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

Second Chance


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Second Chance
by Debby K

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

"Sully! Michaela!" Dorothy rushed to her friends, seated at Grace's Cafe.

"Good morning, Dorothy," Michaela noted the expression on her face. "You look as if you've had some good news."

"It's Cloud Dancin'!" she lowered her voice. "He made it t' Canada with Sittin' Bull. He's safe!"

"Thank God!" Michaela reached for her husband's hand.

"Where's Canada, Mama?" Katie inquired.

"It's a land far to the north, Sweetheart," the mother smiled.

"Can we go see him?" the little girl hoped.

"No," Michaela answered. "But to realize that he's safe is such a relief. Isn't it, Sully?"

He nodded, "I best be gettin' t' work on Jake's house."

Michaela was puzzled at his subdued reaction to the news, "Are you all right?"

"Yep," he kissed her and the children. "I'll be home by dark."

Dorothy sat down beside her friend after his departure, "Sully don't seem himself."

"I believe he's just tired," she replied. "He's been working nonstop on Jake's house. He falls into bed right after he eats dinner."

"Maybe he's been throwin' himself int' that project t' keep his mind off of Cloud Dancin'," Dorothy suggested.

"It's probable," Michaela agreed.

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

"Ma," Brian entered the Clinic. "Miss Teresa said we got an hour for lunch t'day. I think she needs the break."

"I'm certain that she does, Brian," she rose from her desk. "Would you like to use the time off watching the children? I want to take Sully a picnic lunch."

"Sure. Pa's been workin' awful hard on that house," the young man commented. "Wish I could still help him, but with school startin' an'....."

"I know that he appreciates the help you've given," she opened the door to the anteroom. "The children are still sleeping."

"I'll take care of 'em," he whispered. "Don't worry."

"I'll be back to get you some lunch before you must return to school," she lifted the basket that Grace had prepared.

"Have fun," her son raised an eyebrow.

Michaela blushed, "It's only lunch, Brian."

"I know," he smiled.

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

As Michaela rode toward the Slicker property, she thought about Brian. Now beginning his last year of school, he would be graduating in June. Little Brian, the first to call her "Ma," was becoming a man. She took a deep breath and enjoyed the September sky. Then she saw the house ahead.

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

Using Jake's drawing, Sully had begun to turn the sketch into a beautiful work of art with his craftsmanship. The foundation and chimney were complete. The floor, framing and roof were done, and the doors and windows were in. For the past week, her husband had been nailing the clapboards to the structure.

Jake was paying him handsomely for the project, but Michaela knew it was not the money which had possessed her husband to devote so much time to the endeavor. It was his need to remain busy, to feel that he was accomplishing something. Disillusioned with his work for the Interior Department, frustrated over his inability to help Cloud Dancing, Sully had found an outlet in creating this house.

He saw her approach, and put down his hammer, "What brings ya out here?"

She held up the basket, "I brought you some lunch."

Helping her down from the buckboard, he said, "Ya didn't have to, Michaela."

She took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped his perspiration, "I had an ulterior motive."

"Oh?" he held her hand.

"I never seem to see very much of you anymore," she confessed shyly. "Just over supper, then you go to bed exhausted."

"I'm sorry," he knew he had not been home much over the past two months.

"No need to apologize," she spread out a blanket. "I'm certain that the Slickers appreciate your rapid progress."

"Don't know how much longer the weather will cooperate," he helped her sit, then joined her.

She began to remove items from the basket, "Grace made us some sandwiches, iced tea...."

"Pickles," he chuckled. "How'd ya get these past Josef?"

"He was napping," she laughed, happy to see her husband's smile.

Sully dug into the food, and as he ate, Michaela looked on with a loving glance.

"You not hungry?" he noticed.

"I'm very hungry," her meaning went beyond food.

Sully did not pick up on it, "Here."

He handed her a sandwich.

As she consumed the meal, she scanned the landscape, "This is a pretty view."

His eyes met hers, "Sure is."

Perhaps he had not missed her early double entendre, "I've missed you, Sully."

"I been right here," he returned to his sandwich.

"It's very good news about Cloud Dancing," she provided him an opening.

"Yep," he looked down.

She lifted his chin with her finger, "Second thoughts?"

"'Bout what?" he asked.

"About not being with him," she specified.

"Michaela," he shook his head. "We been through this before. No, I don't have second thoughts about stayin' here."

"You were very quiet about the news when Dorothy told us," she pointed out.

"I'm glad he's okay," he admitted. "I just miss him, is all."

"I suppose there is always a part of me that wonders if you would rather be with...." her voice faded.

He took her hand and lifted it to his lips, "I reckon I been neglectin' my wife."

"No, I didn't mean...." she stopped again.

"My insecure Michaela," his voice was tender.

"Insecure?" she denied.

"Don't ever doubt that I wanna be with you more than anythin' in the world," he caressed her cheek.

"I know that," she smiled. Gesturing toward the house, she asked, "Do I get a tour?"

"Sure," he helped her up.

The moment they crossed the threshold, Michaela's mind flashed back to the time when Sully was building their new homestead. She fondly remembered going check on its progress and discovering the bed he was making.

"It's coming along nicely, Sully," she strolled around the Slicker's living room.

"I figure I'll have the outside ready by winter," he stated. "Their baby's due in December."

Then he went to her and pulled her into his arms. The smell of the new wood and the scent of him triggered their memories of that moment on the floor of the new homestead when they had kissed so ardently.

"I remember, too," he spoke low in her ear.

"You do?" she tingled at the thought.

He spread out an old blanket on the floorboards and guided her down.

"I'll always remember the times I had t' stop myself," he grinned.

Her breathing quickened, "I.... we never kissed with such passion before."

"We have since," he touched her thigh.

"Do you have any idea what your kisses do to me, Mr. Sully?" she toyed with the hair behind his ears.

He quoted:

"Each kiss a heart-quake,
For a kiss's strength,
I think it must be reckoned by its length."

With that, he captured her lips, guiding her back with his hand protecting her head from the hard floor. She pulled him closer, losing herself in his touch. Finally, he pulled up for air.

Breathlessly, she guessed, "That had to be Byron."

"Yep," he again claimed her lips.

Michaela felt afire with desire, but slipped her finger to his lips, "What about our lunch?"

"Can it wait 'til after dessert?" he began to gather the material of her skirt upward.

"Dessert first?" she feigned surprise.

"It's been a while since we had dessert," his hand began to arouse her further.

"Oh, Sully," she wrapped her arms around him.

"I love you," he spoke the words she never tired of hearing.

"And I love you," she caressed the hair at the base of his neck.

The room began to feel quite warm to them at that moment. Gently, attentively, lovingly, they began to move together. Finally, with longings inflamed by the other's touch, they consummated their desires. Filling her with his love, Sully kissed her tenderly. Their sounds of fulfillment softly echoed through the frame of the building.

He brushed back the moist hair at her temples, "You are so beautiful."

Those were the very words he had used that day at their new homestead.

"Thanks for lettin' me finish what we started six years ago," he winked.

"Thank you, too," she sighed.

"If you only knew how many times I wanted t'...." he stopped.

"Wanted to what?" she wondered.

"T' not stop myself before we were married," he was lost in her eyes. "Bein' selfish... wantin' t' take away your innocence."

"You're a gentleman, Sully," she answered. "On our wedding day, when we finally joined as one, you didn't take away my innocence. I gave myself to you very willingly, if you recall."

"I recall, an' it was incredible, Michaela," he smiled. "Still is."

She looked at her pocket watch. "I'm afraid I have to return to the Clinic now. Brian is watching the children during his lunch hour."

"I owe him," Sully helped her up.

Michaela smoothed down her skirt, "I think he suspected my motives for coming out here were more than meets the eye."

"T' bring me lunch," he kissed her again.

"You know, Mr. Sully, it was more for the dessert," she flashed a sultry gaze.

"I'm shocked at you," he teased.

"I can't believe this is Brian's last year of school," she leaned against her husband's chest.

"He's still gonna go t' college," Sully rubbed her back.

"But it's his last year at home with us," she felt a tear. "Where have the years gone, Sully? Only yesterday, he would climb up onto our laps for a story or a hug."

"Reckon that's why we gotta appreciate every moment with our kids," he kissed the top of her head.

"And with each other," she glanced up with the eyes he adored.

"And with each other," he smiled. "I'll see ya t'night."

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

Michaela stopped by the Depot to pick up her mail before returning to the Clinic. To her delight, there was a letter from Colleen. There was also a letter posted to Brian, but with no return address.

"Ma!" Brian greeted his mother enthusiastically when she returned to the Clinic.

Her younger children rushed to her side.

She sat at her desk and lifted them to her lap, "Were you good for your brother?"

"Yep," Katie nodded.

Josef imitated his sister, then began to hug his mother to the point that she could barely move.

"We received a letter from your sister," Michaela kissed the baby. "And here's one for you, Brian."

He quickly opened it, "It's from my Pa."

"Ethan?" she wondered what disappointment the man would cause Brian this time. "What does it say?"

"Says he's comin' t' visit," the young man was excited.

"When?" Michaela was finally able to calm her youngest son.

"T'morrow," he replied. "He's gonna be in Denver on business an' wants t' come here t' spend the day with Matthew an' me."

She was not certain how to respond. Ethan Cooper had deserted his wife Charlotte and their three children many years earlier. His only contact with the children in the interim had created heartache and resentment on their part. Matthew had difficulty even tolerating the man. Colleen considered Sully more of a father than her own flesh and blood.

And Brian was too young to be aware of his father's deceptions. On the first occasion in which she met him, he stole $600 of the church's collection money, just as he had stolen his wife's savings when he left her. And the last time they saw the man, he and his new wife had attempted to prevent Sully and her from legally adopting the children.

"Is he bringing Lillian?" Michaela wondered about his wife.

"No," the boy finished reading.

"I suppose we have some preparations to make for tomorrow," she said.

"Mama," the little girl had listened to their conversation. "Who's Ethan?"

"He's Brian's real father," she responded.

"He comin' t' see ya, Bran?" she was happy for him.

"Yep," he reached for his books. "Gotta get back t' school. See ya later."

"Good-bye, Brian," Michaela called after him.

"Wish I was goin' t' school, too," Katie lamented.

"Come here, Sweetheart," Michaela beckoned. "Let's work on your letters."

Michaela watched her daughter write down all of the letters of the alphabet. Then she instructed her to write her name, which the child did with great aplomb. Josef lifted a pencil and began to scribble.

