead, "How'd the picnic go?"

"Look, Bran!" Katie hurried to show him her gift.

Sully watched them quietly for a moment, then turned toward the living room where Michaela was rocking Annie. Silently, he opened the front door and stepped onto the porch.

He took a deep breath, inhaling the warm air. Then he went to the porch swing and sat down. Reopening the telegram, he read it again. His jaw tightened.

He had to do something, but what? As thoughts swirled through his head, he heard the front door open. Michaela stepped out holding Annie.

"Hey," he smiled at them.

"I thought perhaps you might be able to get her to sleep," she handed the baby to him.

"You sayin' I have that effect on folks?" he teased.

"You have a knack with your children, Mr. Sully," she sat beside him.

Sully held Annie against his chest, softly rubbing her back. The baby turned her head to look at him. Then she reached for his lips. Sully pretended to munch on her fingers, prompting a smile from his daughter.

"Don't look like she's very sleepy," he assessed.

"I fear she'll become cranky if she doesn't get a nap," Michaela noted his expression.

Sully rested his lips on the baby's head. As Michaela watched, she sensed a difference in his mood.

"Is something wrong?" she placed her hand on his shoulder.

"Why ya ask?" he hedged.

"You seem a bit somber," she observed. "Still thinking about the Cheyenne?"

"Got a telegram," he said.

"From whom?" she inquired.

"Friend o' mine in the Interior Department," he said. "Seems a group o' Cheyenne has fled their reservation in the Indian Territory."

"Oh my," she rubbed Annie's back.

"Don't have many details yet," he added. "He's gonna let me know when he has more."

She sighed and shook her head.

The front door opened again, and Brian approached his parents.

"Could... could I speak t' you?" he requested.

"Certainly," Michaela consented.

Sully glanced at his son, "Somethin' on your mind?"

He took a deep breath, "It's about an opportunity that I have, an' my journalism professor wants me t' do it."

"Then by all means," Michaela encouraged.

"Maybe we oughta hear everythin'," Sully suspected there was more to it.

Brian sat on the porch railing, "It would mean I'd have t' leave for about a month."

"A month?" Michaela suddenly felt uncomfortable. "But... you've never been away from us for that long, Brian. And what about school?"

"Ma," he hoped to explain. "It would be a firsthand experience for me."

"Doin' what?" Sully solicited.

Brian hesitated, then braced himself for their reaction, "Travelin' with the Army."

"What?" Michaela was incredulous.

"I'd be with an infantry unit," he clarified.

"You're joining the Army?" she was aghast.

"Not joinin' them," he clarified. "I'm not enlistin'. But I'd be travelin' with them and writin' about what I see. My professor knows the man who...."

"I will not permit it!" Michaela was adamant.

"Ma," his shoulders slumped.

Annie began to fuss at the sound of raised voices. Michaela took her daughter from Sully and rose from the swing. Without offering another word, she left them and entered the homestead.

Brian shook his head and sighed.

Sully spoke softly, "When would ya have t' leave?"

"T'morrow," Brian looked up. "I can stay for the weddin', then catch the afternoon train t' Denver."

"Ya got any idea what it will be like?" he questioned.

"That's why I need t' go, Pa," the young man explained. "I wanna write about the Army from the inside. But Ma...."

"Your Ma thinks it would be dangerous," Sully knew.

"What about you?" Brian wondered.

"There's lots o' things could happen," Sully pondered. "What if ya get in a fire fight with Indians?"

"I won't carry a gun," the young man pledged.

"That don't answer the question," Sully countered.

"If there was a fight with the Indians....." he hedged. "I'd write about what I saw. What the Indians did.... what the soldiers did."

"You'll be real careful?" Sully hoped. "Stay behind the lines?"

"Pa, all I'd be doin' is goin' out with them on patrols," Brian assured. "Most o' the time, it'll probably be borin'."

"An' what about the one time that it's not?" he challenged.

"I'll be careful," his son promised.

"I'll go talk t' your Ma," Sully nodded.

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

Sully approached the bedroom and heard Michaela's soft weeping. Noticing that the door was ajar, he looked in. His wife was laying across the bed, her back to the door.

Michaela suddenly sensed his presence and sat up. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she took a deep breath.

"He's going to do this, isn't he?" she swallowed hard.

"He's of age, Michaela," Sully presented. "We can't forbid it."

"Yes, we can," she insisted. "Sully, he could be killed out there."

He sat beside her and clasped her hand, "Hardest thing about bein' a parent is lettin' your kids make their own decisions."

"We can't let him make a foolhardy decision," she felt her eyes welling again. "I can't believe that you would support him in this. After how the Army has treated you.... and the Cheyenne."

Sully reached up and caressed her cheek, "We raised Brian t' this point in his life, Michaela. He wants a career in writin' and tellin' folks the truth. That can't always be done sittin' behind a desk."

"But, it's too dangerous," she leaned against his shoulder. "What if something happened to him? We couldn't be there to help him."

"I know," he kissed her temple.

"I'm going to try to dissuade him," she insisted.

"An' if ya can't?" he wondered.

"I must," she sat up straighter.

"If ya can't talk him out of goin', don't ya think it would be best if he went havin' our support?" Sully stroked her arm.

She was silent.

************
Chapter 3
************
Michaela glanced out the living room window at Brian, still on the front porch. She opened the door and stepped toward him.

He turned to see who it was, "Hey, Ma."

"Brian," she walked to his side.

Both stood for a moment, quietly surveying the beauty of the Colorado landscape.

"I figure ya came back t' talk me outa this," he faced her.

"I... forbid you to go," her voice trembled.

Brian glanced at her with a pained expression, "That won't stop me from doin' this, Ma."

Michaela tensed, "I'm your mother, and I refuse to permit you to place yourself in danger like this."

"I gotta do it," Brian eyed her intensely. "It's not t' put myself in danger. It's t' help me become a better writer. So much of what's happenin' in our country revolves around what the Army is doin' out here. If I can write about it firsthand...."

"Brian," her voice choked. "You could be hurt or... worse."

"When you were studyin' t' be a doctor, did you just go t' the nice hospitals and the safe patients?" he posed the question. Or did ya go int' poor areas, treatin' anyone who needed help?"

"That was different," she dismissed the analogy.

"It was dangerous for you, too, Ma," he argued. "An' it made ya a better doctor.... prepared ya for almost anythin'."

He gauged her reaction, then went on.

"You an' Pa have taught me t' think for myself an' t' take care o' myself," he put his arm around her. "I'm not a child anymore."

"No," she tilted her head against his shoulder. "You're a man. And I'm very proud of you."

"So, you understand?" he asked.

"I...." her tone softened. "I want you to contact us at every opportunity."

"I will," he smiled as he hugged her.

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

An assembly of men had gathered at The Gold Nugget for their pre-dinner libation. Jake sat in the corner, away from his friends. The rest listened as the town banker bragged.

"So, gentlemen," Preston placed his fingers in his vest pockets. "The expansion of the Chateau is nearly complete. My investors are quite pleased with the progress. They have requested a new name, as well."

"What new name?" Horace wondered.

"The Antlers Hotel," Preston announced.

"Antlers?" Hank laughed. "Who's gonna wanna stay in somethin' called that? Elk an' deer?"

"I can assure you that once its reputation for elegance and deluxe accommodations is established, we shall have to turn people away," the banker bragged.

"Seems like the rich just get richer," Horace lamented.

Loren pointed toward the corner table, "Jake still drinkin'?"

"No reason t' refuse him," Hank shrugged as he poured another round.

"Seems like him an' Miss Teresa are havin' problems," Horace shook his head.

"What about the town meetin' later?" Loren wondered. "He better be sober for that. We're hirin' the new teacher."

"We know you an' Jake will vote against Miss Isabel," Horace spoke to Hank. "Dr. Mike an' Robert E will support her. What about you, Loren?"

"He'll oppose her, of course," Preston assumed. "After what that woman has done, who would...."

"I ain't so sure I'm gonna oppose her," Hank surprised them.

"What?" Preston was shocked. "The woman has been nothing but trouble since she came here."

"Seems t' me if she had a job as teacher, she'd have t' mind her business," Hank speculated. "We'd be her boss."

"Ya got a point there," Loren nodded. "'Sides, she an' the Reverend just startin' out married, they could use her salary. Neither one of 'em makes very much."

"I cannot believe my ears," Preston shook his head. "You're going to hire a common whore as a school teacher."

"There's a lot t' be said for common whores," Hank smirked.

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

"And I say, with a college right here in Colorado Springs, we could certainly hire one of their graduates as the new teacher," Preston spoke to the town council. "Besides, it is highly out of the ordinary to employ a married woman as a school teacher. If you hire Miss Morant, we shall have two."

Loren spoke up, "Aw, we never do things normal. How many towns got a woman for a doctor?"

"Let's vote on the name we got on the table now," Robert E said. "Isabel Morant."

Jake could barely stand up, "All in favor o' hirin' Isssabel Morant, say aye."

"Aye," Michaela, Robert E, Hank and Loren raised their hands.

"What?" the mayor could not believe his eyes.

"Four t' one," Hank counted. "Looks like she's hired."

Michaela glanced at the bartender, "What made you change your mind?"

"Just usin' common sense, Michaela," Hank commented.

"I can't help but think there are other reasons," she doubted.

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," he grinned.

"I.... guess she can start on Monday, then," Jake appeared dejected. "Meetin's adjourned."

As the townsfolk began to disperse, Michaela lingered to speak to the mayor.

"Jake," she approached. "Are you all right?"

"'Course I am," he staggered. "Why ya wanna know?"

"I thought you gave up drinking," she broached the subject.

"I did," he reached for a flask in his pocket. "An' now, I'm takin' it up again."

"But why?" she struggled to understand.

"None o' your business," he curtly replied. "Now, leave me alone."

"I don't think you should be alone," she stated.

"Then I'll stop by The Gold Nugget an' find me a girl," he glared at her.

"You know that this will hurt your wife and daughter," Michaela noted.

"My wife don't care, an' my daughter...." he paused.

"She needs her Papa," she reminded.

"Teresa will turn her against me," he began to feel sorry for himself.

"Only you can turn her against you, Jake," she said.

"Think you know it all, don't ya, Dr. Mike?" he turned it around.

"No," her tone softened. "But I know how frightened you were when Teresa was fainting. And I know that you struck her when you were drinking before."

"Well, don' worry," he waved his hand. "I ain't gonna hit her."

"I wish I could do something to help," she offered.

"The women o' this town done enough," he swayed, then headed for the exit.

"Michaela?" Sully stepped into the church. "Everythin' okay?"

She sighed, "No."

"Just saw Jake leavin'," he pointed over his shoulder. "He drinkin' again?"

"I'm afraid so," she nodded. "I tried speaking to him."

"I reckon he's gotta bottom out," Sully assumed.

"But what might happen in the meantime?" she worried.

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

"Let's put it right here, Brian," Sully directed them toward the bedroom fireplace.

"Ma's gonna love this," the young man set down his end of the furniture. "But ya don't have much more room in here. Two cribs, your bed, dresser...."

"I was thinkin' about addin' ont' the house next spring," Sully draped a sheet over the handcrafted object.

"Which way?" Brian scratched his head.

"Behind the back wall o' the house," Sully pointed. "I could put a fancier dinin' room an' office for your Ma downstairs an' two more bedrooms above it."

"I can help ya when I get back," the young man offered.

"Thanks," Sully wiped his brow. "I don't know what ya said t' your Ma, but she seems t' accept your decision about leavin'."

"I just pointed out what she went through t' become a doctor," Brian answered.

"I know you're gonna be careful, son," Sully placed his hand on the young man's shoulder. "Just know that we love ya."

"I do know that, Pa," Brian embraced him.

"Sully? Brian?" Michaela stood at the doorway. "Bridget said you needed to see me up here."

"Yep," Sully beamed. "Got a surprise for ya."

She tilted her head to glance at the covered object, "What on earth is it?"

Sully stepped back and pulled the sheet off of the furniture to reveal a double rocking chair large enough to seat two people.

Michaela's eyes widened, "It's beautiful!"

"Glad ya like it," he modestly smiled.

Michaela ran her hand lovingly along the finished wood, "We can rock the babies together."

"Just what I had in mind," he winked.

"Thank you, Sully," she slid her arms around his waist. "Your talents never cease to amaze me."

He leaned closer to whisper in her ear, "Hope t' show ya some more talents later."

Brian smiled as his mother's face reddened, "I'll leave you two now. I got some packin' t' do."

"Thanks for your help, Brian," Sully called after him. Then he framed Michaela's face, "You okay with him goin'?"

"I have no choice," she sighed.

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

"Miss Bwidget," Josef splashed water in the tub. "I ask ya somethin'?"

"First, stop makin' waves there, admiral," she calmed him.

"What's admiral?" he asked.

"Someone who commands a navy," she washed him.

"What's navy?" he persisted.

"Soldiers who fight on ships at sea," she explained. "Now, what did ya want t' ask me, laddie?"

"You help me get somethin' for babies?" he resumed his splashing of water.

Bridget took a towel and draped it over her shoulder, "What did ya want t' get the wee ones?"

"Bunnies," he smiled.

"Now, don't ya have enough animals with that wolf?" she rinsed him off.

"Not weal bunnies," he clarified. "Toys."

"Oh," she began to dry him off. "Did ya ask your Mama an' Papa about it?"

"Wanna sturpwise them," his voice was slightly muffled under the towel. "We go see Misser Bway?"

"Do ya have money t' buy the toys?" she wondered.

"Nope," his eyes saddened. "I get some."

"Then I'll help ya," she drew on his night shirt. "Now, do ya think ya can stay clean until bedtime?"

"I twy," he agreed.

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

"Anything I can do to help, Brian?" Michaela stood at his door.

"I don't think so, Ma," he glanced up from his packing. "Thanks."

Sully appeared behind her and handed her a book-like object, "Here it is."

She spoke again, "We have something for you."

The young man neared them, "You don't have t'...."

"We were going to give it to you for Christmas, but now seems a more appropriate time," she explained.

Michaela handed her son the gift.

"Ma," his eyes widened. "Pa, thank you. A leather-bound journal!"

"Hope you'll fill it with lots o' good things," Sully patted his back.

"I will," Brian ran his hand across the cover.

"Stay true t' the truth, Brian," Sully advised.

Michaela fought back a tear, "Be certain to pack enough socks."

"Don't worry," the son nodded.

She wrapped her arms around him, "Oh, Brian. Please, please be careful. Come home to us safely."

"I will, Ma," he felt a lump in his throat.

As mother and son stood embracing, Sully enfolded them both in his arms.

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

Michaela and Sully sat side by side in the new rocking chair, each holding one of the sleeping babies.

"Think these two are ready for their cribs," he smiled.

"I want to savor this moment, Sully," she kissed Annie's head. "They grow so quickly."

"I know," he stood and carried Noah to his crib.

Then he returned to take their infant daughter to her bed, as well.

Michaela stared into the embers of the fireplace, "It seems like only yesterday he was that sweet little boy asking if he could call me 'Ma.'"

Sully sat beside her again and kissed her temple, "Brian'll be all right."

"There are no guarantees," she knew.

"Ya gotta have faith that everythin' will turn out okay," he offered.

"Why can't I shake this feeling, Sully?" she turned her glance to him. "A feeling that something terrible is going to happen."

"Just normal fears a mother has when her son is leavin' for the first time," he counseled.

"You seem much calmer than I," she noted.

"Don't feel very calm inside here," he pointed to his heart. "There won't be a day goes by while he's away that he won't be on our minds."

"And in our hearts," she agreed.

"So we'll hold on to our good thoughts," he ran his finger along her cheek.

"How do you do it, Mr. Sully?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"Do what?" he grinned.

"Make me feel so much better," she closed her eyes to savor the closeness she felt to him.

"I just put ya in our rockin' chair an' hold ya," he responded.

"I like this," she leaned closer.

"Don't have t' use it only for the kids, ya know," he grinned.

"Is it your intention to spoon with me here?" she feigned surprise.

He reached for the top button of her blouse, "Kids are asleep. Just you an' me here alone."

Her voice sounded different, "A rare occurrence."

"You mind?" he kissed her neck.

"Mind?" she gulped.

"Spoonin' with me?" his breath was warm near her ear.

"I.... don't mind," she found it impossible to resist him. "I rather enjoy it."

"Rather?" he teased as he kissed her earlobe.

"I... very much enjoy it," she amended.

"Glad t' hear it," he loosened several more buttons and slipped his hand beneath the material.

Michaela turned to allow him freer access. She then leaned forward to kiss his chest. Sully closed his eyes, savoring each enticing touch of her lips.

As he inhaled her scent, he recited:

"The stars will awaken,
Though the moon sleep a full hour later,
Tonight;
No leaf will be shaken
Whilst the dews of your melody scatter
Delight.
Though the sound overpowers,
Sing again, with your dear voice revealing
A tone
Of some world far from ours
Where music and moonlight and feeling
Are one."

Michaela's heart filled with love for him, "Was that Byron?"

"Shelley," he clasped her arms and drew her closer.

"Sully," the timbre of her voice aroused him.

"I love you," he spoke low as he lifted her into his arms.

She ran her fingers through his hair, "And I love you."

He carried her to their bed and lovingly set her upon the soft mattress. Michaela's anticipation grew as he pulled his shirt over his head. Then he linked his fingers in hers and drew them to his lips. Kissing each digit, his blue eyes drank in her beauty.

She reached up to caress his chest, "Love me, Sully."

His heart skipped a beat at the invitation, "Love to."

Positioning himself beside his wife, his feather light kisses and soft words of adoration soon heightened her appetite for him. With deliberate care, he commenced their dance of love. Rhythmic movements and enticing caresses soon culminated in a burst of blinding energy.

Hoping to prolong the feeling of oneness, Michaela clung to him, her body craving all that he shared with her.

"What would I ever do without you?" she brushed back the hair from his moist face.

"You'd go on," his tone seemed different.

"No," she denied. "I could never exist without you."

He kissed her temple, "Yes, you would. For the children."

"I never want to think about a life without you in it," she grew alarmed at the thought.

"That's how I feel about you, too," he replied. "But the truth is, we never know what might happen. That's why livin' for right now is so important. Treasurin' all we have."

She lifted up slightly to peer into the eyes she adored, "You're going to leave, aren't you? You're going to help the Cheyenne."

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

"Shhh," Sully placed his finger to Michaela's lips. "We're here t'gether right now. That's all that matters."

She lay her head against his shoulder. Soon he felt the moisture of her tears on his flesh.

"I don't know what I'm gonna do, Michaela," he hoped to assure her. "I don't even know if there's anythin' I can do."

"I know I must share you with them," her voice shook. "I must seem terribly selfish."

"No, ya don't," he lifted her chin to look at him. "Part of it is that you're frettin' over Brian. Even though there's times when we give our efforts t' other things, there's only one place we wanna be. Only one place that holds our hearts."

"I suppose it's like my being away to treat patients," she sighed. "As long as you'll come home to me...."

"As long as I got breath in me, I'll come home t' you," he squeezed her slightly.

She shuddered suddenly at the recollection of finding him after his fall from the cliff. As she had held him in her arms, he had taken a final breath. Overwhelmed by fear, she had breathed air into his lungs and brought him back to life. Back to her.

"As long as you have breath," she repeated almost inaudibly.

"Mmm?" he did not hear.

"Hold me, Sully," she needed to feel his warmth. "Hold me all night long."

"I will," he pledged.

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

Teresa Slicker awoke with a start. Jake stumbled into the bedroom and tripped over a chair. With expletives flying from his mouth, he found his way to a lamp and lit it.

"Mr. Slicker," Teresa sat up. "What are you doing?"

"I'm comin' t' bed," he could scarcely stand.

"Not in here, you're not," her voice was cold.

"You're my wife," he demanded.

"And you are not the man I married," she rose from the bed.

"Where you goin'?" he yelled.

"I'm going to sleep with Maria," she informed him.

Grabbing her arm, Jake pulled her back.

"You're hurting me," she cried.

"You ain't goin' anywhere," he commanded.

"Let go of me, Jacob!" Teresa shouted.

Suddenly, cries from little Maria filled the house.

"Now are you happy?" Teresa broke free of his grip. "Your daughter is frightened."

"Go shut her up!" he spoke over the noise.

"I want you out of here when I return," her eyes were cold.

"It's my home, an' I ain't leavin'," Jake shot back.

"Then I shall take Maria, and we shall leave," she started for the door.

"You ain't leavin' me," he reached for her.

Teresa stepped aside and let him fall to the floor unconscious. Kneeling down, she saw that he was still breathing. Then she turned and went to quiet her daughter.

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

Sully tenderly enfolded Michaela in his arms, kissing her each time she awoke. In the middle of the night, he heard her soft weeping. He whispered words of comfort and felt an overwhelming desire to share his love anew. She warmly received his overtures, and again they made love.

Michaela had never felt closer to her husband, thanks to his tender ministrations. Feeling safe and secure in his embrace, she knew Sully was there to console her, and it filled her heart.

She awoke just before dawn, still warm in his arms. She glanced up and saw him watching her.

"Thank you," she whispered softly.

"For what?" he drew back a strand of her hair.

"For making me feel incredibly loved," she specified.

"You are incredibly loved," he held her close.

"How can we two be so lucky?" she pondered.

"Maybe it ain't luck," he speculated. "I think the Spirits guided us t' be t'gether."

"Whatever it is," she paused. "I shall never stop loving you, Byron Sully."

"Never's a long time," he joked. "You wanna put up with me that long?"

Before she could answer, they heard one of the twins begin to stir.

"Sounds like your baby boy's hungry," Sully started to rise.

"One more kiss?" she tugged lightly at his hand.

"For you, anythin'," he leaned in.

When Sully's lips met hers, Michaela felt her entire body tingle. Their desire heightened until both heartbeats raced at dizzying speed.

The baby's murmurs escalated into a prelude to crying.

Sully pulled up and ran his finger along Michaela's jaw line, "I'll get him."

Drawing on his buckskins, he walked toward Noah's crib and lowered the railing.

"'Mornin', little fella," Sully lifted the infant and kissed him. "You wantin' t' see your Ma?"

Noah gurgled and began to settle. After checking to see that Annie was still asleep, Sully carried the baby to Michaela. Cradling him to her breast, she began to nurse the baby.

Sully yawned and stretched his arms, "Sun's almost up."

"So much to do today," she caressed the baby's head. "At least we'll have Brian with us at the wedding."

"I like weddin's," Sully sat on the edge of the bed. "Long as I don't have t' give away the bride."

"I hope you'll have a very long time before you must do that again," she smiled.

"Katie.... then Annie," he pondered. "I don't even wanna think about it."

"Could you see if she's awake?" she gestured. "I should feed her, as well."

Sully approached the other crib. Sure enough, their voices had stirred the baby girl, and her eyes were open.

"Hey, there," Sully's voice was soft. "How's my little darlin' this mornin'?"

Annie moved her little arms and legs at the sound of her father's voice. Sully made a face as he raised her into his embrace. Lightly stroking the baby's back, he glanced toward his wife. He spotted a tear running down her cheek.

"Michaela," he spoke tenderly. "We gotta be strong for Brian. Show him we believe in him."

"I do believe in him," she caressed Noah's head. "I can't help but feel anxious."

"I know," he understood.

She composed herself, "I hope that by the time these little ones are his age, the world won't be such a dangerous place."

"Maybe Brian can help make that happen," he suggested.

"If only that were true," her voice trailed off.

"Never know," Sully kissed Annie's cheek.

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

"Well, I see you have decided to rouse yourself," Teresa spoke as her husband entered the kitchen.

Jake rubbed his head, "You gotta talk so loud?"

"I am not speaking in a loud tone," she turned away. "Would you like something to eat?"

His face paled more, "No."

"I wish to speak with you about what happened last night," she broached the subject.

"Last night?" his mind was foggy.

"When you grabbed me," she glared.

"I never touched ya," he could not look her in the eye.

"Jacob," her voice softened. "Please, don't let us go back to that terrible time again."

"I don't know what you're talkin' about," he denied.

"I do not wish for us to argue," she folded her arms. "But you cannot drink. If not for my sake, for Maria's, would you please stop?"

"I only had a couple," he shot back.

"You grabbed my arm and frightened our child," she reminded.

"I said I never touched ya," he swallowed hard.

Teresa extended her arm and pulled back her sleeve, "Then look at this."

He could no longer deny the accusation when he saw the bruise.

"Well?" she waited.

"Sorry," he was brief.

They stood in uncomfortable silence for several moments. Then Teresa began to put on her hat.

"Where you goin'?" he questioned.

"I am going to the wedding," she said. "The Reverend and...."

"The whore," he interrupted.

"I shall take Maria with me," she started for the steps.

"Wait," he stepped toward her. "I'll watch her."

"But...." she hesitated.

"I won't drink," he pledged.

She stared at him, attempting to gauge his sincerity.

"I promise," he raised his hand.

"Very well," she nodded.

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

"You look beautiful," Grace held Isabel's hands. "Robert E an' me are real happy for ya."

"It's gonna be a nice weddin'," Dorothy added as she secured the flower bud in Isabel's hair.

"I can't thank you enough for all that you've done," Isabel smiled.

"You an' the Reverend deserve t' be happy," Grace added.

"What time is Teresa supposed t' get here?" Dorothy glanced toward the clock.

"Any minute," Isabel nervously replied.

"It's a fine day for a weddin'," Dorothy commented. "I just thought, though, who's gonna marry ya?"

"A pastor from Manitou," Isabel informed them. "Reverend Atchinson. I hope for Timothy's sake that his congregation comes."

"They will," Dorothy nodded.

"Isabel," Grace assured. "The Reverend loves ya, an' I know you'll be happy. Those that understand love will come around. Those that don't.... well, it's their loss."

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

Michaela and Sully watched as Isabel walked down the aisle. Gently, Sully reached for his wife's hand, and Michaela smiled. Linking her fingers in his, she gave his hand a slight squeeze. For most of the service, Michaela's eyes remained on Brian, sitting beside her.

Suddenly, she became aware that the ceremony had concluded.

"I now pronounce you man and wife," Reverend Atchinson announced.

Grace began the strains of Mendelsohn's "Wedding March," as the happy couple kissed. Then Isabel linked her arm in the Reverend's, and they made their way outside to receive their guests.

"You okay?" Sully noticed Michaela's distracted state after they offered their congratulations.

"Yes," she held her composure.

Brian turned to face his mother, "I gotta head for the Depot, Ma."

"I know," she felt her heart grow heavy.

"Bridget has the kids out in the meadow," Sully gestured. "You can say good-bye t' them there. Then we'll take ya t' catch your train."

As well wishers gathered around the newly married couple, the Sullys stepped toward the cemetery for some privacy.

Brian went to his mother's grave and knelt briefly, then he turned to Katie and Josef.

"Well, you two...." he bent down. "Be good for Ma an' Pa."

"We will, Bran," Katie hugged him. "Mama said you'll be home next month."

"Yep," he touched her nose.

Josef was uncharacteristically quiet.

Brian turned to him, "Hey, little brother."

"Don' go, Bran," the little boy threw his arms around his neck.

Brian closed his eyes and fought back his own tears, "I'll bring ya somethin'."

Suddenly, Josef's spirits lifted, "Bunnies?"

"What?" Brian chuckled.

Josef whispered, "I wanna get the babies bunnies."

"Oh, right," the older brother recalled. "I'll see what I can do. Now, take care o' each other an' the twins, okay?"

"We will," Katie held Josef's hand.

