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

Until I Die


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Until I Die
by Debby K

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

It was the last day of 1875. Brian and Matthew had decided to spend the evening in town. Matthew had leased some office space from Preston, and Brian wanted to help him ready the place for use in a few days. Michaela and Sully had their hands full preparing the children for bed. Between Josef's first birthday earlier in the month and Christmas, the children had been quite excited for the past few weeks.

Katie's recuperation from her fall was rapid, but she was still not permitted outside, nor was she allowed to run, climb, or jump. Keeping those activities in check was exhausting enough for her parents, but having their daughter alive and on the road to recovery filled them with great optimism for the new year.

Sully sat on the edge of Katie's bed holding Josef in his lap as he said good night.

"Poppy," Katie asked. "Joey sleep with me t'night?"

Michaela entered the nursery in time to hear the question, "Josef is not ready to sleep in a big bed yet, Sweetheart."

"I watch him," she pointed out. "Ya can put him beside me."

Josef clapped his hands and crawled over to Katie. Sitting up beside his sister, he began to remove his socks.

"Josef," Michaela reached down to pull them back onto his feet.

"I keep Joey's socks on him," Katie offered.

"Is there a reason why ya want him in here, Kates?" Sully asked.

She was quiet.

"Katie, did you hear your father?" Michaela sat down beside him.

"Sometimes I like t' talk t' him," she confided.

"Ka-tee," Josef hugged her.

Sully looked at Michaela, "Well, what do ya think?"

"I suppose it would be all right," she smiled. "But I want you to let him sleep on the side of the bed against the wall."

"Oh, thank you, Mama," she grinned. Turning to her little brother, she held his hands, "Joey, you gonna sleep in here!"

"Aaaah!" the little boy was uncertain what it all meant, but he loved when his sister was happy.

"All right, then," Sully positioned Josef beneath the blanket next to Katie. "Get under there, big boy."

Michaela felt a tear, "Look at how adorable they are, Sully."

Katie and Josef began to giggle.

"Sweetheart," the mother cautioned. "You need to settle down now. Remember your incision."

"Tell us story, Poppy," Katie pleaded.

He paused, then began, "Once upon a time, there were people who lived in a beautiful, vast land that stretched as far as the eye could see. They came an' went freely. They had everythin' they wanted. They lived in harmony with nature. They gave back to Mother Earth that which they took."

"You talkin' 'bout the Indians, Poppy?" Katie asked.

"Inins," Josef folded his hands in imitation of his sister.

"They weren't called Indians then," Sully said. "That was the European name for them. They had names like Cheyenne, Ute, Arapaho, ...."

"Where they live now?" Katie urged him to continue.

He felt a lump in his throat, "Most of 'em are gone."

Josef had closed his eyes and was nearly asleep.

"Where they go?" Katie inquired.

"Many are with Mother Earth," Sully forced a smile. "Some went where they could be safe."

"That's good," the little girl was satisfied. "They happy then."

"Kates," Sully looked deep into her eyes. "I want ya t' never forget that the Indians were here first."

"I won't," she nodded.

Sully kissed her, "That's my sweet girl."

Katie reached up and touched her father's nose, "Night, Poppy. I love you."

"I love you, too, honey," he smiled.

"Love you, Mama," Katie said.

"I love you, my darling," she kissed her cheek. "You keep watch over your brother tonight."

"I will," the child responded.

Michaela instructed her daughter, "Say your prayers now."

As Katie concluded her prayers, she asked for blessings over the Indian tribes her father had mentioned.

Sully stood and said to his wife, "You go ahead an' get ready for bed. I gotta do somethin' first."

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

As Michaela brushed her hair, she heard Sully enter their bedroom. Then she noticed he was hiding something behind his back.

"What are you doing?" she stopped her ritual.

"Nothin'," the gleam in his eye indicated otherwise.

"What's behind your back?" she pursued the issue.

"What back?" he grinned.

She stood up and walked to him, "I think it's time you stopped this charade."

He stood up straight and pulled from behind his back two crystal goblets and a bottle of champagne.

"Sully!" she was surprised. "We haven't had champagne since...."

"Since our weddin'," he set the glasses on the nightstand.

"What's the occasion?" she found his act pleasing.

Sully began to loosen the cork, "Do we need an occasion?"

"Since neither of us imbibes, I would think there is a special reason for your doing this," she sat on the bed. "Are you trying to take advantage of me, Mr. Sully?"

The cork broke free with a loud pop.

Silently, he poured each of them a portion of the bubbly liquid, "Never." Handing her a glass, he took one in his own hand and tipped it, "To us."

"To us," she smiled and took a sip. "Now would you like to tell me what's the occasion?"

"I just told ya," he took another sip and encouraged her to do likewise.

"You did?" she felt a slight buzzing in her head.

"Yep," he consumed the remainder of his glass and filled them both again. "I said, 'To us.'"

She became more comfortable consuming the champagne, "To us!"

He clinked his glass against hers and gulped it down.

"Sully," she felt even more lightheaded. "We're not accustomed to doing this. Perhaps moderation is in order."

"We don't always have t' do things in moderation," he finished his third glass.

"I...." she was taken aback by his daring. "I've never seen you like this."

"Three glasses every five years is my limit," he smiled and set down his goblet.

"Why tonight?" she set down her partially consumed third glass.

"It's New Year's Eve," he felt overwhelmingly amorous at the sight of his wife.

She glanced toward the clock, "Just ten minutes before the New Year."

"That leaves us plenty o' time," he lifted the glass from her hand and set it on the nightstand.

"Time for what?" she teased.

"An experiment," he was feeling the effects of the wine.

"We're going to perform an experiment?" she loosened her robe, feeling warmer.

"Yep," he quickly removed his shirt.

"Something involving time?" she raised an eyebrow.

"I want us t' be doin' somethin' real special the moment the clock rings in the New Year," his voice slurred the words slightly.

"Is there specific preparation involved in this experiment?" she anticipated.

"Nothin' we can't handle," he began to maneuver his hands across her body.

Soon clothing no longer encumbered their contact. Tender touches and sweet kisses became a prelude of even more to come.

Leaning her back on their bed, Sully murmured into her ear,

"The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction."

His warm breath and the effects of the champagne, stirred Michaela, "Wordsworth?"

"Yep," he was losing himself in the scent of her.

As they further tempted and teased one another, their bodies reacted to their profound cravings. Soon, their joining was complete with a release of blinding energy. As their pulses slowed, they could faintly hear the clock in the living room chime the midnight hour.

"Happy 1876," Sully kissed her tenderly.

By now, the champagne was inspiring her, "May we continue the experiment?"

He grinned, "Again?"

"Well, I am a stickler for scientific discovery," she felt her face flush.

Sully raised his eyebrow, "Go ahead, Doctor."

Michaela reached for the champagne glass and sipped what remained in the bottom. Then as she kissed her husband, the contents of her mouth poured into his. Sully found himself delighted at her unexpected boldness. Next, she pressed her body against his. The contours of her physique excited him anew.

"Michaela," his voice was husky.

She kept her smoldering glance locked on his eyes and continued to kiss him--his throat, his chest, his shoulders. Sully took her upper arms in his strong hands and guided her upward so that their lips met.

"I love you," he said.

"I love you, too. Ready to conclude our experiment?" she smiled.

"With pleasure," he wrapped his arms around her.

Again they fulfilled one another's desires, then lay their warm bodies against the cool sheets.

"Never been more successful," he kissed her.

"What's that?" she felt her heart nearly beating out of her chest.

"The experiment," he winked. "I think I oughta get ya tipsy more often."

She rubbed his arm as it enfolded her, "What do you think the new year will hold, Sully?"

He kissed the tender skin behind her ear, "Lots more lovin'."

She tingled at his ministrations, "What else?"

He rubbed her abdomen, "Maybe another little one down here?"

"Perhaps," she was excited at his touch. "Anything else?"

He became silent.

"Sully?" she glanced over her shoulder. "Are you asleep?"

"No," he returned to her question. "Lots o' pain."

She pivoted to look in his eyes, "Pain? For whom?"

"The Indians," his eyes saddened.

Michaela waited for him, her gentle touches encouraging him to talk about it. The effects of their brief consumption of alcohol were now over.

She stroked his hair, "I know it's painful."

"Somethin's gonna happen over the Black Hills," he linked his fingers in hers.

"How do you know?" she felt her heart sadden.

"Custer discovered gold up there," Sully said. "Some 15,000 miners have flooded int' the territory. It's been another invasion o' Indian lands."

"But I thought there was a treaty...." she was interrupted by him.

"Fort Laramie Treaty don't mean nothin' t' the government," his voice filled with anger. "I can't work for the Interior Department anymore, Michaela. Zachariah Chandler is...."

"It's all right, Sully," she touched his cheek. "You must be true to your beliefs."

"I wanna talk to ya about that," he took a deep breath. "I... I might have t' leave for a while."

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

"Leave?" Michaela felt her heart sink. "Where? When?"

"I ain't sure yet," he held her hands. "So much has happened in the last year. I told ya about all the miners movin' int' the Black Hills. Last spring, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and other chiefs were summoned t' Washington t' meet with President Grant t' talk about this."

"There was no agreement from their meeting?" Michaela wondered.

"Government said they needed t' meet again," he replied.

"Did they?" she inquired.

Sully explained, "The Senate sent a commission in September t' negotiate a purchase price t' buy the Black Hills from the Indians."

"Was it a fair price?" she asked.

"Depends on your idea o' fair, I guess," he answered. "Even the Indians themselves argued about what they should do."

"Divide and conquer," Michaela recognized.

"The government offered $6 million," Sully stated.

"And what was the Indian response?" she probed.

"Twenty-thousand Lakota came t' meet with the commissioners, but Sittin' Bull an' Crazy Horse stayed away, not even wantin' t' discuss sellin' their sacred land," he told her. "They sent a messenger named Little Big Man with 300 warriors to let the government know what they thought o' the offer. Little Big Man waved his rifle at the commissioners and yelled, 'I will kill the first chief who speaks for sellin' the Black Hills.'"

Michaela sighed, "I can imagine the government response."

"Government tried t' tell 'em gold was useless to 'em, and there'd be fightin'," Sully nodded. "Then one o' the chiefs, Spotted Tail, figured the sale was gonna happen anyway, so they might as well get as much as they could." Sully reached for a piece of paper on his nightstand, "Read this. It's what Red Cloud told the commission."

Michaela lifted the paper and perused the contents:

"I want seven generations ahead to be fed.... These hills out here to the Northwest we look upon as the head chief of the land. My intention was that my children should depend on these hills for the future. I hoped that we should live that way always.... I want to put the money that we get for the Black Hills at interest among the whites, to buy with the interest wagons and cattle.... For seven generations to come I want our Great Father to give us Texas steers for our meat. I want the Government to issue for me hereafter, flour and coffee, and sugar and tea, and bacon, the very best kind, and cracked corn and beans and rice and dried apples.... and tobacco, and soap and salt and pepper for the old people.... I want a sow and a boar, and a cow and a bull, and a hen and cock, for each family. I am Indian and you want to make me a white man out of me. I want some white men's houses, and I have seen nice black bedsteads and chairs and I want that kind of furniture...a saw-mill,.... a mower and a scythe. Maybe you white people think that I ask too much...but I think those hills extend clear to the sky--maybe they go above the sky, and that is the reason I ask so much."

"He sounds like a shrewd businessman," she set the paper down.

"They met for three days, as the other chiefs told the government the same basic demands, even addin' more to them," Sully said. "The government figured what they were askin' would cost around $600 million. They even considered rentin' the land from the Sioux, but the chiefs refused."

"What about the President, Sully?" Michaela interjected. "Surely he...."

Sully shook his head, "He's abandoned the Fort Laramie Treaty that gave the Indians the rights t' the Black Hills." Then his jaw tightened, "Sheridan said Grant, the Secretary of War and Secretary of Interior are in agreement. The military is no longer gonna try t' keep miners out o' the Black Hills. That message was supposed t' be confidential, but I got a source in the Interior Department who sent me a letter."

Michaela saw the torment in her husband's face, "This is going to lead to further violence."

"Grant's given the Indians an ultimatum," Sully choked back his emotions. "They got until January 31 t' get ont' reservations."

"Just like that?" she lay beside him in disbelief. "Their land, the treaty violated?"

"I don't know how all the Indian tribes are gonna get word o' this ultimatum," Sully rolled onto his stomach. "They're scattered all over the territory, an' it's winter. This means thousands o' Indians have' t' move in a short amount o' time."

"What can you do, Sully?" she felt her anxiety growing.

"Cloud Dancin' asked me t' come with him t' help him make sure the Cheyenne band he visits in Montana finds out about the government order," he responded. "The move is bound t' create hardships for the tribes that comply."

"And what of the tribes who don't?" she feared.

"They'll fight, Michaela," his voice hinted of sadness.

"I want to come with you," she immediately volunteered.

"Ya know that ain't a good idea," he saw no reason. "The weather could make travelin' real hard."

"Do you think I'll slow you down?" she became defensive.

"No," he denied. "But ya need t' be here with the children."

"Sully," she thought about it. "Brian and Matthew will be here, and Robert E and Grace will help. How long do you think we would be gone?"

"Could be a month, maybe more," Sully attempted to discourage her.

"And what of the Indians who need medical attention?" she added. "With women and children traveling to these reservations, I'm certain my services would prove useful."

"What about OUR children, Michaela?" he began to raise his voice. "Katie still ain't completely healed from her fall. Josef's climbin' an' gettin' int' things. Matthew an' Brian got other responsibilities. Grace an' Robert E got their own business t' run."

"Sully, I would never leave them if I thought...." she stopped when she noted his expression.

"I don't wanna talk about it anymore," his jaw tightened.

They fell silent. An air of tension now existed between the couple, who minutes earlier had shared their most intimate love. Neither was willing to concede the rightness of the other's arguments. Both lowered their lamps and lay untouching in the darkness of their room.