"No, Joey," Katie frowned. "Ya gotta be neat."

He gazed at his sister with his beautiful blue eyes, "Neat."

Michaela's heart filled with love as she watched her daughter guide the little boy who adored her every move. Soon they were occupying themselves in play, giving her the opportunity to read the letter from Colleen.

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

Sully made it home just as dinner was set on the table. He kissed his children and went to the kitchen sink to wash up.

Michaela slipped her arms around him, "I hope our little interlude didn't throw you off your completion schedule."

He kissed her and spoke low, "Our little interlude made me wanna finish even faster."

"I invited Matthew for dinner, too," she informed him. "We need to discuss something."

At that moment, Matthew arrived, and the family began their supper.

Brian could no longer contain the news, "Pa's comin' t' see us."

"Pa?" Matthew looked up. "When?"

"T'morrow," Brian said.

Sully glanced at his wife, whose troubled expression indicated her uneasiness.

"I got work in Manitou t'morrow," Matthew informed them.

"But we ain't seen Pa in a long time," Brian did not understand.

"An' I don't need t' see him now," Matthew's words were bitter.

"Ya don't wanna see your Papa?" Katie's eyes widened.

"No," Matthew answered softly.

"Why?" the thought was incomprehensible to the little girl.

"It's hard t' explain, Katie," Matthew replied.

Katie glanced toward her father for an answer.

"They didn't see very much o' their Pa, Kates," Sully attempted to help her. "They don't really know him."

"Well, I can't wait t' see him," Brian glared at his brother.

"Fine," the older brother responded curtly.

Michaela changed the subject, "I received a letter from Colleen today."

"How's she doin'?" Sully picked up on it.

"She's well," Michaela smiled. "She and Andrew have been extended an invitation to study in England."

"England!" Matthew was amazed.

"Andrew's uncle has some well-placed friends there," she detailed. "They're leaving before the holidays."

"So we won't get t' see Colleen for Christmas?" Brian was disappointed.

"Apparently not," Michaela shook her head. "But this is a marvelous opportunity for her."

"May I be excused?" Brian requested.

"Certainly," Michaela was concerned. "Are you all right?"

"I'm just kinda tired," he stood up. "Think I'll turn in."

After he went upstairs, Michaela looked at Matthew, "He's disappointed in your reaction to seeing your father."

Sully did not want the children to hear the conversation, "Who wants t' help me in the barn?"

"Me!" Katie's eyes lit up.

"Me!" Josef squirmed.

"Okay," he lifted his son from the high chair. "Let's go."

"Can Wolf come, too?" Katie pointed.

"Yep," Sully touched his wife's shoulder as they passed.

Matthew and Michaela sat alone at the table, for a few moments in silence.

"Do you think you could delay your trip to Manitou until the day after tomorrow?" she broke the silence.

"For Ethan Cooper?" he folded his arms.

"No," she put her hand on his arm. "For Brian."

"Ma," he swallowed hard. "I don't even wanna be in the same town with that man. I don't understand how you could either. He tried t' take Colleen an' Brian away from ya, an' he brings nothin' but trouble whenever he shows up."

"He can't take your brother away now," she stated. "And Brian is looking forward to seeing him."

"Brian don't know what he's really like," he countered.

"Perhaps he does," she fidgeted with her napkin. "And perhaps he forgives him."

"Forgives him?" Matthew raised his voice. "For leavin' Ma an' us? For tryin' t' deny us the only real home we had after Ma died? Who can forgive that?"

"A little boy," she answered. "He was a little boy when those things happened."

"Well, I wasn't," he stood up. "I remember, an' I won't forgive. I gotta get back t' town now. Thanks for supper."

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

Sully supervised as his children threw out feed for the chickens. They heard a horse depart, and Katie rushed to the barn door.

"Mattew's leavin' without sayin' good-bye," she sadly noticed.

"Maybe he was in a hurry, sweet girl," Sully consoled her.

"Why don't he wanna see his Papa?" Katie asked.

Sully took a deep breath, unsure of what to tell her, "Kates, not all papa's treat their children right."

"They don't?" she placed her hands on her hips. "Why not?"

"I don't know," he cupped his hand to the back of her hair. "I can't imagine it."

Josef began to chase after one of the chickens, prompting his father and sister to laugh, but then the little boy caught it. The chicken's protests caused feathers to fly in all directions. Finally, Sully had to loosen his son's grip on the animal to spare her. When the bird was released, Josef's lip curled under and he began to cry.

Sully sat down and pulled him close, "Hey, now, big boy. Ya can't go holdin' her so tight. She couldn't breathe."

"Joey's squeezin' everythin', Poppy," Katie informed him.

"Is that true?" he exaggerated his expression to the little boy.

Josef shyly nodded.

Sully held his little hands in his and kissed his cheek, "Ya gotta be gentle, Joe. Don't go squeezin' anymore. Okay?"

"Okay," the toddler was contrite.

"Poppy," Katie came to her father's side. "When ya gonna finish buildin' that house?"

"I'm not sure, honey," he put his arm around her. "Why?"

"So ya can do stuff with Joey an' me," her look melted his heart.

"I'm sorry I been away so much," he kissed her cheek. "That's gonna change."

"Ya play with us?" she smiled.

He lifted both of his children, "I promise."

"Good," she was satisfied.

"I love you," he bounced them a bit.

"I love you, too," Katie leaned her head against his shoulder, a habit since she was a baby.

"Luv," Josef touched his father's nose.

"I sure am lucky t' have you," Sully carried them toward the house.

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

"Brian?" Michaela knocked on his door.

He quickly slid the photo of his father beneath his pillow, "Come in."

"Are you feeling all right?" she entered and sat on the edge of his bed.

"I'm okay," he shrugged.

"Is there anything special you'd like for dinner when your father's here tomorrow?" she rubbed his hand.

"It don't matter," he rolled onto his side away from her.

"Brian," she waited for a response.

When the young man did not answer, she rose from the bed and left him in peace.

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

"Brian's upset, Matthew's upset, and I don't know what to do," Michaela told her husband after they tucked in the children.

"Typical Ethan visit," he removed his beads.

"Perhaps you could speak with Brian, Sully," she encouraged.

"I'll try," he headed out the door and down the hall.

Knocking softly, he waited for a response. Not hearing one, he slowly opened the door.

"Ya asleep?" he whispered.

"No," Brian's hands were tucked behind his head.

Sully entered his son's room and folded his arms, "All done with your homework?"

"Yea," the young man said.

Sully pulled out the desk chair and turned it around to sit, "Anythin' ya wanna talk about?"

Brian hesitated, then confided, "I don't understand why Matthew's actin' like this about Pa's visit."

"He's got his reasons," Sully said. "You're lookin' forward t' seein' Ethan, ain't ya?"

"'Course I am," he replied.

"Then that's the main thing for ya t' think about," Sully stated. "Matthew's a grown man. We can't tell him what t' think or feel."

"But sometimes I feel...." Brian hesitated, not wanting to offend him.

"Feel what, son?" Sully inquired.

"I don't want this t' come out wrong....." he hedged still.

"You can tell me anythin', Brian," Sully assured him. "You know that."

"I don't got any blood relatives around anymore," he came out with it. "Ma's dead, Pa lives far away, Matthew moved out, an' Colleen's goin' t' England now. They're all gone."

Sully took a deep breath, "But, you can still see 'em, except for your Ma. It ain't like you'll never have the chance again."

"I don't mean I don't love you an' Ma an' the kids," the young man clarified. "You're my family, but...."

"But sometimes there's a little somethin' missin'," Sully nodded. "I've known that feelin'."

"You understand?" Brian was relieved.

"Sure," Sully stood up and went to the edge of the bed. "There was a time when Cloud Dancin' an' the Cheyenne were the only family I had, an' much as I treasured what they gave me, there was somethin' missin' deep down. I didn't realize it 'til I met Michaela."

"I wouldn't wanna live with my Pa," Brian sat up. "I wouldn't wanna live anywhere else but here, but I just think it'll be nice t' spend the day with him."

"I understand," Sully patted his shoulder. "So does your Ma."

"But not Matthew," he sighed.

"Brian," Sully counseled. "Just enjoy the time ya have with him, an' try not t' worry 'bout Matthew."

He nodded. "Thanks.... Pa."

Sully winked, "You're welcome. How 'bout ya go tell your Ma good night?"

"I will," he stood up.

Sully watched as he left the room. Brian was nearly as tall as he now. The little boy who had craved love and guidance, who had imitated and admired him, was becoming a man. But still, there were times when he was that little boy again. Sully glanced around the room, smiling at his son's display of carvings that he had made for him through the years.

"Ethan," Sully clenched his fist. "If you dare hurt that boy again...."

Brian returned before he could finish, "I told Ma."

"Good," Sully grinned. "Night, Brian."

"Night, Pa," he smiled.

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

"How did it go?" Michaela asked as her husband crawled into bed beside her.

"I think he'll be okay," Sully positioned himself on his side to look at her.

"Good," she smiled. "You had more success than I at reaching him."

He grinned, "He's just feelin' a little lonely."

"Lonely?" she was surprised.

"'Cause his blood relatives ain't around anymore," he nodded.

"Perhaps we've not paid enough attention to him," she worried.

"No," he ran his hand through his hair. "I figure some of it's his age. He's prob'ly thinkin' about what it'll be like when he leaves home."

"Well, he doesn't have to leave if he doesn't want to," she noted.

"I just told him t' enjoy his time with his Pa an' not think about what Matthew is gonna do," he laid back.

Michaela pulled her medical journal from the nightstand and began to read. Sully rubbed his leg against hers. She had no reaction. He began to nibble on her shoulder as he toyed with the strap of her nightgown.

"Aren't you tired?" she asked absentmindedly.

"Nope," he raised up higher and took the journal from her hands.

"Mr. Sully," she protested halfheartedly.

"Mmmm?" he slid his kisses up to her neck.

Her pulse immediately raced, and she slipped down to look at him straight on.

"I would have thought that your energy level would be a bit low after working all day," her voice was sultry.

"My wife an' kids reminded me what I been missin'," he kissed her ear lobe.

She was aroused by his touch, "Your children reminded you?"

"In the barn," he whispered. "Katie an' Josef been wantin' me t' do things with 'em. An' their Ma sorta let me know she's wantin' me t' do things with her, too."

"It must be difficult to have so many people need you," her eyes locked into his.

"Only difficult thing was when ya left Jake's house t'day," he told her.

"When I left?" she was uncertain.