Brian approached the babies, now in the arms of their parents. He leaned over to kiss each infant, then faced Bridget.

"I made ya some cookies, lad," she handed him a box.

"Thanks," he swallowed hard.

"Take care, now," she added.

"I will," he smiled.

Michaela and Sully handed the babies to their nanny and quietly headed across the meadow toward town.

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

Loren approached Bridget, "May I have this dance?"

Her eyes widened, "Now, isn't it just my luck that a handsome gentleman would ask me just as I have t' watch the wee ones?"

Dorothy overheard and stepped closer, "I'll watch the children. Go ahead, Bridget."

"Thank ya," the nanny beamed.

As she and Loren began to dance, he was amazed at her energy and aptitude.

"Ya dance real good," he smiled.

"Same could be said o' yourself," she twirled.

"Nice weddin', eh?" he continued to dance with her.

"Aye, it was," she nodded. "Seems like they're happy."

"She starts work at the school t'morrow," he stated.

"Not very much of a honeymoon then," the nanny chuckled.

"I can't picture the Reverend...." he stopped himself.

She laughed, "Nature has a way o' workin' out where newlyweds are concerned."

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

Sully and Michaela waved as the train pulled away from the station.

"Ready t' go t' the weddin' reception?" he offered his arm.

She could not take her eyes off of the departing locomotion, "I.... suppose so."

"We don't have to just yet," he noticed her reluctance.

"The children and Bridget will be wondering where we are," she pointed out.

"They'll be okay for a little spell," he led her toward a grove of trees past the Depot.

"Where are we going?" she wondered.

Sully held her hand as they walked. Stopping when he was certain that they had privacy, he slipped his arms around her waist.

"Seein' the weddin' kinda reminded me o' ours," he whispered.

"Ours was...." her voice trailed off.

"What?" he smiled.

"An incredible day," she spoke low.

"And night," he ran his hands softly up and down her back.

"What if someone sees us, Mr. Sully?" she glanced over his shoulder.

"They won't," he leaned closer to sweetly kiss her. "Mmm, I love how you smell."

"I smell smoke," she suddenly noted.

"Smoke?" he was curious.

"Yes," she drew back. Then she spotted a large cloud of dark smoke on the horizon, "Sully, look! Is.... is it the train?"

He sprang into action, "I'll go find out. You go on back t' the reception an' alert everyone. Looks like a real big fire."

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

Sully tossed his jacket aside as he ran toward the billowing cloud of smoke. Silently praying to the Spirits that it was not the train, he soon realized that it was not. The closer he got to the source, it became apparent that it was coming from the Slicker house.

When he arrived, he saw the house almost entirely engulfed in a blazing inferno.

"Jake!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.

Maybe no one was home, but.... he did not recall seeing him at the wedding.

Hesitating no longer, he rushed into the home. Through the smoke and flames, he spotted a figure prone on the floor.

"Jake!" he rushed to him.

The man groaned. Sully smelled the strong odor of alcohol on his breath.

"Where's Maria?" he grabbed Slicker's shirt.

"Whass happenin'?" Jake slurred.

Sully pulled him up by the arms and hoisted him over his shoulder. Then he carried him outside to safety. Without waiting, he turned and reentered the home to search for the little girl.

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

Michaela and most of the townsfolk headed for the source of the blaze. Her heart pounded in terror at the thought of another train wreck. But no, it was not the train.

"Jake's!" she suddenly realized as she guided the wagon toward the towering cloud of smoke.

Hank drew his horse up beside her, "I'll get a bucket brigade organized, Michaela."

When they arrived, she spotted the mayor sitting about in the yard of his burning home."

"Are you all right?" she called.

He did not respond.

Pulling the wagon to a halt, she jumped down and rushed to him.

"Jake, are you hurt?" she brushed back the hair from his face.

"No," he pulled away.

Then she turned toward the house, "Where's Maria?"

He leaned back and passed out.

The men soon had an assembly line of water pails going between the well and the house. Michaela glanced around. Where was Sully? Surely, he had followed the smoke to this point.

"Has anyone seen Sully?" she faced the brigade.

Each man responded in the negative. At that moment, Dorothy arrived with Teresa, Grace, the Reverend and Isabel.

"Did Sully return to town?" Michaela rushed to them.

"No," Grace shook her head. "We didn't see him."

With a growing anxiety, she turned to face the house.

Running closer, she called out, "Sully!"

"Up here!" his voice called from the only upper floor window not yet ablaze.

She could see him holding the crying little girl.

"Maria!" Teresa saw, too.

"Get a blanket!" Sully shouted. "Have some o' the men hold it, an' I'll toss her down!"

No sooner had he directed them what to do, than Hank, Horace, Preston and Robert E were ready to catch the child.

Sully whispered words of comfort to Maria, "It's okay, honey. Look down there. See? There's your Ma standin' next t' Dr. Mike."

"Mama!" Maria recognized.

"Now, I want ya t' close your eyes," he rubbed her back. "You're goin' for a little ride, sorta like a bird. An' when ya land, you can open your eyes again. Your Ma will be there for ya. Ya understand?"

"Hurry, Sully!" Michaela could see sparks dancing perilously close to the window.

"Here ya go!" Sully made certain that the little girl's eyes were shut.

With the tenderest of care, he leaned out of the window as far as he could and released the child toward the ground below. The men caught her in the center of the outstretched blanket.

"Maria!" Teresa reached for her daughter.

"I do 'gain, Mama?" Maria had enjoyed the experience.

"Now you, Sully!" Horace called.

"Wait!" Hank held up his hand. "He'll fall right through. This ain't strong enough t' hold him."

"Can you climb down?" Michaela's heart filled with terror.

"I gotta," Sully worked his way out to a tiny ledge below the window.

Michaela held her breath, anxiously clutching her hands tighter at each movement he took. Suddenly flames darted through the window. Sully narrowly avoided their scorching his flesh. Then below him, another fire erupted. He was stuck, surrounded by flames.

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

"Where Mama an' Papa, Misser Bway?" Josef fidgeted on the older man's lap.

"They went t' help some folks," he was vague.

Katie perceived that there was more to it, "Who?"

Bridget made certain that the twins were still sleeping in their perambulator, then turned to the others.

"I was thinkin' maybe some pie at the Cafe might be nice," the nanny smiled.

"Good thinkin'!" Josef jumped up.

"Miss Bridget," Katie's voice trembled. "Did somethin' bad happen?"

"T' tell ya the truth, I don't know, darlin'," the woman responded. "But don't ya worry now. Your Mama an' Papa will be back soon as they can."

As they walked toward the Cafe, Josef tugged at Loren's pant leg, "Misser Bway, I wanna get babies bunnies."

"Baby bunnies?" he was puzzled. "Just ask your Ma an' Pa. There's lots of 'em runnin' around your house."

"No," Josef clarified. "Toys for Noah an' Annie."

"Oh," he nodded. "It so happens, I got a few stuffed bunnies at my store."

"I don' got money," the little boy held out his hands.

"Maybe you could work t' pay me," the older man pondered.

"Joey work?" Katie's eyes widened. "He's too little."

"I can work!" Josef insisted.

Bridget chuckled, "Might ya be needin' a pickle taster?"

"Pickle taster," Loren pretended to think it over. "Now, why didn't I think o' that? I could use someone exactly like that."

Katie smiled, "Ya found just the person in Joey then."

"When can ya start?" Loren looked at him.

"Now," Josef answered.

"Maybe after the pie, we'll take a little walk over t' the Mercantile so ya can pick out those bunnies then," Loren grinned.

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

"SULLY!" Michaela was near panic for her husband's safety.

"He can't jump from that height," Hank assessed.

"A rope," Michaela turned to the men. "If it could be secured around the chimney...."

Before she finished her sentence, Robert E returned with one.

"Here," Hank grabbed it. "I'll do it."

The sheriff made the necessary knots in the rope and threw the looped end up toward the chimney. It fell just short of the target. He quickly retrieved the end and tried again. This time, it succeeded, and Hank pulled the other end of the rope to tighten the hold around the chimney.

Suddenly, from the window beneath the ledge on which Sully stood, there was an explosion. Shards of glass flew everywhere. He was barely able to hold on.

As he perched gingerly on the edge, Sully loosened his belt. Hank recognized what he was doing and began to pull the bottom of the rope around toward the ledge where Sully stood.

"Help me!" Hank called to the other men.

They positioned the rope as close to Sully as they could, but it was apparent he was going to have to make a jump toward it. Using his belt, Sully hoped to loop it over the rope and, by holding on to both ends of the leather strap, slide down the rope. There was no room for error and no more time left.

Michaela looked up at her husband, her eyes filling with tears. Dorothy came to her side and put her arm around her friend's shoulder. With a glance toward his wife, Sully turned up the corner of his mouth in a reassuring smile.

Then he jumped.

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

Brian felt a lump in his throat as his train traversed the tracks. He missed his family already. But he knew that the adventure on which he was embarking would be a defining moment in his life. He had settled on journalism as a career. Reaching down to his travel bag, he lifted the leather-bound journal from his parents.

Opening it, he began to write:

"My journal of travel with the United States Army by Brian Cooper. 1878. I dedicate these words to my parents, Dr. Michaela Quinn and Byron Sully. What I am and what I hope to be are because of the love and guidance they have provided me."

He paused to glance out the window again. Soon he would rendezvous with the Army.

His experiences with the military had not been pleasant. He had witnessed what they did to the Cheyenne. He knew how Sergeant O'Connor had almost killed his Pa. Yet, he hoped to keep an open mind as he commenced this journalistic journey.

Brian felt a twinge at what his family had gone through because of the military. It had been five years since they nearly killed his father. Initially thinking Sully was dead, they found him and nursed him back to health. Through it all, his mother had never wavered in her dedication to her husband. And her steadfastness sustained the entire family.

Then came the months of hiding. Endless weeks in which Sully could not be with them. Not be there to hear Katie say her first word. Not be there to counsel him. Brian swallowed hard, recalling, too, how he had blamed his father at first. He now regretted that his youthful criticism had stung Sully. However, Brian realized how wrong he had been. In fact, there was no man on earth whom he would rather be like than Byron Sully.

Before leaving home, he had been leafing through one of his father's books of poetry. He smiled at the notion. Who would think a mountain man would be such an avid reader of poetry? A passage by Carlyle stuck in his mind:

"The hero can be poet, prophet, king, priest or whatever you will, according to the kind of world he finds himself born into."

Brian pondered the words, then wrote them in his journal.

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

"Jacob," Teresa knelt beside her husband. "Our house."

"Whaaa?" he attempted to focus.

"Our house!" her voice trembled.

"Mama," Maria touched her mother's cheek.

"All of our things," Teresa lowered her head.

Jake attempted to get up. Suddenly the reality of the blazing house hit him. He staggered to his feet. Turning his head, he saw the bucket brigade standing at the side of his house.

"Why ain't they puttin' it out?" he shouted.

"They are trying to help Sully," she indicated.

"Sully?" he attempted to recall.

"He went into the house and saved our daughter," she tensed. "Now he is trapped upstairs.

"We gotta help him," Jake staggered toward the crowd.

As Sully began to slide down the rope, a spark ignited it. While halfway down, he felt it snap. Falling to the ground, he attempted to bend his legs to buffer his landing.

His face writhed in pain as he hit.

"Sully!" Michaela rushed to him.

She swiftly embraced him, then quickly began to examine his leg. The leg which had been fractured in his fall from the cliff years earlier.

"It's not broken," she was relieved. She touched the blood on his forehead, "Cut from the glass. I'll stitch it."

"I'm okay," he kissed her temple.

"Come on," Hank motioned to the men. "Let's get them buckets goin' again."

"Too late for that now," Robert E shook his head.

Jake reached them, "What happened?"

Michaela glared at him in anger, "My husband and your child could have been killed, and you ask US what happened?"

"I don' remember," he rubbed his head.

"That's because you're drunk," Michaela's words were biting.

Sully clasped her hand, "Not now. Leave him be."

Michaela did not let up, "What did you do, Jake? Were you smoking a cigar? Careless with a match or a lamp?"

"I.... don' know," he lowered his eyes.

"Look!" she pointed to the inferno. "Because of your...."

"Michaela," Sully's voice was more adamant. "Not now."

She quieted.

"I figure we oughta delay the start o' school t'morrow," Sully advised. "Give Miss Teresa some time."

"I would appreciate it," the teacher expressed. "As it is, all of my books, my lessons..."

She could not continue.

Isabel put her arm around her, "I have many books that we can share..."

Jake turned to Isabel, "Take your hands off her! This is your fault!"

"Jake," Dorothy stopped him. "How can you...."

"She's the reason Teresa an' me ain't been gettin' along," he accused.

Reverend Johnson said, "Jake, I know you're angry and upset...."

"Do ya really?" he mocked. "Since your wife came t' town an' got the women all stirred up with the boycott, my life's been hell."

"You have made it that way, Mr. Slicker," Teresa shot back. "You should not blame others when the....."

"I don' wanna hear it," he turned away.

He made his way toward the front of his house again. Then his shoulders slumped and he fell to his knees. With one last glance at the flames, he lowered his head and began to weep.

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

While her brother continued to merrily eat pickles, Katie leafed through a catalog in the Mercantile.

"Mr. Bray," she pointed to a page. "Why d' all the clocks an' watches say the same time in the catalog?"

"10:08," he acknowledged. "That's in remembrance of a great man."

"What great man?" the little girl was curious.

Loren explained, "That's what time President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater back in 1865. So t' remember that event, they set the clocks t' that time in the advertisements."

"That was a long time ago," Katie calculated. "How much longer they gonna do it?"

"Don't know," Loren spotted Josef finishing up another pickle. "Maybe they'll keep doin' it forever."

"More pokles?" Josef held out his hand.

"Ya already had four, boy-oh," Bridget chuckled. "That's enough."

"I get bunnies now?" the little boy asked.

"I reckon," Loren lifted him. "Now, which ones would ya like?"

Josef surveyed the selection, then pointed to two.

"Those are the ones I would've picked, too," the shopkeeper winked. "I'll wrap 'em up for ya."

While Josef and Katie spoke excitedly about how to give the gifts to the babies, Bridget pulled Loren aside.

Reaching into her purse, she pulled out some money, "How much?"

"What?" Loren tore off a roll of paper.

"For the stuffed bunnies," Bridget specified.

"Josef already paid," he smiled.

"Lookie!" Katie pointed through the open door. "Mama an' Poppy are back!"

"Hold on," the nanny did not want them running into the street. "Stand at the door an' call t' them."

"Mama! Poppy!" Katie shouted.

Quickly the little girl noticed that her father was limping and his face had a bandage.

When their parents reached the door of the Mercantile, the children rushed to them.

"Poppy," Katie touched his cheek. "You're hurt."

"I'm okay, sweet girl," he assured.

"So, what happened?" Loren inquired. "Where was the fire?"

"Jake and Teresa's house," Sully answered. "We couldn't save it."

"Everyone okay?" the store owner was concerned.

"Yes," Michaela's voice rose slightly. "No thanks to Jake. He was drunk. Had it not been for Sully, both he and little Maria would have perished."

"Huwt your leg, Papa?" Josef pointed.

"Just a little bit," Sully smiled. "I can't run much right now."

"I not wace ya then," the little boy commented.

"Why are you in the store?" Michaela spotted the open jar of pickles. "Josef Michael Sully, were you hungry for...."

"I workin'," he interrupted his mother.

"Working?" she tilted her head.

"T' buy somethin'," he said.

"I don't understand," Michaela looked to Bridget.

"You'll see when we get home," the nanny smiled.

"Where are Jake an' Teresa gonna stay?" Loren wondered.

"I offered the Clinic," Michaela said. "But Jake said they would return to the back room of the barbershop."

"I ain't so sure Teresa's gonna stay there with him," Sully kept his voice low so the children could not hear.

"They've decided to delay the start of school, Katie," Michaela informed her daughter.

Her brow wrinkled, "When do we start then?"

"Wednesday," Michaela responded.

"We go home, Papa?" Josef seemed anxious.

"In a minute, big boy," Sully tussled his hair. "Why you in such a hurry?"

"He's got a surprise," Katie hinted.

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

Among the townsfolk who had gathered at the Cafe, there was hushed conversation.

"Well, I think we oughta organize t' help them rebuild," Dorothy spoke up. "With winter comin', they need a roof over their heads."

"Why rebuild a house?" Hank questioned. "Seems like it's the marriage that needs rebuilt."

Preston spoke, "I am more than willing to give them a loan at a reasonable interest rate."

"Folks 'round here used t' take care o' one another," Horace recalled. "Remember that Thanksgivin' when the tornado hit?"

"Horace is right," Dorothy agreed. "If we pool our resources, we can have a house built in no time."

"Not as good as Sully built," Horace added.

"I can supply some lumber," Robert E offered.

"Me, too," Loren added.

One by one, each person volunteered in some way to help the Slickers.

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

"Mama says ya gotta rest your leg, Poppy," Katie sat beside him on the big bed.

"I'm fine, honey," Sully was becoming restless.

"She told me t' make sure ya don't move, 'til she an' Miss Bridget are done bathin' the babies," she was following instructions.

"Where's your brother?" he folded his arms.

"I don't know," she said.

"Well, ya better go look for him," Sully advised. "Don't know what kinda trouble he could be gettin' into."

"Poppy," she placed her hand on his arm. "I gotta tell ya somethin' about Joey."

"What?" he feared his son was up to some mischief.

"He's changin'," she spoke softly.

"Changin'?" he was curious.

"I don't think he's jealous o' the babies no more," she stated.

Sully grinned, "Why ya think that?"

"You'll see," she smiled. "I'll go see where he is...."

"Where who is?" Michaela stood at the doorway with a sweet smelling Annie in her arms.

"Joey," Katie slipped from the bed.

"He's with Miss Bridget," Michaela handed the infant girl to her father. "I see you kept your Daddy occupied. Well done, Katie."

"Thanks," the little girl smiled.

"Sure, I never did see such clean babies in my life," Bridget exaggerated as she entered the bedroom with Noah.

Sully lifted Annie up and down, near and further from his face, prompting the baby to smile.

"I thought Josef was with you," Michaela turned to the nanny.

"He was right at my heels a second ago," she glanced down.

Michaela took Noah from her arms and set him on the bed beside Sully.

Then she called, "Josef!"

"I comin'," he arrived, package in hand.

"What's that?" Michaela pointed.

"For babies," his face beamed.

"What is it, Joe?" Sully asked.

"Here," he handed it to his mother. "Open, Mama."

He silently folded his hands behind his back, waiting in eager anticipation for her reaction.

"Josef," her eyes widened. "They're adorable. Where did you.... how did you get these?"

"I work," he proudly proclaimed.

"Worked?" she glanced at Bridget.

"Mr. Bray found somethin' for him t' do t' pay for 'em," she winked.

"Joe," Sully was touched. "That was real thoughtful o' ya."

"Thanks," he blushed slightly. "We give t' babies now?"

"Why don't you give them?" Michaela handed the toys to the little boy.

He held one in each hand attempting to decide which to give to which baby. Then he set one on the belly of Annie. She clasped it and stared intently. A smile came to her face.

"Noah," he turned to his baby brother. "This for you."

Noah tilted his head, raised his legs, then curled up.

"Don' he like it?" Josef wondered.

Sully lifted Noah so he could have a clearer view, "Here, Joe. Try again."

Josef picked up the bunny and held it before his baby brother. Noah kicked his legs excitedly and reached for it. Then he clasped it.

"Josef," Michaela lifted her son into her arms. "Thank you, Sweetheart."

"'Twas one o' the nicest things I ever saw," Bridget wiped a tear.

Katie leaned against her father, "Told ya he's changin'."

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

"Isabel?" the minister extended his hand to his wife. "Are you all right? You've been very quiet since we arrived at the Chateau."

"I was just thinking about Teresa," she linked her fingers in his.

"She's a strong woman," he commented. "And I know the town will help them."

"How long have you known Jake Slicker?" she inquired.

"Since I came to Colorado Springs," he replied. "He's a difficult person to understand. But I know that he loves Teresa."

"Loves her?" she struggled to understand. "I think he beats her."

"What?" he was horrified.

"I saw a bruise on her wrist," she revealed.

"That could have come from a number of things," he pointed out.

"True," she agreed. "But one thing is for certain. He's drinking again. And that's only going to cause more trouble."

"I had hoped that we could think about other things on our wedding day," he smiled.

"I'm sorry," she did not wish to put a damper on things. "Oh, Timothy, I'm so happy. It was a beautiful wedding."

"And you are a beautiful bride," he added.

"Now, how do you know that?" she teased.

"I know," he caressed her cheek.

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

"Tell us a story, Poppy," Katie implored as Sully tucked in the children.

"Wait," Josef sat up. "Pivy."

Sully chuckled as the little boy scampered from the room. When he returned momentarily, Michaela joined them holding a baby in each arm.

Sully reached for Annie and cradled the little girl in his arms.

"Josef wanted the babies to hear your story," Michaela smiled.

"Joe," Sully tilted his head. "I'm not complainin', mind ya, but what's got int' ya?"

"Dinner," he rubbed his belly.

"Your father means we wonder why you are being so thoughtful now toward the babies," Michaela smiled.

He pondered his answer for a moment, "I weally like 'em."

"Good answer," Sully tickled his side.

"Story now," Josef reminded.

"Any particular one you wanna hear?" he asked.

"When Bran little," Josef requested.

"Okay," Sully made certain all were settled. "I'll tell ya about Brian an' his good friend, a Cheyenne boy named No Harm."

"Did we ever meet him, Poppy?" Katie was curious.

"No, Kates," Sully clasped her hand.

"Why he called No Hawm?" Josef wanted to know.

Sully replied, "Because when he was a baby, his village was attacked. But his mother lay her body across his to protect him, and he kept real still."

"And he wasn't harmed," Katie surmised.

"Right," Sully smiled. "Before you kids were born, your Ma an' me visited the village where he lived with other Cheyenne. But they were starvin', and we thought it best to bring the boy back t' stay with the kids an' her for a while. He an' Brian became best friends. They gave each other gifts an' thought o' each other as brothers."

"Before he got me an' Noah," Josef interjected.

"Yep," Sully smiled. "Before he got you an' Noah for little brothers."

"Can we meet him, Poppy?" Katie wondered.

"No, sweet girl," his eyes saddened. "Before long, No Harm returned t' the Cheyenne. Many in the village decided it was time to move away. So they packed up everythin' an' left."

"No Hawm go?" Josef guessed.

"Yes," Sully swallowed hard.

"So Bran never saw him again?" Katie reasoned.

"Right," Sully was brief.

"Maybe he can find him on his trip," the little girl spoke.

"I think one o' the reasons Brian is goin' on this journey is because of No Harm," Sully informed his children. "He wants to write about what the Indians are goin' through, hopin' that maybe it will change people's minds."

"But he's goin' with the Army," Katie reminded.

"An' maybe he can influence how the Army acts," Sully said.

"I hope he sees No Harm, too," Katie wished.

"Sully," Michaela touched his arm and pointed to Josef. "Look."

The little boy had fallen asleep, his hand resting on Annie.

"I'll hold her while ya put Joey in bed," Katie offered.

Sully tenderly set the baby in her sister's arms, then carried Josef to his bed. Kissing his son's forehead, he returned to Michaela and lifted Noah from her. Michaela walked to Josef's bed and kissed him. Then, she took Annie from Katie.

"Good night, my darling," she whispered. "I love you."

"I love you, too," Katie closed her eyes.

Both parents kissed their daughter and, after Sully lowered the lamp, exited the room.

They entered their bedroom and set the twins in their cribs. Sully limped slightly as he lay down on the bed.

"I'll make you some tea," Michaela offered. "It will help ease the pain."

"That's okay," he sighed. "It's not too bad."

"Here," she undid his buckskins. "Let me check."

After sliding them off, she felt along the bones in his leg. It prompted him to jump slightly when she reached the most painful point.

"Your poor leg," she leaned down and kissed the scar from his compound fracture years earlier.

He smiled at her gesture.

"I hate to see you in pain, Sully," she raised up. "Please, let me give you something."

"If it would make you feel better," he nodded.

Michaela left him, knowing he would never have agreed to it if he were not in a great deal of pain. More than he was letting on to her. She brewed the Willow Bark tea and soon brought him a cup.

When she arrived in the bedroom, his eyes were closed. She set the tea down on the nightstand, then prepared for bed. As she slipped her nightgown over her head, she sensed someone was watching.

Turning, she saw that her husband's eyes were open, "I thought you were asleep."

"Just restin' a minute or two," he smiled.

After a last look at the babies, she climbed into bed beside him. Then, lifting the cup of tea, she offered him some.

Sully sipped it pensively.

"I loved your story to the children, explaining why Brian went on this journey," she drew back a lock of his hair from his face.

"I couldn't tell them why he'll never see No Harm again," he said.

"I know," she understood.

He finished the tea and handed her the cup. She set it on the table and turned on her side to snuggle closer to him.

"You did an incredibly brave thing today," she recalled the fire. "But I was so frightened that..."

"I'm all right, Michaela," he knew what she was thinking.

"All of your hard work on that house, gone," she rested her hand on his chest.

"Things like that can be replaced," he noted. "It's the folks we love that can't be."

"What will happen to them, Sully?" she sighed. "To Jake and Teresa?"

"I don't know," he ran his hand up and down her back.

"Perhaps I could speak with him," she thought.

"But ya can't be yellin' at him about his drinkin'," he advised. "Won't do any good. He's gotta reach rock bottom first."

"I can't imagine more rock bottom than losing one's house," she replied.

"I've seen what drinkin' does t' men," his jaw tensed. "My Pa...." He stopped himself.

"Your father?" she lifted up slightly. "Did he drink?"

He did not respond.

"Sully," she encouraged. "You so rarely speak of him."

"He drank too much," he finally revealed. "Ma thought I was too young t' know what was happenin', but after the farm failed, I saw what it did t' him."

"I'm so sorry," she caressed his cheek.

"Took me a long time t' stop hatin' him," Sully confessed. "I swore that if I was ever lucky enough t' be a father, I'd never put my kids through that. I'd never make them hate me."

"Your children idolize you," she smiled. "I cannot imagine a man more worthy of his children's love and admiration than you."

"It's not Jake an' Teresa I think about," his voice choked slightly. "It's little Maria."

"Sully," she gazed into his eyes. "I think you should be the one to speak to Jake. Tell him just that."

"I don't know...." he hesitated. "Sometimes folks just act worse when they feel others are buttin' in."

"You have a way of getting your point across without conveying that attitude," she smiled.

"I'll think about it," he agreed.

"How is your pain?" she reached down and stroked his leg.

He gulped, "I suddenly forgot about it."

She smiled.

"I love havin' you touch me, Michaela," he rolled over to face her.

Her heart skipped a beat at the intensity of his gaze, "And I love touching you."

"Thank you for our beautiful children," he ran his finger along her lips. "You've given me the chance t' be the Pa I never had."

Michaela could not resist his expression, and lifted up slightly to kiss him.

"They are the sweetest fruits of our love," she whispered. "And I thank God every day for you and them. No children on this earth could be luckier than ours for having you as their father."

"It's hard t' imagine things gettin' any better than what we got," he kissed her sweetly.

"I love you, Sully," she opened her heart. "And I always will. Nothing and no one could ever change that."

He gently stroked back her hair and recited:

"I have but to be by thee, and thy hand
Will never let mine go, nor heart withstand
The beating of my heart to reach its place.
When shall I look for thee and feel thee gone?
When cry for the old comfort and find none?
Never, I know! Thy soul is in thy face."