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

Sounds of their children giggling wakened Michaela shortly after dawn. She pulled on her robe and made her way the short distance down the hallway to the nursery. The little ones were oblivious to their mother's presence as she stood in the doorway listening to them.

"Joey," Katie insisted. "Ya gotta stay in bed 'til Mama an' Poppy get ya."

"Mama!" the little boy called out.

"Shhh!" Katie placed her finger to her lips. "An' stay under blanket. Ya get cold."

Josef pulled his feet out from under the blanket, revealing that he had once again removed his socks.

"Oh, no!" Katie pulled back the blanket to search for them.

Michaela was amazed at the protectiveness of her little girl for her brother. She thought back to Katie's reaction to his birth a year ago. The recollection of her daughter's first glimpse of her brother's anatomical differences brought a smile to her face. Her eyes watered at the memory of his baptism, and how Katie had tenderly stopped his crying. And her emotions rose at the thought of how Katie had encouraged Josef to speak his first words and take his first steps.

Spotting her mother, Katie sounded apologetic, "Mama, Joey wake ya up?"

"No," she entered the room and sat beside them. "I was up."

"Mama!" Josef crawled across the bed to greet her.

"How are my two darlings this morning?" she kissed them. "Did you sleep well?"

"Up!" Josef announced.

"He not easy t' sleep with, Mama," Katie informed her.

"Oh?" Michaela stifled a laugh.

"Joey move 'round a lot," the little girl shook her head. "An' he tw... try t' crawl outa bed this mornin'."

Michaela situated her son on her lap, "Is that true, young man?"

Josef nodded enthusiastically, unsure of what he was agreeing to. Michaela could not help but marvel at the little boy's resemblance to his father at that instant. Katie handed her mother the socks, and Michaela slid them over the baby's feet.

"Papa," the baby said.

"Papa's still sleeping," Michaela kissed his cheek. "Are you hungry?"

"I am," Katie agreed.

"Yam" Josef agreed.

"Then, let's eat," Michaela picked him up.

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

Sully squinted as the sunlight illuminated the bedroom. He turned to see that Michaela was already up. He felt a trace of guilt for their tension of the previous night, but he knew he was right. Michaela should in no way leave their children to go with him for who knew how long and under what conditions.

Descending the steps, he was promptly greeted by the children while Michaela silently prepared breakfast. Sully kissed the little ones, then turned to his wife.

"We need t' talk," he said.

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

"You want to talk?" Michaela said sarcastically to her husband.

"Yes," he looked down to see Josef tugging on his leg.

Sully lifted the little boy and kissed his cheek.

"Papa," Josef pointed to Wolf. "Woh."

"Go pet him, big boy," he set the child down.

"Poppy, I go outside?" Katie pretended to help her mother.

"When your Ma says, Kates," he touched her nose.

"Katie, very soon," Michaela was becoming impatient. "Now, sit down so you may eat your breakfast."

"Bran an' Mattew comin' home?" the little girl wondered.

"They'll be home sometime today," she wiped Josef's hands and lifted him into the highchair.

Sully stood back and sighed. Then he donned his coat and, accompanied by Wolf, headed out to the barn.

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

"Do you need help, my friend?" Cloud Dancing appeared in the doorway of the barn.

"Cloud Dancin'," Sully greeted his friend. "What brings ya out here? Any news?"

"I have come to ask your advice," the medicine man confessed.

Sully raised his eyebrows, "My advice? What about?"

"Dorothy," the Cheyenne replied. "She wants to come with us."

"So's Michaela," Sully shook his head.

"Dorothy says it is to write for the Gazette," Cloud Dancing noted. "She does not admit it might be for other reasons."

"Michaela says it's in case her medical services are needed," Sully sighed. "But I don't want her leavin' the children for so long."

"Her medicine could save many lives," the Cheyenne answered.

"You sayin' she oughta come, too?" Sully was caught off guard.

"The Spirits say it," Cloud Dancing informed him. "I had a dream."

"No," Sully shook his head. "Maybe ya misunderstood the dream."

"It is not like you to question in this way," his friend was puzzled.

"I don't want her goin' with us," Sully affirmed.

"That is how I feel about Dorothy," Cloud Dancing stated.

"Maybe that's what your dream was about," he rationalized. "Maybe the Spirits were tellin' ya t' take Dorothy along."

"Dorothy does not have the medicine," the Cheyenne disagreed. "I saw it in my dream."

"Michaela needs t' be here with our children," Sully insisted.

"You know the power of her medicine," Cloud Dancing reminded him. "She has saved Katie and Josef with her skills. She has saved you and me, my brother."

"Am I bein' selfish?" Sully's became defensive.

"You are being a husband and father," a smile appeared on his friend's face.

"I gotta think about this," Sully's feelings were torn.

"And I must think about Dorothy," the Cheyenne said.

"I guess I wasn't much help in givin' ya advice," the mountain man responded.

"Love can sometimes cloud our judgment," Cloud Dancing departed.

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

Sully walked into the house carrying fresh milk and eggs. He set them on the kitchen table and smiled at his children. Michaela sat silently helping Josef eat.

"Papa!" the little boy reached out. "Up!"

"Not yet, Josef," Sully caressed the little boy's head. "Eat your breakfast."

"Poppy, Mama say I go outside t'day," Katie's eyes brightened with excitement.

"We gotta bundle ya up, Kates," he stood by the fireplace. "It's real cold."

Brian and Matthew entered the house at that moment. Katie greeted her brothers as Josef took the opportunity to pound his spoon on the tray of his high chair.

While Brian and Matthew ate, they filled in the family on their efforts to clean and equip a law office for Matthew. Katie insisted that they take her outside for a walk. The brothers gladly agreed, and both of the Sully children were outfitted to make an excursion with their older brothers.

"Not too far," Michaela called from the door in her last minute instructions.

"Don't worry, Ma," Brian held Josef as he descended the steps in front of the homestead.

Michaela watched from the kitchen window until her children and Wolf had disappeared from sight. Then she turned to the task of cleaning up the kitchen. Sully began to help her, and though they did not speak, they both sensed a thaw in their tension.

"I been thinkin'," Sully wiped off the table with a cloth.

"About what?" Michaela was curious.

"Somethin' Sittin' Bull said," he put his hand on her back.

Michaela warmed to his touch, "What did he say?"

Sully began, "I will remain what I am until I die... a hunter, and when there is no more buffalo or other game, I will send my children to hunt and live on prairie mice, for where an Indian is shut up in one place, his body becomes weak."

"Oh, Sully, the thought of children living like that makes me...." she could not continue.

"Cloud Dancin' had a dream that you're needed on our journey," he told her. "Michaela, in my heart, I want you an' the kids to be here, safe an' warm, but my head tells me that your medicine can save lives out there."

"So what do we do when there is disagreement between our heart and our head?" she searched his eyes.

"I guess we trust," he took her hands.

"Trust?" she was uncertain.

"Trust that the Spirits will guide us," he lifted her hand to his lips.

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

The reality of what they were about to embark on hit Michaela that night as she prepared her children for bed. She held them just a little closer and began to have doubts that she could follow through with leaving them. Brian and Matthew had been very supportive, and now she and Sully were about to tell the younger ones about their journey.

"Katie," Michaela began as she held her daughter close. "Your father and I have something to tell you."

"I not run t'day when I outside," the little girl glanced up at her with her alert brown eyes.

"I know, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed her cheek. "Matthew said you were a good girl."

"Papa," Josef pointed to his feet. "No?"

"No," Sully patted the soles of the child's feet. "Leave your socks on, son."

"We have fun," Katie returned to the subject of the walk but sensed a somber mood in her parents.

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

Josef bounced in his arms, "Goooo."

"Ya sad, Mama?" their daughter wondered.

Michaela sighed, "Your father and I must go away for a while, Sweetheart."

"Where ya go?" Katie asked lightheartedly.

"We gotta go help the Indians," Sully lifted Josef's cheek to his own.

"They have to move from their homes to be safe, Katie," Michaela tried to explain. "And the move will be very difficult for them."

"Why ya gotta go?" Katie began to realize this was a serious trip.

"'Cause they need our help," Sully touched her knee.

"We come?" Katie implored.

Josef ceased his activity, noticing that his sister was distraught.

"No, Kates," Sully touched her cheek.

"No," Josef looked to Katie and pointed.

Sully felt his heart break, "Katie, we'll be home as soon as we can."

"Mama," Josef reached out to her.

Katie rubbed her watering eyes, "I be good. Please no go."

"Oh, Katie," her mother hugged her. "We're not going away because of anything you've done. We're going to go help these people because they may die if we don't. Can you understand?"

"Mama!" Josef wanted the security of his mother's arms, as well.

Michaela lifted her son and embraced him tenderly.

The little boy leaned his head closer to his sister, "Ka-tee."

Michaela kissed his little finger, then looked to her husband, "Sully."

"Michaela, ya gotta stay here with 'em," he could not bear the thought of both of them being away.

"No," a tear trickled down her cheek. "So many children may die. I cannot let that happen."

Josef touched his mother's tear, then kissed her, "Mama, no."

Katie had fallen silent, and Sully lifted her into his arms.

"We'll bring ya a present," he offered.

"You my pwr... present," she recalled what he had told her at Thanksgiving.

"Kates," he wiped her tears. "Sometimes we gotta do things for others cause we got so much."

"Why, Poppy?" she struggled to comprehend.

"You know your Ma an' me love ya, an' we'd do anythin' for ya," he controlled his emotions. "But there's lots o' children who don't have anyone t' take care of 'em when they get scared or sick."

"Like Mawjoy?" she remembered.

"Yes, Sweetheart," Michaela nodded. "The Indians are being forced to go to a strange place. It's going to be very difficult and dangerous for them. And during the journey, they may become ill."

"You make 'em better, Mama?" Katie asked.

"I'm going to try," she answered.

"You help 'em, Poppy?" their daughter wondered.

"I'm gonna try, too, honey," he stroked her cheek.

"Ya gotta go, then," Katie felt certain. "I take care o' Joey."

Josef smiled at his sister when she mentioned his name.

"Thank you for understanding, Katie," Michaela's heart filled with love.

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

Michaela went over a lengthy list of instructions, do's and don'ts for the children. Matthew and Brian nodded their heads patiently as she discussed each item.

"I'll try to check in as often as I can by telegraph," she concluded.

"Ma," Brian assured her. "The whole town's gonna help watch Katie an' Josef. I doubt if they'll be able t' sneeze without someone bein' there with a handkerchief."

"I appreciate all of their help," Michaela smiled. "The most important thing is for you to be there for them with little things. Telling them a bedtime story. Lots of hugs and kisses."

"We'll take care of it, Ma," Matthew rubbed her back.

"Where's Pa?" Brian wondered.

"He's picking up supplies in town," she answered. "The train leaves early tomorrow morning. We'll head for Wyoming toward Yellowstone, then north after that."

"What you an' Sully are doin' is real important," Matthew's heart filled with pride. "Don't worry about the kids. We'll watch 'em every second. You're needed up there."

"Thank you, Matthew," Michaela's eyes welled.

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

Michaela and Sully spent every precious moment of their last day in the company of their children. Katie and Josef shared their parents' bed that evening. With the little ones restless, neither Michaela nor Sully had a good night's sleep. However, the nearness of the children gave them the opportunity to feel even closer before their departure.

The next morning, it was time for good-byes.

"When ya gonna be home, Mama?" Katie struggled to understand.

"As soon as we can, Sweetheart," she replied.

"I got somethin' for ya, Kates," Sully held out a small string of beads. "I want ya t' wear these around your wrist. Whenever ya feel like you're missin' us, just touch these, an' know that we're thinkin' about ya."

"Thanks, Poppy," the little girl smiled as he helped her put them on.

She touched it, then hugged her father. Then she turned back to Michaela and embraced her.

"Mama, don't be sad," Katie's eyes were bright. "I take care o' my brothers."

"I know you will, my darling," Michaela felt a lump in her throat. "I love you, Katie."

"I love you," she stroked her mother's hair.

Sully held Josef high in the air, then swooped him down toward his face. The little boy giggled in delight.

"Gan, Papa," the child requested.

Sully repeated the motion to even greater squeals of happiness from his son. Then, he lowered Josef's cheek to his lips.

"I love you, Josef," he whispered.

"Papa!" the baby wiggled his legs.

Sully and Michaela switched children to conclude their farewells.

"Kates, you be good, and don't overdo things," he caressed her cheek.

"I be good, Poppy," she promised. She cupped her hand to his ear, "Take care o' Mama. She's sad."

"I will," he nodded. "I love you, my sweet girl."

"Love you," she sweetly kissed him.

Michaela could barely see through her tears as she embraced her son. The baby's lower lip began to quiver as he picked up her emotions.

"Mama," he placed his little finger on her wet cheek. "No."

"Josef," she attempted to gain control of herself. "I love you."

After embracing their older sons, Michaela and Sully finally departed. They took a last look at the homestead and the children waving good-bye to them at the door. Knowing that their mission held such life or death importance was the only way they could reconcile themselves to the overpowering heartbreak they felt leaving behind their family.

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

Dorothy joined Cloud Dancing, Sully and Michaela on the journey, and within several days, they were in Montana. The band of Cheyenne with whom Cloud Dancing was familiar had not heard the news of the government ultimatum. Great debate ensued among the leaders on what course of action to follow. The younger men wanted to defy Sheridan's order of reporting to a reservation and flee to the freedom of Canada. The elders, weary of fighting, were resigned to the idea that the army would pursue them before they could reach the border.

As the leaders sat in the great lodge arguing over the course of action, Michaela and Dorothy went among the women and children to ascertain their condition. Many were ill with fever, and the doctor administered medicines to them. One particular boy caught Michaela's attention. He seemed strangely familiar to her. Neither she nor Dorothy spoke much Cheyenne, but she was able to ask the child his name.

