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

What Life Brings


by Debby K



Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
What Life Brings
by Debby K

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

"What d' ya think, Cloud Dancin'?" Sully asked as they rode along a wooded trail.

"I think the government will do what it wants to do," said the Cheyenne medicine man. "It has been their way since the first treaty they broke with the Indians."

"Then why'd ya go with Red Cloud an' Spotted Tail t' Washington?" he wondered.

"I went because I cannot give up," he answered simply.

"Ya said that President Hayes promised the Oglala and Brule could pick their own place for permanent settlement within the reservation," Sully stated.

"This promise came as a result of the skillful handling of the politicians by Red Cloud," he noted. "I believe it was the best the leaders could do for their people. We are running out of places to run from the white man."

Both riders fell silent for a few moments. Sully swallowed hard, his heart saddened by the plight of the Indians, the plight of his friend. When he read about the surrender of the Nez Perce tribe to the Army last month, he began to experience second thoughts about his refusal to work for the government again. He had also started to ask his Cheyenne friend for more information about what had transpired with the Nez Perce.

"How is Michaela?" Cloud Dancing's question interrupted his thoughts.

"She's okay," Sully thought back to the mood of his wife before he departed.

"And the children?" the medicine man inquired.

"Fine," Sully nodded. "How 'bout you an' Miss Dorothy?"

"We had many discussions during our trip," he responded.

"Oh?" Sully hoped his friend would reveal more.

"She wrote much about the journey," Cloud Dancing commented. "She had never been to Washington before."

"Is that all ya discussed?" Sully raised an eyebrow.

"It seemed like a safe topic," the medicine man had a gleam in his eye.

"I see," he rubbed his upper lip.

"If you are wondering if we discussed....us," Cloud Dancing hesitated. "The answer is yes."

The mountain man grinned, "Anythin' resolved?"

"Maybe we should ask Red Cloud to negotiate for us," the Cheyenne chuckled.

"Ain't easy for the two o' you," Sully observed.

"Dorothy saw what it was like to be in the minority," Cloud Dancing explained. "She was with me in the meetings with tribal leaders. It was difficult for her."

"I reckon they didn't approve o' your relationship," Sully speculated.

"You are correct, my brother," Cloud Dancing slowed his horse.

"Why we stoppin'?" Sully was curious.

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

Michaela sat at her desk, concluding the notes to her files. She was exhausted from her early morning patient load. Glancing toward the anteroom, she forced herself to rise and crept quietly to check on her son. Josef was soundly napping in the small bed, hand-crafted by his father. She smiled and quietly pulled his blanket higher. Then she tenderly ran her fingers through his wavy hair. Planting a soft kiss on his forehead, she turned to leave him.

Suddenly a wave of nausea engulfed her. She clutched her stomach and rushed toward the basin. Her cheeks flushed and warm, she threw up into the bowl.

"Oh, no," she thought as she rinsed out her mouth with fresh water. "I can't be sick now. There's too much to do."

Her stomach finally settled, and she went to her desk. Leaning back in the chair, she felt her stomach tighten anew. She just made it back to the basin in time to relieve herself of what little remained of her breakfast.

"I don't believe this," she closed her eyes.

"Mama!" Josef called from the other room.

"Coming, Sweetheart," she wiped her brow with a damp cloth.

Before she could make it to fetch her son, the room became dark, and she fainted onto the wooden planks of the Clinic floor.

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

"We are stopping here to meet someone," Cloud Dancing was vague.

"Who?" Sully's surveyed the area.

"Someone who will answer the many questions you have asked lately," the medicine man replied.

Taking a deep breath, Sully wondered why his friend was being so vague, "Questions?"

"Be patient, my brother," Cloud Dancing dismounted.

Sully did likewise and pulled his canteen from his saddle. He drank some of the cool water and sat down. Glancing toward the cloudless sky, his thoughts turned to Michaela. She had been moody at breakfast this morning and for the past few days for that matter. She was impatient with the children and cool towards him.

"Something is troubling you?" his friend noticed.

"Just thinkin' about Michaela," Sully shrugged.

"You said she is... okay," Cloud Dancing recalled his remarks.

"She is...." he hesitated. "Just kinda not herself lately."

"Not herself?" the medicine man smiled.

"Ain't nothin'," Sully dismissed the topic. "Can't ya tell me who we're meetin'?"

Cloud Dancing smiled at his friend's curiosity, "His name is Yellow Wolf. He is of the Nez Perce."

Sully rubbed his upper lip, "Chief Joseph's tribe."

"It is," he nodded. "You have been curious about the fate of his people."

"I've been havin' dreams ever since I heard about 'em," Sully sighed in frustration. "Maybe if I would've stayed an Indian agent...."

"You cannot go against your beliefs," Cloud Dancing interrupted. "The white man's government no longer listened to you."

Sully recalled, "I met the new Secretary of Interior, Carl Schurz, when Michaela an' me went t' Boston few month's back. He told me if I changed my mind about workin' for the government, t' contact him."

"Are you changing your mind?" the Cheyenne raised an eyebrow.

"I ain't sure," Sully lifted a stick and began to whittle at it with his knife. "I'd have t' talk t' Michaela first. It might take me away from her an' the kids too much." Then he returned to the purpose for their stopping, "Tell me about Yellow Wolf."

Before Cloud Dancing could respond, they heard the approach of horses.

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

"Mama?" Josef climbed down from his bed in the Clinic anteroom.

There was no reply from his mother. He stretched up on tiptoes and was barely able to turn the knob. When he entered the office, he saw Michaela on the floor.

"We play?" he rushed to her grinning.

Michaela made no movement.

"Mama," Josef crouched down beside her.

He placed his hand on her cheek and rubbed it.

"Mama," he repeated with greater urgency.

The little boy was torn. He knew that he was not permitted to leave the Clinic without a grownup, but he also recognized that his mother needed help.

"Miss Dorfy," he recalled that she was working next door when they arrived at the Clinic earlier.

The child rushed to the door and reached up to turn the knob. This one was out of his reach. Dragging a chair across the floor, he positioned it in front of the entrance and climbed up, enabling him to successfully open the door.

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

Hank yawned and stretched his arms as he stood on the porch of the Gold Nugget. After a pleasant evening in the arms of one of his girls, he smiled with satisfaction. Then something across the street caught his attention. Was that Michaela's boy?

With horses and wagons busily moving to and fro, a small child could be run over before he was even seen. Hank waited to see if Michaela would follow him out the door.

"Ain't like her t' let her kid out by himself like that," he rubbed his hand across his bearded chin.

"Miss Dorfy!" Josef did not venture from the porch, remembering that it was forbidden to him.

"Dorfy?" Hank chuckled. "Wait 'til the redhead hears that."

"Miss Dorfy!" Josef called louder. Then he spotted the bartender across the street, "Misser Lawson! My Mama on floor."

"What?" Hank flicked his cigar aside and strode across the street.

When he reached the little boy, he saw tears streaming down the child's cheeks.

Hank knelt down and scooped him up., "What's wrong with your Ma?"

Josef pointed into the Clinic, "Mama on floor."

Feeling a sudden rush of anxiety, Hank recalled the time Michaela had been shot. Memories of finding her on the floor, her gasping for air and bleeding profusely, flashed before him.

He swiftly set Josef on the bench just by the door, "Don't move, kid."

Hank swallowed hard and entered the Clinic.

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

"Yellow Wolf," Cloud Dancing smiled.

The proud man dismounted his horse, as his entourage remained on theirs.

"You have brought a white man," Yellow Wolf spoke with a firm voice.

His dark and wrinkled skin made him appear ancient. With long raven hair and piercing brown eyes, he stood tall and straight.

Cloud Dancing spoke, "He is my friend."

"My people have no friends," the Nez Perce shook his head.

"I can leave if ya don't feel comfortable with me here," Sully offered.

"I trust Sully with my life," Cloud Dancing asserted. "And perhaps he can help."

"Help?" Sully spoke simultaneously with Yellow Wolf.

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

"Michaela!" Hank lowered himself to his knees.

"Mmm?" she struggled to open her eyes.

"What the hell happened t' ya?" the bartender asked.

"Josef," she suddenly remembered his calling her.

"He's okay," Hank slipped his hand beneath her shoulders to help her sit.

"Where.... where is he?" she rubbed her temple.

"Sittin' out on the bench," Hank pointed.

"Josef!" she summoned her son.

Hearing his mother, the little boy scampered into the Clinic.

"Mama!" he threw his arms around her neck. "Why ya on floor?"

"I'm wonderin' the same thing," Hank rose to his feet.

"I... I don't know," she settled her son in her lap. "I must be coming down with something."

"I'll take you an' Josef out t' the homestead," he offered. "Ya oughta be in bed. I can ask Grace or Dorothy t' come out t' watch him."

"No, thank you, Hank," she forced a smile. "I'll be fine."

"Ya don't look fine," he noticed. "Dr. Nelson's over at his sister's. I'm gonna have him check ya."

"Please," she gingerly stood up, still holding her son. "I'll be...."

Hank saw her begin to wobble and steadied her.

"Let me take the boy for ya, an' you sit down," he reached for Josef.

"No!" the child protested. "Want Mama."

Michaela accepted Hank's assistance to her desk chair, "It's all right, Sweetheart. Mama's not feeling well."

"This come on all of a sudden?" he inquired.

"I haven't felt well for a day or two," she confessed.

"Sully know?" the bartender asked.

"I didn't want to concern him," she responded. "He's with Cloud Dancing."

"You stay put," he gestured. "I'll be right back."

"Hank," she called after him.

It was too late. He was out the door. Josef pulled himself up and kissed his mother's forehead.

"No temerchair," he announced.

She smiled, "No temperature? Would you like to be a doctor someday, little one?"

"Maype," he grinned.

Michaela's heart warmed at his gentle touch, "You look so much like your father, my darling."

"Me?" he raised his eyebrows and pointed to himself.

"Yes," she smoothed back his hair.

"Where Papa?" the child was curious.

"He's with Cloud Dancing," she suddenly felt another sensation of nausea. She set her son on the floor and instructed, "Josef, Mama needs you to run into the anteroom and wait for her. Right now, Sweetheart."

Josef recognized a serious tone in his mother's voice and obeyed instantly. Michaela was grateful that he acted so quickly. It afforded her the opportunity to reach for the basin and once more relieve her stomach.

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

"I have seen the help of so called friends," Yellow Wolf tightened his jaw.

"I brought Sully to hear the story of what happened to your people," Cloud Dancing stated to the Nez Perce. "He is here to learn the truth."

"Whose truth?" Yellow Wolf was terse. "I came here out of respect for your reputation, but...."

"My brother is also worthy of your respect," Cloud Dancing placed his hand on Sully's back.

"Very well," Yellow Wolf nodded to the other riders to dismount. "But I cannot stay long. It is not safe for us to be here. We must return to Canada or risk capture."

As the men sat down, Sully leaned closer to his friend, "Why'd you want me t' hear this? He don't seem comfortable with me here."

"Your questions and restlessness have told me you are the one who must listen," the medicine man related.

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

Michaela lay in a bed upstairs at the Clinic. She was resting comfortably, her stomach having settled and her dizziness having dissipated.

With her sons and friends downstairs, she rose from the bed, determined to not be treated as an invalid. She refused to permit this malaise from slowing her pace.

"Michaela!" Dorothy stood at the bedroom door. "What are ya doin' up?"

"I'm fine," she straightened her hair.

"No, ya ain't," Dorothy insisted. "Please get back int' that bed. Hank's fetchin' Dr. Nelson."

"That's really not necessary," Michaela dismissed her concern. "Where's Josef?"

"Downstairs with Grace," the redhead informed her. "An' Matthew's lookin' for Sully."

"Oh, no," Michaela sat on the edge of the bed. "He's with Cloud Dancing. I see no need to disturb him."

"It's me you're talkin' to, Michaela," Dorothy sat down beside her. "You an' me both know somethin's wrong with ya."

"I... think it's passed now," she denied. "This is making a mountain out of a molehill."

"If I was the patient, is that what you'd tell me?" her friend raised an eyebrow.

Michaela smiled slightly, "No, I suppose not."

"If I was dizzy, faint an' throwin' up, what would ya tell me?" she posed the question.

"I would tell you to stay in bed," Michaela's shoulders relaxed.

"An' that's what you need t' do," Dorothy patted her hand.

"Well...." she hesitated.

"What is it?" Dorothy's expression was serious. "Do ya have an idea what's wrong with ya?"

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

"Dr. Quinn?" the voice of Dr. Nelson interrupted their conversation.

"Thank you for coming," Michaela was cordial.

"I'll leave ya t' check on her," Dorothy rose and headed for the door.

Nelson set his medical bag on the nightstand, "Mr. Lawson said that you fainted."

"Yes," Michaela lowered her eyes and glanced at her hands.

"Did you eat breakfast this morning?" the physician raised his stethoscope to his ears.

"Yes, but... I couldn't hold it down," she informed him.

"Have your children been ill?" he inquired. "Maybe you caught something from...."

"No," she interjected. "They're fine."

He folded his arms across his chest, "This fainting concerns me. How long have you had these symptoms?"

"I have not been feeling well for several days," she confessed.

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

Yellow Wolf settled himself on the ground and began his story:

"Of all the tribes, none had a better tradition of friendship with the white man than the Nez Perce. We saved Lewis and Clark from starvation, we refused to join in uprisings by other tribes against the white man and we even remained peaceful when the prospectors came onto our land in search of gold."

"I remember a treaty the Nez Perce made back in '63 with the government," Sully interjected.

"Yes," the Nez Perce nodded. "It cost us most of our land."

"What happened?" Sully wondered.

The Indian explained, "Before this treaty, Old Chief Joseph had been baptized into the white man's church. But he soon grew tired of demands for Indian land and refused to sign the new treaty. This split our people into those who believed in the religion of the white man and those who did not. The Christian Nez Perce made the deal with the government. They sold our land.... land that did not belong to them. We got nothing for our country. None of our chiefs signed that land-stealing treaty... only Christian Indians and government men."

Sully glanced down, pained by the deception of another treaty.

