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

The Fugitive


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Fugitive
by Debby K

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

Exhausted and bleeding profusely from his injured arm, he made his way down the darkened alley. The town showed no signs of night life other than the smoke and noises emanating from the saloon. He could barely make out the sign above it. Gold Nugget. Maybe he could find refuge there.

"No, gotta get t' a doc," he closed his eyes to weather another wave of pain and nausea. "Gotta get this bullet out."

Then he saw another sign. Medical Clinic. There was no light coming from its windows. He edged closer, concealing himself from the eyes of anyone who might pass by.

"If I can just get inside t' wait it out," his breathing was labored. "The doc can take out the bullet in the mornin'."

Certain that no one could see him, he staggered toward the door and mustered all of his strength to pry it open. Swiftly, he shut it behind him. He found himself in a hallway with steps leading up. Lacking the energy to climb them, he collapsed on the floor.

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

"Josef Michael Sully," Michaela attempted to corral her son for a bath.

The little boy managed to run to the opposite side of the kitchen fireplace with each step his mother took toward him.

"Joe," Sully called from the chair where he held a sweet smelling Katie on his lap.

His father's tone prompted the little boy to cease his fun, and he willingly went to his mother. She lifted him into her arms and kissed his cheek.

"Papa mad?" he whispered.

"Papa wants you to behave yourself," she began to remove his clothing. "As does your mother."

Josef giggled.

"What's so funny, young man?" she placed him in the small tub.

"I like runnin', Mama," he playfully splashed the water.

"Josef," she was becoming drenched. "May I ask that you hold still while I bathe you?"

"'Kay," he began to settle down. "Give Woh bath, too?"

"No," she smiled. "Your father takes care of him."

"Woh smell, Mama," he pointed.

"I'll speak to Papa," she knew her son was right.

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

"Poppy," Katie leaned against her father's shoulder.

"Mmm?" he held her hand.

"Wendell Reed got int' trouble t'day at school," she informed him.

"What did he do?" Sully was interested.

"He talked back t' Mrs. Slicker," the little girl's eyes widened.

"Ya gotta show respect t' your teacher," he rubbed her back.

"I know," she nodded.

"We're learnin' a song," Katie changed the subject.

Sully smiled, "What's it called?"

"I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," she noted.

Michaela called from the kitchen as she lifted her son from the tub, "Can you sing it, Sweetheart?"

As Katie began to sing, Michaela carried Josef into the living room. She vigorously dried his hair to the tune of:

"I'll take you home again, Kathleen
Across the ocean wild and wide
To where your heart has never been
Since you were first my bonnie bride.
The roses all have left your cheek.
I've watched them fade away and die.
Your voice is sad when e'er you speak
And tears bedim your loving eyes."

When she reached the chorus, Brian opened the front door. Katie abruptly stopped and ran to greet her older brother.

"Bran!" she smiled.

Lifting her up, he kissed her cheek, "I heard ya singin' comin' up the steps. Sounds real pretty."

"Thanks," the little girl accepted the compliment.

"Down, Mama," Josef wanted to see his older brother.

"You're still wet," Michaela held him protectively on her lap.

Brian noticed and stepped closer to pat Josef's head.

"Any news from Miss Dorothy an' Cloud Dancin'?" Sully repositioned Katie on his lap again.

"Nothin' t'day," he shook his head.

"It's been nearly four weeks," Sully sighed.

"They'll be back soon, Pa," Brian assured him.

"Your supper is still on the stove, Brian," Michaela began to dress Josef in his nightclothes. "I didn't know what time to expect you."

"Thanks, Ma," he strolled into the kitchen.

"Time for bed now," Michaela carried Josef toward the steps.

Sully silently lifted Katie and followed. Brian said his good nights to them as he sat to enjoy his meal.

"Ya gonna tell us a story, Poppy?" Katie requested when they reached the children's room.

Michaela sensed her husband's somber mood, "Would you like for me to read you something?"

"Papa tell!" Josef chimed in.

Sully glanced at his wife, "It's okay. I'll tell ya 'bout the girl who climbed to the sky."

"Sully," Michaela had a momentary recollection of a story he had told to Brian as a child that prompted the boy to jump from a tree.

"Shhh," Katie lifted her finger to her lips. "Let Poppy tell us."

Taking Josef into his arms, Sully sat on the edge of Katie's bed. Michaela stood back and felt her heart fill with love for him. Each time he held their children, it seemed she fell in love with him all over again. But lately.... she had not permitted herself to act on her feelings.

"Stowy, Papa," Josef glanced up with the same blue of his father's eyes.

"One mornin', several girls of an Arapaho village went out t' gather firewood," Sully began.

"This was once upon a time?" Katie interrupted.

Sully grinned, "Yep. Well, the most beautiful girl in the village was among those who went t' gather the wood. Her name was Sapana. At the foot of a cottonwood tree, she saw a porcupine an' asked the other girls t' help her catch it."

"What that?" Josef raised his eyebrows.

"Ask your Ma," Sully winked.

"Mama?" Katie shifted her glance to her mother.

Michaela responded, "A porcupine is relatively large rodent having stiff sharp erectile bristles mingled with its hair."

"What's that mean?" the little girl turned to her father.

"It's got pointed sharp hair called quills stickin' out o' its skin, an' if ya touch it, it can hurt ya bad," Sully elaborated.

Both children were now wide eyed with attention.

"Why'd they wanna catch it then?" Katie queried.

"Cause they could use the quills t' sew designs on their moccasins," he answered.

"Did they catch it?" the little girl tapped his arm.

He resumed, "The porcupine started climbin' the tree, an' Sapana went up after it."

"She shouldn't do that," Katie cautioned.

"She wasn't as good at listenin' t' her Ma an' Pa as our little girl," he touched her nose.

"An' me," Josef added.

"Well, Joe, we're still workin' on your listenin'," Sully kissed the top of his son's head. "Now, the higher the porcupine went, the higher Sapana climbed, too. Her friends tried t' warn her, but she didn't stop. It seemed t' her like the higher she climbed, the tree sort o' extended itself up even higher. Finally, when she was above the clouds, she saw somethin' above her like a wall, only shining. It was the sky."

"She reached the sky?" Katie was in wonder.

"Yep," Sully nodded. "An' suddenly the tree was gone. She found herself in the middle of a camp circle, an' the porcupine had become an old man. He told her he wanted t' marry her, but she'd have t' work real hard first. He had her scrape an' stretch buffalo hides."

"Did Sapana miss her village?" Katie interjected.

"Yep," Sully raised a sleepy Josef to his chest and rubbed his back. "Every evenin', she sat outside the teepee thinkin' about how t' get home. The sky village was brown an' gray, an' she missed the green trees an' grass o' the earth below."

"Poor Sapana," Katie lamented.

Joseph reached for his mother.

Michaela drew him closer, "Does the story have a happy ending, Papa?"

"Each day when the porcupine man went out t' hunt buffalo, Sapana was supposed t' dig up turnips," Sully went on. "But he warned her not t' dig too deep. One mornin' she found a turnip that was real deep, but with all her strength, she pulled an' it came loose. Sapana looked down int' the hole it left an' ya know what she saw?"

"Gold?" Katie guessed.

"Nope," Sully smiled. "She saw the green earth, an' the rivers, mountains, circle o' teepees an' people walkin' around."

"Did she call down for help?" the little girl was curious.

"No, but she knew then that's why the porcupine man didn't want her t' dig so deep, an' she started thinkin' about how t' get home," Sully stated.

As he continued, Michaela carried their sleeping son to his bed and tucked him under the covers. She brushed back a stray lock of the little boy's hair and kissed his forehead.

"Joey don't last t' the end o' your stories, Poppy," Katie commented.

"I reckon I oughta make 'em shorter then," he quipped.

"No," the child reacted. "I like 'em long."

"Because you like to stay up late," Michaela rejoined them.

"So did she get home?" Katie returned to the topic.

"She started takin' the buffalo hide strips of sinew an' hidin' 'em under her bed 'til she had enough t' tie together int' a rope," Sully described. "One mornin' after the porcupine man went out t' hunt, she took her rope an' went t' the hole she found. She lifted the turnip, widened the hole an' put a stick across it. Then she tied the rope t' it an' tossed the end downward."

"She climbed down t' earth?" Katie concluded.

"Not quite," Sully smiled. "Turns out she didn't make the rope long enough t' reach the trees."

"Uh oh," the child sighed.

"But a buzzard came flyin' along an' told her he'd help her," Sully said. "When she climbed on its back, she was too heavy, an' they started fallin' t' earth too fast."

"Oh, no," Katie was totally enthralled. "Did they hit the ground?"

"Nope," Sully countered. "Just in time, a hawk saw them an' decided t' help. Both the hawk an' the buzzard managed t' help her come back safely t' the ground. Then Sapana went t' her parents' teepee."

"I bet they were happy t' see her," the little girl predicted.

"They sure were," Sully clasped her hand. "An' they were grateful t' the buzzard an' hawk, too. Sapana learned that ya shouldn't do things t' worry your folks."

"Good story, Poppy," the child's eyes shone with love.

The parents listened to her prayers and quietly left the room.

In the hallway, Michaela paused to glance at her husband. Sully noticed and slipped his arm around her waist. She swallowed hard as her heartbeat raced. Then she pulled away.

"Michaela," he drew her back.

Before she could resist, he initiated a tender kiss. She was starting to melt in his arms, but her head took over to counter what her heart longed to do.

"I have some reading I want to do," she said as she walked away.

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

"You hear 'bout that robbery over in Manitou?" Horace asked while Hank poured another sarsaparilla for Jake and him.

"Give me somethin' harder," Loren extended his glass.

Horace continued, "Seems a young man robbed the bank there. They got the money back 'cause he dropped the bag, but he's still on the loose. Sheriff says he was shot in the escape."

"How young is he?" Jake inquired.

"Don't know," Horace replied. "They're gettin' a posse t'gether t' look for 'im."

Hank touched the revolver at his hip, "Be a good idea if the kid didn't show up in Colorado Springs."

"There's a $1000 reward, too," the telegraph operator added.

Hank raised his eyebrows, "Then again, might be a good idea if he did show up here."

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

Sully unbuttoned his shirt, lifted it over his shoulders and began to wash his hands and face. He glanced into the mirror at Michaela's image. She was deep into reading a new medical journal that came special order. He dried off with a towel, then stepped toward the bed.

"Did you lock up?" she spoke without looking up from her reading.

"Yep," he slipped beneath the cool sheets.

He tried to gage her reaction to the nearness of him, "Somethin' interestin' in your journal?"

She immediately became uncomfortable, "No, why do you ask?"

"Ya just seemed real intent on it, is all," his knee touched her thigh.

She immediately moved so the contact was broken. Sully sighed and leaned back to rest his head on his folded hands. It had been like this for the past few weeks. No intimacy. Not much contact with her. In fact, their moment in the hallway earlier had been about as much as Michaela permitted between them for some time.

Sighing again, Sully informed her, "I'm ridin' over t' Manitou t'morrow."

She raised her eyes from the journal, "Just for the day?"

"Yea," he replied. "Should be home around supper time."

"Good," she returned to the reading.

He decided a more direct approach was needed, "Somethin' on your mind?"

"No," she answered a little too quickly in Sully's opinion.

"Nothin' ya wanted t' talk about?" he wondered.

"No," she again immersed herself in the article.

"'Night, then," he rolled onto his side away from her.

Immediately, Michaela felt her heart break. She was pushing Sully away. Her thoughts about their intimacy had become increasingly jumbled, and she did not know how to tell him.

Every time they made love was magical, but each time her monthly came, she felt the overwhelming disappointment that they had not conceived a child. It lowered her esteem for herself as a woman. The stress was taking its toll on her, she was not sleeping well and did not want to burden Sully with it. His words were always reassuring. His touch was gentle, but within herself was growing an overpowering sense of guilt that she was letting him down and failing in her marriage.

She struggled to resist what the nearness of him did to her. Her intense desire for him had not abated, but she fought her instincts to give into them. And.... she was feeling increasingly guilty over that, as well. One thing was certain. She did not want to let down her guard around him. She could not bear the disappointment of her infertility any longer.