His words stirred, "Never will I leave you."

"An' you're stuck with me," he joked.

"Happily stuck," she amended. "Was that Wordsworth?"

"Robert Browning," he kissed her again.

"How's your leg?" she inquired.

"What leg?" he teased.

She reached down to caress it, "This leg."

He took her hand and guided it upward, "Everythin' seems t' be workin' just fine."

"Only you, Mr. Sully," she grinned. "Only you could fall off a two story house in the afternoon and be wanting to love your wife that night."

"I'll tell ya a little secret," he drew her closer.

"What?" she savored their banter.

"I want t' be lovin' my wife around the clock," he tilted his head to kiss her neck.

"Pity there are not more hours in the day," her pulse raced.

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

"Jacob," Teresa sat on the bed. "We must talk."

"I don't wanna talk right now," he folded his arms.

"Please," she felt tears welling in her eyes. "I beseech you."

"I said, I don't wanna talk," he stormed from the room.

Teresa heard the front door of the barbershop slam. She glanced at her sleeping daughter and stroked her back. Then, feeling the weight of the world upon her shoulders, she lowered herself to the squeaky floorboards and began to pray.

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

"Good morning, Mrs. Johnson," Timothy smiled.

"Good morning," she yawned. "Have you been awake long?"

"No," he indicated. "Did you.... sleep well?"

"Very well," Isabel gazed at him adoringly. "And you?"

"Very well, indeed," he turned away.

"Timothy," she sensed a change in his mood. "Is something wrong?"

He sighed, "No."

"Please, tell me," she sat up slightly. "Wasn't last night.... to your satisfaction?"

"Oh, yes," he quickly answered. "It was wonderful."

"Then, what is it?" she probed.

"I just wish...." he hesitated. "No, it's selfish of me."

"What?" she encouraged.

"I wish I could see you," he confessed.

She raised his hand to her face, and lightly, he began to run it along her cheek, nose, lips. Then she lifted up to kiss him.

"You see better than anyone I ever met," she whispered.

He smiled, "I think I chose well."

"Oh?" she wondered.

"I think I chose my wife very well," he retorted. "Are you ready to begin your first day as a minister's wife?"

"Of course," she replied. "What did you have in mind?"

"The Slickers," he sat up. "We must do what we can for them."

"I know," she agreed. "I'll meet with Teresa today about the start of school."

He rose from the bed, "We must do what we can for friends in need."

"Jake hardly considers me a friend," she lamented.

"Then he'll simply have to get to know you," he extended his hand.

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

"Mornin', Bridget" Sully reached the bottom step in the kitchen. "Where's Michaela?"

"The lass is out milkin' the cow," she smiled. "She's a wonder, that one."

"Yep," Sully lifted the lid of a pan on the stove. "Smells good."

"That's for supper," she wiped her hands. "Can I fix ya somethin'?"

"Here," he held a chair for her. "Why don't ya let me cook ya breakfast?"

"Ho ho," she reacted. "Don't tell me you can cook!"

"I been known t' handle a skillet pretty well," he laughed.

"What about your leg?" she indicated.

"Feels a lot better this mornin'," he replied. "Helps t' have a doctor in the family."

They were interrupted by the opening of the front door and Michaela's voice, "Sully! Look who's here."

Cloud Dancing stepped forward carrying the milk pail, "It is good to see you, my brother."

"You, too," Sully greeted him. "What brings ya out this way?"

He hesitated, "I bring news."

Sully lowered his voice, "Why don't we step int' the livin' room?"

"Sully?" Michaela was curious.

He clasped her hand and invited her to follow them. Cloud Dancing sat in one of the wing back chairs, Sully in the other. Michaela stood behind her husband anticipating.

"What's the news?" Sully braced himself.

"My people are on the move," he stated. "They have left the Indian Territory."

"I got word o' that a couple o' days ago," Sully nodded.

"They were starving," Cloud Dancing lowered his eyes. "Dull Knife has pleaded for many months to let them return to Montana, but the Army did not listen."

"I heard they left Monday, September 9," Sully recalled.

"Yes," the medicine man nodded. "They are mostly women and children, though Dull Knife has perhaps 80 warriors."

"Without provisions, they'll be livin' off the land," Sully assessed. "That will upset any farmers along the way."

"There will be bloodshed," Cloud Dancing said.

"If we could get supplies to 'em...." he pondered.

"Sully?" Michaela feared. "Your leg..."

"Michaela," he squeezed her hand slightly. "From what I heard, the agents on the reservation waited a couple o' days before even reportin' that the Cheyenne had left."

"They are mostly women and children," Cloud Dancing responded. "The Army will have no trouble finding them. And when they do...."

"I can organize some provisions," Sully stated. "Try t' get food and supplies t' them. Might speed up their pace if they don't have t'....."

"But how will you know where to find them?" Michaela questioned.

"Have you ever known your husband to not find something he was looking for?" the medicine man's eyes shone with admiration.

Michaela felt her heart sink at the notion that Sully would go off, but she knew that he must try to help.

Showing her support, she pledged, "I'll see what I can gather in town today in the way of food and medical supplies."

"I'll talk t' Robert E about helpin'," Sully considered.

"The town is helping your mayor today," Cloud Dancing informed them.

"Helping Jake?" Michaela was amazed.

"Yes," the medicine man acknowledged. "They are building a house."

"That's wonderful," she smiled.

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

"Where we goin', Papa?" Josef asked his father as he held the saddle horn.

"Int' town, big boy," Sully held him securely.

"T' see Mama at Clink?" the child inquired.

"In a little while," he smiled.

They pulled up at the livery and were warmly greeted by Robert E.

"Mornin'," Sully smiled and handed his son to his godfather.

"Look how big this boy's gettin'," the blacksmith tickled the child's side.

"I gwowin'," Josef giggled. "Mama say I eat good."

"That'll do it," Robert E chuckled.

"I heard folks are helpin' rebuild the Slicker house," Sully mentioned.

"Ya heard right," he nodded. "I just come back for some more lumber. It ain't as grand as what you built, mind ya, but it will keep 'em warm this winter. We're puttin' it up near the burned one."

"Need anymore help?" Sully volunteered.

"We can always use another pair o' hands," he smiled. "But I figured your leg might not be ready for ya t' do much work."

"I'm okay," Sully dismissed his pain. "After I take care of a few things in town, I'll come out t' help."

Josef ventured closer to the forge, and Sully noticed.

"Josef!" he called. "Get away from there!"

The child contritely rushed back to his father, head down. Sully lifted him and kissed his cheek.

"You know t' stay away from fire," he cautioned.

"Somethin' ya wanted t' see me about?" Robert E was curious.

"I'm roundin' up supplies t' take t' the Cheyenne," Sully informed him. "I was wonderin' if you could come along with Cloud Dancin' an' me t' help."

"Sure," the blacksmith nodded. "When ya plannin' on goin'? I'll be finished workin' on Jake's house later t'day."

"T'morrow would be good," Sully agreed. "Much obliged."

"Anytime," Robert E said.

"We go see Mama?" Josef requested.

"In a little bit, Joe," Sully rubbed his back. "Robert E, is Jake out helpin' with the house?"

"No," he frowned. "I hear he's at the Gold Nugget."

"Thanks," the mountain man responded. "I'll see ya later."

Father and son departed, Sully limping slightly as they walked.

"Papa," the little boy was sensitive. "You don' carry me. I heavy."

"It's okay, Joe," Sully smiled. "I wanna carry my kids long as I can."

"Ya do?" the little boy's eyebrows rose. "Why?"

Sully kissed his cheek, "'Cause I like t' have ya close t' me. Someday ya won't want me t' carry ya."

"I close t' ya," the child hugged his father.

They approached the Gold Nugget.

"I not 'lowed in there," Josef pointed to the swinging doors.

"We ain't stayin' long," Sully told him.

As Sully stood with his son at the door, Hank spotted them.

"Givin' the kid a little libation t'day?" he quipped.

"Jake here?" Sully ignored the comment.

"In the corner," Hank nodded.

"He sober enough to talk?" Sully probed.

"Yea," the Sheriff nodded.

"Could ya ask him t' come out here?" he requested. "I'd like t' talk t' him."

Hank pointed to the little boy, "With him here?"

"Yep," Sully sat on a bench.

"Papa," Josef whispered. "It don' smell good in there."

"I know, Joe," he smiled. "I want ya t' be a good boy for me while I talk t' Mr. Slicker."

"I go see Mama?" he pointed across the street.

"Not yet," Sully pulled the hair from his son's eyes. "I need your help."

"Me?" he was surprised.

"Yep," Sully smiled.

"How?" Josef was curious.

"Just be yourself," the father stated.

"That get me in twouble," Josef shrugged.

"You wanted t' see me?" Jake squinted against the sunlight.

"Have a seat," Sully slid over to make room.

"You come here t' lecture me?" the mayor challenged.

"Ever know me t' lecture?" Sully shifted Josef on his lap.

"What do ya want then?" Jake asked.

"Just wonderin' if ya could hold Josef for me," he surprised him.

"Why?" Jake questioned.

"I wanna show ya somethin'," Sully answered.

Josef slid from his father's lap and lifted his arms up to the mayor.

Reluctantly, Jake picked him up, "Okay, what did ya wanna show me?"

Sully unfolded a piece of paper with a list of items on it.

"What's that?" Jake could not make out through blurred eyes.

"It's a list of provisions I wanna take t' the Cheyenne," Sully explained.

"Is that s'posed t' matter t' me?" Jake began to hold Josef more comfortably.

"I was hopin' the town might contribute some items," he requested.

"Misser Swicker," Josef interrupted. "I look at this?"

He was pointing to Jake's watch chain.

"No," he was harsh.

"Pwease," the little boy implored.

Jake silently pulled it, raising his watch from it's pocket.

"What time?" Josef examined it.

"Little after ten," the mayor attempted to remain gruff.

"Know what?" the child examined it. "Papa got watch with writin' on it."

"Look," Jake opened the watch.

Inside was a photograph of Teresa, Maria and himself.

Josef identified them, then smiled, "Nice fam'ly."

"Yea, real nice," Jake's voice turned cold.

"Don' ya like 'em?" the little boy picked up on it.

"They don't like me much," he looked down.

Sully observed in awe as his son patted Jake's back, "Jus' love 'em."

Jake glared at Sully, "This the real reason why ya wanted t' see me?"

"What?" he tilted his head.

"T' have your kid make me miss my family?" Jake specified.

"If ya miss 'em, go see them," Sully advised.

"Like this?" he indicated his disheveled appearance.

"Seems like when folks need each other, it don't matter how they look," Sully counseled. "Like Josef said, just love 'em."

"What if they don't wanna see me?" Jake's eyes stung from the tears welling.

Josef spoke up, "I like t' see my Papa."

Jake stood up and handed the child to his father, "Then see him."

With that, he turned and reentered the saloon.

"I say somethin' bad?" the little boy feared.

"No," Sully caressed his cheek. "You said just the right things, Joe."

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

Brian opened his journal and began to write:

"Traveling with the 19th Infantry under Lt. Colonel William Lewis.

"So far, I have spoken with a dozen men of various ranks. It has been an eye-opening experience. Mostly, I have learned about what they wear, their daily routine and how much they miss their families. That is something I can relate to. But then came news.

We have heard that there have been attacks by the Cheyenne to the southeast of us. The men speak with enthusiasm about catching up with them. I know Pa told me to stay behind the lines, and that is what I intend to do, but I am scared. Scared that something terrible is going to happen.

I try to keep my mind on other things for now and write about more mundane things. I find it interesting to note what the average infantry soldier carries as his field equipment:

60 rounds of ammunition and belt---5.40 lbs.
Overcoat---5.25 lbs.
Blanket (gray wool)---5.12 lbs.
Rubber blanket (ground cloth)---3.00 lbs.
Springfield rifle and sling---8.40 lbs.
Extra clothes---2.00 lbs.
Full canteen (one quart)---3.84 lbs.
Five rations: 3/4 lbs. meat and 1 lb. hardtack per day---8.75 lbs.

My first night with the Army. It's real lonely. Some of the men sing and tell stories to pass the time. I think about Ma, Pa, and the kids. I find myself looking at their picture, thinking how much I miss them.

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

"Sully," Michaela found him by the living room fireplace.

"Mmm?" he turned.

"The children are waiting for you to say good night," she said.

He rose to his feet, then paused to look at a photograph of his family on the mantle.

"When are you going to tell them about your leaving?" she posed the question.

"In the mornin'," he rubbed his upper lip. "No use tellin' them t'night. I.... I know Katie's gonna be upset I won't be here t' see her off t' school on Wednesday."

"You could delay your departure," she offered. "It would be better for your leg if...."

"Michaela," he interrupted. "If it was our kids who needed food, would ya want me t' delay?"

"Of course not," she glanced down.

"I'm sorry," he noticed her reaction. "It's just.... there ain't no easy time t' leave you an' the kids."

"I know you must do this," she hoped to sound convincing.

Sully pivoted and put his arms around her waist, "I sure do love you."

She toyed with the hair at the base of his neck, "I love you, too."

Sweetly, they kissed. Then they heard little footsteps lightly treading on the stairs.

It was Josef, "Papa, we waitin'."

"Use the privy, Joe, an' I'll be right up," he grinned.

As he scampered off, Sully turned to his wife and caressed her cheek.

"Do you have everything that you need?" she inquired about his supplies.

"Only missin' one vital thing," he replied.

"What's that?" she wondered.

"You," he smiled.

"Sully, I truly wish that I could come with you," she fought her emotions.

"I know," he turned up the corner of his mouth. "But we got more than just ourselves t' think about now. Those... fruits of our love."

"And they are waiting for you," she reminded.

"I was hopin'....." he stopped himself.

"Yes?" she encouraged.

"I was hopin' maybe you an' me could spend a romantic evenin' t'gether," he smiled.

"Last night wasn't romantic enough?" she teased.

"If you'd rather not," he started toward the steps.

She clasped his belt and drew him back, "You say good night to the children, and I'll take care of the rest of the evening."

"I love it when ya take charge," he joked.

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

When Sully entered the bedroom, the scent of candles filled the air. He smiled as he saw Michaela sitting in the big rocking chair with the twins in her arms.

He joined her, "They sure are growin'."

"Babies have been known to do that," she smiled.

"Here," he reached for Noah. "I'll take this fella for a spell."

As they began to rock their children, both infants were active, but the back and forth motion of the chair soon lulled them to sleep.

"I'll put 'em t' bed," Sully volunteered.

Tenderly, he kissed each baby's forehead, then laid them in their cribs, placing the stuffed bunnies beside each. Then he turned to see Michaela staring into the fireplace. Soon, she felt him rejoin her.

"Sully, what do you think Brian is doing right now?" she pondered.

He assured, "He's prob'ly sittin' near a campfire thinkin' about home."

"How do you know?" she wondered.

"'Cause that's what I'd do," he smiled. "He's okay. More than likely, he's writin' down everythin' he's saw an' heard t'day."

"And now, you must go, as well," she lamented.

"Think ya could read somethin'?" he requested.

"Of course," she responded. "What is it?"

"This," he walked to his nightstand and withdrew a packet of letters.

"Who are they from?" she was curious.

"That friend of mine at the Interior Department," he explained. "He's been writin' t' me about what's goin' on with the Cheyenne at the Indian Territory."

She opened the first envelope, "Are they in any particular order?"

"Just like ya got 'em," he noted.

As she read, she periodically spoke aloud what she was perusing:

"Not enough to eat---no game, clean water, rations.... And mosquitoes last summer.... Then they became ill with shaking chills. hot fevers, aching bones.... The children crying for food."

She paused to wipe a tear. Sully rubbed her back as she went on:

"Tainted meat, malaria.... no doctor to help."

"That's when Major Mizner, the commander at Fort Reno, was ordered t' cooperate with the Indian agent Miles t' get more rations," Sully told her. "They were supposed t' let the Northern Cheyenne go hunt for buffalo."

"But they didn't?" she presumed.

"Oh, they did," he nodded. "Keep readin'."

She was aghast at the descriptions:

"They found buffalo bones left by white hunters....Only a few coyotes to hunt.... Oh, God, they had to eat their own dogs to supplement the poor amounts of government meat! Sully, didn't the government.... Secretary Schurz...."

"The Interior Department don't get much money," he sighed. "The Secretary says they can't meet the promises made t' the Cheyenne. You only been readin' about last year. Wait 'til ya see what's happened since."

She steeled herself to go on:

"Again, mosquitoes, fever.... oh, no... measles epidemic. The children, Sully..."

He nodded, "They had t' bury so many...."

"The agent did nothing?" she was horrified.

"Little Wolf an' Dull Knife asked t' go t' Washington," he said. "They wanted t' tell the government what was happenin' on the reservation. But Miles told them t' wait it out a year."

"Wait it out?" she could not fathom. "With their children dying?"

"Now ya know why they left... started north couple o' weeks ago," he swallowed hard. "Michaela, there's less than 300 of 'em. The Army's got thousands o' troops t' find 'em."

She returned the last letter to its envelope, "Why didn't you tell me about these letters?"

"I didn't wanna upset ya," he held a strand of her hair. "Especially after what happened with the Bannocks earlier this year. Ya had enough on your mind, bein' pregnant, then havin' the twins."

"But... perhaps we could have done something sooner," she filled with guilt.

"That's been weighin' heavy on me for a while," he agreed. "I wanted ya t' read this now, t' help ya understand why I gotta do somethin' t' help."

"I do understand," she ran her fingers through his hair. "And I fully support what you're trying to do. I.... I just fear the danger you'll be in, Sully."

"I still got my credentials as an Indian Agent at large," he reminded. "I won't try t' do anythin' illegal."

She fell silent, running her fingers across the packet of letters. Sully slid his arm around her shoulders, prompting her to tilt her head against his. Then came a soft knock at the door.

"Mama," it was Katie.

"Come in, Sweetheart," Michaela beckoned.

The little girl walked to her parents.

"Couldn't sleep, Kates?" Sully anticipated.

She crawled up into her father's lap, "I was thinkin' about Mrs. Slicker losin' her house."

"The town is helping to rebuild," Michaela informed her.

"That all that's on your mind, sweet girl?" Sully perceived there was more.

"Joey said ya saw Mr. Slicker," the child noted.

"You did?" Michaela turned to her husband.

"Joe an' me talked t' him for a spell," he admitted. "I don't know if we had much effect."

"Poppy," Katie turned her eyes to his. "If Mr. Slicker don't wanna be Maria's Daddy, do you think you could?"

"I can't be her Pa, honey," he smiled at her consideration. "But I can be her friend. We all can."

"I think she must've lost her dresses an' toys in the fire...." she paused. "Maybe she could have some of mine."

"That's very thoughtful of you, Katherine Elizabeth," Michaela's heart filled.

Suddenly, Josef appeared at the doorway, "What we doin'?"

"What are you doing out of bed, young man?" Michaela drew him into her lap.

"I waked up," he put his finger in his mouth.

"Could we rock in the chair with ya?" Katie requested.

Michaela glanced at her husband, "Mr. Sully?"

"I reckon sometimes ya gotta take care o' your fruit," he winked.

Side by side, they rocked their children. Gradually, the little ones drifted off. Sully glanced at his wife as he rested his lips on the top of Katie's head.

Michaela turned to him and recited softly:

"What can I more
Than view those fruits which through thy heat I bore?
Which sweet contentment yield me for a space,
True living pictures of their father's face."

"You been int' my books again?" he teased.

"I admit it," she kissed him sweetly. "I wanted to return to you the beautiful words which you so often share with me."

"Who wrote that?" he was curious.

"Anne Broadstreet," she said. "Tell me more about your conversation with Jake."

"Joe did most of the talkin'," he pointed toward his son.

"He did?" she was amazed. "What did he say?"

"He said ya just gotta love your family," Sully whispered.

"I wonder if the Slickers will ever feel love again," she regretted.

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

"Teresa," Jake approached his wife as she sat gazing out the window at the stars.

"What?" she did not turn to look at him.

"Could I talk t' ya?" he broached the subject.

She perceived that he was sober, "What did you wish to say?"

"I been thinkin' about all that's happened," he started.

"Yes, much has happened," she filled the silence.

He took a deep breath, "I know I let you an' Maria down. I made terrible mistakes."

She pivoted to face him as he confessed.

He could not bring himself to look her in the eyes, "I.... I just wanna say how sorry I am."

"Sorry?" she felt anger boiling inside. "We have lost our house, all of our belongings, and you are now sorry?"

"Yea," he acknowledged.

"Where have you been, Jacob?" her volume rose. "Where have you been when our little girl needed her father? Where have you been when I needed you? You have been keeping company with your precious bottle!"

"I.... I said I'm sorry," he countered. "What more can I tell ya?"

"There is nothing you can tell me," she shot back. "Your words are hollow. You told me once that you loved me. I no longer believe that. You told me once that you would never drink again. I do not believe that either. Do not speak to me now about being sorry!"

He folded his arms in frustration, "Maybe it ain't worth tryin' t' quit drinkin' then. You ain't gonna forgive me. Ya let that Isabel change everythin'."

"Isabel?" she was incredulous. "Does Isabel make you drink? Does Isabel make you turn away from your wife and child when they most need you?"

"We was doin' just fine 'til she came t' town with her damn boycott," he grew more angry.

"No," she shook her head. "We were not doing just fine. Obviously, if you truly loved us...."

"I DO love you!" he interjected.

"But you love the alcohol more," tears began streaming down her cheeks.

"I know I don't always handle drinkin' well," he confessed. "But... I promise I...."

"Do not promise me anything!" she turned from him.

"Look at me, Teresa," he placed his hand on her shoulder.

Instantly, she pulled back, "And your touch is as cold as your words."

Stung by her reaction, Jake silently left her.

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

Hank rested his elbows on the bar, "So ya think the Padre and Isabel enjoyed the weddin' night?"

Loren chuckled, "Why wouldn't they?"

"I'm just tryin' t' picture it," the Sheriff laughed. "A minister an' a woman of ill repute."

Loren put his fingers in his vest pockets, "Well, they're gonna live in my spare room at the Mercantile for a while. Hope they don't keep me awake. You know how newlyweds can be."

Jake swung open the doors and strolled to the bar.

"Thought you went back t' your wife," Hank said.

"I tried that," Jake glared. "It didn't work. Give me a bottle o' whiskey.... and none o' your watered down stuff. Make it strong."

"Maybe that ain't such a good idea," Hank hesitated.

Jake slammed his money on the bar, "Now."

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

"Robert E," Grace folded her arms. "Why ya gotta go doin' this? Don't ya know how dangerous it is?"

"I'm doin' it 'cause Sully asked me," he replied.

"But takin' supplies t' fleein' Indians....." her voice trailed off.

"Grace," he drew her into his arms. "There's starvin' women an' children."

"I know, but...." she could not contain her tears. "Why d' you have t' be the one t' help?"

"'Cause Sully asked," he responded again.

"That's it?" she stood in disbelief.

"That's enough," he nodded. "I owe him my life many times over."

"You'll be careful?" she wiped her tears.

"I promise," he agreed.

"That's good enough for me then," she attempted a smile.

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

"Did they stay asleep when you put them to bed?" Michaela questioned when Sully returned to their room.

"Yep," he knelt down to stoke the fire.

"How is your leg?" she noticed he still favored it.

"It's fine," he assured her.

She came to him and began to massage his shoulders.

"That feels good," he melted at her touch.

Taking her hand, he brought it to his lips and looked up to her with longing eyes.

"I did promise you a romantic evening, didn't I?" she smiled.

"I understand if you're too tired," he said. "It's been a long day an'...."

She touched her fingers to his lips to stop him, "I'm not too tired. And I did manage to light some candles."

Sully leaned his head against her abdomen and ran his hands up and down her legs.

Michaela felt a rush of warmness. Then through the material of her gown, he kissed her belly, further inflaming her desire for him. She closed her eyes, transported by the heightening sensations she was feeling.

"I need you, Michaela," he spoke with a rasp.

Kneeling down to face him, she touched his cheek with her hand, "As I need you. I'm going to miss you terribly."

She guided him to lie back on the rug and undid his buckskins. Slipping them off, she began to massage his leg.

"Still sore?" she glanced up.

"Not when you do that," he closed his eyes.

Then she leaned over to kiss his scar. Gradually, sensuously, she trailed her kisses up his calf, thigh, stomach and chest.

He gulped, nearly bursting with desire for her. She smiled coyly at his physical reaction.

Sully sat up to kiss her neck, then with the lightest touches began to slide her gown from her shoulders. Next he stood and bid her to join him. Into his muscular arms, she melted.

Tucking her form against his, his breath was tantalizingly warm near her ear, "I can feel your heartbeat."

She locked her gaze on him, "It beats with yours."

"One heart," he ran his fingertips up and down her back.

Sully leaned closer and kissed her neck, instantly feeling her breathing quicken.

"Michaela," his voice reflected his yearning.

She tilted her head to kiss him anew. Running her fingers through his long locks, she peered into his eyes.

Unspoken, each knew that the other was ready to give their all. Sully lifted her and placed her on their bed. Then he positioned his body next to hers.

Stroking her hair, he drank in her countenance, "You're so beautiful. I gotta be the luckiest man alive."

"Please come home safely, Sully," she whispered as a tear trickled down her cheek.

"Nowhere I wanna be more than home with you an' the kids," he lightly caressed her. "An' I'll come back t' ya as soon as I can."

"Good," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "I love you so."

Sully was moved to speak low:

"Sweetest Love, I do not go
For weariness of thee,
Nor in hope the world can show
A fitter love for me."

"Mr. Shakespeare?" she ventured.

"John Donne," he scooped her up to lay atop him. "Michaela, I don't wanna think about anythin' else but you an' me t'night."

"Then that's all we'll think about," she kissed his chest.

He felt the blood course through his veins. Gently rolling her onto her back, he kissed her in all the places he knew would please her. She softly clasped his head, unable to contain her delight. Then he paused, waiting for her invitation. It came immediately, and their bodies intertwined. Climbing to the apex of stimulation, their union culminated in surging sensations of overwhelming pleasure.

"I wish tonight could last forever," she uttered.

His breathing began to slow, "Just you an' me."

"Forever," she repeated.

Enfolded in her husband's arms, she could feel his steady breathing as he began to drift off to sleep. She kissed his hand and linked his fingers in hers. Tomorrow, he would be gone. But for now, as he had hoped, it was just they two. Knowing she would get little sleep this night, she tucked her body next to his in a sweet harmony she knew would be gone all too soon.

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

Noah's crying broke the quiet of the predawn. Michaela quickly went to his crib and lifted the infant. Kissing his head and stroking his back, she tried to calm him. Next she carried him to the rocking chair and attempted to nurse him. Still, he cried.

Sully rolled over and sat up, "What's wrong?"

"I'm not certain," she held the baby upright against her chest. "He might be teething, though he's still a bit young for that."

"I'll get your bag," he retrieved it.

Sully lifted the baby into his arms as Michaela opened her medical bag and withdrew a small bottle. Dabbing some of its contents on her finger, she rubbed it on the infant's gums as his father held him still. Gradually, the little boy began to calm.

"Helps when your Ma's a doctor, don't it, Noah?" he spoke low.

Michaela smiled at her son, then crossed the room to Annie's crib to insure that she was still sleeping. Noah alertly watched his father. Sully kissed his cheek.

"Gonna miss these little ones," he sighed.