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

As Dr. Nelson examined her, Michaela began to softly weep.

The physician removed the stethoscope from his ears, "Dr. Quinn?"

"I'm sorry," she lowered her eyes, as her tears flowed more freely.

"Are you in pain?" his brow wrinkled in concern.

"No," she attempted to calm herself. "I.... I just miss my husband."

"Miss him?" Nelson asked. "Is he away?"

"Yes," she touched her handkerchief to her cheek.

"How long has it been since you last saw him?" the doctor inquired.

"Early this morning," she felt another wave of tears.

"This morning?" he was puzzled. "That's only a few hours."

"I... I know it doesn't make any sense," Michaela was becoming embarrassed at her reaction.

Nelson placed his hand sympathetically on her shoulder, "Will he return soon?"

She nodded, "He's due back tomorrow."

"I see," he smiled slightly. "Dr. Quinn, I'm going to ask you some questions, and I hope that you'll be honest with your answers."

"Of course I'll be honest," she took offense. "Why would you think otherwise?"

"Because," he paused. "Sometimes it's difficult for a woman to face certain things about.... her body."

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

Katie sat in her chair, riveted by Teresa Slicker's description of the school play she was planning. The idea of having a Thanksgiving pageant with Pilgrims and Indians intrigued her. She imagined herself portraying an Indian princess as Teresa continued to discuss the details with her students.

Mama would make the costume for her. She already had beaded necklaces and various Cheyenne....

"Katie?" Teresa interrupted her reverie.

"Uh..." the little girl quickly realized she had not been paying attention.

"Would you play one of the Pilgrim children?" Teresa asked.

"But...." Katie looked around at the other students.

"All of the other parts have been assigned," the teacher explained.

"There's no more Indians?" the child asked.

"No," Teresa explained.

"I guess I'll be a Pilgrim then," she tried to mask her disappointment.

The teacher noted her reaction, "It is quite an honor for a first grade student to have a part, Katie."

She swallowed hard, "Yes, ma'am."

"Good," Teresa smiled and resumed her instructions.

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

"So, what do ya think is wrong with Dr. Mike?" Loren voiced his concern to the others gathered outside the Clinic.

"She prob'ly caught somethin' from the immigrants," Jake speculated. "She spends too much time with them foreigners."

"Foreigners?" Dorothy chastised. "Is your wife American born?"

"No," the barber retorted. "But that's different."

"How's it different?" Grace held Josef on her lap.

"Cause she's married t' an American," he reasoned.

The Reverend diverted the topic of discussion, "Maybe she's just tired."

"I oughta spend more time at the homestead," Brian lamented. "Ma has been workin' awful hard lately, an' I know she could use some help with the kids."

The Reverend acknowledged, "I think all of us have taken her for granted for far too long. It's times like this that remind us what she means to us and to our town."

"Ya make it sound like she's dyin'," Hank folded his arms. "She only fainted."

"Maybe she ain't eatin' right," Grace speculated.

"Could be that anemia thing she had before," Brian recalled.

"Ya think Matthew will be able t' find Sully?" Loren questioned.

"All we know is that he's with Cloud Dancin'," Brian observed.

"An' they could be anywhere," Loren shook his head.

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

Yellow Wolf attempted to gage the expression of the white man before him. This Sully did not dress as a white, and his hair was long. He seemed to be genuine in his reaction to the fate of the Nez Perce, and so he resumed.

"Last year, the government decided to pay the Wallowa Nez Perce for their land and to make sure all of our people moved. The one-armed General known as Howard was sent. Young Chief Joseph tried to explain what the land meant to his people, as the place where his ancestors were buried."

"Did Howard listen?" Sully doubted.

"For a time, he did," Yellow Wolf nodded. "Then he became impatient and demanded to do business, as he called it. He said we would have thirty days to accept the compensation for the land and move, or he would force us to obey."

Sully's jaw tensed. He glanced at Cloud Dancing, who was staring intently at the Nez Perce. He sensed that the tale sounded all too familiar to the Cheyenne medicine man. Sully returned his attention to Yellow Wolf.

"Chief Josef said he did not want bloodshed. He told me he would rather give up his country and his father's grave....everything, rather than have the blood of the white man on the hands of the Nez Perce. And so, we began to gather our people, our cattle, our horses. The young men resented giving up our land without a fight. A few of them killed some whites whom they believed had wronged our people."

"That's all the excuse the Army would need," Sully shook his head.

"Yes," Yellow Wolf nodded. "The Army came, and for the first time in our history, the Nez Perce and the United States, were at war. Chief Joseph told me he would have given his own life to prevent the killing of the white men. He knew we were too weak to fight the United States, but other chiefs approved a raid that killed more white men. The talking was over."

There was a sudden rustling sound. The Nez Perce reached for their weapons.

"Is this a trap?" Yellow Wolf started to rise.

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

"What questions do you want to ask me?" Michaela became slightly uncomfortable.

Dr. Nelson began, "How has your disposition been?"

Michaela gave it some thought, "I... find that I'm rather irritable, short of temper."

"Any periods of melancholy?" he probed.

She hesitated, "I suppose so."

"Have you noted any changes in your weight?" he asked.

She ran her hand across her waistline, "A slight gain which I attribute to retention of fluids."

He sat beside her and felt her pulse, "Your skin appears to be somewhat dry. How long has it been since your last monthly?"

"About two and a half months," she calculated.

"What about sleep?" he queried.

"I have not been sleeping well for the past week or so," she revealed.

"Do you wake up in the middle of the night perspiring?" the physician specified.

When she shook her head no, he asked, "What about your appetite?"

She detailed, "It is rather irregular. Sometimes I am ravenous. At other times, not at all hungry."

"And the fainting?" he folded his arms.

"That just happened today," she assured him.

"Your nausea?" he added.

"It's better now. I imagine it's related to my eating habits," she speculated.

"What about your work here at the Clinic?" he wondered.

"It has been quite busy of late," she acknowledged. "I rarely get home before dinner."

"I see," he took a deep breath. "I assume that you know as well as I, what it means when a woman your age begins to exhibit these symptoms."

Michaela's shoulders slumped, "I suppose I have been denying it to myself."

He attempted to sympathize, "The change of life is...."

"Impossible for a man to understand," she cut him off.

"Would you like my medical advice?" Nelson said.

"I'm sorry," Michaela could feel her eyes watering. "I didn't mean to be rude, Doctor."

He paused for her to calm, "You need rest. I think that the nausea and fainting are a result of poor diet and stress. I believe it would be advisable for you to spend a week or so at home. Then, when you do return to the Clinic, cut back your hours."

"Easier said than done," she sighed.

"I'm going to be here visiting my sister for another week," he pointed out. "I would be happy to handle your patients."

She pondered his offer, "I do appreciate it, but...."

He stood, "Dr. Quinn, I admire you. You have balanced a career and family admirably. Few women have the courage and determination to do as you have. But, your body is telling you something, and I think it advisable that you listen."

"I'll take your advice under consideration, Dr. Nelson," she smiled. "Thank you for coming by."

As he donned his jacket, he added, "Remember. Rest. In the meantime, I'll leave a note on your door referring patients to me for the remainder of the day."

She lay back down on her side as he exited, silently considering how the climacteric would affect her relationship with Sully. Feelings of guilt swept over her. She had married at an age when most women had completed their child bearing years. She had believed that age was irrelevant when such a fulfilling love as theirs was concerned, but now...

Of course, Sully would say age did not matter. He once told her he had married exactly whom he wanted. And their incredible love transcended anything she could imagine. He was her heart and soul. It would break her heart to hurt him, to disappoint him in any way.

A soft knock at the door frame of the recovery room interrupted her thoughts.

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

Matthew appeared from the bushes, prompting the Nez Perce to react swiftly.

"Wait!" Sully shouted. "It's my son."

They lowered their rifles slowly.

"Matthew," Sully swallowed hard. "What are you doin' out here?"

"It's Ma," he was out of breath.

"What's wrong?" Sully felt his heart skip a beat.

"She fainted," the young man explained. "She's real sick. Hank went to fetch Dr. Nelson, an' I came t' get you."

"I don't know how ya found me, but I'm glad ya did," he patted his back.

Cloud Dancing approached, "Michaela is not well?"

"I gotta go t' her," Sully turned to his friend. "Can ya...."

"I understand," the Cheyenne smiled. "I will listen to the words of Yellow Wolf and bring them to you."

"Thanks," Sully gathered his canteen and headed for his horse.

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

Grace spoke low, "Got a little boy here who's missin' his Ma."

Michaela smiled, "Well, hello there."

"Mama," Josef removed his finger from his mouth. "Ya sick?"

"Just tired, my darling," she reached up for him.

He crawled across the bed to her, "Miss Gwace say I good."

"He sure was," the Cafe owner grinned. "If ya'd rather not have any company right now, I can take him back downstairs."

"No," Michaela insisted. "I'd like for you both to stay."

"What did Dr. Nelson say?" Grace came to the point.

She kissed her son's forehead, "He said I need to rest."

"That's it?" Grace was blunt.

"No, there is a bit more to it than that," she hedged.

"But ya don't wanna talk about it right now," her friend figured.

"I appreciate your watching Josef for me," Michaela situated her son beside her. "It appears he could use another nap."

"I sweep, Mama?" he glanced up at her with the eyes she adored.

"Certainly," she placed her lips to his cheek.

"I'm gonna fix ya some broth," Grace offered. "It'll go easy on your stomach."

"Thank you," she spoke softly.

Grace smiled, "I'll tell everyone you're nappin'."

"Everyone?" she wondered.

"Well, half the town's just outside waitin' for any news about ya," Grace revealed.

"Tell them, I'll be fine," Michaela caught herself yawning.

"Anything else I can do for ya?" Grace offered.

"Could you ask Brian to come upstairs?" she requested. "Oh, and if you see Hank, would you ask him to stop by?

"I will," the friend nodded as she exited the recovery room.

"Thank you, Grace," she added.

Joseph began to play with his mother's hair as he lay nestled against her. Michaela gently lifted his little hand and kissed it.

"We sweep here, Mama?" he wondered.

"Yes," she tenderly stroked his hair. "Close your eyes now."

Soon, Josef's breathing indicated that he had fallen asleep. His hand cupped against her breast, instantly triggering a tingling sensation throughout her body. She closed her eyes and felt a tear, recalling the sensations she had experienced while nursing her children. Now, she could never savor that fulfilling joy again.

Suddenly, she sensed someone's presence at the door, "Are ya okay, Ma?"

Quickly brushing away her tear, she kept her voice to a whisper, "I'm fine, Brian."

"What did Dr. Nelson say?" he was concerned.

"He said I simply need some rest," she assured him.

"That's what I thought it might be," he cast his eyes downward. "Ya been workin' too hard. I promise I'm gonna be home more t' help ya."

"Brian," she reached out for his hand. "Your studies are very important."

"Not more important than you," he insisted.

She turned up the corner of her mouth in a smile, "I appreciate your sentiments, but I'm going to be fine."

"I wanna be there t' help ya with the kids, too," he added.

She glanced down lovingly at the little boy asleep beside her, "There is something you can do for me."

"What?" he raised his eyebrows.

"Would you watch for Katie?" she asked. "School will be out soon."

"Sure," he agreed.

Hank stood at the doorway and cleared his throat, "Grace said ya wanted t' see me."

"Yes," Michaela waved him to enter.

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

Sully's thoughts whirled as he and Matthew rode along. What was happening to Michaela? She was rarely sick.

"You okay?" Matthew noticed his expression.

"Worried about your Ma," he sighed. "It's not just what's happened t'day. She's goin' through all kinds o' things. Her appetite's crazy, she yells one minute an' cries the next..."

"I figure she's been overdoin' things," the young man observed.

"I want Dr. Nelson t' check her real good," Sully's jaw tensed.

"He will," Matthew responded.

"How'd ya find us out here?" Sully grinned.

"I learned a trick or two about trackin' from you," Matthew winked.

Sully chuckled, "I'm glad ya did."

"I know Ma will be glad t' see ya, Sully," the young man noted.

"I'd walk through fire for her," he felt a lump in his throat.

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

Michaela kept her voice low to keep from waking Josef, "Hank, I want to thank you."

"For what?" he matched her tone.

She caressed her young son's cheek, "For noticing his cry for help, then coming to my rescue.... again."

"I just wish ya'd learn t' stay off the floor, Michaela," Hank made light of his role.

She smiled, "At any rate, I do appreciate your assistance and concern."

"So, what'd the doc say?" he folded his arms.

"Nothing serious," she was vague.

"Ma needs t' rest," Brian contributed.

Hank smirked, "That's one o' my favorite pastimes."

"I'm going to spend some time at home," she recalled Dr. Nelson's advice.

"I can look after things here," Hank told her.

"I'll speak with Dr. Nelson about seeing my patients," she commented.

"Maybe Colleen could come home for a while," Brian thought.

"I don't want her to leave her practice," Michaela objected. "It's only for a week or so."

"Okay," Brian did not wish to upset her. "We'll let ya rest now, Ma."

"It's all right for Katie to come up here when she arrives," Michaela snuggled closer to Josef.

"Take it easy," Hank advised.

"Thank you," she closed her eyes and let sleep claim her.

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

"Maybe we oughta stop here t' rest the horses," Matthew said. "We been pushin' 'em awful hard."

Sully knew he was right, "Just for a few minutes."

Both men halted and dismounted. Sully led his horse to a nearby stream for a drink of water. Matthew watched him with concern.

"I know Dr. Mike's been going through a rough time lately," the young man followed.

"Yep," Sully simply replied.

"I remember when my real Ma went through somethin' like it," he thought back.

"Somethin' like it?" Sully was curious.

"I don't know much about medical stuff," Matthew prefaced. "But I know that Ma used t' talk about havin' all kinds o' feelin's an' transformations in her body 'cause o' her age."

Sully tilted his head, "Transformations in her body?"

"She called it 'the change,'" Matthew recalled.

"Oh," Sully swallowed hard, not quite sure what those changes might be.

Matthew observed his distracted state, "Careful on the slippery area there by the stream, Sully."