His reply was in Cheyenne, and they were not able to translate. A woman approached them.

"I am Little Wolf," she said. "I speak some English."

Michaela smiled and touched the little boy's fevered head, "My name is Michaela. I'm a doctor.... a medicine woman."

"Cloud Dancing has told us of you," Little Wolf nodded.

"This child," Michaela rubbed his arm. "What is his name?"

"He is called Lives in Hope," she replied.

Michaela's was thrilled, "Lives in Hope!"

"Michaela!" Dorothy recalled the baby who had survived the Washita Massacre.

"Does the child remember how he...." Michaela did not know how to express herself.

"He knows how he came to have his name," Little Wolf told her. "I am the wife of Running Elk. We have raised him as our son."

"How long has he had a fever?" Michaela inquired.

"The sun has crossed the sky two times," the Cheyenne woman answered.

"I'm going to give you some powder for him," Michaela handed her a packet. "Mix it with water, and have him drink it."

"I will do as you say, medicine woman," Little Wolf accepted the powder.

Michaela turned her attention back to the little boy, "Please tell him how happy I am to see him again."

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

Inside the lodge, the arguments were heating up. Brave Eagle, an elder of the tribe, was fiercely defending the position of complying with the government's ultimatum. Running Elk, a younger warrior and adoptive father of Lives in Hope, spoke first.

His physical presence was inspiring, as he towered over the others, "We must not accept a life of submission."

"The white man will follow us if we run," Brave Eagle, the elder, asserted. "We are too few, and our allies too weak."

"Then let us die like men rather than be caged by the soldiers of the Great White Chief," Running Elk countered, his brown eyes on fire with rage.

"I am tired of running," the elder stated.

Chief Rolling Thunder, young son of their former leader, had been quiet through this exchange until now.

There was anger in his eyes as he spoke, "My father saw through the lies of white men. He told me, 'My son, when I am gone, always remember that your father never sold his country.' This country holds my father's body. I did not sell the bones of my father and mother. A man who would not love his father's grave is nothing more than a wild animal. We will stay and fight."

Cloud Dancing spoke up, "Selling the land to the Great White Chief is no longer at issue. The white man did not agree to the terms of sale. Now he will take what he cannot buy."

"What does this white man think?" Brave Eagle motioned to Sully.

"Ya got a deadline of January 31," Sully shook his head. "That don't leave ya many choices."

Running Elk reacted, "What if we were to split into two groups? Have our young warriors stay back to fight the white man's army while the rest of our people forge ahead into Canada? There, we shall find freedom."

"Sounds t' me like a sure fire plan for gettin' all of ya killed," Sully speculated. "Unless..."

"Unless what?" Running Elk was interested.

"Unless, instead o' fightin' the army, we deceive 'em," Sully was formulating a plan. "Leave no trace of your journey. There's only about 50 of ya. It could be done if we can move fast an' the weather holds."

"But it will be difficult to hide tracks in snow," Rolling Thunder pointed out.

"There's no snow on the other side of the valley," Sully pointed out.

The older Brave Eagle raised his hand, "Your plan holds merit, but if we try to go to Canada, even without the army at our heels, we may lose many to illness."

"I will do what I can to help, and the medicine woman is here, as well," Cloud Dancing informed them.

"Is it agreed then?" Chief Rolling Thunder searched the faces of the men. "We cover our tracks and go to Canada?"

Each man nodded in agreement.

"Then we leave at first light," the chief stated.

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

Sully and Michaela retired to a small lodge provided by the tribe. The cold, howling wind outside provided a contrast to the remarkable warmth of the interior of their shelter. Sitting next to one another, they ate a sparse meal.

"Sully," she was not all that hungry. "I saw Lives in Hopes today. He has a fever."

"Will he be okay?" Sully recalled holding the surviving baby in his arms at Washita.

"I believe so," she replied. "I hope I don't run out of medicine. There are many who...."

"Michaela," he interrupted. "We're gonna try t' make it t' the Canadian border. If you an' Dorothy wanna turn back now, I'll understand."

"Turn back?" she was surprised. "No, Sully. I want to help them."

"It ain't gonna be an easy trip," he noted. "There's two things working against 'em: the weather an' the army."

She clasped his hand, "I have seen today that my services are needed here."

Sully ran his finger along her chin, "I need ya, too."

"You do?" she smiled. "I thought you didn't want me to come with you."

"I saw ya helpin' the sick," his heart filled with pride.

"Is that an admission that I was right?" she teased.

"Sometimes you're right," he winked.

She leaned forward to kiss him. They were interrupted by a voice at the opening of their lodge.

"Medicine woman," it was Little Wolf.

"Yes," Michaela responded. "Come in."

The Cheyenne woman entered. Her eyes were red, and she appeared much older than her years.

"What's wrong?" Michaela stood.

"It is Lives in Hope," she responded.

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

Michaela and Sully rushed to the lodge of Running Elk. Cloud Dancing was tending to the unconscious Lives in Hope. A little girl of about eight years of age looked on.

"Dr. Mike," Cloud Dancing glanced up. "I think both of our medicine is needed for the child."

"How do I know I can trust this medicine woman?" Running Elk was uncertain.

"I have witnessed her deeds," Cloud Dancing assured. "She has strong medicine."

"Just like that, you give up?" Running Elk was losing patience.

"I do not give up," the Cheyenne medicine man replied. "For my medicine, I must use the services of your daughter."

Michaela sat down beside Lives in Hope while Cloud Dancing explained to Running Elk what must be done. Sully joined his wife and stroked the forehead of the little boy.

"He's grown so much," a faint smile crossed Sully's lips.

Michaela opened her medical bag, "His fever is worse."

"Can I help?" he offered.

"Could you bring me some snow?" she handed him a container.

Sully exited quickly.

Cloud Dancing knelt before young White Bird, "You must listen to my words carefully and follow each step I tell you."

"Why is my daughter to do this?" Running Elk questioned. "Let me go."

Cloud Dancing looked up and in a controlled voice stated, "Are you the medicine man?"

Running Elk was silenced by the rebuke. Cloud Dancing then turned to White Bird.

Handing her a pouch, he spoke gently, "Take these powdered tobacco leaves and red feathers to make an offering to the spirit who has caused the sickness of Lives in Hope. Find a spot where you can place the offering on the naked earth, then face the East, where the sun rises, and say this prayer:

'Spirit Grandfather, I offer this to you. I pray restore my brother to health.'

Can you say that?"

The child repeated his words verbatim.

"Good," Cloud Dancing smiled.

Sully returned and swiftly sat beside the sick little boy, while Michaela opened his clothing to cool his body.

"We need to bathe him to bring down his temperature, Sully," she instructed. "I'm going to try to get some quinine in him."

He did as she asked, then looked on as Cloud Dancing gave final instructions to White Bird.

"I'll go with her," Sully volunteered. "Little girl like that shouldn't be alone."

"She is my daughter," Running Elk stood straighter. "I should go."

Cloud Dancing raised his hand, "His parents must stay. Sully may go."

He returned to his wife, "Michaela, if ya don't need me...."

"Go with her," she nodded. "I'll do what I can here."

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

Sully left the lodge with young White Bird, unsure of what they might find when they returned. The little girl walked in silence, and Sully did not want to disturb her concentration. The temperature was subfreezing, and a light snowfall blanketed the land. He wondered where the child could find a spot of naked earth.

After about fifteen minutes, they came upon a patch of land near a pine tree. There a reed, whirling in the wind, had formed a space around its stem, making a loose socket. As White Bird knelt, Sully could see that she was shivering. He removed his jacket and wrapped it around the little girl. Her body was dwarfed by the buckskin. She poured the offerings into the opening in the ground that nature had created.

"Do you remember the words?" he spoke softly.

She nodded, "Spirit grandfather, I offer this to you. I pray you restore my brother to health." Then she turned to Sully, "Will they listen? Will Lives in Hope die?"

"Only the Spirits know that," he counseled. "You have done what they asked. Now, let's get ya back."

Sully lifted the child into his arms, and for just an instant his mind turned to thoughts of Katie. He wondered what she was doing at that instant. His heart ached to see his children.

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

Michaela stroked the moist forehead of the lifeless little boy before her. Her mind flashed to Josef at that moment. How she missed her children. She felt a lump in her throat, as she held back her tears.

The tribe had decided to leave at first light, but Lives in Hope would not be able to travel. As she monitored his condition, his breathing became labored. Little Wolf looked at her with concern.

"What is happening to him?" the distraught mother wondered.

Cloud Dancing spoke, "It is his soul. It goes to be with...."

"No!" Michaela wiped the damp cloth across the child's face. "I won't let him die!"

"You must do something!" Running Elk turned to Cloud Dancing.

The medicine man's expression was somber, "He still breathes, but his spirit is beyond our reach."

Michaela frantically ministered to the little boy, as Cloud Dancing stood up and blessed the four corners of the earth with song. It was upon this scene that Sully and White Bird returned to the lodge. Michaela ran to her husband. He set down the little girl and embraced his wife.

"Sully...." she stopped when he placed his finger to her lips.

"Cloud Dancin' must do this," he said.

The Cheyenne medicine man began to tell of the vision that had given him the right to be a healer, and he asked that the spirit of the child be allowed to return. He blessed Lives in Hope and instructed that the coverings be removed from the boy. He stirred water into some ground herbs. He sprinkled other herbs over the child, then poured the mixture of water into the mouth of Lives in Hope.

Instantly, the boy's breathing improved. He opened his eyes and looked about the room. Little Wolf and Running Elk joyously held each of his hands. Lives in Hope smiled at them.

"His spirit is gone," Cloud Dancing shook his head.

"What?" Michaela was stunned. "Look at him. He's improving."

"Let us leave them," the medicine man advised. "He will be gone by morning."

"Sully?" Michaela did not want to depart.

He rubbed her back, "Let's go."

"But I should stay with him," she resisted.

"His family is here," he answered. "They'll get us if there's any change."

"I came to help these people!" she objected. "I will not leave him."

"Michaela," Sully controlled his volume.

"Stay if you wish," Cloud Dancing said. "It will not matter now. The Spirits have spoken."

He left the lodge. Michaela sat down, away from the family of Lives in Hope. Sully sighed and joined her.

"Are you angry with me?" she feared.

"'Course not," he assured her.

"Do you understand?" she hoped.

"Understand you?" he grinned. "I always gotta work at it."

"Sully," she poked his side.

"Yes," he put his arm around her. "I understand."

"Do you think Cloud Dancing understands?" she recalled his expression.

Sully explained, "He knows what the Spirits tell him."

She whispered, "But you saw the little boy. How can we give up on him?"

"It ain't easy," he sighed.

"What do you believe, Sully?" she questioned.

"I believe in the Spirits," he stated. "But I also believe in you."

She touched his chin, "Thank you."

"You know the tribe's gotta leave t'morrow, no matter what happens t'night," he told her.

"Will you stay with me tonight?" she requested.

"Wouldn't wanna be anywhere else," he smiled.

"I couldn't help but think of Josef when I was treating Lives in Hope," she confessed to her husband.

"I thought the same about Katie when I was with White Bird out there," he nodded. "They are a part of us. So many things make me think about them. Wonder what they're doin' right now."

She placed her arm around his waist, "Right about now, Katie is giving her brothers a hard time about going to sleep."

"And Josef?" he grinned.

"He's sound asleep," she smiled. "Our little girl is developing a stubborn streak when it comes to her bedtime."

"Wonder where she gets a stubborn streak?" he teased.

"Sully," she gestured toward White Bird. "Look."

They saw the little girl standing apart from her parents, tears streaming down her face. Their hearts went out to her. Sully reached for the child and pulled her into his lap. Michaela caressed her cheek.

Sully spoke to White Bird tenderly, "You did what ya were supposed t' do. Don't blame yourself."

Quietly, they sat to wait out the night.

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

Before sunrise, Michaela opened her eyes. She found herself leaning against Sully's shoulder. Protectively, he had his arm draped across her. Surveying the Cheyenne lodge, she noticed Running Elk and Little Wolf also asleep, with their daughter White Bird nearby.

Michaela yawned and rose to check on Lives in Hope. His eyes were open and alert. He smiled at her. The boy's pulse was strong and his breathing steady. In her judgment, the crisis had ended. She felt Sully's loving hand on her shoulder.

"How is he?" he whispered.

"Better," she informed him.

Sully woke the parents and told them the news.

"Your wife has strong medicine," Running Elk spoke with admiration.

Sully smiled, "She sure does."

The relieved Cheyenne father nodded, "She has saved the lives of many children in our tribe. She has preserved our future."

Sully proudly placed his arm around his wife.

"Can Lives in Hope travel?" Little Wolf was concerned.

"We will wrap him for warmth, and make a litter to carry him," the father stated.

"That'll slow the tribe down," Sully cautioned. "Unless...."

"Unless?" the father asked.

"Unless my wife an' me travel with him," Sully formulated a plan. "Go call the tribal leaders together. I gotta talk to 'em."

"I shall make the arrangements," Running Elk rushed out.

Michaela noticed the quiet White Bird looking on in concern. The doctor bent down beside the child and smiled.

"You did a very good job with your offering," she stroked the little girl's raven hair.

White Bird smiled. Soon Cloud Dancing appeared.

"The Spirits have saved Lives in Hope," the medicine man stated. "I am glad."

Michaela wondered, "They changed their mind?"

"It was they who told us to bring you in the first place," the medicine man smiled with a gleam in his eye. "Twice now, this child has been spared from death. He is destined for greatness."

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

"What is this plan of yours?" Brave Eagle spoke for the tribe.

Sully cleared his throat, "Lives in Hope is gonna need at least a day before he can travel, an' it can't be at the same pace as the tribe. Plus, he's gotta be transported usin' a litter."

"This is true," the elder agreed. "What do you propose?"