"I wanted another helpin' of dessert," he grinned.

"I love you, Byron Sully," she ran her finger along his lips. "You are the most incredibly handsome man, the most unbelievably romantic husband, the most undeniably loving father...."

"You're gonna give me a big head," he joked.

"And the most humble human being I have ever met," she pulled closer to him.

"Me? Humble?" he pretended to be amazed.

"Well," she rubbed his side. "Perhaps I embellished that a bit."

He kissed her fingers, "And you are the most beautiful woman, the most... enthusiastic wife, the most caring mother....."

"Now I'll get a big head," she teased.

He became serious in his expression as he quoted:

"When beauty fires the blood,
How love exalts the mind."

"Was that Keats?" she ventured.

"Dryden," he lifted her chin for a tender kiss. "Reckon we better get t' sleep now."

"I thought you weren't sleepy," her voice was disappointed.

"Well, you started readin' your medical journal," he pointed out.

"That was to entice you," she grinned.

"Entice me?" he raised an eyebrow.

"You know," she ran her hand along his chest. "Play hard to get."

"I thought you stopped doin' that a few years ago," he chuckled.

"Well, perhaps it's not a bad thing to revive," she smiled. "It adds a bit of variety to...."

He kissed her to silence her.

"And it works," she pulled back.

"It does?" he wondered.

"It seems to have rejuvenated your interest in me," she caressed his temple.

"Michaela," he chuckled. "Ya never need t' worry 'bout me losin' interest in you."

"Truly?" she stroked his muscular arm.

"Truly," he drew her closer.

Then he yawned.

Michaela kissed his forehead, "Good night."

"What about...." his eyelids were heavy.

She smiled, "Let's save our dessert for morning, shall we?"

"Might make me too excited t' sleep," he grinned.

She repositioned herself to a comfortable position along his body, "I think you'll sleep just fine, Mr. Sully. And I know you need to."

He yawned again, "It ain't the company, ya know."

"You've proven that repeatedly," she rubbed his chest. "Now close your eyes. I want you to be very energetic tomorrow."

"Good night," he kissed her.

The words were barely spoken when he was asleep. His steady breathing and the rise and fall of his chest assured her that she had correctly gauged the extent of his fatigue. He had thrown himself into the construction of that house in order to keep his mind off of Cloud Dancing. In a way, he had closed himself off from everything except manual labor in these past two months.

She knew that he would work some tomorrow, but then on Sunday, she and the children would have him to themselves. Tomorrow. The day Ethan Cooper arrived. Her heart sank as she recalled those terrible days when he had fought and won the legal right to take his children away from Sully and her.

She offered a silent prayer for the man in her arms, for the children they loved and for the safe passage of their dear friend Cloud Dancing. Then she asked that Ethan's visit not bring the usual cataclysmic results as their previous encounters. Still, she could not shake the uneasy feeling about his impending arrival.

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

Michaela felt a strange sensation. Then she quickly realized what it was. Sully had wakened just before dawn and was attempting, quite successfully, to rouse her from her sleep.

With her back spooned against his chest, he kissed her neck. Next, he slipped his hand around to stir her further. She rolled over to face him.

"Feel like a little dessert?" he grinned.

She yawned, "You had a restful night's sleep?"

"Yep," he played with the strap of her nightgown. "How 'bout you?"

"Very restful," she smiled and ran her hand along his stubbled cheek.

As he spoke, he paused to kiss her between each sentence, "I'm gonna work on the Slicker house this mornin'.... then try t' get home for Ethan's visit.... I don't want you an' Brian t' have t' face him alone."

"Sully," she stilled his movements. "Have you noticed that Josef has developed a rather bad habit of....."

"Squeezin'?" he pulled her closer. "I had a little talk with him about it last night. Just a phase."

"I'm afraid he'll hurt someone.... or himself," she gazed into his eyes.

"We'll watch him," he assured her. "'Course, some squeezin' ain't so bad."

"Oh?" she smiled.

He drew her so that she rested on top of him, "Like this."

He engulfed her with his embrace. Michaela began to kiss him as she ran her fingers tantalizingly through his hair.

"I love you so much," she whispered.

"I love you, too," he stroked her back.

Then in a smooth motion, he turned her over onto her back and positioned himself to share his love. Instantly, Michaela's body reacted. His wandering hands caused her heart to race. Her soft moan indicated that her desire was as great as his. And then, in a blindingly beautiful moment, they came together. She clung to him as their bodies rhythmically molded as one.

With eyes closed, each savored the scintillating sensations that had been stirred. Finally, their bodies began to calm from the encounter.

"I love lovin' you in the mornin'," he spoke low.

"There is much to be said for it," she made lazy circles on his chest, then kissed it.

"'Course, I love lovin' ya at night, too," he considered.

"Mr. Sully," she cast a sultry glance at him. "I think we've given nearly every time of day a turn."

He raised her chin for a kiss, then quoted:

"Dost thou love life?
Then do not squander time,
For that's the stuff life is made of."

"It's been time well spent," she rubbed his arm. "In fact, I cannot imagine a better way to spend my time than in your arms. Was that Shakespeare?"

"Nope," he grinned. "Ben Franklin."

"A Bostonian," she nodded.

"I thought he was from Philadelphia," Sully countered.

"He ran away to Philadelphia when he was 17," she informed him. "Brian's age."

He kissed her again, "There's only one Bostonian I'm interested in."

"Many of our country's greatest minds came from there," she commented.

"I especially love the funny way they talk," he teased.

"Funny way we talk?" she pretended to be offended.

"Sure. Like how ya make an 'er' sound like 'ah'," he joked. "Kinda gets t' me right here."

"I'll get to you right there!" she poked his side.

"Ouch," he feigned injury.

"I'm sorry," she quickly took him seriously. "Did I hurt you?"

"Maybe if ya massaged it, that would help," he invited.

She turned up the corner of her mouth and began to rub the affected area, "Better?"

"Much," he closed his eyes. "I'll tell ya one thing."

"What?" she continued her touch.

"Boston makes the best dessert," there was a twinkle in his eye.

"Cream pies?" she raised an eyebrow.

"My Michaela," he pulled back a lock of her hair. "Nothin' in Boston can equal that dessert."

"I'm rather partial to Colorado's sweet offerings," she ran her finger along his lower lip.

Kissing her finger, he whispered, "Care for another helpin'?"

"As long as it doesn't ruin my figure," she leaned her head back to accept his kisses.

"'Fraid I can't guarantee that," his voice was husky.

"Then, I'll take my chances," she maneuvered closer.

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

"Ma," Brian paced at the Depot. "Do I look okay?"

"You look quite handsome," she straightened his tie.

Katie looked up, "Do I look okay?"

"You look beautiful, my darling," she touched her curly locks of hair.

Josef found a bug to occupy his attention. Then they heard the train whistle.

"He's here!" Brian grinned.

The train slowed to a stop, and the passengers began to disembark. Last to exit the coach was Ethan Cooper. He was perhaps a little grayer, but he still possessed the chiseled jaw, the piercing blue eyes and the dapper air that made him so formidable.

"Pa!" Brian rushed to him and hugged him.

"Hello, Brian," he held his son's shoulders. "Look at how you've grown!"

Then he spotted Michaela, holding Josef, "Dr. Quinn, so good to see you again."

"Mr. Cooper," she maintained her reserve.

"Where's Matthew?" he glanced around.

"He had business in Manitou," she informed him.

"That's a shame," he put his arm around his son. "But I'm real happy to be able to spend the day with you, Brian."

Ethan pointed to the two younger children, "Yours and Mr. Sully's?"

"Yes," she nodded. "This is Katie."

The little girl curtsied and said, "Pleased t' meet ya."

"And you," he bowed. "And who's this little girl?"

"Girl?" Brian chuckled. "That's Josef."

"I see he has his father's long hair," Ethan was embarrassed. "My apologies. Where is Mr. Sully?"

"He's buildin' a house for the Slickers," Brian replied. "He's gonna join us later. Would ya like t' go for a ride?"

"I'd love to, son," he smiled. "Will you and your children join us, Dr. Quinn?"

Before she could respond, Jake came running to toward them, "Dr. Mike! Dr. Mike!"

"What is it, Jake?" she worried.

"It's Teresa," he nervously answered. "She's in pain."

"Brian," she looked to her son.

"I'll watch the kids," he nodded.

"Thank you," she hurried off.

"Where would you like to ride?" Ethan inquired.

"We can ride out t' Macon's Bluff," the young man recommended. "The view's real pretty this time o' year. It's not far. We'll be back soon."

"That sounds good," Ethan climbed onto the wagon.

With Katie between them, Brian sat on the buckboard seat and held Josef on his lap. Off they went to enjoy the fall day.

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

"What is it, Dr. Mike?" Jake held his wife's hand.

"Teresa," Michaela checked her pulse. "Have you been eating Mexican food?"

"Yes," she confessed. "I have my entire life."

"I don't think it's agreeing with your baby," she determined. "Your pains are from indigestion, not labor."

"That's a relief," Jake felt his anxiety lessen.

"I'm going to go to the Clinic to get you something for it," Michaela stood. "But from now on, no more spicy food."

"All right," the expectant mother agreed.

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

"Michaela," Sully saw his wife approach the Clinic. "Didn't expect t' see you here. Is Ethan here yet?"

"Yes. I assume Brian took Ethan and the children to the Homestead," she entered and went to her medicine cabinet. "I was called away because Teresa Slicker was experiencing some discomfort. I need to take this over to her now."

"She gonna be okay?" he sat down.

"Yes," she smiled. "Indigestion."

"I'll wait here for ya, then," he folded his arms. "I'm done workin' for t'day."

"I'll return shortly," she left.

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

"This is a spectacular view," Ethan climbed down.

Brian helped the children, "I know."

They sat down to admire the sight of the valley below.

"So tell me how school is coming, son?" he removed his hat.

"Real good," the young man joined him. "I'm in my last year."

"I'm gonna start school next year," Katie contributed.

"I assume you want to go to college," Ethan broached the subject.

"Sure," he nodded. "Ma an' Pa.... Sully are helpin' me plan where t' go."

"I have an offer to make," the man stated.

"What offer?" he held Josef close.

"If you will consider attending Saint Ignatius College, I'll pay your full tuition," Ethan said.

"Where's that?" Brian's eyes lit up.

"San Francisco," Ethan pointed out. "It has an outstanding curriculum and high standards."

"So I'd be near you, if I accepted," he understood.