The warning came too late, and Sully's feet slipped from beneath him as he tried to climb up from the stream.

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

Matthew rushed to his aid, "Ya okay, Sully?"

He brushed the leaves from his hair and shoulders, "I'm fine. I reckon I wasn't watchin' where I was goin'."

Matthew grinned, "Happens t' everyone. Ya got a lot on your mind."

"Come on," Sully was impatient. "Let's get goin'."

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

"An' I only get t' be a Pilgrim," Katie sat on the edge of her mother's bed in the recovery room.

"Then I'm certain that you'll be a wonderful Pilgrim," Michaela stroked her cheek.

"But I wanna be an Indian, Mama," the little girl lamented.

"We cannot always have things the way we would like them to be, Sweetheart," the mother counseled.

"I wanna be Indian," Josef contributed.

"Joey," Katie rolled her eyes. "You're too little."

He looked up at his mother, "Pwease?"

"Your sister's right, young man," she smiled. "But when you start to school, I'm certain that you will be in the play, as well." Returning her thoughts to Katie, her mind began to plan ahead, "I have some material for a beautiful little outfit I can make for you. You know, I grew up not far from where the first Thanksgiving took place."

"Ya did?" Katie's eyes widened.

"Um hum," Michaela's spirits were lifting as she spoke with her children. "I'll tell you all about it sometime soon."

"Bran said ya gotta rest," Katie glanced at her mother with a serious expression.

"I do," she nodded. "But I shall still be able to help you with your lines and your costume."

"I don't got lines," Katie clarified.

"I don't have lines," Michaela corrected.

"Mama," she put her hands on her hips. "'Course ya don't. You're not even in the play."

Michaela noticed her son's demeanor, "Is something on your mind, Josef?"

"I wanna be Indian," his lower lip curled under.

"Perhaps I can make you a little costume, as well," her heart melted.

He sat up straighter, "I be in play?"

"No," she smiled. "But you can wear it when we go to school to watch your sister in the play."

"Good thinkin', Mama," he grinned broadly.

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

It was nearly dusk when Sully and Matthew arrived at the Clinic. Sully jumped from his horse almost before it stopped. When Brian opened the door to greet them, they were approached swiftly by Dr. Nelson.

"Where's Michaela?" Sully turned to his son.

"She's upstairs with the kids," Brian informed him.

"Could I speak to you before you go up, Mr. Sully?" the physician requested.

"Come on, Brian," Matthew tapped his shoulder. "Let's go see Ma."

When the two young men left them, Sully and Nelson entered Michaela's office.

Sully tensed as he asked, "How is she, Doctor?"

"I have instructed her to take it easy for a week or so," he stated.

"What's wrong?" Sully was anxious. "Matthew said she threw up an' fainted."

"Diet and stress, I believe to be the culprits in that regard," the physician explained. "But beyond that, there is something else which I believe is happening to her."

"What?" Sully held his breath.

"Recently we refer to it as menopause," the doctor detailed. "More commonly, it's called 'the change of life.'"

"I... I know women reach an age when they can't have children anymore," he responded. "I reckon that's what you're tellin' me."

"It's much more than that, Mr. Sully," Nelson said. "There are many things that a woman goes through during this period. Dr. Quinn is perfectly capable of explaining it to you, but if you would rather not discuss it with her, I'd be willing to discuss it in greater detail."

"That's okay," Sully raised his hand. "I'll talk t' her."

"All right," he nodded. "I informed Dr. Quinn that I will be here during the upcoming week, and I'm more than willing to treat her patients while she takes some time off."

"I appreciate it," Sully nodded.

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

"Did you find Sully?" Michaela asked Matthew.

"I did," he held her hand. "He's downstairs talkin' t' Dr. Nelson."

"Oh, no," she sighed.

"What's wrong with that, Ma?" Brian did not understand.

"I... I just wanted to speak to him first," she was disappointed.

Katie held out her hand to her little brother, "Let's go see Poppy."

"Wait," Matthew gently prevented them from leaving. "He'll be here in a couple o' minutes.

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

Sully closed the door behind Dr. Nelson and turned to look around the familiar features of Michaela's office. Before the front window was her desk with her things arranged just as she liked them. To the right stood her medical and filing cabinets. Her examining table jutted out into the room.

Contemplating each piece of furniture, he thought about all of the lives she had touched here. He closed his eyes, picturing her healing hands. Hands that so often had caressed his face and healed him in ways too numerous for him to count.

"God, I love you, Michaela," his thoughts became audible.

Sully realized that she would need his love and support even more now. There would be no more children for them, and he could envision her disappointment. Knowing his wife, he assumed that she would even dare to think he might see her as less desirable. If she only knew how much he wanted her, how often he thought about their being together. For so many months of their marriage when he was a fugitive, it was the only thing that kept him going.

Now he wanted nothing more than to see her... to reassure her that she was still the only woman he wanted, needed, loved. They would face this... change of life together.

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

"Reverend?" a voice spoke from behind him.

Timothy Johnson turned from his pulpit, "Yes?"

"May I have a word with you?" the woman stepped closer.

"Certainly," he gestured toward one of the pews. "Won't you sit down?"

"Thank you," she said as she positioned herself on the bench.

"I don't recognize your voice," he sat opposite her.

"You don't know me," she kept her tone low, realizing that he was blind.

He hoped to allay the anxiety he detected in her voice, "How can I help you?"

"I have a problem, and.... I don't know where else to turn," her voice choked.

He reached in his pocket for a handkerchief, "Here, now. This is the house of God. You have turned in the right direction."

He could hear her breathing begin to calm.

"I... I've done something terrible," she confessed.

"You can tell me about it," he spoke softly.

She took a deep breath, "I... I'm pregnant."

"And you're unhappy about it?" he sensed.

"I...." she hesitated. "I'm not married."

"Oh," he reacted. "Does the father know about it?"

"No," she looked down. "He's a married man."

Timothy Johnson considered, "Have you seen a doctor?"

"No," she shook her head.

"Are you certain that you are with child?" he rubbed his beard.

"Yes," she sighed.

"How old are you?" he gently probed.

"I'm thirty years old," she answered.

"Do you have any family?" Reverend Johnson questioned.

"My folks are dead," she informed him. "I have a brother back East."

"And you feel very lost," he spoke tenderly.

She burst into tears, "Oh, Reverend. Help me, please. I don't know what to do."

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

"Got any room for another person in here?" Sully joked as he looked about the recovery room.

"Poppy!" Katie rushed to him.

Josef slid from the bed and tugged at his father's leg, "Papa!"

Sully ably lifted both of his children into his arms and kissed them.

"I thought ya said ya wouldn't be home 'til t'morrow," Katie rubbed his face.

"Change o' plans," he set them down and glanced toward his wife.

"Hey, Brian," Matthew stood. "I thought I heard Miss Grace say she had a special menu for dinner t'night. Somethin' about includin' pecan pie."

Katie and Josef were duly impressed.

"Think these two kids might like t' eat there?" Matthew teased.

"I think they would!" Katie assured him.

"Yep!" Josef heartily agreed.

"Okay," Brian grinned as he took their hands. "Let's go."

"What about Mama an' Poppy?" Katie hesitated.

"You go ahead, Kates," Sully winked. "Mama still needs t' rest."

Josef walked to his mother, who still lay on the bed, "I bring ya pokle."

She smiled, "I'd like that."

"'Kay," he returned to his older brothers.

"See ya in a little bit," Matthew escorted his siblings out.

Sully walked to the bed and sat on the edge. Lifting Michaela's hand, he raised it to his lips.

"How ya feel?" he twirled a strand of her hair.

"I've spent virtually the entire day in bed," she seemed a bit restless. "I really wish that...."

He tenderly touched his fingers to her lips to silence her. She closed her eyes and burst into tears. Sully leaned toward her and slipped his arms around her. Kissing her cheek, he gently pulled her up and enfolded her in his embrace.

"You spoke to Dr. Nelson," she tried to control her weeping.

"We'll talk about it in a minute," he rubbed her back. "Right now, I just wanna hold ya."

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

Timothy Johnson stood and approached the sobbing woman who had made a startling confession to him, "Here now. It's going to be all right."

"No," she felt his hand on her shoulder. "I've ruined my life and my reputation."

"You've ruined nothing," he assured her. "We'll think of something."

"You don't understand," she shook her head. "I... I'm a teacher. I left my position because I'll soon be showing. This is something I cannot hide from people."

"Where do you teach?" he sat beside her.

"I... I'd rather not say," she began to tense.

"Are you hungry?" he smiled and changed the subject.

"I am, now that you mention it," she dried her tears.

He rose and extended his arm, "Then would you like to join me for dinner? We have a wonderful Cafe just across the meadow."

"You'd want to be seen in public with me?" she hesitated.

"Well, as you must have guessed by now, I can't see," he grinned. "And so I can't tell how others react to who I'm with."

She was disarmed by his humor, "In that case, I would love to join you."

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

Sully initiated a tender kiss, and Michaela enthusiastically responded. He clasped her arms and slowly pulled back.

"Sully," she did not want to stop.

"We gotta talk first," he cupped her cheek in his hand.

She turned away, unable to look him in the eye, "Dr. Nelson told you, didn't he?"

"He mentioned a couple o' things," Sully admitted. "But I told him I wanted you t' explain things t' me."

She directed her glance back to him and linked her fingers in his, "It's called menopause, Sully. It means many things will be happening to my body over the next few years."

"Does it hurt?" he voiced his first thought.

"Not exactly," she turned up the corner of her mouth. Then she decided to be direct, "The changes in me will eventually culminate in a cessation of my... monthly. In the meantime, I'll have periods of nervousness, flushes and chills, irritability, headaches, crying spells...."

He kissed her hand again, "Is there any medicine for ya?"

"There are some things that I can do," she indicated.

"That's good then," he was hopeful.

"You know what it means in the end, Sully," she once more could not look at him.

"It's okay," he was uncertain if the words registered with her.

"I won't be able to have...." her tears again flowed.

"Shhh," he drew her closer. "Michaela, we're already so lucky in all we got."

"I know," she wiped the moisture from her cheeks. "I'm being terribly selfish."

"No, ya ain't," he avowed. "You're just tellin' me how ya feel."

"How do you feel, Sully?" she searched his eyes.

"I feel like I married the most beautiful woman in the world," he smiled.

She protested, "I don't feel very beautiful. I feel old."

He raised his eyebrows and quoted:

"To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still."

She smiled, "Shakespeare?"

"Yep," he touched her nose. "Michaela...."

"I know what you're going to say," she interjected.

"Ya do?" he feigned surprise.

"You're going to tell me that what is happening to me doesn't change how you feel about me," she predicted.

"And?" he teased.

"And?" she could think of nothing more.

"And it doesn't change how much I still want ya," his lips brushed her ear. "And I do, Michaela. I want ya more than ever."

His warm breath triggered her desire, "Even though I'm an old woman?"

"There's lots t' learn from an old woman," he grinned impishly.

"I love you, Sully," she whispered.

"I love you, too," he rose from the bed.

"Where are you going?" she was curious.

"T' make sure we aren't disturbed," he shut the door and propped a chair against the knob.

"Is there some reason why we shouldn't be disturbed?" she suspected his motives.

He removed his jacket and lifted his shirttail from his buckskins, "I can think of a couple."

She lay back against the pillows, in eager anticipation of what would follow.

"Ya sure ya ain't too tired?" he positioned himself beside her.

"I could never be too tired for you," she placed her fingers at the base of his neck and beckoned him to kiss her.

"I was thinkin' maybe we oughta explore what these changes in your body might affect," he spoke low.

Sully commenced a teasing kiss, barely allowing his lips to touch hers. Unbuttoning her blouse, his wayward hand slid along her form, caressing her breasts and eliciting the desired reaction from her.

"Good t' know that still works," he grinned.

He kissed the valley between her breasts and began to gather up the material of her skirt.

Michaela could feel her heartbeat intensify, "I think I'm having one of those flushes."

"Too hot for ya?" he manipulated his hand in the places he knew would stir her appetite.

Closing her eyes, she felt transported by his touch, "I'll manage."

She undid his buckskins and welcomed his movements to fulfill their longing. They clung to one another, giving and receiving the warmth of their love until they thought they had nothing left to give. Then, with rhythmic intensity, they reached an incredible apex of blinding energy. It engulfed them and united them in a oneness neither could describe.

Michaela felt him begin to pull back, "No. Please, not yet."

"I don't want this t' be too much for ya right now," he kissed her softly.

"I must confess something," her cheeks were red.

"What?" he tenderly ran his finger along the blush.

"You're never too much for me," she spoke low. "You're always just right."

"I like it when ya confess things like that," he grinned. "Got any questions about the effect ya still have on me?"

"I don't believe so," she basked in the afterglow of their encounter. "I'm sorry that you were called away from your meeting with Cloud Dancing. How did it go?"

"We met with Yellow Wolf o' the Nez Perce," he detailed. "He was tellin' us about what happened t' his people."

"It must have been terrible," she detected his concern.

"I'm gonna find out more when Cloud Dancin' gets back," he informed her.

"Do you want to become involved again, Sully?" she sensed.

"I feel pretty useless where the Indians are concerned," he lamented.

"You're not useless," she kissed his forehead. "You're a man of great integrity and conscience."

"I was thinkin' about what Carl Schurz said, Michaela," he broached the subject.

She began to run her fingers through his hair, lightly tracing his hairline behind his ears.

"What's this?" she felt a bump.

"What?" he kissed her chin.

"This," she maneuvered his head to the side for a closer look at his scalp.

He discerned the concern in her voice, "What's wrong?"

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

Michaela pulled back the strands of her husband's hair until she saw what she had felt, "It's a tick. It's sucking your blood, Sully."

"Well, pull it out," he made light of it.

"Would you go down to get my medical bag?" she requested.

Sully dressed and complied with her wishes. Soon, he returned with her bag. Michaela guided her husband to lean over so that his head rested on her lap. She took a pair of forceps from her bag and placed the ends as close as possible to the head of the creature. With a firm and steady pressure, she slowly pulled upward and outward until it disattached from his scalp. Quickly, she rubbed the affected area with disinfectant.

