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

Guardian of My Heart


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Guardian of My Heart
by Debby K

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

"I believe that all is in readiness," Michaela looked over her list as she rested in bed.

Sully snuggled beside her and lifted the paper from her hands.

Kissing her shoulder, he spoke low, "Time you got some rest."

"But...." she was interrupted by his finger gently caressing her lips.

"Ya made the list, ya checked an' double checked it," he whispered. "Now it's time for bed."

"Do you think we might talk first?" she raised an eyebrow.

He rubbed her belly lovingly, "Sure."

"Oh, Sully," her voice trembled.

He embraced her, "Everythin's gonna be fine."

"I feel like a whale," she closed her eyes. "If I get any larger, I fear I'll explode."

"You're the most beautiful woman in the world t' me," he caressed her chin.

A single tear trickled down her cheek, "You're just saying that to make me feel better."

"I'm sayin' that 'cause it's what's in my heart," he spoke in a soothing tone. Tenderly placing his hand on her abdomen, he continued, "We gotta be decidin' about a name, ya know."

"I know," she took a deep breath. "Sully, we... we're going to need two names."

"Right," he nodded. "One for a girl an' one in case it's a boy.

"No," she glanced down. "Two female names and two males."

"You sayin' ya know for sure now, Michaela?" he lifted slightly. "It's twins?"

"Yes," the corner of her mouth turned up.

He noted a sudden change in her facial expression, "What is it?"

She guided his hand to her belly, "Feel this."

Sully's eyes widened in wonder, "Kickin'."

"Now here," she held her hand at another spot.

He moved his palm, "Kickin' ya there, too?"

She took a deep breath, "Would you get my stethoscope from the bag?"

He retrieved the instrument for her and watched as she paused to discern a heartbeat.

"Listen," she handed him the ear pieces.

She smiled at his expression, one which she had seen before with Katie and Josef. Still, it made her heart fill with love for him.

Sully nodded, "Strong an' steady."

Michaela slid the instrument to another area and listened, "Now here."

Sully repeated the process, "Faint, but I still hear it."

"It's a different heartbeat," she watched for his reaction. "There are definitely two babies."

He was in awe, "Such beautiful sounds."

"You know I've suspected for a while, and Colleen thought she detected another heartbeat when you were in Idaho," she stroked her abdomen. "But this morning, I confirmed distinctly different heartbeats."

"Are they okay?" he worried.

She nodded, "I believe so. But.... I think my labor can come any time, Sully."

"Like now?" he gulped.

She cupped his cheek in her hand, "Not at this instant."

"Ya got any symptoms?" he became anxious.

She paused.

"Michaela?" he swallowed hard.

"A few," she acknowledged.

"Ya told me once that if it was twins, they might come before your due date," he stood. "I better let Colleen know."

"Please...." she reached for his hand. "Don't leave. Let her sleep."

He swiftly sat beside her and leaned closer, "I'll stay with ya through it all."

"Then.... we'll make it," she spoke from her heart.

Sully slid into bed beside her and held her close, "That we will."

"Hard to believe," she sighed. "Not one, but two little ones."

"What a woman I got," he teased. "Gives me two children at once."

"What about Anne?" she suddenly asked.

"Anne?" he did not follow.

"It was my grandmother's name," she smiled.

"An' your middle name," he recalled. "I like it. What if we get two little girls?"

"Anne and...." she paused to ponder.

"Got any favorite aunts?" he teased.

"Minerva," she informed him.

"Someone would name their kid that?" he feigned surprise.

"I loved my Aunt Minnie," she commented.

"Any boys' names in mind?" he kissed her temple.

"I know better than to ask for Byron," she slipped her hand through the opening in his shirt.

"I'd sooner name him Ezra," he frowned.

"Do you have a middle name?" she wondered.

He was silent.

"Sully," she requested his attention.

"I got no middle name," he spoke finally.

She turned to read his expression, "What is it?"

"I told ya," he reiterated.

"And I know you," she ran her fingers lightly across his chest.

He gulped, "Michaela...."

"What's your middle name?" she repeated. "We've been married nearly eight years. I think it's about time...."

"Eight years," he whistled. "Seems like longer."

"Byron Sully!" she tapped his side.

He sighed, "Seems like only yesterday we had Katie, then Josef. Now...."

"Now, we're having two more beautiful babies," she smiled.

"I don't know how t' thank ya," he kissed her temple. "For all ya been through t' have 'em."

"We've wanted more children so much," she clasped his hand. "I pray that...."

"They'll be fine," he assured her.

"And how will our other children handle two more?" she wondered.

"Katie will mother 'em," he grinned. "Joe will wanna play with 'em."

"And feed them pickles," she mused. "Speaking of feeding them.... I hope I can...."

"You will," he read her thoughts. "Your body's been takin' care of 'em for eight months. You'll be able t' do this, too. Nature's got a way o' helpin' us prepare for things."

"You always know the right thing to say, Sully," she smiled slightly. "What would I do without you?"

"Maybe not be big as a whale," he joked.

She rubbed her belly, "Feel this."

"A head?" he placed his hand where she guided.

"Yes," she nodded. "Soon."

He swallowed hard and tried not to show his concern.

"Colleen told me you received a telegram today," she changed the subject.

"Um hum," he grinned.

"What?" she noticed his expression. "Some good news?"

"Sort of," he reached for the paper on his nightstand. "I was gonna show ya in the mornin'."

She read the note silently, then exclaimed, "Sully! How wonderful!"

"Caught me by surprise," he acknowledged.

"Just when you thought your efforts have been for naught," she added. Then she read the telegram aloud:

"Byron Sully, Special Indian Agent. This is to inform you that your investigation has led to the dismissal of Agent Liam Hanratty. His bootlegging operation has been dismantled, and he has been banned from further work for the federal government. In addition, we are checking on your report regarding Agent Hirum Jones on the Quapaw Reservation. Congratulations, and thank you for your diligent service. Secretary Carl Schurz, Department of Interior."

"I was thinkin' maybe I'd write him about what I saw with the treatment o' the Bannock on their reservation," he mentioned.

"By all means," her eyes lit up. "You have a very persuasive way about you, Mr. Sully, and I'm so proud of you!"

"I didn't do that much," he humbly responded. "'Sides, look how long it took the government t' act."

"I know better," Michaela countered. "My husband can be very determined."

"An' he's determined that his wife needs t' get some sleep now," he lowered his lamp. "I figure ya need twice as much rest. We won't be gettin' much after the babies are born."

She was silent as he stroked her arm.

"What ya thinkin'?" he spoke near her ear.

"I don't know how to describe my feelings," she warmed. "I'm excited.... anxious to see the babies.... yet...."

"Kinda scared?" he completed her thought.

She did not respond.

"I know," he kissed her temple. "Don't worry, Michaela. Remember what I told ya when ya were expectin' Katie?"

"Women have been having babies since the beginning of time," she recalled. "But two at once...."

"I'll be here," he assured. "Nothin's gonna happen t' you or them. I promise."

"I wish it were within your power, Sully," she turned up the corner of her mouth.

"I'm determined. Remember?" he returned to her earlier comment.

She stroked his cheek, "And I adore you."

"Feelin's mutual," he kissed her more fully. "Now, close your eyes."

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

"Cloud Dancin'," Sully greeted his friend.

"Good morning, my brother," the medicine man replied.

"Come on in," he invited.

The Cheyenne entered the homestead, "I am not disturbing your family?"

"Nope," the mountain man grinned. "They're all in town. 'Sides, you're family, too."

"I am honored," Cloud Dancing replied. "I have come to see how Michaela is doing."

"Her time's gettin' close," Sully's voice reflected his concern. "It's definitely twins."

"Two babies," his brown eyes gleamed. "She is well?"

"Nervous," Sully noted. "But her feet ain't swelled up anymore, an' the babies have strong heartbeats."

"May I see her?" Cloud Dancing requested.

"Sure," he nodded. "Le' me check t' see that she's awake first."

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

Michaela perused her list again, saying to herself, "I feel as if I'm forgetting something."

She felt a movement in her abdomen.

Rubbing the area, she smiled, "I certainly hope you can sleep after you're born, little ones. You've done very little up to this point."

"Talkin' t' Anne?" Sully entered the room.

"I'm not certain," she smiled coyly. "It might be Ezra."

"Over my dead body," he protested.

Her brow wrinkled, "Sully, please don't ever use that expression."

"I'm sorry," he suddenly realized how she might interpret his comment.

She reached for his hand, "I thought I heard you speaking with someone."

"I was," he linked his fingers in hers. "Cloud Dancin' stopped by t' see ya."

"Wonderful," she smiled.

"I'll tell him t' come on up," he left her side.

Within moments, the Cheyenne entered the room, "I have come to offer prayers for the birth. Sully tells me it will be twins."

"Yes," she nodded. "It's so good to see you."

He grinned, "And you. I brought you some tea."

He removed some herbs from a small pouch.

"It will be good for you before the babies come," he instructed.

"Thank you," she glanced toward her husband.

"I'll brew some up for ya," Sully took the herbs.

"It will give us time to speak," Cloud Dancing nodded.

"Ya got somethin' t' say t' my wife without me hearin'?" Sully joked.

"Yes," the medicine man retorted. "Take your time with the tea."

Sully clasped her hand and raised it to his lips, "See ya in a little bit."

When he heard his friend descend the stairs, Cloud Dancing's expression became serious, "You are concerned."

"Yes," her voice quaked slightly.

"The Spirits watch over you, my friend," he spoke tenderly.

"May I ask you something?" she wondered.

"Of course," he agreed.

"Sully mentioned a while ago wanting to name the babies in honor of the Cheyenne," she stated. "What do you think of the idea?"

"Is this something you want?" he queried.

"I'm uncertain," she hedged. "I want to please Sully and honor your people, as well, but...."

"But it might present a problem for the children," he stated her trepidation.

"What should we do?" she asked.

"What do you do when you must make a difficult decision?" he turned it around.

She contemplated, "Follow our hearts."

"I cannot disagree," he smiled slightly.

"My heart tells me to follow Sully," she said in nearly a whisper. Then she looked up at him, "Cloud Dancing, teach me some Cheyenne words."

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

Sully wondered what Cloud Dancing wanted to talk about in private with Michaela. Knowing his Cheyenne brother, it would help her in some way. He decided to step out to Michaela's garden. She had not the energy nor time to plant anything this spring, so Sully and the children had taken the initiative.

As he inhaled the clear air, he spotted the tree that they had planted in memory of the baby they lost a few years earlier. Sully approached the area and knelt down. Placing his hand on the soil, he thought about that terrible day when Michaela miscarried the baby. He recalled how they had buried his wife's sheets, clothing and something from each member of the family beneath the earth.

"Charles," he spoke softly. "Is your spirit comin' t' us now in one o' these new babies?"

The wind seemed to caress his cheek in response. Sully closed his eyes and permitted the feelings he experienced to guide him to the answer. It was. It was Charles and their other lost child, coming to them at last.

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

"You know a man named Sully?" a stranger asked Hank as he stood at the bar of the Gold Nugget.

"Why ya wanna know?" Hank questioned.

"I got a bone t' pick with him," the man looked menacing.

"What's your gripe?" Hank persisted.

"Look," the man frowned. "Either ya know or ya don't know him. Which is it?"

Hank moved his vest slightly to reveal his badge, "This here tells me I need t' know more about who's askin'."

"My name's Hanratty," he wiped his scruffy beard. "I used t' be an Indian agent."

"Used t' be?" Hank was interested. "What happened?"

"I lost my job," his jaw tensed. "I heard he lives around these parts. Ya gonna tell me where?"

"Can't say I ever heard o' the man," Hank gave him a stern look. "If I was you, I'd look somewheres else."

"I ain't finished checkin' around here," Hanratty retorted. He pivoted to look around the bar. "Maybe I'll talk with some o' your customers. They might know."

"Maybe," Hank remained cool. "Then again, sometimes they just tell folks what they wanna hear."

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

"Mama! Mama!" Katie burst into her mother's bedroom.

"Katie," Michaela smiled warmly. "How was school, Sweetheart?"

"Good," she set some papers and books on the edge of the bed. "'Cept Wendell got in trouble again."

"Oh, my," Michaela lifted one of the papers.

"I drew it for ya," Katie pointed at the sketch in her mother's hands.

"It's beautiful," she stated.

"It's you ridin' Flash," she smiled proudly.

"One of my favorite things to do," Michaela drew her closer. "Thank you."

"Can I ask ya somethin'?" the little girl posed the question.

"Certainly," Michaela set down the drawing.

"Can I stay t' watch when the baby's born?" she wondered.

"Your Daddy and I have something to tell you about that," Michaela informed her.

"Does that mean yes?" her eyes sparkled.

"Mama!" Josef's voice was heard as he neared the bedroom.

"Were you good for your older brother?" she touched his nose when he reached her bed.

"Sorta," he looked down.

"Josef Michael Sully," she lifted his chin. "What did you do?"

"Bwoke somethin'," he confessed.

"What?" Michaela was surprised.

Brian stood at the doorway, "He broke a jar o' candy at the Mercantile."

The mother shook her head, "I recall another little boy doing that once."

"I tell Misser Bway I sowwy," Josef put his hands in his pockets.

"Brian," she turned to her son. "Would you tell Sully that we owe Loren for the jar?"

"Loren said t' forget it," Brian informed her.

"But he shouldn't have to....." she was interrupted.

"He said that ya got enough on your mind right now," the older son assured her.

"Where are Matthew and Colleen?" Michaela glanced toward the door.

"I get 'em," Josef scampered away.

"And your father," she called after him.

Soon the entire family gathered in the bedroom. Sully sat on the edge of the bed clasping his wife's hand.

Colleen smiled, "This reminds me of when you asked for our permission to marry Ma."

Michaela eyed her husband, "Well, Mr. Sully?"

"Your Ma an' me got somethin' t' tell ya," he began.

Matthew quipped, "Ya already married her. An' we know you're expectin'. What news could it be?"

"We're expectin' twins," Sully beamed.

"What!" Matthew was surprised.

"I can't believe it!" Brian's smile broadened.

"What's twins?" Josef reached up for his older sister.

"Two babies," Colleen lifted him and kissed his cheek. "I thought so, Ma."

"You were right in your suspicions, Dr. Cook," Michaela accepted the embraces from her older sons.

Katie's little brow wrinkled as she quietly backed away from the happy scene. Sully noticed and knelt beside her.

"You okay, sweet girl?" he spoke tenderly.

"I guess so," she allowed.

Sully clasped her small hand in his, "What ya thinkin'?"

"How we gonna take care of 'em, Poppy?" she questioned.

"By bein' a family," he spoke low. "All of us pitchin' in."

She fell silent.

"Kates," he rubbed her back. "I was wonderin' somethin'."

"What?" she was interested.

"I never was an older brother," he folded his arms. "I bet Joe could use your advice on how t' act around the babies."

"Ya just gotta love 'em," she shrugged.

He pulled her into his embrace, "You taught me a lot about love."

"I did?" she pointed to herself.

"Yep," he stroked her hair. "First time I held ya, I felt more love than I ever imagined possible."

"Now you'll feel even more love, Poppy," she rested her hand on his shoulder.

"I'm real lucky t' have you," he kissed her forehead.

"That's how I feel, too," she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms tightly around him.

Sully stood up with his daughter in his arms.

"Poppy," she pulled back slightly. "Could I stay t' watch the babies be born?"

He paused, "I don't know, honey. It's...."

"I was here when Joey was born," she reasoned.

"That was different," he thought about it. "An' ya didn't actually see his birth."

"I'll be real quiet," she pledged.

"I'll talk t' your Ma about it," he conceded.

"Talk to me about what?" Michaela caught the end of their conversation.

Sully changed the subject, "Grace sent supper for us."

"I hungwy," Josef clapped his little hands.

"Then let's eat," Sully set his daughter down. "Go help your brothers an' sister, Katie. I'll be right there."

"I'll make you a tray, Ma," Colleen offered as the children departed.

"What were you and Katie discussing?" Michaela asked her husband.

"She wants t' watch the babies bein' born," he said.

"She mentioned it to me earlier," she related. "I don't believe it wise to let her...."

"I know," he agreed. "But how we gonna tell her?"

"I don't know," her face cringed.

"What's wrong?" he instantly reacted.

"I have a pain in my back," she winced.

"Here," he guided her to sit more upright.

Sully began to massage her back. Michaela closed her eyes and relaxed at his ministrations.

"Thank you," she sighed. "That feels wonderful."

"You're welcome," he slid his hand around to caress the babies.

She rested her palm on the top of his hand.

"I was thinkin' about cradles for 'em," he spoke low.