"Good night," she returned to the article.

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

"Time for Katie, Mama?" Josef approached his mother as she sat at her desk at the Clinic.

Glancing at her watch, she smiled, "You can't tell time yet, but you certainly have a sense when it comes to your sister, don't you?"

He shrugged. Each school day at around ten o'clock, Teresa Slicker permitted the students to go outside for recess. And each day, Michaela and Josef would walk outside, glance toward the schoolhouse until they spotted Katie and waved to her.

"Come on," she raised the little boy into her arms and touched his cheek to her lips.

She carried him until the school was in sight. There was Katie, sitting and talking to another little girl and boy. She looked up and waved to them.

"Hey, Katie!" Josef called to his sister, unaware that she could not hear him.

"She saw us," Michaela waved back. "Let's return now. We can work on your letters."

"I go shule, Mama?" he raised his eyebrows.

"All too soon, my darling," she said, as they returned to her office.

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

"An' my Poppy said that Sapana returned t' earth on a buzzard an' a hawk," Katie concluded telling Elsie and Wendell the story.

Elsie smiled, but Wendell stood up angrily.

"Your Pa's an Injun lover," he said in disgust.

"What's wrong with that?" the little girl was taken aback.

"They kill white folks," Wendell spoke.

"No, they don't," Katie was offended. "My Poppy an' Mama...."

He cut her off, "An' your Ma oughta be home takin' care o' your brother, 'stead o' pretendin' t' be a doctor."

"Wendell Reed," Elsie stood up for her friend. "Dr. Mike's the best doctor in the world. She helps me an' my brother when we get sick."

"My Pa says she took up with that Injun Sully an' that they lived t'gether 'fore they got married!" his volume was attracting attention from the other students.

Katie had heard enough, "My father lived in the woods, an' my Mama does take care o' my brother."

"Know what that makes you, Katie? A half-breed," Wendell had the last word before turning to reenter the school.

"Don't listen t' him, Katie," Elsie patted her back. "Wendell's just mean. He thinks he can boss us around 'cause he's in third grade."

Katie held her peace and walked back into the school, blushing and hurt at the attention the little boy had drawn to her.

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

"Mama," Josef reached for the door leading into the hallway. "I go up steps?"

"Not right now, Sweetheart," she continued to inventory her medical supplies.

Ignoring his mother's wishes, the little boy dragged a stool over to stand tall enough to reach the knob. Before Michaela knew it, he had opened the door.

"Josef Michael Sully," she went to him. "I told you not to...."

Suddenly, she saw drops of blood on the wooden planks. Holding her son against her bosom, she peered toward the back of the hall. She thought she saw someone lying on the floor.

Michaela carried her son to his playroom, "I want you to stay in here, Josef. Mama has something she must check."

"I check?" he requested.

"No," she set him down. "Play with your toys until I come for you. All right?"

"'Kay," he sat down at the table.

Closing the anteroom door, Michaela took a deep breath, grabbed her medical bag and returned to the hallway.

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

Michaela stared momentarily at the young man lying in a pool of blood. He could not be older than fifteen, she thought to herself. And his resemblance to Matthew at that age was uncanny.

She knelt beside him and felt for a pulse. He was still alive. Examining him for injuries, she found only the bullet hole in his arm. She ripped the material of his sleeve and probed. The young man instantly reacted to the pain it caused.

"Ma?" his throat was dry as he struggled to open his eyes.

"I'm Dr. Michaela Quinn," she began to sterilize the wound.

Again, he was jolted by the pain.

"Do you think you can stand up?" she asked. "It would be better if I could remove this in my office."

"I... I think so," he clinched his teeth as he sat up.

Leaning on Michaela for support, he was able to stagger into her office. Out of breath, he sat on the examining table and leaned back.

"How did this happen?" she opened her instrument case.

"Ma'am," his eyes reflected a certain sadness. "Me an' a friend... we... we was practicin' shootin' our guns, an'...."

"Are you telling me it was an accident?" she sounded skeptical.

"I reckon I can't lie t' ya, seein' as how you're tryin' t' save my life," he smiled faintly.

"How old are you?" she softened her tone.

"Sixteen," he swallowed hard.

"Sixteen years old," she shook her head.

"Please, Dr. Quinn, don't tell no one about this," he implored.

"I can't make such a pledge," she hedged.

"My Ma," he began to tremble slightly. "My Ma would be so ashamed o' me if she knew."

"You still haven't told me how this really happened," she reminded him.

He was becoming more agitated, "Do I have to?"

She did not wish to further upset him, "I'm going to use some chloroform on you now, then remove the bullet."

"Chloroform?" he tried to sit up. "That'll knock me out."

"Yes," she guided him to lie back again. "The pain will be rather intense otherwise."

"Please promise me that ya won't tell no one about this 'long as I'm out then," he begged. "Please, Ma'am."

"All right," she lifted the cloth and poured the chloroform onto it.

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

Sully arrived in Colorado Springs and pulled up his horse at the Livery.

"Hey, Robert E," he greeted the blacksmith.

"Sully," he acknowledged his arrival. "How'd it go over in Manitou?"

"Good," the mountain man nodded. "I appreciate your tellin' me about the work. I got back early an' wanted t' stop by t' thank ya."

"You're welcome," his friend smiled.

Sully said nothing more, but from his demeanor, Robert E could tell there was something on his mind, "How ya been?"

"Okay," Sully glanced toward the ground.

"If somethin's on your mind, I'm here t' listen," the blacksmith wiped his brow.

He sighed, "It's just Michaela an' me ain't been gettin' along real good lately."

Robert E was shocked, "Ya ain't?"

"It's not fightin' or anythin' like that," Sully informed him. "She's just... kinda quiet, is all."

"Maybe Dr. Mike's distracted 'bout somethin'," Robert E speculated.

"You're prob'ly right," Sully ran his hand along his horse's mane.

"You think it's somethin' serious?" Robert E folded his arms.

"Nah," the mountain man dismissed the idea. "It's just hard tryin' t' figure out a woman sometimes."

"You're right about that!" the blacksmith chuckled. "'Specially when they got a mind o' their own."

"Michaela's got that," Sully suddenly felt a little awkward. "Don't know if I should be talkin' like this."

"It's between you an' me, Sully," his friend assured. "I won't tell no one. Oh, did ya hear about that bank robbery yesterday in Manitou?"

"Yea," Sully mounted his horse. "It's all they were talkin' about there."

"I hear they got a posse out lookin' for the boy," he cautioned. "He's armed an' dangerous."

"I'll see ya later," Sully made a clicking sound to urge his horse onward.

"Bye," Robert E watched him as he turned the corner to head for the Clinic.

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

"We eat here, Katie?" Josef asked his sister as they sat at a table near where Grace was preparing the evening menu.

"No. Mama asked Miss Grace t' watch us. She's got a patient at the Clinic," she said somewhat curtly.

Josef tilted his head, confused at her tone of voice, "Ya mad?"

"No, I'm not mad," the little girl folded her arms. "Ya ask too many questions, Joey."

His lower lip curled under, "I sowwy."

She melted at his expression, "It's okay. We gotta wait for Mama now, so try t' be quiet."

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

Michaela checked to see that the stitches held, "Was the climb up the steps too difficult?"

"No, Ma'am," the recovery room bed felt so comfortable to him.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Billy," he only revealed his first name.

"I kept my promise, Billy," she stood beside him. "I told no one you were here while you were unconscious. But now that the bullet is out, and you're in my recovery room, I would like to know how this happened."

"Dr. Quinn," he felt a tear trickle down his cheek. "Did ya ever do somethin' ya were real sorry for an' hoped that it would just go away?"

"I have done things I've regretted," she folded her hands.

"An' did ya ever keep the truth from someone t' protect 'em?" he queried.

She gave no reply, "What is this truth that you want to hide?"

He decided to confess, "I robbed a bank in Manitou."

She took a step back.

He noted her expression, "I ain't dangerous, Dr. Quinn. I swear. I would never hurt anyone. But..."

Again he wiped another tear from his cheek. Michaela began to sympathize with the young man.

"I needed the money so my Ma don't lose our house," he explained. "She's a widow. My Pa just died, an' we got no money left t' pay on the house. I know it ain't right, robbin' a bank, but I couldn't see any other way. When I was makin' my escape, I got shot. They got their money back 'cause I dropped it. I didn't even have a real gun. Just made 'em think I had one in my pocket. Anyway, the bank ain't missin' anythin' now."

Michaela listened with interest, "If you went back to turn yourself in, perhaps the authorities would go easy on you, given your age and...."

"But then my Ma's gonna find out," his jaw tensed at the shooting pain in his arm.

"Does it hurt?" she noticed his reaction.

"Yea, little bit," he stated. "But I gotta get outa here."

She reached for the laudanum, "I want you to take this and spend the night here."

As she administered the medicine, he noticed her wedding band and engagement ring.

"You married?" he indicated.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Lucky man," he smiled. "Any kids?"

"Yes," she answered again.

"I guess you'll be wantin' t' get home t' them," he glanced toward the window. "I reckon you can understand wantin' t' protect the folks ya love. So, what's it gonna be, Dr. Quinn? Will ya keep my secret so's I can go home t' my Ma?"

She turned and walked to the window. Pulling back the curtain slightly, she saw Sully arriving at the Clinic.

"My husband's here," she stepped toward the door.

Billy began to rise from the bed, a look of fear in his eyes.

"Stay calm," she responded. "You might start bleeding again."

"I'm beggin' ya," his voice quivered.

"Michaela!" Sully's voice could be heard downstairs.

"I'll be right down," she called out the door to him. "Would you pick up the children from Grace's?"

"All right," he replied.

She heard the door of the Clinic close as her husband exited.

"I promise I won't say anything tonight, Billy," she finally pledged. "But I want for us to discuss this when I return in the morning."

He closed his eyes and sighed, "Thank you, Ma'am."

She pulled his blanket higher, "I'll bring you a tray of food before I leave. But I don't want you going anywhere. Understand?"

"I understand," he was beginning to feel the effects of the medicine.

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

Katie watched her family during dinner. Her parents did not talk very much, and they did not show that special way of looking at each other either. The little girl's mind raced. What if they heard about what happened at school? What if they found out what Wendell said about them? What he said about her, too? She wanted to protect them from being hurt or worried.

Bran was in town a lot since Miss Dorothy was away, Katie thought. Maybe he was staying away tonight for another reason. Maybe he had heard, too. Half-breed. She was not certain what the words meant, but from Wendell's tone, it had to be very bad.

"Aren't you hungry, Katie?" Michaela interrupted her thoughts.

"No," she set down her fork. "May I be excused?"

"Somethin' wrong, Kates?" Sully touched her hand.

"No," she shook her head. "I just wanna go t' bed."

"Go to bed?" Michaela was surprised. "Come here, and let me feel your forehead, Sweetheart."

The child obeyed and walked over for her mother to check her temperature. Resting her lips on her daughter's forehead, Michaela determined she was fine.

"Did something happen at school?" the mother wondered.

"No," Katie answered loudly.

"Katie," Josef sensed her upset.

"I just wanna go t' bed," she requested.

Michaela was growing more concerned, "Why?"

"I.... wanna be alone," Katie was growing impatient.

Sully stood up, "Come here, Kates."

He lifted the little girl into the security of his arms. Katie could not imagine anyplace she would rather be at that moment, but she soon concluded that it was better for him and her mother if she did not tell what Wendell had said.

Sully quietly rubbed her back. He did not ask her any questions but merely held her tenderly, reassuring her with his touch. Poppy always did that when she was upset, but this time it was different. This time, she felt she could not tell him what was bothering her.

"Could I go t' bed now?" she asked softly.

"Kiss your Ma an' brother good night first," he tilted her closer to them.

"You can put me down, Poppy," she tapped his shoulder.

"Sully," Michaela watched the child ascend the steps.

"Somethin' bad is eatin' at her," he rubbed his upper lip.

"But why won't she tell us?" her heart ached.