Returning to his side, Michaela shuddered at the reminder of Sully's impending departure. She caressed Noah's hair, then returned quietly to the bed. Sully placed the baby in his crib and stroked his back briefly. Then he rejoined his wife.

"You okay?" he spooned his chest against her back.

"Fine," she tried to control her voice.

He ran his hand provocatively along her form, "Thanks for last night."

She turned to look over her shoulder at him, "Thanks?"

He rested his chin at the crook of her neck, "For sharin' so much o' yourself with me."

She rolled over to face him, "Sully, there's no need to thank me for...."

He interrupted her with a kiss.

"Loving you," she continued as he drew back. "And I very willingly share myself with you, as you do with me."

"Just want ya t' know I appreciate it," he grinned. "I can't tell ya what you do t' me, Michaela Quinn."

"You don't have to tell me," she toyed with the hair above his ear. "You show me in a myriad of ways."

"Myriad?" he chuckled.

"More ways than I can even count," she clarified.

"I love it when ya use big words," he teased.

"And you know perfectly well what those big words mean," she retorted.

"I still love t' hear ya say them," he snuggled closer. "Think we can get a little more sleep?"

"That depends on your children," she smiled.

His expression became serious, "I talked t' Jimmy Donnelly about helpin' with the chores around here. Until Matthew gets back, he's gonna come by every mornin' an' evenin'. He'll hitch up the wagon for ya, too."

"Don't worry about us," she assured. "I've been known to be a very independent woman, you know."

"I know," he grinned. "One o' the many things I love about ya."

"But...." she ran her finger along her lips. "I much prefer to have you here, Mr. Sully."

"I don't want ya t' get rusty with that independent streak," he joked.

She kissed him, "We have to tell Katie and Josef this morning."

He felt a knot in his stomach, "I know. Won't be easy."

"They'll understand," she was hopeful.

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

"Jake," Hank tried to rouse him.

"Mmm?" he raised his head from the table. "Wha- Where am I?"

"You're at the Gold Nugget," Hank replied. "Ya slept here at the table."

Jake turned up his nose at the taste in his mouth, "Got anythin' t' drink?"

"Coffee," the Sheriff set a cup in front of him.

"I meant somethin' stronger," Jake rejected it.

"I thought maybe you'd like t' go out t' your house t'day," he stated. "We're finishin' it up."

"No need t' remind me," the mayor turned away.

"I ain't remindin' ya of anythin'," Hank replied. "Folks are doin' this for you an' your family. Seems like ya oughta be there."

"It's just a reminder o' what I've lost," he sounded bitter.

"Only things ya lost so far can be replaced," Hank counseled. "But if ya keep this up, you're gonna lose a lot more."

"I've already lost my wife," Jake frowned.

"What makes ya say that?" he probed.

"She hates me," the mayor lamented.

"I reckon she's got a right t' be mad at ya, but hate ya?" Hank observed.

"All on account o' that damned Isabel," his jaw tightened.

"You gonna let her ruin your marriage?" Hank posed the question.

Jake tilted his head to look up, "You gettin' at somethin'?"

"Did I let Isabel hurt business here at the Gold Nugget?" he answered.

"No, but...." Jake didn't finish.

"So, if ya don't want her t' ruin your marriage, ya gotta fight back," he encouraged.

"Fight back how?" Jake was curious.

"How'd ya win Teresa in the first place?" Hank inquired.

"I.... I courted her," he responded. "Did things for her.... was her friend."

"Somethin' stoppin' ya from doin' that again?" the Sheriff challenged.

"Teresa don't even wanna be around me," he said.

"Well, look at yourself," Hank pointed out. "You ain't exactly Don Juan. Clean yourself up. Shave. Put on some clean clothes. Maybe your wife'll change her attitude."

"I... I don't know if I wanna go t' all the trouble just t' be hurt again," Jake swallowed hard.

"You're right," he nodded. "Teresa ain't worth it."

"I didn't say that," Jake countered.

"I remember the day Maria was born," Hank rubbed his beard. "Never did see you so happy. Seems t' me you'd fight a little harder t' hold on t' that."

Jake paused to reflect on his words. Then he rose from the table.

"Where ya goin'?" Hank grinned.

"T' win back my wife," he answered as he exited the saloon.

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

"Kates, Joe," Sully sat in the rocking chair, his children on his lap. "I got somethin' I need t' tell ya."

Michaela was nearby with the twins on the bed.

"What, Poppy?" Katie's brow wrinkled at his tone.

Sully inhaled deeply, "I... I gotta go away for a while."

"No, Papa!" Josef clung to him.

"Shhh," Sully stroked his son's back. "I'll be home soon as I can."

Katie was silent.

"It's t' help the Cheyenne," Sully attempted to explain. "They're starvin'. They need food."

"Take me with ya," Josef implored.

"Who's gonna look after your Ma an' the kids then?" Sully smiled.

Katie slipped from his lap and quietly left the room.

Sully glanced at his wife, his eyes reflecting his pain.

"Josef," Michaela beckoned. "Would you get the bunnies for me, please?"

"All wight," he sounded dejected.

When Sully set the boy down to retrieve the stuffed animals, Michaela nodded for her husband to go speak with Katie.

Sully went down the hallway and found his daughter sitting on her bed.

"Can I come in?" he paused at the doorway.

"If ya want," she folded her hands.

Sully marveled at how much she resembled her mother at that moment. He went to the bed and sat beside her.

Taking her hand, he spoke tenderly, "I'm sorry I won't be here on the first day o' school, Katie."

"That's okay, Poppy," she tried to sound convincing.

He swallowed hard, "Ya know, sweet girl, sometimes we can't pick the timin' of when we have t' do things. Remember the story I told ya about Brian's friend."

"No Harm," she recalled.

"Right," he smiled. "If we could have got food t' his people sooner, maybe they wouldn't have had t' leave, an' maybe...."

"Maybe what?" she wondered why he stopped.

"Maybe things would've been different," he was vague. "This is somethin' I have t' do right away, honey. The Cheyenne children have been dyin' cause the government don't give 'em enough t' eat on the reservation. Now, they're tryin' t' leave an' go home."

"Is No Harm with them?" she inquired.

"No," he shook his head.

"I understand, Poppy," her tone softened.

"You gonna keep an eye on Joe for me?" he put his arm around her.

"I'll try," she embraced him.

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

Josef tapped his leg impatiently waiting for his father and sister to return to the bedroom.

"Mama," Josef's lower lip curled under. "When Papa come home?"

"I'm not certain, Sweetheart," she helped him climb up onto the bed.

"Are you gonna leave?" he worried.

"No," she caressed his cheek.

"You miss Papa?" he looked at her with the blue eyes of his father.

"Very much," she confessed.

"You cwy?" he asked.

"Sometimes," she allowed. "When we miss people, it's all right to cry."

"You tell Papa stay?" he urged.

"I can't do that, Josef," she lifted Annie. "He's doing something very important."

"More 'portan' than us?" he struggled to understand.

"There's nothing more important to your father than us," she told him.

"Then he stay home," the little boy assumed.

"Your Daddy needs to know that we'll be all right while he's gone," she stated. "We don't want him to worry. He's doing something that will help many little boys and girls like Katie and you. And, as his family, we must support him."

"I sport Papa," he concluded. "But... I don' want him t' go 'way."

At that moment, Sully reentered the bedroom holding Katie in his arms. He smiled at his wife and nodded that their daughter was all right.

"How's everyone doin'?" he set her down.

"I sport ya, Papa," Josef spoke up.

"Sport me?" Sully looked puzzled.

"Support," Michaela clarified.

"Thanks, Joe," Sully leaned over to kiss his cheek. Then he rubbed Noah's belly. "Who's gonna watch after these babies?"

"Me," Katie and Josef spoke in unison.

Michaela struggled to control her emotions as she watched Sully with their children.

Josef noted her expression and slid closer to her to whisper, "It okay t' cwy, Mama."

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

Brian was relieved when the infantry stopped. One thing for which he had not prepared was the amount of walking he would have to do. Fortunately, his mother had given him various medicines, and a salve for blisters had proven very helpful.

Opening his journal, he jotted down what he had seen and heard:

"We have stopped advancing. The Cheyenne are hold up in an area where four canyons intersect. The commander has sent an Arapaho guide in to negotiate with them to surrender. I pray that he is successful. If Pa was here, I know he could keep a fight from happening. For now, we await their response."

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

Sully leaned over the side-by-side cribs and lightly touched the backs of his sleeping children. His heart filled with love for them. How fast they were growing and becoming more aware of the world around them. He did not notice that Michaela stood at the doorway watching him.

After rising from a kiss for each baby, he looked at his wife's dressing table. On it, sat one of her handkerchiefs, neatly folded. He lifted it to his nostrils and, closing his eyes, inhaled the scent. Then he tucked it in his pocket. Michaela preceded him down the steps before he saw her depart.

Bridget had Katie and Josef lined up in the living room to say goodbye to their father. After descending the steps, Sully knelt and kissed them.

"Be good, Joe," he tickled his son's side. "Don't get int' trouble."

"I twy, Papa," the little boy put on a brave face.

"My sweet girl," Sully cupped his hand to Katie's cheek. "I know you'll do good at school. An' don't let Wendell upset ya."

"Okay," her lower lip quivered.

"I love you," he embraced both of them.

Bridget wiped away a tear, "Now don't you wee ones go cryin'. Your Pa will be back quick as a rabbit."

"Watch over them," Sully turned to the nanny.

"I will," she handed him a package.

"Cookies?" he smiled.

"Seems like I been bakin' a lot lately," she nodded.

"I appreciate it," he lifted his travel pouch and set them inside.

"Come here, you two," Bridget beckoned the children. "I baked some extras for ya."

"After Poppy leaves, Miss Bridget," Katie delayed.

The nanny leaned over to be eye level to them, "Give your Ma an' Pa a few minutes alone."

"Oh," Katie giggled. "Come on, Joey."

Taking her brother's hand, she led him into the kitchen with Bridget following.

"Well, Mr. Sully," Michaela rested her hands on his jacket lapels. "Are you forgetting anything?"

"I hope not," he drew back a lock of her hair. "Thank you for understandin' that I gotta do this, Michaela."

"The Cheyenne were your family," she acknowledged. "They kept you alive."

"So I could meet you," he grinned.

"For that, I shall be eternally in their debt," she slid her arms around his waist beneath his jacket. "But now, they are your friends in need. You can't ignore their plight."

"I love you, Michaela," he gazed at her intently.

"I love you, too," kept her emotions in check. Then she reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of folded paper. "This is for you. Keep it with my handkerchief."

"What?" he was surprised.

"I saw you take it," she smiled.

He encircled her in his arms, "I wanted t' remember your scent."

"And this note is so you can remember my feelings for you," she revealed. "If you find yourself feeling lonely, read it."

"Maybe I oughta read it now," he grinned.

They commenced a sweet kiss. As their bodies craved more, they deepened it. Ultimately, their breathing intensified until they knew they must pull back.

"Be careful," Michaela reminded.

"I will," he kissed her again.

Then they heard the sound of approaching horses.

"That's Cloud Dancin' an' Robert E," he knew. "Take care, Michaela."

As he kissed her anew, neither wanted to part. Suddenly, Sully felt a tugging sensation at his leg.

It was Josef, "Hold me, Papa."

Lifting his son, Sully savored the feel of the little boy's embrace. "You're the man o' the house now, Joe. You watch over your Ma an' brother an' sisters for me."

"'Kay," he nodded shyly.

Sully set him down, then lifting Katie, whispered, "Don't let your Ma work too hard."

"I won't," she pledged.

He kissed her forehead, "See ya soon."

"'Bye, Poppy," she hugged him.

Sully choked back his emotions as he took one last look at his family. Then he stepped through the doorway to his waiting friends. After mounting his horse, he glanced back one last time. There stood Michaela and the children waving. He raised his hand to them and turned to leave, with Wolf trailing behind him.

Uttering a silent prayer for her husband's safety, Michaela wiped away the tears streaming down her cheek.

"Papa be okay," Josef put his hand in hers.

"Yes," she nodded. "He'll be fine."

************
Chapter 10
************

Michaela stopped the wagon before the modest dwelling which the townsfolk had constructed for the Slicker family. Beside it were the remnants of the old, still smoldering from the inferno which had destroyed it a mere two days earlier.

"I want you children to stay away from the old house," she directed.

"Why?" Josef was curious.

"Because it's very dangerous," Michaela stepped down from the wagon.

One by one, she lifted Katie and Josef from the seat. Then, clasping their hands, she approached the new home.

The voices of townsfolk could be heard both inside and out as they went about completing the construction. Josef was immediately in awe of all the activity. Nearby, Grace was dispensing lunch to those who took time to rest.

"Teresa," Michaela spotted the woman.

"Dr. Mike," she modestly acknowledged.

"We brought you some clothes," Michaela gestured to the wagon. "There are a few toys, as well. Perhaps Maria could...."

"That is not necessary," Teresa cut her off.

"Don't ya need clothes?" Katie's brow wrinkled.

Teresa was cool, "Isabel has already collected some items for us. We will be fine."

"Is there anything we can do?" Michaela offered.

"No," Teresa shook her head.

Michaela perceived that there was more to her mood, "Children, why don't you go see if Miss Grace needs your help?"

"Okay," Katie's eyes brightened. "Come on, Joey."

As the two headed for their godmother, Michaela turned back to Teresa.

"Has Jake been here?" she probed.

"No," Teresa responded. "I do not expect him to come."

"Why?" Michaela questioned. "Is he still...."

"I do not believe it is any of your business," Teresa was curt.

"I'm sorry," Michaela apologized. "I meant no offense."

"My husband has not been himself lately," she glanced down.

"No, he hasn't," Michaela noted. "I know things are very.... difficult right now. And, I wanted to say that if you need a few more days to prepare for school, the town council will understand."

"I will need no more days," Teresa folded her arms.

"Would you like for me to take Maria with me for the day?" she offered. "It might afford you more free time to...."

"I shall keep my daughter with me," Teresa interrupted. "She has had enough trouble with the loss of one parent."

"I beg your pardon?" Michaela did not understand.

"She misses her father," she bordered on tears.

"I understand," Michaela nodded. "Please, if there is anything I can do...."

"JOSEF!" Grace called.

Michaela pivoted quickly to see that her son had climbed atop several large beams in the destroyed Slicker house. Instantly running toward him, the distraught mother realized that his foot was stuck between several slats of lumber. Perilously close, was another beam which was teetering on falling. The slightest movement could cause it to topple onto the little boy.

Masking the fear in her voice, Michaela spoke calmly, "Sweetheart, don't move."

"Mama," his voice quivered. "I sowwy."

"It's all right," she did not want to frighten him. "I'm coming."

"Dr. Mike," Grace called. "Let the men help."

"That beam," Michaela pointed as she climbed gingerly toward her son. "It's ready to fall. There's no time."

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

Brian's breathing quickened as he witnessed the horrific events unfolding before him. The Army was advancing into the canyon, firing furiously at the Cheyenne positions. It was a trap. They were surrounded by the Indians and cut off from any reinforcements.

Brian thought his heart would beat out of his chest as he kept a low position. The gunfire echoed through the canyon in deafening volume. He covered his ears, never feeling so frightened in his life. The thick cloud of gun powder obscured his complete view of the attack.

After some time, the Army seemed to be advancing toward a Cheyenne position. Brian made out the form of Lieutenant Colonel Lewis barking orders and encouraging his men onward. He seemed invincible. With bullets whizzing past his head, Lewis clung to the injured horse beneath him.

Finally, the gunfire began to subside, at least from the Indians. Was the battle over? The young man hoped. Then he heard Lewis again commanding orders to advance.

Suddenly the roar of gunfire blasts erupted again, even louder than before. Brian observed the Army's soldiers falling all along the line. Lewis, too, disappeared from his view. As the first wave of infantry fell back, another group advanced to replace them. Watching the terrible onslaught, he could not imagine that the Cheyenne could hold out much longer. He raised up slightly to see if a white flag might appear. At that moment, a bullet barely missed his scalp.

Swallowing hard, Brian tried to calm himself. Then, unable to control his stomach, he threw up.

"It's all right, boy," a nearby private nodded. "Happens t' a lot o' us first time in battle. Ya better git a rifle though. Them redskins overrun us, you gonna need t' defend yourself."

"No, thank you," Brian felt another wave of nausea.

Again relieving himself, he covered the contents of his stomach with some dirt. Closing his eyes, he prayed for the battle to be over. He wished to be anywhere but in this place. Thinking of his family, he felt tears streaming down his cheeks.

"They're bringin' in Lewis!" called a voice. "He's hurt bad."

Brian watched as the doctor tended to the officer's mortal wound. Recalling his mother's stories about caring for battlefield victims, he gained a new admiration for her stamina and abilities.

More soldiers were being brought back on stretchers. The shooting had stopped, but the terror of what the young man was witnessing obliterated any sense of relief.

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

"I figure if we keep headin' west, we'll catch up," Sully glanced at his map.

"We been pushin' these horses awful hard," Robert E cautioned.

"I know," Sully rubbed his upper lip. "But we can't afford t' stop long."

"The Spirits say we shall find them," Cloud Dancing counseled. "A brief rest will not hurt."

"I trust your words," Sully slowed his horse.

As they watered the animals, Sully withdrew from them briefly to study his map again. Then a strange sensation overcame him. It was an uneasiness about Michaela's well being.... and... one of the children. He attempted to dismiss it, knowing full well they were safe at home.

"Somethin' wrong?" Robert E approached him.

"Just lookin' at the map," Sully hid his true feelings.

"Another five minutes or so, an' we can be ready t' leave," the blacksmith told him.

"Thanks," he nodded.

Closing his eyes, Sully willed himself to open his essence and feel what Michaela was feeling. It was an inexplicable phenomena. Neither he, nor his wife, could explain it. They did not speak of it to outsiders, but the truth was, they had a bond which somehow communicated to the other a sense of danger.

He pulled his wife's handkerchief from his pocket. Raising it to his nose, he held it there and breathed her scent. It gave him peace and soon the anxiety about his family lessened.

Wolf approached his master at that instant. The animal whined and wagged his tail.

"You okay, boy?" Sully glanced at him.

Again, Wolf whimpered.

"I reckon it's time t' go," he returned his wife's keepsake to his pocket.

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

Michaela finally reached Josef. Bending down, she pulled the beam that trapped his foot. With all of her might, she tried again.

"Mama," Josef began to cry.

"Sweetheart, put your arms around my neck and hold tightly," she commanded. "I'm going to get you out of here."

"I scared," his voice choked.

"I know, my darling," she caressed his cheek. "Now, hold on."

The child embraced his mother. Finding an inner strength that transcended any physical capability she ever possessed before, Michaela grasped the lumber and pulled. It loosened enough to enable her to lift the crying little boy from his trap.

The instant she carried him from the spot, the beam propped above it fell. Narrowly missing them, it crashed onto the other slats of charred wood and snapped them.

Michaela rushed her son to safety as Katie and the townsfolk stood watching. Everyone erupted into applause when they were finally out of danger.

"How in hell did ya lift that, Michaela?" Hank questioned.

She was too exhausted to answer. Josef still clung to her, his eyes closed in relief.

"Mama! Joey!" Katie rushed to them. "Are you all right?"

Michaela drew both children into her embrace, "We're fine."

Dorothy and Loren rushed from the new house, curious at the sound of applause.

"What happened?" the redhead inquired.

"Michaela lifted that beam t' save Josef," Hank pointed. "Must've weighed two hundred pounds."

"I doubt that," Michaela's breathing was returning to normal.

Dorothy pulled the the pencil from behind her ear, "Make a good human interest story. Mother saves son by liftin' heavy beam."

Loren glanced at the fallen timber, "It weighed three hundred pounds, I tell ya."

Michaela finally was able to compose herself enough to speak to her son, "Josef Michael Sully, why did you disobey me?"

"I look for toy," he informed her.

"A toy?" she was puzzled.

"I see toy in there," he nodded. "Mawia's toy."

"Sweetheart," she said. "Toys can be replaced. You can't."

"You save me, Mama," he smiled.

"You understand that there is going to be a consequence for disobeying me," Michaela's tone was serious.

"Consiwence?" he attempted to repeat.

"Mama's gonna punish ya, Joey," Katie explained.

"Oh," his lower lip curled under. "What ya do?"

"Michaela," Dorothy interrupted. "Ben Albee cut his hand. Could ya take a look?

"We'll speak later, Josef," she eyed him. "In the meantime, I want you and Katie to stay with Grace."

"Come on, you two," the Cafe owner smiled. "I can use your help cleanin' up."

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

"We are close," Cloud Dancing spoke as he stared into the evening campfire. "There has been a great battle."

"How ya know?" Robert E challenged.

"He knows," Sully gave a simple reply.

"You are worried about Michaela," the medicine man turned to his friend.

"Just a feelin' I had t'day," Sully revealed. "Then it passed."

"I reckon they finished work on Jake's house," Robert E sipped a cup of coffee.

Sully ran his fingers through Wolf's fur as the animal rested his head on his knee.

The blacksmith went on, "Then again, I don't know if Jake's even gonna live in it."

"He has too much of the fire water," Cloud Dancing presumed. "I have seen what it does."

"What d' you think, Sully?" Robert E solicited.

"He might surprise everyone," the mountain man predicted.

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

When Teresa finished brushing her hair, she heard her husband in the front room of the barbershop. She sighed, assuming he was looking for a bottle of whiskey. He had not appeared at the new house today, nor had he even spoken to her. Her heart sank. Is this what her marriage was to be like from now on? Promises, only to be broken? Trust, only to be shattered?

She glanced over her shoulder and saw that her little girl was asleep. So peacefully, the little one slumbered.

"Maria," she whispered, her voice choking slightly.

The child missed her father. When he was sober, Jake lovingly doted on his daughter. When he drank, Teresa wished he were not there. And now.... he wasn't there.

Her thoughts were disturbed by the clearing of a throat. She jumped slightly at the sound.

"I locked up," Jake spoke.

She nodded to acknowledge his words.

"You need anythin'?" he inquired.

"No, nothing," she set down her brush.

"Got all your school work ready?" he seemed genuine.

Then Teresa realized, her husband was sober. She turned to look at him. He was clean shaven and neatly dressed.

"Yes, I am ready for tomorrow," she responded.

"I'm sleepin' on a cot in there," he gestured. "If ya need anythin' let me know."

"Thank you," she smiled slightly.

Jake's heart leapt. She smiled. It was the smile he adored. He had not seen in it in a very long time. Maybe, it was a start for them. Another chance for him.

She tensed as he entered the room.

He picked up on it, "I just wanna check on Maria."

He went to his daughter and sat on the edge of the bed. Stroking her long black tresses, he leaned over and sweetly kissed the little girl's temple. Then he rose.

"'Night," he withdrew from the room.

Teresa was silent.

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

"Prayers?" Michaela tucked in her daughter.

"I said 'em," the child nodded. "An' an extra one for Poppy."

"Good," she smiled and kissed her little girl. "Are you excited?"

"Uh huh," Katie nodded.

"Me, too," Josef spoke from his bed.

"I love you, Sweetheart," Michaela stroked her daughter's hair. "You'll do well."

"Thanks, Mama," she smiled. "I love you, too."

Michaela instantly saw the familiar dimple in her daughter's expression that reminded her so of Sully.

"I say pwayers," Josef sat up.

Michaela rose from Katie's bed and went to his, "I want to speak to you, young man."

"Uh oh," he recognized her tone. "Gonna punish me?"

"Josef," Michaela clasped his hands. "You disobeyed me today, and in the process, you could have been...."

"I know, Mama," he interjected. "I bad."

She sighed, "Tomorrow, there will be no pickles for you."

"Ya makin' me sad," he frowned.

"It makes me sad that you did not listen to me," Michaela maintained her tone. "Now, did you say your prayers?"

"Uh huh," he nodded. "But I say 'gain."

"Why?" she was curious.

"T' make ya not mad," the little boy responded.

"Josef," she touched his chin. "I love you, and I want to keep you safe. I hope you learned a lesson today."

"I did," he agreed.

"Good night, little one," she kissed his forehead.

"'Night," he spoke softly.

Michaela lowered the lamp and left the door ajar in case one of the children needed her in the night.

"Joey," Katie whispered.

"What?" he rolled onto his side.

"Ya know ya could've been hurt bad, don't ya?" she informed her brother.

"No pokles, Katie," he pondered his punishment.

She shook her head and closed her eyes.

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

Sully rested his head against the saddle and stared at the stars. So often in his marriage to Michaela, when he was away from her, he would glance at them and think that she might be gazing upon the same night sky. He turned his head slightly. Both Cloud Dancing and Robert E were asleep.

Sully's thoughts began to drift to his children. He wondered how Brian was doing and hoped that Matthew would soon return to be with Michaela and the children. Katie would begin school in the morning, he remembered. And Josef.... well.... he would no doubt find some mischief to occupy his time. The babies.... he smiled. Cooing and kicking.... making every effort to hold up their heads.... developing individual personalities of their own.

Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew his wife's handkerchief and the note she had given him. He recalled her words.... to read it if he found himself lonely. The fragrance of her favorite perfume on the cloth stirred his memories of their last evening together.

Unable to contain his curiosity, he opened the note from Michaela and read to himself:

"My dearest Sully. I can picture you right now, sitting by a campfire beneath a starry sky. Know that I am seeing those same stars and thinking of you, as well. I want you to envision each of those shinning points of light as a reason why I love you. Their number is infinite, as is my love.

How very proud I am of you for what you are doing. I know you are not one to seek admiration or attention in your actions, but Sully, my heart fills with respect and adoration for you. I shall kiss the children for you each night while you are away and pray that it not be too long before you are in my arms again.

Michaela."

He felt a lump in his throat as he refolded the paper neatly and returned it to his pocket. He repositioned himself and closed his eyes, willing himself to dream of her.

************
Chapter 11
************

Brian attempted to write in his journal, but as he did, he could see that his hand trembled. He could not control it.

"You'll be okay, lad," the private who had earlier befriended him noticed. "I seen plenty o' boys get like that after their first battle."

"Do you think there will be more fightin' in the mornin'?" Brian posed the question.

"Only another hour 'til sunup," he nodded. Then wiping his hand, he extended it, "Adam Tucker, Private."

"Brian Cooper," he shook his hand. "I'm travelin' as a journalist."

"I know," the man recognized. "Our sergeant told us you was comin' along."

Brian studied his face. The private's blue eyes sparkled and seemed a stark contrast to the weather worn tan of his face.

"How old are you?" Brian found himself interested.

"Twenty," he said. "I enlisted last year t' fight the Injuns."

"Do you know any Indians?" Brian questioned.

"Nope," he pulled a piece of hardtack from his pouch. "Don't want to either. Makes it harder t' kill 'em."

Brian swallowed hard against the bitter taste in his mouth.

"You okay?" Tucker noticed his pale complexion. "Maybe ya oughta see the doc."

"No," he dismissed the idea. "I.... I'll be okay."

Tucker warned, "We're in the middle of a war, Brian. Ya better think about what you'll do if an Injun comes after ya."

"I won't kill the Cheyenne," Brian closed his journal.

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

"Mornin'," Jimmy Donnelly stood at the homestead door.

"Well, good mornin' t' ya," Bridget smiled. "Ya here t' hitch the wagon for Dr. Mike?"

"Yep," his freckled face beamed. "First day o' school, ya know. It's my last year."

"Is it now?" the nanny wiped her hands.

"Yes, Ma'am," he responded.

"Go on ahead with the wagon," she instructed. "I'll tell Dr. Mike you're here."

"Thanks," he bounded down the steps as she closed the door.