"There's no time to make another," she reasoned.

"We could put one baby in the cradle an' use the bassinet for the other while I make another crib," he figured.

"How are we going to fit two cribs in here?" she glanced around the bedroom.

"We'll manage," he smiled. "Might have t' move the chest o' drawers int' the hall."

"I suppose that would work," she nodded.

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

"Why'd ya want everyone t' meet at the Cafe, Dorothy?" Robert E put his hands on his hips.

The redhead smiled, "Michaela is gonna have twins."

"Twins!" Grace held the sides of her face. "Where'd ya hear that?"

"Cloud Dancin' told me," Dorothy informed her.

Robert E shook his head, "I can't believe it."

"Can't believe what?" Jake Slicker approached.

"Dr. Mike's havin' twins," Grace repeated.

"Just like her t' go an' do that," he chuckled.

"What's all the commotion here?" Hank strolled over.

Jake announced, "Dr. Mike's havin' twins."

"Twins?" Preston neared them. "Michaela?"

Loren neared, "Dr. Mike?"

Dorothy held up her hands for all to quiet, "Are we missin' anyone?"

"Horace ain't here," Loren looked around.

"He don't need t' know," Hank rolled his eyes.

"An' the Reverend," Grace folded her arms.

"Here they come," Robert E pointed. "Miss Isabel's bringin' the Reverend."

"What's goin' on?" Horace wondered.

"Now that everyone's here...." Dorothy paused.

"Plus a few that don't need t' be here," Hank pointed toward Preston.

"I just found out Michaela's expectin' twins," Dorothy spoke up. "I was thinkin' we could all pitch in t' help her."

"Sounds like Sully helped her enough," Hank quipped.

"I'm serious," the redhead leered at him. "They're gonna need diapers, bottles, clothes, blankets...."

"I still got some o' Samantha's baby things," Horace contributed.

"I'll take care o' gettin' 'em bottles," Loren added.

"I'll get started on a cradle," Robert E stood. "I could have it ready by t'morrow."

Dorothy removed the pencil from behind her ear and began to make a list, "Let's get organized then. We'll fill a wagon full o' things for 'em."

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

Colleen pulled Sully aside as he locked up for the night, "I sent a telegram to Denver today. I asked Andrew and Dr. Bernard to be here tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Sully swallowed hard. "Ya think your Ma...."

"All indications are pointing in that direction," she touched his arm.

Sully silently stood and contemplated her words.

Then his brow creased, "God, if anythin' happens t' her.... t' the babies."

"Everything will be fine, Pa," the young woman's tone was calming. "It's just a precaution, especially with twins."

He put his arm around her shoulders, "I feel a lot better with you here, Colleen."

"Thanks," she smiled.

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

"Sully?" Michaela woke her husband.

"Huh?" he bolted up. "Is it time?"

"No," she stroked his arm. "I thought I heard something outside."

"Nothin' t' worry about," he yawned. "Go back t' sleep."

"No," she insisted. "I'm certain that I heard something."

Sully roused himself from the bed and pulled on his buckskins. Heading down the hallway, he saw Wolf standing at the bottom of the steps. Brian stirred from his position near the living room fireplace.

"You hear anythin', son?" Sully rubbed his upper lip.

"Just Wolf growlin' a little," the young man ran his fingers through his hair.

"Your Ma wants me t' check," Sully stretched his arms. "I'll be back."

"Want me t' come with ya?" Brian offered.

"No, thanks," Sully fastened his belt around his waist. "I'll take Wolf."

Sully stood on the front porch listening carefully. He drew his tomahawk and moved his hand slightly for Wolf to follow. The animal began a low growl as they neared the barn. Sully knelt down to examine the fresh tracks in the soil.

He began to follow in their direction, but when he reached the stream, he stopped. Whoever had been at the homestead had stopped to watch, then gone on their way. Who could it have been?

Vowing to alert his older sons to keep a close watch, he returned to the house. He commanded Wolf to remain outside to listen for a possible return of the stranger who had been there.

"Everythin' okay?" Brian met him at the door.

"Don't wanna alarm your Ma," Sully put his hand on his son's shoulder. "Someone was here, then left. Looked like they watched the house for a spell. I want you an' Matthew t' keep your eyes an' ears open."

"Who ya think it was?" Brian questioned.

"I don't know," Sully responded. "But I don't like it. 'Til we figure it out, keep Wolf outside."

"Okay," Brian rubbed his eyes.

"Try t' get some rest, son," Sully patted his back. "Looks like it's gonna be a busy day t'morrow."

"The babies?" his eyes widened.

"Yep," Sully half smiled and turned to go up the steps.

"Pa," Brian beckoned him back. "Can I tell ya somethin'?"

"Sure," Sully paused.

"I just wanna thank you," the young man swallowed hard.

"Thank me?" Sully was puzzled.

"For givin' me a home," Brian related. "I know I was selfish a lot o' the time when I was little, but.... havin' Katie an' Josef around.... an' now the new babies, well.... it's taught me a lot about sharin'... an' family an' what's important. When I get married, I wanna fill my home with a lot o' kids an' a lot o' love. Just like you an' Ma."

Sully put his arm around him, "Then I gotta thank you, too. Matthew, Colleen an' you made me wanna be a Pa again. After Abigail an' Hannah died, I didn't wanna let myself feel anythin' again. But when I fell in love with your Ma an' you kids, I couldn't help myself. We been real lucky, Brian. We found each other."

"I want ya t' know, I'm gonna be here t' help with the babies," the young man pledged.

"We're gonna have our hands full," Sully grinned. "I got a feelin' Katie an' Josef are gonna need some special attention, too."

"Jealousy," he nodded. "I reckon I know somethin' about that."

"You got over it," Sully patted his back.

"Better go up an' tell Ma everythin's all right," Brian encouraged.

"'Night, son," the mountain man spoke.

"'Night, Pa," Brian replied.

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

"Sully?" Michaela heard him enter the bedroom.

"Nothin' t' worry about," he slipped into bed beside her.

"What took you so long?" she wondered.

"I was just talkin' t' Brian," he caressed her cheek.

"Did he hear something, as well?" she persisted.

"No," his voice was soothing. "Go back t' sleep now."

"I can't get comfortable," she lamented.

Sully took a deep breath and sighed.

Michaela turned slightly to rest her palm against his heart, "Strong and steady."

"Mmm?" he was curious.

"Your heartbeat," she spoke low. "Sometimes when you sleep, I put my hand here and feel it."

"Ya do?" he grinned. "Why?"

"To assure myself that you're all right," she described. "The most frightening day of my life was when we found you after you fell from the cliff, and your heart stopped beating. Ever since then, I check on you to insure that it's still strong."

"Thanks t' you, it is," he kissed her temple. "Ya started my heart again in many ways, Michaela."

"It's the most wonderful feeling.... your heartbeat," she said softly.

He caressed her abdomen, "These heartbeats, too."

"They remind me of yours," she detailed. "All of our children match their father's heartbeat in perfect accord."

"If they got my heartbeat, I hope they got their Ma's looks," he smiled. "You make the most beautiful babies."

"We," she amended.

"I love you, Michaela," his voice was raspy. "Every day, I find somethin' new t' love about ya. I can never tell ya enough how much ya mean t' me."

"I love you, too," she replied. "All of my days."

"I remember when I told ya that's how long I'd love ya," he smiled fondly.

"When you asked me to marry you," she toyed with the hair on his chest.

"I sure am glad ya said yes," he snuggled closer.

"I sure am glad, too," she imitated his dialect.

He placed his hand on her belly, "Strong an' steady."

She paused to rest her hand against his heart, "Just like their Daddy."

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

"Michaela," Sully rushed into the bedroom where his wife lay resting. "Your Ma an' sister's here."

"What?" her eyes widened. "They aren't due yet."

"I know," he nodded. "But they changed their plans after they got your letter about maybe havin' twins."

"Michaela," Elizabeth Quinn swept into the room and removed her gloves. "How are you?"

She attempted to sit up. Sully noticed and supported her back.

"I'm... fine, Mother," she accepted a kiss.

"Good," Elizabeth smiled. "I don't want you to worry about a thing. Your sister and I are here to see that all runs smoothly as you await the birth of the little ones."

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

"Mother," Michaela attempted to get in a word. "There's no need for you to fuss. Really. Sully and the children have been...."

"Fuss?" Elizabeth interrupted. "It's nothing of the sort. In addition, I've sent for a nanny for the babies. She'll be here in a few days."

"A nanny?" Michaela and Sully spoke simultaneously.

"Michaela," Rebecca knocked on the doorframe. "Is it all right for me to come in?"

"Yes," she was relieved to see her oldest sister. "How was your trip?"

"It was fine," Rebecca leaned down to kiss her.

"Fine?" Elizabeth challenged. "If you consider rude passengers, dirty depots and nonexistent time schedules to be fine."

Michaela smiled at her sister, "I take it you had a long ride."

"Excruciatingly long," Rebecca rolled her eyes. "My, you are carrying this child low."

"Children," Elizabeth corrected. "I'm certain of it."

Michaela rubbed her belly lovingly, "You're right, Mother. It's definitely twins."

Elizabeth patted her hand, then turned her attention to her son-in-law, "I trust that you have insured the finest medical care for my daughter this time around."

Sully cleared his throat uncomfortably, "Uh, yes, Ma'am. Colleen's gonna...."

"Colleen?" the older woman turned up her nose. "I hardly consider a novice physician...."

"Mother," Michaela interjected. "My daughter is a fully qualified, highly competent physician. I trust her with my life."

"I meant no offense, Michaela," Elizabeth retreated somewhat in her tone. "It's just that... if you are to deliver more than one baby, the risks...."

"Thanks for your concern," Sully did not want her upsetting his wife. He noted the expression on her face, "Maybe we best let Michaela get some rest."

"Yes, of course," Elizabeth folded her hands. "Now, about our accommodations."

"You can stay at the Clinic, Mother," Michaela suggested.

"No, thank you," she replied. "I've reserved rooms at Mr. Lodge's establishment."

"That's really not necessary," Michaela countered.

"It's the closest we can get to the amenities of home," the older woman reasoned. She leaned down to kiss her daughter, "We'll be back later for dinner. Goodbye, my dear."

"Goodbye, Mother," Michaela was exhausted from the exchange.

As their mother exited, Rebecca sighed, "She's very excited about this. She even has names picked out."

"Names?" Sully did not even want to imagine. "One of 'em better not be Ezra."

"How did you know?" Rebecca was amazed.

"Lucky guess," Sully glanced at his wife.

"I'll see you two later," Rebecca departed.

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

"Can I get ya anythin', Grandma?" Brian set down the last of her trunks in the luxurious hotel room.

"No, thank you, Brian," she sat down. "I think I'll take a nap before coming over to the homestead for dinner."

"Okay," he smiled. "I'll be back t' fetch ya."

"Don't worry about us," Rebecca assured. "We'll have the Chateau carriage bring us."

"Brian," Elizabeth looked up in concern. "I would like to discuss Michaela's health with you."

"I know she's been real tired," the young man put his hands in his pockets.

"Mother," Rebecca interceded. "Let's speak with Sully about this later. Brian has things to do, I'm certain."

"Very well," the woman patted his hand. "We'll see you later."

"Sure," he smiled and exited.

"Mother, I don't think you should suggest names to Michaela," the daughter broached the subject.

"And why not?" she pulled a list from her purse. "She's going to need several with the brood she's expecting. Twins. My poor Michaela. I suppose Mr. Sully will be parading around like a proud peacock at his...."

"Mother!" Rebecca stopped her. "You know he's not like that."

Her tone softened, "Yes.... I know. But I also know how men can be."

"I think, if anything, we've learned that Sully is not like most men," Rebecca sat beside her.

"Boston society certainly recognized that," Elizabeth folded her hands. "I'll never forget the first time he showed up at our door."

"Because he loved Michaela," she smiled. "I still see that love. Don't you?"

"Who knows what a man thinks?" Elizabeth evaded an answer. "Now, let's consider my list of names"

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

"Anythin' I can do for ya?" Sully spoke tenderly to his wife.

"Could you read me some poetry?" she requested.

"Be my pleasure," he smiled.

He lifted a book from his nightstand and cleared his throat, "This is by Wordsworth."

She relaxed at his tone.

Sully read:

"Therefore I am still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear--both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my mortal being...."

"That was lovely," Michaela warmed. "I liked that one phrase...." she pondered. "Guardian of my heart. That's what you are to me, Sully."

"Same goes for you," he leaned forward to rest his lips on her forehead.

"Thank you," she yawned.

"Am I borin' ya?" he teased.

"Never, Mr. Sully," she caressed the hair at the base of his neck. "I just feel a bit drowsy. The babies are finally resting, I believe."

"Then their Ma best get some rest, too," he stood.

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

Josef folded his arms defiantly, "Why I not see Mama?"

"Because she's restin'," Brian explained. "Josef, ya know things are gonna be different when the babies come."

Sully appeared beside them, "Somethin' wrong?"

The little boy sighed, "I not like this. I wanna see Mama now."

"Brian's right," Sully rubbed the little boy's belly. "With two babies.... your Ma's gonna need us all t' help. We gotta do things for her an' help take care o' them."

"Like shores?" Josef wondered.

"Chores," Sully corrected. "Yep, just like chores. Can ya think o' somethin' your Ma does that you could do instead?"

"Be a doctor?" the little boy guessed.

Sully and Brian chuckled.

"Somethin' that a three year old can do," Brian tickled his side.

"I can count," Josef offered.

"That's good, too," Sully encouraged. "An' you could be quiet for your Ma when she sleeps. That would help her a lot."

"I guess so," Josef sounded disappointed. "I wanna see Mama fiwst."

"Come on," Sully carried him toward the steps. "But be real quiet."

When they reached Michaela's room, Sully leaned in to see if she was awake. She was.

"Mama," Josef tentatively approached.

"Hello, my darling," she smiled slightly.

"I count for ya?" he reached for her hand.

"I'd like that," her face seemed different.

"One, two, thwee....." the little boy began and continued through his parent's discussion.

Sully noted her expression, "Michaela?"

"Where's Colleen?" she asked.

"She an' Matthew went t' town t' meet Andrew's train," he informed her. "Dr. Bernard's comin', too. Why?"

"I.... I'm beginning to experience some discomfort," she knew the sensation.

He recognized the tone of her voice and nuances of her face, "I'll send Brian t' get her. He can take the children t' Grace an' Robert E's."

"Five an' teen...." Josef was oblivious.

"Joe," Sully lifted him to the level of his eyes. "You an' your sister's gotta go with Brian right now. He's takin' ya t' see your godparents."

Josef detected something different in his father's voice, "We make meatloaf?"

"Sure," he swiftly left the room with the child.

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

Hanratty leaned on the Depot window sill, "You know a man named Sully?"

"Sully?" Horace nodded. "Sure. Everyone 'round here knows him."

"That right?" the man wiped his sleeve across his mouth. "He live in that homestead east o' town?"

Horace became suspicious, "Uh.... he never stays in one place too long. Why ya wanna know?"

"I just wanna talk t' him," Hanratty lied.

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

As the buckboard reached a turn in the road, Brian spotted a fallen log that had not been their during his last trip. Too late. One of the wagon's wheel's hit the edge of the log and broke the spokes. Swiftly, the young man slowed the horses, maintaining control of the vehicle.

"You kids okay?" he stepped down to assess the damage.

"Papa be mad, Bran," Josef bent over the edge of the wagon. "Ya bweaked it."

"We gotta walk now?" Katie reasoned.

"Yep, fast as we can," Brian reached up to help them down from the buckboard. "Come on. We're closer t' town than t' home."

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

Sully leaned toward his wife, "You okay?"

"The privy," her voice trembled. "I need to get to the privy."

"Can ya walk?" he hoped.

"I... I'll try," she nodded.

Slowly, gingerly, he supported her down the hallway and steps to the first floor. Michaela left the door ajar slightly so Sully could hear her. Alarmed by her quiet, he neared the opening.

"Michaela?" he spoke softly.

There was no reply. He opened the door further to see his wife crying.

He knelt before her and tenderly took her hands in his. He never wanted anything so much in his life than to take away the fear he saw in her eyes.

"Ya finished?" he whispered.

She nodded and tried to compose herself. Sully assisted her back upstairs and gently guided her onto their bed.

Suddenly, Michaela was gripped with a pain.

"Did your water break?" Sully helped his wife into bed.

"No," her face contorted in agony.

"What can I get ya, Michaela?" he felt helpless.

"Just hold my hand," she weathered the wave of pain.

"Brian'll be back with Colleen in no time," he was optimistic.