"My wife an' me will stay behind with him," Sully offered. "I need ya t' leave us eight horses."

"What?" Rolling Thunder was astounded. "We do not have many horses to spare."

"Let him speak," Running Elk now completely trusted this husband of the medicine woman.

"Why do you wish eight horses?" Brave Eagle asked.

"We know the army's gonna be on the lookout for tribal bands on the move," Sully stated. "If my wife an' me stay back from the tribe, follow at a distance, we can cover any tracks you leave with the horses."

"And if the army meets you?" Brave Eagle was intrigued.

"We'll tell 'em we're just movin' north with our herd," Sully reasoned. "Keep your scouts on the lookout for the government troops, an' we'll head 'em off if they get too close to ya."

"Surely the army would wonder why you travel with a Cheyenne boy," Rolling Thunder was skeptical.

"We'll keep him covered," Sully pledged. "Tell the army he's our son, an' he's real contagious."

"It might work," Cloud Dancing was impressed.

"What if the army should see traces of tracks left by the tribe to the north of where you travel?" Rolling Thunder hesitated.

Sully took a deep breath, "The Army ain't likely t' come from the north, but if they do, I'll think o' somethin'."

"I favor your plan, Sully," Brave Eagle agreed. "What of the rest?"

Each leader nodded his ascent until it was Rolling Thunder's turn. This son of the former chief was proud and untrusting of a white man.

"I will agree," he sternly stated. "But I keep a close eye on you."

"Good," Sully smiled confidently. "I'll go tell my wife."

"We prepare to leave," Rolling Thunder announced.

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

Born of necessity, the tribe broke camp and departed in a short amount of time. The weather cooperated, and Sully determined they would make a good distance on their first day. He and Michaela had been left with few provisions, but they were perfectly capable of fending for themselves. Dorothy decided to forge ahead with Cloud Dancing and the tribe.

Sully constructed a lean-to shelter, and Michaela assured him that young Lives in Hope would be able to travel the next morning. Sully used the daylight hours to fashion together a litter for their journey the next day.

That evening, the mountain man killed a rabbit for their meal. After eating, they settled in for the night. Lives in Hope ate well and soon slept soundly under the lean-to. Warmed by the fire, Sully and Michaela preferred to huddle under the open sky.

Sully pulled his wife into his embrace, "Sure is beautiful out here."

"Mmm-hum," she enjoyed his soothing touch.

"You were real quiet t'day," he noticed.

"I was just thinking about the children," she sighed.

"Come here," he pulled her closer. "We gotta be strong, Michaela."

"I know," her cheek moistened. "It's silly. I know they're being well cared for and that we're needed here."

"Thinkin' about what the Cheyenne have t' go through, makes me wonder what kind o' world our children are growin' up in," his heart was heavy.

"A government that breaks its word, gives ultimatums to people who have every right to their land...." she stopped.

Sully took a deep breath, "Do ya ever wanna give up?"

"Give up?" she was puzzled.

"Give up tryin' t' help," he specified. "Tryin' t' fight the government."

"No, Sully," she rolled over to look in his eyes. "Do you?"

"I get so tired sometimes," he was frustrated.

She caressed his stubbled beard, "We can never give up doing what's right. Then what would we tell our children?"

"You're right," he grinned. "What would I do without ya, Michaela?"

"You'd probably be making this journey with Cloud Dancing just the same," she smiled.

His hand began to roam, "But not havin' nearly as much fun."

"I don't know," she teased. "I've seen how some of those Indian maidens look at you."

"Oh?" he raised an eyebrow.

"It makes me wonder something that... I've always been afraid to ask you, Sully," she became serious.

"You can ask me anythin', Michaela," he rubbed her arm. "You know that."

She was silent.

"What is it?" he probed. "What have ya been afraid t' ask?"

She decided to come out with it, "All of that time you lived with the Cheyenne...."

"Yes?" he encouraged her.

"Did you...." she wondered if she should continue.

He waited patiently.

She finally worked up the courage, "Did you ever find yourself with a Cheyenne woman?"

Sully was taken back by her question, "Why would ya wanna ask somethin' like that?"

Michaela felt uncomfortable immediately, "I.... I shouldn't have. I'm sorry."

He drew her chin back to face him, "Are ya feelin' insecure?"

"No," she averted her eyes. "It's just...."

"Michaela," he beckoned her to look at him. "What happened before you an' me don't matter. What would make ya wonder about somethin' like that?"

"You know about... that aspect of my life before we were married," she came out with it. "Other than Abigail, I know nothing about your....."

"Love life?" he finished her thought.

"Well," she avoided answering directly.

"I remember when ya misunderstood about me an' Catherine, ya asked me if there had been other women," he recalled.

"And you said I didn't want to know the answer," she vividly remembered.

"I guess ya really did wanna know," he returned to her question.

"Sully," she linked her fingers in his. "You don't have to feel obligated to answer me."

"I think I understand somethin' a little better since we been married," he smiled slightly.

"What's that?" she asked.

"I kept a lot o' myself from ya," he looked at her intently. "You gotta talk about feelin's. I held 'em back."

"You don't hold back your feelings from me anymore," she caressed his cheek.

"I know," he smiled. "I got nothin' t' hide from ya, Michaela."

"I don't mean to imply that you have hidden anything," she emphasized. "It's just that I guess I am rather curious."

"Curious, no matter what I might tell ya?" he hedged.

"Yes," she felt certain.

"Okay," he said. "I'll tell ya then."

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

"Wait, Sully," she touched his lips. "Before you tell me, I want to do something."

"What?" he stopped.

Michaela pulled herself up and leaned toward his face. She began to kiss her husband with an ardor he found irresistible. Then she pulled back, leaving both of them breathless.

"Why'd ya do that?" his heart raced.

"Because I love you," she smiled. "I love you, no matter what you tell me."

Sully's heart filled, "Michaela, I ain't like most men."

"I'm certainly aware of that," she ran her finger along his jaw. "And I'm very grateful. Sully, I've never met a man of such character and courage."

"I ain't no saint," he glanced down. "It's just.... I been through some things that make me look at makin' love different from a lot o' men."

"Not long ago, I told you that I fear so deeply losing you because I lost the two men who meant most to me in my early years," she told him. "But you've experienced tremendous losses, Sully. Your parents and brother when you were a child, your wife and baby after that. You've had to endure so much pain."

He felt a lump in his throat, "We come from such different worlds, but that's somethin' we got in common. Loss."

"And in your loss, it is not inconceivable that you would seek comfort," she tried to open the door for him.

He knew what she was doing, "Comfort in a woman's arms, ya mean?"

"It would be perfectly understandable," she acknowledged.

"Michaela," he smiled. "After Abigail died, I didn't wanna love again. Fact is, I didn't even wanna live. That's why I enlisted in the army. I fully intended t' die."

She shivered at the thought.

"When I wanted t' die, I didn't think about love," Sully explained. "Lovin' only hurt me my whole life."

"But wouldn't a man reach out for someone in his grief?" she speculated.

"Did ya ever have a pain so deep in your heart, ya thought it would never heal?" his voice faltered.

She replied softly, "Yes."

"An' did ya think at that moment that ya wanted to make love with someone... anyone just t' take away the pain?" he asked.

"No," she shook her head. "But... I had never made love before you."

"There were plenty o' opportunities for me t' have women when I enlisted in the army after Abigail died," he confessed. "They were very willin', too."

She tensed, wondering what he would say next. Then his voice and mood seemed to change.

"Other troops used t' frequent the brothels," he recalled. "They talked me int' goin' along one time."

"And did you...." she paused.

"One o' the girls took me t' a room," he went on. "She had dark hair just like Abigail's. Smelled real pretty. It had been a long time since I had.... made love."

Michaela gulped, wanting, yet not wanting to know what happened. Her mind raced. Had he made love to a prostitute? Would it make her think differently of Sully? No, she knew in her heart. It was long before they even met. It was not as if he were confessing a betrayal of her. She would love him even more for confiding in her.

"Are ya okay?" he smiled at her demeanor.

"Yes," she responded quickly. "Go on."

"She started kissin' me," he went on. "An' takin' off her clothes."

Michaela's breathing quickened. He HAD been with another woman after Abigail, but how could he have done so with a prostitute? Someone for whom he felt no bond of affection? Perhaps that was precisely what he needed... to not feel anything... to keep from being hurt again.

"She undid my uniform buttons an' trousers," Sully lowered his volume. "Then...."

Michaela closed her eyes and held her breath. He said not another word.

"Then?" she opened her eyes.

"I fell asleep," he sighed.

"What?" she was incredulous. "Sully, you've been teasing me."

He grinned broadly, "No, I told ya what ya wanted t' hear."

She tapped his side.

"I'm sorry," he touched her arm. "I couldn't help it. It's just ya seemed all primed t' hear some sordid story."

"No, I wasn't," she did not conceal her upset. "I genuinely wanted to know what had happened to you in those years, Sully."

He regretted his joke, "I'm sorry. I can see that now."

She remained quiet.

"Michaela," he touched her waist. "I'm really sorry. I'll tell ya the truth, if ya still wanna know."

"I want to know everything about you, Sully," she told him.

"Ya sure?" he said.

"Nothing can change how I feel about you," she assured him.

"Then I'll tell ya this," he cupped her face in his hands. "There's been only one woman who made me wanna make love after Abigail died. That's you, Michaela. I didn't wanna give ya my heart. I fought my feelin's. I didn't want a woman t' ever leave me again. But you... You been all I think about, all I dream about, all I want since the day I met ya."

"Oh, Sully," she could not imagine loving him more than at this moment.

"You remember how I was when ya met me, an' that was years after Abigail's death. It tore me up. But there you were, an' I couldn't fight my feelin's," he lowered his voice. "I never looked at a man an' woman havin' relations as somethin' casual. It's not somethin' sordid or cheap, an' it's not somethin' I'd do unless I was in love."

"You are an incredible romantic, Byron Sully," she ran her fingers through the hair above his ear.

"Some things are worth waitin' for," he winked. "I controlled myself all through our courtship, didn't I?"

"Thank you," she whispered.

"For what?" he wondered.

"For telling me," she responded. "But remember when I was upset over Catherine and asked you if there had been other women? Why did you say that I didn't want to know the answer?"

"'Cause you were so mad at me," he replied. "I didn't wanna tell ya when ya weren't trustin' me or believin' me. I figured ya wouldn't believe that there hadn't been other women, an' you'd always have that doubt."

"How foolish I was," her eyes reflected her love.

"It's gettin' late," he pulled her closer.

"Too late for us?" she turned up the corner of her mouth.

Sully recited:

"It is the hour when from the boughs
The nightingale's high note is heard;
It is the hour when lovers' vows
Seem sweet in every whisper'd word."

"I'll guess Byron," she smiled.

"Right," he kissed her tenderly.

She framed his face in her hands, "Is it possible to love someone more with every breath one takes?"

"Anythin's possible with love," he nodded.

Sully gently turned his wife onto her back. He kissed her at first tenderly, then more urgently. He pulled the buffalo hide up to conceal their movements and protect her from the chilled night air. Michaela knew where his movements were leading, and it filled her with excitement.

Fueled by their intense desire, they continued their amorous pursuit, each knowing precisely what would satisfy the other.

"Sully," her voice filled him with passion. "Is a wife supposed to enjoy her husband's attention so much?"

"You're the only wife I care about," he held back. "Long as you're enjoyin' my attention, I'm happy."

She commenced a move that Sully found incredibly fulfilling, "Michaela, is a husband supposed t' enjoy his wife's attention so much?"

"You're the only husband I care about," she was pleased at his reaction. "As long as you enjoy my attention, I'm happy."

Sully controlled his release until he was certain that Michaela was ready. Then, in a blinding reaction of physical longing, they came together. The outside world disappeared. Each gave and received of the other's love so intensely, so overwhelmingly, they lost track of where they were.

Sully pulled back a lock of her hair from her face, "I love you."

"I love you, too," she tried to catch her breath.

"What just happened..." he paused. "That's what I was tryin' t' say before. It's bein' in love that makes it..."

"Shhh," she placed her index finger to his lips. "You also said before that you're not like other men." She grinned, "Not that I've had other experiences, mind you, but I cannot imagine anything as incredible as what we share."

"Lot's o' men just think about physical urges," he grinned. "I think you're aware o' that."

She blushed, "Your physical urges, Mr. Sully? Yes, I'm well aware."

"A man who only satisfies that urge without love...." he stopped.

"Yes?" she waited.

"I reckon it's like scratchin' an itch," he rubbed her arm. "Nothin' more than a reflex."

"Perhaps that's what Myra meant when she said for her, it became like 'brushing one's teeth,'" she speculated. "She and Horace were no longer in love."

He chuckled, "I can't imagine us ever gettin' that way."

"My sentiments, exactly," she smiled. "Does that make us boring?"

"Whew," he touched her nose. "Nothin' borin' about what we just did." He glanced over her shoulder at Lives in Hope, "We should make good time tomorrow. That little boy's recovery is remarkable. Cloud Dancin' says he's destined for greatness. Don't seem like it when ya see a child sleepin' so sweetly."

"It makes me think about our little ones," her voice hinted of melancholy.

"They're fine, Michaela," he comforted her. "Soon as we get the tribe t' Canada, we'll hurry home. Then we can watch 'em sleep all we want."

"Perhaps some sleep is in order for us, as well," she advised.

"Perhaps," he pulled her closer.

Sully was suddenly startled by the click of a rifle trigger.

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

Sully touched his wife's side to get her attention. Then he held his finger to his lips to indicate silence. Beneath the buffalo hide, she could feel him pull his tomahawk from his nearby belt.

"Don't try it," a voice came out of the darkness.

Then a man stepped forward. His appearance was disgusting. He looked as if he had not bathed in months. His thick dark hair and beard were shiny from filth. He stood over six feet tall, his arms and legs thick like tree limbs.