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

Michaela thought she heard the front door. Through squinted eyes, she glanced at the mantle clock. Seven o'clock. The twins had slept through the night, to her relief. Running her hand across Sully's pillow, she raised up and yawned.

"Dr. Mike," Bridget knocked softly.

"Come in," she spoke low.

The nanny opened the door, "Jimmy's here. I told him to go ahead an' get the buckboard ready."

"Thank you," she smiled as the older woman approached the cribs.

"These wee ones are sleepy heads this mornin'," Bridget observed.

Michaela pulled on her robe, "I'll go waken Katie."

"She won't want t' be late on her first day," the nanny smiled.

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

Josef contritely sat watching Michaela button the back of Katie's new dress. Then he noticed a wooden box sitting on his sister's nightstand.

"What's this, Katie?" he queried.

"It's a gift from Mama an' Poppy," she told him.

"Can I open?" he implored.

"Sure," she consented.

Josef lifted the small piece of tree bark from the inside, "Where this come from?"

"From where I was born," Katie closed her eyes as Michaela brushed her hair.

"Katie come from a twee?" he was amazed.

"No," Michaela laughed. "She was born near a tree, and your Daddy cut that piece of it for her to keep."

"Poppy says the place where you're born always has a hold on ya," Katie stated. "So I wanted t' keep it close."

"Good thinkin'," Josef's eyes lit up.

"Beautiful," Michaela admired her daughter's appearance. "You'll have a marvelous return to school."

"Who's gonna be my teacher, Mama?" the child was curious.

"That's a good question," the idea had not occurred to Michaela.

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

"Need me t' carry any books t' the school?" Jake approached his wife.

"Yes," Teresa consented. "There, on the table, thank you."

"You're welcome," he smiled.

"Papa, carry me?" Maria looked up at him.

"Sure," Jake lifted her with his free arm. "You gonna stay with me t'day?"

"I have already made arrangements for Grace to watch her," Teresa stated.

"But...." his expression saddened.

"I stay with Papa," Maria insisted.

"Do not take that tone with me, young lady," the mother scolded.

"I'm okay t' watch her," Jake implored.

Teresa's memory of the fire was still fresh.

Coolly, she replied, "No."

He sighed and set his daughter down, "It's okay, darlin'."

Maria lowered her head and sat on the floor.

"I am ready, Mr. Slicker," Teresa informed him. "Let us go."

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

Brian could not keep his breakfast down. He railed at himself for not being able to control it. Maybe it was the food or a virus or.... Then he clenched his teeth. It was not any of those things, he knew. It was his disgust at what he was witnessing. At that revelation, he instantly regretted being in this place with these men. He wanted nothing more than to go home.

Suddenly, a thunderous sound exploded, as if the canyon walls were erupting. The Army began firing their weapons. Brian fell to the ground and closed his eyes. He covered his ears and prayed for an end to the madness he was witnessing. He nearly jumped out of his skin when someone touched his shoulder.

It was Private Tucker, "I don't think Lieutenant Colonel Lewis is gonna make it. I just heard 'em talkin'. Them that loaded him on the wagon for Fort Wallace said it looks bad."

"I'm sorry t' hear that," Brian flinched at each weapon's fire.

"Here," Tucker handed him a revolver. "I gotta get goin', but you keep this. You're gonna need it."

Before Brian could reject the gun, the private had left. Gradually, as he lay on the ground witnessing the tremendous cloud of smoke rise above them, the firing subsided. He placed the gun in his pouch and resolved then and there to leave.

Then Tucker returned, "Injuns are gone."

"What?" Brian looked up with relief.

"Snuck off in the night," the soldier explained. "We got orders t' get ready t' follow."

"Not me," he shook his head.

"Goin' home?" the private assumed.

"Yes," the young man lifted his bag.

"On foot?" Tucker folded his arms. "Out here like this? Injuns will be on ya 'fore ya know it."

"I'll take that chance," Brian stood taller. "I've seen enough."

"If you say so," he responded. "Take care."

"Thanks," Brian acknowledged.

Tucker shook his head as he watched the young man depart. He figured the tenderfoot would not get very far. But... it was his own business. Hearing his sergeant bark orders, he turned to rejoin his comrades.

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

Josef opened the drawer by his father's side of the bed. He brushed aside several items until he spotted what he wanted. His Papa's pocket knife. Lifting it, he paused. He was not allowed to hold a sharp knife, but.... Mama and Papa would understand. This was different.

The little boy opened it so that the shiny blade was visible. Then he turned his attention to the headboard of the bed. Holding the knife with both hands, he cut into the wood.

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

Michaela met her daughter at the edge of the school ground, "How was your day, Sweetheart?"

"Okay," she sounded unenthusiastic.

Michaela stroked her hair, "Did something happen?"

"Wendell Reed called me a name," she frowned.

"What did he call you?" Michaela took her hand.

"A snitch," Katie bordered on tears.

They stopped walking.

Michaela knelt down, "I'll speak with his mother."

"No," the child sadly replied. "You know what she'll do t' him, Mama."

"Why did he call you that?" Michaela wanted to know.

"'Cause I told Mrs. Johnson he was writin' on his desk," she confessed.

"You didn't do anything wrong, Katie," Michaela assured her.

Katie wiped her eyes, "Wendell said if I told on him again, he's gonna hit me."

"That does it," Michaela rose indignantly. "We are going to....."

"No," the little girl protested. "I can take care o' myself."

"What?" her eyes widened.

"Poppy taught me," the daughter stated.

"I don't want you to get into a fight, Katie," Michaela said.

"I won't fight," she pledged. "But I can stop him from hittin' me."

"Your father taught you this?" a smile appeared on the mother's face.

"Uh huh," Katie nodded.

Trusting in her husband's judgment, Michaela softly patted Katie's back, "So, you didn't tell me, how was school? Who is your teacher?"

"I had Mrs. Slicker in the mornin', an' Mrs. Johnson in the afternoon," Katie's spirits improved.

"I wonder why?" she was curious.

"Maybe 'cause I was nice t' the Reverend's wife," Katie assumed. "Not all the kids were."

Michaela's heart swelled with pride, "You're a wonderful little girl, Katie."

The child's face beamed, "Thanks, Mama."

"Shall we go home and see what your brother has gotten into?" she smiled.

"An' the babies," Katie clasped her hand. "I missed all o' you."

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

"Well, how did it go today?" Timothy Johnson recognized his wife's footsteps as she entered the church.

"I.... I think it went all right," Isabel was tentative.

"You don't sound convincing," he discerned.

"I anticipated that not all of the children would be receptive to a new instructor," she set down her books on a pew and embraced him.

He rubbed her back, "They will. Just give them time."

"I have twenty-five pupils," she sighed. "And the only one who even remotely seems to accept me is Katie Sully."

"I'd expect that of her," he smiled.

"But for every Katie, there are a dozen Wendell Reeds," she tensed.

"Wendell...." he paused. "Do you think you'll be able to handle him without contacting his parents?"

"Why?" she was curious.

"They've been known to use rather harsh punishments on the little boy," he advised.

"They beat him?" she was aghast.

"Yes," his heart went out. "If you'd like, I can speak to him."

"No," she resolved to handle the problem. "Not yet. Let me try."

"How about dinner at the Cafe?" he suggested.

"Sounds delightful," Isabel linked her arm in his.

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

"Can I join ya?" Jake approached his wife at the Cafe.

"Yes," Teresa looked up.

"Papa!" Maria rushed into his arms.

"So...." he broached the subject. "How'd it go?"

"The children were very excited," she related.

"Hard t' teach much when they're like that," he nodded.

"It helps now to have another....." she stopped herself.

"It's all right," Jake concealed his disdain for Isabel. "Another teacher."

"Yes," Teresa was relieved at his reaction. "She did very well with the little ones."

"Uh..." he spotted the Reverend and Isabel nearing the Cafe. "Looks like they're comin' here t' eat supper."

"Good," her face lit up. "I shall ask them to join...."

"I.... I just remembered, I got somethin' I have t' do," he stood. "I'll see you an' Maria later."

Teresa watched him rush away, and her heart sank.

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

"We're gettin' close," Sully sensed. "Robert E, you an' Cloud Dancin' stay here with the wagon. I'm gonna go scout ahead."

Robert E wiped his brow, "Sounds good t' me."

"Be careful, my brother," Cloud Dancing cautioned.

Sully rode out of sight with Wolf trailing close behind.

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

Brian was growing weary. Stopping by a stream to rest, he eyed the sky. Not much more daylight left, he figured. His hands had stopped trembling as the distance between the fighting and him widened. He heard the snapping of a twig, and turned quickly. There stood an Indian, Cheyenne.

"Navese'e," Brian raised his hand. "Friend."

The warrior slowly approached him. As he did, Brian reached behind his back toward his travel pouch.

"Not xeve'ho'e," the Cheyenne's voice was bitter.

"Hova' hane ," Brian insisted. "No, I'm not a soldier. Navese'e."

"Not xeve'ho'e!" the warrior became louder.

Brian felt for the gun which Tucker had given him. The Cheyenne stood up straighter and raised his rifle toward Brian's head. Taking a deep breath, Brian drew the revolver around and fired. He deliberately missed the man in the hope of scaring him off. It worked. The warrior scurried away.

More scouts would soon follow, Brian knew. His hands began to tremble again. How could he possibly make it to safety now? He would be hunted. He had no map. Only the sun to guide him, and the stars when it grew dark. The young man had never felt so alone as he did at that moment.

"Ma," his voice choked. "Pa. Please, God, let me get back t' them."

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

Michaela lay on the bed, kissing the babies as they moved their arms and legs. Katie and Josef encouraged the infants, and as the proud mother watched her children, her thoughts turned to Sully and Brian.

It was dusk, and the house filled with the sound of the children, but her household was incomplete.

Bridget entered the bedroom, "Dr. Mike?"

"Yes," she looked up.

"D' ya think I might have the evenin' free?" she requested. "Loren Bray has asked me t' town for a cup o' coffee at the Cafe."

Michaela raised her eyebrows, "Of course."

"I think he has a bit o' Irish in him, that one," the nanny smiled.

"Oh?" she wondered.

"The Blarney, don't ya know," Bridget winked. "But he's a nice man, an'....."

"And you deserve some time for yourself," Michaela encouraged. "Yes, please take the evening and enjoy."

"Thanks," she exited.

"That mean no bath, Mama?" Josef hoped.

"No," she touched his nose. "You still must take your bath."

"I got somethin' t'day," he proudly announced. "Jus' like Katie."

"What's that?" Michaela wondered.

"This," he pulled out a small chip of wood from his pocket. "From where I born. I put in box."

Michaela eyed it suspiciously, "Where did you get that?"

The little boy pointed to the edge of the headboard, "There."

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

Sully had heard a lone gunshot. He cautiously approached the direction from which the sound had originated. Then he spotted a figure walking. It appeared to be.... was it possible. Brian?

Brian heard the sound of a horse nearing. His entire body tensed and beads of perspiration moistened his face.

He swallowed hard, fearing the warrior had returned for him. Speeding his pace to a run, he reached into his pouch for the gun. Without turning to reconnoiter in the faint light, he was certain that the horse and rider were catching up to him. He searched quickly for a hiding place. There was a large fallen log nearby. He raced to it and cocked the gun. Pivoting quickly, he fired. In the dim light, with a single bullet, he felled the man who was following him.

************
Chapter 12
************

Brian felt as if his heart would leap from his chest. He had shot, possibly even killed a man. He was torn about what to do next. Should he go to him or continue to run? Or should he take the man's horse?

Then he caught a glimpse of something which caused his stomach to turn further. A wolf. The animal went to the fallen warrior and....

"My God!" Brian recognized. "Wolf!"

The animal whimpered.

"Wolf!" he jumped up and rushed to.... "Pa! No! No, it can't be!"

The young man fell to his knees beside his father. Sully lay still, blood oozing from his chest.

Brian's hands shook as he opened up the jacket to check him further. Blood was beginning to saturate the objects in Sully's pocket. A handkerchief and a folded piece of paper. Taking the cloth, the young man applied pressure to the wound.

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

Michaela took the piece of wood from her son's hand and turned her attention to the headboard of the bed. Then she saw it. A missing portion of the wood so beautifully crafted by her husband.

"Josef Michael Sully!" her voice rose.

The babies both erupted into crying.

Above their volume, Michaela asked her son, "How did you do this?"

"I use Papa's knife," he pointed to the drawer.

"You have been taught that you cannot use a sharp knife!" she was horrified. "Go to your room, right now!"

The little boy rushed from her immediately.

"Mama," Katie attempted to hush the babies.

Michaela turned her attention back to the wailing little ones, and with her loving touch, they soon began to calm.

Katie interpreted her mother's expression, "Mama, Joey just wanted....."

"I'll speak with him shortly," she cut her off.

"I'll go check on him," Katie left her mother's side.

As Michaela cared for the infants, she felt her anger lessen, "What could have possessed Josef to mar a piece of furniture?"

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

"Bri..." Sully tried to focus.

"Pa!" he choked back his tears. "I... I'm sorry. I didn't mean t'...."

"Shhh," Sully reached for his hand. "Get help. Cloud Dancin'."

"He's with ya?" the young man hoped.

Unable to remain conscious, Sully closed his eyes and succumbed to the darkness.

"Wolf!" Brian tried to think clearly. "Go get help, boy. Go get Cloud Dancin'."

The animal hesitated, then took off running.

Brian directed his attention back to his father. The bleeding had stopped... for now. But Sully was unconscious. His breathing was rapid. The wound was close to the heart. Gently feeling around to his father's back, he could find no exit. The bullet was still in him.

"What have I done?" the young man was overwhelmed. "Pa, I'm so sorry."

In an act of anger and fear, he took the gun and hurled it as far away as his strength could muster.

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

Josef sat in the corner of the bedroom, crouching down facing the walls where they met. When Michaela entered, Katie rose from her bed.

"I'll leave ya alone," the little girl crept from the room.

Michaela gazed at her son. He seemed so small, so vulnerable as he cowered, fearing the consequences of his actions. Her heart melted, and she went to him.

"Josef," she knelt down.

"Mama!" he burst into tears.

"Come here," she sat down on the floor and cradled him in her arms.

Kissing his temple, she gently rocked him back and forth.

"I... I... sowwy," he was developing hiccups.

She stroked his back, "I'm trying to understand, Josef. I... I don't know why you would do something like this."

"Katie have where she born," he looked up with reddened eyes. "I born in your bed."

She took a deep breath and sighed.

"You took a knife, which you are not permitted to hold," she paused. "And you damaged a beautiful piece of furniture which your Daddy made."

"Papa fix it," he assumed.

"That's not the point," she held his hand. "You did something bad. Very bad."

"I sowwy," his tears began anew.

Michaela closed her eyes and drew him to her bosom. She felt her own eyes begin to water. Overcome by the emotions she was feeling, she let the tears flow freely herself.

Soon Josef sensed that his mother was crying, and he composed himself enough to look at her.

"I huwt ya, Mama," his heart grew heavy.

"You know," she stroked his hair. "I was thinking about something your father said before he left."

"What?" the little boy wondered.

"He said things can be replaced," she related. "But our loved ones can't."

"You say it, too, Mama," he reminded. "When you save me."

She felt her spirits lift at his words, "I could have lost you, Josef. It frightened me."

"Me, too," he nodded. "I never leave ya."

She caressed his cheek, "Never is a long time."

"I know," he acknowledged. "I fix bed for ya."

"No," she touched his nose. "You've done enough for one day."

"I take bath now?" he felt obliged.

"Let's go," she rose with him.

Suddenly a pain in her back halted her movement.

"Ya huwt?" Josef watched her face.

"I think it's from lifting the beam," she assessed.

"I can walk," he offered.

"Come," she smiled.

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

"So, when's Sully comin' back?" Loren asked Bridget.

She warmed her hands by clasping the cup of coffee, "That, I don't know, but the lad is bound an' determined t' help them folks."

"That's Sully," Loren shook his head. "Always trapsin' off, gettin' himself int' trouble."

"Sounds t' me like it's his friends that's in trouble," the nanny observed.

"Mark my words," he commented. "He'll find trouble, too."

She chuckled, "That must be where Josef gets it."

Loren smiled, "That boy's a wonder."

"Sure, he is," she grinned.

"So, Dr. Mike let ya have t'night free?" he noted.

"Tis strange, but I don't think o' her as my employer," she confessed. "It's more like family."

"That's good," he replied. "With that brood o' kids, an' Sully goin' off on his adventures, she can use all the help she can get."

"Ya don't care for Mr. Sully much?" she sensed.

"Naw," he defended. "I like him just fine. Wasn't always that way, though."

"You told me before about him marryin' your daughter," she recalled.

"Yea," his expression saddened. "But I didn't do right by Abigail. Or her mother, my wife Maude."

"Ya must miss 'em a lot," she perceived.

"Water under the bridge," he attempted to sound convincing. "You ever been married, Bridget?"

"No," she lamented. "Never found the right man."

"Have ya stopped lookin'?" he smiled.

"Long as I got two eyes, I look," she answered.

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

Jake stumbled to the back room of the barbershop, where Teresa and Maria were sleeping. He clutched the frame of the door to steady himself.

Teresa heard him and smelled him. Pretending to be asleep, she did not open her eyes, but she heard him breathing heavily and knew from the very sound that he had been drinking. Then a tear trickled down her cheek.

She had begun to allow herself to think he might be sincere about not drinking. How foolish she had been. The fragile trust had been shattered. She had not felt this alone since her first husband died. He would never have treated her this way. Never have taken her love and broken her heart.

Jake watched his wife sleeping. She was so beautiful. If only she would let him back into her bed. They could make everything all right. If only Isabel weren't there to remind him of how they had grown apart.

"Teressssa," he was louder than he intended.

"What do you want?" she did not look up.

"Pleassse," he implored. "Le' me stay here with ya."

"Not like this, Jacob," she pulled her blanket higher.

"I don' wanna be alone anymore," he swayed.

"You should have thought of that when you started to drink again," she felt herself tense. "Now, leave me alone. I have gone to bed early because I have school in the morning."

"Damn!" he turned too quickly and fell onto the bed.

"I told you to go!" she was adamant.

He made no response. She shook him, and still he did not rouse. He had passed out on the bed.

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

"Haaahe," Cloud Dancing spoke.

"Cloud Dancing!" Brian jumped.

"That you, Brian?" Robert E joined them.

"It's Pa," he held his father's head. "He's been shot."

Wolf neared his master and licked his face, while Cloud Dancing opened Sully's shirt.

"It is very bad," his tone was grave.

"Oh, God," Brian cried.

"It's not your fault, Brian," Robert E assured. "I just can't believe ya found him out here like this. I thought you were with the Army."

"You don't understand," Brian responded. "I did this. I shot him."

"What?" the blacksmith was taken aback.

"I thought I was bein' followed by a Cheyenne scout," he explained, his voice trembling. "He almost killed me earlier. I heard a noise an' had no idea, this time it was Pa."

"He has lost much blood," the medicine man ascertained.

"Can ya get the bullet out?" Brian hoped.

"It is too dangerous," Cloud Dancing shook his head. "I can do only so much, but we need to get him to a hospital."

"We ain't too far from Fort Wallace," Brian figured.

"We can put him in the wagon," Robert E suggested.

"Come on, then," Brian encouraged.

Gently, they lifted Sully and positioned him on the wagon. Brian gathered Sully's horse, and the journey to the fort commenced.

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

An exhausted Michaela sat on the rocking chair, the babies in her arms. Four children bathed and ready for bed. How on earth did she function before Bridget? Glancing at the clock, she wondered how the twins could still be awake. Katie and Josef were a help with them, but now they craved their mother's attention as much as the infants did.

"Mama," Josef climbed onto her bed. "Come here."

"Joey," Katie argued. "Can't ya see she's feedin' the babies."

"We help," he volunteered.

"She's not usin' the bottles," Katie told him.

"Why not?" he tilted his head.

Katie put her hands on her hips, "Don't ya know anythin'?"

"Children," Michaela saw the debate escalating. "Settle down. Katie, why don't you go get a book to share with your brother?"

"Okay," she skipped from the room.

"Katie tell a stowy?" Josef hoped.

"Perhaps if you ask her nicely," Michaela stood up and carried the babies to the bed.

Setting them down, the infants began to smile and coo. Josef delighted in teasing them and prompting them to be even more active.

"Like father, like son," Michaela smiled.

"I like Papa?" Josef was pleased.

"In many ways," she tickled his side. "Your father is...."

Suddenly she had a strange sensation.

"Is what, Mama?" Josef was curious.

Michaela felt her heart beat faster. The thought of Sully.... it was... something was wrong.

"You okay?" Josef grew concerned.

"Yes," she forced a smile. "Why don't you get the bunnies for the babies?"

"Where are they?" he asked.

"Downstairs," she indicated.

Josef scampered from the room. Turning to the twins, she sat down and lightly rested a hand on Noah's tummy.

"Something's happened to your Daddy," she knew.

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

"It's okay, Brian," Robert E saw how distraught the young man was.

"No, it ain't," he sighed. "I never should've had the gun."

"From what ya said earlier, you might've been killed by that scout if ya didn't have one," the blacksmith assured.

"I'd rather it was me lyin' there with a bullet in me," he choked back his emotions. "Instead o' Pa."

"Don't do any good t' think that," Robert E counseled. "I wish I could make this wagon go faster."

"At least we found the road," Brian admitted. "I don't think it's much further."

"Yes," Cloud Dancing nodded. "But they will probably take me prisoner at the fort."

"What?" Robert E questioned.

"They are at war with my people," the medicine man reminded.

"Cloud Dancin'," Brian was horrified. "We can't let that happen."

"I do not know how to prevent it," he checked Sully's wound. "I must stay with my brother. He has begun to bleed again. The movement of the wagon."

"We gotta go faster," Brian encouraged.

"But he might bleed even worse if I do," Robert E doubted.

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

Michaela was so totally distracted with thoughts of her husband, she did not hear Bridget enter the house.

When the nanny reached the bedroom, she whispered, "The wee ones asleep?"

"Oh," Michaela was startled. "I didn't hear you come in. Yes, they're asleep finally. I cannot tell you how incredibly missed you were."

"Ya did just fine, Dr. Mike," she removed her shawl.

"How was your evening?" Michaela antcipated.

"Right nice, it was," she smiled. "He's an interestin' man, Mr. Bray."

"Loren has been very dear to me since I came here," Michaela acknowledged. "He has a gruff facade, but beneath it...."

"He's a soft heart," Bridget recognized.

She noticed that Michaela seemed distracted.

"Ya must be tired from takin' care o' the children by yourself," the nanny assumed.

"Bridget," Michaela said. "If I told you that I believe something has happened to my husband, would you think it strange?"

"No," she did not hesitate in her response. "A feelin' ya have?"

"Yes," Michaela folded her hands uncomfortably.

"Then ya best be gettin' your things t'gether," Bridget encouraged. "He needs ya."

"But...." she paused. "I have nothing to go on but an inexplicable sense."

"That's called love, dearie," Bridget commented. "Now, have your things ready for mornin'. That's when word will come."

"I can't leave the children," she glanced toward the twins. "You would be with them by yourself."

"We'll manage," the nanny assured her. "Ya got plenty o' friends in town t' help me keep things runnin' here."

"Oh, God," Michaela felt herself slipping emotionally. "I wish...."

"Trust in yourself, lass," Bridget put her arm around her. "An' trust in those feelin's."

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

Major Bradley Fenton heard a pounding at his door of his office at Fort Wallace. Rousing from his cot, he lit the lamp. Another round of pounding followed.

"All right!" struggled to waken. "I'm coming."

Opening the door, he was greeted by a young sergeant.

"Sir," he saluted. "Sorry t' disturb ya, but four men just arrived with a wagon full o' food, blankets, medical supplies."

"You wakened me just to give me that bit of information?" he rubbed his eyes.

"One o' them's been shot," the sergeant detailed. "There's an Injun, a colored, an' a young white man with him."

"Well, take the injured man to the infirmary, bring the white an' colored men to my office, and place the Indian in the stockade," he commanded.

"The other men says the Injun's got some kinda protected status," the man insisted.

"I'll be right there," he nodded.

"Oh, an' sir," the sergeant. "They got a pet wolf, too."

"This is getting stranger by the minute," the Major suspected.

************
Chapter 13
************

"I fixed ya some tea," Bridget approached Michaela as she sat in the rocking chair next to the twins.

"Thank you," Michaela's smile was faint.

"You'll not be gettin' any sleep t'night thinkin' about him," the nanny surmised. "If ya need t' talk, I'm a good listener."

Michaela held her composure, "You should go to bed, Bridget. I'll be fine."

"I'm wide awake myself," she smiled. "Now, tell me what you're thinkin'."

"I was just thinking about....." she paused, hesitant to reveal her inner most feelings.

"How much ya love him?" Bridget completed her thought.

"Yes," Michaela admitted.

"Tell me, was it love at first sight?" the nanny was interested.

Michaela folded her hands, "I'm afraid I was too stubborn to admit that it was."

"So what did ya think o' him then?" she probed.

"I thought he was.... very different from any man I had ever met," Michaela revealed. "But as we became friends, I realized he was in many respects like the man I had loved most in my life."

"Your father?" Bridget assumed.

"Yes," Michaela admitted. "Strong, decent, caring...." Then she laughed, "But not nearly as talkative as Father."

"A man can say a lot with a look," the nanny observed.

"And a touch," Michaela felt herself shiver.

Bridget noticed, "When did ya discover ya had this connection t' him."

"Yes, it is a connection," Michaela noted. "It's as if our souls are intertwined. Before we married, Sully would show up at precisely the times I most needed him. It was as if he were my guardian angel. But.... I think it was when I was abducted by Cheyenne Dog Soldiers that this bond between us became most apparent."

"You were abducted by what?" she was curious.

"Dog Soldiers," Michaela repeated. "They were a group of Cheyenne warriors who were fighting the Army. Sully found me. To this day, I'm not certain how. He saved my life."

"How 'bout you?" Bridget encouraged her to continue. "Ya must have had a similar experience.... enough t' trust your instincts now."

"A few years ago, Sully became involved in trying to help the Indians on a reservation near here," Michaela described. "His actions led to a confrontation with an Army sergeant, and....."

Bridget rubbed her arm, "It's okay, if ya don't wanna talk about it."

"No," Michaela resumed. "They fought and fell over a cliff. The sergeant was killed, but Sully.... his body was missing. With our friends, Brian, Matthew and I searched and searched. We had nearly given up any hope of finding him, but.... then I felt his presence.... his essence, if you will."

"He survived fallin' off a cliff?" she was amazed.

"Barely," Michaela said. "At one point he stopped breathing. His body was broken and battered."

"He has a strong will t' live, that one," Bridget acknowledged.

"Not always," Michaela recalled. "After his first wife and baby died, he wanted to die, as well."

"But you saved him from that, too," the nanny pointed out.

"We saved one another," she smiled wistfully. "Really, Bridget, it's quite late. You should get some rest. Before we know it, these little ones will be up and in need of our attention."

"I'm thinkin' ya might need someone t' talk to yet," she perceived.

"No," Michaela put on a brave face. "I'm all right. Please get some rest."

"If you're sure," the nanny accepted.

"Yes," she nodded. "And thank you for everything."

"You're welcome, lass," Bridget offered as she left and closed the door behind her.

Michaela rose and went to the cribs. The twins were blissfully sleeping, unaware of what their mother was feeling. She reached down to caress Annie's hair. The baby moved slightly as if becoming more comfortable at her mother's touch.