"We need to prepare," she stated.

"Prepare?" he was uncertain.

"For delivery," she specified. "Soon. Very soon."

"Oh, God," Sully spoke under his breath.

"I need you to bring up as many clean cloths as you can find," she directed calmly. "I keep them near the side door downstairs."

"I know where," he nodded nervously. "Anythin' else?"

"Water," she noted. "Fresh water. It should be warmed."

"Okay," be began to rise. "I'll be right back."

"Hurry," she reached out for him.

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

"I tired, Bran," Josef stopped walking.

"Come here, then," he lifted his little brother. "We can't stop t' rest."

"Is Mama havin' the babies now?" Katie sensed his nervousness.

"Yep," he held her hand.

"Maybe we oughta be home then," the little girl reasoned.

"No, I don't think so," Brian replied. "Ma an' Pa don't wanna have t' worry about you kids."

"I'll be real quiet," Katie pledged.

"Me, too," Josef chimed in.

"It ain't that," Brian hoisted Josef up higher on his shoulders. "I know you'd be good."

"Then why can't we stay home?" Katie persisted.

"'Cause Pa wants ya with Robert E an' Miss Grace," the young man answered.

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

Sully gathered the cloths and checked on the progress of the water as it heated. He was interrupted by a knock at the door.

"Thank God," he sighed. "Colleen...." he opened the door.

There stood Elizabeth and Rebecca.

"Where is everyone?" the older woman entered.

"In town," Sully anxiously replied. "Michaela's in labor."

"And there are no physicians here to attend to my daughter?" she was upset. "Where is Colleen? Andrew?"

"Brian went t' get 'em," he swallowed hard. "Dr. Bernard, too. Should've been back by now."

"SULLY!" Michaela called from upstairs.

He bolted up the steps.

Reaching Michaela's side, he noted the expression of agony on her face. Quickly, he placed several cloths beneath her.

"Tell me what t' do, Michaela," his heart ached for her.

"Hold me!" she extended her hand to him.

Sully slid beside her on the bed, and enfolded her in his arms, "Your Ma an' sister just got here."

"Michaela!" Elizabeth entered the room. "Sully said...."

Again, Michaela let loose a scream of agony. Suddenly, a wet spot began to appear beneath her dress and onto the sheets.

Sully gulped, "What...."

"My water...." her breathing quickened.

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

"Ma's havin' the baby," Brian reached his older brother and sister at the Depot. "The wagon wheel broke on the way here. We had t' walk."

"We?" Matthew questioned. "Where's Sully an' the kids?"

Brian stated, "The kids are with Robert E an' Miss Grace."

"Come on, little sister," Matthew instructed. "I'll take ya back t' the homestead. Brian, you stay here an' wait for the train."

"Hold it," the gruff voice of Hanratty spoke from behind them.

Matthew quickly turned to see a revolver aimed at them, "Wha...."

"I been lookin' for Sully," his eyes glared.

"Why?" Brian could not contain his curiosity.

"Personal business," he answered. "Take me t' him."

"We can't," Matthew avowed.

"Why's that?" Hanratty snapped.

"We don't know anyone named Sully," Brian picked up on it.

"I'm a physician," Colleen implored. "One of my patients has just gone into labor, and I must get to her at once."

"Sully's wife?" he assumed.

"No," she nervously replied.

He pulled back the trigger, "Come with me. NOW!"

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

"Rebecca," Sully's voice was strong. "Can ya bring up the water from downstairs?"

"Certainly," she rushed from the room.

"Elizabeth," Sully directed. "Help me get Michaela outa these clothes.

"What?" she was aghast.

"She can't have the babies wearin' all this," he began to unbutton his wife's dress. "Over in the top drawer. Get one o' her shifts."

"This is most out of the ordinary," the older woman reluctantly moved. "You should not be here like this."

"You ever deliver a baby?" Sully tenderly removed Michaela's dress.

"No, but...." Elizabeth averted her eyes.

"Mother," Michaela spoke up. "Now is no time for modesty. Please do as Sully says."

"Here," she handed him the shift.

Sully helped Michaela put it on and braced her back with more pillows.

"Okay," he paused to assess things. "How we doin'?"

Michaela stopped panting long enough to nod.

"Good," Sully sat on the edge of the bed and held her hand.

"Thank you," Michaela ran her fingers through his hair.

At that instant, another labor pain gripped her. She clasped his hair and began to pull with all of her might.

"No! Michaela!" he squirmed in agony. "Not my hair!"

"Michaela Ann Quinn!" her mother shouted. "You're going to scalp him!"

Her face contorted in pain, Michaela could not stop herself. Both husband and wife writhed in agony until finally she relinquished her grip as the pain passed.

Sully felt as if every pore of his head was on fire. He reached up to see that he still had hair remaining.

"Are you all right?" Michaela caught her breath.

"I think so," he was not certain. "You?"

"That was a strong one," she attempted to calm her breathing.

"I don't think I can endure any more of this," Elizabeth spoke.

"Perhaps you should wait downstairs, Mother," Michaela advised.

"I.... I'll go help Rebecca with the water," the older woman left the room abruptly.

"It's just you and I again," Michaela glanced at her husband with love.

"We'll do it," he sounded certain.

Suddenly another pain overtook Michaela. Sully held her and spoke tender words of encouragement.

"I need to push!" Michaela screamed.

"Is it okay to?" he questioned.

"Yes!" her face contorted.

"Then.... PUSH!" Sully supported her.

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

"Where are ya takin' us?" Matthew turned defiantly toward his abductor.

"Just outside o' town," Hanratty kept his gun low. "Unless you wanna tell me where Sully is."

"Look," Matthew stopped. "We don't know anyone named Sully. My sister here's a doctor. She really does have t' deliver a baby. Let her an' my brother go."

"No," the man replied. "I figure the more hostages I got, the more likely I'll find Sully."

"If... this Sully is interested in us, how will he even find out ya got us?" Matthew countered.

"He'll come lookin' for ya," Hanratty answered. "Then.... I'll take care o' him."

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

"Miss Gwace," Josef glanced up at his godmother. "Mama's havin' babies."

"I know, Josef," she smiled. "Ain't that excitin'?"

"I don' know," he shrugged. "I think it might huwt."

"Why ya think that?" Grace lifted him into her arms.

"'Cause Mama's big," the little boy reasoned. "They comin' outa her."

"She'll do fine," Grace assured.

Robert E noticed Katie sitting quietly nearby, "What ya thinkin' about?"

"Mama," she wiped a tear. "I wanted t' be there t' see the babies be born."

"Maybe it's better that ya ain't," Robert E counseled.

"Why?" she glanced up with her mother's eyes.

"Well," he sat beside her. "From what I know about women havin' babies, they scream an' shout a lot."

"I know," she folded her hands.

"But if you was there, your Ma might worry what you'd think 'bout her shoutin'," Robert E continued. "She might think you'd be worried, an' then she couldn't concentrate on havin' the babies."

"But I'd be good," Katie said. "I wouldn't get in the way or nothin'."

"You an' me know that," Robert E advised. "But when people's in pain, they don't think real clear."

"I know," Katie nodded. "When I fell off Flash, I hurt real bad. I didn't think clear at all."

"I remember that," he spoke softly. "The most important thing t' do right now is think real good thoughts about your Ma an' the babies."

"Like pray?" Katie wondered.

"Yep," he agreed. "An' 'fore ya know it, you'll have them little ones t' hold."

"You ever have children, Robert E?" Katie questioned.

He attempted to cover his emotions, "I.... I did.... once."

"What happened t' 'em?" she innocently asked.

"I lost 'em," he answered simply.

"I could help ya look for 'em," she volunteered.

"It ain't that easy, Katie," he swallowed hard. "Alls I know is, when ya got a beautiful family like you do, ya never let 'em go. Thank the Lord every day for 'em."

"I will," she folded her hands and lowered her head. "God, please help Mama have the babies safe. An'... if ya can, could ya help Robert E find his children?"

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

Elizabeth paced back and forth between the living room and kitchen, "Where are they? Where are Colleen and Andrew?"

"The train must be late," Rebecca offered.

"But Brian went to get Colleen before we arrived," she sighed. "That was an hour ago. My poor Michaela has been up there suffering terribly."

"Mother, after giving birth five times, you know that it's difficult to predict how long labor will be," the daughter advised.

"This is different," she folded her arms. "It's twins. Michaela's age is also a factor. She should have the finest medical attention possible."

Another scream from overhead caught their attention.

"Why don't you ride into town to see what's keeping them?" Elizabeth urged.

"All right," Rebecca walked toward the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can, but... it's been years since I saddled a horse."

"Please hurry," Elizabeth urged.

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

"SULLY!" Michaela agonized.

"I can see the head," he sat near her bent knees. "Push again!"

"I can't!" she panted.

"Yes, ya can," he encouraged. "Come on! You can do it!"

"No," she was too tired.

"Give me one more push, an'.... I.... I'll tell ya my middle name," he urged.

"What?" she forgot her pain for an instant.

"Ya heard me," he said. "PUSH!"

Closing her eyes, Michaela bore down with all of the energy she possessed. Suddenly, the infant was delivered into its father's hands.

Sully's eyes filled with tears, "Michaela...."

"Wha...." Michaela was exhausted.

A mighty wail erupted from the little one.

Sully cradled it gently in his hands, "A girl, Michaela. We got another little girl."

"Ohhh, Sully," she cried. "Is she all right?"

He set the baby on her mother's abdomen.

"The water," she pointed.

Swiftly, he brought the basin of fresh water to bathe the infant while Michaela cut the cord and secured it. Tenderly, he bathed the child while she continued to cry. Then Michaela, tears streaming from her own eyes, began to examine the newborn.

"She's beautiful," Michaela held her close. "And her lungs are healthy."

"But she's so tiny," Sully held the infant's hand between his thumb and index finger.

Michaela assured him, "She's fine, Sully. She's healthy and strong."

"What about you?" he worried. "You okay?"

"Yes," she lowered the strap of her shift. "We're both fine."

The crying infant latched onto her mother's breast and began to nurse. Sully rubbed the baby's back.

"She's hungry already," he smiled.

"Yes," Michaela glanced down at the little one. "Isn't she adorable?"

"Just like I knew she'd be," he whispered. Then he suddenly realized, "What about the other baby? How soon?"

She pointed out, "Nursing this little one will also stimulate my uterus to expedite delivery of her twin."

"God, she's so little," he tilted his head to watch more closely. "I wanna protect her from all harm."

She caressed the tiny head, "Oh, Sully, look. She has Katie's hair."

"Ya mean no hair," he chuckled.

"It will grow," Michaela noticed the infant had fallen asleep.

"Can I hold her?" Sully requested.

"Certainly," she handed the baby to her father.

Sully raised her up so that the tiny forehead touched his lips. The baby's warm skin filled him with love. He closed his eyes, hoping that the infant could sense the bond that he already felt toward her.

"Another little Sully girl to wrap her father around her little finger," she ran her hand along the baby's arm. "I believe that you owe me something."

"I owe ya everythin'," he looked at her with love.

"I mean payment for that last push," Michaela specified. "Your middle name, Mr. Sully."

"Oh," he sounded disappointed. "It was a moment o' weakness."

"You're going back on your word?" she raised an eyebrow.

"If I tell ya, will ya promise not t' tell anyone?" he hedged.

"I promise," she smiled.

"Noel," he revealed.

"What?" Michaela was taken aback.

"Byron Noel Sully," he could not look her in the eye.

"Noel," she tried to assess how it sounded.

"It was Lord Byron's middle name," he kissed his newborn daughter again.

"I like it," she ran her fingers through his hair.

Sully winced, "Ya can't be serious."

"Oh, no," she instantly recalled how she had pulled his locks during a contraction. "I'm sorry, Sully."

"I'm okay," he assured her. "Long as I know my girls are all right."

"We're fine," she answered.

"I'll go tell your Ma an' sister," he stood.

She smiled, "Thank you for this little one."

Sully grinned and handed the child back to her mother. Michaela kissed the top of the baby's head as her husband exited.

"Do you think we can give your Daddy another little boy, Sweetheart?" she whispered to the infant. "Have you been with a little brother all this time?"

Suddenly, Michaela felt a twinge. She set the baby beside her on the bed and began to feel her belly.

"SULLY!" she shouted.

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

Horace heard the train whistle and quickly prepared for its arrival. As it neared, he was surprised to see Dr. Mike's sister Rebecca ride up to the Depot.

"Hey," he smiled.

"Horace," she was out of breath. "Do you know if Andrew's train has arrived?"

"That's it comin' down the track now," he pointed.

"I thought Colleen and Matthew came to meet it," her brow wrinkled.

"I saw 'em a while ago," he shrugged. "When the train was late, I just figured they went over t' Grace's for a bite t' eat. Somethin' wrong?"

"I... I'm not sure," she said.

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

"What now?" Matthew searched the face of Hanratty.

"Now?" the man laughed. "We wait."

"But my patient...." Colleen protested.

"Look, woman," he shouted. "I don' wanna hear anythin' more about your patient. Shut up!"

"You're goin' t' a lot o' trouble for nothin'," Matthew tried a new approach. "You could be out lookin' for this Sully instead o' wastin' your time on us."

"I got a feelin' I ain't wastin' my time," he pulled a pocket flask of moonshine from his jacket.

Brian eyed his siblings nervously, "What about Ma?"

"We gotta hope Andrew an' Dr. Bernard get t' the homestead in time," Matthew spoke low.

"What're ya whisperin' about?" Hanratty demanded.

"Nothin'," Brian spoke up.

The man's demeanor was becoming more irritated as he continued to consume the alcohol, "Shut up, all o' ya."

The thought occurred to Matthew that the more he drank, the better their chance for escape.

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

"Michaela?" Elizabeth Quinn stood at the bedroom doorway. "Sully said...."

"Mother!" she pleaded. "Get Sully."

"I'm here," he rushed past his mother-in-law.

"I... I need to discuss something with you," her voice sounded different.

He reached for their newborn daughter and looked toward Elizabeth, "Would you like to hold her?"

The older woman's heart melted at the sight of the child, "She's beautiful."

Michaela watched her mother lovingly as Sully began preparing for the second labor. He cleared away the blood soaked cloths and placed fresh ones beneath his wife.

"Thank you" she said. Turning toward her mother, she observed, "It appears that she loves her grandmother already."

"And I love her," the mother nodded.

"Where's Rebecca?" Michaela was curious.

"I sent her into town to see what's keeping the physicians who are supposed to be attending to you," the older woman sat in the rocking chair.

"What could be keeping them, I wonder?" Michaela became anxious. "Brian left...."

"They're okay," Sully did not want her to worry.

Michaela reached for his hand and whispered, "Look at them, Sully."

He linked his fingers in hers, "Looks like she's made an impression on your Ma already. What did you want t' discuss with me? It sounded urgent."

Michaela's brow wrinkled, and her grip on Sully's hand tightened, "Contraction."

"You're doin' good," his voice trembled slightly.

"Sully," her tone was urgent. "This.... this one may be more difficult."

"What d' ya mean?" he was uncertain.

"The second twin is sometimes in a breech position," she detailed.

"What should I do?" his blue eyes searched her face.

"If.... if the baby starts to come, but not head first...." she stopped.

"What?" he encouraged.

"It might be a problem," she was vague.

"Elizabeth?" Sully turned to his mother-in-law. "Could ya take the baby int' the children's room?"

"Of course," she rose from the chair.

"There's diapers an' a blanket for her over there," Sully nodded.

"Wait," Michaela said. "Let me hold her one more time before...."

"Here," Elizabeth gently set the child in her mother's arms.

Michaela caressed the tiny head and kissed the sleeping baby's forehead, "I love you, little one."

Sully stroked his daughter's arm. Then Michaela returned the infant to her grandmother. As Elizabeth exited the room with the baby, Sully saw the moisture on his wife's cheeks.

"Tell me, Michaela," he sensed something different in her.

"Sully," she closed her eyes and began to weep.

He enfolded her in his arms, "Hey. You're supposed t' be happy. Remember?"

"I am happy," she choked back her tears.

"Then why ya cryin'?" he asked. "Please.... tell me."

"I may need a Caesarean procedure if the baby is in a breech position," she came out with it.

"But...." he realized the implication. "It's not somethin' ya can talk me through."

"No," she was barely audible. "Please.... know how much I... love you."

"I love you, too," he spoke softly.

While she had the energy, Michaela pointed, "Sully, get the tablet for me.... and a pencil."

"Ya gonna write somethin'?" he complied.

"I'm going to draw something," she was determined. "If it becomes necessary to do this procedure.... I want you to do exactly as I describe."