"She'll tell us when she's ready," he ascertained.

"Up, Papa," Josef requested.

Sully spoke, "I'll take him int' the livin' room while ya help Katie get ready for bed."

Michaela followed after her daughter and found her pulling a nightgown from her chest of drawers. Watching silently for a few moments, she finally cleared her throat so that Katie would know she was there.

"It's going to be chilly tonight," Michaela spoke. "I'll get you another blanket."

"That's okay," Katie finished preparing for bed. "I don't mind the cold."

Michaela picked up her daughter's brush, "Would you like for me to brush your hair?"

"No, thanks," Katie looked down.

Michaela had never seen Katie like this, "May I ask you something?"

"What?" the little girl became apprehensive.

"Do you know that you can tell your father and me anything?" she spoke softly. "We love you. We care about you, Katie."

"I know," she nodded. "But I don't wanna tell ya anythin'."

"We won't be angry," Michaela added. "Perhaps we can even help you."

"Can ya change what people are?" Katie asked cryptically.

"What they are?" she was puzzled.

"Like if they're an Indian, can ya change that?" the little girl gave an example.

"No, of course not," Michaela told her. "But why would that...."

"I'm tired now, Mama," Katie hoped to change the subject.

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

"I have pokle?" Josef played with his father's beads.

"Ya just ate, Joe," Sully smiled.

"Still got pokle," the little boy pointed toward the table.

"I guess I took ya away too soon," he returned to the dining area. "Here's your pickle."

Josef began to chew on it as Michaela descended the steps.

"Any luck?" Sully heard her.

"No," she sighed. "But she asked me if I could change what people are."

"Change what people are?" he repeated in disbelief.

"She said if someone were an Indian," she informed him. "Could I change them?"

"What's botherin' her?" Sully swallowed hard.

"I don't know," Michaela stated. "But I intend to ask Teresa tomorrow."

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

Sully stood looking out the bedroom window at the stars. He contemplated what was happening to his marriage and now to his daughter. Both Michaela and Katie had something eating at them, but neither would tell him what it was. He thought he knew these two better than anyone, but now he was not so certain.

"Could you close the window, Sully?" Michaela requested.

"Sorry," he did as she asked and sat on the edge of the bed, still deep in thought.

Michaela could tell from the way he sat, the tilt of his head that he was disturbed.

"We'll find out what's bothering her," she assured.

"We taught her she could come t' us with anythin'," he sighed.

"It must have something to do with adjusting to school," she reasoned. "It's only been a month. Perhaps she didn't do well at something and is embarrassed to tell us."

"It ain't right t' keep secrets from people ya love," he began to remove his shoes, still not looking at his wife. "I learned that the hard way."

Pangs of guilt hit Michaela. She was keeping a secret from Sully. Two secrets, actually. The fugitive she was harboring at the Clinic and... her true reason for avoiding intimacy between them.

"Sometimes we make promises to not tell something," she thought about the boy she had pledged to protect.

Sully finally turned to face her, "Do ya think that's Katie's problem? She feels bad for not tellin' us somethin' that she swore t' keep secret?"

"I don't know," she shook her head.

"She's just a little girl," Sully climbed into bed. "She shouldn't have a burden like that. Keepin' a promise shouldn't make ya feel all bad inside."

He extended his hand and touched her arm, instantly sparking her desire for him. Her breathing quickened, and she reached to lower her lamp.

"Ya goin' t' sleep now?" he asked.

She responded, "I am rather tired."

He sighed, "I heard about a bank robbery in Manitou. The boy who did it got away."

She tensed, "Oh?"

"He was shot," he added. "I want ya t' be careful at the Clinic, Michaela. He might show up there."

"Sully," her heart was heavy for not telling him about the boy.

"What?" he hoped she might reveal what was on her mind.

"Nothing," she rolled onto her side away from him.

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

"Don't do this, Michaela," Sully's voice was firm. "Don't turn away from me, please."

"What?" she glanced over her shoulder at him.

He sat up and folded his arms across his knees, "You an' me both know somethin's wrong between us. What is it?"

"I... I don't know what you mean," her discomfort grew.

"We been tryin' t' figure out what's botherin' Katie, but there's somethin' botherin' you, too," he detailed.

"There's nothing bothering me other than the well-being of our daughter," she became defensive.

"Look at me," he guided her to roll over.

In the light from the fireplace, he could see the trail of a tear as it trickled down her cheek.

"We been through too much for us t' back step now," his voice was low. "We can tell when somethin's botherin' the other. Tell me, please."

She wanted to tell him everything at that instant. About the fugitive. About her reason for avoiding intimacy. Everything.

Steeling herself for his reaction, she took the first step, "That boy who robbed the bank...."

"Yea?" he wondered why she would mention that.

"He's at the Clinic," she came out with it.

"What?" a jolt of adrenaline shot through him.

She went on, "Josef saw blood in the hallway near the steps this morning, and when I investigated, I found him. He's just sixteen years old."

"Josef saw him?" he was aghast. "Michaela why didn't ya call for Robert E or Hank?"

"He was injured and frightened," she continued. "He wouldn't let me remove the bullet from his arm until I promised not to tell anyone where he was."

Sully rose from the bed in disbelief at what he was hearing.

"Let me get this straight," he put his hands on his hips. "You endangered yourself an' our son 'cause ya promised not t' tell where an armed robber was hidin' out?"

"He wasn't armed," she immediately countered. "And no, I did not endanger Josef. He was in the anteroom. After I administered the chloroform, I took him over to Grace's."

"That's why the kids were there when I came t' the Clinic," he figured. "You could have told me then."

"I sincerely believe the boy means no harm, Sully," she explained.

"Means no harm?" his voice rose. "He robbed a bank, Michaela."

"He did it to get money to prevent his mother from losing her house," she pointed out. "He's not a hardened criminal. He bungled the robbery and only pretended to use a gun."

"I can't believe I'm hearin' this," he shook his head. "I can't believe ya didn't tell me."

"I am telling you," her brow wrinkled. "Even though I gave my word to Billy that I would not say anything."

"Billy?" he was becoming angrier by the second. "Ya call him by his first name?"

"That's all he would tell me," her voice rose to match his.

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

Katie could hear them. Arguing. Rarely had she ever heard her parents raise their voices. She was sure it was about her. They were fighting because of her.

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

"I'll thank you to lower your voice," Michaela spoke to her husband.

Sully pulled on his buckskins and boots. Then he grabbed his shirt and walked toward the door.

"Where are you going?" she was half hurt, half angry.

"OUT!" he slammed the door.

She could hear him storming down the steps. Then she heard the front door slam. She rushed to the window and peered out. Sully was going to the barn. Was it to get his horse or to sleep? Soon her question was answered as he galloped off into the night.

"Oh, no," she sighed. "He must be going to the Clinic."

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

Katie's heart was breaking. Poppy had left. She knew it. She heard him slamming the door, and it was all her fault. He must have found out about her and did not want a half-breed little girl.

Looking toward her sleeping little brother, she wondered if Joey was a half-breed, too. Even if he was, he didn't know it. And that was good.

Then it occurred to her. If she went away, Mama and Poppy wouldn't have to fight. They wouldn't be worried or ashamed anymore. Quietly, she began to dress.

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

As Sully rode toward town, he fumed. How could Michaela do this? How could she put herself and our little boy in such danger? But it was more than that. She had been distancing herself from him. It was almost as if he didn't know her anymore.

When he reached the Clinic, he was spotted by Hank, leaning against a post in front of the Gold Nugget.

"Michaela forget somethin'?" the bartender asked.

"No," Sully said.

"Then what ya doin' comin' int' town at this hour?" Hank persisted.

"I wanted t' check somethin' at the Clinic," Sully was vague.

Hank strolled across the street, "Like what?"

"If I wanted ya t' know, I'd tell ya," Sully was in no mood for chitchat.

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

From his recovery room at the Clinic, Billy could hear two men talking on the street. His stomach tensed. Grimacing in pain, he rose from the bed to peer out the window. The voices were directly below him. He had to get out.

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

Katie finished dressing and went to her brother's bed. She reached up and touched his hand, then turned to leave their room. Pausing at her parents' door, she took a deep breath. Then her eyes began to water. She loved her parents, her brothers and sister more than anything in the world. But... this was best.

She tiptoed down the hallway, down the steps, past Wolf and out the door, into the night.

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

As quietly as he could, Sully entered the Clinic. Stealthily, he made his way toward the door to the hallway. Suddenly, a sharp pain exploded across his head. Then there was nothing but blackness.

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

Hank watched for a light to come on at the Clinic, but none came. Sully was being very mysterious about something, he reasoned. Unable to contain his curiosity, he crossed the street toward Michaela's office.

He slowly opened the door, but in the darkness could not see anything. He reached into his pocket for a match. Once lit, there was just enough illumination for him to make out the figure of Sully on the floor.

"What the hell happened?" he lit a lamp. Kneeling down beside him, he tapped his face. "You okay?"

Sully struggled to open his eyes, "Wha..."

"Did ya run int' somethin'?" Hank questioned.

"No, somethin' ran int' me," Sully sat up and rubbed his head.

"Burglar?" he put his hand to his gun.

"Whoever it is might still be here," Sully stood up.

"I'll check," Hank pulled his revolver.

Ordinarily, Sully would have insisted on looking for himself, but the throbbing pain in his head prevented his doing so. In a few minutes, Hank returned.

"Michaela have a patient upstairs?" he asked Sully.

"Why ya wanna know?" the mountain man responded.

"They're gone now," Hank holstered his weapon. "That who hit ya?"

"I didn't see who did it," Sully again rubbed the tender spot and felt blood.

Hank eyed him, "She wouldn't be hidin' that boy who robbed the bank in Manitou, would she?"

Sully did not answer, "I best be leavin'."

Hank grabbed his sleeve, "Why'd ya come here in the first place, Sully?"

"I told ya I came t' check on somethin'," he pulled away. "Thanks for your help."

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

In the darkness, Katie found it difficult to find her way without being scratched by the briars she encountered. Poppy always knew the easy ways to go places, but alone and frightened, she began to wonder if leaving was such a good idea. Still, for the sake of those she loved, she took a deep breath and went on.

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

Without a horse, Billy could travel neither far nor fast. He only had a few more hours of darkness remaining. Then he would have to find a place to hide. He felt a wetness seeping through the bandage on his arm. Some stitches must have broken when he hit that man on the head. He hated to do it, but he could not risk being caught. If only he had a horse, he could ride home.

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

Michaela heard Sully reenter the house and rushed down the steps to meet him.

"Sully, did you...." she stopped when she saw the path of dried blood on his head.

"What happened?" she guided him to a kitchen chair.

"Your innocent boy bank robber hit me," he answered sarcastically.

"Let me look at it," she pulled his hair back.

"No, thank you," he brushed her hands away.

"Sully, you're hurt," she insisted.

"I'm hurt, all right," his voice rose.

Michaela felt the sting of his double meaning, "You need help."

"Not from you," his jaw clenched.

"Did Billy get away?" she assumed.

"Yea," his anger was mounting. "Hank suspects that's who your patient was, too."

"You didn't tell him?" she queried.

"No," he rose and went to the sink to dampen a cloth.

"And you didn't go after him," she stated.

"I ain't in much condition t' go trackin' right now," he turned away from her.

She reached out and touched his back, "Sully, I..."

He pulled away, "I ain't in the mood t' talk t' you. I'm goin' t' sleep."

"I'll help you up," she offered.

"I ain't sleepin' upstairs," he applied the cloth to his head.

"Let me disinfect that," she pointed to his injury.

"Always one t' dispense the medicine, ain't ya, Michaela?" he accused. "It's safe. Ya don't have t' face anythin' when ya hide behind your doctorin'."

"What are you talking about?" she was stunned.

"I'm talkin' about DOCTOR Quinn," his head throbbed. "She's got the answer t' everythin' except what ails her marriage."

"Sully," her eyes began to well with tears.

"I'm tired o' tryin' t' figure out what's wrong with ya," he went on. "I'm tired o' feelin' like I done somethin' wrong."