"Your Daddy will come home to us," Michaela hoped.

Then she looked down on Noah. Ever the active one, his tiny feet flinched slightly as if he were running. Michaela closed her eyes and envisioned the little boy, older and actively playing with his siblings and father.

How Sully adored playing with their children. In many respects, she mused, he was a big child himself. Impish, joking, laughing and teasing.

She felt a tear trickle down her cheek and fall onto the baby. Touching it on Noah's back, she sighed. Bridget was right. News would come in the morning. Glancing toward the clock, she tensed. Still several hours before Horace would be at the telegraph.

"Perhaps I'm simply letting my imagination run wild," Michaela strolled toward the bed. "I have nothing but a feeling to go by."

Then she spotted one of Sully's books of poetry sitting on his nightstand. Lifting it, she began to peruse the contents.

A passage from Elizabeth Barrett Browning caught her attention:

"Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore--
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two."

She closed the book and lay down on the bed. Positioning herself on the spot where her husband usually lay, she closed her eyes.

"Oh, Sully," she whispered his name. "Please, please be all right."

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

"Sir, the doctor's over at Fort Lyon," the medic informed Major Fenton.

"What about this man?" he pointed. "He gonna live through the night?"

"I don' know," the medic shrugged. "His breathin's real slow. His son said his name's Byron Sully. He's from over at Colorado Springs."

"I see," Fenton nodded. "I'll wire Fort Lyon to tell the doctor to get here soon as he can. This man have any other kin?"

"Yes, sir," the medic nodded. "Wife an' other kids."

"I'll see that she is contacted," he turned. "Then I'm going to speak to the son and his friends. I'd like to know how this happened. The sergeant said they have a lot of supplies in their wagon."

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

Horace sleepily opened the Depot door and yawned. No sooner had he removed his coat, than the telegraph began to click. He responded, then sat back to wait for the message.

"Wonder who'd be sendin' a message at this hour," he stretched his arms.

As he jotted down the wire, he sat up more alertly.

"Oh, gosh," his heart beat faster. "I gotta get this t' Dr. Mike right away."

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

Michaela sat up when she heard the front door to the homestead.

"Sully!" she rushed from the bedroom and down the stairs.

There stood her oldest son.

"Matthew!" she embraced him. "Welcome home."

"Thanks, Ma," he removed his hat. "Good t' be back. Sorry if I woke ya up. I decided t' get a horse an' ride home last night instead o' waitin' for the mornin' train."

"I'm glad you did," she directed him into the kitchen. "You must be famished. I want to hear all about your trip."

"I could use a bite t' eat," he sat at the kitchen. "I'll tell ya about my trip later. What have I missed here?"

She busied herself preparing the meal as she quickly related about recent events, "The Slicker house burned down on the day that the Reverend and Isabel got married."

"Any idea what caused it?" he leaned forward.

"Jake's been drinking again," she told him. "I'm certain it was irresponsibility on his part. Sully got him out safely and rescued little Maria."

"Brian in town?" the young man wondered.

"He's traveling with the Army," she noted.

"What?" Matthew was shocked.

"As a journalist," she explained. "We haven't heard from him since they departed from Fort Wallace. Then Sully received word that the Cheyenne have left the Indian territory, so he's gone off to take supplies to them."

"I see," he ran his hand through his blonde locks. "How 'bout the children?"

"Katie started school yesterday," she summarized. "Oh, and the town council hired Isabel to help Teresa Slicker. Then there's Josef...."

"What?" he grinned. "What's he been into?"

"Matthew," she sat beside him. "He's doing dangerous and destructive things."

"Like what?" his brow wrinkled.

"When we took some clothing to Teresa for Maria, he went exploring in the charred remains of the house and was nearly hit by a beam," she detailed. "And yesterday, he carved a chip out of my headboard with his father's knife."

"Sounds like he's just bein' a little boy," Matthew smiled. "I could tell ya worse things I did when....."

They were interrupted by a loud banging at the door.

Michaela tensed, "That will be Horace."

"How ya know?" he rose and went to the door.

"Howdy, Matthew," the telegraph operator stepped in. Then he spotted Michaela, "Dr. Mike."

"It's Sully, isn't it?" she felt her heart stop.

"Message from Fort Wallace," he handed her the note.

"Somethin' wrong, Ma?" Matthew watched his mother's face.

"Matthew," she touched her son's arm. "Sully's been shot. Brian, Cloud Dancing and Robert E are with him. I must leave immediately for the fort. I need you to stay here with the children."

"I can get ya on the 8 o'clock train, Dr. Mike," Horace offered.

"Good," she bounded up the stairs, continuing to read the message.

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

Robert E insisted on staying with Brian when he was questioned by Major Fenton.

As they waited for the officer, Robert E said, "Don't tell him you shot Sully, Brian."

"But I don't wanna lie," he expressed. "It was an accident."

"The Army don't always see things the way other folks do," the blacksmith noted. "The less ya say, the better."

"I feel so terrible," he lowered his head. "Pa could die, Cloud Dancin's bein' held in the stockade, an' it's all my fault."

Robert E put his hand on the young man's back, "Nobody blames ya."

The door opened, and Major Fenton strolled in.

Sitting at his desk, he informed Brian, "A telegram has been sent to your mother. Your father is still unconscious, and we are waiting for the doctor to return from Fort Lyon."

"Thanks," Brian swallowed hard.

"Would you like a drink of water?" the commander sympathized.

"No, thanks," he answered.

"You're that journalist fellow, aren't you?" he recognized. "Brian Cooper."

"Yes, sir," he responded.

"Can you tell me what happened to cause the shooting?" he questioned.

Robert E spoke up, "We found Sully."

"I'd like for the boy to tell me," Fenton dismissed Robert E's answer.

"Pa didn't say who shot him," Brian was careful in his wording.

"I see," Fenton attempted to read the young man's face. "Why were you transporting all of those supplies?"

"We was just takin' them t' some friends in need," Robert E spoke up again. "That's when we met up with Brian here."

"I was returning home after the battle with the Cheyenne," Brian related.

"So Sully was not with you?" Fenton looked directly at him.

"No, sir," Brian replied.

"He was with us," Robert E interjected. "He had ridden ahead t' check on things, an' when we caught up t' him, he'd been shot."

"Hmmm," Fenton folded his arms. "Well, when the doctor removes the bullet, we can check it. Perhaps that will give a clue. More than likely, he ran across a Cheyenne scout. Just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

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

Jake awoke with a throbbing headache. Disoriented, he opened his eyes a slit and was nearly blinded by the dawning sun. With a terrible taste in his mouth, and his body aching, he rolled over.

Suddenly, he realized he was in Teresa's bed at the barbershop. But she was gone. What had happened? Where was she?

A wave of nausea swept over him as he sat up.

"Teresa?" he called.

There was no response. Trying to acclimate himself, he glanced toward the clock. It was 7 o'clock. Morning or evening? He was not sure. Day of the week? He did not know that either.

All that he knew was that he was alone.

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

"Ma," Matthew entered her bedroom.

Michaela was frantically packing some clothes into a travel pouch.

"Hey," he touched her back.

She turned and embraced him, her body trembling in fear. Matthew's comforting arms assured her.

"How bad is it?" he spoke softly. "Did the telegram say?"

"He's been shot in the chest," she informed him. "The fort's doctor is not there. It's very grave, Matthew."

"I see," he nodded. "In that case, I'm comin' with ya."

"I'm going to have to take the babies," she knew. "They're not fully weaned yet, and...."

"Tell ya what," he paused. "Let's wake up Bridget. She can come with you an' the twins. I'll follow with Katie an' Josef, soon as I can."

"I don't know," she hesitated.

"If it's as grave as the telegram says, they oughta have a chance t' see their Pa," he determined.

"Yes," she consented. "You're right."

"Now," he stepped back. "I'll go wake Bridget. We'll take care o' everythin', Ma."

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

Loren, Dorothy, Horace and Jake sat at the Cafe as Grace approached.

"What did the telegram say, Horace?" Dorothy urged. "Michaela an' Bridget were in such a hurry with the babies, she didn't have time to explain."

He leaned forward, "I don't think Dr. Mike would mind me tellin' ya. Sully's been shot."

There was a gasp among those gathered.

"Shot?" Loren asked. "Where?"

"Telegram said his chest," Horace responded.

"No, I mean where is he?" Loren probed.

"Fort Wallace," Horace answered. "Looks pretty bad."

"My God," Dorothy's face grew pale.

"Cloud Dancin', Robert E an' Brian are with him," the telegraph operator went on.

"Are they okay?" Dorothy hoped.

"Far as I know," he nodded. "Poor Dr. Mike. Matthew's takin' Katie an' Josef later t'day, in case Sully don't make it."

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

Michaela held Noah on her lap, nursing him. Bridget cradled Annie as the movement of the train lulled the infants to sleep.

"These two seem t' be doin' all right," the nanny observed. "No trouble at all t' travel."

"Yes," Michaela caressed Noah's darkening hair.

"Things are gonna work out, Dr. Mike," Bridget assured. "Once you're with him, he'll be in good hands."

Michaela lifted Noah and rubbed his back, "I wish I knew more of his condition."

"Let's think good thoughts," the nanny hope to bolster her spirits. "Tell me..... tell me how Sully proposed to ya."

Michaela smiled, "It was in a teepee."

"What?" she chuckled. "Not flowers, candy an' bended knee? The lad disappoints me."

"No," Michaela warmed at the memory. "He had been suffering from terrible headaches at the time, and none of my medicine was helping. So, we prepared a sweat lodge."

"Sweat lodge?" Bridget raised an eyebrow. "Don't sound very romantic."

"It was incredibly romantic when it happened," Michaela smiled. "He had been inside the lodge, going through the ceremony, when I heard him call to me. I entered and knelt before him. He held my hands, and...."

Tears welled in her eyes.

"That's when he asked ya?" the older woman encouraged her to continue.

"Yes," she was barely audible. "He said he would love me all his days."

"An' there's many more t' come," Bridget asserted.

Michaela leaned her head against the window, "I don't know what I would do without him, Bridget."

"You'll feel better when ya see him, ya will," she noted.

************
Chapter 14
************

"Any word from Ma yet, Horace?" Matthew approached the Depot.

"Nothin'," the telegraph operator told him.

Katie and Josef stood near their older brother.

"When are we gonna see Poppy?" Katie inquired.

"Where twain?" Josef was excited.

"Shhh," Matthew attempted to calm them. "It'll be here, soon. Then we'll go see him."

"Mrs. Johnson said it was okay for me t' miss school?" Katie wanted to be certain.

"Yep," Matthew assured her.

"Is Poppy sick?" Katie feared.

"Sort of," Matthew revealed. "Ma wants us t' be with him."

"I sent a wire t' Colleen, too," Horace remarked. "I ain't sure if she'll be able t' get there."

"Boston's awful far," Matthew stated.

"Reckon you're real proud o' your sister," the telegrapher smiled.

"Goin' back t' get a second medical degree at Harvard?" the older brother beamed. "Sure am."

"I hope everythin' goes all right with Sully," he offered.

"Thanks," Matthew glanced at the clock. "How much longer?"

"It's on time," Horace said. "Won't be much longer."

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

"Halt," a guard stopped Brian from entering the stockade.

"I got a pass from Major Fenton t' see Cloud Dancin'," the young man held up a piece of paper.

"All right," the guard read it, then let him through.

Cloud Dancing rose to his feet, "Is there word about Sully?"

"Nothin' yet," Brian sighed. "I'm sorry you're in here, Cloud Dancin'."

"I will be fine," the Cheyenne acknowledged. "Is Michaela coming?"

"Yes," Brian nodded.

Cloud Dancing reached through the bars and rested his hand on Brian's shoulder, "Do you wish to tell me what happened?"

"You mean about shootin' Pa?" he said.

"I mean at the battle," the medicine man specified.

The young man's face paled, "It was terrible. I was never so scared in my life."

The Cheyenne counseled, "That is war."

"It made me sick, Cloud Dancin'," he confessed. "Bullets flyin' everywhere, sounded like thunder explodin' in my ears, smoke stingin' my eyes."

The medicine man advised, "You are to write this. You have seen what others cannot. You must tell those who will listen, the truth."

"That's what Pa told me," his eyes saddened.

"Do not blame yourself," Cloud Dancing told him.

The young man swallowed hard, "It's hard not to."

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

"Major?" the sergeant knocked at his commander's door.

"Enter," Fenton beckoned.

"The man's wife is here," he informed him.

"Tell her to come in," the Major invited.

Michaela rushed into the office, "Where is my husband?"

"Easy, Ma'am," he gestured toward a chair. "Why don't you have a seat. I'm afraid the doctor isn't here yet, and the bullet is too close to Mr. Sully's heart for our medic to remove it. So, all we can do is wait."

"I'm a physician," Michaela asserted.

"You?" he was surprised.

"Yes," she grew impatient. "Now, please take me to him. I want to see my son, as well."

"Sergeant," Fenton ordered. "Get Mr. Sully's son."

"What about his friends?" the sergeant asked.

"Fetch the colored man, but leave the Cheyenne in the stockade," he replied.

"You have Cloud Dancing in prison?" she was horrified.

"Yes, Ma'am," Fenton responded. "For his own good."

She exhaled slowly, "I brought my two youngest children with me, along with our nanny. Is there somewhere they can stay?"

"I'll arrange for it with my wife," he nodded. "Now, let's go see your husband."

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

Michaela rushed to Sully and began to check his vital signs, "He's in shock."

She noted that the area around his wound had been cleaned.

"Is there someone who can assist me with surgery?" she requested. "I need to operate immediately."

"I don't know if this is such a good idea, Ma'am," the medic hesitated. "Doc will be here a soon as he can."

"I'm a doctor," her voice grew strong. "And I'm going to remove the bullet."

"I can help ya then," he nervously consented. "I'll get what ya need."

Michaela removed her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. Before commencing the operation, the wife in her took over.

Leaning closer to him, she stroked his brow, "I'm here, Sully. I need you to be strong for me. For the children, as well. I love you."

Then she sterilized her hands and instruments. The medic watched in amazement as she skillfully began to probe the wound. As the surgery concluded, it was apparent that a blood transfusion would be necessary to save Sully's life. Over the medic's reservations, Michaela prepared to donate her own blood to her husband.

Afterward, the man was in awe, "Ma'am, in all the time I been here, I never saw a doctor as good as you."

"Thank you," Michaela responded. "But none of my medical expertise means a thing if I lose him."

"I'll leave ya be now," he excused himself.

"What is your name?" she requested.

"Corporal Charlie Foster, Ma'am," he replied. "He must be a real fine man, your husband."

"I've never met anyone finer," a tear glistened in her eye. "Thank you, Corporal. Thank you for all of your help."

"You're welcome, Ma'am," he nodded. "Hope he makes it."

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

"Matthew!" Brian greeted his older brother. "Hey, Katie, Josef."

The family embraced.

"Where's Mama?" Katie inquired.

"She's.... helpin' Pa," Brian was vague.

"We see Papa?" Josef requested.

"Not right now," Matthew stroked his young brother's hair. "Where's Bridget an' the twins?"

"One o' the officer's wives is lettin' 'em stay with her," Brian noted. "Robert E's over at the stockade visitin' Cloud Dancin'."

"They got him in jail?" Matthew questioned. "I'll see what I can do about that." Pulling his brother aside, he asked, "Any word on Sully?"

"Ma came in here a little while ago t' tell me," Brian's voice choked. "She removed the bullet. Said he's lost a lot o' blood, so she gave him a transfusion. All we can do is wait."

"I see," Matthew sighed. "Any idea how this happened?"

Brian's face saddened, "I did it. It was an accident."

"You shot him?" the older brother was shocked.

"I thought he was a Cheyenne scout who'd attacked me earlier," his shoulders slumped. "Matthew, if I asked ya t' do somethin' with me, would ya?"

"Sure, little brother," he answered. "What is it?"

"I wanna get the supplies t' the Cheyenne," Brian avowed. "I gotta do it for Pa."

"Maybe we oughta stick around in case Ma needs us," Matthew suggested.

"I... I can't," Brian felt a lump in his throat. "Ma don't know it was me who shot him. I haven't told her. I can't even look her in the eye."

"She'll understand," he knew.

"No," the young man shook his head. "She didn't want me t' go off in the first place. If anythin' happens t' Pa.... I just wanna be sure that what he started gets finished."

"I really don't think we both should leave her," Matthew repeated.

"Then I'll do it myself," Brian determined.

Robert E's voice startled them at the doorway, "I'll come with ya, Brian."

"Ya will?" his face brightened somewhat.

"Sure," the blacksmith agreed.

"Let's go then," Brian rose.

"Aren't ya gonna speak t' Ma first?" Matthew urged.

"No," Brian picked up his hat and departed.

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

Captain Fenton extended the courtesy to Michaela of moving Sully to an officer's room beside the infirmary to recover from his surgery. Corporal Foster was near if she needed assistance. She found the wait unbearable as she prayed for him to regain consciousness.

"Sully," Michaela clasped her husband's hand. "Can you hear me?"

Leaning closer, she stroked his forehead. Then she saw his clothing draped across a chair in the corner.

Rising, she went to inspect them. Her stomached churned at the sight of his blood-saturated shirt. Then she saw the letter. The letter she had given him. And her handkerchief, stained with redness. The bullet had passed cleanly through it on its way into his body.

She glanced back at him unable to control her tears. Sitting beside him again, she hoped for any sign of movement. There was no response.

"Don't leave me, Sully," she whispered. "I love you."

The words echoed eerily familiar to her.

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

"So, how we gonna find the Cheyenne?" Robert E glanced at the sky as a gentle rain began to fall.

"If we head northeast, we'll find 'em," the young man concentrated on his task.

"What if we find the Army first?" the blacksmith questioned.

"They won't try t' stop us," Brian assumed.

"Gonna be dark soon," he determined.

"We gotta keep goin', Robert E," the young man insisted.

"I understand, Brian," he nodded.

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

"Ma?" Matthew entered the room with a tray. "Thought ya could use a bite t' eat. Ya need t' keep up your strength, especially after givin' Sully your blood."

"No, thank you," she pulled back her hair. "I'm afraid I'm not hungry. Are the children all right?"

"They're okay," he smiled. "Keepin' Bridget an' Mrs. Fenton busy. Any change?"

Michaela returned her glance to Sully, "No."

Matthew cleared his throat uncomfortably, "Ma, I think there's somethin' ya oughta know."

"What?" she looked up.

"It's about Brian," he hedged.

"I know he's terribly upset," she related.

"Yea, he is," Matthew pulled a chair over to sit beside her. "I.... I don't wanna worry ya anymore, but...."

"What's wrong?" she perceived.

"Brian blames himself for all this," the son opened up.

"Why?" she responded.

Matthew took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "Because.... he's the one who shot Sully."

"What?" her heart sank.

"He had decided t' come home after seein' a terrible battle between the Cheyenne an' the Army," he described. "Apparently, he experienced an attack by a Cheyenne warrior on himself, an' after gettin' outa that scrape, he heard someone approachin'. He turned an' fired a gun that a soldier had given him. Turns out it was Sully he shot."

Michaela trembled.

"You okay?" he hoped.

She folded her hands silently, "I need to speak with him. Could you ask him to...."

"Ma," Matthew stopped her. "Brian's left."

She quickly turned to her son, "Where?"

"He wanted t' get the supplies t' the Indians," he explained. "Wanted what Sully started t' get finished."

"He's out there by himself?" she tried to fathom all that he said.

"Robert E went with him," he added. He clasped his mother's hand, "Brian didn't wanna face you. He's too ashamed."

"This is all so hard to believe," her heart grew heavy.

"I know," he understood.

"And now he's out there again...." she paused. "In danger."

"I didn't wanna worry ya more," he offered. "But I figured ya oughta know the truth."

She nodded silently.

"Anythin' I can get ya?" he asked.

"No," she simply stated. "Wait, there is something."

"What's that?" he was curious.

"Would you see what you can do for Cloud Dancing?" she requested.

"Sure," he rose from the chair.

After kissing his mother's cheek, Matthew exited.

Michaela closed her eyes, hoping this was all a dream. A terrible dream from which she would soon awaken. Then, she glanced down at her husband's still body.

"Oh, Sully," she leaned her head near to his ear.

"Dr. Quinn?" it was Corporal Foster's voice.

"Yes," she lifted up.

"Major wanted me t' tell ya about the bullet you removed from your husband," he approached. "It was issued t' our troops. Maybe an Injun picked up the gun an' used it against Mr. Sully."

"I see," she knew otherwise.

"We got word our doctor's gonna be here soon, too," he let her know.

"Thank you," she returned her attention to Sully.

As he left, Bridget entered the room, "Dr. Mike?"

Michaela attempted a smile, "Come in. How are the children?"

"I think the babies could use some o' your attention," the nanny touched her arm. "I'll stay here while ya go t' them."

She hesitated.

Bridget assured, "I'll get ya real quick if there's any change."

"Thank you," Michaela stroked Sully's forehead, then kissed him.

As she exited, Bridget turned to him, "Well now, lad. We gotta have a talk."

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

"Mama! Mama!" Josef was the first to see his mother when she entered the Fenton house.

"Dr. Quinn," a tall, slim woman in her thirties approached.

With her dark hair drawn back and wearing a simple blue gingham dress, she greeted Michaela with a bright smile.

"I'm Emma Fenton," she extended her hand. "Do let me say that your children are delightful."

"Thank you," Michaela could hear one of the twins crying in the next room. "I'm afraid they don't sound very delightful at the moment. May I?"

"Yes, please feel free," Emma pointed. "They're in the bedroom. I regret that I only have one crib for them."

"Mama, is Poppy okay?" Katie could not contain her curiosity.

"Come with me, children," Michaela took their hands and headed for the bedroom. "Thank you, Mrs. Fenton."

Alone with the little ones, Michaela closed the door and lifted Noah.

"Sit down," Michaela gently urged Katie and Josef.

Noah began to settle, and she set the infant in Katie's lap. The older sister smiled and began to dote on him. Next, Michaela picked up Annie and caressed her hair.

"We helped feed the babies a little bit ago, Mama," Katie spoke up. "I think they just missed ya."

"I miss ya," Josef added.

Michaela managed a faint smile, "I missed you, too."

"What about Poppy?" Katie returned to their concern.

"Children," she hesitated. "Your Daddy has been hurt, and...."

"Did he fall?" Josef recalled the story about the Slicker fire.

"No," Michaela rubbed her son's back. "Papa's been shot. I removed the bullet, but...."

"Then he'll be okay," Katie interrupted. "You're the best doctor, Mama."

"We see him?" Josef implored.

"Not right now, Sweetheart," she responded. "He's sleeping."

"That's the best thing," Katie determined.

"When he wake?" Josef was curious.

"I.... I don't know," Michaela's voice cracked slightly.

"Mama," Katie was beginning to suspect. "Is Poppy gonna live?"

"Of course, he will," she raised Annie to her lips and kissed her forehead.

"I wanna see Papa," Josef insisted.

"Shhh, Joey," Katie corrected. "Can't ya see Mama's upset."

"I sowwy," he looked down. "Why we here? We not go t' Papa."

"Perhaps later," Michaela suggested.

"Is that why Mattew brought us?" Katie posed the question. "So we can...."

Michaela completed her thought, "So you can see him when he wakens."

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

Bridget touched Sully's arm, "So, boy-oh, it looks like ya been through a rough time. But ya got quite a congregation o' followers out there cheerin' for ya. I gotta tell ya, ya need t' stop gettin' hurt. That doctor o' yours has done enough patchin' ya back t'gether."

She paused to watch his steady breathing.

"So, what business is it o' mine, ya might be askin' yourself?" Bridget straightened his blanket. "I'm sorta fond o' this family, an' I don't wanna be takin' care o' them without ya. Just that leprechaun Josef is enough for an army t' handle. Wait 'til ya hear what he's been up to. An' Miss Katie's gonna need ya, too, don't ya know."

Bridget folded her hands, searching for any reaction.

Then she resumed, "The babies will be crawlin', then walkin' 'fore ya know it. I never did see two wee ones more determined t' do that. An' what do ya think? I'm gonna corral them myself? Don't ya go thinkin' that."

Her expression grew serious as she observed his pale appearance.

"An' that wife o' yours," Bridget smiled slightly. "She's head over heels in love with ya. I never did see a couple more unlikely t' feel that way about each other. But since I have seen ya t'gether, ya need t' know that she'd be lost without ya. So.... ya gotta get through this, lad."

Suddenly, Sully's breathing became labored and his skin clammy. Bridget felt a rush of anxiety as she called out for the medic.

************
Chapter 15
************

"What is it, Ma'am?" Corporal Foster responded to Bridget's call.

"Get Dr. Quinn," she commanded. "Now!"

"Yes, Ma'am," he rushed from the room.

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

"Teresa," Jake tentatively approached his wife in the back room of the barbershop.

"What do you want?" she did not look up from the papers she was checking.

"I wanna apologize," he felt guilty.

"Apologize?" her tone was cold. "For what do you wish to apologize, Mr. Slicker? Apologize for breaking your most recent empty promise? Or apologize for not honoring your previous apology?"

"I know I deserve your anger," he was humbled.

"You deserve nothing," her words stung him.

"I want ya t' know," he paused. "I'm gonna get help."

"Help?" that got her attention. "What kind of help?"

"There's a place.... in Illinois," he explained. "Dorothy told me she read about it. Some doctor named Keeley's been workin' on a cure for folks who drink too much. He says what I got is a disease."

"Disease?" she scoffed. "What you have is an addiction."

"Whatever ya wanna call it, I'm gonna get cured," he pledged.

"Suit yourself," she returned to her work.

"I.... I'd like your support," he contritely requested.

"This you must do on your own, Jacob," her jaw tensed. "If you want to quit drinking, there is nothing I can say or do that will matter. It has not mattered thus far."

"Yes, it has," he countered. "I wouldn't even be thinkin' about goin' t' that clinic if it wasn't for you an' Maria. I don't wanna lose ya."

"I wish you well then," she could not look at him.

With slumped shoulders, Jake pivoted and left the room.

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

"Bridget," Michaela felt her husband's rapid pulse. "Please bring Matthew and the children as soon as you can."

"The babies, too?" she swallowed hard.

"Yes," Michaela choked back her tears. "Hurry."

As the woman departed, Michaela clasped Sully's limp hand.

"You hold onto me, Byron Sully," she maintained her composure. "You have those little children to live for. Don't leave them. And don't leave...."

She could not finish her sentence. Her body shook as she was overcome by tears. Then she heard Wolf growl from his position by the door.

"Shhh," she lifted up. "Quiet, boy."

"Are you Dr. Quinn?" a man's voice was heard.

Wiping her tears, Michaela glanced up, "Yes."

"Major Fenton filled me in on things," he removed his military cap. "I'm Captain Mallory, surgeon for the fort. Major Fenton informed me that you're a physician. He said that you operated to remove the bullet."

"Yes, and now my husband's condition is quite grave, Captain," she continued to clasp Sully's hand.

"Mind if I take a look?" he stepped forward.

"Please do," she watched as he assessed Sully's condition.

"Looks like you did a fine job with his surgery," he complimented.

"His pulse, his breathing, pale complexion...." she could not go on.

"Dr. Mike?" Bridget tentatively spoke.

"Ma'am," the officer saw the nanny with the youngsters. "I don't think this is any place for children."

"If you don't mind, Captain," Michaela requested. "I asked her to bring our children. I wanted them to see their father in the event that...."