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

"Andrew!" Rebecca greeted the physician.

"Rebecca?" he was surprised. "Was Colleen detained at the homestead?"

"Actually, I don't know where she is," the woman clasped his arm. "But Michaela has gone into labor, and you're needed right away."

"This is Dr. Bernard," he introduced. "He's come to help with the delivery."

"A pleasure, Doctor," she nodded. "Come. Let's hurry."

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

"And you make the incision here," Michaela pointed to the diagram.

"Michaela," Sully's forehead creased. "What're ya sayin'?"

"Please," her voice became more urgent. "It's imperative that...."

"You're tellin' me t' cut ya open?" he was incredulous.

"It could be the baby's only chance if...." she hesitated.

"No!" he shook his head. "I can't do that."

She fell silent.

"Look at me," he clasped her hand. "We got a little one in there that needs her Ma. Everythin's gonna be okay."

"A breech position for this baby could jeopardize its life, Sully," she attempted to explain.

"What about your life?" he swallowed hard. If I cut ya open.... If I make a mistake.... what then? An' whose gonna sew ya back up?"

"I only want the baby to have a chance," tears streamed down her face.

"You, Michaela," his volume increased. "I can't lose ya."

"Perhaps Colleen and Andrew will be here by the time...." she was interrupted.

"NO!" he was firm.

"Sully," she hoped to sway his opinion. "Our child...."

"No," his voice softened. "I won't let this happen."

Suddenly, a contraction hit. Sully embraced his wife, helping her to weather the pain.

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

Hank adjusted his gun belt, "Wha'd ya say this fella looked like?"

Horace nervously answered, "'Bout your height, kinda heavy. Had dark hair an' a beard. He was askin' about Sully. I got a strange feelin' about him. Then, next thing I knew, he was gone."

"That why ya called me over?" Hank rubbed his chin.

"Well... no," he hesitated. "It's on account o' Dr. Mike's sister comin' t' meet Andrew's train."

Hank folded his arms, "What's that got t' do with anythin'? You're jumpin' all around with this story."

"She come because Colleen an' Matthew was supposed t' meet the train," the telegraph operator reported.

"Now they're in the story?" the sheriff shook his head.

"Then Brian came," Horace added.

"Why don't ya start from the beginnin' so I can sort this out?" Hank was exasperated.

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

"SULLY!" Michaela screamed.

"I'm here," he held her knees. "You're doin' fine."

"NO!" she shouted. "I'm NOT doing fine!"

"Yes, ya are," he came back.

"I.... I feel something...." her voice quaked.

Sully looked down.

"Oh, God!" his heart sank.

"What is it?" Michaela nervously questioned.

"The baby's feet," he gulped. "They're comin' out."

She closed her eyes.

"Wait!" he looked up. "They went back in ya."

"What?" her breathing intensified.

"They started t' come out, then went back in," he repeated.

"We don't have much time," she panted.

"I ain't cuttin' ya, Michaela!" he asserted.

"No," she lowered her hands to her belly. "When they come out again, I need to push."

"But it ain't head first," he was tensing.

"Just support the baby," she maneuvered her hands along her abdomen.

Sully gulped, "There they are again."

Michaela bore down with all of her might.

Sully looked up, "Again."

Once more, she garnered all of her energy to push. With Sully's hand to support the child, it was delivered.

"It's blue, Michaela," Sully's heart sank. "The baby ain't breathin'!"

Somehow finding the strength, Michaela reached down and accepted the newborn from its father. Clearing its breathing passages, she rubbed the skin to stimulate the baby. No reaction.

"Michaela," tears filled his eyes. "Please...."

She finally raised the infant to her lips and made a slight puff into its mouth and nose. It worked. A scream erupted from the tiny infant.

Sully exhaled the breath he had been holding, "Is it all right?"

As the tiny legs and arms began to move in a jerky motion, Michaela caressed the child's head and kissed its forehead, "Would you like to meet your new son?"

"Son?" he smiled. "We got another boy?"

"Yes," she began to clamp the umbilical cord.

"How on earth d' ya have any strength left, Michaela?" he sprang into action to assist her.

"I don't think it will last much longer," her voice was weak.

Sully tenderly bathed the baby, dried him and held him close, "Joe's got some competition now."

"He'll have his own distinctive personality," she was certain.

"He's even smaller than his sister," Sully observed.

"We'll have to watch them very closely," she indicated. "This baby in particular because of his size."

"Ya saved his life," Sully was in awe.

Michaela had closed her eyes.

Sully touched her arm, "Michaela."

"Humm?" she hardly had any strength remaining.

"Thank you," he whispered. "I feel like.... we finally got the two little spirits we lost."

"I know," she caressed his cheek. "They've come home to us at last."

Her face contorted.

"Afterbirth?" he recognized.

"Yes," she responded.

Sully set the little boy on the bed and assisted his wife in delivering the placentas. Then he saw the blood on the sheets beneath her, "You're still bleedin'. More than with Katie or Josef."

"I... I'm torn," she felt weaker by the minute.

"Tell me what to do," he sounded urgent.

"There's nothing you can do," she spoke low.

Sully's heart raced, "But we gotta stop the bleedin'."

"Pack it with cloths," she instructed. "And pray that Colleen and Andrew...."

"Sully! Michaela!" it was Rebecca's voice.

"Michaela!" Andrew rushed into the room.

Sully stood, "Ya gotta do somethin'. She's had both the babies. But now, she...."

Dr. Bernard quickly entered the bedroom and positioned himself to attend to Michaela.

"Where are the babies?" Andrew asked.

"Here," Sully lifted the sleeping newborn from his mother's side. "He was born second. He's real little."

"And the first baby?" Andrew wondered.

"Right here," Elizabeth entered the room. "I heard another's cry."

"A boy," Andrew held him up.

"Splendid," Elizabeth smiled. "To go along with his little sister."

Rebecca peeked in, "May I see them?"

"Of course," Elizabeth offered.

"Michaela," Sully knelt beside the bed.

"She's fainted," Bernard informed him.

Sully stroked his wife's hair from her face, "Please, help her."

"I'm suturing her," Dr. Bernard stated.

"I'll take the babies into the children's room to examine them," Andrew stated. "Would you help me, Elizabeth? Rebecca?"

"Of course," Elizabeth nodded. "But Michaela..."

"Come," he urged her to follow.

"Dr. Bernard?" Sully clasped his wife's hand. "Is she gonna be okay?"

"I believe so," he sounded hopeful. "We got here just in time."

Just as he lifted up to kiss his wife's forehead, Sully heard the wailing of his children from the next room and knew that they must either be hungry or crave the warmth of their mother's arms.

Michaela stirred, the sound of her children having roused her, "My babies."

"They're fine," Sully took a cloth and wiped the perspiration from her face.

"They're hungry," she somehow found the strength to react.

"Is it okay?" Sully glanced down toward the physician.

Bernard nodded, "I'm finished."

Sully swiftly left the room and returned holding both newborns, one in each arm.

Sensing his wife's sense of modesty, he turned to the doctor, "Is it okay if we're alone for a few minutes."

"Yes," Bernard picked up on it and before leaving said, "I'll be downstairs if you need me."

Sully assisted his wife in positioning the babies at her breasts. He was amazed that both took to nursing so quickly but even more surprised that she possessed the energy to hold them.

Michaela smiled slightly, "You were right about nature having a way of taking care of things."

"They're perfect, Michaela," he closed his eyes and sighed.

"Thank God," she added. "They're our little miracles."

"I agree," he grinned. Then his expression became serious, "Will you be okay if I go int' town for a while?"

"The children?" she surmised. "I was just about to ask."

"Brian was supposed t' drop off Katie an' Josef with Robert E an' Grace," he recalled. "And we don't know what happened to Colleen an' Matthew."

"Go to them, Sully," she nodded. "Bring them home to us."

He leaned forward and touched the tops of his children's heads. Then he pulled back, pausing to gaze into Michaela's eyes.

"You're an amazin' woman, Michaela Quinn," he smiled.

"Be careful," she encouraged.

In the hallway, Andrew pulled Sully aside and spoke low, "The little girl appears to be healthy, but... I'm concerned about the boy."

Sully swallowed hard, "He's so small."

"Yes," Andrew nodded. "His lungs may not be fully developed."

"He was blue when he was born," Sully informed him. "Michaela had t' breathe int' him."

"I'll keep a close watch on him," the young physician assured him.

"Ain't there anythin' we can do?" Sully implored. "Some medicine?"

"I'm afraid not," he shook his head.

Sully glanced back into the bedroom. The baby girl was still nursing, but their son had fallen asleep. He could not yet tear himself away from them, so he reentered the room.

"Sully?" Michaela wondered why he had returned. "Are they back?"

"I forgot somethin'," he knelt down.

"What?" Michaela was curious.

"I wanted t' hold them one more time," he whispered.

"She's still nursing," she indicated.

He raised up to kiss his daughter, "I'll let her be, then."

Then he reached out to cradle his newborn son. Taking him toward the window, Sully tenderly rested his lips on the baby's head.

"Ya gotta be strong," he spoke low. "Just like your sister."

"Sully?" Michaela beckoned.

"Just havin' a little talk," he forced a smile.

Again whispering to the baby, he gently curled the tiny fingers partway around his index finger, "I love you."

Michaela smiled, "What are you discussing with him?"

"Just tellin' him t' take care o' my girls while I'm gone," he set the baby back in his mother's arms.

Then he tilted her chin upward with his finger, "I love you, Michaela."

"I love you, as well," her heart filled. "Are you all right?"

"Yep," he took a deep breath. "I'll see ya soon."

Again he was met in the hallway by Andrew, "Elizabeth told me that Colleen is missing. Brian and Matthew, as well."

"Prob'ly just got confused about your arrival time," Sully did not want to concern him. "I'm goin' int' town t' bring the 'em home."

"I'll come with you," the young man was not convinced. "Dr. Bernard can...."

"No, please," Sully implored. "I promise I'll get t' bring 'em all home. But Michaela an' the babies might need ya both."

"All right," Andrew reluctantly agreed.

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

Hank headed back toward the Gold Nugget, determined that Horace's suspicions were justified. He glanced through the alleyway between the Clinic and Gazette toward Grace's Cafe. There, sitting side by side talking to Loren were the Sully kids. He tossed his cigar into the street. Figuring that the children might know where their family members were, he strolled toward the Cafe.

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

"Michaela," Elizabeth Quinn spoke low so as to not wake the babies at her side.

"Mother," she smiled. "Come look at them."

The older woman walked around to the side of her bed and sat near the infants, "Have you decided on their names?"

"Nothing definitive," she checked on the babies again.

"I have a list," Elizabeth informed her.

"Mother," Michaela could only imagine. "I... we're going to give them Indian names."

"WHAT?" Elizabeth was aghast.

"Shhh," the daughter held her finger to her lips. "You'll wake them."

"I cannot believe that I heard you correctly," her eyes widened. "Name your children after Indians?"

"Yes," Michaela nodded. "I haven't discussed it fully with Sully, but I know that he wants this."

"Wants to saddle his children with names that will prompt scorn from others for their entire lives?" Elizabeth argued. "That's quite a selfish and..."

"Mother!" she refused to let her continue. "My husband is the kindest, most decent and least selfish man I've ever met. The cause of the Indians means a great deal to him. We have named our two older children after our parents. It's only fitting that...."

"Then why not give these little ones the same courtesy?" the older woman argued.

"They will be raised in a home full of love," Michaela felt a surge of energy as she defended her decision. "Their father and I will teach them to accept and be proud of their names."

The little boy beside Michaela began to squirm as he lifted his tiny legs up toward his belly. She hoped that he might be hungry. Lifting him tenderly to her breast, he began to nurse, but soon stopped.

"Come now," she whispered. "Try for Mama."

She lightly touched her finger to his cheeks to stimulate his sucking.

"You need the nutrients, my darling," she spoke low.

The baby took a breath, then paused.

"Sweetheart," Michaela felt a rush of anxiety.

The baby had stopped breathing.

"What's wrong?" Elizabeth detected.

"Andrew! Dr. Bernard!" she called.

By the time the two physicians reached her, the little boy had resumed his breathing.

"Apnea," her voice trembled. "He has apnea."

"Not uncommon for a premature infant," Bernard assessed. "Frequent stimulation can help. Rock him often. Eventually, he'll outgrow it if...."

"If he lives," Michaela knew. "Yes, Doctor. I'm aware of the condition. We'll see that he is constantly monitored. My baby will live."

"Michaela," Andrew approached. "We'll do everything we can to help him."

"Thank you," she smiled slightly.

Bernard continued, "It's difficult for him to breast-feed. His breathing and sucking instincts may not be coordinated yet."

"I'm aware of that," she became defensive. "I'll see to it that he nurses frequently. It's imperative that he begin to gain weight."

"We're on your side, Dr. Quinn," Bernard gently reminded her.

"I'm sorry," Michaela glanced down at the little life in her arms.

"I merely want to prepare you for some problems that may arise," the older physician cautioned. "Premature infants have...."

Michaela interrupted, "If you don't mind, I'm rather tired at the moment."

"Of course," he recognized. "We'll leave you to rest."

"Michaela," Andrew touched her arm. "Your sister has fixed dinner. Would you like a tray now or later?"

"Later, thank you," she turned her attention back to the baby.

"I'll tell her," the young man departed with his colleague.

Elizabeth alone remained, "I'm sorry, Michaela."

"No need, Mother," she did not look at her. "You were merely expressing your opinion."

"I know how much you and Sully love your children," the mother softened her tone. "And I know how much the Indians have meant to you..."

"Yes," she lightly stroked her son's cheek.

"I'll leave you, now," Elizabeth rose and left her.

Michaela lightly kissed the baby's cheek, "You're going to show them all how big and strong you'll be.... just like your Daddy. We must pray for him to bring home your brothers and sisters, little one."

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

Hank sat down beside the Sully children, "Hey, kids. Uncle Hank wants t' have a little talk with ya."

"Uncle Hank?" Loren scoffed.

The sheriff winked, "You know kids. They love me."

"We gotta call ya Mr. Lawson," Katie folded her hands. "Did ya know Mama's havin' the babies?"

"Yea, I heard," he nodded. "Pretty excitin', huh?"

"I wowwied," Josef interjected.

"Nah," Hank sat back. "Your Ma's hard as nails. She'll do fine. She's probably had the babies, been out treatin' a few patients an' has supper ready for ya."

Josef's eyes widened, "Ya think so?"

"He's jokin'," Loren touched the little boy's hand. Then he turned to the sheriff, "Don't go leadin' 'em on like that."

"Sorry," Hank shrugged. "So, can ya tell me where Brian is?"

"Bran?" Katie tilted her head. "He went t' fetch Colleen at the Depot."

"I see," the sheriff nodded. "Can ya tell time?"

"Yep," Katie nodded.

"'Bout what time did.... 'Bran' bring ya here?" he wondered.

"It was two o'clock," Katie was certain. "We started helpin' Miss Grace get the meatloaf ready."

Loren chuckled, "You kids help with that?"

"Okay," Hank rose. "Thanks for the information."

"Is somethin' wrong?" Katie perceived.

"Nah," Hank pushed in his chair. "Just checkin' on what ya been learnin' at school."

Josef was the first to see his father, "Papa!"

Sully approached the table, "Hey, big boy. Kates."

He embraced them as he knelt down.

"Well?" Loren waited.

Sully looked at his children, "Ya got a little sister an' a little brother."

Josef grinned, "Yea!"

"Is Mama okay?" Katie voiced her concern.

"She's fine," Sully kissed the tops of their heads.

Grace approached the table, "Did I hear right? A boy an' a girl?"

"Yep," Sully beamed.

Grace clapped her hands and rushed off to tell Robert E. Soon other townsfolk began to hear the news and spread the word.

"Papa, ya mad 'cause Bran bwreaked wagon?" Josef questioned.

"Broke the wagon?" his brow wrinkled.

"The wheel," Katie specified. "We had t' walk 't town."

"Wun," Josef amended.

"No," Sully touched their cheeks. "I'm not mad."

Loren read his expression, "Somethin' ya ain't tellin' us?"

Sully subtly gestured toward his children, "Wolf's over there waitin' t' see ya."

No further prompting was needed as the little ones jumped down to greet their father's pet.

"What's wrong?" Loren questioned.

"We ain't seen Brian, Colleen or Matthew since they came t' town," Sully stated.

"I figured somethin' was wrong," Hank folded his arms. "Horace last saw 'em at the Depot around 2:15."

"Where could they be?" Sully's brow wrinkled. "This ain't like 'em."