"Here it is," she held up the forceps for him to see. "I need to burn it."

Sully took a pack of matches from his pocket and lit one. Michaela held the forceps over the flame until with a crackling sound, the tick was dead.

"We must check our clothing and the bed sheets, too," she stated. "Do you have any idea where it came from? Were you around any animals? Leaves?"

"Just my horse," he thought about it. "Wait. It could've been when I fell."

"You fell?" she worried.

"Didn't hurt, but I ended up in some leaves," he thought back. "It might've latched ont' me there."

"We'd better check the entire Clinic for more ticks," she counseled. "And your horse. What about Matthew? He might have been...."

"I'll check, Michaela," he insisted. "You need t' take it easy."

"We'll need to check Brian.... and the children, as well, since you held them," her mind was set.

"This is gonna take most o' the evenin'," he sighed.

"We need to be careful, Sully," she explained. "Ticks can carry diseases."

"I know," he rested his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry."

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

"So, who ya think that woman is with the Rev?" Hank leaned back in his seat.

"She's real pretty," Loren observed.

"Think he might be holdin' back on us?" Hank joked.

"I think it's wonderful that he's courtin'," Dorothy spoke.

"Courtin'?" Loren was surprised. "Who said anythin' about that?"

"No one," the redhead smiled. "But look at how they're talkin'."

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

The woman glanced in the direction of the gawkers, "Reverend, I suspect we're the topic of discussion."

He patted her hand, "Let them talk."

"You don't mind?" she tilted her head.

"Not in the least," he retorted. "Won't you tell me your name? At least your first name? I won't tell a soul."

"Isabel," she felt more at ease with him. "Isabel Morant."

"Isabel," he repeated. "It's a beautiful name."

"Thank you," she blushed.

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

"Ya see that?" Hank noticed. "She's turnin' red. The old padre must really be charmin' her."

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

"Matthew," Robert E approached the table where the Sully children were finishing their meal. "Could I speak t' ya in private?"

"Sure," the young man joined him at the side of the Clinic.

"Sully just told me that Dr. Mike found a tick on him," the blacksmith cautioned. "He wants t' check you, Brian an' the kids. I already looked your horses over."

"A tick?" Matthew was curious.

"Dr. Mike wants t' take care that none o' you got bit, in case they spread from Sully's clothes," he said.

"Thanks, Robert E," Matthew nodded. "I'll bring 'em right over."

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

"We've checked this buildin' from top t' bottom, and found nothin'," Matthew glanced toward the clock. "It's pretty late. If ya don't need me anymore, I'll head over t' bed."

"Thanks, Matthew," Sully put his hand on his shoulder.

"Are we stayin' here t'night, Pa?" Brian wondered.

"Yep," he responded. "It'll be easier on your Ma."

"Okay," the young man headed for the steps. "'Night."

"Good night," Sully said.

There was a soft knock at the Clinic door. When Sully opened it, there stood Cloud Dancing. He joined him out on the wooden walkway.

"Michaela is all right?" the medicine man hoped.

"She'll be okay," Sully stated. "Did Yellow Wolf finish his story?"

"Yes," he answered. "I will discuss it with you later. You look tired."

"We had a busy evenin'," Sully nodded. "Michaela found a tick on me. She wanted t' be sure there weren't more."

"I have seen the illness such a small creature can bring," the Cheyenne said.

"You'd better check yourself, too," Sully cautioned. "I could've picked it up when we met with Yellow Wolf."

Cloud Dancing noticed his friend's expression, "I will speak with you tomorrow?"

"We'll be at the homestead," he informed him. "Come on out."

"I will be there," the medicine man responded. "You have told Michaela about the reason for your interest?"

Sully lowered his volume, "I ain't said anythin' about maybe becomin' an Indian agent again. It's not a good time t' discuss it right now with her health like it is."

"I will not mention it," he understood.

Michaela stepped onto the balcony after settling the children into bed. It was just in time to hear the exchange between Cloud Dancing and her husband. She knew that Sully had become disturbed by a sense of powerlessness. Yet, the thought of his becoming an Indian agent and being away for long periods of time again distressed her. That must be what he meant when he asked her if she recalled their conversation with Carl Schurz, the Secretary of Interior.

Turning, she reentered the recovery room. She exited into the hallway and met Sully as he reached the top step.

"Kids asleep?" he ran his hand up and down her arm.

"Waiting for you to say good night," she nodded toward their door.

When they entered, Sully sat on the edge of the bed where his children rested, "You two stayin' outa trouble?"

"Papa," Josef fidgeted. "I go?"

"Go where, Joe?" he was puzzled.

"Pivy," the little boy specified.

"Come on," Sully lifted him.

"Could ya tell us a story when ya get back, Poppy?" Katie requested.

"Sure," he smiled.

When the two had departed, Katie turned to her mother, "Mama, I was thinkin'."

"Yes?" Michaela prompted.

"You could talk t' Mrs. Slicker," the little girl suggested.

"Talk to her?" Michaela was uncertain.

"Maybe if ya asked her t' let me be an Indian in the play...." Katie hoped.

"Sweetheart, I can't do that," she attempted to explain. "It's a decision that Mrs. Slicker made."

"It wouldn't hurt t' have one more Indian," the child reasoned.

"That's not the point, Katie," Michaela clasped her hand. "Sometimes it's a difficult lesson to learn, but not everything that happens to us in life is within our control. You have to accept the decision made by your teacher. She is a fair woman, and she is looking out for all of her students."

"I back!" Josef came running in, preceding his father.

Michaela smiled and lifted him up to join his sister, "That didn't take long, young man."

"I quick," he tried to wink.

Michaela chuckled.

"Story now, Poppy?" Katie reminded.

"What kinda story would ya like to hear?" he smiled.

"Why leaves fall down," Josef spoke up.

"In the Autumn?" Michaela clarified.

Josef pointed toward the window, "Leaves fall off twees."

"Ah," Sully raised an eyebrow. "It just so happens, I got a story about that."

"Tell us, please," Katie tapped her father's arm.

"Once upon a time, there was a tribe o' Indians that had somethin' called a hoop dance," he commenced. "At the dance, parents would bring their eligible children t' be introduced t' each other."

"What's legible?" Katie interrupted.

"Eligible," Michaela clarified. "It means young people who are looking for someone to marry."

"Did you an' Poppy dance like that?" the little girl wondered.

"Well," Michaela felt her cheeks flush. "When your father and I danced, I must admit it was interesting."

"More stowy, Papa," Josef was being attentive for a change.

Sully resumed, "At the dance, couples often changed partners as a way o' introducin' themselves, but there was one couple that didn't. They only danced an' talked with each other an' no one else. The girl told him that every day, she worked in her mother's field, an' the boy said that every day, his uncle was teachin' him t' play the flute."

"Bran plays a flute," Katie pointed out. "I tried to."

"It takes practice, Sweetheart," Michaela reminded. "To do anything well, you must practice."

"Did the couple fall in love?" Katie inquired.

"We'll see," Sully continued. "The next day, the young man took his flute t' the field an' began to play a song. People heard the sound blowin' through the trees and wondered what it was. But the young woman knew. She knew it was the young man playin' just for her, an' it made her heart fill with joy."

"That why leaves fall, Papa?" Josef struggled to understand.

"You'll see soon, big boy," Sully tickled his side. "The girl wanted t' send a message t' thank the boy as he played just for her, so she asked a tree for a leaf. After receiving it, she placed it on the stream. The stream carried the leaf down t' where the boy was playin'. He knew it was from the young lady, an' it made him happy. He picked up the leaf an' went home."

"That's just one leaf, Poppy," Katie calculated.

"This went on day after day," Sully explained. "He would go t' the stream an' play his flute, an' she would go t' the tree, ask for a leaf, an' have the stream carry it t' him. Days became weeks, weeks became months, an' their love for each other grew stronger, without them even sayin' a word t' each other."

"How could they love each other an' not say anythin'?" Katie queried.

"It's very possible," Michaela cast her husband a knowing glance.

"Sometimes a fella doesn't wanna tell how he feels about a woman 'cause he's afraid she might not feel the same way," Sully knew.

"When you told Mama, were you afraid?" the little girl questioned.

"Oh, yea," Sully nodded.

"Were you afraid, too, Mama?" Katie persisted.

"When he told me?" she was transported back to the train in Boston. "I was petrified. In many ways, I already knew how he felt, but hearing the words did frighten me."

"Why?" Josef fidgeted with the edge of the blanket.

"Because it was a commitment of the heart," she tried to express her feelings. "To give your heart to someone is...."

"Did ya tell Papa ya loved him, too?" Katie interjected.

"Not right away," she glanced down.

"'Cause ya were scared?" the little girl assumed.

"Yes," she nodded. "But when I realized that he alone held my heart, I couldn't wait to tell him how I felt."

"That was in the street, right?" Katie recalled hearing the story of her mother running to him after alighting from the stage coach in Colorado Springs.

"Yes," Michaela chuckled. "In front of the entire town."

"Wasn't very private," Sully placed his hand on his wife's. "But I didn't mind."

"What happened to the couple in the story, Poppy?" Katie returned.

Sully's expression grew serious, "One day, they boy's uncle came t' him an' told him he had t' stop foolin' around by the stream an' learn how t' make a livin'. The uncle decided t' teach him how t' hunt. This made the young man glad 'cause if he made a livin', he could take his place in the village an' ask the girl t' marry him."

"Did the girl say yes?" Katie stopped him.

"The girl didn't know," Sully shook his head. "She just went t' the field each day, but did not hear his song for her. Finally, she became real sad, figurin' that he must be playin' for another girl. She felt so bad, she fell t' the ground. They called in all the medicine men, but no one knew how t' cure a broken heart."

"I sad," Josef's lip curled under.

"Come here, Joe," Sully pulled him into his arms.

"Didn't the man come back t' her, Poppy?" Katie hoped.

"He came back," Sully stroked her cheek. "An' he ran t' the stream t' play his flute for her. But no leaf came down t' meet him. He went back t' the village an' saw the girl's brother. He asked about her. The brother told him that she had died of a broken heart. They had placed her in a rock. The young man was so upset, he fell t' the ground, his own heart breakin'. When the girl's brother took him t' the rock an' left him, the young man took out his flute an' started t' play for her. Then somethin' miraculous happened as he played. The leaves on all the trees started fallin' down."

"She was tellin' him she loved him?" Katie surmised.

"Yep," Sully replied.

"Good story, Poppy," Katie commented. "But kinda sad."

"When ya see the leaves fall from the trees, just remember that true love lasts forever," he kissed his sleepy son's forehead and placed him beneath the covers. "An' when ya love someone, it's real good t' let 'em know it."

Then he leaned over to kiss Katie.

She hugged him tightly and whispered, "I love you, Poppy. Forever."

"I love you, too, honey," he felt a lump in his throat.

"I love you, Mama," the little girl added. "Forever, too."

"I love you, as well, my darling," she felt her eyes welling. "And this little one beside you."

"Joey," Katie shook him. "Say good night."

"'Night," he yawned again.

"I might have t' tell him how the story ended t'morrow," the little girl rolled her eyes.

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

"You've done it again, Mr. Sully," Michaela stroked his arm as they lay tucked together beneath the blanket.

"Done what?" he wondered.

"You've reached into my soul with your words, with your story to our children," she defined.

"I'll always love ya, Michaela," he kissed the palm of her hand.

She tingled at the electricity his lips charged through her.

He felt her tremble, "You cold?"

"No," she drew his arms around her. "Quite warm, actually."

"Good," he smiled.

"Let me check your scalp before we go to sleep," she began to sit up.

"It can wait 'til mornin'," he pulled her back. "I want ya t' get a good night's rest."

"But, Sully," she protested. "I need to monitor it and watch for any symptoms."

"Only symptom I got is wantin' t' hold you," he whispered.

She thought about the conversation she overheard earlier, "You would tell me if something were on your mind, wouldn't you, Sully?"

"I tell ya everythin' in due time," he was vague. "Right now, there's nothin' t' tell."

"That sounds rather mysterious," she rubbed his arm.

"I'm a man o' mystery," he laughed. "How 'bout your symptoms? Got any t'night?"

"None at the moment," she sighed. "Other than wanting to hold you, too."

"Seems like we both got the same condition," he stroked her temple. "Close your eyes now. Don't think about anythin'. Don't worry about anythin'. We'll take what life brings, an' make it through just fine, Michaela."

"I love you," she spoke low.

"I love you, too," he grinned. "I'd play a flute for ya, but...."

"Perhaps later," she kissed him softly.

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

In quiet reflection, the Reverend sat across from Loren in the mercantile. The older man took a sip of coffee and waited for his friend to mention the woman with whom he had dined earlier.

Clearing his throat, Loren attempted to open the conversation, "Saw ya at Grace's eatin' dinner."

"Yes," the minister nodded. "I was there."

"Right pretty gal you was with," the storekeeper added.

Timothy Johnson's face became more animated, "What did she look like, Loren?"

"Well," he began. "She's got brown hair that's kinda pinned up in the back. I couldn't see the color of her eyes, but she smiled a lot while ya was eatin'."

"She did?" the man of the cloth was pleased.

"Seemed like she was havin' a good time," Loren mentioned. "Who is she?"

"Just someone who was.... seeking answers," he was vague.

Loren came to the point, "Are ya sweet on her?"

"Certainly not!" the Reverend seemed a bit too adamant. "Why would you think that?"

Loren shrugged, "Just a natural question, I reckon. Did she find any answers?"

"Pardon me?" he tilted his head.

"Ya said she was seekin' answers," Loren reminded.

"Oh," he was caught off guard. "Not quite yet."

"So you'll be spendin' some more time with her," the shopkeeper reasoned.

"If she wants," he tried to sound nonchalant.

"What's her name?" Loren probed further.

"I.... think it's time for me to go to bed now, Loren," the minister stood. "I have a busy day tomorrow."

"Why?" Loren was disappointed. "T'morrow's Saturday, not Sunday."

"I just do," he was becoming flustered. "Good night."