"What are you doin' on my land?" the man probed.

"My name's Sully," he spoke calmly. "This here's my wife an' son. We're takin' our horses north. Didn't mean t' intrude on your land."

"You!" the disgusting man motioned to Michaela. "Stand up."

Sully gave her a subtle glance, indicating that she should remain under the hide, "Look, we'll be movin' on."

"Both o' ya, stand up," he grunted as he aimed the rifle at them. "An' toss your belt over there."

Sully put his tomahawk back in his belt and rose carefully. He obeyed the command and dropped his belt, kicking it to the side with his boot.

The man motioned to a tree and said to Sully, "You. Over there. Wrap your arms around the trunk."

Michaela spoke up, "Please, sir. Our son is very ill. He's highly contagious with diphtheria, and we need to get him to a doctor."

"That's too bad," he gruffly answered.

Sully wrapped his arms around the tree, and the man quickly tied his wrists so that he would not be able to move. Then he turned his attention to Michaela.

"I saw what you two was doin' under the animal hide," he had a smirk on his face. "It's been a long time since I had any o' that."

Michaela backed away from him, searching for anything she could find to disarm him.

Sully called out, "If it's money you're after, take our horses. They're worth plenty."

The captor rubbed his filthy hand across his lips, "That ain't what I'm after at the moment."

Swiftly, he grabbed Michaela and pulled her close.

"Noo!" she shouted.

"Michaela!" Sully struggled to loosen his hands.

The attacker's wretched breath made Michaela nauseous. She saw in his hardened eyes the look of a demon. Her heart nearly stopped as she attempted to wrestle free of his vice-like grip. Again, she called out to her husband. The repulsive man tried to kiss her. Half in fear, half in anger, she spit at him, causing him to rage at her like a caged animal.

With the man's hands gripping her upper arms, Michaela mustered all of her force and raised her knee into his crotch. He quickly doubled over in pain. Then she ran to her husband, hoping to loosen the rope around his hands. Before she could finish, the assailant grabbed her hair from the back and yanked her away. He pulled her toward the buffalo hide and threw her down on top of it.

Sully's heart nearly leapt from his chest, and his wrists burned from trying to break free from the rope. He saw the man kneel down before Michaela and heard the sound of her blouse being ripped open.

"Noo!" Michaela yelled.

"Michaela!" Sully cried out.

As the man placed his hands all over her breasts, Michaela pounded against his shoulders. She screamed out in terror when he squeezed her silky white skin between his coarse fingers. Michaela's eyes began to sting from her tears and desperation. Leaning down, he used his tongue to probe and explore her chest. Michaela fought with all her strength against his violation of her body, but each strike of her fists was met by even more painful exertion by him. The weight of him on top of her caused her breathing to become labored, yet she continued to scream and fight him off. Never had she known such blinding terror.

"Sully!" she gasped.

Sully struggled against the ropes. He would kill this man. Finally in a cry of anger and desperation, he was able to wrestle his hands free. In a split second, Sully pounced on the man as he tried to defile his wife. He turned the attacker over onto his back, and with the violent force of his rage, viciously punched him. The assailant fell instantly unconscious, but Sully continued to pummel him. Blood flew everywhere as he raged against the subhuman creature. Finally, the sound of his wife's cries brought him back to reality.

Sully swiftly went to her, "Michaela! Michaela, I'm so sorry."

Her tears would not end. Tenderly, Sully pulled her blouse and coat around her. Then he embraced her. His loving kisses and assurances did not calm her.

Fearful that the man might waken, Sully moved to tie him up and remove his gun from its close proximity.

Then he returned to his wife, "Are you all right?"

Her eyes were closed and her face flushed from crying.

"Please," Sully implored. "Please look at me, Michaela. I need t' know you're all right."

Slowly, she opened her eyes to be certain that the man could no longer harm her.

"Sully," she spoke tentatively. "He... he nearly...."

He pulled her into his arms. "You're safe now."

"His hands...." she shuddered from the repulsive thought.

"Let me see," he gently pulled back her blouse and saw the start of bruises across her chest. "Oh, God."

Michaela hunched over and pulled her clothing tightly around her. Her tears began anew.

"I'll kill him!" Sully turned toward the man who had almost raped his wife.

"Sully, no!" she called him back. "Please don't leave me."

"I won't," he returned to her. "I'll never leave ya."

He could feel her shivers finally begin to subside in his arms. Gently, he caressed her hair and face. He plied tender kisses to her temple.

Michaela's trembling voice spoke, "I need to wash."

"Wash?" he was puzzled for an instant.

"I want to wash the filth from where he was touching me," she was embarrassed.

Sully dragged the unconscious body of their assailant to the outer edge of the clearing where they were camped. Then after making certain the man could not get loose, he gathered some snow in a pot. Placing it on the fire to heat, he again returned to Michaela's side.

"Sully, could you check on Lives in Hope," she requested as the water reached a warm temperature.

As he did, Michaela dipped in a cloth into the steaming water. Lathering it up, she began to wash her torso.

Sully returned to her, "I don't know how, but he's still sleepin'."

Michaela flinched at the sound of his voice and quickly pulled her clothing closed. Sully noticed her reaction.

"It's okay," he touched her hand. "It's only me, Michaela."

"Would.... would you mind giving me some privacy?" she did not want to be watched.

"Sure," he turned away.

He sat with his back to her, as rage continued to fester in his heart over what that man had done to her.

Michaela completed her task, "Thank you, Sully."

He pivoted back around to her, "Are ya feelin' better now?"

Her voice sounded calmer, "Yes. I need another blouse though."

Sully rummaged through their belongings and found one.

"Here," he handed it to her and again turned his back.

Michaela noted his gesture, "Could you help me, please?"

Sully moved with loving kindness, helping her out of the ripped top and into the fresh one. Michaela wadded her old blouse into a ball and threw it onto the campfire. She pulled her coat back on, then looked at her husband.

"Thank you for saving me, Sully," she felt another wave of tears.

"I love you, Michaela," he reached out to her.

She took his hand and raised it to her cheek.

"Try t' get some rest," he spoke low. "We got a lot o' travelin' t' do t'morrow."

"What about him?" she pointed to the man with a loathing look.

"I'll take care of him," Sully was not specific.

"What will you do?" she was curious.

"Don't worry about that now, Michaela," he pulled her into his embrace. "Try t' sleep."

Secure in her husband's arms, Michaela drifted off, but soon she was reliving in her dreams the nightmare of her ordeal. With a start, she bolted up, Sully beside her offering his comforting embrace.

"I'm here," he spoke softly. "You're safe."

"I'll never feel safe again," her heart raced.

As Sully extended his arm across her chest to engulf her in his arms, she flinched and pulled away. Sully felt his heart break at her anguish.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean t'...."

"No," she shook her head. "I'm sorry, Sully. It's just that I feel so.... violated. So unclean."

He struggled to comfort her, "I wish I could do somethin'.... anythin' t' help ya."

She felt a tear in her eye, "I can't be touched right now. You can't possibly know how I feel."

"I got an idea," he folded his hands. "Michaela, I.... I wanna tell ya somethin' I never told anyone before."

"What?" she clutched her arms tightly across her chest.

"What almost happened t' you tonight," he began. "That happened t' my Ma."

"She was raped?" Michaela was stunned.

He nodded, "I never told anyone before. She was devastated by it, sinkin' deeper an' deeper int' depression. That's why eventually she went t' that bridge."

"Oh, Sully," her heart want out to him.

"I tried t' understand," his confession was lifting a weight from his heart. "One thing I remember her tellin' me was how unclean she felt... like she wasn't worthy o' livin' anymore."

"You were such a young boy," she said. "What a terrible burden it must have been for you."

"Ya know what we were talkin' about earlier t'night?" he asked.

"About the distinction between love and....." she stopped.

"Right," he continued. "That's why I came t' look at.... a man an' woman gettin' t'gether as somethin' reserved for love. My Ma was a victim of a man's uncarin' lust."

"Did anything happen to the man?" Michaela was curious.

"No," he shook his head. "Police never found him. Ma's reputation was ruined. With Pa dead, there was no one t' defend her. Some said she even invited his attack. Folks blamed her 'cause she didn't fight him off. How could she fight him off when he held a knife to her throat? Did they expect her t' let him kill her?"

Michaela shivered.

"You okay?" Sully wondered if he should continue.

"How could anyone think a woman would invite something like that?" her voice quivered.

"I don't wanna upset ya more," he lowered his head. "But when ya said ya felt violated an' unclean, it reminded me o' my Ma. I don't want ya t' feel that way, Michaela. I love ya so much, an' I don't ever want ya t' feel like...."

She squeezed his hand slightly, "I love you, Sully."

"If anythin' ever happened t' ya...." he gazed into her eyes.

"Just be patient with me," she answered. "Please."

"I will," he assured her.

It was nearly dawn. Silently, the couple sat watching the early movements of nature as the sun rose. Suddenly, the horses became restless.

"Someone's comin'," Sully reached for his tomahawk.

"Do you think they're looking for him?" Michaela pointed toward her assailant.

"Quick," he instructed. "Get under the hide, an' don't move."

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

"Haaahe, my brother," Cloud Dancing's voice was heard.

"Cloud Dancin'!" Sully rushed to his friend.

Dismounting from their horses, Cloud Dancing, Dorothy and Running Elk appeared to them. The Cheyenne medicine man saw the unconscious attacker lying at the edge of the clearing.

"Who is this man?" he asked.

"Claimed we were on his land," Sully stated. "Then he attacked us."

"Are ya all right, Michaela?" Dorothy noticed her friend's subdued demeanor.

"Yes," she replied softly.

Running Elk rushed to Lives in Hope, "My son is well enough to go now."

"Go?" Sully was puzzled.

"We met up with a messenger from the Lakota Chief Sitting Bull," Cloud Dancing explained. "My people have now decided to join him."

"Join him?" Michaela wondered.

"There are 30,000 Lakota, Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne living on the government reservations," the medicine man detailed. "But another 3,000 Lakota and 400 Cheyenne are in the unceded hunting grounds that the government now steals. Sitting Bull is going to defy the ultimatum, refusing to go onto the reservation."

"We will follow Sitting Bull," Running Elk added. "The messenger spoke of a vision."

"Sittin' Bull had a vision?" Sully was intrigued.

Cloud Dancing explained, "He climbed to a hilltop to commune with the Spirits. In his vision, he saw a great dust storm swirling down on a small white cloud that resembled a Lakota village. Through the whirlwind, Sitting Bull could see soldiers marching. There was a great storm, and the cloud was swallowed up for a time, but it emerged intact, and the dust storm disappeared."

"And based on that, this band of Cheyenne's gonna join him," Dorothy sounded skeptical.

"We know the army's gettin' ready t' march on the Indians t' see that they go to the reservations," Sully sighed. "I'd wager Custer's in the middle o' all this."

"He is always anxious for glory," Cloud Dancing stated.

As the men continued their conversation, Dorothy pulled Michaela aside.

"Somethin' the matter?" the redhead asked. "Ya seem awful quiet."

"I'm just concerned about what's going to happen," Michaela excused her behavior.

"Cloud Dancin' wants me t' go back t' Colorado Springs," Dorothy spoke low. "I don't want t' leave him."

Michaela's began to fret at the notion that Sully might want to go with the Cheyenne to join Sitting Bull, as well, "I.... I don't know what we'll do."

"Ya sure you're okay?" Dorothy was concerned.

"Just tired," Michaela forced a smile. "I'd better see that Lives in Hope is ready to travel."

She escaped to the secure world of her medicine while Dorothy joined the men. The young boy smiled when Michaela stroked his forehead. She knew he did not speak English, but she spoke tenderly to him anyway.

"You're a very brave young man," she felt his forehead. "I pray that you will continue to get well. I'll give your father some more medicine for you."

The child nodded as if he comprehended what she said. Concluding her examination, she heard someone approach.

"Michaela," it was Sully.

She closed her eyes, fearing to herself, "Please don't tell me that you're going with them, Sully. Please no." But she did not speak the words. Turning to look up at him, her eyes filled with tears.

Sully took a deep breath, "I was gonna tell ya that I had t' go with the Cheyenne."

"Going to tell me?" she noted his wording.

"But I can't," he reached for her hand. "Not after what ya been through."

She clasped his hand, relieved at his decision, "Thank you, Sully."

He knelt down beside her, "I wanna get ya home."

"What about him?" she motioned to her attacker.

"I told ya I'd take care o' him," Sully glared at him.

"What will you do?" she was uncertain.

"Don't worry about it," he replied.

Michaela did not want to pursue the line of questioning. She finished preparing Lives in Hope for his journey. Cloud Dancing decided to permit Dorothy to come part of the way then catch a stage for home at the nearest town. The friends said their good-byes, and two horses were left for Michaela and Sully.

They commenced their journey toward Yellowstone in silence. Sully felt awkward, not knowing what to say to comfort his wife. Michaela silently reviewed in her mind the attack on her person, closing her eyes as she relived each terrible touch of that ogre. Then her mind filled with curiosity over what Sully had done with him. Her husband had left the man on the edge of the camp clearing when they departed, and she knew that Sully had spoken to Cloud Dancing about him.

"We can stop here t' rest a spell if ya want," he interrupted her thoughts.

"That sounds good," she slowed her horse to a stop.

Sully extended his arms upward to help her dismount, but the moment his hands touched her, she trembled.

He picked up on her reaction, and handed her his canteen, "Some water?"

"Thank you," she could not look him in the eye.

He wanted to pull her into his arms, but dreaded her reaction. He had seen it before with his mother. The withdrawal, the fear of being touched or having people know what happened.

He cleared his throat, "I figure another day's ride before we can catch a train home."

"That's good," she was brief.

Her arms folded across her bosom.

"Michaela," Sully's heart went out to her. "Does.... does it hurt there?"