"Where's San Francisco, Bran?" Katie tugged at his jacket.

"It's far away, Katie," the young man swallowed hard.

"I've done very little for you, your brother and sister, Brian," Ethan looked down. "I have missed out on your growing up. Colleen and Matthew are already grown and on their own. You're my last chance."

"Last chance?" he did not understand.

"Last chance to make up for my failings as a father," Ethan sighed.

Brian was quiet, softly running his hand over his little brother's hair.

"Bran?" Josef gazed up with his father's blue eyes. "Play?"

"Not now, Josef," he gently took the toddler's hands in his. "I'll have t' talk t' Ma an' Sully about it."

"That sounds reasonable," the man stood up.

Walking to the edge of the cliff, he stared, "How far is it down to the bottom?"

"I don't know," Brian set Josef on the ground and rose to his feet.

"Come here, son," he pulled him into his arms. "I'm sorry for all the things I didn't do right, Brian. I really am."

Brian closed his eyes and savored the appreciation of his father. What neither realized was that for those moments, Katie and Josef were left unattended. Josef, curious about what was beyond the cliff's edge, walked over to explore. Suddenly, his footing gave out, and he began to slip off. Katie, seeing her brother's danger, reached for him. Quickly, both children slid out of sight, screaming their terror as they fell.

"Katie! Josef!" Brian was too late.

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

When Michaela and Sully arrived at the homestead, they did not see the buckboard.

"That's strange," Michaela dismounted.

"No sign of 'em," Sully glanced around.

They entered the house and found no one there.

"Maybe they took the long way," Sully speculated.

"They did mention going for a ride, but they should have been home by now," Michaela's concern grew.

"I'll ride back int' town," he touched her shoulder. "Maybe someone knows somethin'."

"I left them at the Depot," she said. "Perhaps Horace would know."


"Pa!" Brian called to his father as he peered over the edge of the cliff. "Katie an' Josef are down on that ledge, an' they ain't movin'."

"Do you have a rope in the wagon?" he removed his coat.

"I'll check," he hustled to the buckboard.

Brian found one and rushed back.

He handed the rope to his father, "Here. It ain't very thick, but it's all I could find."

Ethan took the end of it and tied it to the buckboard. Then, securing the other end around his waist, he prepared to go over the edge.

"Wait!" Brian shouted. "I think it would be better if I did it. I weigh less an' the rope is less likely to break."

"You're right," Ethan untied it from his waist.

He helped Brian loop it around his form. The young man then began to inch his way over the cliff's edge toward the children.

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

"Horace," Sully approached. "You happen t' know where Brian an' the kids are?"

"Heard 'em say they was goin' out t' Macon's Bluff," he looked up from sorting mail.

"Thanks," Sully swiftly mounted his horse and took off.

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

"Easy, Brian," Ethan cautioned as he looked over the edge.

Brian hovered about ten feet above the children when he felt the rope snap.

"Pa!" he called in fear.

Before Ethan could react, Brian fell the remaining distance to the ledge. The rope came with him.

"Brian!" the distraught father called.

As Ethan watched in horror, Brian hit his head and fell unconscious beside the children. Believing his only option was to go for help, he ran to the buckboard and sped off for Colorado Springs.

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

Katie opened her eyes and tried to focus. Her arm ached, and she wanted to cry.

"Joey," she touched her little brother's stomach. "Joey, wake up."

The little boy did not react. Then, turning to see if there might be a way out, she saw her older brother.

"Bran!" she called.

She saw blood on his forehead.

"Bran, I'm scared," she began to cry. "Please, wake up."

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

Sully arrived at Macon's Bluff and jumped from his horse. He saw no one. Placing his hands on his hips, he sighed. Then he spotted something near the edge of the cliff. It was a man's hat. He walked over and lifted it.

"Looks like somethin' Ethan would wear," he said to himself.

Wolf began to whine.

"What is it, boy?" Sully saw the animal standing at the edge of the cliff.

Sully hurried to the spot and gasped as he glanced over. He saw Brian and Josef unconscious and Katie bent over her older brother crying.

"Katie!" he called to her.

"Poppy!" she looked up in relief.

"Don't move, honey," he held up his hand. "I'm gonna get ya out, but ya gotta keep real still."

"Joey an' Bran aren't movin', Poppy," she fought her tears.

"I see," he tried to keep his voice calm. "I'm gonna get a rope an' come down t' ya."

"Okay," she trembled.

Sully tied one end of the rope to his saddle and began to climb down to his children. Rocks slipped down onto them as he neared. Finally, he reached the ledge.

"Poppy!" Katie threw her little arms round her father's neck. "I'm scared."

"It's gonna be okay, sweet girl," he fought back his tears. "I want ya to lean against the rock right here while I check your brothers."

She obeyed her father. Sully turned Josef over. He could feel a pulse. Then pulled a kerchief from his pocket to wipe Brian's head.

"They're gonna be okay," he assured Katie, but uncertain himself. "Here's what we're gonna do, Kates."

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

Ethan slowed the buckboard in front of the Gold Nugget. Hank heard the commotion outside and stepped through the door to investigate. Jake, Loren, Dorothy and other townsfolk gathered, as well.

"Ethan Cooper," Hank grinned. "Ain't seen you in a while. What kind o' trouble are ya here for?"

"I need help," his voice was frantic. "Brian and the Sully children are stuck on a ledge at Macon's Bluff."

"Where's Sully an' Michaela?" Hank asked.

"Dr. Quinn went to tend to a patient, and I don't know where Mr. Sully is," he tried to catch his breath. "I need help right now."

Jake spoke up, "Dr. Mike left my place already. Sully's prob'ly workin' on my house. I'll go fetch him an' meet ya at Macon's Bluff."

"We'll need ropes," Ethan climbed back into the wagon.

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

With his daughter clinging to him, Sully reached the top of the cliff and set her down.

"Stay here, Katie," he kissed her. "I'm gonna get your brothers now."

He disappeared over the edge as Katie resisted the temptation to watch. Soon her father returned with her little brother. Sully set the toddler down on the ground beside his sister. Wolf quickly joined them and licked the children's faces.

"I want ya t' watch Josef while I get Brian now," he caressed her cheek. "Don't move from here."

Katie stroked her brother's face, as Sully again left them to lower himself down to the ledge. With Brian's dead weight, it was going to be much more difficult to pull him up.

Katie heard horses approach, "Poppy! Somebody's comin'!"

He did not hear her. He tied the rope around Brian's waist, and signaled his horse to pull. Slowly, the animal began to trudge away from the cliff.

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

Dorothy pulled up to the homestead and rushed up the steps, "Michaela! Sully!"

Michaela opened the door, "Dorothy? What's wrong?"

"We didn't know where ya were," the redhead was frantic. "Jake went t' get Sully at his place."

Michaela's anxiety intensified, "What is it?"

"It's the children," Dorothy could hardly get the words out. "They fell off the cliff at Macon's Bluff."

"My God," she covered her mouth.

"Ethan Cooper came t' town t' get help," Dorothy informed her. "Hank an' Loren went with him."

"Sully went to town to see where the children might be," Michaela grabbed her medical bag. "Let's go."

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

Hank, Loren and Ethan arrived at Macon's Bluff. They saw Katie and Josef near the edge and could see that Sully's horse was pulling a rope, the other end of which was over the cliff.

"Katie, girl!" Loren hurried to her.

"Mr. Bray," she hugged him. "Joey's not movin', an' Poppy went t' help Bran."

Ethan saw the mountain man, "Sully, is he all right?"

Sully reached the cliff's edge and was helped to safety by Hank.

He laid Brian out on the ground beside Josef, "His head's cut."

"Brian," Ethan knelt beside him.

Sully put a hand on both of his sons.

Loren swallowed hard, "Dorothy's fetchin' Dr. Mike."

Brian began to stir as his eyes opened, "Pa?"

Simultaneously, Ethan and Sully answered, "Right here."

Both men eyed one another suspiciously, then Brian sat up.

He saw that his sister was all right, "Katie."

The little girl leaned over, "Bran, ya okay?"

He winced at the pain in his head, "I think so. How 'bout you?"

"My arm hurts," she answered.

Sully hovered over Josef, fighting back tears.

He tenderly pulled back the hair from his son's face, "Hold on, big boy. Mama's gonna be here soon."

"Maybe we oughta get him back t' town," Hank said.

"Not before Michaela sees him," Sully looked up with reddened eyes.

"Poppy," Katie wanted to go to her father.

"Not right now, Katie," Loren held on to her.

"Is Joey gonna be okay?" she felt helpless.

"Your Ma will fix him right up," Loren hoped he was right.

The sound of approaching horses signaled the arrival of Michaela and Dorothy. Michaela jumped from her horse and ran to her family.

"Ma!" Brian saw her first. "Josef's hurt bad."

Katie left Loren's arms and rushed to her mother, "Mama! Mama!"

"Katie," she lifted her daughter and kissed her.

"Gotta help Joey," she pointed.

It was then that Michaela saw her husband on his knees beside the motionless body of their son.

"Sully?" she joined him.

"He ain't movin', Michaela," he swallowed hard.

She began to tenderly feel her son's body to ascertain his injuries, "Nothing appears to be broken."

"Why ain't he wakin' up?" Sully's voice quivered.

"His head," she felt the lump. "He's hit his head."

"What can we do?" he felt his life drain.

"He needs to be kept very still," she lightly placed the bell of her stethoscope on her son's chest.

"Will he...." Sully could not bring himself to say the words.

She clasped his hand, her own trembling, "He's a strong little boy."

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

"Michaela," Sully looked at his wife. "Should we get Josef back to the Clinic?"

"I believe so," she nodded. "But we're going to have to move him very carefully and keep his head quite steady on the ride."

"Katie's arm's hurt," he nodded toward their daughter. "An' Brian's got a bad cut on his head."

"How did this happen, Sully?" she asked.

"I don't know yet," his jaw tightened. "But I'm willin' t' bet Ethan had somethin' t' do with it."

Carefully, Sully lifted their son and carried him toward the buckboard. Hank helped Brian and Katie into the back. Then Michaela positioned herself to hold Josef on her lap as they began the bumpy trip to town. The others followed silently on horseback.

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

Sully placed Josef's crib upstairs in a recovery room of the Clinic. Michaela laid their son in it.

"His head has suffered a trauma," she stroked the little boy's hand. "I've asked Horace to wire a specialist in Denver."

"A specialist?" Sully's stomach sank.

"I want him to examine Josef right away," she sounded strangely professional.