"I understand," he sympathized. "I'll leave you in peace."

"Thank you," Michaela rose to her feet.

One by one, she afforded each child the opportunity to hold their father's hand. Josef chatted away with Sully as if he were only sleeping.

Each twin babbled merrily when Michaela held them near Sully. When Noah reached out to him, it was all she could do to maintain any semblance of calm, but for the sake of the little ones, she endured.

Katie knew from his appearance that things were much more serious, and she could not help but cry as she spoke to him. Finally, with a nod, Michaela indicated it was time to take them back to the Fenton house. Bridget escorted them from the room. Not long afterward, Michaela heard another voice.

"Ma?" Matthew arrived. "Okay if I come in?"

Her somber glance spoke volumes to him.

"I brought Cloud Dancin'," he gestured for the medicine man to enter.

"Thank goodness," Michaela sighed. "He needs you both."

Matthew touched Sully's arm and encouraged, "Hey, Sully. Everythin's gonna be okay. You be strong."

As Cloud Dancing began to chant softly over the lifeless body, Matthew positioned himself near his mother.

Finally, the medicine man spoke to them, "He is fighting this. If he survives the night, he will live."

"I'll get us some coffee," Matthew gently squeezed his mother's shoulders. "Be right back."

Michaela turned to the medicine man, "Cloud Dancing....."

"You have done all that you can," he nodded. "It is not in our hands now. The Great Spirit has heard our prayers."

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

Robert E spotted campfires in the distance, "Look! I can't believe we made it this far without someone stoppin' us."

"It's the Cheyenne camp," Brian recognized. "Maybe they wanted us t' make it this far."

No sooner had the words been spoken, than two Cheyenne approached on horseback.

"Haaahe," Brian greeted. "Navese'e.... We bring mahtame..."

"I speak the white man's language," one of them said.

"I bring food, medicine, blankets," Brian pointed.

"Why?" the Cheyenne motioned for the other to check the back of the wagon.

"For your people," Brian replied. "Byron Sully was bringing it, but...."

"Sully," he recognized the name. "Where is he?"

"He was shot," the young man informed them. "I'm his son."

"If you are Sully's son, you are welcome," he nodded. "Come. I will take you to Little Wolf."

Brian urged the horse forward as they followed the Cheyenne to the lodge of their leader.

The young man was greeted warmly and respectfully spoke to Little Wolf. He introduced Robert E. As he surveyed the camp, he could see the tribe preparing to move on while still tending to their wounded.

"My people are grateful for your gifts," Little Wolf said.

"I wish I could do more," the young man's heart grew heavy. "My father, Byron Sully, was to bring this for you but...."

"He is a good man," Little Wolf complimented.

"What's gonna happen now?" Brian wondered. "You're gettin' ready t' move again."

"Yes," he responded. "We are going north, as it was promised we might. We intended to go peaceably, if possible, without injuring or destroying any property of the white man on the way. But the soldiers now fight us, and we fight them back."

"I wish this could all have been avoided," Brian offered his hand.

"It is the price for living as free men," the Cheyenne acknowledged.

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

"Any change?" Matthew whispered to his mother.

"No," Michaela glanced toward the window. "It will be dawn soon."

"If ya wanna get some sleep, I'll sit here with him," the young man was concerned.

"No, thank you," she refused. "I'd rather not leave his side."

"He knows you're here, Ma," he noted.

She rested her hand on her husband's, "At least his wound shows no signs of infection.... yet."

She felt her eyes welling up with tears.

"Sully's gonna make it," Matthew asserted. "I know it."

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

As Robert E urged the horses onward, Brian was pensive.

"Why don't ya get some sleep?" Robert E suggested.

"Can't," the young man shook his head.

"Thinkin' about Sully," he knew.

"Yea," Brian sighed.

"He'll be real proud o' what ya did t'day, Brian," the blacksmith commended.

"I just wish...." he could not finish.

"Your Pa told me about the journal him an' Dr. Mike gave ya," Robert E recalled.

"I haven't written in it since.... since the shooting," he shook his head.

"Ya gotta," the friend advised. "Jot down about meetin' Little Wolf."

"I don't know," Brian hesitated.

"Go on," he spoke. "It's what Sully wanted ya t' do. It's why they gave ya the journal. He talked a lot about you an' your writin'."

"He did?" Brian perked up slightly.

"Yep," Robert E smiled.

Brian lifted the book from his travel pouch. After pausing to contemplate what he wanted to say, he lit a lamp and attached it to the wagon. Then he began to write:

"Little Wolf is a handsome man of dignity and strength. When he speaks, it is like listening to a musical instrument....."

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

"Miss Bwidget," Josef approached the nanny as she sat in a chair near him.

"What are you doin' up so early, laddie?" she lifted him into her lap.

"When we go home?" he leaned against her.

"That's hard t' say, Josef," the nanny stroked his hair.

"I can't sweep," he sighed.

"Somethin' troublin' ya?" she softly returned.

"Papa don' look good," his little brow wrinkled. "I wowwied."

"Your Papa...." she paused.

Katie's voice came from the bed, "Is he gonna die, Miss Bridget?"

"Now, don't ya go even thinkin' such things," she was certain.

"Mama's scared," Katie could tell.

"Sure she is," Bridget was honest. "But you know your Pa. He's a strong one."

"How he get here?" Josef was curious.

"Well, that's a bit of a long story, it is," she answered.

"Could we go see him again?" Katie implored.

"Your Ma will send for ya when it's time t' see him again," the nanny responded.

"What will we do if Poppy....." Katie could not complete her question.

Bridget carried Josef to the bed and set him beside his sister.

"Listen here, you two," she eyed them straight on with her clear blue eyes. "Ya gotta believe. That's all, just believe that he's gonna be okay."

"I wanna believe," Katie's lower lip trembled.

"Sometimes, things aren't in our hands," the nanny put her arm around the children. "When that happens, we gotta believe an' pray that the man upstairs will look after things."

"There a man upstairs?" Josef tilted his head upward.

"She means God, Joey," Katie informed her brother.

"I been pwayin'," he folded his hands. "Maybe God mad 'cause I got in twouble."

"No," Bridget assured him. "This has nothin' t' do with you wee ones."

"I think Mama needs us," Katie sensed.

"She'll let us know when she does," she replied.

"Miss Bridget," Katie stopped. "If I tell ya somethin', will ya not laugh at me?"

"'Course not, darlin'," the nanny said.

"Sometimes I get feelin's about Mama an' Poppy," the little girl revealed.

"What kinda feelin's, lass?" she inquired.

"Feelin's that there's somethin' wrong even when I'm not around t' know for sure," Katie came out with it. "Is that strange?"

Recalling her conversation with Michaela about the unique bond with her husband, Bridget smiled.

"No, it's not strange," she pulled back the child's blonde tresses. "It don't surprise me at all."

"It doesn't?" Katie was amazed.

"It's the kind o' thing I'd expect from Dr. Mike an' Sully's daughter," the nanny smiled.

"Then, when I tell ya I think Mama needs us, could ya take us t' her?" the little girl requested. "Please?"

Bridget nodded, "Right away."

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

Bridget held Katie's and Josef's hands, pausing at the doorway of the room. Michaela appeared to be deep in thought, her glance fixed on her husband.

"Mama!" Josef broke free and rushed to her.

Immediately, Michaela sat up straighter, "What are you children...."

"I asked Miss Bridget t' bring us, Mama," Katie joined them.

"Papa not 'wake?" Josef touched his father's hand.

"No, Sweetheart," Michaela sighed.

Katie went directly to her father. Then, drawing an object from her pocket, the little girl placed it in the palm of his hand and curled his fingers around it.

"What are you doing?" Michaela wondered.

"Just givin' Poppy somethin'," she whispered.

Michaela spoke softly, "He knows you're here."

"With his eyes closed?" the little girl questioned.

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "He always knows when we need him."

Bridget spoke up, "Just like you knew your Ma needed ya, Katie."

"You did?" Michaela was amazed.

"Just a feelin'," Katie shrugged.

Michaela studied her daughter's expression, "I do need you. Very, very much."

Katie threw her arms around her mother. Michaela enfolded her, relishing the warmth of the little girl's embrace.

"Papa say I man o' house," Josef folded his arms. "But we not home."

Michaela lifted her son and kissed his cheek, "Thank you both for coming to check on Papa and me. But now, you must return with Miss Bridget. All right?"

"Okay," Katie agreed.

"Call if ya need me, Mama," Josef offered.

She smiled, "I shall."

The nanny led the two children from the room, and Michaela returned to her chair to Sully's bedside. Then she saw what Katie had put in her father's hand, as it had slipped free. It was the piece of bark which Sully had cut from the tree where she was born. Michaela returned it to his hand and folded hers atop his to keep it in place.

Sully's features seemed to grow paler by the minute. Michaela had exhausted all of her medical knowledge in attempting to keep him stable, but nothing was working.

She felt his pulse. Weaker. He was slipping from her. She choked back her emotions as the reality of his condition began to sink in. Then as she watched his chest, the respiration became slower and irregular. With a slight sigh, he took his last breath.

"Sully," she detected no pulse. "No, please don't go."

Just like that, in a peaceful moment while she held his hand, he left her. Michaela felt as if her heart had stopped, as well. Tears began to stream down her cheeks. It was finished. He was gone, and she felt as if her own life had been sucked away at that instant.

************
Chapter 16
************

Sully opened his eyes and, though the room was dimly lit, he could view everything clearly. He rose from the bed, and to his surprise, was pain free. He touched his chest and saw that the wound had healed. As he pivoted, he heard sobbing. It was Michaela. Why was she so upset, he wondered?

Then he glanced down at a body on the bed beside her. It was his! No. It couldn't be. He reached out to touch his grieving wife but found it impossible. He was too high up. It seemed he was near the ceiling.

Matthew rushed into the room and fell to his knees beside the bed. He gently placed his hand on his mother's back and attempted to draw her away from the body, but Michaela refused to let go. Her tears intensified.

Suddenly, Sully found himself capable of envisioning his whole life and any part of it. He saw himself being born aboard a ship on the Atlantic in the dank conditions of the steerage part of the vessel. He felt warm as his mother tenderly held him. He smiled. How young Ma looks, he thought.

"Byron," a voice stirred him from the scene.

He sensed another presence with him. Instantly, he felt it. His mother.

"Ma," he thrilled. "It's been so long."

"Now we can be together," she smiled.

"Not, yet," he glanced back at Michaela.

"It's your time, son," she beckoned. "Abigail and Hannah are waiting."

"Are they okay?" he hoped.

"They are," she nodded. "And you will join them."

"I can't leave Michaela, Ma," he resisted. "I can't leave my children."

"You must," she guided him to look away.

Sully turned back to his wife. Suddenly, he could feel all that she was feeling. Her heart was breaking. The ache was unbearable. She clutched the hand of the body on the bed.

Sully felt himself being drawn back to Michaela, but again his mother urged him.

"We're going home now," she spoke softly.

He found her voice soothing and let himself rise again. As he did, another scene from his life unfolded. It was the day Katie was born. Michaela was screaming in pain. He had never been so frightened in his life as he cut the umbilical cord. Then his baby girl slid into his hands.... the cherished daughter he had wanted for so long. He began to resist the upward climb.

"Don't be afraid," his mother comforted.

He became aware that they had passed through the ceiling and roof of the room. Upward, he was drawn. The night sky was all around him and yet a part of him. The stars glistened against it, one brighter than the rest.

As he rose higher and higher, that one star began to glow even more blindingly bright. He was compelled to venture even nearer to it.

"Sully!" it was Michaela's voice.

He stopped his movement toward the light. Then he noticed the entire array stars. The words of Michaela's note came to him:

"....I want you to envision each of those shinning points of light as a reason why I love you. Their number is infinite, as is my love."

At that moment, he felt Michaela's lips on his. Like a flash of lightning, he was transported back into the room with her. The lights were no longer visible. Only her, kissing him.

"Michaela!" he reached out to her from the ceiling.

Instantly, he felt the sensation of returning to his body. Then there was blackness again.

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

Michaela's drew back from kissing her deceased husband. She tenderly clasped a lock of his hair, then caressed his face. He looked so peaceful, so pale.

Keeping the bit of tree bark in his palm, she folded his hands across his chest. She suddenly detected a subtle movement. Then his chest began to move with regularity.

"Matthew!" she exclaimed. "He's alive!"

"What?" the young man edged closer to look. "You're right!"

"Oh, God," she felt her spirits lift. "Thank you."

"He's gonna be okay, Ma," the son assured her.

She lifted Sully's hand and kissed it, "If only he would waken."

They sat quietly for several minutes as she assessed the stability of his condition. His vital signs were miraculously returning to normal.

"Ma?" Brian stood at the entrance to the room.

"Brian!" she rose and rushed to him. Hugging him, she pulled back to ask, "Are you all right?"

"Yea," he glanced past her. "What about Pa?"

"We almost lost him a moment ago," her voice trembled.

"I.... I gotta tell ya somethin'," he swallowed.

"No," she touched his cheek.

"Please, Ma," he insisted. "Ya don't understand."

"I know what happened," she spared him.

"Ya do?" he wondered. "How?"

"I told her," Matthew confessed. "I'll leave you t' talk. Welcome back, little brother."

As her oldest son exited, Michaela took Brian's hand and guided him to sit beside Sully. "Tell your father you're here."

He resisted, "I.... I don't think I...."

Michaela rubbed his back, "I believe he can hear us, Brian."

He wiped his reddened eyes, then looked down at the motionless body on the bed, "Pa, it's me, Brian. If ya can ever forgive me for what happened.... I just want ya t' know, I took the supplies t' Little Wolf. Robert E came with me. I thought it was what you'd have wanted."

Michaela smiled, "He's very proud of you. We both are."

He looked up, "How can you be proud o' me, Ma? This is all my fault. Ya must blame me for...."

She tensed, "No."

He read more into her expression, "You an' Pa were right about war an' not wantin' me t' follow along with the Army. But I had t' go off thinkin' I knew what was best."

"Brian," her heart went out to him. "You did what you thought was right."

"An' look what happened," he glanced at his father.

"You must be exhausted," she noticed. "Why don't you get some rest?"

"I don't think I can," he shook his head.

"Go on," she encouraged. "I'll inform you if there's any change."

"All right," he relented.

He kissed her, then touched Sully's hand. After her son exited, Michaela returned to the chair beside her husband.

"Sully," she whispered.

There was no response. Exhausted herself, she leaned her head next to his. Closing her eyes, she began to pray anew.

Then it happened. With her fingers linked in his, they fidgeted slightly.

She sat up. Soon his eyelids began to move, and he uttered a slight moan.

"Sully!" her heart leapt. "Can you hear me?"

"Mmmicha...." he attempted.

"Yes," she kissed him repeatedly. "I'm here."

Then she reached for her stethoscope. Checking his heartbeat and pulse, she filled with relief.

"Wha...." he struggled to open his eyes.

"You're in an Army fort," she explained.

"Thirsty," his mouth was dry.

She quickly poured a glass of water and, elevating his head slightly, allowed him to take a few sips.

His thoughts became clearer, "I.... I left for a spell."

"What?" she was puzzled.

"I could see you cryin'.... my body lyin' here on the bed...." he related. "But I was goin' toward the stars."

"You were dreaming," she assumed.

"No," he knew better. "I died."

"You.... did," she felt a chill at the memory.

"I was up there 'round the ceilin' watchin' everythin'," he detailed. "Then my Ma came t' me. Wanted me t' go with her. Told me I'd be with her an' ..."

"And Abigail?" she assumed.

"Yes," he winced in pain.

"I'll give you some morphine," she reached for her bag.

"No," he grasped her hand. "I wanna stay awake."

"But you're in pain," Michaela prepared the injection.

"Please," he requested. "I can handle it. You brought me back, Michaela.... again."

"But.... I didn't do anything," she recalled.

"Yes, ya did," he eyed her intently. "You kissed me."

"You felt that?" she was amazed.

"Yep," he smiled slightly.

"So it was rather like the Snow White story in reverse," she observed.

"'Cept, I ain't no Prince," he quipped.

She brushed a lock of hair from his forehead, "You're quite wrong. You are my prince, Mr. Sully."

The intensifying pain reflected in his voice, "Kids okay?"

"They're all here," she stated.

"They are?" he was surprised. "Brian, too?"

Michaela could no longer stand to see him struggle with the discomfort. As she began to fill him in on the events following his shooting, she gave him a shot of morphine.

"I told ya not t' do that," he frowned.

"I'm the doctor, remember?" she pointed out.

"I'm the husband, remember?" he retorted.

"Yes," she softly kissed him. "I remember."

The drug began to work, and his expression calmed.

"Can I see the kids?" he requested.

"I'll send for them," she stood up.

"Michaela," he beckoned her back.

"What?" she was concerned.

"I love you," he attempted a smile.

She rested her lips on his forehead, "And I love you."

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

"Still no word about Sully," Horace expressed to the group gathered at Grace's for morning coffee.

"I reckon no news is good news," Dorothy contributed.

"I knew something like this would happen to him eventually," Preston spoke disapprovingly. "I'm surprised he's weathered this many brushes with death."

"Good thing he's got Dr. Mike," Horace observed.

"Yes," Preston's voice was sarcastic. "Not only someone to piece him back together, but someone to support him financially."

"You ever let up?" Loren glared at him.

"I would think you, of all people, could understand my mistrust of the man's slovenly ways," Preston responded. "From what I understand about his actions toward your daughter...."

"You leave Abigail out o' this," Loren grew angry. "Ain't none o' your business."

Hank decided to enter the conversation, "Hey, Preston, get any antlers for your hotel?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," he stood taller. "They will decorate the lobby."

"Oooh," Hank pretended. "Sounds excitin'."

"Scoff if you will," Preston said. "It will far outshine any other resort in Colorado."

"Far outshine more than your other outshinin' Chateau?" Hank barbed.

"I better get t' the Depot," Horace placed a coin on the table for his coffee. "First train's due in shortly."

"Keep us posted, Horace," Dorothy requested.

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

Jake stood at the Depot, his suitcase at his feet. He glanced down at his trembling hand. As he attempted to steady it, he heard a voice.

"Jacob," Teresa stood holding Maria. "We have come to see you off."

He quickly hid his hand, "That's nice o' ya. Don't ya need t' be at school?"

"I have a few minutes," she said.

"Hold me, Papa?" Maria requested.

"Sure thing, darlin'," he smiled and took his little girl into his arms.

"Do you know when you will return?" Teresa questioned.

"No," he caressed his daughter's cheek. "But I left the address where I can be reached at the shop."

"I shall pray for you," Teresa offered.

"Thanks," he replied. "I.... I just wanna say, I really do love ya, Teresa."

She took a deep breath, "I love you, too."

He felt a burden lift, "Ya do? Even after...."

"I forgive," she allowed. "But I do not forget."

"I guess that's more than I deserve," Jake heard the train whistle.

"Thank you for doing this, Jacob," she knew it was difficult for him.

"I'm doin' it for you," he spoke sincerely. "For us. I love my family."

"Good bye, then," she lifted up slightly to kiss him.

He deepened it, then drew back, "Bye."

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

Sully eyed Brian, who sat near him feeling awkward.

"Your Ma told me ya got the supplies t' the Cheyenne," Sully's voice was weak.

"Me an' Robert E," he nodded.

"Thanks," Sully acknowledged.

"That's all right," Brian looked down.

"You been writin' in your journal?" Sully attempted to lighten his son's mood.

"Little bit," the young man answered. "I wrote about meetin' Little Wolf."

"What did ya think o' him?" Sully was curious.

"He's a real determined man," the son commented. "I hope they make it t' their home."

Sully wanted to comfort his son, "Brian, what happened.... it was an accident."

He leaned over and buried his face in his hands, "I could've killed ya, Pa."

"But ya didn't," Sully reminded. "I'm still here."

Brian's eyes were red, "It wasn't anythin' like I thought it would be."

"That's the way war is," the father counseled. "Young men goin' off thinkin' it'll be the most glorious experience o' their lives, but then....."

"But those soldiers believe in what they're doin'," he interrupted.

"That's the only way a soldier can kill," Sully described. "They gotta believe in what they're doin'. Gotta believe that it's for a good cause."

"The Army thinks an Indian shot ya with a stolen gun," Brian informed him.

"No one needs t' know different," he assured him.

The young man felt a lump in his throat, "Can you forgive me, Pa?"

"Nothin' t' forgive," Sully smiled.

"I'm not so sure Ma feels that way," Brian confessed. "She says she does, but...."

"Give her time," he began to feel drowsy. "She don't blame ya, Brian. She was just scared."

"We all were," the son added.

"If ya don't mind," Sully paused. "I'm kinda sleepy."

"Sure," Brian stood. "Get some rest."

"'Fore I do," he requested. "Could ya get Katie for me?"

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

Brian held his little sister's hand as he escorted her into Sully's room.

"He's sleepin', Bran," she whispered.

"Not yet, Kates," Sully opened his eyes. "How's my sweet girl?"

"Better now that you're okay, Poppy," her face brightened.

"I got somethin' for ya," Sully weakly raised his hand.

"What is it?" Katie watched closely.

"This," he revealed the tree bark. "Just want ya t' know it worked."

Her eyes widened as she accepted, "It did?"

"Yep," his eyelids grew heavier.

Katie leaned over and kissed Sully's cheek, "I'm glad, Poppy."

"What is it, Katie?" Brian questioned.

"Just somethin' t' remind him of a special day," she stroked her sleeping father's arm.

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

After a week's convalescence at Fort Wallace, Sully was able to return to Colorado Springs with his family. Michaela monitored her husband's wound closely, concerned about infection. His appetite increased, as did his strength.

By the fourth week of their return, Sully was quickly becoming his old self. Bridget and the children relished in pampering him as he convalesced. But there was still a certain tension between Michaela and Brian. Sully noticed. When Michaela was upset about something, she would always busy herself with mundane matters. He hoped to rectify the situation.

"Michaela," he watched from the bed as his wife busily folded baby clothes.

"Umm?" she did not look up from her task.

He leaned forward and reached for her hand, "Sit with me?"

"I have so much to do, Sully," she kept working. "The children are finally asleep and.... Are you having any discomfort?"

"Not exactly," he answered.

She stopped, "What is it? Is your incision bothering you?"

"Could ya please stop what you're doin' an' talk t' me?" he sounded almost like a little boy.

She mused at his expression, "Of course."

"Here," he patted the bed next to him.

She positioned herself beside him, "All right."

"That's better," he grinned. "I wanted t' tell ya about a job offer I got t'day."

"Job offer?" she tensed.

"Nothin' dangerous," he assured.

"What is it?" she became curious.

"Workin' for the General Land Office," he informed her.

"What do they do?" she relaxed.

"Survey, manage an' dispose o' public lands," he noted. "It's part o' the Interior Department. They also administer t' the Preemption Acts, Homestead Laws, an' all legislation affectin' public lands."

"Are you going to take it?" she questioned.

"I wanted t' talk t' you about it," he answered. "I'd have t' travel some."

"I see," she nodded. "If... if it's something that you want to do, then, by all means, accept."

"I think it would help me protect the land," he stated. "I could have a say in how it's transferred from public ownership."

She turned up the corner of her mouth, "Then it's settled."

Sully stroked her arm and kissed her shoulder.

Michaela tried to contain her reaction, "Sully. Bridget might walk by."

"Then close the door," he whispered.

"I really don't think you should be...." she stopped when he began to toy with the buttons on her blouse.

Without breaking her gaze on him, she slipped from the bed and shut the door. Then she returned to him.

"That's better," he smiled.

"What if the babies waken?" she attempted to resist him.

"You not wantin' us t' do this?" he stopped.

"It's not that," she lowered her gaze.

"Why don't ya tell me what's botherin' ya?" he probed.

"Nothing's bothering me," she hesitated.

"Hey," he lifted her chin with his finger. "I know better. Is it Brian?"

"I feel... as if he's uncomfortable around me," Michaela communicated. "How is that possible, Sully? He's our son, whom we've nurtured and loved. Why can't he talk about what's bothering him?"

"Do ya think he might believe ya blame him for the shootin'?" he proposed.

"But... I told him I don't," she worried.

"Maybe he feels guilty for not listenin' t' ya in the first place," he tried again. "Any way ya look at it, he don't wanna face ya."

"But I'm his mother," she said. "He's always been able to tell me things.... ever since he was a little boy."

"Maybe that's it then," he gauged her expression. "What if he thinks ya still consider him a boy?"

"I don't know," she was uncertain.

"Only one way t' find out for sure," Sully noted. "You two gotta talk."

"He's spending the evening in town with Matthew," she sighed. "He's been doing a great deal of that lately."

"Avoidin' things," he rubbed his chin.

She turned to look more fully at him, "Have I told you lately how happy I am to have you home?"

He mocked surprise, "Well, ya finally noticed me."

"What do you mean?" she was puzzled.

"Been doin' all that busy work rather than spend time with your sick husband," he folded his arms. "Ya oughta be a...."

She stopped him by placing her lips fully on his. As she ran her fingers through his hair, he savored her scent.

"Still feeling sick?" she spoke low near his ear.

"I'm kinda gettin' invigorated," he enfolded her in his arms.

Michaela tensed suddenly and inexplicably, fearful that she could not follow through.

"Your chest," she did not wish to press against him.

"It's workin' just fine," he ran his finger along her mouth. "These are the lips that brought me back t' life. Your sweet, sweet lips."

The timbre of his tone stirred powerful longings in her.

He observed with a smile the effect he was having on her. As his hand roamed, he recited:

"Sweet voice, sweet lips, soft hand, and softer breast."

"Your words or those of a poet?" she melted.

"Keats," he cited.

"Sully," the lilt in her voice aroused him. "I don't want to hurt you."

"We'll go real slow," he invited. "Lovin' you could never hurt me, Michaela."

"You don't understand," she stopped herself. "We can't do this now."

"But...." he paused. "Is there somethin' ya ain't tellin' me?"

************
Chapter 17
************

"Michaela," Sully touched the tear on her cheek. "What's wrong?"

"I... I told you that this could hurt you," she pulled away from him.

He sensed there was more, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean t'...."

"No," she feared he misunderstood. "I want us to be together. But if anything would happen... I.... I could never bear to lose you again."

"Shhh," he kissed her temple. "I'm fine. I really am. Look."

He turned to show her the scar on his chest. She touched it tenderly.

Sully took her hand and kissed her palm, "I think there's more than just Brian that's botherin' ya."

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"There some medical reason why ya don't want us t' make love?" he questioned.

She did not reply.

"Michaela," his voice was more insisting. "Ya gotta be honest with me."

"I simply think it's too soon," she stated.

"Okay," he leaned back.

She regretted her tone, "I didn't mean that I don't want to."

He sensed she was drawing away from him, "I respect your feelin's. It's okay. I can wait."

"Wait?" she was puzzled.

"Wait for you t' work things out," he loved the way the lamplight made her look. "Ya got a lot o' feelin's t' deal with. Brian.... me."

"I do adore you, Sully," she felt compelled to tell him.

"I know," he smiled.

"Thank you for understanding," she rose from the bed.

"Can't ya even stay next t' me t'night?" he said.

"Of course," she nodded. "I want to check on the children, then I'll be back."

"Okay," he forced a smile.

As she opened the door and departed, Sully rolled onto his side. It was then that he noticed a piece of the headboard missing. He ran his hand along the rough edge. It could be sanded, he thought, but what caused it? Then he heard his wife's footsteps return.