"'Night," the older man spoke as his friend climbed the steps. Loren's imagination began to race, "Who is this woman? Why's he so hell bent on not sayin' much about her?" Standing, he picked up a lamp, "I'll find out about her t'morrow. Got a lot o' folks in this town who don't wanna see ya get hurt, Reverend."

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

Sully lifted his head from his hiding position behind a boulder. Below him, a trail of cavalry meandered across the valley. The dust created by their horses left a cloud that made visibility difficult. He had to warn the Indians of their approach.

When he stood up and turned, he froze. There before him stood Sergeant O'Connor, aiming his revolver directly at Sully's forehead.

"I thought you were dead," the mountain man's jaw clenched.

"You tried t' kill me an' failed," the soldier spoke with disgust. "Just like ya fail at everythin'."

"What do ya want?" Sully grew impatient.

"I want revenge," O'Connor pulled back the trigger of his weapon.

"Please," Sully swallowed hard. "Just let me say goodbye t' my family. It's important t' say goodbye. I... didn't get to last time."

"Ya didn't let me say goodbye t' anyone," the sergeant was sarcastic.

The mountain man's eyes darted, searching for a way out.

O'Connor read his mind, "Only way is over them rocks, then a drop of a hundred feet."

"Maybe we can talk about this," Sully stalled.

"Talk?" the military man raised his eyebrows. "Talkin's about all you're good for. Ya got no job. Ya gotta live off your wife. Mrs. Sully must be pretty sick o' that. The government told ya what ya could do with that Injun agent job. You're pretty worthless, from what I can see."

"Then why ya wanna waste your time on me?" he tried a new approach. "Don't seem like I'd be worth the bullet."

"Oh, I got plenty o' bullets," O'Connor pointed to his belt. "An the one in the chamber right now is just for you."

He began to squeeze the trigger.

"NO!" Sully shouted as he bolted up in bed.

"Sully," Michaela placed her hand on his back.

He attempted to calm his breathing and clear his mind, "Just a dream, is all."

"It must have been terrible," she sat up. "You were tossing and turning."

"I... I was dreamin' about O'Connor," he revealed. "We were at a cliff. I needed t' warn the Indians that the Army was comin', but he wouldn't let me. Then he was about t' shoot me without lettin' me say goodbye t' ya."

She stroked the hair at his temple, "I wonder why those memories are haunting you now?"

"I... I been thinkin' a lot about what happened t' the Nez Perce," he told her. "When I was an Ind..."

"Poppy?" Katie's voice beckoned from the other side of the door.

"Come in, honey," he spoke low.

The little girl opened the door and approached her parents, "I heard ya shoutin'."

"I'm sorry," he lifted her onto his lap. "Did I wake Josef, too?"

"No," she giggled. "Joey's hard t' wake up. Why'd ya shout?"

"Your Daddy simply had a bad dream, Sweetheart," Michaela rubbed her back.

"Think ya can go back t' sleep, sweet girl?" Sully touched her nose.

"After I ask ya somethin'," she mentioned.

"What?" the father held her hand.

"Did Mama tell ya 'bout the school play?" Katie asked.

"No," he turned to his wife. "But your Ma had a rough day."

"I was going to tell him tomorrow, Katie," Michaela explained.

"What d' ya want me t' know about the play, Kates?" he asked.

She glanced toward her mother and hesitated, "Just that I'm gonna be a Pilgrim child in it."

"That's great," Sully grinned. "I know ya must take after your Ma t' get a part in the play."

"But..." Katie almost confessed her desire to portray an Indian, but she stopped herself. "It's not a big part or nothin'. I guess I'll go back t' bed now."

The little girl slipped from her father's lap.

"Ya don't seem very happy about it, Kates," Sully observed.

"I'll be okay," she listlessly exited the recovery room. "'Night."

"You got an idea what she's not tellin' me?" Sully's heart grew heavy at his daughter's demeanor.

"She wanted the part of an Indian," Michaela informed him. "She's very disappointed. I tried to explain that it's Teresa's decision, and she must abide by it. I told her I would sew her a nice costume, but...."

"But, she's got her heart set," he finished her sentence.

"She even asked if I'd speak with Teresa," she noted.

"Maybe ya should," he sympathized.

"Sully," she protested. "Katie must learn that she cannot have everything she wants. Learning to accept disappointments will help her grow and mature."

"She's just six years old, Michaela," he countered. "If there's somethin' we can do t' prevent her from bein' disappointed, then...."

"I don't want to undermine the teacher's authority," she argued.

"It ain't a big deal t' anyone but our little girl," he stated.

"And what happens the next time Katie doesn't get what she wants?" she hypothesized.

"Ya make her sound like a spoiled brat," his volume was increasing.

"I'm doing no such thing," she protested. "I am trying to ensure that she does not become spoiled, however."

"Maybe we oughta just feed her bread an' water," he exclaimed.

"Don't be absurd," she was incredulous. "Now, if you think rationally about this...."

"I'm done talkin'," he threw his feet over the side of the bed.

"Where are you going?" she demanded.

"I'm goin' out on the balcony for some fresh air," he stood. "If that's all right with you."

"Go where you like," she lay down and turned her back to him.

Sully pulled on his buckskins and after bumping his toe on the bedpost, limped to the French doors.

Michaela watched his movements. Why was he so stubborn? Why could he not see that Katie would learn from this experience? Life would bring her disappointments as well as joys.

"Who knows that better than I?" she thought outloud. "Some things cannot be changed just because we want them to be."

Sully took a deep breath and sighed. Why's she gotta be so stubborn? Couldn't she hear the disappointment in Katie's voice? What's wrong with tryin' to make their little girl happy? Didn't Michaela know that he'd give the world to his family if he could?

"There's enough in life that's outa our control," he thought aloud. "Who knows that better than me?"

The chilly November dawn reminded Sully that he had grown accustomed to sleeping in a house and in a warm bed. He shivered and glanced back toward the recovery room. Then his thoughts turned to why they had spent the night there. Michaela's health. She needed to rest and reduce the stressful aspects of her life.

At that moment, his frustration gave way to a sense of guilt for arguing with his wife. It was the last thing she needed. They should be able to discuss their children and come to some sort of compromise.

Michaela realized that Sully was barefoot and without a shirt, standing out there in the cold temperature. She clutched the blanket on the bed. Perhaps she should take it out to him.

Before she could, she saw the doors reopen.

"Michaela," he whispered in case she had gone back to sleep.

"Sully," she sat up anxiously.

"I'm sorry," they both spoke simultaneously.

He held out his hand to her. She reached up and clasped it.

"I wanna show ya somethin'," he tugged gently.

"What?" she asked.

"Come here," he beckoned.

Still holding her hand, he guided her toward the doors.

"It's cold," she realized that he wanted her to go outside.

"Let's compromise," he returned to the bed and pulled off the blanket.

Wrapping it around his back, he held open the sides for her to lean against his chest. When she did, he opened the French doors again, then enfolded her in the warmth of his blanketed arms.

"I wanted us t' watch the sunrise t'gether," he spoke low against her ear.

She paused to reflect on the gradual transformation of the sky where it met the mountains. A deep red hue sat low, but orange and yellow rose from it and melted into the brightening blue above the town.

Sully quoted:

"The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose,
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare,
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth."

She closed her eyes, transported by the timbre of his voice, "That was lovely. Byron?"

"Wordsworth," he corrected.

"Is this how you win an argument?" she joked.

"Nope," he pivoted her in his arms. After kissing her tenderly, he pulled back, "This... is how I win an argument."

"You know that I cannot be so easily swayed," she teased.

Then she initiated a kiss, eliciting the desired result in her husband.

"Michaela!" he gulped. "In front o' the whole town?"

She smiled, "They've seen me do this before. Remember?"

"Come on," he guided her toward the room. "Back t' bed. Doctor's orders."

"I'll be right back," she tiptoed toward the door to the hallway. "I want to check on our daughter."

He patiently waited the minute it took for her return, "She okay?"

"Yes, sleeping," she slipped under the covers. "Sully, about Katie..."

"We'll argue more later," he crawled into bed beside her.

"But I don't want for us to argue," she insisted.

He rubbed her arm, "We ain't gonna solve anythin' right now. Let's get some more sleep."

She sighed in frustration.

"Shhh," he used his finger to draw her chin toward him. "Sleep."

With a sweet kiss to her lips, he closed his eyes.

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

"Is that you, Isabel?" the Reverend lifted his head at the sound of the creaking floor boards of the church.

"Yes," her voice was soft.

"I hope you slept well at the boarding house?" he folded his hands.

"I... I was rather restless," she sighed. "I still don't know what to do."

"I have an idea," the minister smiled. "Would you like to go on a picnic?"

"A picnic?" she was surprised. "In November?"

"We seem to be experiencing a bit of Indian Summer today, and so the idea occurred to me," he sounded almost shy.

"A picnic would be nice," she agreed. "But on one condition."

"What's that?" he asked.

"I'll arrange for our lunch," she offered.

"Agreed," he rested his hands on his cane.

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

"An' he wouldn't tell me nothin' about her," Loren concluded his description of the late night conversation with the Reverend.

Those gathered at the Cafe were interested and concerned.

"So ya think she's some kinda mystery woman?" Horace concluded.

"Ya make it sound like one o' them dime novels," Hank blew a ring of smoke into the air.

"I told ya yesterday, he's sweet on her," Dorothy reminded.

Preston decided to contribute to the conversation, "Perhaps I could introduce myself to her. I have a way of gleaning information."

"Ya have a way of bein' damn annoyin'," Hank rolled his eyes.

Grace stopped by the table where gossip about the Reverend was raging, "You still talkin' about that woman with the minister?"

"Ya gotta admit he sure looked like he's taken with her," Loren pointed out.

"She stopped by a little bit ago t' pick up some fixin's for lunch," Grace informed them. "Said she was goin' on a picnic."

"A picnic!" Loren's eyes widened. "I told ya she's after somethin'!"

"Yea, a meal," Hank sat up straighter. "Sure ain't after his money."

"Goin' on a picnic don't seem so mysterious t' me," Horace stated.

Hank raised and lowered his eyebrows, "Never been on the kinda picnics I was."

"I think I'll close up the shop an' keep an eye on the Reverend," Loren stood and placed a coin for his coffee on the table.

"Ya gonna follow 'em on the picnic?" Horace sat in disbelief.

"No, I ain't gonna follow 'em," Loren argued. "I'm gonna take a little walk. If I happen t' cross their path, I'll... just say hello."

"I'm sure the padre would appreciate it," Hank was sarcastic.

"Perhaps I'll join you on that walk," Preston placed his fingers in his vest pocket.

"Sounds romantic," Hank grinned.

"Very funny," Preston leered at him. "An eligible young woman should have a chaperone, after all. Loren and I will serve that capacity from a distance, shall we say."

"Don't seem like she'd need a chaperone with the Reverend," Horace doubted their motives.

"Never know," Hank winked.

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

Michaela opened her eyes when she heard Sully clear his throat. After a moment to focus, she saw that he was holding a tray.

"Breakfast," he smiled. "Compliments o' Grace."

"Mmm," she lifted up. "It looks delicious."

"Glad t' see ya got an appetite," he set the tray down on a table and placed another pillow behind her back.

"What time is it?" she wondered.

"Goin' on eleven o'clock," he placed the tray on her lap.

"Eleven!" she was shocked. "Sully, I can't believe you let me sleep this late."

"Why?" he sat on the edge of the bed and lifted a slice of bacon from her plate. "It's what ya need."

She became aware of the silence, "Where are the children?"

"Brian took 'em out t' the homestead," he responded as he chewed.

"I thought the breakfast was for me," she teased.

"It is," he winked. "I'm gonna wash up an' shave. Then we can head home. I'm gonna pamper ya t'day."

"It sounds very tempting," she began to eat.

Sully pulled his shirt over his head, "Weather looks like it's gonna be nice."

She glanced toward the windows, "Is it?"

"How 'bout a picnic this afternoon?" he offered, lathering his hands.

"That would be delightful," she continued to consume the delicious meal. "First, I have some patient files that need...."

"Ah-ah-ah," he protested. "No work. Just rest. Your files can wait."

Sully drew the blade across his stubbled face as Michaela finished eating. He marveled at how quickly his wife had consumed the offering.

Michaela watched him lovingly while he shaved. Then she noticed a red mark on his wrist.

"What's that?" she pointed.

"Must've bruised it when I fell yesterday," he dismissed the redness.

Sully dabbed some cologne onto his hands, then applied it to his cheeks. It was the one Michaela loved best on him. Putting on a fresh shirt, he returned to his wife.

Sully pretended to be disappointed, "Nothin' left on your plate for me?"

"I was rather ravenous," she admitted.

"That's good," he leaned closer.

She lifted her hand to caress his smooth face, then suddenly turned up her nose, "What's that awful smell?"

He drew back, "It's your favorite."

"That's impossible," she disagreed. "It smells nothing like...." Suddenly her face grew ashen, "Sully, the basin."

He reached for it just in time for Michaela to throw up into it. He rubbed her back as the terrible heaving sounds subsided. Finally, she lay back, her face steeped in perspiration.

Sully dampened a cloth and gently wiped her brow, "Better?"

She nodded silently.

"I'm gonna go get Dr. Nelson," he began to rise.

"No," she drew him back. "I'm fine now."

"Ya ain't fine, Michaela," he disagreed.

"I simply ate too quickly," she determined.

"Ya shouldn't be throwin' up," he countered.

"Sully," she insisted. "I'm fine."

"Michaela," he begged. "I'm worried about ya. Please."

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

"I obviously have a stomach ailment of some sort," Michaela's queasiness settled.

Sully ran the damp cloth across her face, "Ya doin' any better now?"

"Somewhat," she felt tired. "May I have some water?"

"Sure," he poured a glass for her.

As she sipped the liquid, she gleaned an expression of concern on his face.

"Generally, something of this nature lasts for a day or two," she attempted to sound optimistic.

"Got any medicine for it?" he questioned.

"In my bag," she pointed.

Michaela lifted several leaves from her medical bag, "Would you please brew some tea with these?"

"There goes our picnic," he attempted some levity.