She quickly unfolded her arms, "No, just... a little tender."

He searched for the right words, "Is there anythin' I can do?"

"Just your being with me helps," she lowered her voice.

"It does?" he was relieved.

"Yes," she spoke tentatively. "It... it makes me feel safer."

"I'm glad," he smiled.

The sight of his smile caused her for one brief moment to forget the pain and anguish she felt. She let down her guard in that moment and went to him. Wrapping her arms around him, she leaned her head against his chest.

Then her tears began to flow forth, "Oh, Sully!"

He tenderly placed one arm around her back and stroked her hair with his free hand, "I love you, Michaela. I can't bear t' see ya sufferin' so."

Her emotions prevented her from responding verbally, so she continued to hug him tightly. When she pulled back to look in his eyes, he cupped her face in his hands, wiping the tears with his thumbs.

"God, how I wish I could take away your pain," his voice cracked.

"You help me more than I could ever say," she finally was able to speak.

Finally, she released him, and went to sit on a fallen log. He did not follow at first, unsure of whether she wanted him near. Then she turned and looked toward him. Her glance beckoned him more powerfully than words. He went to her and sat on the log, straddling it with his legs. Michaela leaned back against his chest. Sully inhaled the scent of her hair and kissed the top of her head.

Michaela shook as she took his hands in hers and folded them across her chest. The significance of her move was not lost on Sully. She was allowing him to touch her there, where the attacker had hurt her. His hands were warm and tender, strong and assuring. Slowly, her trembling began to subside.

"You're the only man who ever touched me there until last night," her voice cracked.

"I'm sorry," he repeated the words, feeling inadequate.

"I need your strength, Sully," she turned to face him.

"Michaela," he caressed her cheek. "You're the strongest woman I know."

"I don't feel very strong right now," she averted his eyes.

"The most important thing is for ya t' not turn away," he touched her chin bringing her gaze back to him. "I'll be here for ya, the whole way. Only you an' me know what happened, an' none of it was your fault."

"What did you tell Cloud Dancing?" she knew he had said something.

"I told him that the man tried t' rob us, an' he hit ya," Sully responded.

"And what are they going to do with him?" she continued.

"Michaela, I gotta tell ya somethin'," his look was serious. "I had every intention of killin' him. I would have if Cloud Dancin' wouldn't have come back."

She swallowed hard, surprisingly not upset at the thought that he would kill the ogre.

"Cloud Dancin' talked me outa it," he went on.

"Didn't he wonder why you wanted the man dead?" she pointed out.

"No," Sully shook his head. "Some things don't need explainin'. But he said they'd take him near Virginia City, where Dorothy can report him."

"Do you think the law will do anything with him?" she pondered it.

"The law in Virginia City acts pretty swift an' not always with a trial," he told her. "One thing I know for sure. He's never gonna bother ya again."

She felt another wave of tears, "I hope you're right."

He took her hands in his, "I promise ya." Looking at the sky, he stood up, "Ready t' go?"

She nodded, "Yes. I can't wait to get home."

They heard the sound of approaching horses, and Michaela felt a sense of panic. She clutched Sully's coat.

"It's all right, Michaela," his voice was calm.

Then he spotted who was approaching.

************
Chapter 10
************

"Who is it?" Michaela held her husband's hand.

"Army," he answered.

She remained tense until she saw for herself.

"Afternoon, folks," a young soldier tipped his cap.

"Private," Sully nodded. "Somethin' wrong?"

"My name's Dell," he identified himself. "You folks see any Indians around here?"

"Indians?" Sully feigned ignorance. "No."

"Ma'am?" he looked at Michaela.

"Ah, no, Private Dell," she shook her head.

"We got orders t' round 'em up," the young man revealed his purpose.

"Where are ya from?" Sully inquired.

"Fort Ellis," the soldier answered. "Colonel Gibbon's our commander."

"John Gibbon?" Michaela spoke up.

Sully was surprised at her reaction.

"Yes, Ma'am," he responded. "7th US Infantry. We're camped just beyond that ridge. You're welcome t' join us for supper."

"That's mighty thoughtful of ya," Sully smiled. "But my wife an' me are headed home."

"Sully," Michaela touched his arm. "I would like to see Colonel Gibbon."

He was amazed, "Why?"

She answered, "I treated his injury in the War."

"You a nurse, Ma'am?" Dell inquired.

"A doctor," she stated.

"Lady doctor?" he chuckled. "Well, I'll take ya t' the Colonel if ya want."

"Thank you," Michaela mounted her horse.

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

"Dr. Quinn!" John Gibbon's face lit up.

His complexion was ruddy, and his chestnut hair was tinged with gray. Approaching fifty, the general was neither spare nor corpulent. His reddish mustache was a contrast to his deep blue eyes.

"Colonel," Michaela smiled. "I'm glad to see you up and around."

"It's been... what.... over twelve years?" he offered her a seat.

"Yes, right after Gettysburg," she recalled. "This is my husband, Byron Sully."

"A pleasure, sir," Gibbon offered his hand. "Only reason I'm still alive today is because of your wife."

"You were lucky," she stated. "And a good patient."

"I didn't know ya were at Gettysburg, Michaela," Sully said.

"I wasn't," she replied. "In July 1863, father and I were in Maryland, touring some medical facilities. Trainloads of wounded were brought in after the carnage at Gettysburg. I happened to be at the hospital to which General Gibbons was taken. But you're a Colonel now?"

"The Army brought me out of volunteer service in '66, gave me my prewar rank of Captain, then promoted me to Colonel," he detailed. "It was my good fortune that you were my physician."

"As I recall," she thought back. "The bullet entered the middle of your left arm near the shoulder and passed behind the shoulder blade, shattering the upturned edge of the blade, and producing an impression that the blow had come from the rear."

Gibbon was amazed, "How can you remember with such detail? You treated so many wounded."

"Very few of whom had any faith in my skills as a surgeon," she said. "I also remember your telling me of the tragedy you and your wife suffered the month before the battle."

The colonel's eyes saddened, "Frances and I lost our baby boy, Johnny. But I'm happy to see that you found your fiance. I remember how distraught you were that he was missing in action in the War."

Michaela smiled at Sully, "He's not the man I married, but David did survive the prisoner of war camp. We saw him not long ago."

Sully changed the subject, "Understand you're lookin' t' round up the Indians."

Gibbon responded, "They need to report to the government agencies."

"Colonel," Michaela spoke up. "The government is committing an illegal act. According to the Treaty of Fort Laramie...."

"Dr. Quinn," he kept his patience. "I only follow my orders. Truth is I have a great respect for the Indians, but I am a sworn officer of the United States Army."

"Does an officer follow orders even when they're wrong?" Sully asked pointedly.

"Were you ever in the military, sir?" Gibbon asked.

"Yes," Sully nodded.

"Then I'm certain you are aware that orders must be obeyed even if we personally disagree with them," he stated. "I realize that sometimes decisions about right and wrong create moral dilemmas. I was one of ten children. Although born in Pennsylvania, my family moved to North Carolina, even owned slaves. When the War started, all of my brothers and brothers-in-law sided with the Confederacy, but I remained in the Union Army. You can imagine what it was like for me to disagree with my family's loyalties. At every battle, I wondered if my men might be firing at my own flesh and blood."

Sully did not wish to debate the man, "My wife an' me best be goin'."

"But I had hoped you would stay for supper," Gibbon looked to Michaela.

She sensed Sully's discomfort, "Thank you, but we are anxious to return to our family."

"It was good to see you again, Doctor," Gibbon shook her hand. "Mr. Sully, it is my hope that this matter can be peacefully resolved. I do not wish the Indians harm."

"Harm is all that's gonna come t' them," Sully responded. "Good-bye, Colonel."

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

By dusk, Michaela and Sully were on the boundary of Yellowstone National Park. The beauty of the nature preserve was stunning. In this tranquil setting, they made camp for the night. The chill of the January air was soon countered by the effects of the fire which Sully built. He constructed a lean-to and secured the horses for the night.

"Sully?" Michaela stared into the fire. "Do you think Colonel Gibbon will catch up with Cloud Dancing and the Cheyenne?"

He sighed, "They got a good day's head start on the Army. I.... I don't know."

"This trip did not turn out to be what I envisioned," she folded her hands. "I feel like a failure."

He pulled up the blankets around them, "Ya saved Lives in Hope an' helped the others who were sick."

"I don't know if it was my medicine or Cloud Dancing's," she admitted. "But I am relieved that he came through the crisis."

It had been several hours since she thought about her attacker, and now as her body fought its fatigue, her mind returned to that dark experience. Sully sensed that was the reason for her silence.

"Anythin' I can do?" he asked softly.

She toyed with the edge of the blanket, "I know how concerned you are about the Cheyenne. I... I appreciate that you decided to come home with me."

"Michaela," he clasped her hand. "You'll always come first. After what happened three years ago on the reservation when I put you an' our family in jeopardy, I vowed I'd never do anythin' like that again."

The memories of his fall from the cliff and his months as a fugitive still haunted her at times.

"But the Cheyenne are your family, too," she placed her hand over his.

"You come first," he put his arm around her shoulders.

She did not shudder at his movement. To Sully's relief, she even leaned her head against his shoulder. Tenderly, he guided her back onto the comfortable bed of pine beneath the blankets, and there they lay in silence for some time.

Then gazing up at the clear night sky, he spoke some lines from Byron:

The sky is changed,--and such a change! O night
And storm and darkness! ye are wondrous strong,
Yet lovely in your strength, as is the light
Of a dark eye in woman!

She was silent.

"Are ya asleep?" he placed his lips against her temple.

She made no movement. Sully pulled back to check on her. Her eyes were shut and her face at last calm. He marveled at her beauty. He could see her in their children's faces... Katie's eyes, Josef's smile. He could also see her in the grateful faces of all those whose lives she had healed.

Michaela rolled onto her side, her hand clutching his shirt in an almost childlike gesture of her need for his protection. Sully closed his eyes and thanked the Spirits for his wife. She would make it through this dark time, he was certain. It would not be like his mother. Michaela had people who loved her, protected her, supported her.

"Be strong, my heartsong," he spoke too low for her ears to hear. "I'm here."

Then his thoughts went out to his Cheyenne brother. Sully's heart saddened at the knowledge that he was returning to the safety of his home and family, while Cloud Dancing was headed for an uncertain fate. How could a world that gave him Michaela and their beautiful children also bring such hatred and pain?

Torn between the world with his wife and the world of his brother, Sully sighed in frustration. There was no question that he would take Michaela home, guide her back to the safety and security of their life. But.... after that. Maybe in the summer, he would seek out Cloud Dancing and the Cheyenne again. They stood no chance against the Army. As a tear trickled down his temple, Sully touched his wife's hand and finally drifted off to sleep.

************
Chapter 11
************

Sully awoke just as a golden sunrise dawned across the landscape near Yellowstone. He yawned and stretched his arms. Then spotting Michaela sitting with her back to him a few yards away, he sat up.

"Ya okay?" he asked.

She jumped, "Yes."

"Michaela," he rose and went to her.

Then he saw what she was doing. She was washing herself. As he neared, she swiftly pulled her blouse closed.

"How.... how are you?" he sat beside her.

"I'm fine," she responded quickly.

He extended his hand to touch hers, "Can I see?"

"No," she shook her head.

He noted her reaction, "Maybe ya need t' see a doctor."

"I am a doctor, Sully," she became defensive. "I can certainly assess my condition."

"I didn't mean ya couldn't," he struggled to understand. "I just mean maybe you're too upset t'....."

"Yes, I am upset," she fought to keep from crying.

Sully looked down, fearing to say anything else that might disturb her. Michaela filled with guilt at her reaction. She knew he loved her and was concerned about her. She also knew that she must overcome this feeling of being unclean. But how?

"I'm sorry," her tone softened. "I'm trying to not feel the way I do, but it's so difficult."

"I understand," his blue eyes filled with love.

She took a deep breath, "I.... I'll let you see."

"I don't want ya t' do anythin' that'll make ya uncomfortable," he assured her.

"No," she attempted to overcome her fear. "I want you to see."

Closing her eyes, she released the hold that she had on the opening of her blouse and pulled the material back. Sully was horrified at the sight. Black and blue marks across and above her breasts. He swallowed hard, then with all the tenderness he possessed, he reached out and touched her. Michaela gasped, but did not pull away. He could see that she was struggling not to flinch.

"Michaela," Sully continued to examine her. "Open your eyes. Look at me."

"Why?" she trembled.

"Look at me," his voice was firmer.

Slowly, she opened her eyes. Her breathing calmed with the knowledge that it was not her attacker; it was not some beast who was touching her. It was Sully. Her Sully.

"I love you," he continued to gently rest his hand on her bosom.

Michaela burst into tears and threw herself toward him. He tenderly enfolded her in his arms and stroked her hair. After several minutes, her crying began to subside. He gently buttoned her blouse and kissed her.

"Sully," her eyes were red. "I.... I don't know if I'll ever be able to...."

"Shhh," he stopped her. "One step at a time, Michaela. There's nothin' that ya have t' do right now but heal."

She cupped his face between her hands, "I love you."

Sully leaned forward and tenderly kissed her.

Then he pulled back, "Let's get some breakfast."

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

Sully decided, rather than rush home, to slow their pace and travel home via Yellowstone. Before entering the park, they stopped at a small town for provisions and sent a wire to the children.

The sights and sounds of this magnificent place enthralled them. An Osprey soared over Yellowstone Falls, then hovered against the blue sky thousands of feet above the canyon floor. Slowly, it descended below the rim, its mottled brown feathers becoming almost invisible against the yellow rocks of the canyon wall.

Lightning crackled off the Beartooths, as an icy rain pelted them one afternoon. Within minutes, the storm passed and the sun burst through the dark clouds. A pair of Sandhill Cranes strutted along the river, their red-knobbed heads bobbing up and down. Suddenly, they spread their mighty wings and glided smoothly downstream.