"They're fine," Michaela whispered. She noticed his observation of the marred wood, "You found it."

"What happened?" he was curious.

"Josef carved it with your knife," she began to prepare for bed.

"What?" he was incredulous.

Michaela explained, "He saw that Katie had a piece of the tree beneath which she was born, and...."

"Oh," he grinned. "He wanted somethin' t' remember where he was born."

She finished with her nightgown, "You can smile about it?"

"Not that he was destructive," he replied. "But his reason for it."

"How do you do it, Sully?" she began to brush her hair.

"Do what?" he inquired.

"How do you forgive so easily?" she specified. "I find myself becoming upset, holding onto things."

"I do, too," he came back. "You know that better than anyone. But I reckon it depends on how big the situation is. The mischief of our little boy.... How can we be upset with that?"

"This is more than an impish act," she paused. "And there's more to it that I haven't told you."

"What?" he was interested.

"I took Katie and Josef to the Slickers' one day," she detailed. "Josef ventured over to the smoldering ruins and was nearly killed by a falling beam."

He grew concerned, "Sounds like ya had your hands full."

"I know that he's mischievous," she admitted. "And I wouldn't change him for the world, but.... when his behavior becomes destructive or dangerous to his own well being...."

"I'll have a talk with him t'morrow," he interjected.

"And... I'll speak with Brian," she pledged.

His eyelids grew heavy. Michaela watched and lightly rested her hand upon his shoulder as sleep claimed him. She vowed then and there to never take for granted the precious sound of his lungs as they breathed in life's air.

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

"You are looking much better than the last time I saw you," Cloud Dancing smiled.

"I got a good doctor," Sully returned.

"She gave you the blood of life," the medicine man informed him.

"What?" Sully was unsure.

"A transfusion," he answered. "Just as you once gave your blood to save my life."

"Michaela gave me her blood?" Sully was moved.

"Yes," he nodded. "Your bond is even stronger now."

Cloud Dancing noticed Sully's staring at the family photograph above the homestead mantle.

"The house is quiet without them," the medicine man smiled.

"Babies are upstairs," Sully pointed. "Won't be quiet much longer once they're awake."

"There is something troubling you," the Cheyenne came to the point.

Sully admitted, "It's Michaela an' Brian."

"There is tension," he suspected.

"She's gonna talk t' him t'day," Sully informed him. "Try t' work things out."

"That is good," Cloud Dancing nodded. "Their hearts are still heavy from what has happened."

"I think you're right," he nodded.

Sully's silence tipped the medicine man that there was something else on his mind.

"There is more," Cloud Dancing assumed.

"More?" Sully wondered.

"Between Michaela and you," the medicine man detected.

Sully folded his hands, "Some things she just ain't ready for yet."

"She almost lost you," Cloud Dancing reminded. "She is frightened."

"Frightened of me?" Sully's brow creased.

"Frightened of what her heart feels when she is with you," the Cheyenne glanced at the feather which his wife had given to Michaela before Washita. "It is always a challenge to understand a woman."

"What can I do t' convince her that everythin's okay?" he wondered.

"When her heart is at peace, things will be as they should," the medicine man predicted.

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

"An' Jake went off t' Illinois for a cure," Dorothy finished telling Michaela upon her return to her medical practice. "Dr. Keeley's clinic."

"I've read about his work," Michaela recognized. "I'm not so certain about the medical validity of his cure, however. I can't believe so much has happened."

"Ya had a lot more important matters t' worry about," the redhead acknowledged. "Things gettin' back t' normal yet?"

Michaela sighed, "Normal? With my family, I hardly know what that is anymore."

Dorothy was surprised, "It ain't like you t' think that way, Michaela."

She rose and went to her medical cabinet. Opening it, she began to straighten the bottles so that their labels faced forward.

"What is it?" the friend inquired. "What's got ya upset? Sully's gettin' better, ain't he?"

"Yes," she finally stopped. "He's much improved."

"Then why don't ya got that glow ya get when he's home an' healthy?" Dorothy teased.

"Healthy," Michaela's eyes saddened.

"You said he's much improved," Dorothy perceived otherwise.

"Yes," she acknowledged. "He has remarkable resilience."

"That's because o' you," the redhead knew. "So what are ya frettin' about?"

Michaela hesitated, then folded her hands. She wanted to tell her friend the whole truth, but was uncertain about what that really was.

Then, she spoke softly, "Brian and I hardly speak anymore."

"Why not?" she was confused. "School keepin' him too busy?"

"No," Michaela sighed.

"He's at The Gazette right now," she said. "Why don't ya go over an' talk?"

"I have much to do here," Michaela fumbled for an excuse.

"Ya can't fool me," Dorothy took her hands. "Now go talk t' your son."

"All right," she nervously glanced out the window.

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

Thinking his father was napping, Josef tiptoed into his parents' bedroom and headed directly for the cribs. Clasping the rungs, the little boy peered at one baby, then the other. He was frustrated that they were sleeping, and he was awake.

Sully cleared his throat, "How they doin', Joe?"

"'Kay," he put his hands in his pockets. "Can we pway with 'em?"

"Not right now," Sully sat up.

"You feel better, Papa?" Josef climbed up beside his father.

"Yep," he touched his son's nose. "A lot better. Just need a nap now an' then."

"Like the babies," the child offered.

"So, big boy," Sully searched for the right words. "Anythin' happen while I was gone that ya wanna tell me about?"

Josef pondered, "Like what?"

"Like gettin' int' trouble," Sully broached the subject.

Josef looked contrite, "Oh, yea."

"Go on," Sully rubbed his back.

"I go where Mama tell me not," he confessed. "An'...."

"And?" Sully waited.

The little boy shook his head, "I lose pokles over that one."

The father stifled a laugh, "Anythin' else?"

Josef struggled with his conscience, "I... use knife."

"My knife?" Sully already knew. "The sharp one?"

"Uh huh," he could not look his father in the eye.

Sully guided him, "Then what, Joe?"

"I cut bed," he pointed, then placed his finger in his mouth.

"I reckon ya thought it was a good idea," Sully surmised.

"I didn' think, Papa," he frowned.

"If ya would've thought it a little bit, ya wouldn't have done it, huh?" the father questioned.

"Nope," Josef was certain.

"Why's that?" Sully continued.

"It maked Mama weal mad!" the child revealed. "She yell, an' babies cwy."

"Come here," Sully tucked him closer. "Know what you're gonna do?"

"What?" Josef was curious.

"You're gonna help me fix it," he stated.

"Can I?" his little face brightened.

"Yep," Sully tickled him playfully.

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

"Brian?" Michaela stood at the doorway of The Gazette. "If you're busy, I can come back later."

He glanced up from his writing, "No, that's all right."

She steeled herself, "What are you working on?"

"Article for Miss Dorothy on Matthew's trip t' New York," he set down his pen.

"That should be very interesting," she smiled.

He shrugged, "Better than writin' about Preston's new hotel."

"Dorothy told me about that," she ran her hand nervously along the printing press. "I... was wondering if you'll be joining us for supper tonight?"

He delayed, "I... I don't know. I got a lot t' do an'...."

"Brian," her heart went out. "This isn't like us. You and I shouldn't feel uncomfortable around one another. Is there something I can say or do to convince you that....."

He interjected, "I know things have been tense, Ma. It's just I feel so guilty. An' I wouldn't blame ya if ya never wanted t' see or hear from me again."

She touched his hand, "I could never want such a thing. You're my son."

"You always treated me that way," he swallowed hard. "But I feel like I don't deserve that anymore."

"Oh, Sweetheart," she cupped her hand to his cheek. "We all make mistakes. We learn from them and go on. But I don't blame you for what happened, Brian. Your actions and motives were for entirely noble reasons."

He sighed, "If Pa wouldn't have lived...."

She spoke up, "We are very blessed that Sully is alive and growing stronger each day. He IS alive, and that's what matters."

"I guess I had a fool notion that I could somehow make a difference in this world, especially in how the Indians are treated," he sighed.

"Never underestimate the power of words, Brian," she advised. "You and your writing can make a difference. I'm certain of it."

"Maybe I can stop by for supper," he glanced up.

"I know some children who would be absolutely delighted," she beamed.

"I miss bein' around them.... and you," he said.

"I love you, Brian," her eyes moistened.

He rose from the desk and embraced her, "I love you, too."

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

"There," Sully smiled at the headboard.

"We do good, Papa," Josef wiped his brow.

"Now," Sully lifted him to sit on the bed. "There's somethin' we gotta talk about."

"What?" the child rocked back and forth.

"Hold still, Joe," Sully sat beside him. "We gotta talk about what ya did."

The little boy stopped his motion.

"Ya know it was wrong," the father advised. "An' ya know the headboard will never look the same."

"But it look okay," Josef pointed out.

"Joe, sometimes bad things we do can't be fixed so easy," Sully counseled. "From a distance, it looks like the headboard's okay."

"Uh huh," he agreed.

"But if ya look closer or run your hand along the edge, ya can tell different," the father explained. "When somethin's damaged, it's forever."

"Not you, Papa," Josef pointed. "You shot."

"I'll always have a scar here, Joe," Sully pointed to his chest. "The important thing is that we try t' stay outa trouble. It sorta found me, I guess."

"Me, too," the little boy nodded.

"No," Sully informed him. "You made your own trouble."

"I did?" he tilted his head.

"If ya thought harder, ya wouldn't have used my knife an' cut the wood 'cause it was wrong," the father rubbed his son's back. "Your Ma an' me don't expect ya t' be perfect, but we do expect ya t' think about what's right an' wrong. An' if you're not sure if somethin's right or wrong, what could ya do?"

"Ask you an' Mama?" he guessed.

"Yep," Sully agreed.

"Okay," the child leaned closer to his father. "I twy, Papa."

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

"Come in," Michaela responded to the Clinic bell.

"Dr. Mike?" Isabel Johnson entered the office. "I had a moment during recess, and wanted to stop by to see how things are going with Sully."

"Please sit down," Michaela offered. "He's doing well, thank you."

"It must have been a terrible scare for you," she observed.

"Yes, we nearly lost him," Michaela glanced down.

"I recall you were going through something similar when I first met you," Isabel remembered.

"That's right," she acknowledged. "When he became ill from the tick bite."

"You're both very fortunate," Isabel commented.

"How about you?" Michaela inquired. "Are you and the Reverend settling into married life?"

"Yes," she smiled. "Though we're quite busy."

"Always find time for each other," Michaela advised.

"Oh, we do," Isabel nodded. "Well, I must return to the school."

"Are the children.... treating you better?" she asked.

"Things are improving, yes," Isabel replied. "In time, perhaps most people will forgive my transgression."

"I do hope so," Michaela stated.

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

"Good dinner, Ma," Brian rubbed his belly.

"Wanna play checkers, Bran?" Katie requested.

"First you must help with cleaning up the dishes, young lady," Michaela reminded. "It's your turn tonight."

"I'll help, too," Brian smiled at his sister.

Matthew questioned, "So Bridget's havin' supper with Loren. How long has this been goin' on?"

"They are simply enjoying one another's friendship with an occasional evening out," Michaela explained. "It's nothing more than that."

"I don't know," Matthew teased. "Ya might be needin' a new nanny soon."

"No!" Josef's eyes widened. "I want Miss Bwidget."

"Shhh, Joe," Sully touched his son. "Matthew's just kiddin'."

"Weally?" he turned to him.

"Come on, little brother," Matthew lifted Josef. "Let's go in' the livin' room an' check on the twins."

"'Kay," Josef grinned. "I show ya bunnies."

As their children left the table, Sully turned to his wife, who seemed preoccupied in deep thought, "Hey."

"Mmm?" she looked up.

"Ya got your whole family here t'night," he smiled. "Don't look very happy about it."

"I am very happy," she protested.

"You an' me are gonna have a little talk," Sully's look was serious.

"We are?" she wondered.

"Yep," he stated. "Later."

************
Chapter 18
************

Michaela and Sully sat near the living room fireplace in the wing back chairs. Holding the twins on their laps, they listened contentedly as their children talked and teased one another.

"An' this how soldiers march," Josef saluted and paraded about the living room for his family.

Michaela explained, "Ever since he saw them drilling at the fort, he's been imitating."

"I wish all they did was march," Brian remarked tensely.

"We've been learnin' a song in school," Katie changed the subject.

"What song's that?" Sully was grateful for the new topic.

"Beautiful Dreamer," the little girl announced.

"Sing for us, Kates," the proud father requested.

As the child began to melodiously sing, her parents smiled. When she was finished, everyone applauded, and Noah bounced up and down.

"This little boy wants another song," Sully chuckled.

"I know more," Katie offered.

"Please, go on then," Michaela kissed the top of Annie's head.

It had been weeks since the homestead was filled with such warmth and laughter. Michaela glanced about the room, relishing the atmosphere she had missed.

Sully noted her expression and smiled at her. She instantly perceived that he felt the same way. It was upon this scene that Bridget entered the house.

"Well, if I'd known I'd be missin' a concert, I wouldn't have left," the nanny chuckled.

"How was your evening?" Michaela raised an eyebrow.

"Quite nice," the woman smiled.

"Have a seat," Sully rose for her. "Katie was about t' sing another song."

"Don't mind if I do," she sat.

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

Teresa sat pensively brushing her hair. It had been over four weeks since her husband departed, and though she had received several letters from him, she could not help but miss him. Lifting her pen, she began to make notes on what she would do in the next day's lessons.

"Teresa," Jake's voice startled her.

"Jacob," she rushed to him and threw her arms around his neck.

"Good t' see ya," he kissed her.

Then he inquired, "How's Maria doin'?"

"She has missed her father," she noted.

"How 'bout you?" he hoped.

"I.... I have missed him, as well," she confessed.

"I brought ya somethin'," he opened his suitcase.

Teresa studied his appearance as he retrieved the package. Gone were the bags beneath his eyes and the jaundiced complexion. Now he appeared robust and.... she had never seen him in such good health.

"Why ya starin'?" he questioned.

"You are looking very good," she returned.

"Thanks," he smiled. "Feel good, too. Here, this is for you."

Teresa opened the package to discover a dress, "It is beautiful."

"Just like you," he commented. "Blue's your favorite color. When I saw it, I knew it was for you."

"You are very kind, Jacob," she began to relax around him.

"Think it would be okay t' wake Maria?" he requested. "I got somethin' for her, too."

"I believe she will like that," she smiled at his anxiousness.

Teresa led Jake into their daughter's bedroom. When he roused the little girl, her eyes widened. Sweetly kissing her, he raised her into his arms. Suddenly, he thought of what little Josef Sully told him, "Just love them." The words of a child rang so meaningfully to him at that moment.

"Teresa," he turned to his wife. "I know I got a long way t' go t' win back your trust, but I promise ya, I'm gonna try."

"And I promise I shall try, too," she pledged.

"That's a good start," he smiled.

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

Brian felt comfortable back in his room at the homestead. He spotted the journal sitting on his desk. Sighing, he reached for it. He had not written in it since the night he and Robert E returned to Fort Wallace.

The encouragement and forgiveness of his parents had again stirred his interest in writing. He began to furiously put down on paper every detail of the battle he had witnessed. Each stroke of the pen was a catharsis for him. Finally, he attempted to draw some conclusions from the traumatic experience. Pondering further how to put into words the powerful emotions he held, he wrote:

"I sit here contemplating the events of the past few weeks, and it seems a lifetime ago that I went off to chronicle my travels with the Army. What have I learned?

I have learned that when a boy has to fight to prove he's a man, he's not a man. I've learned that the forgiving look in a mother's eyes is a warm gift. I've learned that the giggles of children can cure most any feeling of sadness. And I have learned that the love of family is a treasure beyond measure.

And what about the Army? The men I met were sincere, for the most part, but they are killing innocent people according to the misguided policies of our government. If I am going to make a difference in this country, I do not think it will be possible to do so from Colorado Springs. Do I leave my family and head East to pursue a career in journalism? This is a question I'm going to have to think about long and hard."

He closed the book as his eyelids grew heavy. Turning out the lamp, he stretched out on his bed and soon let sleep claim him.

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

"Go on up t' bed, Dr. Mike," Bridget encouraged. "I'll finish straightenin' up down here."

"No," Michaela was in no hurry. "It will go more quickly with two of us."

"I'd think you'd wanna spend every free second ya could with Sully," the nanny said.

Instantly, Michaela felt a pang of guilt, "Yes, I do."

"Go on then, dearie," she urged. "When ya got a man like that, a clean kitchen don't matter."

Michaela blushed, "Good night, Bridget. Thank you."

"Good night, lass," she winked.

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

Michaela stopped at Brian's door. Softly opening it, she observed her son sleeping peacefully. Her heart filled with relief to have him home again. Then quietly, she tiptoed down the hall to look in on Katie and Josef. Both slumbered sweetly. She insured that their blankets were in place, then left them.

When she entered her bedroom, Sully was in the double rocking chair holding the twins. Each baby was spooned with their tummies against his chest as he rocked back and forth.

"Could use some help from their Ma," he whispered.

"Why didn't you tell me they were awake?" she joined him in the chair.

"They weren't awake," he grinned. "I just wanted t' hold 'em."

"Here," she reached for Noah.

The little boy yawned, then adapted to his mother's arms without waking.

"I thought you might be asleep," she commented to her husband.

"Or hoped I might be," he amended.

"What do you mean?" she challenged.

"Wouldn't have t' talk t' me if I was sleepin'," he returned.

"Sully...." she hesitated. "Perhaps it would be better to not...."

"No," he was direct. "We need t' talk this out now. Everythin's fine until we're alone in our bedroom."

She was surprised at his attitude, "I'm quite tired tonight."

His tone softened, "Michaela, we can't go on like this without discussin' what's eatin' at ya."

She stood up and took Noah to his crib. Tenderly, she set the infant down and stroked his back. Then she walked to the window. Sully placed Annie in her crib, then approached his wife.

She heard him near but did not turn. The stars were clearly visible, and she found herself wishing upon the brightest.

"That's what I saw," he leaned against the sill. "When.... when I died. I saw the stars an' thought about what you wrote in your note."

"You read it?" she recalled the blood that saturated it.

"Night after I left," he nodded. "Ya said each star was a reason why ya love me."

She spoke with the lilt he adored, "More than I can count."

"Infinite," he remembered.

She pivoted to face him, "I'm sorry, Sully. I haven't felt like...."

"Ya got your reasons," he presumed.

"If you'll excuse me," she stepped away. "I think I'll prepare for bed."

"Fine," he sighed.

She regretted her remark and returned to him. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she leaned her head against his chest. Sully kissed the top of her head as he stroked her hair.

"Talk t' me," he whispered. "Tell me what's happenin' inside ya."

"I don't ever want to feel that way again," she began to let her tears flow more freely. "When you died, I felt as if my life were over. And the connection that I've always felt, even after you fell from the cliff.... it was broken."

"I'm sorry," he felt his own emotions swell.

"Oh, Sully," her body trembled. "Why do I feel this way? You're fine now and home with me."

It broke his heart to see her in such anguish, "'Cause you're scared. It's easier t' put up a wall so ya don't get hurt again."

"I don't want to put up a wall between us," she insisted.

"Come on," he massaged her shoulders, then led her back to the rocking chair.

As they sat, she tilted her head against his arm, "It was wonderful to have Brian and Matthew with us this evening. And now to have Brian in his room again."

"Yep," he smiled slightly. "You an' him must've had a good talk."

"Yes, we came to an understanding," she admitted. "He still feels very guilty, however."

"Speakin' o' guilty," he grinned. "I explained a few things t' Josef."

"I assumed you did," she chuckled. "He apologized several times this evening for his behavior."

"We sanded an' polished the headboard," he pointed. "Got it lookin' pretty good."

She nodded, "He showed me."

He slipped his arm around her shoulders, "I was thinkin' about what ya said earlier. Believin' our connection was broken?"

"I don't know if...." she was interrupted by his finger on her lips.

"It was our connection that brought me back, Michaela," he admitted. "I was feelin' everythin' you felt. The overwhelmin' ache in your heart."

"Yes," she nodded. "That's exactly what it was."

"An' I could see any event in my life I wanted," he resumed. "Even saw myself bein' born. My Ma holdin' me for the first time."

Michaela was mesmerized by his story.

"But it was when I saw Katie's birth again that I stopped risin'," he paused. "Much as the bright light was leadin' me toward it, I couldn't go. I couldn't leave you. The hold ya have on me drew me back."

Tears trickled down her cheeks as she listened.

"The connection ain't broken, Michaela," he spoke low. "If it was, I'd feel it, too."

"Just now, when you mentioned the bright light...." she paused.

"Yea?" he waited.

"I saw it, too," she realized.

"Ya did?" he was surprised.

"When I closed my eyes after thinking you had died," she recalled. "I lay my head next to yours.... and I saw it."

"That's amazin'," he said. "Almost like your spirit was comin' with me."

"Yes," her memory was vivid. "I felt as if my very soul were leaving me."

They both sat in stunned silence at the revelation.

"Cloud Dancin' told me ya gave me your blood t' save my life," he clasped her hand. "Don't ya see? Our bond's even stronger now."

"I've been turning away from it then," she felt ashamed.

"No," he kissed her temple. "Ya been absorbin' all that's happened. Ya went through somethin' terrible."

"You suffered the loss of a spouse before," she reminded. "I don't know how you went on."

"I ran an' hid for a lot o' years," he acknowledged. "Then I met you."

She smiled slightly, "You were very gruff with me."

"Was not," he grinned. "Just thought ya might be a little too full o' yourself."

"Full of myself?" she pretended to be offended.

He toyed with a lock of her hair, "But I never did see a more beautiful woman in my life."

She stirred at the warmth of his words.

Sully went on, "With the prettiest hair I ever saw."

As he lightly touched her tresses, she felt powerful longings escalate in her. This time, she did not resist her feelings.

"And you were the most handsome man, with the bluest eyes I'd ever seen," she whispered. "Sometimes I was afraid you could see directly into my soul."

"We come a long way, Michaela," he captured her with those eyes.

"And I can't let my insecurities hinder us," she added.

"Ya got no reason t' be insecure around me," Sully pledged. "I'll always love ya, need ya, want ya."

"And I, you," she rested her palm lightly against his cheek.

They commenced a tender kiss. The encounter instantly escalated, triggering more passionate yearnings in both. Casting aside all hesitation, she parted her lips slightly. Sully appreciated the initiative and deepened their contact.

"I love you," she framed his face between her hands.

"I love you, too," he pulled back her long tresses to kiss her neck.

Michaela's pulse raced as he continued to trail his kisses across her flesh. She closed her eyes, savoring his touches.

Then he rose from the chair, bidding her to follow. When he stood beside her at the bed, he slid his hands provocatively up and down her form and recited:

"All that I am is thine,
My body, my heart, my soul."

She attempted to name the poet, "Herrick?"

"Hungerford," he enunciated near her ear.

The warmth of his breath aroused her.

Sully drew back, gazing into her eyes, "You ready for us now?"

At first, she shyly averted looking back, but then she found herself unable to resist, "Yes. Very ready."

The moment she permitted herself to return the look, sparks ignited between them.

Each sat on the edge of the bed, then lay back to position their forms against one another. Slowly and sensuously, they removed the clothing which encumbered their intimacy. Then at last, there was nothing to prevent the consummation of their desires.

As if their souls were aflame, they joined again as one. Weeks of agony and anguish were washed away with the rekindling of their physical ardor. Neither held back from the other, and neither wanted the intimacy to end. Entwined in each other's arms, they were soon breathless from the intensity of their union.

Michaela kissed him repeatedly, "I've missed us."

"Your own fault we waited," he teased.

"Are you going to hold it against me?" she retorted.

"Rather hold you against me," he quipped.

"You truly are well, Mr. Sully," she smiled.

"We both are," he replied.

"I only wish some of our friends were as fortunate," she lamented.

"You're still my best friend, ya know," he rubbed her arm lightly.

"And you're mine," she gazed at him adoringly.

"Let's not think about anybody else right now," he drew her closer. "Just you an' me."

"My favorite topic," she felt secure in his arms.

"You can put that in your book," he offered.

"My book," she sighed. "I don't think I'll ever finish it."

"There's plenty else ya finish just fine," he touched her in a sensitive area.

"Sully," her cheeks reddened.

"It's true," he loved her expression.

"We finish together," she spoke low.

"That's the way it'll be for us," he pondered. "Startin' an' finishin' t'gether."

"I do pray that we finish our days together," she spoke wistfully.

"'Til then, we'll keep on livin' and lovin', raisin' those beautiful children an'...." he paused.

"And what?" she was curious.

"An' never lettin' go o' the connection we got," he kissed her sweetly.

"I won't let go," she avowed.

"Michaela," he was overcome by the love he felt for her. "Would you do somethin'?"

"What?" she anticipated.

"Would ya hold me t'night?" he recalled the request she had made to him before he left.

"No," her eyes gleamed.

"No?" he wondered.

"I won't hold you for so brief a time," she paused. "I shall hold you all of my days."

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

THE END

EPILOGUE

On September 9, 1878, Dull Knife and Little Wolf led what was left of their Cheyenne people from their reservation in the Indian Territory. Their combined band consisted of 89 warriors and 246 women and children. They traveled more than 400 miles, managing to defeat or elude the various Army detachments sent to bring them back (more than 10,000 soldiers were employed for this task).
In October, the Cheyenne crossed the South Platte River of Nebraska, and the followers of Little Wolf and Dull Knife separated. Little Wolf's band headed northwest and surrendered to the Army on March 25, 1879. It was allowed to remain in Montana.
Dull Knife and his people headed for the Red Cloud Agency, unaware that it had been discontinued. On October 23, 1878, he and his people surrendered peaceably to the Army and were imprisoned in nearby Fort Robinson (Nebraska). When they refused to return to Oklahoma, an attempt was made (from January 5, 1879) to starve them into submission, and the Indians were deprived of heat, food, and water.
They broke out of prison on January 9, and, in their dash for freedom, 64 were killed and 78 were eventually recaptured (most of them wounded). Six people, including Dull Knife and surviving members of his family, escaped and made it to the relative safety of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
By this time, public opinion was on the side of the Indians, forcing the Bureau of Indian Affairs to abandon its plans to relocate them, and a reservation was established for the northern Cheyenne on the Tongue and Rosebud rivers, where Dull Knife and his people (fewer than 80 remaining) were finally allowed to settle, rejoining Little Wolf's band.
The flight of the Cheyenne was depicted by Mari Sandoz in her work
"Cheyenne Autumn" (1953).

The American Bar Association was organized at Saratoga Springs, New York on August 21, 1878. In that same year, the Antlers Hotel opened in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In 1879, Dr. Leslie E. Keeley, who had developed an interest in drug addiction during his wartime service, announced he had a discovered a specific remedy for alcohol and drug addictions. That same year, he opened his first clinic, the Keeley Institute, in Dwight, Illinois and began treating patients with his "Double Chloride of Gold Cure."
The general formula of the Keeley cure remains unknown, so its legitimacy is hard to ascertain. Keeley's true legacy may lay in his steadfast promotion of the idea that alcoholism was a specific disease entity that could be cured in a specific physiologic manner, an idea that may have laid the foundation for later treatment strategies such as methadone maintenance and the development of a physiologic models of addiction. Keeley enticed numerous alcoholics into treatment and helped changed public attitudes by emphasizing that "their condition was a product of disease rather than vice."
The extensive camaraderie among Institute inpatients and former patients in Keeley Leagues (support groups) was another legacy and a source of permanent recovery for many. It also may have provided inspiration for founding of Alcoholics Anonymous.



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