She weakly smiled, "I'll be ready shortly to accompany you, Mr. Sully."

"No. Soon as ya feel up t' it, I'm takin' ya home," he kissed her hand. "Bein' in your own bed will help. Be right back with your tea."

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

"This was a wonderful idea, Reverend," Isabel spread the blanket on the ground.

"It's one of my favorite spots," he listened to the sounds. "I come here often to meditate."

"Meditate," she repeated. "I've been doing quite a bit of that myself."

As they sat on the blanket, she began to lift their plates and utensils from the basket.

"I smell chicken," he grinned.

"What else?" she held a jar close to his nostrils.

"Pickles," he recognized. "And potatoes."

"Very good," she chuckled. "Let's see if you're as good at eating them as you are at identifying them."

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

Nearby, Loren found an opening through some bushes to watch his friend, "Will ya look at that?"

Preston pulled a thorn from his finger, "Do we have to stand near this bush?"

"They're eatin'," Loren observed.

"Not entirely unusual for a picnic," Preston shot back.

"An' will ya look at that!" the shopkeeper poked him. "They're laughin'."

"Ah, since they are in such fine spirits, now would be an opportune time, then," the banker grinned.

"Opportune for what?" Loren tilted his head.

"To introduce myself, of course," he replied.

"Ya gonna just waltz over there an' introduce yourself?" Loren was amazed.

"Certainly," Preston stood taller. "Why not?"

"How ya gonna explain bein' out here?" he questioned.

"I'll simply tell them that I was surveying a potential land acquisition," Preston stepped from behind the bush and headed for the picnicking couple.

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

"Reverend...." Isabel struggled for the right words.

"Timothy," he amended. "Please call me Timothy."

She smiled, "Timothy... I have a confession to make."

"What is it?" he waited.

"It's about my true reason for coming to Colorado Springs," she began.

"Well, well," Preston's voice disrupted the conversation. "What a pleasant surprise."

"Preston?" the Reverend recognized his tone.

"Yes," the banker grinned. "And who might this lovely lady be?"

Isabel stood up quickly and darted off.

Hearing her leave, the minister called, "No, wait!"

"Something I said?" Preston was curious.

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

"Poppy," Katie climbed up on her father's lap as he sat in the front porch swing of the homestead.

"How's my sweet girl?" he lifted her.

"Mama's sleepin' again," her shoulders slumped. "Bran an' Joey are playin' hide an' seek."

"Then why don't you an' me do somethin'?" he stroked her curls.

"I don't feel like a game," she listlessly responded.

"What's on your mind, Kates?" he gently rocked the swing.

"Mama said I gotta learn a lesson," she leaned back comfortably against his chest. "But I wanna be an Indian girl in the play. You an' Cloud Dancin' have given me lots o' stuff I could use."

"That's true," he nodded. "Do ya think Miss Teresa might be disappointed if ya switched?"

"What d' ya mean?" the little girl was uncertain.

"What if she thought you're the best person t' play that little Pilgrim girl?" he pondered. "If ya changed parts, the play might not be as good."

"I didn't think about that," she admitted.

"You're the only reason I'll even be lookin' at the Pilgrims," he tickled her side.

"I am?" she smiled.

"Yep," he kissed her cheek. "Hey, I got an idea."

"What?" she loved it when her father thought up things.

"Well, if ya wanna be an Indian in a play, why don't ya write one yourself?" he suggested. "Maybe ya could even write a part for your little brother. I reckon he'd love t' be in it, too. You could put it on for Matthew, Brian, your Ma an' me."

"Poppy, I can't write good yet," she pointed out.

"Humm," he nodded. "Know anyone who can?"

"Bran!" she sat up straighter.

"Good thinkin'," he grinned.

"I'll go ask him," her eyes gleamed. "Thanks, Poppy."

"You're welcome, honey," he accepted her hug gratefully.

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

"Cloud Dancin'!" Katie rushed down the steps to welcome him.

The Cheyenne lifted her into the air, "It is good to see you. You have grown."

"Guess what I'm gonna do!" she excitedly asked.

"What?" he raised his eyebrows.

"I'm gonna write a play an' be an Indian in it," she announced.

"That is good," he set her down. "I would like to see this play."

"Then you're invited," she headed for the front door. "I'm gonna ask Bran t' help me."

"Haaahe," Sully said, as his daughter left them.

"How is Michaela?" the medicine man queried.

"I'm worried about her," Sully folded his arms. "She's got somethin' wrong with her stomach."

"I will gather some roots for her," he offered. After studying Sully's face, he asked, "There is more?"

"She's goin' through somethin' else," he paused. "They call it the change o' life. When it's done, she won't be able t' have kids."

Cloud Dancing nodded in recognition, "So it is for all women."

"Snow Bird went through it?" Sully wondered.

His friend swallowed hard, "She was beginning this change before she...."

"Sorry," Sully hated to remind him of her death at Washita.

"If Michaela is going through this, I hope you have prepared a thick skin, as the white man says," Cloud Dancing commented.

"Thick skin?" he rubbed his upper lip. "Why?"

"You will see," the medicine man shook his head. "She will argue for no reason, cry for no reason, throw things at you for...."

"No reason," Sully completed his sentence. "It's different for Michaela an' me. We talk things out."

"You will see," Cloud Dancing repeated knowingly.

"Have a seat," Sully gestured toward a chair on the porch.

"I have come to tell you the story of the Nez Perce," the Cheyenne spoke. "If you have the time."

"For you, I got the time," Sully made himself comfortable.

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

"Do you see her?" the Reverend asked Preston.

"No," he glanced in the direction Isabel had run. "Rather odd behavior, don't you think?"

"Preston," he controlled his anger. "Why are you really here?"

"Can't a man take a leisurely stroll on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, without...." the banker stopped when the minister interrupted.

"You only do things for calculated reasons," his temper got the better of him.

"What's goin' on?" Loren stepped forward.

"You, too?" Reverend Johnson took a deep breath. "Now, I'm really suspicious."

"Why?" Loren feigned ignorance. "Can't a man take a..."

"Leisurely stroll on a beautiful Saturday afternoon?" the man of the cloth interjected. "Yes, I know."

"Where'd your friend go?" Loren stuck his fingers in his vest pockets.

"I don't know," the minister sighed. "But I can only pray that she hasn't gone for good."

"Why would she do that?" Loren asked. "Did Preston here say somethin' insultin'?"

"Me?" the banker pointed to himself in disbelief. "I merely asked who she was, and she bolted out of here like a cannonball."

"Don't seem like normal behavior," Loren observed.

"No," the Reverend raised his hand. "What don't seem like normal behavior is two grown men with much better things to do showing up in the middle of a meadow where I happen to be enjoying a lady's company."

"Oh, so ya admit there's somethin' between ya," Loren grinned.

"I admit that we were having a picnic," he was becoming more frustrated. "But that is apparently over. I would appreciate it if you two gentlemen could take me home."

"Sure," Loren glanced contritely at the banker. "Er... I'm real sorry about this."

Preston showed no remorse, "Of course, we'll assist you. Perhaps you can fill us in on this mysterious lady's identity."

"I'll do it myself if I have to discuss her with you," Reverend Johnson snapped.

"I'll take that to mean now is not the right time for a discussion," Preston knelt down to fold the tablecloth.

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

Cloud Dancing recalled, "When you left, Yellow Wolf had just told us about the start of war between the Nez Perce and United States."

"After more whites were killed," Sully acknowledged.

The Cheyenne picked up the story, "When the troops arrived at the Nez Perce encampment, the Indians put out a white flag, hoping to avoid bloodshed. But the soldiers opened fire on them. Yellow Wolf told me it was like two bulldogs meeting. The army could not hold their position and began to run. They counted 33 dead soldiers. The Nez Perce did no scalping, nor did they disturb the dead."

Sully felt his pulse rush, "When will the killin' end?"

"The Indians suffered only three injuries, but they gained rifles and ammunition left by the soldiers," Cloud Dancing went on. "They debated what to do, as they knew more soldiers would be called in. One of the war chiefs named Looking Glass suggested that they head east out of Idaho."

"Why not north t' Canada?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

His friend detailed, "There were several reasons. They thought the white men would not bother them, and their allies, the Salish and Crow, would surely shelter them along the way. They could hunt buffalo until a peace treaty was negotiated. And so, seven hundred of them set out. Only two hundred were warriors. The rest were women, children and old people, with their horse herd and belongings all in Chief Joseph's care."

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

Timothy Johnson arranged and rearranged the hymnals on the ends of each pew. Then he made his way to the pulpit and fingered the edges of his Bible. It had been years since his sight left him. Years since he had read the Good Book or watched a sunrise. He had long given up hope of ever seeing again.

But he did not permit it to dampen his spirits for long. His other senses had become heightened. He recalled his adventure to the Mountain of the Holy Cross where, in search of its powers of healing, his early warning saved the lives of Brian and Sully. And more recently, there had been the town's expedition to seek a lost Spanish gold mine, at which his sensations had warned of an eminent cave-in. Dr. Mike and Dorothy were spared because of his beckon.

God had given him a new way of saving souls, he thought. But now, this troubled young woman had come into his life, and before he knew it, she was gone. Would she return? Would she trust him enough to confess her true reason for being there? Would there be anyplace that she could go to have her child and not be judged? The troubling questions nagged at him.

"I have to prepare tomorrow's sermon," he sighed. "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

"Is that for my benefit?" it was the voice of Isabel.

"You're back!" he did not contain his relief. "I... I wasn't sure if...."

"I'm sorry I left the way I did," she glanced down. "Your friend must think all sorts of things about me."

"It doesn't matter what Preston thinks," the minister extended his hand to her.

She clasped it, "If you're still willing to listen, I came back to make that confession."

"I'm willing," he guided her to sit.

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

Sully's eyes saddened at the thought of another Indian war.

The Cheyenne continued, "The day before your Independence Day, the Nez Perce wiped out a scouting party that got too close, and again the next day, there was bloodshed. With the Army following, the Indians began climbing the Bitterroots, following the same trail that Lewis and Clark had."

Sully stood up and began to gaze across the landscape of his homestead.

Cloud Dancing did not pause, "The Army sent men to block the passes. They built a barricade across the trail. Their former ally, the Salish Indians, joined with the Army, tying white cloths on their arms and heads so they would not shoot each other and so the soldiers would know they were not Nez Perce."

"Was it a bloody battle?" Sully envisioned.

The medicine man took a deep breath, "The Army demanded the surrender of the Nez Perce, saying they could not get by. Yellow Wolf said his chief replied, 'We are going by you without fighting if you will let us, but we are going by you anyhow.'"

"How many dead?" Sully steeled himself for the answer.

"None," Cloud Dancing surprised him. "The Army let the Indians pass without firing a shot. They later heard that the whites near the barricade labeled it 'Fort Fizzle.'"

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

Reverend Johnson listened intently, "What is it that you feel the need to confess?"

"My true reason for coming to Colorado Springs," Isabel answered.

"If you'd rather not...." he paused.

"No, I don't feel uncomfortable when I'm with you," her voice was tender. "I've already told you that I'm a teacher. I live in Denver and recently met two young doctors from your town."

"Colleen and Andrew Cook?" he suggested.

"Yes," she smiled. "In the course of our discussion, I learned that Colleen's mother, Michaela Quinn, is a physician here."

"Dr. Mike, we call her," he nodded.

"I did not wish to see a doctor in Denver about my.... situation," she waited for his reaction.

"Go on," he encouraged.

"So, I thought I might come here to see Dr. Quinn," Isabel resumed. "But I lost my nerve shortly after my arrival. Then I saw your church sitting here so peacefully and came in to pray."

"I'm glad you did," he smiled. "But Dr. Mike is a wonderful physician. She can give you all sorts of care and information about what to expect during your... time."

"I don't think you understand why I was coming to see her," she determined. "I didn't come here for advice and care about having a baby. I came for advice on NOT having it."

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

"Mama?" Katie stood at her mother's bedside awaiting her eyes to open.

"Mmm?" Michaela was disoriented. "Katie. Hello, Sweetheart."

"I saw your eyes move, and I thought ya might be awake," the little girl climbed up onto her mother's bed.

"I'm awake now," she yawned. "And terribly hungry."

"Want me t' make ya somethin'?" the child offered.

"No, thank you," she smiled. "I'll get up shortly. Why were you waiting for me to open my eyes?"

"I wanted t' tell ya my good news," Katie beamed.

"What?" the mother held her hand.

"Poppy said I could play an Indian!" the child announced.

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

"Fort Fizzle?" Sully chuckled.

Cloud Dancing resumed his description, "The Nez Perce turned south, along the Bitterroot River, paying settlers along the way for their supplies. But the whites began to panic as their towns were approached by the moving tribe. They did not realize that the Nez Perce intended to move peacefully to their buffalo country, leaving the question of returning to their homeland to be settled afterward."

"I read about a battle at Big Hole," Sully turned to face his friend. "If only I was there. Maybe I could've talked t' Colonel Gibbon. I met him when Michaela an' me were returnin' from...."

"You were where you were meant to be," the medicine man comforted. "Looking Glass informed the Nez Perce that they could rest at Big Hole. Though Howard was far behind them, Gibbon had been following their movements. Yellow Wolf recalled the attack just before dawn. There were many rifles firing and many soldiers yelling. Quickly, between 60 and 90 Indians fell, over half of them women and children, killed before they could kick free of their blankets."

Sully swallowed hard.

Cloud Dancing continued, "The warriors regrouped and drove the soldiers from the camp. Gibbon was among those injured."

"Ain't the first time he's been hurt in battle," Sully recalled. "Michaela saved his life after Gettysburg."

"BYRON SULLY!" her voice echoed from the house.

"Sounds like Michaela's up from her nap," he grinned.

"It sounds more like she is after your thick skin," the medicine man joked.

Sully opened the front door, "I'm out here with Cloud Dancing, Michaela."

She stormed onto the porch, "I want to speak with you right now."

"Ain't ya gonna say hello t'...." he was cut off.

"I want to speak with you," she repeated angrily.

"I shall leave you," Cloud Dancing retreated toward the steps.