He looked at her with a questioning expression.

"It's precautionary, Sully," she noticed. "The sooner he sees our little boy...."

Her voice faltered, prompting Sully to rush to her.

"You don't have t' be strong for me, Michaela," he felt her weaken in his arms.

For several moments, the concerned parents held one another. Then Michaela pulled back.

She fought to maintain her composure, "I'm going to look in on Katie and Brian now. Thank God they weren't seriously hurt."

"I'll stay with Josef," Sully said.

Michaela left father and son. Sully reached into the crib and curled Josef's little fingers around his thumb. He felt incredibly helpless, looking at the unconscious toddler. Accustomed to Josef's energy and smile, Sully choked back tears for his condition now.

"May I come in?" it was Ethan's voice.

"What do you want?" Sully did not look up.

"I came to see how your boy is," he folded his arms uncomfortably. "Dr. Quinn is examining Brian, and I....."

"What happened out there, Ethan?" Sully's eyes accused.

"It all happened so quickly," the man responded.

"Three o' my children fall over a cliff while you're around," the mountain man grew angry. "An' all you can say is 'it all happened so quickly?'"

Ethan defended, "I was hugging Brian. Apparently, Josef slipped over the edge of the cliff in that instant, and Katie reached for him. Then Brian tried to lower himself down to the ledge, and his rope snapped."

"Why was Brian goin' t' get 'em?" Sully could not imagine putting the young man in such danger. "Why not you?"

"The rope appeared to be fragile," he countered. "Brian thought a lighter weight on it would be less dangerous."

"All the more reason for you t'....." Sully stopped himself and turned his attention back to his child. "I don't wanna talk anymore."

"I.... I'm going to be staying at the Chateau," Ethan told him. "Brian has informed me that he wants to stay here. I'll check back later."

Sully did not react.

"I'm sorry, Sully," Ethan retreated to the door. "I really am."

He left the room. Sully lifted Josef's hand to his lips and again felt a wave of frustration mixed with fear. There was no more helpless feeling in the world than watching one of his children ill or injured. Leaning his head against the side of the crib, he closed his eyes.

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

"Mama," Katie fidgeted. "Where's Joey?"

"He's in the next room," Michaela checked her daughter's arm again. "Does this hurt?"

"Ouch!" the little girl cried out.

"I guess it does," the mother reacted. "You're going to have to keep your arm very still for the next several days, Sweetheart. No lifting things, no raising it up."

Katie was concerned, "Where's Poppy?"

"He's with Josef," she attempted to console her.

"Can I see 'em?" she requested.

Michaela pulled her into her arms, "I'll tell your Daddy that you want to see him."

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

"Katie's asking for you," Michaela touched Sully's shoulder.

He looked up and swallowed hard, "Nothin's happenin', Michaela. He ain't moved. He ain't responded t' my voice."

"Sully," she searched his face. "Go see Katie. I'll sit with Josef."

He stood up and pulled her into his arms, "He's gotta be okay."

"He will be," she attempted to sound hopeful.

Sully entered his daughter's recovery room, "Hey, sweet girl."

"Poppy!" she perked up. "Mama says I gotta keep my arm down."

He held her hand, "Then that's what ya gotta do."

"Is Joey awake?" Katie voiced her worry.

"Not yet," he pulled back a strand of her hair from her face.

"I was scared, Poppy," her brown eyes saddened.

Sully embraced her, being mindful of her injury, "I know, Kates. I'm sorry I wasn't there."

"You saved us," she kissed his cheek.

He held her against his chest and felt her tense body begin to relax, "Think ya can get a little sleep now?"

"I'll try," the child leaned back.

"I love you, Katie," he kissed her forehead.

"I love you, Poppy," she closed her eyes.

He held her hand until certain that she was asleep, then he headed across to Brian's room.

"How ya feelin', Brian?" he stood at the threshold.

"Got a little headache," he replied. "Ma gave me somethin', but it ain't workin' yet."

"Your father told me you tried t' save the children," Sully sat on the edge of his bed.

"I should've kept a closer eye on 'em. I ended up gettin' them an' myself int' trouble," the young man glanced down.

Sully touched his arm, "You're a good brother, an' I'm real proud o' ya."

"Pa," Brian looked up, overcome with emotion. "Is Josef....."

"He's gonna be okay," Sully spoke his fervent wish.

"There's somethin' I wanna talk t' you an' Ma about, but...." the young man was growing tired.

"But what?" he wondered.

"But, it'll keep 'til Josef's well," Brian smiled. "I think I'm gettin' kinda sleepy from the medicine Ma gave me."

"I'll let ya be, then," Sully stood. "Take care, Brian. I love you."

"I love you, too.... Pa," he shut his eyes.

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

Sully stood at the doorway watching Michaela. She had lowered the side of Josef's crib, resting her arms on the mattress.

"Is he...." Sully feared the worst.

She kissed the little boy, "I just wish I could hold him for a minute. Let him know I'm here."

"He knows," Sully stood beside her. Placing his hand on his wife's shoulder, he spoke tenderly, "What can we do, Michaela?"

"Wait," she had given that advice to so many families of her patients before.

"When will we hear from the specialist?" he inquired.

"I don't know, Sully," her eyes welled up. "I want to hold our baby. I want him to...."

"Take his hand an' talk t' him," he spoke softly. "We'll hold him again, real soon."

Michaela made certain that Josef was adequately covered.

"I reckon it's gonna be a long day," Sully placed a chair beside the crib and sat down. Pulling his wife onto his lap, he stroked her hair, "He's gonna pull through, Michaela."

"I know," she answered for his sake and for her own.

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

At Grace's Cafe, the concerned citizens of Colorado Springs had gathered to discuss the day's events.

"Figures Ethan Cooper was in the middle o' all this," Loren was disgusted. "Did ya see? He went out t' the Chateau. Ain't even stayin' with Brian."

"I doubt if Sully wants him stayin' at the Clinic," Robert E chimed in.

"How serious were Katie's injuries?" Preston could not help but be drawn into the conversation.

"Hurt her arm," Jake informed him. "An' Brian's got a cut on the head. It's Josef they're worried about. He ain't wakin' up."

"Michaela sent for a specialist from Denver," Dorothy said. "Horace hasn't left his office since he sent the wire."

"Perhaps I should go over to speak with Sully and Dr. Mike," the Reverend stood.

"Do ya need help?" Loren volunteered.

"No," the man of the cloth smiled. "I'll find my way."

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

"Someone is downstairs at the door," Michaela lifted her head from her husband's shoulder.

"Could be Horace," he speculated. "I'll go see."

She stood up to allow him to leave the room. Then she sat down beside the crib again. Sully reached the office and walked to the entrance.

"Reverend?" he opened the Clinic door.

"I hope I'm not disturbing you," he removed his hat. "We were discussing your situation over at the Cafe, an' I came over t' see if I might be of some help."

"The children are restin'," Sully guided him to a chair. "Michaela's with Josef. He's still unconscious."

"You both must be terribly worried," the blind man rested his hands on his cane.

"It ain't easy seein' him like that," Sully folded his arms.

"The Lord is watching over him," the reverend stated.

"Hope you're right," Sully gazed out the window.

"God hears our prayers," Reverend Johnson turned his head to follow Sully's voice. "Even if we don't always understand His answers."

Sully tilted his head in puzzlement, "What do ya mean?"

"Take my blindness," he cited. "I prayed and prayed for the return of my sight, but...."

"You've learned t' live with what ya got," Sully observed.

"I had no choice," the minister nodded. "God's answer was 'no' as far as restoring my sight. But, He's enriched me in ways that I could not have imagined when I could see."

"In a way, you can see things most folks can't," the mountain man observed.

"That's true," the Reverend agreed.

"You tryin' t prepare me for somethin'?" the thought suddenly occurred to Sully.

"I'm here to help you and Dr. Mike in any way that I can," he answered.

They were interrupted by a knock at the door. Sully opened it. There stood Horace, folded paper in hand.

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

"Telegram come for Dr. Mike," Horace handed the paper to Sully.

"Thanks, Horace," he said. "I'll take it up t' Michaela. Excuse me, Reverend."

He hurried to the staircase and climbed the steps by threes.

Rushing to his wife, he handed her the telegram, "Michaela."

She opened it and read it so that he could see, as well.

"He can be here tomorrow morning at the earliest," she took a deep breath.

"In the meantime?" he asked.

She rubbed her son's stomach, "We pray."

"That reminds me," he massaged her shoulders. "The Reverend was here."

"Oh?" she wondered.

"T' offer his support," he added.

Michaela sat down beside their little boy again. She looped his fingers around hers. She closed her eyes, as Sully shared her anguish. Then he saw something. A movement.

"Michaela," he got her attention.

She looked up.

"He moved," Sully pointed. "Just now."

She concentrated on observing the little boy but saw nothing. Then, it happened again.

"Sully!" her spirits lifted.

She leaned closer to kiss the baby's head.

Sully bent down to be eye level with his son, "Josef."

The toddler turned his head and slowly opened his eyes, "Papa."

"Yep," a broad grin appeared on the relieved father's face.

"Sweetheart," Michaela caressed his cheek.

Josef's smile appeared, "Mama."

She pulled back a lock of his hair, then placed the stethoscope on his chest. She checked his pupils and reflexes. Josef began to squirm and tried to get up.

"Hold still, big boy," Sully held his hands. "Wait 'til your Ma checks ya."

"Ka-tee," his blue eyes saddened.

"Katie's fine," Michaela spoke softly.

Incapable of resisting her instinct any longer, Michaela lifted her son into her arms. Closing her eyes, she cupped his head against her lips and kissed his soft hair.

"I love you, Josef," she whispered.

"Luv, Mama," he turned to look at her.

Sully pulled them into his arms, unable to contain the tear that trickled down his cheek.

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

"I hope you are finding your accommodations to be satisfactory," Preston approached Ethan in the Chateau lobby.

Ethan looked up from his chair, "Uh, yes, very."

"Preston A. Lodge III," the owner extended his hand.

"Ethan Cooper," came the reply.

"Cooper?" Preston wondered. "Are you related to Michaela Quinn's children?"

"I'm their father," he nodded.

"You're here to visit?" the banker queried.

"Yes," Ethan responded. "I was in Denver on business, and came down to spend the day, but now...."

"I heard about what happened at Macon's Bluff," Preston commented. "May I offer my sincerest wishes for the speedy recovery of your son."

"Thanks," Ethan acknowledged.