"Sully," Hank lowered his voice. "There was a man at the Gold Nugget lookin' for ya. Name o' Hanratty."

"Hanratty?" the mountain man's face paled.

"Said he lost his job as an Indian agent," Hank detailed.

"My, God," Sully reacted. "I'm the reason he got fired. You think he might have the kids?"

"There's a good chance," he nodded. "Horace saw him at the Depot around the same time they was there waitin' for the train."

Sully rose quickly, "Grace!"

The smiling Cafe owner rushed to him.

"Could ya watch the kids a while longer?" he requested.

Katie heard, "Poppy! We wanna see the babies."

He knelt down, "Real soon, honey. Right now, it's important that ya stay here."

"No, Papa!" Josef insisted.

"We could take them out t' the homestead after dinner," Grace offered.

His heart melted at the anxious expressions on their faces, "Okay."

"Yea!" Josef beamed.

"Thanks, Grace," Sully touched her arm. "I'll see ya later."

Kissing his children goodbye, Sully headed toward his horse.

"Wait for me," Hank called. "You're gonna need help."

Sully kept walking, "I work better by myself."

"Never hurts t' have someone ridin' shotgun," Hank retorted.

"No guns!" he was adamant.

"Hanratty's armed," the sheriff replied.

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

Michaela moved gingerly to reposition herself in bed, still in great pain from the delivery. She had been unable to get any sleep, the concern over her son engulfing her thoughts. Next to the bed, her newborn daughter lay sleeping in the cradle crafted by her father. Michaela, however, grew increasingly concerned over their little boy. Her efforts to nurse him had been frustrating.

While holding the little boy in one arm, she again examined him. His dark hair was reminiscent of Josef's as an infant. But there was something about this child that was different from her others. Aside from the obvious size, he seemed almost to have developed a personality of his own.

Michaela could sense it as she cradled him in her arms. He was a fighter, a survivor. She felt an inexplicably powerful bond with him. He had captured her heart with his will to live. As she ran her index finger along his cheek, he yawned and opened his eyes.

"Well, hello there," she smiled.

He moved his arms and puckered his lips.

"Are you hungry?" she slipped the strap of her nightgown down.

Pulling the infant closer, she guided him to nurse. He made a concerted effort to do so and ingested more than he had before.

Finally, when it appeared that he could no longer continue, Michaela rubbed his back gently.

"That was much better," she smiled.

Again he moved his arms and legs in a jerky motion.

"You're such a good boy," she whispered.

A mighty cry erupted from the cradle.

"It appears that your sister is hungry, too," Michaela tenderly set him beside her on the bed and painfully reached for her baby daughter.

"There, there, Sweetheart" Michaela's voice was soothing to the little girl.

The baby's cries ceased abruptly as Michaela drew her to her breast. She stroked the child's head and hummed softly. As the little one received nourishment from her mother, Michaela felt a sudden overwhelming sense of anxiety.

Her thoughts turned to Sully and their grown children. She could not shake the sensation that something was terribly wrong.

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

Hanratty had become quite inebriated. Suddenly, an idea occurred to Matthew. He leaned toward his siblings and began to whisper.

"I tol' ya not t' do that," Hanratty shouted.

"I was just tellin' 'em that we need t' tell ya the truth," Matthew took the lead.

"Truth?" he looked at them through blurred vision.

"You ever meet Sully face t' face?" Matthew needed to be certain.

"No," the drunk waved his hand. "The low down back stabber...."

"We've made up our minds t' tell ya where he is," Matthew said.

"Why?" he was suspicious.

"Because.... he never meant anything to us," Colleen picked up on it. "He tried to act like our real Pa, but we always resented him."

"You jus' now re'lized that?" Hanratty asked.

"Right," Matthew nodded. "The fact that he didn't come t' look for us proves he don't care about us. So, why should we care about him? He'd prob'ly deny he's our Pa even if we do take ya t' him."

"Damn right!" Hanratty staggered to his feet. "Lead the way."

The three Coopers stood up and began to walk toward town.

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

Preston locked the door to his bank and stood for a moment debating where to eat dinner. The streets had cleared as people headed home for their evening repast. He watched Sully and Hank pass by, not acknowledging their presence.

"Twins," he shook his head begrudgingly. "The savage will be the death of that woman."

He noticed that they stopped briefly to talk to Horace, then continued out of town.

Preston took a deep breath and decided on Grace's Cafe. Before he could move, he heard the voice of Matthew Cooper.

"Sully!" the young man called.

Preston glanced in his direction, "You just missed him."

"Why ya actin' like that, Pa?" Brian stepped closer.

"Have you taken leave of your senses?" Preston put his hands on his hips.

"Leave it to you to act like you don't even know us, Pa," Colleen contributed.

"Are you speaking to me?" Preston pointed to himself.

"Who else?" Matthew folded his arm. "We got a man here who wants t' talk with ya."

Preston looked around, "Who is it?"

Hanratty staggered forward, "Me. Liam Hanratty."

"How do you do," Preston did not extend his hand. "Now, if you'll excuse me...."

"There's no escuse for you," the drunk swayed.

"Why don't you go across the street to the Gold Nugget?" Preston encouraged. "You might find more of your ilk there."

"I wanna talk t' you," Hanratty revealed his gun.

Preston's face turned pale, "P-p-put that down."

"I got reason t' see you pay, Sully," Hanratty squinted.

"Sully?" Preston's eyes widened. "You have the wrong man, sir."

"I figured you'd say that," he stepped closer. "Your kids ain't as fond o' you as ya like t' think."

"Kids?" Preston eyed the Coopers. "They are not my children."

"They said you'd deny 'em," he wiped his mouth.

"W-wh-what do you want with me?" the banker became more anxious.

"I wanna beat the tar outa ya," Hanratty nearly tripped.

"But it needs t' be a fair fight," Brain interjected.

"R-r-right," Preston pointed to him. "Listen to the boy."

"How 'bout in the meadow?" Matthew pointed. "I'll be a witness... hold the gun for ya, while ya give him a lickin'. My little sister an' brother don't need t' see it though."

"Go on," Hanratty waved his hand toward them. "Get outa here."

"Matthew," Colleen hesitated.

"It's okay," he winked. "That... patient needs ya."

Quickly, Colleen and Brian departed for the livery to get horses.

As they neared, Robert E grinned, "Well, I'm surprised t' see you two. I'd have figured you'd be home with the babies."

"Babies?" Brian's eyes widened. "Ma had 'em?"

"Yep," Robert E smiled. "Boy an' a girl."

The brother and sister hugged one another for joy.

"Katie an' Josef's with Grace if ya wanna take 'em home," he pointed.

"I take it that Andrew and Dr. Bernard arrived in time," Colleen stated.

"I don' know anythin' about that," the blacksmith wiped his brow. "I'm closin' down for the day. Tell your Ma congratulations."

"Thanks, Robert E," Colleen hesitated. "Could you do us a favor?"

"Sure," he set down his hammer.

"Matthew and Preston are over in the meadow with the man who was detaining us," Colleen informed him. "He's armed, and drunk."

"Matthew needs help," the blacksmith removed his apron. "I'll take care o' him."

"Thank you," the young woman nodded.

"Oh," Brian hesitated. "Our wagon's out near Sutter's turn. Wagon wheel broke on me."

"I'll take care o' that, too," he smiled.

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

Sunset neared as Brian and Colleen, with Katie and Josef on their laps, rode up to the homestead.

"I remember the first time we welcomed a little one t' this home," Brian grinned.

"Me?" Josef wondered.

"You were born here, little brother," Colleen rested her lips on the top of his head.

"It was when we brought Katie home from town," Brian recalled.

"I was born by a tree," the little girl smiled.

"Now, we got two more," Brian reined in his horse. "Sure is gonna be different."

"I don't know if I'll like it," Katie confessed.

"Why not?" Colleen halted, as well.

"Mama an' Poppy will be real busy," the little girl spoke. "An' maybe not have time for...."

"Hey," Brian helped her down. "They'll need our help even more."

"I don't think so," her lip turned under.

The older brother knelt down to be eye level with his little sister, "Katie, the first time you see those babies, it's gonna fill up your heart so much that you'll think you're gonna burst."

"I not want Katie t' burst!" Josef stepped forward.

"I mean you'll love 'em so much," Brian clarified. "You'll wanna hold 'em an' protect 'em."

"But you need to keep in mind that they'll be very small," Colleen cautioned. "They arrived early."

"Were Joey an' me late?" Katie posed the question.

"No," Colleen chuckled. "I mean they aren't as big as babies that come closer to their due date."

"I remember the first time I held Joey," Katie said.

"Ya do?" the little boy smiled.

"Yep," she nodded. "Right after Mama had ya."

"You were so young," Brian stated.

"As old as Joey is now," she indicated.

"Colleen!" Andrew opened the door. "Where have you been?"

"It's a long story," she shook her head.

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

Hank was accustomed to Sully's quiet, but this time, it seemed different.

"So, how's Michaela an' them new brats?" the gruff sheriff inquired.

"They ain't brats," Sully spat back.

"Woa," Hank was taken aback. "Sorry. Didn't mean anythin' by it."

Sully resumed his quiet demeanor.

"They're okay, ain't they?" Hank became serious.

"The girl's doin' fine, but...." Sully stopped himself.

"The boy gonna make it?" the sheriff wondered.

"I don't know," Sully swallowed hard.

"Sorry," Hank dropped the subject.

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

"This here's a good place," Matthew led the duo to the meadow near the cemetery.

Preston nervously glanced toward the drunk, "Ah, I believe we were going to make this a fair fight?"

"Here," Hanratty handed Matthew his revolver.

At that instant, the young man turned the gun on their abductor, "Okay, let's go back t' town."

"Wha-?" Hanratty staggered.

The drunk then tripped and fell to the ground unconscious.

Preston put his hands on his hips, "Exactly what were you trying to do, Matthew?"

"I was tryin' t' get rid o' this man who abducted us, so Colleen could get home t' help Ma deliver the babies," he began to check Hanratty for other weapons.

"Your Ma had the babies already," Robert E reached them. "Colleen asked me t' make sure you was all right."

"I'm fine," Matthew nodded. "What'd Ma have?"

"Boy an' a girl," the blacksmith smiled.

"You endangered my life in order to...." Preston was interrupted.

"I appreciate your help," Matthew appeared anxious to leave them.

"We'll get this fella over t' the jail," the blacksmith noticed. "Get on home."

"Thanks," Matthew left them.

Robert E looked up at the banker, "So, ya gonna help me?"

"Don't think that I'm finished with our former sheriff," he leaned over to help hoist up Hanratty.

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

Colleen and Brian held the hands of their younger siblings as they reached their mother's bedroom.

"Mama?" Katie spoke first.

"Hello, my darlings," she smiled weakly.

Quietly, they approached the bed. Lying on her belly was their newborn brother and in the cradle nearby, her infant daughter.

"They're so little," Katie whispered.

Michaela lightly rubbed her son's back, "This one, especially."

"He looks like a doll," Katie softly touched his arm.

"We hold?" Josef requested.

"Here," Colleen lifted their new sister. "Let's hold her."

Delicately, she lifted the sleeping infant from the cradle and with Colleen's support, each held her briefly.

"We name 'em, Mama?" Josef wondered.

"Not yet," she watched lovingly.

"I gonna burst," Josef said.

"What?" Michaela's brow wrinkled.

Brian chuckled, "I told 'em the first time they held the babies, their hearts would be so full, they'd nearly burst."

Michaela painfully tried not to laugh.

Colleen knelt beside her newborn brother, "How's he doing?"

"He has apnea," Michaela informed her. "And difficulty nursing."

"His color is.... good," Colleen assessed.

"Where's your father?" Michaela asked. "He went to look for you."

"We didn't see him," Brian said.

"Where have you been all of this time?" the mother queried.

"We'll talk about it later," Colleen stood. "I think right now you need to rest."

"I do feel rather tired," Michaela confessed.

The children retreated from the bedroom. Katie and Josef scampered down the steps to see their grandmother and aunt, while Colleen and Brian remained in the hallway. Andrew met them there.

"Should I go find Pa?" Brian wondered.

"Yes," Andrew nodded. "He should return right away."

"Colleen?" Brian tried to read her expression.

"I don't know if our little brother will make it through the night," she felt tears welling. "He's terribly small."

"I'll find him," Brian vowed.

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

"Sully," Hank halted his horse. "I'll keep on lookin' for the kids. Why don't you head home?"

"Their Ma's gonna be worried," he stopped.

"I figure Michaela can use you at home," the sheriff pointed out. "'Specially if...."

They heard a horse approach. Hank rested his hand on his gun.

"Pa!" it was Brian.

"Brian!" Sully's face lit up. "Where ya been?"

"Some man named Hanratty took Colleen, Matthew an' me outa town waitin' for ya t' come for us," he described. "We lured him back t' town. I just checked, an' they got him in the jail now. We're all okay."

"Good," Sully rubbed his upper lip.

"Colleen an' Andrew said ya need t' get home right away," the young man's voice trembled.

"Is it the baby?" Sully surmised.

"Yea," Brian answered. "Colleen said he might not make it through the night."

Without another word, the mountain man urged his horse to speed for the homestead.

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

"They're beautiful, Ma," Matthew looked down on his new siblings.

From the cradle, the little girl began to fuss.

"She's hungry," Michaela carefully set her son beside her.

"Here," he offered. "I'll hold him."

"Careful," she protectively cautioned.

The little boy fit nearly in the palms of his hands. Matthew took him to the rocking chair and tenderly began a back and forth motion.

"He loves his big brother already," Michaela covered her shoulder while nursing the baby.

"Never saw a baby so little," Matthew shook his head.

"Michaela?" her mother appeared at the doorway. "We prepared a tray for you."

"Thank you, Mother," she caressed the soft hair of her daughter.

"How is he?" Elizabeth motioned toward the little boy in Matthew's hands.

"I.... I'm not certain," a tear appeared at the corner of her eye.

Elizabeth sat down beside her, "Can I get you anything? Do anything for you?"

"No, thank you," Michaela took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

The mother stood and walked to her grandsons, "It's amazing how they can capture one's heart so quickly."

Sully arrived in time to stand in the hallway and overhear the conversation. He felt obligated to discuss the fate of their infant son with Michaela..... to give a shoulder for her to lean on, but where could he find the words?

He cleared his throat and entered, "How's everyone doin'?"

Michaela quickly put on a pleasant facade, "Sully!"

He came to her and sat on the edge of the bed. Leaning forward, he tenderly kissed her. Then, caressing his daughter's soft hair, he smiled.

The baby in Matthew's care began to fuss, "I think he might be hungry, Ma."

"Bring him, please," she requested.

"Shall I have Rebecca bring up the tray?" Elizabeth wondered.

"In a minute, if ya don't mind," Sully glanced up. "I'd like t' talk t' Michaela first."

As Elizabeth and Matthew departed, Michaela handed their daughter to Sully, then guided the little boy to her breast.

Sully raised his new daughter to look closer, "I think she's grown."

"If only this one...." she stopped herself.

Sully glanced at her intently, "Michaela...."

"He's eating well this time," she commented.

"That's good," he half smiled.

"You know, we haven't named them yet," she coaxed the baby to stay awake and eat.

"Did ya decide on anythin'?" he was glad to take her mind off of what they both feared.

"For our newest daughter...." she had been contemplating the notion for some time.

"Yes?" he positioned himself beside her.

"Cheyanne," she said with certainty.

"Cheyenne?" he tilted his head.

"Perhaps we could call her Anne," Michaela reasoned. "But her given name will be Cheyanne."

Sully felt a lump in his throat, "It's a beautiful name for a beautiful little girl."

"You pick a middle name for her," Michaela prompted.

He thought about it, "Quinn."

"Cheyanne Quinn Sully," Michaela tested the sound of it.

"Annie," Sully whispered lovingly to the infant. "It suits her."

"And as for this young man," Michaela watched his face. "So wide eyed... so..."

Sully smiled down on the little boy.

"Aenohe," she recalled her conversation with Cloud Dancing.

Sully pronounced the name, "'Ah no,' for a hawk."

"Aenohe Dakota Sully," Michaela added a middle name.

"A proud name," he nodded.

"We could call him Noah," she reasoned.

"I love 'em," Sully swallowed hard. "Annie an' Noah."

"When shall we tell the rest of the family?" she posed the question.

"In a little bit," he stroked the side of her face.

"You wanted to talk to me?" she asked.

"I... I was just thinkin'...." he paused. "How much I love ya."

"I love you, too," she smiled. "Seeing these little ones reminds me anew how profoundly I adore you.... guardian of my heart."

She winced slightly.

"Somethin' wrong?" he detected.