"You haven't done anything wrong," she controlled herself from bursting into tears.

"Then why do I feel like I did?" he pointed to himself. "Why can't ya let down your guard? Why can't ya care about me?"

"You KNOW I care about you," her temper was flaring.

"I ain't so sure anymore," he countered.

"Sully," she struggled to tell him what was truly on her mind.

"G'night, Michaela," he stormed into the living room and stretched out beside the fireplace.

"I'll bring you a pillow and blanket," she spoke softly.

"Don't bother yourself," he sighed.

Dejectedly, Michaela mounted the steps. She felt as if her world were falling apart. This is what her shutting out Sully had done. This is what not confiding in him had created, and she had no one to blame but herself.

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

Wolf whimpered and walked over to where Sully lay.

"Go t' sleep, boy," he commanded.

Wolf whined again and went to the door.

"Ya want out?" Sully grunted as he rose.

When his master opened the door, the animal bolted out.

Sully returned to his hard bed. No sooner had he closed his eyes than Michaela came rushing down the steps to him.

"Sully!" her voice filled with terror. "Katie's gone!"

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

Katie heard something. Maybe Poppy and Mama were searching for her. She had to hide. Just as she reached a thicket of trees, she felt someone touch her arm.

"What's a little girl like you doin' out alone?" the voice spoke to her.

Her eyes widened in terror, "I.... I'm runnin' away."

"Why?" he asked.

"Who are you?" she found the courage to ask.

"My name's Billy," he clutched his arm.

"What's wrong with ya?" Katie noticed.

"Got hurt," he was vague.

Katie looked closer, "Ya oughta go see the doctor in town."

"I just came from there," Billy informed her. "Dr. Quinn stitched me up."

"That's my...." Katie stopped herself.

"You should go home, ya know," he released his hold on her.

Katie eyed him, "So should you."

"That's where I was headed," he was feeling weak. "But without a horse, it'll take me a while."

"You're like my brother Matthew," she felt more at ease.

"I am?" he chuckled. "Ya got a big family?"

Katie counted on her fingers, "I got three brothers an' a sister."

"That is a big family," he grimaced in pain. "All I got is my Ma."

Katie heard something approaching them and quickly turned her head.

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

After failing to locate their daughter around the homestead, Michaela and Sully resorted to asking their friends for help. Townsfolk began to gather to help search for the missing Katie as dawn neared on this cool, crisp Saturday morning.

Sully, his head still throbbing, began to organize the groups. Loren, Jake and Preston would comprise one party. Robert E, Horace and Hank a second, Matthew and Brian a third, and Sully and Michaela the fourth. Each would head in a different direction in a one mile radius from the homestead, then work their way back. If they found no sign of her in a two-hour time span, they would meet back at the Clinic. Grace agreed to take Josef out to the homestead in case Katie showed up there. After some last minute instructions, the groups embarked on finding the missing girl.

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

"Who's comin'?" Billy was starting to feel faint.

Suddenly, Wolf appeared and warmly licked Katie's face.

"Oh, my God," Billy struggled to pull her away. "Look out!"

"It's okay," Katie smiled. "He's my friend."

"You're friends with a wolf?" he was in awe.

"Yep," she hugged the animal. "He must've been worried about me."

"What's your name?" Billy wondered.

"Katie," she revealed.

"That's a pretty name for a pretty little girl," he grinned.

"I ain't pretty," she frowned. "I'm a half-breed."

"Ya look pretty t' me," he shrugged. Then he felt the blood running down his arm, "Katie, I know you're runnin' away, but...."

"But what?" she saw his eyes closing. She shook him, "Billy?"

Wolf sniffed the young man's face and whimpered.

When she saw that he was unconscious, Katie instructed, "Wolf, go get Mama."

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

"Sully," Michaela broke the silence as they rode along.

"What?" he was cool toward her.

"I want to apologize," she looked at him.

He gave no reply.

"Did you hear me?" she asked.

"I heard," he answered simply.

She struggled to contain her tears, "Do you think Katie heard us arguing?"

"Yes," he kept his reply brief.

"Where do you think she could be?" Michaela inquired.

"Wherever it is, I figure Wolf's with her," he stated. "He took off last night after I got back from the Clinic."

"Then he'll keep her safe until we can find her," she consoled herself.

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

"I tell ya, we've passed that rock before," Loren declared as the sky continued to brighten.

"No, we ain't," Jake asserted.

"Gentlemen," Preston interjected. "If you would let me lead this expedition, we shall find the child in no time."

"What do you know about trackin'?" Loren motioned.

"I would guess at least as much as you two combined," the banker stated sardonically.

"Okay, Mr. Fancy Vest," Jake tilted back his hat. "Lead the way."

Preston rode ahead as they continued on.

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

"Somethin' real funny's goin' on with Sully an' Michaela," Hank commented to Horace and Robert E.

"Funny like a joke?" Horace wondered.

"No," Hank shook his head. "Funny like in strange. Though with Sully, strange is normal."

"Why do ya think there's somethin' strange goin' on?" Horace persisted.

"He showed up late last night at the Clinic, an' while he was inside, someone hit him over the head," Hank told them. "He claimed he was just checkin' on somethin', but I think it was that Manitou bank robber who hit him an' ran away."

"Why ya think that?" Robert E queried.

"'Cause Michaela had a patient upstairs who disappeared," the barkeeper detailed. "I figure it was the robber, an' she took the bullet outa him."

"You're just guessin'," the blacksmith dismissed his remarks.

"I'm pretty good at guessin' where Michaela an' Sully's concerned," Hank lit a cigar.

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

"We cook?" Josef looked up at Grace.

"Cook?" she smiled at the child. "What would ya like t' make?"

"Don' know," he shrugged.

"Tell ya what," Grace hoped to distract him. "You tell me what t' put int' the pot, an' I'll fix it."

"'Kay," Josef agreed.

Grace pulled a chair over on which he could stand, "Not too close t' the stove now. I'll do that part."

"Put this," Josef pointed to a jar of canned tomatoes.

"A good start," Grace agreed.

"Miss Gwace," the little boy's eyes saddened. "Where evbody go?"

"They're out lookin' for.... somethin'," she stroked his hair. "They'll be home soon."

Suddenly, they heard barking from outside. Wolf arrived at the homestead. Grace opened the door, and the animal rushed in.

"What in blue blazes is wrong with this creature?" she turned to Josef.

"Woh!" the child climbed from the chair and ran to him.

The animal licked the little boy's face then began to whimper. Wolf went to the door and glanced back at the humans. He barked twice and waited.

"Will ya make up your mind?" Grace opened the door. "Either ya want in or out."

Wolf stood partially inside the house and continued to whine.

"Git!" Grace pushed the animal out the door and closed it. "Now, let's get back t' your cookin'."

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

"Look!" Jake pointed. "I thought I saw somethin'."

As the group approached a thicket, they made out the white of someone's clothing.

"It's her!" Loren called. "Katie, girl!"

"Mr. Bray!" she stood up. "Over here. There's a sick boy!"

The trio dismounted and hurried to her.

Loren lifted the child into his arms, "Your Ma an' Pa are worried sick."

"We were all concerned for your welfare," Preston was uncharacteristically warm.

Jake rubbed her back, "You all right?"

"I am," she nodded. "But not him." Katie pointed toward Billy and then returned to hugging Loren, "Can I talk t' ya?"

"Sure," he sat down as Preston and Jake checked on the boy. "Why'd ya run away?"

She curled her finger and urged him to lean closer, "Cause I didn't want Mama an' Poppy t' fight over me."

Loren settled her in his lap, "They was fightin' over ya?"

"Uh huh," she nodded.

"Why?" he was curious.

"Katie," Jake called. "You know who he is?"

"His name's Billy," she said. "He's got a hurt arm. Mama already helped him once at the Clinic, so I told Wolf t' go get her."

"Wolf was with ya?" the barber asked.

"If Michaela is out looking for Katie, who is going to take care of this young man's injury?" Preston questioned.

"I can stitch him up," Jake volunteered. "But we better get him back t' town soon."

"Katie," Loren spoke gently. "Did Billy do anythin'? Did he... hurt ya?"

"Nope," she took a deep breath. "He's the one who's hurt."

"Looks like ya got some scratches," he pointed to her face and arm.

"From the bushes," she indicated. "Can I ask ya somethin', Mr. Bray?"

"Anythin'," he smiled.

"What's a half-breed?" she tilted her head.

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

"I think we oughta get back t' town t' see if anyone found her," Sully spoke dejectedly as he rubbed his head.

"Sully," Michaela's concern for his injury grew.

"It's nothin'," he turned his horse around.

She caught up to him again, "I know that I deserve your anger and that I've hurt you, and I'm truly sorry. Please, let me check your head. It won't help us find Katie if you're experiencing blurred vision and pain."

"How ya know I got blurred vision?" he questioned.

"I know," she reached for the reins of his horse and drew it to a stop.

Dismounting, she reached up for her medical bag. Sully climbed down from his horse and sat on the ground, squinting from the rays of sunlight.

Michaela knelt before him and opened her bag. She pulled out a cloth and some disinfectant, then began to inspect his head.

"This will sting some," she applied the cloth to his injury.

He did not react to the pain he felt.

"I'd give you something, but I don't want to dull your senses," she reasoned. "Do you think you can endure it a while longer?"

"I can," he rubbed his eyes.

Michaela tenderly touched his cheek, "I... I'm so sorry for how I've treated you, Sully."

"Don't matter," he pulled himself up. "We gotta find Katie. Let's go."

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

"Why is it little kids gotta run away from home?" Matthew asked his younger brother as they rode along.

Brian retorted, "Maybe it's part o' becomin' independent."

"Maybe it's part o' bein' foolish," the older brother quipped.

"She can't have gotten very far," Brian assumed.

"Don't bet on it," Matthew shook his head. "Our little sister's got a lot o' determination."

"Got any idea why she left?" he asked.

"Ma said it might have somethin' t' do with school," Matthew commented.

"But she likes it," Brian countered. "An' she's doin' good."

"Could be she's havin' trouble with some o' the other kids," the older brother remarked. "Ya know how they can be."

"Anybody who gives Katie a hard time will have me t' answer to," Brian asserted.

"It's time t' turn back," Matthew glanced at his watch. "Come on."

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

"We're on a wild goose chase out this way," Hank shook his head. "Let's head back for town t' see if Katie's turned up."

"The longer she's out here alone an' without food an' water...." Robert E stopped himself.

"Let's not think about bad things," Horace encouraged.

"Not think about bad things?" Hank declared. "There's a six year old child out in the wilderness, a bank robber on the loose, a...."

"Ya don't think the bank robber's got her, do ya?" Horace's eyes widened.

"That's about the dumbest thing I ever heard," Hank rolled his eyes.

"Come on," Robert E had heard enough. "Let's get back t' town."

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

"Why ya wanna know what a half-breed is?" Loren held Katie near as they rode along.

"Somebody was called that at school," she was vague.

Loren cleared his throat, "A half-breed's the child of an Indian an' white person."

Katie tilted her head, "Is that bad?"

"People of different races shouldn't marry," he gave his opinion. "When they do, an' have a child, that's what the child is called."

"Shouldn't my Mama an' Poppy have got married?" she was horrified at the thought.

"'Course they should," he replied. "Why would ya ask that? They ain't different races."

"Then why am I a half-breed?" she continued.

"Who called ya that, Katie?" Loren probed.

She hesitated, "A boy at school."

"Well," he patted her hand. "That boy don't know what he's talkin' about."

"But why'd he say it then?" she did not give up. "Unless...."

"Unless what?" he asked.

"Unless they aren't my Mama an' Poppy," she feared.

"You don't go worryin' about that," he smiled. "They're your parents. Everyone can see it. Ya got your Ma's eyes an' your Pa's smile."

Katie tried to absorb all that she had heard, but the words of Wendell Reed and the argument of her parents continued to weigh heavily upon her.

"Please don't tell them why I ran off," Katie implored.

"I won't say nothin' on one condition," the storekeeper pledged.

"What?" Katie inquired.

"You gotta be the one t' tell 'em why ya left," he replied.