"I'm certain that if Brian were in your company instead of the care of that reckless mountain man, none of this would have happened," Preston stated.

"Brian was in my company," Ethan looked down. "Sully saved him."

"You said you're here on business," Preston changed the subject. "What kind of business?"

"Real estate mostly," he answered.

"How interesting," Preston grinned. "In addition to this Chateau, I own the town bank."

"Oh?" Ethan perked up. "Are you interested in acquiring land, Mr. Lodge?"

"I'm interested in discussing it," the banker grinned. "Why don't we step into my office?"

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

"Should we cancel the specialist?" Sully wondered.

"No," she changed her son's diaper. "I still want him to examine Josef."

"But, he's okay, ain't he?" Sully was apprehensive.

"I believe so," she said. "But he was unconscious for several hours. I would like another opinion."

"That's good," he smiled. "I'll go see if Brian an' Katie are up an' let 'em know that Josef's conscious. Then I'll tell the folks at the Cafe."

"All right," she accepted his kiss to her cheek.

After Sully left the room, Michaela lay back on the bed, her son in her arms.

"Can you squeeze my finger, Sweetheart?" she asked.

The little boy tilted his head, "Papa no."

She chuckled, "Your father told you not to squeeze?"

He nodded.

"Then you do what Papa tells you, my darling," she kissed his cheek.

"Joey!" Katie rushed into the room. "Ya wake up!"

"Ka-tee," he reached for her.

Katie crawled up into the bed and hugged him with her good arm.

Brian soon entered the room, "Hey!"

Josef smiled.

"Well, I'm certainly glad to have all of you up and moving," Michaela beamed.

"Ma," Brian requested. "Think it would be okay for me t' ride out t' the Chateau t' see my Pa."

She nodded, "I suppose so, but ...."

"I'll take it easy," he smiled.

"Can I come, Bran?" Katie requested.

"I need your help, Sweetheart," Michaela knew her son preferred to go alone.

"Ya do?" the little girl's eyes widened.

"Yes," the mother stroked her hair. "We're going to have to make certain that your brother doesn't become too active." Then she turned to her older son, "Why don't you ask your father to come for dinner, Brian?"

"Thanks, I will," he hugged her. "Bye."

"Good-bye," she leaned back against the headboard.

"Ya tired, Mama?" Katie situated herself beside her mother.

"Not exactly," Michaela replied. "I think relieved would be a better word."

"Relieved?" the curious child asked.

"Happy that my children are safe again," she clarified.

Josef rubbed his head, "Huwt, Mama."

"Yes, my darling," she touched the area lightly. "It's going to hurt for a while. We're going to have to keep you very quiet while it gets better."

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

"That's good news, Sully," Dorothy commented at the Cafe.

"Praise the Lord," the Reverend added.

"I wouldn't let Ethan near your children again," Loren sounded bitter.

"If I never see the man again, it'll be too soon," Sully's voice hardened.

"But he's Brian's father," Grace pointed out.

"Sully's been more of a father t' the boy than Ethan ever was," Loren countered.

"How ya gonna tell Brian he can't see his Pa?" Jake contributed.

"I ain't gonna stop Brian from seein' him," Sully stated. "I'm the one who don't want t' see him."

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

Michaela and Sully were relieved to have the children at the homestead. Sully attempted to keep his son immobile, as a concerned Katie mothered the little boy. Michaela prepared supper.

"Smells real good," he called from the living room. "What are we havin'?"

"A roast," she replied.

"Somethin' special?" he stood up and entered the kitchen.

"I told Brian to ask his father to dinner," she sliced some carrots.

"Ethan?" he raised his voice. "I don't want him in my house!"

"What?" she resented his tone.

"I said...." he started.

"I know what you said," she interrupted. "I can't believe you said it."

"Can't believe I don't want that man here?" he raised his voice.

"Yes," she put her hands on her hips. "What about Brian's feelings?"

"He almost got Brian killed!" Sully turned away.

In the living room, Katie and Josef became alarmed at hearing their parents argue.

"It was an accident, Sully," she tried to reason. "You know that."

"All I know is....." he stopped when he saw Katie appear at the edge of the fireplace.

"I need some air," he grabbed his jacket from the wall peg.

"Where are you going?" she called after him.

"Mama?" Katie bordered on tears.

Josef heard the door slam and toddled into the kitchen to investigate.

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

Brian approached the lobby desk, "Could you tell me where Ethan Cooper's room is?"

"One moment," the clerk scanned the register. "He checked out."

"Checked out?" Brian's brow wrinkled. "When?"

"About a half hour ago," came the reply. "Strange. He was only here for a few hours."

"Thanks," Brian turned away, uncertain of what he should do.

As he exited the Chateau, he was seen by Preston.

"Brian!" the banker called to him. "How are you?"

"Okay," he looked down.

"Your father was telling me about your ordeal," he shook his head. "Terrible."

"You saw Pa?" the young man inquired.

"Yes," he grinned. "We discussed a business venture."

"Do ya know where he went?" Brian asked. "The clerk said he checked out."

"Why, yes, back to Denver," Preston informed him. "He wants to get started right away on a preliminary land investment deal that we discussed."

"Denver?" Brian swallowed hard. "Without sayin' good-bye?"

"Maybe you can catch him at the Depot," the banker commented. "He's a very shrewd businessman. I believe that we shall be able to conclude a lucrative deal that will be mutually rewarding to us both."

Brian did not know what to think. Maybe his father was looking for him so he could say good-bye. Maybe he should go into town. Maybe.... Brian sighed heavily, his heart aching from disappointment. Maybe I should just go home.

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

"Mama," Katie sensed her mother was upset. "Why are you an' Poppy yellin'?"

Michaela sat down and attempted to compose herself, "Because sometimes your father can be so unreasonable."

"Unreesable?" she was curious.

"Never mind, Sweetheart," Michaela smiled. "Are you hungry?"

Still upset from witnessing her father's angry departure, she looked down, "No."

"It's all right, Katie," the mother assured. "Your Daddy will be home soon. He just needs to be outside for a while."

"Ya fightin' over Brian's Pa?" the little girl perceived.

"It's nothing for you to worry about, my darling," she smiled. Then she noticed Josef's quiet behavior, "I think a little boy needs to be lying down again. You need your rest, young man."

The child wobbled slightly, then fell onto the floor.

"Josef!" Michaela rushed to him.

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

Sully pounded the clapboards onto the Slicker house until his hands began to throb. He could not believe that Michaela would invite Ethan Cooper into their home. He raged at the thought of his sitting at their table. And he knew it was only a matter of time before he hurt Brian's feelings again. How could one man create such havoc in such a brief span of time?

When a blister on his hand broke, and blood ran down his fingers, Sully stopped. He cursed to himself for not wearing his gloves. Then he threw down the hammer. If Ethan was coming for supper, he reckoned he should be there. For Brian's sake. For.... Michaela. He sighed. He hated to argue with her, but she could be so unreasonable. So exasperating. So.... He stopped himself, ashamed that they had quarreled over Ethan Cooper of all things.

"Come on, boy," he called to Wolf.

Mounting his horse, he headed for home.

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

"Mama," Katie stood near her mother. "What's wrong with Joey?"

"Shhh," the doctor in her took over.

Grabbing her medical bag, she began to examine her son. At that moment, Brian entered the homestead.

"Ma?" he saw her on the floor with Josef.

"Bran!" Katie hurried to him. "Joey's asleep again."

"Brian," Michaela looked up. "Can you go into town and bring me back some ice?"

"Sure," he swiftly put on his hat and rushed out.

"Katie," Michaela instructed. "I want you to go into the living room and wait for me. Can you do that, Sweetheart?"

"I wanna help ya," she knelt down.

"It would be a tremendous help if you did that," Michaela tried to keep her voice calm.

After checking his pulse and respiration, she decided to not move him from the floor. She was, however, able to get a blanket under him for a bit more comfort.

"Oh, Sully!" she fought her tears as she ministered to the child. "Please come home."

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

"Thought you was stayin' the day," Horace sold Ethan a ticket at the Depot.

"Change in plans," he handed the telegraph operator cash. "Business calls me back. Mr. Lodge and I have begun some delicate negotiations, and I must act quickly in order to work out the details."

"Too bad," Horace commented. "Guess you're relieved Brian's okay."

"Of course I'm relieved," he avowed. "What father wouldn't be?"

"I just mean... I thought you'd wanna stay a little longer with him bein' hurt, an' all," Horace said. "Matthew's due back t'morrow."

"Much as I would love to stay, my duty to my business interests is more pressing at the moment," he responded. "I'll write Brian later. He'll understand. I'm his father."

"I don't get t' see my little girl very often," Horace looked down. "When I'm with her, business is the last thing on my mind. Wish, I had a second chance with her an' her Ma."

"Second chances are only dreams," he dusted off his sleeve. "I deal in reality."

"If you say so," the telegraph operator did not wish to argue.

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

Sully rode up to the homestead and was greeted at the door by his daughter.

"Poppy," she threw herself into his arms. "Joey's sick again."

"What?" he rushed in.

Upon entering, he saw Michaela sitting on the kitchen floor, tending to Josef.

"Michaela?" he knelt down. "What happened?"

"He had a slight tremor and fell unconscious again," she looked at him with reddened eyes. "He should have remained in a prone position and not gotten up."

"Why'd he get up?" Sully took the little boy's hand.

"He.... " she hesitated.

"He what?" the concerned father wanted to know.

"He heard us arguing," she wiped a tear.

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

"Loren!" Brian shouted as he pounded on the door of the Mercantile.

"I'm comin'," the older man reached the door. "Brian? What's wrong, lad?"

"It's Josef," he was out of breath. "He's unconscious again. Ma sent me for ice."

"Sure," he led Brian to the back of the store. "Horace said your Pa left town. Good riddance I say."

Brian did not respond.

Loren regretted his words, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't've said that."

"It's okay," he swallowed hard. "I guess I was hopin' my Pa had changed."

"Selfish men like Ethan Cooper don't change," Loren put his hand on his shoulder. "You're lucky ya got Dr. Mike an' Sully."

"I know," the young man nodded. "Matthew was right."

"Here's the ice," Loren said. "This enough?"

"I think so," he agreed. "I need t' hurry back."

"I'll let folks in town know what's happened," the older man called after him.

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

Sully pulled Katie into his arms and took her into the living room. The little girl touched the moisture on his cheek.

"Ya cryin', Poppy?" her voice quivered.

He hugged her tighter, "I'm okay, honey. Would you do me a favor?"

"Uh huh," she nodded.