"I need to try to move around," she steeled herself as the pain passed. "And it's important for me to keep the area that was sutured clean."

Sully set their daughter in the cradle and reached for the tiny boy, "I'll help ya with him."

"I don't want to let him go," she drew back.

"We'll set him on the bed," he encouraged. "He'll be fine for a few minutes."

"Sully," she clasped his hand. "His breathing stopped earlier. It's a condition called apnea."

"Apnea?" his forehead creased. "What'd ya do?"

"I massaged him, and he resumed breathing," she explained. "But it could happen at any time until his lungs are more fully developed. We must monitor him closely, at all times."

He stood in silence, absorbing what she had said.

"He's a fighter," she ran her hand lightly along the little boy's head.

"I reckon we need t' take turns watchin' him," Sully ascertained. "Set up a schedule maybe."

"That's a good idea," she agreed.

"Ya say he's eatin' better?" he asked.

"A little bit," she was truthful.

He sighed, then touched her arm.

"He's going to make it, Sully," she sounded certain. "He fought his way into this world, and I know that he'll fight his way to stay with us."

"I believe ya," he smiled.

***********

Each member of the family took a shift through the night, watching over Noah to insure that he continued to breathe. Michaela awoke periodically to nurse the babies. Fortunately, there were no episodes of apnea for the newborn.

At sunrise, Josef slipped into his parents' room, while Colleen sat holding the baby boy in the rocking chair nearby.

"What are you doing up?" she whispered.

"I check on Noah," he tiptoed closer.

"He's sleeping," she held him at an angle to see his brother.

Josef touched his hand, "You wight, Colleen. He tiny."

"We must keep a very close watch over him," she spoke low.

"He sick?" Josef struggled to understand.

"In a way," the older sister nodded.

The child turned his attention to the cradle nearby, "Annie okay?"

"Yes," Colleen smiled.

"I check Mama an' Papa," he walked toward the bed.

"No, wait," Colleen cautioned. "They just got to sleep."

Sully was spooned against his wife, his hand resting gently on her belly. Josef reached up and touched his mother's arm.

Michaela instantly reacted, "Is he...." Relaxing when she saw her son, she smiled, "Good morning."

"Hey, Mama," the child smiled.

"What are you doing up so early?" she yawned.

"Check on kids," he put his hands on his hips. "They okay."

"You're a wonderful big brother, Josef," she caressed his chin. Turning to Colleen, she asked, "How is he?"

"He's stirring some," she said. "I think he might be hungry."

Without waking her husband, Michaela pulled herself up and positioned to nurse the baby.

Colleen brought him over to his mother, then took Josef's hand, "How about some breakfast?"

"Good," his eyes widened.

"I'll bring you something, too, Ma," the young woman offered.

"See ya, Mama," Josef grinned.

When they left, Michaela began to nurse the precious little life.

Sully opened his eyes and squinted, "'Mornin'. He okay?"

She smiled, "Yes."

Sully noticed the dark circles under her eyes, "You get any rest?"

"Some," she nodded. "I want to walk around some more today. It's not good for me to stay in bed so much."

"You sure you're ready?" he sat up.

"I believe that it's better to be up," she held the baby's little hand.

The infant seemed to sense that his parents were watching him, and he was wide-eyed.

Sully looked on lovingly, as he quoted:

"Then I was thrill'd and melted, and most warm
Impressed a father's kiss: and all beguil'd
Of dark remembrance and presageful fear,
I seem'd to see an angel form appear-
Twas even thine, beloved woman mild!
So for the mother's sake the child was dear,
And dearer was the mother for the child."

"That was beautiful," Michaela saw that the baby had fallen asleep.

"Coleridge," Sully held out his hands.

Michaela lay the infant in the palms of his father. Then, she gingerly drew back her covers and sat up.

"You okay?" Sully was concerned.

"Yes," her voice was not quite convincing.

Finally, standing, she slowly made her way to the cradle. Glancing down, she saw the expression on her newborn daughter's face.

"Good morning, Annie," she smiled.

"I'll help ya," he offered.

"No," Michaela leaned over and winced. "I can do it." Slowly, she lifted the baby from her cradle, "She's so beautiful, Sully."

"Just like her Ma," he commented.

"I don't feel very beautiful right now," she touched the baby's cheek.

"Ya still take my breath away, Michaela Quinn," he rose and went to her.

While holding Noah in one arm, Sully put his arm around his wife and baby daughter. Michaela leaned back against his chest.

"Thank you for these little lives," he whispered near her temple.

"I would do anything for you.... and for them," she closed her eyes.

"You were even willin' t' give your life for 'em," he swallowed hard.

"You would do the same," she stated.

"What are we gonna do with all these children?" he chuckled.

"Love them," she sighed. "Love them dearly."

"I'm just tryin' t' imagine all the diapers, feedin's, washin'...." his voice trailed off.

Elizabeth's voice interrupted them from the door, "A nanny will make it possible."

"Mother," Michaela turned. "I have no intention of relying on a nanny for my children."

"How on earth can you take care of them AND practice medicine, Michaela?" the older woman pointed out.

"We'll manage," she insisted.

"Take it from a woman who had five children," Elizabeth retorted. "You'll be grateful for the assistance."

"I said we'll manage," Michaela was more adamant.

Sully spoke up, "Maybe we best leave this t' discuss later."

"Bridget will be here soon," Elizabeth folded her hands.

"Then you can wire her and tell her to not come," the daughter walked to the bed.

"It's too late," Elizabeth pointed out. "She's already en route."

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

Sully responded to the knock at the front door.

"Good afternoon!" Dorothy beamed. "We thought ya might need a little bit o' help, an' we wanted t' welcome the newest residents of Colorado Springs."

Sully stepped onto the porch and was stunned at the sight of his buckboard full of gifts for his family.

Robert E and Grace alit from the wagon, while Loren, Jake, Hank and Horace began to unload its contents. There was a new cradle, baby bottles, diapers, clothes, blankets, towels, and more food than a Thanksgiving feast.

"I don't know how t' thank ya for all this," Sully was speechless.

"You can thank us by lettin' us see those new babies," Grace grinned.

"Soon as we get ev'rythin' inside, woman," Robert E scolded.

Elizabeth and Rebecca watched in awe as the townsfolk began filling the first floor of the homestead with all that had been donated and made for the Sullys.

"We certainly wouldn't see this in Boston," Rebecca commented.

"Where are they going to put it all?" Elizabeth questioned.

"Looks like we're gonna have t' add some more rooms t' the house," Brian grinned.

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

The joyful comings and goings downstairs contrasted with panic on the second floor.

"His breathing has stopped again!" Michaela shouted to her older daughter.

"Andrew!" Colleen called from the doorway.

The young physician joined his wife, "The baby?"

Katie heard the commotion and came to the bedroom, "Mama?"

"No, Katie!" a distraught Michaela shouted. "Don't come in. Go get Papa."

The little girl bolted from the room. No sooner had she left than Sully rushed in.

"Michaela," he knelt before her. "Is he...."

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

"Breathe, Noah!" Michaela massaged his tummy lightly. "Breathe for Mama."

"Michaela," Andrew stepped forward. "Would you like for me to do that?"

"No," she turned her tear stained face toward her little boy.

"His color," Sully felt a rush of fear. "He's so pale."

"How long has it been since he took a breath?" Andrew placed the bell of his stethoscope to Noah's chest.

"About thirty seconds," Michaela's voice trembled.

"I hear a heartbeat!" Andrew looked up.

Michaela stopped massaging and saw the tiny chest resume its breathing.

"Thank God," Colleen sighed.

Michaela raised the infant to her lips and tenderly kissed his forehead, "That's my good boy."

Sully's jaw tensed, "Can't we do somethin' for this apnea?"

"No," Colleen shook her head. "Only watch him closely."

"It should improve as he gets closer to the date on which he was due to be born," Andrew added.

Sully folded his arms and turned toward the cradle containing Annie. As he leaned over to rock it back and forth, a tear trickled down his cheek and landed on the baby's belly. Gently, he wiped it, prompting the little girl to open her eyes. He lifted her into his arms and tenderly kissed her hand.

Matthew stood at the door, "Is he okay?"

"Yes," Michaela did not take her eyes off of the little boy.

"I'll go tell everyone," he turned.

"Wait," Sully beckoned. "I need ya t' do somethin'."

"Sure," the young man paused.

"Ask Miss Dorothy t' tell Cloud Dancin' I need t' see him," Sully requested.

"If she doesn't know where he is, I'll find him," Matthew offered.

"Thanks," Sully smiled.

"Do you think he might have a treatment?" Michaela suspected.

"I hope so," he answered.

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

"Everyone's downstairs eatin' supper," Sully walked into the bedroom. "You hungry?"

"No," Michaela shook her head.

He sat beside her on the bed, "Ya gotta be exhausted. Ya ain't had much sleep since...."

"I can't sleep," she tensed. "Not for one moment."

Sully stroked the back of his newborn son as he slept on his mother's chest.

"Remember how I told you I sometimes listen to your heartbeat?" Michaela glanced toward him.

"Mmmm hum," Sully responded.

"That's how I feel about Noah," she explained. "I must insure that he continues to breath."

"I understand," he answered simply. "But it won't do him or Annie any good if ya don't have any energy. I'll watch him while ya sleep, Michaela. Please."

She hesitated.

"Come on," Sully urged. "Close your eyes. I'll hold him nearby, so ya can still be here if he needs ya."

"But...." she began to protest.

Sully lifted the infant and cradled him against his chest. Softly kissing the top of the baby's head, he smiled.

Michaela finally gave in to her exhaustion and closed her eyes. Sully carried the baby to the rocking chair and sat. With a back and forth motion, he tenderly rubbed Noah's back.

Katie stood at the doorway watching her father for a moment, then tiptoed into the bedroom.

"How is he, Poppy?" she leaned against her father.

"Holdin' his own, Kates," he said.

"I wish I could do somethin'," she bent over to get a closer look at her new brother.

"Just pray, sweet girl," he felt a lump in his throat.

"I been doin' that," she stated.

"Did you eat supper already?" he inquired.

"Yep," she answered. "Joey's makin' a mess, an' Gran'ma's tryin' t' teach him some manners."

Sully smiled, "She's met her match."

"Is Noah too small for me t' hold?" Katie wondered.

"How 'bout we both hold him," Sully invited her to sit on his lap.

Katie leaned back against her father's chest and touched her little brother's hand, "Was I ever this small?"

"When your Ma was still expectin' ya," he explained. "But Annie an' Noah came a little early.... before they were fully developed."

"But why's Annie doin' okay, an' he's not?" she was inquisitive.

"I don't know, honey," he spoke low. "Your Ma could explain it, I reckon."

"Gran'ma said we're gettin' a nanny," the little girl broached the subject. "What's that?"

"A nanny's a woman who takes care o' children," he defined. "Your Ma had one when she was a little girl in Boston."

"Doesn't Mama wanna take care o' us anymore?" Katie feared.

"'Course she does," Sully assured her. "Your Gran'ma just thinks it's how we should do things here in Colorado Springs, too."

"But what's gonna happen then?" Katie sat up.

"Well," he sighed. "The woman's already on her way here. I reckon once she arrives, we'll tell her t' go back home."

"Would that be polite?" Katie suddenly reminded him of Michaela.

Sully smiled, "We'll tell her in a nice way."

Katie glanced toward her mother, "I think Mama must be very tired."

"She is," Sully agreed.

"Things must've been easier when I was your only little girl," she surmised.

"You feelin' kinda lost in the crowd?" he eyed her.

"No," she was not sure what he meant.

"We always manage, Kates," Sully counseled. "There's just more of us now. But it don't change who we are or how we feel about each other, does it?"

"I guess not," she did not sound convincing.

"Le' me ask ya somethin'," Sully kissed her temple. "Do you still love your Ma an' me, now that we got more children?"

"Sure, I do, Poppy!" she found the question odd.

"An' we still love you," he reasoned. "Nothin's changed in that regard."

"I gotta be big sister t' more kids now," she put her arm around his neck.

"An' I gotta be their Pa," he smiled. "But you taught me a lot about that."

"I guess it'll work out okay," she determined.

"I'm glad ya think so," he grinned.

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

Matthew escorted Cloud Dancing upstairs. The young man rapped lightly on the doorframe before entering.

"Come in," Sully beckoned.

Cloud Dancing smiled, "Where are the little ones?"

Sully lifted his sleeping daughter from the cradle, "I'd like ya t' meet Cheyanne Quinn Sully."

The medicine man's face lit up, "Cheyenne."

"And this is Aenohe Dakota Sully," Michaela held their newborn son.

"He will be like a hawk," Cloud Dancing's eyes gleamed.

"He's got a problem," Sully began.

The medicine man nodded, "He was born before his time."

"He's stopped breathing twice since his birth," Michaela informed him.

"An' he wasn't breathin' at all when he was born," Sully added.

The medicine man held out his arms, and Michaela set the infant in his hands. He chanted low, offering prayers to the Spirits for the life of the children.

"Here is what you must do," Cloud Dancing explained. "Wear loose fitting clothing so that you may hold Aenohe inside, your skin next to his."

"That's all?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"For a baby who is early, it will help to keep him warm," he went on. "His breathing will be as yours.... his heart will beat with yours."

"We'll try it," Michaela asserted.

"Put him only in the small cloth," the medicine man pointed.

"A diaper?" Sully specified.

"Yes," Cloud Dancing nodded. "Hold him here," he pointed to his chest.

"How long d' we do this?" the mountain man asked.

"The baby will let you know when he is ready to be on his own," the medicine man smiled. Handing Noah back to his mother, Cloud Dancing reached for Cheyanne. "She will bring you great joy, this one."

"She already has," Sully felt a lump in his throat.

"Do not keep her apart from her brother," Cloud Dancing counseled. "They are joined."

"She's been in the cradle more," Sully noted.

"They are of the same spirit," the medicine man explained. "The brother needs her."

"Should we keep both of 'em under our clothin'?" the mountain man questioned.

"It would be good," he replied.

"Thank you, Cloud Dancing," Michaela glanced up with admiration.

He chanted again, then left them.

"Sully," Michaela requested. "Would you help me out of this shift and bring my robe?"

"Sure," he set Annie in the cradle.

As he assisted Michaela in preparing to hold the baby next to her flesh, he was warmed by her appearance. The fullness of her figure, Nature's way of providing nourishment for their children, made his heart fill with love.

"We'll take turns holding the babies like this," her tone brightened. "I truly believe this will work, Sully."

"Me, too," he sounded hopeful.

Michaela positioned Noah, clad in only his small diaper, between her breasts.

"Here," Sully lay Annie against her mother's chest, as well. "Can ya breathe?"

Michaela smiled, "Very easily. Don't forget I carried them a bit lower for some time."

"I don't believe I ever saw a more beautiful sight than you an' them right now," he spoke low. "It almost looks like Annie's tryin' t' hold his hand."

"Perhaps she is," Michaela agreed.

Michaela yawned.

"I'll sit here with ya while ya sleep," he volunteered.

"We'll like that," she turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin.

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

"Where were you, Katherine Elizabeth?" Mother Quinn noticed her granddaughter descending the steps to the kitchen.

"I was checkin' on Mama an' Poppy," she answered. "I think she's tryin' t hide the babies."

"What?" the older woman was caught off guard.

"She's got 'em under her robe," Katie informed her.

"Perhaps she's feeding them," Rebecca offered.

"I don't think so," the little girl shook her head. "I could still see their heads."

"Playin' hide 'n' seek?" Josef's face brightened.

"Who knows what she's doing?" Elizabeth sounded sarcastic. "With Indians coming and going...."

"Cloud Dancing is a medicine man," Colleen reminded her.

"Do you believe that, too?" the woman raised an eyebrow.

"He's saved Ma's life before," Brian recalled.

A loud pounding on the door interrupted the conversation. Matthew stood and opened it. There, stood a buxom redheaded woman with flecks of gray streaking her hair. She seemed as wide as she did tall, and her cheery cheeks blushed from the walk up the steps.

"Bridget!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "You're just in time."

"I wasn't sure I found the right place," she spoke with an Irish brogue.

"Oh, you found it," Mother Quinn stood.

"I'll take your bag, Ma'am," Matthew offered.

"Where are the dear little ones?" the woman stepped into the house.

"Upstairs," Elizabeth pointed. "There have been some complications with the younger one."

"His name's Noah," Brian felt compelled to point out.

"Thank God they are at least providing us with an opportunity to address them by Christian names," Elizabeth noted.

"And why wouldn't they?" Bridget put her hands on her hips.