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

Two of the search parties, save Katie's family, arrived back in Colorado Springs at about the same time. While Jake and Preston carried Billy into the Clinic, Robert E greeted his godchild.

"Sure am glad t' see you!" he beamed.

"Katie!" Teresa Slicker rushed from the barbershop with Maria in her arms. "Where have you been?"

She looked down, "I just thought it would be better if I wasn't around."

"Well, ya thought wrong," Robert E knelt down beside her. "Ya had us all worried. I'll ride out t' the homestead t' tell Grace you're back."

"Where's Mama an' Poppy?" the child looked around.

"They'll be here soon," Hank folded his arms. "Who's the kid with Katie?"

"His name's Billy," Jake identified. "Dr. Mike stitched him up once, but...."

"He's the bank robber!" Hank concluded.

"What makes ya say that?" the barber was puzzled.

"He was shot, an' Michaela sewed him up," Hank detailed. "He hit Sully on the head an' took off last night. It's gotta be him."

"Billy hit my Poppy?" Katie had listened.

"You mean to tell me that I've been helping a BANK ROBBER?" Preston was aghast.

"There's a $1000 reward for him," Horace reminded them.

Hank rested his hand on his gun, "Someone better keep guard on him."

Matthew and Brian pulled up to the Clinic and spotted their young sister. They joyously greeted her and made certain that she was unharmed.

"Let's get you home," Matthew caressed her chin.

"Your folks'll be comin' here first," Loren stated. "Be best t' wait in town."

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

Sully reined in his horse.

Michaela did likewise, "Did you see something?"

"No," he sighed. "It's my eyes."

She quickly dismounted and came around to help him from his horse. After assisting him to a shady spot, she went to get her canteen.

"Drink some water," she returned.

He sipped the cool liquid and wiped his mouth.

Michaela tenderly checked the bump on his head, "You need to rest for a while."

"Ain't too much further," he shut his eyes. "Gotta find her."

"Sully," her voice trembled. "Do you think she might have...."

"Might've what?" he squinted.

"Do you think she might have tried to climb a tree?" she voiced her concern about the child mimicking the character in his story.

He swallowed hard, the thought having not crossed his mind until she mentioned it.

At that moment, they heard a rustling of the bushes, then a barking sound.

"Wolf!" Sully sat up. "Do ya know where Katie is, boy?"

The animal wagged his tail and barked. Sully started to rise, but quickly leaned back.

"Sully!" Michaela saw him slump.

"My head," he grimaced.

"I'll give you something," she offered.

"No," he swallowed hard. "Go with Wolf t' find Katie. I'll be okay."

Wolf barked again, and Michaela mounted her horse. Her thoughts were a whirl. The fear of what she might find when she reached Katie caused her pulse to race. She prayed that the little girl would be unharmed. And Sully... his concussion and blurred vision worried her. She filled with remorse for how she had pushed him away because of her fears and disappointments. Vowing to make it up to her husband, she persevered.

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

Wolf stopped leading Michaela and began to sniff the ground. Dismounting, she leaned down to examine the tracks. Her heart skipped a beat. There were many tracks, a child's, and several men. A wave of panic filled her. What if her daughter had been abducted?

"Wolf," she did not know what to do.

The animal immediately took off running again. Michaela mounted Flash and followed after him.

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

Sully shut his eyes and began to dream. He had experienced this dream once before, prior to his marriage proposal to Michaela. She was dressed in white, her coppery locks cascading down her back. The most beautiful hair... the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He embraced her, then pulled her down onto the ground with him. Amid the flowered meadow, they began to kiss. Running her fingers through his hair, she tenderly placed kisses on his eyes.

"Michaela," he spoke her name.

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

Her tresses trailing behind her as she rode Flash at full speed, Michaela had an odd sensation. It was as if Sully had spoken her name. He needed her. Katie needed her. Before she realized it, Wolf had led her close to town. As she crossed the bridge near the church, she could see several people gathered at the Clinic.

Then she caught sight of her daughter, sitting on Matthew's lap by her office door.

"Katie!" she swiftly jumped from her horse and gathered the little girl into her arms.

She immediately checked her for injuries, noting the scratches.

"Mama!" the child wondered. "Where's Poppy?"

"I have to go back for him," she replied.

"Somethin' wrong?" Brian stood.

"He has a concussion," she was out of breath. "Is everyone else back?"

"Yea," Matthew answered. "Grace still has Josef out at the homestead."

"Good," she kissed Katie again. "Would you boys go over to the livery and ask Robert E for a wagon? I don't want Sully to ride his horse back."

As her sons left, Michaela carried Katie into the Clinic to fetch some blankets. There sat Hank at her desk, and Billy on the examining table.

"I see ya caught up with your kid," he rose.

"What's going on here?" she demanded.

"Mama," Katie patted her shoulder. "Billy's hurt."

"How do you know him?" she rubbed the child's back.

"Seems like Katie an' this... outlaw met up out there in the woods," Hank informed her.

"What?" she was stunned.

"He found me when I was hidin'," Katie revealed.

"Is he...." she set down the little girl and walked to the boy.

"He's alive," Hank stated. "Jake patched him up."

Michaela examined his wound and the work the barber had done. It was acceptable enough to hold the incision closed, and there was no sign of infection. After checking his pulse and heartbeat, she reached for some blankets.

"Ya cold?" Hank was sarcastic.

"Sully is still out there," she responded. "He has a concussion."

"I ain't surprised," the bartender nodded. "Got hit pretty hard on the head last night. You got some explainin' t' do, Michaela."

"Come, Katie," she directed the child out the door.

By the time mother and daughter exited the Clinic, Matthew and Brian pulled up with the wagon. Michaela lifted her medical bag from Flash and put it into the buckboard along with the blankets.

Katie's lower lip trembled, "Is Poppy hurt bad?"

The worried mother knelt down to console her, "I'm going to bring your Daddy back, Sweetheart. He's going to be all right. I promise."

"Is Billy gonna be okay?" the little girl wondered.

"I believe so," she nodded. "Katie, did he do anything to... hurt you?"

"No," the child wondered why people kept asking her that question.

Michaela sighed in relief, "We have much to talk about when I return. The important thing is that you're all right. Now, I want you to go with your brothers out to the homestead."

"Okay," she looked down contritely.

Michaela's eyes became moist, "I love you, Katie."

"I love you, Mama," the child threw her arms around her mother's neck.

"I'll come with ya, Ma," Matthew helped her into the wagon.

She glanced up at the sky as clouds were forming, "I pray that the rain holds off."

"Let's go," Matthew sat beside her and commanded the horse onward.

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

"Miss Grace!" Brian called as he bounded up the homestead steps, his sister in his arms.

The young man burst through the door and quickly caught himself from speaking again. Near the fireplace, Grace was tenderly cradling a sleeping Josef on her lap.

"Katie! Praise the Lord," Grace rose.

Josef stirred slightly and opened his eyes, "Katie. Bran."

"Hey, Josef," he smiled.

Reaching up for his sister, the little boy yawned, "Ya find somethin'?"

"They found me, Joey," Katie held his little hand.

"Ma an' Pa will be home soon," he set Katie down. Directing his comments to Grace, he informed her, "Pa's H-U-R-T. Got a concussion. Ma an' Matthew went t' get him."

"I didn't think your Pa looked good this mornin'," she acknowledged.

"Somethin' smells good," Brian turned his attention toward the kitchen.

"Your brother made it," she beamed.

"Joey cooked?" Katie's eyes widened.

"Reminds me of another little boy who baked a pie an' won a contest one time," she recalled Brian's culinary achievement.

"What'd he make?" he queried.

"Some kinda stew, but t' tell ya the truth, I don't think I could ever remember the recipe," she laughed.

"Ya stay, Bran?" Josef asked sweetly.

"I'm stayin'," he sat. "If you need t' get back t' town, I'll take over watchin' them now, Miss Grace."

Kissing her godchildren good bye, she handed Josef to his older brother, "I best do that. I 'magine the search parties are hungry."

"Thanks for takin' care o' us," Brian pulled his brother into his arms.

"Tanks, Miss Gwace," Josef smiled. "We cook again."

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

Sully awoke with a start. It had begun to rain, lightly at first, then harder. He found the energy to sit up and began to crawl under some thicker branches to protect himself from the downpour.

Then he heard a wagon approaching. Wiping the rain from his eyes, he tried to focus on the arriving party. It looked like.... Could it be? Michaela and Matthew.

Michaela jumped from the wagon practically before it stopped and ran to find him.

"Over here," Sully called from his new position.

She quickly knelt beside him, "They found Katie. She's unhurt."

Matthew soon joined them with the blankets and her medical bag, "Hey, Sully."

"Matthew," he reached out to shake his hand. "Where'd ya find her?"

"Loren, Jake an' Preston found her out near Avery's Farm. An' she wasn't alone," he added.

"What?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"Seems that the bank robber... Billy's his name, was with her," Matthew detailed.

Sully's jaw clinched and he attempted to rise, "I'll kill him!"

"It's not like that, Sully," Matthew assured him. "Billy didn't hurt her. Their paths just crossed by accident. Hank's got him back at the Clinic. He's unconscious."

Sully began to calm slightly as he looked at his wife.

"How is your head?" she inquired.

"Hurts some, but not as bad," he stated. "Let's get home."

"But the rain," Michaela ascertained that it was not letting up.

"I wanna see Katie," he was adamant.

They helped him to the back of the wagon. Michaela rolled up a blanket for under his head, then draped another over him. There was a canvas tarp folded in the corner, and she opened it to protect her husband from the moisture. With Matthew driving the wagon, Michaela and Sully lay in the back, protected from the elements.

Neither of them spoke initially.

Then Sully took the initiative, "Katie say why she ran off?"

"No," she leaned on her elbows watching him. "I told her that we would discuss it when we get back."

"She wasn't hurt?" he needed to be sure.

"She says she wasn't," her eyes saddened. "She has a few scratches. I'll check her more thoroughly when we get home."

They fell silent again for several more minutes. Without words, Michaela extended her hand to touch his shoulder. This time, he did not pull away.

"We have much to discuss, as well," she spoke softly.

"You sure ya wanna talk t' me?" he looked away.

Michaela imagined what Sully must have looked like as a little boy at that moment, "Yes. I need to explain my recent behavior."

"Ya ain't gonna shut me out anymore?" he pivoted to glance into her eyes.

"No," she folded her hands as the sound of the rain hitting the tarp intensified. "But..."

"But what?" he encouraged.

"But I'm not certain that you will understand," she averted glancing at him.

Sully made no response. He sighed, wishing the trip home were faster.

Finally, the wagon stopped, and they heard Matthew's voice.

"We're home," he called.

The young man began to pull the tarp from atop his parents. He extended his arms to help Michaela from the buckboard. Sully, feeling stronger, alit on his own.

Brian opened the door, holding Josef, "You okay, Pa?"

"I'm fine," he patted his son's back.

"Papa," Josef held out his arms.

"Here, Sweetheart," Michaela pulled lifted him as Sully kissed the little boy.

Sully asked, "Where's Katie?"

"She's in her room," Brian answered.

"Why don't you an' me occupy our little brother, Brian, while they go upstairs," Matthew offered.

The older boys entered the living room with the toddler, as Michaela helped Sully remove his coat. Running his hand through his wet hair, Sully took a deep breath and headed up the steps. Michaela followed.

Though the door was open, he knocked on the frame when he reached the children's room.

"Poppy!" Katie rushed to him.

Sully lifted her into his arms and kissed her.

"Ya got all wet," she patted his hair.

Sully cringed when she tapped the bump on his head.

"That where ya got hurt?" Katie frowned.

"Yep," he sat with her on his lap.

"I'm sorry I touched it," she apologized.

Michaela sat beside them, "Katie, we need to discuss your running away."

The child glanced down at the floor, giving no response. Tenderly, Sully lifted her chin and directed her to look at him.

"Somethin's botherin' ya, Kates," he caressed her cheek. "Tell us what it is."

"Mr. Bray says I gotta," she nodded.