He stroked her hair, "You had a bad fall t'day, an' I want ya t' go up t' your room t' rest. Can ya do that?"

"Uh huh," she would do anything for her father. "Will you take me up?"

"Sure will," he kissed her cheek. "Let's go."

Sully quietly rose with her in his arms and took her upstairs.

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

Brian burst through the door, out of breath, and handed his mother the ice.

"Any change?" he bent down.

"No," she accepted the ice and wrapped it with a towel.

"Is he gonna be okay?" Brian glanced up.

"I don't know," Michaela placed it gently against the bump on Josef's head. Then she realized, "Where's Ethan?"

Sully came down the steps.

"Pa!" Brian acknowledged his presence.

"Hey, Brian," he was somber.

"Ethan Cooper left town on business," Brian returned to his mother's question.

"Left town?" she raised an eyebrow.

"He didn't even say good-bye," the young man's voice was bitter. "He's in some kind o' land deal with Preston Lodge."

"I'm sorry, Brian," she touched his hand.

"I shouldn't've gotten my hopes up with him," Brian shrugged. "All he's ever done is lie t' us. Matthew was right. He comes here talkin' about second chances and payin' my tuition t' school...."

Sully put his hand on his son's shoulder, "We're gonna pay for your schoolin'."

"It ain't important at the moment," he shook his head. "All that matters right now, is Josef."

"It does matter, Brian," Michaela responded. "You matter very much to Sully and me. You're our son."

He looked down at the helpless little boy laying on a blanket on the floor, "Josef's your son."

"Brian...." Michaela ached for him.

"I know ya always treated me that way, but.... " he paused.

Michaela asserted, "In every way that matters, you're our son. And you always will be."

"Thanks," he rubbed his head. "If it's okay, I think I'll go lie down."

"I was just going to recommend that," the mother nodded.

"Let me know if there's any change in Josef," he headed for the steps.

Sully gently stroked Josef's hair, "I'm sorry, Michaela."

"It doesn't matter now," she was cold.

He glanced at her with a pained expression, then folded his arms, "What can we do?"

"I need to monitor his reflexes and his pupils," she laid her hand on the baby's leg. "If there is increased swelling on the brain, I might have to....."

She stopped, unable to say the words.

"Operate?" he finished.

"Yes," she was barely audible. "To relieve the pressure."

"What about the specialist from Denver?" he reminded her. "He's due in the mornin'."

"I don't know if Josef will last that long," she wiped a tear. "The next few hours are critical."

He reached out for her, but she did not react, "Michaela."

"Would you hold the ice pack on his head?" she requested. "I'm going up to check on Katie and Brian."

"Sure," he lay down on his side next to the baby.

Michaela stood up and went to the steps, when she turned back to look at her husband, he was tenderly kissing the baby and whispering to him. She was too upset with Sully to speak. And so she continued up the steps.

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

A flood of emotions swept over Sully as he lay on the floor next to his son. He thought about the little boy's sweet disposition and contagious smile that reminded him so much of Michaela's. He thought about the day Josef was born in a blizzard, and how he himself nearly drown that night. And he thought about the little boy's recent escapade of chasing the hens. Again he leaned closer and tenderly touched his son's cheek.

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

"Mama?" Katie looked up when her mother entered the nursery. "How's Joey?"

"There's no change, Sweetheart," she sat down.

"Poppy was cryin'," the little girl told her. "I think he must be scared."

Michaela paused to reflect on the rare occasions when she had seen her husband cry. There was Washita.... and after her miscarriages. Instantly, her upset with him dissipated. Their argument didn't matter. Only their love for their children and for one another mattered.

"Your Daddy's a wonderful man, Katie," she immediately wanted to go to Sully.

"I know," she smiled.

"Do you think you can give your arm a rest?" Michaela caressed her cheek.

"I'll try," the little girl agreed. "I'll rest my eyes, too."

"That's a good idea," the mother kissed her.

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

Michaela reached the bottom step, prompting Sully to turn his gaze to her.

"Kids okay?" he spoke low.

"Yes," she folded her hands.

Michaela glanced at him with an expression quite different from the one she had when she had gone upstairs. She sat down beside him and placed her hand on his.

"I'm sorry, Sully," she kissed him tenderly. "This wasn't your fault."

"It's okay," he looked at the baby. "I knew you were just scared."

"Katie told me that you are, too," she leaned her head against him.

"I am," his voice quivered slightly.

Then she saw the blood on his hand, "What happened?"

"Burst a blister," he held it up. "It's nothin'."

She retrieved her medical bag and began to minister to his injury. After the bandage was neatly tied, she held his hand to her cheek.

Michaela looked toward the stove, "I think the roast is done."

"Don't have much appetite," he glanced down at the little boy.

"We must have faith, Sully," she held her voice steady.

"I'm tryin'," he nodded. "I was just thinkin' about how much time I spent the last couple o' months workin' on Jake's house instead o' bein' here for you an' the kids."

"Don't do that," she rubbed his arm. "You have given us all of the time that you could."

"I reckon it don't do Josef much good for me t' feel guilty," he lifted the little boy's hand.

"I believe that he can hear us and sense our love," she told him.

They both turned their attention to the little life beside them and the conveyance of their devotion to him.

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

"An' Ethan left town without even sayin' good-bye t' Brian," Loren spoke to anyone at the Cafe who would listen.

"Shouldn't surprise anyone," Jake folded his arms. "The man never did show any responsibility."

"I'll never forget when he tried t' take the children away from Dr. Mike an' Sully," Robert E said with disdain.

"Nearly broke my heart," Dorothy recalled Ethan's last minute change of heart as they were departing town.

"That's all water under the bridge," Hank puffed a cigar. "Ethan's still their Pa. They're his blood."

"Just bein' blood don't make him a Pa," Loren disagreed. "Sully's their Pa."

"Since when did you become such a Sully supporter?" Hank was sarcastic.

"Since I stopped blamin' him for things that weren't his fault," the old man stated. "Now, Ethan, I can blame just fine 'cause he IS at fault."

"Maybe he don't know how t' be a Pa," Horace contributed.

"Horace is right," the Reverend agreed. "Ethan has never been around the children. He was never here for them. Maybe that frightens him."

"Don't frighten me t' be around Samantha," Horace smiled at the thought of his little girl.

"Bet it frightened her, though," Hank could not resist the joke. "Just lookin' at you would be enough t' scare any kid."

"Real funny, Hank," Jake made a face. "I sorta feel that way. My Pa was no example for me t' follow. But I'm gonna be around for my kid."

"An' now Dr. Mike an' Sully got Josef t' worry about, thanks t' Ethan," Loren added.

"I suggest we all bow our heads in prayer for the little boy," the Reverend raised his hand.

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

Michaela and Sully had fallen asleep, each gently resting a hand on their son. It was just after 2 a.m. when Josef stirred, causing both of his parents to react.

"Michaela?" Sully sat up.

"He's waking," she ran her finger along the Josef's forehead. "Can you hear me, Sweetheart? Open your eyes."

The little boy pulled his feet upward toward his belly and slowly opened his eyes. He focused on his mother's face and smiled.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked.

"Mama," his voice was weak.

"How 'bout me, big boy?" Sully grinned.

Josef did not immediately respond.

"Sweetheart," Michaela's anxiety increased. "Who is this?"

Josef turned his head back and slowly replied, "Papa."

Sully closed his eyes in relief.

"And what is your name?" she queried him.

"Jo-suf," he squirmed and tried to rise.

"No," Michaela gently prevented him from getting up. "How old are you, Josef?"

He did not understand this game, "One."

"What number comes after one?" she persisted.

"Two," he squirmed again.

"Shhh," Michaela kissed him.

She began to test his reflexes and the reaction of his eyes to various degrees of light.

"Can you squeeze Mama's finger?" she requested.

The little boy turned to his father for approval.

"Go ahead, Joe," he grinned.

The toddler gripped his mother's finger.

She felt a lump in her throat, "I believe there are no side effects other than the bump on his head."

"That's good," he was relieved. "Should I put him in his crib?"

"Carry him very carefully," she nodded.

Sully picked up his son and kissed his head, "Come on, Joe. Your bed's gonna feel real good after bein' on the floor."

"Papa play?" he folded his little hands.

"Not now, big boy," he smiled.

Michaela followed him up the steps and decided to check on Brian. When she opened his door, the young man was not there.

"Sully," she beckoned. "Brian's gone."

"What?" he entered the room.

"How could he have left without our knowing it?" she was puzzled.

"I don't know," he tried to clear his head. "I'll go check outside an' see if his horse is gone."

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

A short time later, Sully returned to the house. He found Michaela in the nursery, chatting with Josef and Katie.

"What are you doin' up?" he frowned at his daughter.

"I heard Joey talkin'," she yawned. "Where ya been?"

"Just went out t' check on the animals," he looked at his wife.

"Were all of them... in their stalls?" Michaela asked.

"No," he indicated. "One of 'em wasn't."

She knew what that meant, and a look of concern crossed her face.

"I think I might have an idea where it is," he touched her shoulder.

"You do?" she was surprised.

"Uh huh," he ran his hand up and down her back. "I'm gonna go check." Turning to his son, he smiled, "How's my big boy feelin'?"

The toddler looked up from his crib, "Pokle, Papa?"

Sully rubbed Josef's stomach, "Better ask your Ma."

"Where ya goin', Poppy?" Katie sat up.

He avoided answering, "Be back in a little bit."

"Sully?" Michaela's voice trembled.

"It'll be okay," he assured her.

With that, he left. Michaela looked at the two little faces, and wondered what she could tell them. She closed her eyes prayed for Brian, that Sully would find him safe and sound. She also offered a prayer of thanks that her youngest children were now on the mend.

"Mama, ya sleepin'?" Katie touched her cheek.

"No," she smiled. "How is your arm?"

"'Kay," the little girl shrugged. "Would ya tell us a story?"

"Katie, it's the middle of the night," Michaela hesitated. "Besides, you know I'm not as good as your father at...."

"Please?" Katie insisted.

"All right," Michaela gave in.

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

Sully rode at top speed, his hair blowing in the wind. The chilled night air kept him awake and distracted him from the physical and emotional fatigue that he felt. If he ever got his hands on Ethan Cooper, he'd....

************
Chapter 10
************

Brian shivered in the chilly night air, but he had left the house in a rush and forgotten his coat. No matter. He looked down at the cross over the grave of Charlotte Cooper.