"The babies have been given Indian names," the older woman pointed out. "Except for the girl's middle name, of course. It was the only bit of sanity in the entire matter."

"Sounds like I'll be havin' my work cut out for me," the nanny commented. The woman observed Katie and Josef, "These the other children?"

"Katherine and Josef," Elizabeth introduced.

Katie stood and curtsied. Josef retreated to the arms of Colleen.

"These are Michaela's older children, Matthew, Colleen and Brian," Elizabeth added. "And Dr. Andrew Cook, Colleen's husband."

Bridget's eyes sparkled, "From the looks of this brood, ya won't be needin' my services."

"No, Ma'am," Brian wondered how his mother would react. "I don't think Ma an' Pa will either."

"Brian!" Elizabeth scolded.

"Gran'ma," Matthew spoke up. "It was real nice o' Bridget t' come out here, but...."

"Oh, t'was a joy, laddie," the woman cheerily spoke up. "I never saw so much land in my life."

"But...." Matthew tried again. "I don't think this is such...."

Elizabeth interrupted, "Come, I'll introduce you to my daughter."

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

Sully lay next to Michaela in bed and slipped his hand beneath her robe to tenderly caress the babies. Then he lifted up slightly to kiss his wife's cheek.

"They seem to like this," she turned slightly to look at him.

"Almost like bein' back in their Ma again," he compared.

"Mr. Sully!" Elizabeth stood at the doorway aghast at seeing her son-in-law with his hand beneath Michaela's robe. "This is no time to...."

"Shhh!" Michaela chided. "Mother, the babies are...."

Suddenly Annie began to cry, upset by the disruption. Then little Noah mirrored her reaction. With both infants wailing, Sully rose from the bed.

"Elizabeth," he kept his tone soft. "Cloud Dancin' told us t'...."

"I don't care what he told you," she protested. "Bridget has arrived to help care for the babies now."

Sully noticed the woman, "Pleased t' meet ya, Ma'am. But we really don't need....."

"Looks like you need me more than I imagined," the nanny stated.

"I think...." Sully could not get in a word.

"You'll be wantin' t' see my credentials," Bridget pulled some papers from her purse. "I've been a nanny t' some o' the finest families in Boston."

Michaela was finally able to quiet the babies by nursing them.

Sully glanced over his shoulder, "Why don't we go downstairs t' discuss this?"

"I want to speak with you, Mother," Michaela's voice was stern.

"Come on, Bridget," Sully guided her to the door.

As the two departed, Elizabeth came around to Michaela's side and sat on the edge of the bed.

"Nursing two children at the same time," the older woman shook her head. "I feel as if I'm witnessing some backward primitive jungle society."

"It's perfectly natural for me to nurse my babies," Michaela defended. "And as for what you saw when you came to the door, Sully was touching the children, not...."

"I don't want to know," Elizabeth raised her hand to stop her.

Michaela took a deep breath and sighed.

Noting that Annie had stopped nursing, she offered, "Would you like to hold your granddaughter?"

"Of course," Elizabeth tenderly cradled the infant. "These children are terribly underdressed. You need....."

"Mother," Michaela interjected. "The babies are four weeks premature. Twice now, my son has stopped breathing. If what Cloud Dancing recommends might work, why do you insist on disapproving of it?"

Elizabeth was lost in tending to the little one, "She has your nose."

"I thought it looked more like Sully's," Michaela smiled.

"Sometimes I feel as if I don't know you," the older woman glanced at her daughter.

"I've had that same feeling toward you," she responded.

"Why won't you simply try using Bridget until things get back to normal.... whatever that is in this Godforsaken place?" Elizabeth argued.

"Mother," Michaela tried to be diplomatic. "I cannot possibly describe to you how very much I have longed to have more children. I've prayed nearly every minute. I have seen other doctors, some of whom I did not even tell Sully about. And now, God has blessed us with these two precious lives. I don't want to turn around and place them in the hands of a stranger. I want to savor every moment of being with them."

"No one is suggesting that you not be with them," she countered. "But you have other responsibilities, as well."

"My medical practice never seemed that important to you before," the daughter observed.

"I know that it's important to you," Elizabeth said. "Please think about this. Bridget is a wonderful woman. She will organize your household and care for the babies, enabling you to be both a mother and physician."

With that, Elizabeth handed Annie to her mother and exited. Michaela tucked the little one against her flesh, next to her brother. She felt their warm bodies move slightly at her touch. Softly stroking the tops of their heads, she pondered her mother's words.

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

"Things have stabilized here, Colleen," Andrew sat on the front porch swing with his wife.

"With the baby, yes," she agreed.

"Is there something wrong?" he perceived.

"Bridget," the young woman shook her head. "She's already cooking, cleaning and reorganizing everything."

"And in twenty-four hours," he marveled. "I'd say that's quite an accomplishment."

"But it's not what Ma wants," she noted.

"It will be better for Michaela to not have to worry about the household," he reasoned. "I would think you'd want that for her."

"I want her to have less worry, yes," she folded her arms. "But it's not this woman's house to run."

"Sounds like a little bit of a struggle for power," he grinned.

"Andrew," Colleen glanced at him. "If you think Michaela Quinn is going to settle for another woman running her home...."

"No," he chuckled. "I know that won't work. But I really do think it's all right for the time being."

"How much time before your train leaves?" she leaned closer.

"About an hour," he slipped his arm around her.

"You don't mind that I'm staying for a few more days?" she wondered.

"Not at all," Andrew replied. "I know how important it is to you and Michaela for you to be here."

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

"You sayin' ya want Bridget t' stay here now?" Sully helped his wife walk about the bedroom slowly.

"Look at me," she tensed. "I can hardly move. I'm sore and...."

"Hey," he stopped. "I'll do whatever ya want, Michaela."

She took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.

"You okay?" he supported her.

"Yes," she continued her walk around the room.

As they passed the bed, they both instinctively turned to glance at the babies. The little ones slept peacefully, but both parents could not help but feel an unspoken fear. Noah was not out of the woods yet. It would be weeks before they knew if his apnea would disappear.

Sully guided his wife to the window, "There's a nice breeze. Sure do wish I could take ya on a picnic."

She raised an eyebrow, "You would have to carry me, plus the babies, diapers....."

"I was only kiddin'," he stroked her cheek. "I know it'll be a while before things get back to normal."

"Normal!" she smiled. "Mr. Sully, you must be joking."

He grinned impishly, "Me?"

Michaela slid her arms around his waist, "It's been quite a while since I could do this."

He framed her face between his hands, "We're gonna make it. Everythin's gonna be okay."

She searched his face, "I love you."

He leaned closer to gently kiss her. The babies chose that instant to erupt in crying.

Michaela sighed.

Sully grinned, "I'm gonna have t' talk with them about their timin'."

Bridget stormed into the bedroom, "I'll check on their diapers, Mrs. Sully."

"Why don't you call me Dr. Mike?" Michaela suggested. "And... my husband and I will take care of them. Thank you."

"Your mother and sister have gone to town with Doctors Cook. I've got Miss Katie pealing potatoes and Master Josef napping," the nanny informed them.

"Katie is pealing potatoes?" Michaela felt a rush of anxiety. "I don't...."

From below, they heard their little girl's voice cry out, "Mama! Mama!"

Sully bolted for the door. In a matter of moments, he returned with their daughter.

Wrapped in a cloth, Katie's hand was bleeding. The child's cries continued. As Sully set her on the edge of their bed, Michaela opened her medical bag.

"The babies, Ma'am," Bridget pointed to the crying infants.

Sully stepped forward to check their diapers. Both were in need of changing. He glanced toward the nanny and nodded. He began to replace Noah's, while Bridget took care of Annie.

By the time they finished, Michaela had gotten Katie's bleeding stopped.

"I don't believe you'll need stitches, Sweetheart," she kissed her daughter's forehead. "But I'm afraid it will be sore for a while."

"I cut it with a knife, Mama," she confessed. "Miss Bridget said...."

Michaela's brow wrinkled, "Under no circumstances is my daughter to use one of those knives."

Bridget rocked Annie in her arms to quiet her, "When I was that age...."

"I'm gonna be seven," Katie reminded her mother.

"Kates," Sully held Noah beneath his shirt. "Ya know ya aren't allowed t' use a big knife."

Josef had heard the commotion and stepped through the door rubbing his eyes, "I can't sweep."

Michaela reached for her infant daughter, and sat on the edge of the bed.

"I'll leave ya be," Bridget sensed she was not needed.

"Wanna play hide 'n' seek?" Josef offered.

"If it's all right with your Ma and Pa," Bridget reacted sarcastically.

"Go ahead, Joe," Sully consented.

"I better go, too," Katie slipped from the bed. "Joey's gonna try t' hide stuff from her."

"What?" Michaela raised an eyebrow.

"He says her face turns red when she can't find things," Katie announced.

"Oh, my," Michaela leaned back on the bed.

As she tucked Annie beneath her robe, Sully gently placed their newborn son on her, as well.

"I'll go check on 'em," he started for the door.

"Sully," Michaela beckoned him. "I don't know what to do."

He stopped and clasped her hand, "Then we'll just wait an' see."

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

"To whom are your writing, Mr. Sully?" Elizabeth Quinn glanced over her son-in-law's shoulder.

"Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz," he did not look up.

She silently read the first paragraph, "Would you like for me to proof read it for you?"

"Proof read it?" he questioned.

"Check it for errors," she specified.

"There's no errors," he resumed his writing. "I'm tellin' him the truth, whether he wants t' read it or not."

"Right there," she pointed at the paper. "Your grammar is not correct, and your punctuation...."

"Elizabeth," his jaw tensed. "I don't got a fancy education like...."

"Don't have," she stopped him. "You don't have."

Sully put his pen down.

"Aren't you going to finish it?" she asked.

"Later," he folded the paper.

"I.... I'm sorry," Elizabeth realized she had offended him. "I know that you haven't had much free time for things such as composing letters, but when you are communicating with a government official...."

He interjected, "I may not say things the way a book teaches, but not many folks have trouble understandin' my meanin'."

"I've always been a stickler for detail," she sat beside him. "Syntax is everything."

"I've always been a believer in lettin' my actions speak," he revealed.

"Your actions," she shook her head. "They have brought great anguish to my daughter."

"You never did approve o' me," he stated.

"My opinion matters little to Michaela," she sighed.

"It matters more than ya know," Sully looked intently at her. "Ya always want your Ma t' approve o' what ya do in life."

"Yet she became a doctor, moved out here and...." her voice trailed off.

Sully picked up on it, "And she's the most wonderful woman I ever met. Her becomin' a doctor has saved lives, Elizabeth. Her movin' out here was the best thing that ever happened t' this town an' t' me. I wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for her. An' there wouldn't be seven o' the best grandchildren in the world lovin' you."

"They are wonderful," she admitted. "You're simply not the man I dreamed would give her a family."

"What did ya dream for her?" he leaned closer. "Someone like William Burke?"

"Well, now that you mention it," she acknowledged. "Yes. He respected her as a woman and as a colleague."

"You think I don't respect her?" he felt a pang.

"I know you do.... in your own way," she attempted to be diplomatic.

Sully sighed, "I reckon I can't win this debate. I'm goin' up t' see if Michaela needs anythin'."

As Sully started up the steps, Colleen approached her grandmother.

"I couldn't help but hear what you were saying," the young woman sat beside her. "You're wrong, you know."

"Wrong?" Elizabeth's back stiffened.

"Sully is the man Ma dreamed of," she spoke softly. "There's so much you don't know, Grandma. Their love is the most incredible thing I've ever witnessed."

"You had the sense to marry a nice respectable man," the older woman judged. "He's stable and does not go about endangering his family.

"I love Andrew," Colleen smiled. "With all of my heart, I do. But.... there is special love in this world. Love that is so rare, you're lucky to witness it, let alone live it. I've never seen two people more in love than Ma and Pa. And it only grows with each day. They got.... they have that special and wondrous love."

"You sound like a dime novel," Elizabeth compared. "There's no such thing."

Colleen placed her hand atop her grandmother's, "I'm sorry you don't see it."

"I will confess that their children are rare and wondrous," she smiled. "And for that, I'm grateful."

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

Sully stepped into the bedroom. With the babies kangarooed against her, Michaela was reading a story to Katie and Josef. Sully smiled at the scene.

"Did you finish your letter?" Michaela looked up from her book.

"Not yet," he responded.

"Where's Miss Bridget?" Katie inquired.

"She's gettin' ready t' go t' the Chateau for the night with your Gran'ma an' Aunt Rebecca," Sully sat on the edge of the bed.

"Is she gonna be our nanny?" Katie posed the question.

Sully and Michaela glanced at one another, wondering what answer to provide.

"I hope so," Josef chimed in.

"Why's that, Joe?" Sully grinned.

"She funny," he replied.

"What about you, Katie?" Michaela turned to her daughter.

"I don't know," she looked at her hand.

Michaela gently lifted her chin, "Do you like her?"

"Kinda," Katie was uncertain. "But.... I want you t' be our Mama."

"Of course, I'm your Mama, Sweetheart," Michaela assured. "Nothing can change that."

"But a nanny takes care o' children," the little girl recalled her father's definition.

"Kates," Sully rubbed her back. "When you're at school durin' the day, Miss Teresa takes care o' ya. That don't make her your Ma."

The child pondered his words quietly.

"As for Miss Bridget becomin' your nanny," Sully paused. "Your Ma an' me still gotta talk on it some more."

"We won't do anything that will upset you, Katie," Michaela promised.

Beneath her robe, the babies began to stir. She looked toward Sully, who recognized their need to nurse.

"Come on, you two," he clapped his hands. "Let's go say goodnight t' your Gran'ma an' aunt."

"An' Miss Bwidget," Josef added.

Katie paused at the doorway, "Mama, could Joey an' me...."

"And I," Michaela corrected.

"Could Joey an' I sleep in here t'night?" the little girl requested.

"Katie...." Michaela hesitated.

"You could keep an eye on my hand," she held up the bandage.

"Maybe they could camp on the floor," Sully proposed.

"Could we make a tent?" Katie raised her eyebrows.

"Your father can fix something for you, I suppose," Michaela smiled. "But remember the babies will wake up several times during the night."

"That's okay," the child kissed her mother's cheek.

"I'll get 'em ready for bed, then pitch their tent," Sully winked.

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

"Matthew Cooper," Preston spoke the name with disdain.

"What's botherin' you about him?" Hank poured him another drink.

"The impertinent young man endangered my life," the banker sipped it.

"I don't think you was in any danger," Hank retorted. "From what I heard, the man was fallin' down drunk."

"The man was armed," Preston shot back. "I intend to take legal recourse."

"Against Matthew?" Loren overheard.

"Yes, against Matthew," Preston stood straighter. "I doubt if he's any more competent as a lawyer than he was as a sheriff."

"Matthew's a good man," Loren defended.

"That sentiment is not unanimous," the banker retorted.

"What kinda legal recourse you talkin' about?" Hank rubbed his upper lip.

"That, gentlemen, I shall not divulge to you," he took a last swig of the alcohol. "Good evening."

As he left the Gold Nugget, Loren turned to Hank, "You think he means it?"

"I reckon," Hank shrugged.

"We gotta do somethin' t' stop him, then," Loren raised his voice.

"I don't see how," he lit a cigar.

"Someone's gotta tell Dr. Mike an' Sully," the shopkeeper urged.

"I'll ride out first thing in the mornin'," Hank nodded.

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

Sully had taken a blanket and created a small tent, beneath which Katie and Josef lay giggling on the floor.

"Get t' sleep now," Sully peeked in.

"Poppy," Katie sat up. "Could we see the babies one more time?"

"All right," he smiled.

The two youngsters scampered out from under the blanket and rushed to the bedside, where their mother was tenderly cradling the little ones.

"Noah's got Joey's hair," Katie observed.

"No, Katie," the little boy insisted. "I got my hair."

"She means his hair is like yours, Joe," Sully rubbed his back.

"Mama, is Gran'ma goin' home t'morrow?" Katie asked.

"Yes," her voice hinted at sadness. "Along with Aunt Rebecca."

"Miss Bwidget?" Josef wondered.

"I'm not certain," she smiled.

"Now, under the blanket," Sully ordered.

After kissing their mother, the children returned to their makeshift camp and eventually quieted down to sleep.

Sully slid into bed beside his wife, "Hand 'em here."

"What?" she lifted her head.

"The babies," he specified. "I'm gonna keep 'em next t' me t'night so you can get some sleep."

"I'm fine, Sully," she insisted.

"Michaela," he countered. "I know better. When they get hungry, I'll wake ya up. But I want you t' get a good night's sleep."