As they continued their journey, they passed through frigid air and were suddenly enveloped in steam escaping from deep within the earth. All around them was white. Waterfalls hung suspended as walls of ice, their ripples tricking the eyes with reflected light. A geyser unleashed its torrential plume with boiling water crashing into the arctic temperatures.

For several days, lost in this magical world far from the cruelty of the civilization, Sully guided Michaela to a different feature of the park. And each day, in some way, he made her smile. Gradually, tenderly, Sully was helping her rebuild her self-worth. In the evenings, they huddled near the campfire, sharing stories and hopes for the future. And each evening as they slept, Michaela became more at ease with the nearness and loving touch of her husband, but not to the point that she could resume the intimacy of their relationship. It was all right. Sully wanted her internal bruises, as well as the external injuries, to heal.

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

Within two weeks of leaving the Cheyenne, Sully and Michaela reached home. The excitement of their daughter was uncontained. Katie clung to one or the other parent with the pledge that she would never let them out of her sight again. Josef was more reserved in his reaction, a source of concern to his parents.

"Matthew," Sully spoke to his son as he secured the animals in the barn for the night. "Did anythin' happen t' Josef while we were gone?"

"No," the young man assured him. "He just got kinda quiet, not his usual happy self."

"I guess he just needs time t' get used t' us bein' home," Sully reasoned.

"Sully," Matthew broached the subject. "D' you think Ma would mind if I moved out?"

"Moved out?" he was surprised. "Where?"

"Well, I got my office set up in town now," he replied. "An' there's a spare room in the back. I just figure it'll be easier for me t' stay there."

"Ya sure that's all there is to it?" Sully wondered.

"What do ya mean?" Matthew became uneasy.

"Just make sure you're movin' toward somethin' an' not away from it," he brushed Flash.

"I ain't movin' away from here," Matthew stated. "This'll always be home t' me. I know I've done a lot o' foolish things in the past, tryin' t' prove myself as a man, but I don't feel like I have t' prove anythin' now."

"That's good," Sully patted his back. "An' in answer t' your question, yes, your Ma will mind."

They chuckled, just as Brian joined them to help with the animals.

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

"Mama," Katie sat on her mother's lap in a wing back chair. "Would ya brush my hair?"

"Of course, Sweetheart," Michaela responded. "Run upstairs and bring me your brush."

Katie quickly headed for the steps. On the floor, quietly sucking his finger and leaning against Wolf was Josef. Michaela smiled at the little boy.

"Josef," she leaned down on her elbows. "Come here, please."

The child did not respond. His blue eyes seemed a million miles away.

"Josef," she repeated. "Sweetheart, can you walk to Mama?"

The listless baby did not react. Michaela sat down on the floor next to him. Wolf wagged his tail in hopes that she would pet him. She ran her hand across the fur of their pet.

"Wolf is certainly a wonderful friend, isn't he?" she said to her son.

"Woh," Josef pulled his finger from his mouth.

"You know," Michaela touched her son's hand. "I have this lap right here and would love for my little boy to sit in it."

"Mama bah!" his little voice sounded hurt.

"No, I'm not going bye again, Sweetheart," she vowed. "I'm not going to leave my babies."

"No?" the little boy stood up.

"No," she held out her arms.

Josef rushed to her and threw his arms around her neck. Michaela smothered him with kisses.

"Do I see a smile right there?" she touched the side of his mouth.

A broad grin appeared, as his blue eyes gleamed.

"That's my little boy," she smiled. "Oh, how I've missed you, my darling."

Katie returned, "My turn, Joey. Mama gonna hold me now."

Michaela looked up at her, "I think I have room for both of you. Josef, would you like to help me brush Katie's hair."

"Ka-tee," he pointed to his sister.

Then the child began to remove his socks.

Katie rolled her eyes, "Joey, no!"

The little girl started to pull them back onto her brother's feet, but Michaela reached out gently to stop her.

"It's all right, Katie," she smiled.

Sully came in through the front door just in time to see his wife and children cuddled together.

"Poppy!" Katie ran to him.

Sully lifted the little girl above his head, then lowered her to kiss her cheek. Josef was feeling more comfortable in his mother's arms, but turned away when Sully approached.

"Where's my big boy?" Sully leaned down.

Josef turned his face away from his father and clutched his mother's breast.

Michaela's reaction was instant, "NO!"

The stunned baby began to cry, and Sully quickly lifted him from her lap.

"Shhh," the concerned father caressed the baby's hair. "It's okay, son. It's okay."

"Mama," Katie rushed in. "What Joey do?"

Michaela filled with remorse, "I'm sorry, Josef. Mama didn't mean to yell."

The baby continued to cry uncontrollably. Michaela rushed to the stairs, no longer capable of containing her own tears.

************
Chapter 12
************

Sully sat down with his crying son in his lap, attempting in vain to calm the child.

"Poppy," Katie tugged at his leg. "Why Joey cryin'?"

"He just got scared, is all," Sully cupped the baby's head in his hand.

"Why he scared?" the little girl persisted.

"Kates," Sully spoke softly. "Let me answer your questions after Josef stops cryin', okay?"

"All right," she went to the other wing back chair and climbed up.

Wolf approached the wailing little boy and rested his head on the edge of Sully's chair.

Sully spoke tenderly into his son's ear, "Look who came over t' see ya."

Josef continued to cry, but did turn his head to glance down at the animal.

"Woh," the baby pointed as his sobs evolved into hiccups.

"He don't like t' see ya cry, Joe," Sully rubbed the baby's back. "None of us does."

The baby reached down and ran his little hand across Wolf's nose.

"Papa," Josef quickly turned his head toward his father, then wrinkled his little brow. "Mama bah!"

"Mama just went upstairs," Sully kissed his hair. "She didn't go bye."

Katie's patience was now exhausted, "Poppy, I don't think I gonna be Katie no more."

"What?" he was taken back. "Who ya gonna be?"

"Katie's friend Annie," she informed him.

"Annie?" Sully wondered at his daughter.

"Like Mama's middle name," the little girl responded.

"Where did Katie go?" he indulged her fancy while Josef sat calmly in his lap playing with his hair.

"Went on trip," the child answered.

Brian and Matthew entered the house at that moment. Removing their coats, they went to stand before the fireplace to warm up.

"You boys know where Katie went?" Sully glanced up.

"Ah...." Brian hesitated. "Is this a trick question?"

"No, this is her friend Annie," Sully noticed the baby was falling asleep against his chest.

"Wanna adopt me?" Katie asked.

"Adopt ya?" Sully contained a laugh. "Well, I already got two daughters."

"But ya help kids who don't got home," the little girl reminded him. "I don't got home. I sleep here?"

"The only empty bed upstairs belongs t' my little girl," Sully smiled. "I sure wish she was here. I really missed her."

"I go get Katie for ya," the child ran into the kitchen, then did a turnaround and reentered the living room. "Here I am!"

"Katie!" Sully's face beamed. "You're just in time."

"What for, Poppy?" she leaned against his chair.

"Just in time for bed," he winked.

"Good luck," Brian rolled his eyes. "She comes up with any an' every excuse t' avoid goin' t' sleep."

"Is that right?" he turned to his daughter.

"Can't sleep," she revealed. "I miss ya."

"We missed you, too, sweet girl," he stood. "Come on, now. Up we go."

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

Sully tentatively knocked on the bedroom door.

"Come in," Michaela's voice was barely audible.

"Got some children here, who wanna say good night," Sully spoke low.

In walked Matthew, Brian, Katie and Sully with Josef in his arms asleep.

"Night, Ma," her oldest son leaned down. "Glad you're home."

"Thank you, Matthew," she kissed his cheek. "For everything."

"I missed ya, Ma," Brian was next.

"And I missed you," she kissed him, as well. "Good night, Brian."

The two older boys departed, leaving Sully, Katie and Josef.

"Mama," Katie crawled into her mother's lap. "Don't ya wanna be home?"

"Katie," Michaela did not understand. "Why would you think that, Sweetheart?"

"Ya cry an' run away," the sensitive little girl stated.

Michaela hugged her, "I'm very happy to be home. I missed you so much."

"I miss you, too," Katie smiled. "Poppy say I gotta go t' bed."

Michaela smoothed the hair back from her daughter's face, "Can you tell me what time it is?"

The child glanced at the clock, "Elven o'clock."

"Eleven," Michaela corrected. "That's past your bedtime, young lady."

"Why ya call me 'young lady' when I gotta do somethin'?" the little girl wondered.

"I guess because when we do what we are supposed to do, it means we're more grown up," Michaela explained. "And when you are more grown up, you go from being a little girl to a young lady."

"I not wanna be young lady, yet," Katie vowed.

"No matter how old you are, you'll still be my little girl," Michaela felt her eyes welling.

"Good," Katie kissed her mother. "Then I don't gotta go t' bed."

"Kates," Sully called from the edge of the bed where he sat with Josef. "No more delays."

"Poppy," she slid from Michaela's lap. "I...."

He touched her nose, "Everyone's goin' t' bed now. Do ya wanna be up by yourself?"

"No!" she shuddered at the thought.

Sully nodded toward his wife, "Did ya tell your Ma good night?"

She returned to Michaela, "'Night, Mama."

"Good night, my darling," Michaela kissed her. "I love you."

"Love you, too," she returned to her father's side.

"You go int' your room," Sully told her. "I'll be there in a second."

As Katie departed, he silently handed their sleeping son to Michaela. At first she hesitated, then she reached for him and tenderly cradled him in her arms. Sully left them alone.

Michaela's lovingly caressed the little life in her arms, the precious baby whom she had frightened earlier tonight. Tenderly she took Josef's hand in hers and raised it to her lips. The little boy stirred and opened his eyes.

"Mama," he smiled.

"Hello, my darling," she smiled back. "Mama's loves you so much."

"La," he tried to repeat.

"I'm sorry I frightened you, Josef," she apologized.

The child showed no signs of trauma. In fact, his grin lifted her spirits.

"Mama," he reached for her hair and closed his eyes.

Michaela carried him to his crib, and gently set him down. Rubbing his back, she soon lulled him to sleep. Then she turned to go to her daughter's room.

"Mama!" Katie was delighted to see her.

"All tucked in?" Michaela secured the blanket.

"Yep," the child replied. "I sleep with you an' Poppy t'night?"

Michaela looked toward her husband. He smiled.

"Certainly," she answered. "Your Daddy and I would love to have you join us."

"Yippee!" she jumped up.

"Settle down now, Kates," he lifted her into his arms. "Ya still have t' go t' sleep."

"I glad I Katie an' not Annie," she said as he carried her down the hall.

"Annie?" Michaela was curious.

"Sometimes I Annie," the little girl informed her.

Sully set the child on the bed and tucked her in.

"Joey sleep with us?" Katie requested.

Sully went to the crib, "He's already sleepin', Kates."

"That's okay," she shrugged. "More room for us."

Michaela and Sully climbed into bed, their little girl between them.

"I believe you've grown an inch since we left," Michaela toyed with a lock of her daughter's hair.

"Two inches," Sully noted.

"I not grow while ya gone," Katie stated. "Not want ya t' miss anythin'."

Her parents' laughter puzzled the little child, but she was delighted to have said something they found amusing. Soon, they were all asleep, but not for long. Katie's sprawled out posture had all but kicked her parents from their bed. Sully endured as long as he could, then lifted his daughter up and carried her to her own bed.

"Sully," Michaela was not sure how Katie would react in the morning.

"We need t' sleep," he yawned. "I can't do it with an elbow in my eye."

"It didn't used to bother you," she said.

"That was when she was two years old," he pulled the covers up. "It's a lot bigger elbow now. Let's get some rest. It's good t' be home in our own bed."

"Yes," she agreed.

Michaela assumed from her husband's breathing that he had fallen asleep, but she was now wide awake. The familiar scents and sounds of her house, the knowledge that she was now safe in her own bed, did little to lessen the anguish that she thought she had buried at Yellowstone.

Sully was so tender, so understanding. But she could not shake the empty feeling, the unclean feeling inside her. She strained to understand why she had reacted to Josef's touch the way she did. It was her baby, whom she had fed at her breast in his infancy. Now, the mere contact of his little hand against her had sent her into a panic.

She sighed, "What am I going to do?"

Sully's voice startled her, "You're gonna be fine."

"I thought you were asleep," she whispered.

"I was," he pulled himself up. "But I felt ya strugglin' with this."

A tear formed, "Sully, I don't know where to turn... what to do."

He stroked her arm, "I think I know where ya can start."

"Where?" Michaela asked.

"Start by forgivin' yourself," he replied.

"Forgiving myself?" she was puzzled. "For what?"

"For whatever you're blamin' yourself for," he responded.

"I.... I don't know what you mean," she gazed at the ceiling.

"Deep inside, if ya look real close, you'll find it," he rested back against his pillow.

She was quiet for several minutes, and Sully wondered if his words had further upset her.

Michaela finally spoke up, "Perhaps I blame myself for not doing more to stop him."

He was relieved that she was analyzing her feelings, "What else do ya think ya could've done?"

"I.... I should have fought harder," her voice cracked.

"Against a 200 pound man?" he pointed out. "It's a miracle ya thought as fast as ya did in kickin' him an' helpin' me break loose from the rope."

"But if...." she stopped herself. "I can't go on like this."

"Doubtin'? Second guessin'?" he wondered. "I been doin' some o' that myself."

"You?" she quickly turned her head. "Why? You have no reason to...."

"Yes, I do," he bit his lower lip. "If I'd have broken free ten seconds sooner, I could've saved ya from all this."

"No," her brow wrinkled. "Your hands were tied."

"So were yours, in a way," he turned it around. "But ya still fought him off long enough for me t' break free."

"If you hadn't...." she paused, in horror at the thought.