"It's me, Ma," his voice quivered. "I don't know what drew me here, except I just had a real strong need t' talk t' ya. I guess ya know what Pa did. He did it t' you, too. I don't know what t' think. He says he loves me, but then he up an' leaves without even sayin' good-bye. Maybe Matthew's right t' shut him out o' his heart."

The young man sat down on the cold earth and ran his finger along the letters carved into the cross.

"Sometimes it don't seem real that ya been gone so long," he sighed. "I hope it don't disappoint ya that I wanted Pa t' love me. I know he's done some terrible things. Don't get me wrong. I love Dr. Mike an' Sully, but.... But you know how I feel, don't ya, Ma?"

Fatigue began to affect Brian, and he lay down next to the mound of rocks that covered his mother's remains.

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

"Once upon a time," Michaela began. "There were twelve beautiful princesses, who, each night before they went to sleep, placed their slippers at the foot of their beds."

"They were sisters?" Katie interrupted.

"Yes," the mother continued. "They awoke each morning to find that their slippers were worn out. They were at a loss to explain why. Their father, the king, came up with a plan. The man who could discover the cause of his daughters' worn out shoes would earn the hand of any of the princesses whom he wanted in marriage."

"Mama," Katie stopped her. "Do I wear out my shoes?"

"No," she chuckled. "You outgrow them first."

"Go on with the story," the little girl was enthralled.

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

Sully quickly set aside his anger toward Ethan when he spotted Taffy. His hunch about Brian's location was correct. Dismounting, he secured his horse, then stepped forward.

"Brian," Sully spoke softly.

The young man sat up, "Pa.... How'd ya know where t' find me?"

Sully nodded at the cross over Charlotte Cooper's grave, "Just had a feelin' you'd wanna talk t' your Ma."

Brian shivered, "I don't know why I came. It doesn't make sense t' talk t' someone who's dead."

"Their spirits can hear ya," Sully sat down beside him.

"They can?" he wondered.

"Sure," Sully nodded.

"I.... hope ya didn't leave Josef on account o' me," Brian folded his hands. "Is he okay?"

"He woke up, little bit ago," he smiled. "When we took him up t' his crib, that's when we discovered you were gone."

"I didn't mean t' worry ya," Brian rubbed his arms for warmth. "I figured t' be back before you an' Ma woke up."

"I understand you wantin' t' come here," Sully took off his coat and wrapped it around his son.

"Ya do?" he was amazed.

"Yep," Sully answered. "Seekin' the comfort o' your real Ma is a natural thing."

"I didn't wanna bother you an' Ma," Brian looked down. "Ya got enough on your minds without havin' t' think about me."

"Brian," Sully placed his hand on his shoulder. "We ain't blood kin, but it's like Michaela said. In every way that matters, you're our son. We got a bond. You're never a bother t' us."

The young man took a deep breath and sighed.

"Don't ya believe me?" Sully asked.

"I believe ya," Brian said softly. "I guess I just wanted t' believe my real Pa loved me, too."

Sully knew this was not the place to voice his true assessment of Ethan Cooper, "I see."

Brian attempted to explain, "Ya love Matthew an' me, an' ya love Josef as your sons, but what if Josef, your real blood, didn't love ya back? That's what it's like, t' love two Pas, but only one loves ya back."

Sully extended his hand. Brian took it, then leaned his head against his shoulder. Sully hugged him, remembering back to earlier times when the little boy would crawl into his arms for a story or a reassuring touch.

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

Michaela had become so transported with relating her fairy tale, she did not notice that Katie had fallen asleep.

"And so it turned out that each night, the princesses had been dancing," she paused. "Katie? Perhaps my story was too long."

"Josef," she rubbed her son's stomach. "Wake up, Sweetheart."

The little boy opened his eyes, "Up?"

"I just need to waken you every so often until I'm certain that you're all right," she kissed his forehead.

The little boy smiled, never tiring of his mother's tenderness.

Then he looked about the room, "Papa?"

"He'll be home soon," she was hopeful.

"Hold, Mama," his little arms reached up to her.

Gently, she lifted her son into her arms and kissed his cheek.

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

"Brian!" Michaela rushed to him as he entered the homestead. "Where were you?"

"I went t' the cemetery," he hugged her.

"The cemetery!" she could not imagine.

"Sorry t' worry ya," he rubbed his head.

"Let me look at your abrasion," she noticed.

Brian patiently sat as she redressed his injury, then gave him a reassuring hug.

"Thanks, Ma," he smiled. "If it's okay, I'd like t' go up t' bed. I'm kinda tired."

"Yes, of course," she kissed him. "I love you, Brian."

He paused, then smiled, "I love you, too."

He hugged her and headed up the steps.

Sully turned his attention to his other son, "How's Josef doin'?"

"Fine," she wrapped her arms around his waist. "I am anxious for the specialist to see him later, however."

"He'll be on the mornin' train," Sully glanced toward the clock. "I'll meet him an' bring him out t' the homestead."

"Matthew should be home later this morning, as well," she rested her cheek against his chest. "Perhaps things can finally return to normal."

"Leave it t' Ethan t' bring trouble," he rubbed her back.

"How did you know where to find Brian?" she pulled back.

"Just thought he might turn t' his Ma," he said.

"Why wouldn't he turn to us?" she was curious.

"'Cause we were so concerned about Josef," he answered. "He didn't wanna worry us more."

"Oh, no," she wanted to go to him.

"Let him rest," Sully took her hand. "We could use some, too. It's been a rough night."

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

Later that morning, Josef was examined by the specialist. The physician informed Michaela and Sully that they should keep their son quiet for a couple more days, but there appeared to be no reason for further concern. At dinner that evening, Matthew joined his family, and conversation managed to avoid the topic of Ethan Cooper even though the disastrous cliff fall was described to the older Cooper brother.

"Mattew," Katie touched his sleeve. "Could ya stay here t'night?"

"Why's that, little sister?" he tickled under her chin.

Katie replied, "I wanna have all my family around."

"Somethin' on your mind, Kates?" Sully wondered.

"For Bran," she looked at her brother. "Please stay, Mattew?"

"Okay," he smiled. "I'll stay... for you.... and for BRAN."

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

The two brothers lay in their beds talking after their family had retired for the evening.

"You okay, Brian?" the older brother glanced in his direction.

"Yea," he answered. Then after pausing, he added, "You were right about Pa."

"I wish I wasn't," Matthew was sincere.

"I been thinkin' how lucky we are," Brian folded his arms against his blankets. "Dr. Mike and Sully are the best parents in the world."

"I know," he acknowledged.

"An' no matter where I go, this'll always be the home I wanna come back to," he stated.

"You thinkin' about goin' somewhere?" Matthew queried.

"College," Brian responded. "Pa offered t'...."

"T' what?" Matthew figured Ethan had gotten his hopes up.

"T's send me t' some San Francisco college, but Dr. Mike and Sully said they been savin' up for me," Brian said. "We got a college here in Colorado Springs now. I'm thinkin' I don't wanna go away too far from the folks who love me."

"I don't blame ya," Matthew grinned.

"I don't hate Pa," Brian thought about it.

Matthew felt differently, but held his tongue, "You don't have t' hate him, Brian. Just...."

"Just what?" the young man encouraged.

"Just know who ya can trust," the older brother cautioned. "Dr. Mike an' Sully are always gonna be there for ya. For us."

"I know," Brian closed his eyes. "'Night, Matthew."

"'Night, little brother," he smiled.

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

"Sully," Michaela ran her hand along her husband's chest.

"Mmm?" his fingers rested on her shoulder.

"I can't sleep," she sounded almost like a little girl.

"Ya can't?" he grinned.

"No," she snuggled closer.

"Wonder if I could do anythin' t' help," he spoke low.

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

"Sure," he reached for one of his books. "Anythin' in particular?"

"Something by Byron?" she smiled.

Sully opened the book and read aloud:

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar;
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal."

Sully paused to raise her chin for a kiss.

"Thank you," she smiled.

"When's the last time I told ya how proud I am o' ya?" he rubbed her chin.

"Proud of me?" she blushed.

"Yep," he spoke low. "How ya helped Josef even though ya were scared t' death. How ya understand Brian an' Matthew. How ya take care o' Katie.... How ya take care o' me."

"I want to take care of my family," she could not imagine doing otherwise. "And I love you dearly for the very same reasons."

"Most women wouldn't put up with a man like me," he informed her.

"Most women would give anything for a man like you, Byron Sully," she tapped his side. "On the other hand, most men would certainly not put up with a woman like me."

"You're kiddin'," he doubted.

"I'm stubborn, independent-minded, and I say exactly what I think," she looked at his eyes.

"Anythin' I don't already know?" he joked.

"No, I think you're well aware of all of my faults," she brushed back a lock of his hair.

"Wanna know somethin'?" he stroked her back. "The only fault you have is in pickin' outa all the men ya could've had, a lonely mountain man, then fillin' his life with love an' happiness."

She felt a rush of warmth for him, "I cannot imagine any other man on earth whom I would want."

"Well, that's good," he teased. "'Cause you're stuck with your choice."

"That's not a bad thing," she whispered. "Being stuck with you."

"Glad ya think that way," he touched her thigh. "Still ain't sleepy?"

"Certainly not now," her pulse raced from his caress.

Sully rolled her onto her back and loosened the front of her nightgown. Then he plied tender kisses across her shoulders and neck. She held the sides of his face and pulled him closer. Then repositioning her body, she invited his further advances.

Like two halves that sought to be joined, they craved to be united. And soon, with passion and growing ardor, their longings were satisfied. They clung to one another until at last their bodies' tempos returned to normal.

"I love you, Sully," she spoke near his ear.

He engulfed her in his arms and spoke low for only her ear:

"O spirit of love, how quick and fresh thou art!"

"Was that Shakespeare?" Michaela draped her leg over his.

"Yep," he massaged her temples.

"That feels good," she closed her eyes. "Sully, do you think that Brian will ever want to see Ethan again?"

"I don't know," he shook his head. "Ethan had a second chance. Most folks never get one."

"We did," she smiled.

"We did?" he raised an eyebrow.

"Yes," she turned onto her side to view his face fully. "After your fall from the cliff."

"An' after our children's fall," he pondered it. "I reckon I can't understand how a father acts like Ethan does."

"That's because he doesn't know the meaning of the word father," she kissed him. "You do."

"You make it easier," he smiled. "You teach me the meanin' of lots o' words."

"Such as?" she chuckled.

At that, Sully raised the sheet over their heads and began to recite several words.

THE END



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