"Loren knows why you ran away?" Michaela was surprised.

"I talked t' him when he found me," the child's heart was heavy.

Slipping from her father's lap, she turned to face her parents as they sat on the edge of her bed.

Katie folded her hands, "I... I know ya were fightin' about me."

"No, Sweetheart," Michaela interrupted. "We weren't arguing over you."

Sully encouraged, "Go on, Katie."

The little girl resumed, "It's 'cause ya found out what happened at school."

Again, Michaela began to interrupt, but Sully placed his hand on her knee to silence her.

Katie could not look at her mother and father, "I found out somethin' about myself at school, an' I... I know it's bad."

Michaela could no longer contain herself, "Sweetheart, there is nothing bad about you."

"I'm a half-breed," the little girl finally spoke what was troubling her.

"What?" Michaela asked.

"Mr. Bray says people aren't supposed t' race together," Katie went on.

"Do you mean people of different races?" the mother clarified.

"Yep," Katie nodded. "They aren't supposed t' get married an' have a baby."

"Kates," Sully extended his hand to invite his daughter closer.

The child stepped toward him, "I'm sorry. Ya must be ashamed o' me."

Michaela's heart melted, "No, Katie. We love you, and we're very proud of you."

"Are ya confused about somethin', honey?" Sully took her hands in his.

"I don't know what t' do, Poppy," she was beginning to tear up.

"Katie," Michaela leaned forward to embrace her.

Both parents held their child for several minutes, wiping her tears and stroking her back.

Finally, Sully placed her on his lap again, "Let's start with what your Ma an' me did. We weren't arguin' about you. We were havin' a disagreement about somethin', but we shouldn't have been so loud. We're real sorry."

"Ya weren't fightin' 'cause o' me?" Katie's voice choked.

"No, Sweetheart," Michaela affirmed. "It had nothing to do with you."

"Why did Mr. Bray tell ya that about different races?" Sully returned to the little girl's comment.

"'Cause I asked him what a half-breed is," the child responded.

"Why, Katie?" Michaela was curious.

She hesitated to answer.

"Tell us, sweet girl," her father prompted.

She burst into tears and covered her face. Then between sobs, she revealed, "That's what Wendell Reed called me. He said you're an Injun lover an' that you an' Mama lived t'gether before ya got married."

Then the child buried her head against her father's shoulder and continued to cry. Michaela lightly patted her back, as Sully gently rocked her back and forth until the tears began to ebb.

"Kates," he spoke close to her ear. "It's gonna be okay."

He swallowed hard as he looked to his wife.

"Katie," Michaela's voice was soothing. "Look at me, Sweetheart."

Slowly, the little girl pivoted to glance at her mother.

Michaela comforted her, "Wendell has been told some things that are not true, and he's repeating them because he doesn't know any better. Would you like to know the truth?"

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

Billy opened his eyes. His throat was parched, and he was disoriented. He thought he might be in the clinic where the lady doctor had removed his bullet.

"Dr. Quinn?" he tried to focus.

"She ain't here," Hank stood and walked to him.

"You her husband?" the boy assumed.

"Nope," Hank replied.

Billy noticed the revolver holstered at his side, "You the sheriff?"

"Nope," Hank repeated. "But I got the law on my side."

The young man attempted to rise.

"Stay down, kid," Hank prevented him from getting up. "I wired the sheriff in Manitou. He's on his way t' get ya."

"Oh, no," he fell back in defeat. "I shouldn't have trusted Dr. Quinn."

"She didn't tell on ya," the bartender informed him. "I figured it out myself."

Billy requested, "Could I have a drink o' water?"

Hank poured a glass and handed it to him, "You're awful young t' be leadin' a life o' crime."

"It ain't like that," he responded. "I did it t' help my Ma keep our house. Everythin' went wrong."

"You'll have a lota time t' think about it in jail," Hank returned to Michaela's desk.

"When they found me, was there a little girl nearby?" the young man inquired.

"Why ya wanna know?" Hank was noncommittal.

"I was worried 'bout her," he replied. "She was runnin' away from home."

"She's back with her folks now," Hank stated.

"Good," Billy nodded. "Funny. I was runnin' to my home. Sometimes ya don't think about what ya got 'til it's gone. If only I had it t' do over."

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

"What's the truth?" Katie rested her hand on her mother's arm.

"Let's begin with your father and me," Michaela explained. "You know that your Daddy lived with the Indians for several years."

"Uh huh," she was attentive.

"The Cheyenne helped me, Katie," Sully detailed. "They taught me a lot about life an' all the things of nature. But the white man has tried t' destroy the Indians, an' I wanted t' help them as much as I could."

"Your father loves the Cheyenne," Michaela avowed. "We both do. So when someone calls him an 'Injun lover,' it's because they don't understand the ways of the Indians. They speak from fear."

"Did ya live t'gether?" the child questioned.

"No," Michaela told her. "I lived in the house that your father built for Abigail. He would often come by to make repairs or to visit, and he always watched over Matthew, Colleen, Brian and me. Because he was there so often without a chaperone, some people might have drawn an inappropriate conclusion."

"What's a chaperone?" Katie wondered.

"That's a person who makes certain that a man and a woman who aren't married to one another...." Michaela hesitated.

"Sort o' like a babysitter for grown ups, Kates," Sully smiled. "Just makin' sure they don't get int' trouble."

"Why didn't ya have a chaperone then?" the little girl persisted.

"In Boston, we would have," Michaela acknowledged. "But out here, it's rather difficult. Besides, your Daddy always showed respect for me and never did anything inappropriate."

"Good, Poppy," she smiled at her father.

"As for being called a half-breed...." Michaela paused.

"It's 'cause o' me," Sully interrupted. "Because I try t' help the Indians, people think I'm one of 'em. Even if I was, there's nothin' wrong in that."

"But Mr. Bray said...." Katie began to repeat his words.

"Mr. Bray told you what he believes, Sweetheart," Michaela stopped her. "I'll tell you this. I would not care what race your father is or what he wears or where he is from. Because I love him, I would still want to be his wife and have his children."

Sully swallowed hard, "An' it wouldn't change how we feel about you, sweet girl. You came from our love, an' there's nothin' more beautiful in this world than that."

Katie felt a strange warmth in the words of her parents, "I'm not a half-breed?"

"No," Michaela clasped her hand.

"Kates," Sully said. "Let me tell ya about some people who are."

Katie settled on her mother's lap as he began.

"Ya know that the Indians were on this land first," he revealed. "When the white man came, there was a lot o' fightin'. But sometimes, whites an' Indians fell in love. They wanted t' be t'gether, but it was real hard because their worlds were so different, an' folks didn't understand."

"Like Mama comin' from Boston?" she guessed.

"Even more different," Michaela smiled.

Sully went on, "Whenever Indians an' whites had babies, people who didn't approve called 'em bad names like 'half-breed,' but children are children. They deserve a happy an' healthy life. An' they deserve love."

Katie leaned back, secure in her mother's arms.

"There's even some people of Indian an' white blood called the Metis who formed a territory around the Red River area in Canada known as Manitoba. An' because they have both European an' Indian ways, they've formed their own culture over the years, kinda like their own new world."

"Are the children happy an' healthy?" Katie asked.

"It's never easy for 'em," Sully touched her cheek. "But, they keep tryin' t' make a better place for the children."

"Do you feel better now, Sweetheart?" Michaela hoped.

"Yep," she sighed. "But I think I better tell Wendell that he's wrong."

"Perhaps you should simply ignore him," her mother suggested.

"Would you ignore someone who was wrong, Mama?" the child posed the question.

"No, but..." Michaela knew her daughter was right.

Sully hoped to help, "When children are wrong, it's up t' grown ups t' teach 'em what's right. But there is somethin' you can do, Kates."

"What?" she raised her eyebrows.

"Just show others how t' act by how you treat them," he answered.

"That's the Golden Rule," her mother recognized. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

"Wendell might learn how t' treat others if he sees how children are supposed t' act," Sully touched her nose.

"Would you promise us something, Katie?" Michaela broached the subject.

"What?" the child questioned.

"Promise that the next time you're confused or upset by something someone says, you'll come to us?" she requested.

Sully directed his comment to his wife as well as his daughter, "Keepin' things t' yourself can cause a lota problems, honey."

"I promise," the little girl embraced her parents.

"Now, young lady," Michaela asserted. "I'm going to bathe you."

"Okay," Katie nodded. Then she paused, "Would you promise me somethin', too?"

"What?" she smiled.

"Promise that you an' Poppy won't fight so loud," the little girl innocently said.

"Your Ma an' me got some more talkin' t' do, Kates," Sully stated. "But we won't do it loud. We promise."

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

As Michaela prepared a bath for Katie, she noticed the pot of stew on the stove.

"Did Grace make dinner for us?" she inquired.

Brian chuckled, "With Josef's help."

"Josef?" she raised her eyebrows.

"I cook, Mama," the little boy proclaimed.

Michaela picked him up, "And what is this called?"

"I gota name it?" the child was surprised.

"Oh, yes," she pretended to be serious. "The best chefs always name their creations."

"I call it Josef's food," he came up with it.

Sully brought Katie downstairs and commented, "What smells good?"

"Josef's food," the child repeated.

"He an' Miss Grace cooked it," Brian informed him.

"We'll have it for supper then," Sully set Katie down. "I better get Robert E's wagon back t' town."

"Sully, your head," Michaela was amazed that he felt up to it.

"I'm okay," he insisted.

"Could you wait until after I give Katie a bath?" she requested. "I'd like to go with you to check on.... that patient."

Sully tensed, "I'll wait."

She noticed, "Perhaps we could... have a conversation on the way into town."

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

Billy cringed as another pain gripped him.

"Ya somethin' stiffer than water?" Hank felt a pang of sympathy.

"If it's no trouble," the boy winced again.

Hank hesitated, then figured that the young man was too weak to escape. He stepped out of the Clinic and across the muddy street toward the Gold Nugget.

Billy pulled himself up the moment Hank left. He mustered every ounce of strength he possessed and staggered out.

Preston stepped out of the mercantile and took a deep breath. The rain had stopped, and the air held a crisp freshness that he relished. Then, he saw the boy leaving Michaela's Clinic.

The banker swiftly caught up to him, "And where do you think you're going?"

"I... I don't know what ya mean?" he pretended innocence.

"I know you're the Manitou bank robber," Preston insisted.

"No, sir, ya got me confused with someone else," he was beginning to feel faint.

Preston's brow wrinkled, "I'm taking you back to the..."

The boy passed out at his feet.

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

"Do you think we might talk now, Sully?" Michaela touched her husband's arm as he held the reins of the horse.

"Go ahead," he had resumed his cool demeanor.

She sighed, "It doesn't appear that you're ready to listen."

"I been ready t' listen for weeks, Michaela," he was terse. "Ya didn't see fit t' confide in me all that time. Why now?"

"Why now?" her volume raised slightly.

"Yea," he spoke louder, as well.

She folded her arms and became quiet.

"Just like I figured," he shook his head in frustration.

"I want for us to talk now because we cannot go on like this," she finally told him.

"You sayin' ya don't want US t' go on?" he interpreted.

"No, that's not what I'm saying at all," she defended. "Would you please stop the horse?"

"Why?" he ignored her request.

"Because I would like to take you somewhere," she responded.

"I thought ya wanted t' check on your Billy," he became sarcastic.

"I would like to check on my Byron first," her voice became soft.

Sully took a deep breath, then reined in the horse to a halt.

"Now what?" he rested his elbows on his knees.

She climbed down from the buckboard and extended her hand, "Now, come with me."

Unable to resist her, even when he was angry, Sully slid over and stepped down. Again she offered her hand. He took it and followed where she led.

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

"I done all I can for the boy," Jake looked at the young man lying on Michaela's examining table.

"Then Michaela better see him fast," Hank determined. "Else he might not make it. I'll ride out t' get her."

"Why you care if he makes it?" Jake was surprised.

"I kinda feel sorry for him," the bartender put his hands in his vest pockets. "Don't tell no one."

"He's awful young," Jake glanced at him again.