She gently handed the sleeping infants into the care of their father. Sully's heart filled as he tenderly placed them against his chest and covered them with his shirt.

"Make certain they can breathe," Michaela cautioned.

"Don't worry," he grinned.

She turned slightly onto her side to watch them, "Did you write that letter to Secretary Schurz?"

"No," he replied simply.

"I suppose there hasn't been time with all we've had on our plate," she lightly stroked his cheek. "Would you like to discuss Bridget now?"

"Close your eyes," he smiled. "We'll talk in the mornin'."

"I love you, Sully," she whispered.

He brushed back a lock of her hair, "I love you, too."

Sully could feel the tiny hearts beating against him. They seemed in unison with his own. What was that line from the poem that Michaela liked? Guardian of my heart. He felt as if he were the guardian of their little hearts, and he could imagine nothing on earth more precious than that charge.

Tomorrow, he pondered. Tomorrow, Elizabeth and Rebecca would be going back to Boston. Michaela and her mother had experienced another tense visit. Mrs. Quinn had even managed to grate on his nerves. But... she did love Michaela.

And what about Bridget? He reasoned that having her help out would ease the burden on Michaela. But... they wanted these babies so much. Should they turn over their care to someone else just for the easy way out?

He glanced toward his wife. She was sleeping peacefully for the first time in weeks.

"I'd do anythin' t' make things easier for ya, Michaela," he whispered.

************
Chapter 10
************

"Michaela," Sully whispered.

"Mmmm?" she was disoriented.

"Sorry t' wake ya, but the babies are hungry," he spoke low.

"That's all right," she yawned as she sat up.

Sully placed the infants in her arms, and she positioned them to nurse.

"What time is it?" she wondered.

"'Bout two a.m.," he figured.

She became more alert, "What do you think we should do about Bridget?"

"I'm kinda torn on the subject," he gently rubbed the babies' backs. "On one hand, I want things t' be easier for ya. On the other, I want us t' be able t' take care o' our children. It's part o' bein' a parent."

"I know," she nodded. "I feel the same way."

"T' me, a nanny reminds me o' Boston an' your past," he confessed. "That's a part o' your life I can't compete with."

"You have nothing to compete with, Sully," she assured.

"That high society an' fancy life," he felt a twinge. "Maids, butlers, footmen, doormen, nannies."

She smiled, "We're a far cry from that."

"An' how much is a nanny gonna cost?" he rubbed his upper lip.

"Mother would...." she stopped when she noted his expression. "I'm not certain."

"I'm gonna have t' work more as it is t' feed these little ones," he assumed. "That means I might have t' be away from home more. So, havin' a nanny for the children might be good, then."

She pointed out, "Don't forget we have Brian and Matthew to help out."

"I didn't forget," he said. "But they're grown men, now, Michaela. They got school an' work.... responsibilities o' their own."

"I know," she caressed the babies' heads. "But.... something inside of me tells me not to entrust our babies, our children to someone else. That's how it was done in Boston society, but....."

"That somethin' inside o' you is called motherhood," he grinned. "An' no children ever had a better Ma than you. It's natural for ya t' feel that way."

"So, we've solved nothing," she sighed.

"We solved one thing," he lifted their sleeping children. "Annie an' Noah have full bellies now."

She returned the infants to him, "I don't want a nanny to have these moments with them."

"I know how ya feel," he nestled them against his chest. "Whatever ya wanna do, I'll go along with ya, Michaela. You're the one whose gonna be affected most by our decision."

"No," she glanced toward Katie and Josef. "They will, as will these little ones."

"Ya might change your mind when the urge t' doctor returns," he assessed.

"Our children are my priority, Sully," she determined. "And with Noah's condition uncertain, I don't want to be separated from them."

"I know," he acknowledged. "But you're a physician, too. The world would miss out on a lot if ya walked away from your career."

"I'm not walking away from it," she shook her head. "I'm simply waiting until we can establish a routine that is efficient and practical."

He grinned, "That's my Michaela."

"We'll tell Bridget to return with Mother and Rebecca?" she turned on her side.

"I can't say no t' ya," he smiled.

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

"I understand, Mrs. Sully," Bridget nodded. "I must confess, I've grown rather fond of your dear little ones while I've been here. That Josef's a firecracker, he is."

Michaela smiled, "Yes, he is. You understand, this is nothing personal. My husband and I...."

"I understand," Bridget nodded. "But, if ya change your mind, I'll be on the first train back to Colorado Springs, I will. I got a feelin' ya don't know what you're in store for."

"That may be," Michaela nodded. "Our marriage has always been an adventure."

Bridget laughed heartily, "I think nothin' will compare with the adventure you're about to embark on, dearie. It was nice meetin' you."

Michaela extended her hand, "And you, as well. We appreciate your coming here."

"Don't mention it," the woman smiled. "Take care of those sweethearts."

"I shall," she caressed the babies' heads.

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

"You what?" Elizabeth was incredulous. "You're refusing the aid of one of Boston's best nannies?"

"Please don't think me ungrateful, Mother," Michaela countered. "But I want to care for my children on my own."

"All of my children had a nanny," her back stiffened. "I suppose you have some misguided notion that you would be neglecting yours if they had one. Is this some Cheyenne nonsense, too? Or is it Mr. Sully's doing?"

"Mother," Michaela was becoming exasperated. "Can't we simply agree to disagree on this matter?"

Elizabeth Quinn sat down, "Michaela, I'm eighty years old. In all likelihood, this will be my last visit to Colorado Springs. I would rather not argue with you."

"I don't want to argue either," she agreed. "I truly appreciate all that you have done for me, and I know the journey here was a difficult one. Can't it be enough for you to realize how happy I am with Sully and our children?"

The older woman glanced up at her, "Happy? How can you be happy with.... never mind. Brian and Colleen are waiting to take us to the Chateau, then on to the Depot. I know that Rebecca has already been up to see you, so I'll say goodbye, Michaela."

With that, Elizabeth pivoted and exited the bedroom. Michaela could hear her family depart the homestead. The happy chatter of Katie and Josef as they joined their older brother and sister in the buckboard, contrasted starkly with the ache Michaela felt in her heart.

Sully stood at the doorway quietly watching his wife. Then he saw tears streaming down her cheeks. He swiftly went to her side.

"I don't think I'll ever see her again, Sully," her voice trembled.

"Sure ya will," he slid his arm beneath her shoulders.

"And our departing words were harsh," Michaela added. "Why can't she wish me happiness? Why is everything I do subject to her disapproval?"

"It's just the way she is, Michaela," he tried to console her. "She really does love ya."

"I only wanted to hear those words from her," she turned her face into his shoulder.

Sully's heart nearly broke as his wife cried softly against him. Then he determined to do something about it.

"I... gotta go," he lifted up.

"What?" her eyes were red.

"I'll be right back," he kissed her temple.

He quickly exited their bedroom. Shortly, Michaela heard his horse gallop off. Turning her attention to the babies on her chest, she felt her tears begin anew.

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

"Pa!" Brian was surprised to see his him pull up beside the wagon.

"Is something wrong with Ma or the babies?" Colleen worried.

"No, but I need t' speak t' your Gran'ma," Sully turned the horse toward the back of the wagon.

"Me?" the older woman was taken aback.

"If ya don't mind," he said. "It's about somethin'.... you forgot."

"We come, Papa?" Josef anticipated.

"Stay in the wagon, big boy," Sully touched his nose. "You, too, Kates."

"Come now," Bridget got their attention. "I'll tell ya about the Leprechauns."

Dismounting, Sully assisted his mother-in-law from the wagon. Holding her arm, he guided her away from the others.

He stopped and turned to her, "Elizabeth. I need t' ask ya a favor."

"What?" she could not imagine.

"Please come back t' the homestead, an' tell Michaela ya love her," he peered into her eyes.

"She knows I love her," Elizabeth retorted.

"Hearin' ya say it is real important t' her," he swallowed. "Please."

"This is nonsense," she looked away.

"I'll do anythin' ya want," he implored. "Just tell her."

She glanced back at him and tilted her head, "Will you give your babies normal, Christian names?"

Sully swallowed hard, "Yes."

"Let's go, then," she stepped toward the wagon.

As they prepared to return to the homestead, Hank approached on horseback.

"Well, ain't this a sight," he grinned. "Where you folks headed?"

Brian answered, "Gran'ma forgot somethin' back at the house. Then we're takin' her t' the Chateau an' Depot."

"So you're headed back t' Boston t'day," Hank wiped his upper lip with his sleeve.

Elizabeth noticed with disdain, "Yes, back where men have manners."

"I got manners," Hank raised an eyebrow. "When I need to."

"What are you doin' here?" Sully suspected.

"Need t' talk t' ya," the sheriff motioned with his head.

"Well?" the mountain man anticipated.

"Just thought ya oughta know that Preston's plannin' on takin' legal action against Matthew for endangerin' his life," Hank detailed. "That day Hanratty abducted Brian, Colleen an' Matthew."

"The day the twins were born," Brian said.

"Abducted?" Elizabeth was aghast.

"Matthew convinced Hanratty to bring us back to town," Colleen explained.

Brian chimed in, "Then we made him think Preston was Pa. Hanratty wanted t' fight him, so after he let us go, Matthew led them t' the meadow by the church."

Hank picked up on it, "Hanratty passed out before there was any punches thrown. Now, Preston says he's gonna sue."

"Sue my grandson for protecting his family?" Elizabeth's back stiffened.

"Yep," Hank grinned. "Anyway, I thought ya oughta know."

"Does Matthew know?" Sully finally spoke.

"I ain't seen him," Hank replied.

"Thanks," Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

"What are we gonna do, Pa?" Brian questioned.

"I'll talk t' Matthew when he gets home from Soda Springs this evenin'," Sully replied. "Right now, ya better get back t' the homestead."

Elizabeth eyed her son-in-law on the ride back, wondering what Michaela saw in him. Then, she felt ashamed. Sully had coached her daughter through a complicated labor. Now he was willing to forgo something that meant a great deal to him... naming his children for the Indians, just to have her say what was already in her heart. She lowered her eyes in guilt.

When they arrived at the homestead, Brian and Colleen assisted her up the steps and into Michaela's room. Then they left.

"Mother?" she wiped the tears from her eyes. "I thought you were gone."

"I left too soon," the woman sat on the edge of the bed.

"Too soon?" Michaela wondered.

"Before telling you something," Elizabeth glanced at the babies. "I wanted to say.... to tell you how much I love you... and how proud I am of you."

Michaela choked back tears, "I love you, too, Mother."

She continued, "You have a wonderful family and a husband who loves you dearly. You're a lucky woman."

"I... I don't know what to say," Michaela's heart filled.

"Say that you'll visit Boston soon," the older woman smiled.

"We'll try," she pledged.

"Goodbye," Elizabeth leaned forward to kiss the babies' heads, then Michaela's cheek. "Take care of these little ones."

"I shall," the daughter was overwhelmed.

When she stood to depart, she noticed Sully standing at the doorway.

As she neared him, she whispered, "Keep their Indian names."

Sully smiled and kissed her cheek, "Goodbye, Elizabeth. And thank you."

"No," she smiled. "It is I who should thank you."

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

"Where is Mr. Lodge?" Elizabeth Quinn spoke in a commanding voice at the Chateau's front desk.

"Right here, Madame," he stepped toward her. "I trust that your accommodations were satisfactory?"

"I wish a word with you," she stated.

"What can I do for you?" Preston grinned.

"You can stop entertaining any notion of suing my grandson," her look was stern.

"Matthew Cooper?" Preston straightened his cravat. "That is a matter for the courts, not...."

"Hear me well," she pointed her finger at him. "There was no love lost between my husband and your father in Boston. If you even dare bring legal action against Matthew, you will feel the wrath of every lawyer between Boston and Denver. Do I make myself clear?"

Preston nervously smiled, "No need to upset yourself, Mrs. Quinn. I..."

"Clear?" she repeated.

"Yes," he dejectedly nodded.

"No lawsuit?" she clarified.

"No lawsuit," he nodded.

"Good," Elizabeth smiled. "Now, goodbye."

***********

"Ya should've seen Gran'ma," Brian retold the story of what had transpired in the lobby. "And Preston's not gonna pursue any legal action against you now."

"I could've defended myself from that pompous...." Matthew stopped himself in front of the younger children.

"I don' unstand," Josef shook his head.

"Mr. Lodge likes money," Katie informed them. "'Cause no one likes him."

"I got money," Josef reached into his pocket. "I give him mine."

"No," Sully chuckled. "You keep it, Joe. He's got plenty o' money."

"I feel sorry for him," Katie sympathized. "He don't got a wife or children."

"Family changes the way we look at things," Sully smiled.

"Maybe he find pot gold," Josef reasoned.

"What?" Sully raised an eyebrow.

"Pot gold from leapin' cans," his son specified.

"Leprechauns, Joey," Katie amended.

Colleen descended the steps, and approached her father, "Ma's stitches are healing nicely. There's no sign of infection."

"That's good," Sully nodded.

"And Noah is showing some improvement," her eyes gleamed. "Cloud Dancing's advice seems to have done the trick."

"He's been eatin' better," Sully observed. "I think he might be growin' faster than Annie."

"Ma always marvels at the resiliency of children," Colleen recounted. "And it's true. I know we have a few more weeks to be concerned about the apnea, but he's quite a little fighter."

"Your Ma told me that when he was born," Sully recalled.

Matthew cleared his throat, "Brian an' I have been workin' on a schedule."

"Schedule?" Sully was curious.

"For the children," Brian nodded. "We got it worked out how we can pitch in an' help watch 'em. Ya got nothin' t' worry about, Pa."

"I don't need watchin'," Katie insisted.

Sully lifted her into his arms, "You can watch your Ma an' me, then."

"Poppy," she giggled.

"I'll come home as often as I can," Colleen allowed.

"We not get nanny?" Josef sounded disappointed.

"No," Sully ruffled his hair. "You'll just have t' find someone else t' hide stuff from, Joe."

"But you find it, Papa," he said.

"Your Ma an' me thank ya," Sully glanced at the faces of his children. "I know it's not gonna be easy, but it will sure be busy."

Sully heard the babies crying overhead and set Katie down.

"I reckon I better go help your Ma," he left the room.

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

When he reached the bedroom, Michaela was diapering Noah. Annie craved her attention as well. Sully entered the room, and lifted his infant daughter. Almost instantly, the baby quieted.

"The kids have made a schedule t' watch the children," he informed her.

"Sully," she finished her task. "Did you go after Mother this afternoon?"

"What makes ya think that?" he hedged.

"Answer me," she looked him in the eye.

"Yes," he nodded.

"Come here," she beckoned with her finger.

He stepped forward and leaned closer.

"Thank you," she cupped his face in her palm. "Thank you for being my best friend and the most wonderful husband and father."

"You make it easy," he kissed her tenderly. Pulling back, he asked, "I was wonderin'.... Would ya mind lookin' over my letter t' Secretary Schurz?"

"You've finished it?" her eyes widened.

"Yes," he pulled it from the drawer in the nightstand.

As Sully tended to the babies, she opened the letter and perused its contents.

"It's perfect," she looked up in admiration.

"Ya sure?" he questioned. "Grammar an' punctuation okay?"

"You spoke from the heart, Sully," her voice choked slightly. "You communicated the conditions very effectively."

"What about syntax?" he recalled his mother-in-law's words.

She caressed the hair at the base of his neck, "I love your syntax."

"Michaela," he was becoming lost in her movements. "I'm serious."

"So am I," she kissed him again. "Noel."

"Hey," he pulled back. "You're not supposed t' tell anyone."

"I'm not telling anyone," she smiled. "It's our secret. But have you noticed that Noel hints remarkably of.... Noah?"

One of the babies began to fuss.

"Noah's hungry," he whispered.

After she maneuvered herself to feed him, Sully placed the infant in her arms. He set Annie on the bed and leaned down to lift the family Bible from beneath the nightstand. With Michaela looking on, he printed neatly:

Cheyanne (Anne) Quinn Sully and Aenohe (Noah) Dakota Sully, born May 1, 1878.

When Noah finished nursing, Michaela set him beside Annie on the bed. It almost appeared as if the baby girl were kissing her brother's head. Glancing at his children, Sully was moved to recite:

"And from thy side two gentle babes are born
To fill our home with smiles, and thus we are
Most fortunate beneath life's beaming morn;
And these delights, and thou, have been to me
The parents of the Song I consecrate to thee."

She felt a tear welling in her eye, "Byron?"

"Shelley," he touched the moisture on her cheek. "Everythin's gonna be okay, Michaela."

"With you as the guardian of our hearts, I have no doubt," she returned his look of love.

THE END



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