"Wait," Sully held up his hand. "I ain't done hearin' about the Nez Perce, Michaela. Are ya sick again?"

"No," her voice was controlled. "But if you don't come upstairs with me at this instant, you're going to....."

"Hold it," Sully interrupted. "Why are ya yellin' like this? Orderin' me like a...."

"I have every right to demand your attention where our children are concerned," she fired back.

"Is somethin' wrong with...." again he was interrupted.

"Are you coming with me?" she demanded anew.

"What if I don't?" he put his hands on his hips.

"Sully," Cloud Dancing could remain idle no longer. "This might be one of those times we discussed earlier."

"Huh?" Sully was too upset to think clearly.

"Byron Sully," Michaela bellowed. "I...."

Her face suddenly grew pale.

"Michaela," Sully instantly forgot his anger as he reached for her.

Enfolded in her husband's arms, she fainted.

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

"You.... don't want to have your child?" Reverend Johnson was stunned.

"It was not my intention," Isabel revealed.

"Was?" he noted the tense.

She took a deep breath, "I'm too confused right now."

"Isabel," he hoped to dissuade her. "Please, you must think about this. I... why wouldn't you want..."

"Reverend," she became formal again. "Maybe it wasn't a good idea to tell you this."

"No," he disagreed. "It's something that's obviously bothering you. If you want, I... I can see that the child is taken care of. But, please, I beg you, don't do anything that you'll regret."

"That's just it," tears began to well in her eyes. "I began to have second thoughts after I came here. But the baby's father can't marry me. And I cannot continue to teach as an unwed mother. How am I to support the child?"

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

Cloud Dancing studied the faces of the Sully children as they sat quietly waiting for word of their mother. Josef, on his lap, toyed with his beads, and Katie huddled with Brian, hoping soon that her father would descend the steps with news.

"What's wrong with Mama?" Katie asked.

"We don't know," Brian felt helpless.

"I see Mama?" Josef's little eyes implored.

"It is not time," Cloud Dancing rubbed his back. "Your mother is a very strong woman. She will get better."

"I never saw her like this before," Brian thought back.

"If you think hard, you have," Cloud Dancing reminded. "When she had the influenza. When she was shot. After Washita."

"I guess," Brian looked down. "An' she always got better before."

"So there is reason to hope for her recovery, yes?" the medicine man smiled.

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

"Sssully?" Michaela opened her eyes.

"I'm here," he rushed from the rocking chair to her bedside.

She began to sit up, "I... I must have fainted again."

"You did," he concurred. "Now that you're awake, I'll get Dr...."

"No," she insisted. "I feel much better now."

"Why do ya have t' be so stubborn?" he sighed.

"I am perfectly capable of assessing my own condition," her temperament had not improved. "And I tell you that I'm better."

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "Why were ya so fired up about seein' me when I was talkin' t' Cloud Dancin'?"

She felt her anger boil, "Because of what you told Katie. I cannot fathom why you would tell her she could play an Indian without finishing our discussion on the matter."

He grinned, "How'd you find out about that?"

"How dare you give that look," she was indignant. "You know that I do not approve of...."

Sully leaned closer and kissed her, effectively silencing her. When he pulled back, he gently stroked the side of her face.

She was clearly flustered, "This... is... no way.. to..."

He repeated the kiss, parting his lips to welcome her reciprocation.

"Sully," she caught her breath. "I want to..."

"Hear my explanation?" he finished the sentence to his own satisfaction.

"I cannot imagine what explanation you could possibly have," she felt her cheeks flush.

"I did tell Katie she could play an Indian," he acknowledged. Before his wife could protest anew, he added, "If she writes a play of her own. So she asked Brian t' help her, an' they're gonna include a part for Josef. They'll perform it just for us."

"So... this is entirely separate from the school play?" she began to feel embarrassed.

"Entirely," he smiled.

"Oh, my," she could not look him in the eye. "I'm sorry, Sully. You must think I'm crazy."

"Only thing I'm thinkin' right now is how t' make you better," he lovingly toyed with a strand of her hair.

"I behaved abominably," she choked back her tears.

Sully pulled her closer to embrace her, "Michaela, I reckon it's part o' that change you're goin' through."

"There's no excuse for how I acted," her tears flowed more freely.

She threw her arms around his neck.

"Oh, Sully," she wept. "Sometimes.... I feel like I'm crawling out of my skin."

"Please let the doctor take another look at ya," he implored. "Maybe he missed somethin'."

She framed his face between her hands and suddenly realized how warm her husband's cheeks were, "Sully, you... you have a temperature."

"Nah," he dismissed it. "I was sittin' near the fireplace, is all. I don't want ya worryin'."

She sighed, "We make quite a pair, don't we?"

"Who's gonna take care o' us?" he joked.

"I'm famished," she slipped her hand to her stomach.

"I'll fix ya somethin'," he offered.

"What time is it?" she wondered.

"Around three o'clock," he informed her. "Why?"

"I seem to be sleeping most of the days away," she sighed.

"That's good," he grinned. "Ya need t' rest."

"I'd prefer to do it without first fainting," she quipped.

His expression became serious, "Michaela.... please let him check ya. I can't...."

"Can't what?" she wondered why he stopped.

"I can't lose you," his voice was barely audible.

"You're not going to lose me," she pledged.

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

"I don't believe you two did that," Jake exclaimed after hearing Loren's version of the picnic earlier in the day.

"I believe it," Hank smirked.

"I tell ya, the preacher's in love," Loren declared. "I can see it."

"Yea," Jake scoffed.

"I'm real good at seein' when a couple's in love," the older man protested.

"Name one time," the barber continued to bait him.

"Dr. Mike an' Sully," Loren folded his arms. "I could tell them two was smitten right off the bat."

"Michaela an' Sully was the last t' see it," Hank recalled.

"Oh, they saw it," Loren said. "They just didn't admit it."

"Maybe the same's true for the Reverend an' this lady," Horace observed.

"'Cept he can't see, period," Hank retorted.

"I think you're forgetting something here, gentlemen," Preston entered the conversation.

"What?" Jake spoke for the group.

"The lady's reaction to my arrival," he pointed out.

"Seems t' me she had a perfectly natural reaction," Hank laughed. "She took off runnin'."

"Without even waiting to be introduced?" the banker noted. "It's very odd. It's almost as if she doesn't want to be recognized."

"Think she's some kinda criminal on the run from the law?" Horace suggested.

"Yea," Jake chuckled. "Maybe she had a Colt .45 in that picnic basket."

"Well, Horace here found out that quick romances ain't such a good idea," Hank detailed. "Remember when his mail-order bride damn near killed me?"

"I can send out a description of her t' some towns in the area," Horace offered. "See if she's wanted."

"I bet she is," Loren conjectured.

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

"Isabel," Timothy Johnson offered. "Why don't you stay here in Colorado Springs to have your child?"

"I appreciate your invitation," she acknowledged. "But the people here are no less judgmental than those in Denver. Perhaps even more so since this town is much smaller."

"They would not be judgmental if the woman were married," he suggested.

"I told you that I can't marry the father," she reminded.

"But you could marry someone else to give the baby a name and to protect your honor," he pointed out.

"I don't have very much time to find a husband," she stated. "I'll be showing soon."

He cleared his throat, "Isabel, what if you married me?"

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

Michaela descended the steps, feeling better than she had in some time. When she reached the ground floor, Josef spotted her.

"Mama!" he scurried across the room.

Lifting the little boy into her arms, she kissed his cheek, "Hello, young man."

"I wowwied," he held his palms to her cheeks. "Ya sick?"

"I'm feeling much better," she smiled.

Katie reached up, "Mama, are ya still mad?"

"I'm very sorry for how I acted, Katie," she knelt down. "It was terribly wrong of me."

"Did Poppy forgive ya?" she whispered.

"Yes," she spoke low in return.

"Good," the child grinned.

"Your Daddy told me that you're going to write a play," Michaela sounded enthusiastic.

"Bran an' me," she pointed.

The young man approached, "How ya feel, Ma?"

"Better," she stood. "Thank you for helping Katie with this project."

"I think it'll be kinda fun," he grinned.

"We eat?" Josef's eyes widened.

"I'll fix supper shortly," Michaela promised. "First, I want to speak to Cloud Dancing."

The medicine man stood as she approached. Brian encouraged his siblings to accompany him outside for a game of tag.

Cloud Dancing took Michaela's hands and studied her eyes, "I see you are feeling better."

"I want to apologize for my outburst earlier," she spoke.

"There is no need," he smiled, then looked over her shoulder. "Will Sully be joining us?"

"Soon," she nodded. "I told him I wished to speak with you alone for a few minutes."

"I see," he responded.

"Please, sit down," she invited.

They sat in the adjoining wing back chairs.

"Cloud Dancing," she folded her hands in her lap. "I know that you have been telling Sully about the Nez Perce."

"That is so," he admitted. "Their situation has been much on his mind."

"I..." she hesitated. "I was wondering.... That is.... I believe that he misses being more actively involved in trying to help the Indians."

Cloud Dancing noticed the tormented expression on her face, "He loves you and your life here."

"I know," she confessed. "But I also believe that he feels a strong sense of frustration."

"We are all frustrated," he thought of his own people.

"Do you think that Sully wants to return to government service in order to help the tribes?" she came out with it.

"How would you feel about that?" the medicine man knew it was something Sully was considering.

"I... want him to be happy," she stated.

"Would that make him happier?" the Cheyenne posed the question.

She pondered it, "Perhaps with the new administration in Washington...."

"The same administration that went to war against the Nez Perce...." Cloud Dancing defined.

She sighed, "I know."

"Sully will find his path," the friend counseled. "He has great peace and joy in his heart with you and your children. This will guide him."

Though his words were comforting, she still wondered what direction Sully would take. Would he choose a path that would take him away from his family for long periods of time?

"Will you join us for dinner?" she invited.

"I would like that," he smiled.

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

"Timothy..." Isabel was stunned. "We've only known each other for a day. How could you ask me to marry you?"

"I will make no demands on you as a husband," he avowed. "It would be in name only. I.... I want to help you and the child."

"I don't think you realize what you're doing," she turned away.

"Isabel," he reached for her hand. "I know that I have nothing to offer in the way of money or a fine house, but...."

"Please," she could not listen further. "I... can't do this."

With that, she stood and hurried from the church.

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

After dinner, Michaela was in improved spirits. She smiled as she watched Brian and Katie work on story ideas for their play. With her mind elsewhere, she pricked her finger on the needle she was using to sew Katie's costume. Then she glanced toward the living room.

Sully, with Josef on his lap, was listening intently to his friend's description of the Nez Perce defeat. Josef periodically commanded his father's attention, but Sully gently guided him back to a still position. Michaela's heart filled with joy, surrounded by the warmth of her home and in the company of those she loved.

She felt a tear trickle down her cheek. It did not go unnoticed by her daughter.

"Mama?" Katie came around to the side of the table where Michaela sat.

"Yes?" the mother held the material up to to her daughter's arm.

"Ya got water under your eye," the child pointed.

"From a speck of dust," she dismissed it.

Katie cooperated restlessly in being measured again, then returned to Brian's side for their work at play writing.

Michaela directed her attention to what Cloud Dancing was saying.

The Cheyenne medicine man spoke deliberately, "After the battle at Big Hole, the Nez Perce moved back into Idaho. Some of the younger warriors began to ignore their leaders' urgings of restraint. They raided ranches and murdered some civilians."

"I remember the newspapers criticized Howard for his ineptitude," Sully contributed.

"Me, too," Josef added.

Sully rested his lips on the top of his son's soft hair and kissed him.

"Howard nearly caught them near the Wyoming border," the medicine man said. "But the Nez Perce stole his mule herd, which delayed him long enough for them to turn east again. This time, they headed for Yellowstone."

"They went through the park?" Sully was amazed.

"We go, too, Papa?" Josef looked up at his father.

"Shhh, Joe," Sully clasped his hands. "Show respect for your Cheyenne father an' listen close."

"There were tourists in the park," Cloud Dancing resumed. "Some were attacked by the warriors until Red Scout intervened and told them they had done enough wrong. The Nez Perce moved on, hoping to find safety among their friends, the Crow."

"In war, ya find out who your friends are real fast," Sully observed.

"To their great disappointment, the Crow helped the Army instead," the Cheyenne nodded. "Yellow Wolf told me that when he saw Crow fighting against his people, he felt like his heart was on fire.... fighting against their best friends. This was why Chief Looking Glass had urged them to go to the buffalo country in the first place, to seek help from the Crow. Now they realized they were alone."

"Canada would be their only hope," Sully reasoned.

Cloud Dancing noticed the child falling asleep in his father's arms, "The little one has grown bored."

Sully smiled and held his son against his chest, "Nah. He didn't get a nap t'day. An' he did wanna stay up t' hear your story."

"I am going away for several days, but will return by the end of the week," the medicine man said. "I shall resume the story then, if you want."

"You're always welcome in our house," Sully stood up.

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

"Glad t' see ya ate good at supper," Sully said to his wife as he removed his shirt in preparation for bed. "Your stomach doin' okay?"

"Yes," Michaela ran her brush through her hair.

"Anythin' wrong?" he noted her uncharacteristic quiet.

"No," she seemed distracted.

Sully stepped closer and knelt down. Silently, he removed the brush from her hand and ran it through her long tresses.

"I love your hair," he leaned closer to her ear.

With one hand, he pulled back the tresses. Then he planted a soft kiss where her neck and shoulder met. Setting the brush on the vanity, he guided her around to face him.

In a low voice, he set his gaze upon her, reaching into her soul with his words:

"When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The gods, that wanton in the air,
Know such liberty."

She felt her heart beat more quickly, "Was that Shakespeare?"

"Richard Lovelace," he cited the poet.

She reached across to entwine her fingers in his hair. Before her, knelt the man who held her heart. With his every breath, she felt his love for her. She wanted to give him the world, to make him happy, to hold him.

"I love you, Sully," she whispered.

"I love you, too," he turned to kiss the palm of her hand.

"And I want you to be happy," she ran her finger across his lips.