"The posse from Manitou will be here soon," Hank opened the door. "Can ya stay here with him 'til I get back?"

"I guess," Jake shrugged.

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

"Why'd ya have me stop here?" Sully was puzzled.

"Do you remember what happened here?" Michaela released his hand and bent down to pick a blade of grass.

"No," he folded his arms.

"This is where we had our first fight after we returned from Boston... after you told me that you love me," she recalled. "This is where I said such terrible things to you when the town was digging for water."

"Durin' the drought?" he remembered.

"Yes," she nodded. "We quarreled because you said I couldn't make the town cooperate with the Cheyenne. You told me I could not change people's minds."

"An' ya told me maybe we didn't have enough in common," he looked down.

"We had our difficulties in communicating back then, didn't we?" she gazed at the distant mountains.

"Seems like we're back trackin' t' that time," he said.

She folded her hands, "I don't want that to happen, Sully. I... I know I've been very remiss in not telling you something."

He let down his reserve and clasped her hands, "Tell me now, Michaela. Tell me what's been weighin' so heavy on ya."

They heard a horse approaching at a gallop, "Michaela!"

It was Hank. Sully sighed in frustration.

"What's wrong?" she questioned as he pulled along side of them.

"That boy's takin' a turn for the worse," Hank stated. "I don't know if he's gonna make it."

She looked to her husband.

"Take your horse," Sully untied it from the back of Robert E's wagon. "You'll get there faster."

"I promise to tell you...." she paused.

"Later," Sully nodded. "I'll take the wagon t' town then go home."

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

"Matthew," Sully watched Katie and Josef playing near the fireside.

"Mmm?" the young man looked up from his law book.

"I think your Ma might like ya t' help that boy at the Clinic," he confided.

"Help him?" Matthew wondered.

"Defend him in a trial," Sully elaborated. "She says he robbed that bank t' help his Ma."

"I could look int' it," the son agreed. "You feelin' okay?"

"A lot better," he answered.

"Poppy," Katie approached her father. "Did Billy hit ya on the head?"

"I didn't see who hit me, Kates," he caressed her cheek.

"I hope Mama can help him," she sympathized. "He was nice t' me when I was scared."

"I'm sorry ya were scared, sweet girl," he rubbed her back.

Katie glanced toward the dining room table, "Bran's sure writin' a lot."

"He's writin' a paper for one o' his classes," Sully smiled.

"I mad!" Josef suddenly declared.

"Why's that, Joe?" Sully tried not to chuckle.

"I not witin'," the little boy specified.

"Joey, you can write your name," Katie offered.

"Weally?" his eyes brightened.

"Mama already taught ya how," she giggled.

"That's witin'?" he was in awe.

"Yep," Katie smiled. "Let's get some paper an' ya can show Poppy."

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

"Michaela," Hank observed her examining Billy. "How's he doin'?"

"I sutured his brachial artery when I removed the bullet," she took a deep breath. "From all of his movement, it must have ruptured. He's lost a great deal of blood."

"What can ya do?" the bartender queried.

"Suture it again, then perform a blood transfusion," she put on her apron and began to roll up her sleeves.

"Sully gave blood to Loren once," Hank recalled.

"Sully is recuperating from a concussion," she pointed out. "Besides, there's no time to get him."

She began to prepare her instruments.

Hank was amazed, "You gonna give him your blood?"

"It's his only chance," she asserted.

"What about me?" Hank volunteered.

"The likelihood of success would improve if the blood came from a male," she recalled reading the statistics.

Hank removed his coat and unbuttoned his sleeve, "Take mine then."

"May I ask why you are suddenly showing such compassion for him?" she sterilized the skin surface on Billy's arm.

"Let's just say I feel bad for what he's been through," Hank took a deep breath and exhaled nervously.

"But..." she paused.

"Take the damn blood, Michaela," he grew impatient. "Before I change my mind."

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

Robert E saw the posse pull up to the Sheriff's office. He set down his hammer and approached them.

"Can ya tell me where Mr. Lawson is?" a man wearing a badge inquired.

"Over at the medical clinic," the blacksmith said.

"Much obliged," the lawman tipped his hat.

"Wait," Robert E beckoned. "That boy's real sick. The doctor's tryin' t' save his life."

"He might die?" the lawman asked.

Preston noticed the exchange and approached the posse, "Might I assume that you brought the reward money with you, Sheriff?"

"We got the money," he nodded. "Who caught the boy?"

"I would be happy to deposit it into my bank and divide it up among the men who apprehended the vile criminal," Preston offered.

"He ain't no vile criminal," Robert E rolled his eyes. "He's a kid."

"None the less, he committed a heinous crime," the banker asserted.

"What if he dies?" the blacksmith wondered.

"The reward money is for dead or alive," the lawman stated.

Preston looked smugly at Robert E, "So, my offer still stands. I can hold the money for you."

"After I talk t' Mr. Lawson," the Sheriff pondered it. "Then we'll sort things out."

"Perhaps you and your men would like to rest at my Chateau just outside of town," Preston suggested.

"Ya got a bar in town?" he was curious.

"The Gold Nugget," Robert E pointed.

"We'll wait there, then," the lawman tipped his hat again and left with his men.

"Is money all you ever think about?" Robert E turned to the banker.

"Of course," he grinned. "Just try going without it and see how happy that makes you."

"I been without it," Robert E lifted his hammer. "An' I can see how happy it makes you."

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

"Do you feel all right?" Michaela asked Hank.

"Oh, yea," Hank quipped. "I oughta do this more often."

"All we can do now is wait," she checked Billy's pulse. "He's stable."

"Why don't ya go home?" Hank suggested. "It's gettin' late. I'll stay with him."

"Sometimes you amaze me, Hank," she shook her head.

"I'm an amazin' man," he grinned.

"No, I mean...." she stopped when he interrupted.

"Don't go givin' one o' your gushy speeches," he raised his hand. "Ya got a kid ya been worried about, an' that hard headed husband o' yours got a dent in his noggin' last night, too. Seems t' me like you'd wanna be home."

"I do," she admitted. "But..."

"But nothin'," he interjected. "Go on."

She smiled and removed her apron, "If his breathing becomes labored, or if there is any change in his condition..."

"I'll send for ya," he nodded.

"Thank you," she donned her coat.

"Yea," he responded.

When Michaela stepped out of her Clinic, she saw Matthew approaching.

"I just came from the homestead," the young man said. "How's the boy doin'?"

"I had to perform a blood transfusion," she said. "He's stable at the moment."

"Who gave blood?" Matthew queried.

"Hank, of all people," she smiled.

"Ma," he put his hand on her arm. "Sully said the boy might need some legal advice, an' I wanted t' offer my services."

"Sully suggested that?" she was surprised.

"Yea," he acknowledged.

"Thank you, Matthew," her eyes shone with love. "First, we must make him well. Hank is with him now, but I'd feel better if you keep an eye on things, too. Mr. Lawson might be feeling a bit weak but not want to admit it."

"I'll do that," he held her bag as she mounted her horse. "You'll be home just in time for some o' that stew Josef made."

She chuckled, "That little boy is a wonder."

"An' a challenge," Matthew laughed. "See ya, Ma."

"Good bye," she galloped off.

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

Sully had just gotten the children to bed when he heard a horse approaching the house. He glanced out the window and saw that Michaela had arrived home.

By the time he descended the steps, she was removing her coat.

"I'll take care o' Flash for ya, Ma," Brian offered. "You must be tired."

"I am," she admitted. "Thank you, Brian."

"How's Billy?" Sully asked.

"Holding his own," she sat down. "An artery in his arm ruptured, and he required a transfusion."

Sully's brow wrinkled, "Not your blood."

"Hank's," she looked up.

"Hank?" Sully and Brian spoke simultaneously.

"I know," she smiled. "I could scarcely believe it myself. He's with Billy now at the Clinic."

Sully noted the look of fatigue on his wife's face, "It's been a long day, Michaela. Why don't ya go up an' get ready for bed? I'll bring ya some supper."

Brian grinned, "It's actually pretty good, too."

"Thank you," she stood wearily. "I think I shall."

As Brian left to tend to Flash, and Sully prepared a bowl of stew for her, Michaela climbed the steps. She went to the children's room and stood at the doorway listening to the steady sound of their breathing.

Her heart filled with love and gratitude for these little lives. Then the thoughts came to her again. Another baby. How much she desired another child. She knew she must discuss her feelings with Sully. She had kept them from him for far too long. Her inability to conceive again had created tremendous stress and anxiety for her. She felt as if she were sinking sometimes.

Sully's voice startled her, "They're fine."

She turned and smiled, "So I see."

She walked to Katie's bed and insured that the little girl's blanket was high enough. Then she leaned over and tenderly kissed her daughter's forehead. Next, she turned to Josef's bed. He had already kicked off his covers, but the mother gently pulled them up to envelop her son. She brushed back a lock of his wavy hair and kissed him. After one last look, she turned and went to her own room.

Sully had set the dinner tray on her nightstand. He watched her as she removed her clothing and prepared for bed. She felt uncomfortable at his gaze, not out of a sense of modesty. After seven years of marriage, she had long gotten over her embarrassment in that regard. She knew that Sully was waiting for her to tell him what was bothering her.

She sat at the edge of the bed, and silently began to eat. After several bites, she stopped.

"How is your head?" she looked up.

"Fine," he anticipated more from her.

"And your vision?" she inquired.

"It's fine, too," he wished she would not stall.

She closed her eyes, yearning for the strength to share her feelings with him.

Sully sensed her difficulty, "I love you, Michaela."

Suddenly she burst into tears, "I love you, too."

He rushed to her side and embraced her, "You can tell me what's wrong. Are ya sick?"

"No," she rested her head on his shoulder.

He pulled back to cup her face in his hands. Tenderly, he wiped the moisture from her cheeks.

"I can handle anythin' ya tell me, long as ya tell me," he encouraged.

"I'm so sorry," she looked down. "I feel like a failure."

"What?" he was taken aback. "You're not a failure. Just the opposite. You're the strongest an' most determined woman I know. You can do anythin' ya put your mind to."

"No," she took a deep breath to calm herself. "Not everything."

"What can't ya do?" he was puzzled.

A sudden pounding at the door broke the moment. Sully stood and hurried to the top landing.

Brian called up, "Ma! Pa! Matthew's here. Ma's needed at the Clinic right away. It's Billy."

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

Michaela and Sully rushed into the Clinic. But it was too late. A sheet covered the body of the young man.

"No!" she uncovered him.

"He died a few minutes ago," Hank spoke in a hushed tone.

Michaela frantically attempted every measure she knew to resuscitate the boy, but it was without result. She removed her stethoscope and sat down at her desk. Sully placed his hand on her shoulder.

"I'll go let Jake an' Robert E know," Hank volunteered. "Sorry, Michaela."

As Hank closed the door behind him, Michaela began to cry. Sully pulled her up to embrace her.

"Ya did all ya could," he attempted to soothe her.

"He's was so young," she noted. "We don't even know where his mother is to notify her."

"She's bound t' report her boy missin'," he reasoned.

"If only...." she struggled to think of what she might have done differently.

"Shhh," he held her securely.

Michaela fell silent, letting the warm embrace of her husband comfort her as it had so many times in her life.

"Let's go home," he kissed the top of her head.

She silently pulled back and went to the body of the young man. Touching his hand, she prayed for a moment, then returned to Sully. He led her out the door.

Michaela was quiet on the ride home. After their arrival, Sully led her into the kitchen and prepared a cup of tea for her.

"Wanna talk about it?" he said.

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "If I had stayed at the Clinic, perhaps I could have...."

Her voice trailed off. Sully sat beside her and tenderly placed his hand over hers.

"Like I said, ya did all ya could," he assured.

She felt tears welling in her eyes. Slowly, she lowered her head to rest on her arms, and she wept. Sully felt his heart breaking. He hated to see her cry, but he understood her need to grieve for her young patient.

Michaela felt him slip his arm across her shoulders and then his lips on her temple. Lifting up, she lost herself in his eyes.

"I hate to fail people, Sully," she was barely audible. "I failed Billy, I've failed you...."