"Michaela," he took her hand. "Your bruises are gone, least wise the ones on the outside. Sometimes the worst injury is what we carry around inside. I know about guilt an' blame. I blamed myself for a lot o' things that tore me apart for years. But ya know what helped me heal?"

"What?" she turned on her side to face him.

"Havin' someone show me that I wasn't t' blame," he revealed.

"Who showed you?" she did not comprehend.

"You did," he linked her fingers in his. "You made me look at what happened with Abigail an' Hannah in a different way. I stopped blamin' myself for their deaths. An' I started wantin' t' love again."

She pondered his words and thought about the events of that terrible night. Finally, she experienced a revelation.

"Know what?" she turned up the corner of her mouth in a grin.

"What?" he noted the change in her.

************
Chapter 13
************

Michaela confessed to her husband, "I'm a very lucky woman."

"I was thinkin' the same thing," Sully smiled.

"I'm still alive, I have you, the children, our home," her cheeks became moist. "The Cheyenne have so little. The blows that our people have dealt them are far worse than what happened to me. I've been very selfish."

"You ain't selfish," he grinned. "Far from it. Truth is, you're a very carin' woman. An' I love you."

"I love you, too," her eyes brightened.

She lifted up to kiss her husband just as a little voice emanated from the crib.

"Mama," Josef whined restlessly.

They broke their kiss.

"I'll check on him," Sully rose.

The little boy hugged his father close, as Sully carried him to their bed.

"This little fella's been missin' his Ma an' Pa," Sully kissed his son's head.

"As they have missed him," she rubbed the baby's back.

"Mama," he pointed to Michaela.

"What is it, my darling?" she tenderly took hold of his finger.

"Bah?" his expression reflected concern.

"No, Josef," she drew him into her arms. "Mama and Papa are not going bye. We're right here, Sweetheart."

The little boy placed his finger in his mouth and tangled his mother's hair around his other hand. Soon he had fallen asleep again. Sully returned him to the crib and rejoined his wife.

Michaela felt an overwhelming love for her husband, "Thank you, Sully."

"He wasn't that heavy," he joked.

"I mean thank you for being the man you are," she stroked his face.

He kissed the tip of her nose, "Let's try t' get some sleep, humm?"

"Yes, let's do," she slid closer to him.

"'Night," he tentatively slid his arm beneath her shoulder.

She felt comfortable with his gesture, "Good night."

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

The next morning, Michaela felt more rested and refreshed than she had in a long time. Katie and Josef chattered away at breakfast, and Brian departed early for school. Sully took the children into the living room to give Matthew an opportunity to discuss his moving out with his mother.

"Ma," he assisted her in cleaning off the table. "I gotta tell ya somethin'."

"What?" she stopped to look at him.

He fidgeted with a napkin, "I'm movin' int' town."

"Why?" she had a sinking feeling.

"Please don't look at me like that," he took a deep breath. "It's nothin' bad, an' I'm not doin' it for any reason other than I wanna be closer t' my work."

"But we're not that far from town and...." she stopped herself. "I'm sorry, Matthew. You're a grown man. You don't need my permission to move."

"Ma," he smiled slightly. "I may not need your permission, but I'd sure like your blessin'."

"You'll always have that," she reached out to hug him.

"Thanks," he wrapped his arms around her.

"When are you planning to move?" she put on a brave face.

"End o' the week," he stated. "But I also plan t' visit here a lot."

"I'm certainly glad to hear that," she smiled.

"I want ya t' know that I'll always consider this home," he told her.

"Thank you, Matthew," she released her embrace. "And you'll always be welcome here."

"I appreciate it," he reached for his hat. "If you'll excuse me, I got a lot t' do in town."

"Certainly," she nodded.

"See ya, Sully, kids," he called as he neared the door.

"Mattew!" Katie ran after him. "Ya goin' t' town?"

He stopped to lift her, "Yep, an' I sure could use a kiss from my little sister."

She placed a soft kiss on his cheek, "Bye, an' be good."

"Be good?" he chuckled.

"Mama an' Poppy always tell me t' be good," she reminded him.

"Okay," he set her down. "I'll be good."

After he departed, Katie folded her arms and looked around the living room, "Well, well, what we gonna do now?"

Sully played along, "Do ya have somethin' in mind?"

She approached Josef and patted his little legs while he stacked some small wooden blocks.

"Joey, wanna play?" she lifted the top block.

"Ka-tee!" he protested.

"Here," she put it back. "I bored."

"Bored?" Michaela entered the living room and sat down. "Would you like for me to read you a story?"

"I read, Mama?" the little girl thrilled at the notion.

"Here," Sully stood up and pulled a book from the shelf. "Why don't ya read this. I got some chores in the barn."

"Good thinkin', Poppy," Katie crawled up on her mother's lap and opened the book.

Sully lifted Josef from the floor and swung him high into the air. The baby giggled with pleasure.

"Got room for another one on your lap, Mama?" Sully smiled.

"I think so," she shifted Katie.

The proud father kissed his son and handed him to his wife, "See ya in a little bit."

Michaela opened the book and began to teach Katie some of the words. Josef insisted on turning the page, sometimes before it was read. Soon, the sound of mother and children laughing filled the house. Michaela kissed the tops of their heads, treasuring their special time together.

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

"Saw Miss Dorothy in town," Matthew opened the dinner conversation. "She just got back this mornin'. Said the Cheyenne were continuin' on... an' she said somethin' about a white man they took with 'em."

"What about him?" Michaela tensed.

"Said he was shot by some vigilante committee in Virginia City," Matthew added. "She'll stop by t'morrow t' see ya."

Michaela closed her eyes, ashamed of the relief she felt that her attacker was dead.

Sully placed his hand atop hers, "How'd Miss Dorothy seem?"

"Kinda sad," Brian interjected. "I went by the Gazette after school."

Michaela felt for her friend, "We don't know when we'll see Cloud Dancing again"

"Cloud Dancin' go 'way?" Katie spoke up.

"Yes," Michaela touched her hand. "He went with the Cheyenne."

Katie shook her head, "Why eveybody go 'way?"

Matthew smiled, "Sometimes we go away 'cause we have important things t' do, but we still love comin' home."

"And sometimes people are forced to go away against their will," Michaela contributed.

"I never gonna go 'way," the little girl vowed.

"Ma an' Pa will be glad about that," Brian laughed.

"It's very difficult to watch your children leave," Michaela said. "But then I think about how far I went away from my family."

"We your family, Mama," Katie reminded her.

"Yes, you are," she patted her little hand. "And always will be, no matter where you move."

"Po!" Josef exclaimed.

"What's that, Sweetheart?" Michaela turned to her son.

"Pickle," Brian clarified. "He started callin' a pickle 'po' while you were gone."

"We've missed so much," her voice hinted at regret.

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

The children were asleep, and the house was quiet. Michaela was in the bedroom rocking chair when Sully entered. Removing his beads, he started to unbutton his shirt.

"What ya thinkin' about?" he noticed her mood.

"He's dead, Sully," she replied. "I feel such relief, but..."

"But ya feel guilty for thinkin' that way," he completed her thought. "Michaela, he was scum. I nearly killed him myself... probably would have if..."

"If I hadn't needed you," she finished his sentence.

"Is this news brinin' back all the bad memories?" he feared.

She took a deep breath, "I won't let it, Sully. We've come too far."

"Good," he smiled.

She fell silent, her thoughts turning to the Indians.

Sully interrupted the quiet, "What ya thinkin' about now?"

"The words of Sitting Bull," she looked up at him.

Sully went to her and knelt down, "Which words were those?"

"I will remain what I am until I die," she quoted.

He turned his gaze toward the fireplace, "T'morrow's January 31."

"The deadline," she nodded. Placing her hand on his shoulder, she said, "How terrible to live in a world where one has no choice but to submit to imprisonment or to run."

He sighed, "I've known that feeling."

"I wish you hadn't known it," she turned his face toward her. "I would have given anything to have spared you from your ordeal."

"You're the one who got me through it," he smiled. "Knowin' ya loved me. Knowin' you were waitin' for me. It's what I lived for."

She slipped from the chair down onto the floor beside him, "You want to go to them, don't you."

"What do ya mean?" he was puzzled.

"The Cheyenne," she specified. "You wish you could be there to try to prevent what you fear will happen."

He took a deep breath, "I do wish I could prevent what's gonna happen, but...."

"But?" she noticed his hesitation.

"But, there's some things that are out o' our control," he folded his hands.

"When will you go?" she knew he could not stay away.

Sully was astonished at how well she knew him, "Maybe this summer. The army will probably have them on a reservation by then."

"So, I'll have you to myself until then?" she ran her fingers through his hair.

"You'll always have me," he grinned.

Her touch was stirring powerful longings in him. Uncertain if his wife was aware of the physical effect she was having, Sully rose and walked to the basin to wash.

Michaela stood up, "Are you all right?"

"Fine," his body glistened from the water.

She felt surprising longings at the sight of him, "I... I didn't mean to...."

Sully's breathing was still fast, "I'm okay, really."

"I think you may have missed a spot," she dipped her hands into the water and lathered them.

Then she began to touch his chest with her soapy fingers.

"Michaela," he was embarrassed at his immediate reaction. "I... I don't think ya oughta....."

"I don't want to stop," she leaned forward and kissed his chest.

Sully closed his eyes, submitting to his surging passion. She lifted his hands to her lips, then guided them along her shoulders. Tentatively, he lowered the straps of her nightgown, then paused. Her eyes invited his further movements.

Sully lathered his own hands and began to caress her breasts. Michaela did not flinch. She did not pull away. Rather, she tingled with arousal. Sully began to kiss her as his caresses continued. He paused again to be certain that she was not uncomfortable.

Then in a swooping motion of his strong arms, he lifted her and carried her to their bed. His loving hands and lips stirred her to her very core.

"I love you, Michaela," his voice electrified her soul.

"I love you, too," she craved him more than she could imagine.

"You're so beautiful," he wanted nothing more than to please her.

"I want us to...." she felt suddenly shy.

"Yes?" he teased her into confessing.

"I want us to be together," she admitted.

"Right now?" he pretended to not know what she meant.

"Yes, right now," she loved when he tormented her with his humor.

The silken feel of her skin against his flesh drove Sully to overwhelming desire. It had been so long since he had been with her like this, and he did not want the feeling to end. He spread her hair across the white pillow beneath her head. His ministrations awoke in Michaela the passions which she had feared to unleash again. But she had faced her fears and made peace with herself. Now she wanted nothing more than the joining of her body to her husband's.

Running her fingers through his long locks, Michaela kissed and enticed his further attention. Finally, unable to hold back, they came together as one. Their spirits soared to unimaginable heights, and their hearts beat swiftly in unison. Their breathless bodies echoed the rhythms of their love. Steeped in perspiration from their encounter, Sully pulled the covers protectively over his wife.

Michaela silently ran her finger in lazy circles around his chin, then across his lips. He smiled slightly, and did the same to her, reciting:

"Whene'er I view those lips of thine,
Their hue invites my fervent kiss."

With that, he tenderly met her lips with his.

"Was that Browning?" she ventured a guess.

"Byron," he answered. "Are... are ya okay?"

She drew his hand to her breast, "Yes."

His fingers lingered there in loving repose, "Do ya have any idea how good it feels t' have ya back in my arms?"

She grinned shyly, "From what just happened, I believe I do. And let me add, Mr. Sully, I am quite content to be back, as well."

"We got a lot t' be grateful for," he said wistfully.

"Sully," she became serious. "When you go...."

"Let's not think about that now," he interrupted. "Let's just hold each other an' think good thoughts."

"If you say so," she agreed.

Her regular breathing soon convinced Sully that she had fallen asleep. His mind contemplated how many close calls with tragedy they had endured. He thanked the Spirits for the woman in his arms, for her healing hands, and for her ability to understand him... most of the time, he grinned as he rubbed her back.

Then his thoughts turned to Cloud Dancing. He had told Michaela the Cheyenne would probably be on a reservation by summer, but deep down, Sully knew better. There would be fighting, and he felt helpless to prevent it. Until he heard from Cloud Dancing, Sully would worry each day. To himself, he vowed, "I won't give up on tryin' t' help my brother.... not until I die."

THE END

EPILOGUE

The government actions, violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, and ultimatum with regard to the Native Americans in the unceded territory really happened. In this story, the response of the Indian leaders was in their own words. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led large bands who expected inevitable military confrontation and who were determined to resist even against overwhelming odds. Red Cloud decided not to lead his people into a war. While Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse gathered the tribes for the coming conflagration, Red Cloud kept his followers at the agencies near Nebraska.

According to Sheridan's strategy, Brigadier General George Crook, Colonel John Gibbon, and Brigadier General Alfred Terry would move from different directions toward the rebelling Indians. Crook would narrowly miss victory in March 1876 at Powder River and suffered defeat in June at Rosebud. Terry would later order Custer to Rosebud, but eager for glory, Custer would meet his fate in June at Little Big Horn.

John Gibbon was a fascinating man whose career repeatedly brought him to the battle lines that shaped American History. During the Civil War, he served in the battles of Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancelorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and Reams Station. He was twice injured during the War and at its end, oversaw the terms of surrender. He was promoted five times during the Civil War for gallant and meritorious service.

In the Indian Campaign of 1876, he led one of his columns against the Sioux. Although seriously ill, John Gibbon and his men arrived at Little Big Horn on June 27 (2 days after the battle), only to rescue survivors of Custer's last command and to bury the dead. The following year, he conducted a successful campaign against the Nez Perces and Chief Joseph, ending with the Battle of Big Hole, at which he was again wounded. Ironically, he began a lifelong friendship with Chief Joseph after the campaign.

Although never more than a supporting player in the historical drama of the 19th century, Gibbon built a military career that is nearly a catalog of key events in the history of his time. Through him, we can follow the increase in federal authority over the rebellious forces of Confederates and later Native Americans.



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