"Hey," he interjected. "Ya ain't failed anyone. Don't go thinkin' that." Taking her hands in his, he added, "Your beautiful hands. They heal folks. I never met anyone who worked so hard t' save lives."

She caressed the side of his face, "Thank you, Sully."

"Let's get you up t' bed now," he turned up the corner of his mouth. "Ya need t' sleep. Thing's'll look better in the mornin'."

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

Sully encouraged his wife to stay in bed the next morning, even though she would miss church services. After feeding the children, he asked Brian to take them outside to play on this beautiful and unseasonably warm day. He requested that his son take a long walk with them, as well, hoping to give Michaela plenty of time to talk. Then he prepared a tray and took it up for her.

"Mornin'," he smiled when he saw that she was awake.

"Good morning," she sat up and noticed the food. "Are you trying to pamper me, Mr. Sully?"

"Never hurts t' be on good terms with my wife," he quipped.

Her expression changed instantly, "I've not made that very easy for you of late."

Sully came to her and sat on the edge of the bed. Lifting her hand, he kissed the palm, then held it against his cheek.

"I'm sorry, Sully," she expressed. "I'm sorry for pulling away from you and for not confiding in you."

"I'm sorry for what I said the other night," he confessed. "I didn't mean it, Michaela. You don't hide behind your doctorin'."

"No," she stopped him. "You were right. There are times when I become so lost in my work that it obscures all else."

"But that's what makes ya such a good doctor," he turned it around. "Ya got an ability t' throw all your energy int' it."

"Sully," she felt ready to confide in him.

"Yes?" he anticipated.

"What I'm going to tell you...." she paused. "I could never tell another soul. It's my innermost feelings and thoughts."

"If ya don't wanna tell me...." he kissed her hand again.

"No, you deserve to know," she continued. "Lately, I have felt.... such despair, I'm not quite certain how to cope with it."

"Michaela," his blue eyes saddened. "What can I do t' help ya?"

"Just continue to be as understanding as you have," she ran her finger across his chin, then pulled back her hand.

"Do ya know why ya feel this way?" his brow wrinkled.

"I believe so," she toyed with the rings on her finger. "But before I tell you, I want you to understand something."

"What?" he questioned.

"None of this is your fault," she explained. "In the seven years of our marriage, there has never been a moment when I did not treasure your love and how you share it with me."

Sully tensed, uncertain of where she was going with this.

She went on, "You know how very much I've wanted another baby. I'm afraid it consumes nearly every waking moment for me. My head tells me how fortunate we are already with the beautiful children we have, but my heart... my body craves another child. Am I being selfish?"

Sully quickly responded, "No, Michaela. You're just bein' honest. We both want another child."

She set the tray aside and walked to the window to watch the children playing.

Turning to her husband, she continued, "There are nights when I wake up thinking about it. I know I should not be so preoccupied by it. I become angry with myself for having these feelings. Then I am overwhelmed by a sense of failure. I.... I don't know how to explain it, Sully."

He came to her and enfolded her in his arms.

She glanced into his eyes, "Lately, when we've made love, I wanted it to work so much, that...."

"What?" he whispered.

"It's not what I should be thinking about when we're together like that," she felt ashamed. "I could not bear to think about failing you. Failing us. So rather than make love, I began to push you away."

He took a deep breath, "I don't know what t' tell ya, Michaela. When ya have somethin' in your mind, it's hard t' get it out. But.... I got somethin' t' confess t' you, too."

"You do?" she raised her eyebrows.

"I know how hard we been tryin' for another child," he nodded. "An' before we stopped makin' love, I sorta felt... pressure."

"Pressure?" she was uncertain.

"Pressure t' give ya that baby," he nodded.

She clasped his hand. In these past weeks, she had not considered how her husband must have felt. She feared his disappointment in her, but had not considered that he might feel that he was letting her down, too.

"Makin' love is not supposed t' be like some kind o' breedin'," he stated. "It's always been...."

"Magical," she completed his thought.

"Beautiful," he added. "Incredible."

She wondered, "Do you still find me... desirable?"

He quickly responded, "God, yes. It's hard t' put int' words what lookin' at ya, touchin' ya does t' me."

"That's how I feel about you, too," she glanced down demurely.

"But it's more than physical, Michaela," he amended. "I've never known anyone like you. Ya make me feel like I wanna be a better man. Like I can achieve anythin'. In my darkest moments, you've been the light that led me out. When I'm away from ya, I feel incomplete."

"I share those feelings, Sully," she admitted.

"So, where do we go from here?" he rested his hands on her shoulders.

"I don't know," she admitted.

"Maybe it would be best if we keep on not makin' love for a while... t' take the pressure off us," he offered. "When we're ready again, we'll know it."

She pondered his suggestion, "I suppose that might work."

"The important thing is that we gotta communicate," he declared. "We can't shut each other out."

"I agree," she felt relieved.

They silently embraced for several moments.

"Sully?" she laid her hand over his heart. "How will we know that we're ready again?"

"I reckon it'll be when... our urges tell us," he contemplated. "When our need t' be with each other is what we think about... more than havin' another baby... more than feelin' any kinda pressure. Just needin' t' be one again."

"What if that need comes... soon?" she began to tingle at her proximity to him.

"Soon?" he tried to fight his desire for her at that instant.

"Perhaps even now?" she attempted to calm her breathing.

"Ya needin' us t' be t'gether right now?" he swallowed hard.

"Only if you feel the same way," she qualified.

"Oh, I feel the same," he leaned closer.

He began to kiss her neck. The wonderous passion that he ignited prompted Michaela to tilt her head back to invite his further ministrations. His sweet, tender lips on her skin created surging sensations in her. She slipped her hand through the opening of his shirt and caressed his chest. He began to surrender to his longings.

"Sully," she savored his touches. "Is this purely giving into our physical urges?"

"Don't think right now, Michaela," his pulse raced. "I want ya so much."

"I want you, too," she closed her eyes and let down her reserve.

Wave after wave of ecstasy engulfed them as they shared their love unreservedly. Neither thought of anything else but pleasing and being pleased by their special melding of bodies and souls. Steeped in perspiration from their intense encounter, they lay back on their bed, attempting to calm their breathing.

"I love you," he caressed her. "I love ya with all that's in me."

"As I love you," she whispered.

"What ya thinkin' about?" he pulled the sheet protectively higher.

"You told me not to think," she teased.

"I don't wanna see ya hurt or disappointed," he lovingly pulled back a strand of her hair.

"I suppose this is one of those situations where we must take things one day at a time, perhaps even one minute at a time," she pondered.

He kissed her shoulder, "I sure love how we took the last few minutes."

"Just now.... all that I thought about was the incredible love I feel for you, Sully," she smiled. "It enveloped me like a cocoon, making me feel so safe and so needed. What about you? What did you think about?"

He grinned, "I gotta confess, I just thought about how much I craved holdin' ya, lovin' ya. More physical than philosophical, I guess."

"You're very philosophical," she smiled and ran her hand up and down his arm.

Michaela rolled over to look into his eyes. Raising her palm to his cheek, she stroked his face, memorizing anew every feature of his countenance. She gently lifted up and kissed the scar beneath his right eye. He curled her fingers around his thumb and began to kiss each one.

"I've missed your poetry," she spoke low.

He cleared his throat, and recited:

"But love, first learned in a lady's eyes
Lives not alone immured in the brain,
But with the motion of all elements
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power..."

"That must be Shakespeare," she surmised.

"It is," he lifted her chin for another kiss. "Michaela..."

"Mmm?" she kissed his chest.

"Promise me somethin'," he requested.

"What?" she wondered.

"Promise me that you'll never shut me out like that again," his voice quivered slightly.

"Oh, Sully," she ran her fingers through his long locks. "I promise that I'll never close you off from what so profoundly affects our life together. I'm sorry. Sorry for my words, for my deeds, for...."

"Shhh," he tenderly touched her lips with his finger. "Ya don't need t' apologize. Long as I know ya love me an' will share what you're goin' through with me, we'll be fine."

She again rested against his chest. He slipped his hand up her back slowly and caressed the nape of her neck. Instantly, Michaela longed again for him. Raising her head, she gazed into his eyes invitingly.

Smiling at her reaction, he gently rolled her onto her back and positioned himself to share his love. With the skillful maneuvering of her hands, she enticed him further. Their rhythmic motions commenced until, at a fever pitch, they came together again. The totality of the experience left them spent of all energy. Soon, secure in each others arms, they fell asleep.

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

Michaela heard the children enter the house. She glanced at the clock. It was after noon. She felt almost wicked that she and Sully had spent the morning making love, but the sensations that he had again awakened in her quickly dispelled the notion.

Quietly, so as to not disturb him, she rose and dressed. Descending the stairs, she was greeted by her youngest children.

Brian laughed, "These two wore me out, Ma."

"They did?" she pretended to be shocked.

"We had a good time, Mama," Katie kissed her cheek. "Did you an' Poppy?"

"Uh..." she was caught off guard. "Did we what?"

"Have a good time?" she finished the thought.

"Yes," she touched her daughter's nose. "We did."

"Is Billy better now?" the little girl was curious.

Michaela drew her onto her lap, "No, Sweetheart. Billy went to heaven last night."

"Oh," her lower lip curled under. "Couldn't ya help him?"

"I tried," she felt a lump in her throat.

The little girl noticed, "Are ya sad, Mama?"

"I'm sad that I could not save his life, yes," she nodded.

"I guess God wanted him," Katie commented.

"You're very wise," the mother smiled slightly.

"Mattew said Billy was a fugitive," the child said. "What's that mean?"

"A person who runs away from something," Michaela answered.

"I guess I was a fugitive, too," Katie glanced down.

"As was I," Michaela added.

"What were you runnin' from?" the little girl questioned.

"I was... running from my fears," she confessed.

"Me, too," Katie patted her hand. "But you an' Poppy helped me."

"We're always glad to help you, my darling," Michaela kissed her.

"An' if ya ever need my help, just ask," Katie sounded quite grown up.

Suddenly they heard Josef calling from the floor above, "UP! PAPA!"

"How did he get up there?" Michaela bolted from her seat. "He'll wake your father."

"Sorry, Ma," Brian called from the living room. "I thought he was with you."

By the time Michaela reached the bedroom, Sully was wide awake, and Josef was in giggles.

"I'm sorry, Sully," Michaela had hoped he could sleep longer.

"I don't mind," he tickled his son playfully.

Josef then lunged for his father's arms. Sully kissed the little boy and drew him close to settle him down.

"You fixin' dinner t'day, Joe?" Sully teased.

The child's eyes widened, "I go catch sometin'."

"Ya mean go huntin'?" Katie was surprised.

"Papa hunt," Josef pointed out.

"You're still too young for that," Sully determined.

"Why don't we dine at Grace's Cafe today?" Michaela suggested.

"That sounds good," Sully nodded. Then he looked at his children, "You two go ask Brian t' get ya washed up. Okay?"

"'Kay," Josef rushed to the door.

Katie lingered, "Poppy?"

"Mmm?" he smiled.

She stepped closer, "I wanna thank you an' Mama for helpin' me an'.... for lovin' me. I'm sorry I worried ya."

Michaela's eyes welled, "We'll always love you, Sweetheart."

Sully held his daughter's hand, "More an' more every day."

"An' thanks for somethin' else," the little girl paused.

"What's that?" Sully grinned.

"Thanks for puttin' up with Joey," she stated, then headed out the door.

Michaela and Sully began to laugh as he grasped his wife's hand and drew her onto the bed.

"I'd like to thank you, too, Mr. Sully," she spoke low.

"What for?" he kissed her sweetly.

"For putting up with me," she answered.

"Nothin' to it," he smiled.

"I don't know how I'll feel about things tomorrow or even the day after that," she sqeezed his hand. "But I do know that with you beside me, I'll make it."

"No place I'd rather be," he rose from the bed. "We'll take each day t'gether. Just don't be afraid t' tell me what you're feelin'... what you're goin' through."

"No more being a fugitive," she pledged as she lifted up to kiss him.




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