"You make me the happiest man alive," he smiled.

Then she felt the heat of his gaze. It made her weak and excited at the same time. His look, that was all it took to spark her longing for him. How was it possible? How could one explain or analyze it?

"What ya thinkin' about?" his lock on her was unbroken.

"How much I...." she stopped herself, feeling embarrassed by her thoughts.

"How much you..." he grinned, then caressed her thigh. "Want me?"

She gulped, "I rather suppose so...."

"Ya got a way with words," he teased.

Sully loosened the tie from her waist and opened her robe. He raised his hand to her neck, then slowly, sensuously guided it downward across her gown.

Michaela breathed more rapidly. Closing her eyes, she permitted her senses to take over, and the sensations he ignited were rapidly engulfing her.

Sully parted her legs and maneuvered closer to kiss her stomach through the material of her shift. She felt his warm lips through the thin cloth, and it stirred her desire for a more direct touch. Lifting up slightly, she pulled her gown up past her hips.

Sully was delighted by her bold invitation. He slipped his hands beneath the material and stroked her abdomen. Michaela nearly gasped as he lifted her gown higher. Then again he leaned forward to kiss her stomach, this time unencumbered by her clothing. She leaned back as his hands moved higher to caress her breasts.

Sully discerned a fuller feel to her as he lightly explored the rounded contours of her body with his palms. He smiled at her willingness to permit him, even provoke him to such unlimited access to her body. His own body was beginning to react to his overtures, as well.

Then Michaela sat up and guided Sully to lay back on the floor. With graceful movements, she reciprocated the touches to him that he had so inflamed in her. Light kisses across his chest fueled his passions further.

"Sully," she spoke his name as if it were her life. "Now..."

With that one syllable, she invited him to join with her. Divesting himself of his buckskins, he gently positioned himself atop her. Michaela gratefully accepted the weight of her husband and stroked his back to communicate her pleasure. They kissed with an ardor that seemed unlimited. Then, their bodies took over, moving and melding together like two halves seeking to become whole.

Their pulses raced as their oneness was achieved in a tide of energy and sensual gratification. Locked together, neither wanted to let go of the overwhelming warmth they felt.

Finally, as his wife began to doze off, Sully lifted her into his arms and carried her to their bed. He pulled her covers up and placed a tender kiss on her forehead.

He walked to the fireplace to add a log. Suddenly, a pain gripped his head. He felt a wave of nausea, then closed his eyes and willed it to pass. It did.

"Maybe I'm gettin what Michaela has," he conjectured to himself.

In the brighter illumination of the fire, he noticed his wrists. The redness which he had noticed earlier had spread. Now on both of his arms, a rash of some sort was visible. He quickly dismissed it and returned to the side of his wife.

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

Sometime during the night, Michaela felt it... the moisture on her arm. She reached over to rub it and felt the mattress also wet. She became more alert.

Then she extended her hand toward Sully and saw in the pale moonlight. He was steeped in perspiration. Placing her palm to his forehead she was shocked. He was burning up with fever.

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

"Sully!" she raised the lamp to provide more light.

Pulling on her shift, she swiftly dampened a cloth in the basin by the bed and drew back the covers from her husband. She wiped his body in an attempt to cool him.

"Brian!" Michaela called out frantically.

"Ma?" he appeared at the doorway within seconds.

"It's Sully," she tried to keep her voice calm. "He has a fever. I need you to ride into Loren's and get all of the ice you can."

The young man stepped closer,"Pa!"

"Please, Brian," she repeated. "The ice."

As he left the room, she sensed another presence nearby.

"Mama?" it was Katie. "Why ya shoutin'?"

"I need to cool off your father, Sweetheart," she did not want to alarm her. "Do you think that you could go back to bed and make certain that Josef is all right?"

"Poppy's all wet," the little girl observed.

"Katie," Michaela was firm. "Please go back with Josef now."

The child did not comprehend what was happening, but she recognized the serious tone of her mother's voice. She quickly departed and went down the hallway to comfort her brother if he woke.

"Mmmichaela?" Sully attempted to open his eyes.

His pulse was rapid and his speech slurred.

"I'm right here," she wiped his brow.

"Whaa?" he could not complete his question.

"Fever," she began a closer scrutiny of his body.

Drawing the lamp near, she realized the extent of his rash. It was on his palms, wrists, his ankles and across his torso.

"Oh, God, Sully," she recognized the seriousness of his symptoms.

"My.... head," he held his temples. "Whaa's wrong with me?"

"The tick that bit you," she reasoned. "It caused this."

He attempted to clasp her hand, "I... I don't know what...."

She assured, "You're going to be all right."

Michaela heard the downstair's door slam, as Brian raced off to fetch the ice.

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

Matthew, Loren and Hank joined Brian in carrying ice into the bedroom.

Michaela directed, "We need the bath tub. Then we must put Sully in and surround him with the ice."

Swiftly, they worked as a team in an effort to cool his fevered body with the frozen chunks. All the while, Michaela held her husband's hand. Finally, the men stepped back.

"What's wrong with him?" Matthew vocalized.

"The tick that bit him," she revealed. "I've seen this before, two or three cases."

"What'd ya do to cure 'em?" Hank queried.

"I..." she stopped.

"Michaela?" Hank noticed her expression. "Did ya cure 'em?"

"No," she tried not to cry.

"Is Pa gonna...." Brian could not finish his question.

"Come on, lad," Loren put his arm around the young man. "You, too, Matthew. Let's go downstairs an' fix some coffee. It's gonna be a long night for your Ma."

When they had exited, Hank sat down in a chair near the bed.

"I'm going to give him some quinine," she opened her medical bag.

"That what ya gave the others?" he was blunt.

"Yes, but... I did not treat them in such early stages of this," she recalled.

"Maybe there's somethin' else ya should try," Hank folded his arms.

"Do you have a suggestion?" she sounded almost sarcastic.

"Take it easy, Michaela," he raised his hands. "I just mean ya got a lot o' fancy books an' journals. Maybe there's somethin' in one of 'em."

"Mama," Katie was unable to stay away at the sound of more voices.

Hank stood up, "Come on, beautiful. Let's go check on that kid brother o' yours."

The bartender lifted the little girl and carried her out. Michaela was overwhelmed by the sight of her husband so helpless, and she began to cry.

"Mmmicha....," Sully's voice was weak.

"Right here," she lifted his hand to her lips.

"I..." he attempted to focus. "I can't move."

"There's ice all around you, Sully," she pointed out.

He had never felt so tired in his life, "My head hurts."

She reached into her medical bag and prepared some laudanum for him, "This will make you feel better."

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

"Mr. Lawson," Katie folded her hands atop her blanket. "I'm scared."

"Yea?" he raised an eyebrow.

"My Poppy's real sick," she comprehended.

"He's in good hands," the barkeep rubbed his beard. "Your Ma's the best doctor around, but don't tell her I said that."

"Why?" she was curious.

"I don't give out compliments too often," he replied. "Might ruin my reputation."

"What reputation?" she asked.

"Never mind," he heard Josef stir. "Think that kid's gonna wake up now?"

"Katie," Josef sat up and squinted at the light. Then he recognized, "Misser Lawson?"

"Yea," Hank joked. "Fancy meetin' you here."

Josef pushed back his covers and climbed down from his bed. Standing next to Hank, the little boy was dwarfed by his stature.

"You got somethin' t' say?" Hank waited.

"Pivy," Josef craned his neck to look at his face.

"Joey's gotta go t' the...." Katie was interrupted.

"I figured it out," Hank nodded. "Well, go ahead an' go."

"He don't like t' go by himself at night," Katie whispered.

"There's lots o' folks downstairs t' watch him," the bartender pointed out.

"Pwease," Josef held up his hand.

"Awe, all right," Hank leaned down to clasp the child's hand. "Let's get this over with."

He met Michaela in the hallway.

"Mama!" Josef held up his arms.

"What are you doing awake?" she lifted her son into her embrace.

"Pivy," Hank repeated.

"I'll take him," she offered. "I want to bring up some of my recent medical journals to...."

"Glad t' see you're takin' my advice for a change," he quipped.

"Mama," Josef urgently tapped her shoulder. "Gotta go."

"I'll keep an eye on things up here," Hank folded his arms as he watched her depart.

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

Timothy Johnson had gone to the church to pray after Loren departed for the Sully homestead. The life of the enigmatic mountain man was apparently threatened by a fever, and the minister quickly devoted his energies to asking for God's healing help.

As dawn brightened the sky, he sat in mediation, contemplating his morning's sermon. He was so deep in thought, he did not hear the light footsteps approach.

"Timothy," it was Isabel.

"You came back!" he stood.

"I've been thinking about your offer," she interrupted.

"You have?" he raised his hopes.

"Yes," she glanced down.

He felt her hand on his.

"I will marry you," she consented.

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

Through the night, Matthew remained at the homestead to help Michaela and the children keep vigil over Sully, whose temperature had not abated.

At dawn, Michaela was still pouring over her medical journals. An article about the colloid work of Scottish scientist Thomas Graham intrigued her. Another entry concerned the history of silver as a treatment to combat infections. What if....

She felt Sully move.

"Can you drink some water?" she ran her fingers along his parched lips.

"I.... I'll try," his temples throbbed again.

"Does your head still hurt?" she already knew the answer.

"Uh huh," he struggled to stay awake.

"I'll give you another dose of laudanum," she poured it into a glass of water.

She lifted his head to a level that he could drink. Then he fell back against the pillows. Dampening a sponge, she ran it across his fevered body.

"Michaela," his breathing was labored. "I... gotta tell ya somethin'."

"Just rest now," she tenderly kissed his forehead.

"No...." his voice was weak. "I gotta tell ya... that I love ya... I need t'... tell the kids, too."

"Sully," she feared he was losing the strength to fight this. "Please don't think about...."

"Please," he stopped her. "Just for a little bit, could I...."

She rose from the bed and went downstairs. Gathering the children, she led them to the bedroom to see their father. Matthew and Brian attempted to lighten his spirits, but soon sensed that his somber mood could not be broken.

He beckoned his older sons closer, "Take care o'.... your Ma.... an' the kids."

"Sully," Matthew's brow wrinkled. "You're gonna be fine."

"Gotta be prepared...." he felt a tear at the side of his face.

Brian took his sleeve and gently wiped it, "You're gonna get better, Pa."

"I'm tryin'," Sully weakly replied.

The boys choked back tears as they left the room and stood in the hallway.

Then Sully requested, "Where's my.... Kates?"

"Here, Poppy," the little girl released her mother's hand and went to the bedside.

Eye to eye with her father, she reached out to pull back a lock of his damp hair from his fevered face.

"I know I.... don't look too good," he attempted to smile. "But you're still.... the prettiest little girl... I ever saw..."

Sully suddenly turned from her, his face contorted by the pain in his head.

"Poppy," Katie's voice trembled. "Please get better."

He composed himself enough to look back at her, "I love you.... my sweet girl."

"I love you, too," she lay her head next to his.

Sully mustered all of his strength to raise his hand and stroke her back, "Get Joe for me, honey."

Katie drew back slowly and went to her little brother. Michaela sat in the rocking chair, unable to watch the actions of her husband with their children. Suddenly, she began to feel nauseous again. Unable to fight her upset stomach, she rushed from the room, nearly knocking over her older sons on the way down the hallway.

"I'll go check on Ma," Matthew said. "You go in with Sully an' the kids."

"Matthew...." the young man was overcome.

"Be strong, little brother," he counseled.

When Brian entered the bedroom, Katie rushed to him. He enfolded her in his arms and let her cry against his shoulder. They silently watched as Josef approached his father. When Brian realized the little boy was not tall enough, he set down Katie and placed Josef on the bed.

Josef crawled closer, "We play, Papa?"

Sully settled has hand on his son's, "My big boy...."

"I this big..." Josef held his arms apart.

"Yep," Sully was becoming sleepy. "Joe.... I wanna.... tell ya somethin'."

"What?" Josef leaned closer, anticipating a secret.

"I love ya," Sully closed his eyes.

"Papa," Josef tapped him.

There was no response.

The little boy curled up and spooned himself against his father, "We sweep now, Papa."

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

Timothy Johnson concluded his sermon, "I have one more announcement to make. There will be a wedding in the church next Sunday afternoon, and you're all invited to attend. I'm asking Reverend Alcott from Manitou to perform the ceremony."

"Why can't you perform it?" Dorothy spoke up.

"Because I'm the one who's getting married," he stunned the congregation.

"You?" Loren was shocked.

"Yes," the minister held out his hand.

A woman stepped forward to clasp it. Her friendly smile and sparkling blue eyes enchanted the group.

"I'd like to introduce my intended," he smiled. "Isabel Morant."

Most of those assembled began to applaud. Many stepped forward to introduce themselves. Loren glanced toward Jake. They shook their heads.

Preston took the opportunity to approach the fiancee, "Miss Morant. My name is Preston A. Lodge, III. I was the one who...."

"Yes," she said. "I remember you. I must apologize for my abrupt departure."

"I hope you will consider having your reception at my Chateau," he smiled. "I can assure you that the finest..."

"Having it at Grace's will be just fine," the Reverend rescued her.

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

"Ma?" Matthew stood near the privy. "You okay?"

Michaela emerged, somewhat pale in complexion, "Better now."

"Want me t' help ya upstairs?" he offered.

"Would you ask Brian to bring the children down here?" she requested. "And bring the two medical journals on my nightstand."

"Sure," he bolted up the steps.

Within minutes the children descended the stairs, minus Josef.

"Where's your little brother?" Michaela was concerned.

"He fell asleep beside Pa," Brian stated. "What can we do t' help, Ma?"

Michaela overcame her ill health and sprang into action, "Brian, please go into town and show these articles in my medical journals to Dr. Kelly. Ask if he knows a chemist who can make a colloidal silver solution."

"You gonna give it t' Sully?" Matthew asked.

"It's the only thing I can think of," she steadied her trembling hands. "Matthew, could you please watch the children down here for a while?"

"I will," he agreed. "Come on, Katie."

"Mama..." the little girl reached for her mother.

Michaela gathered the child into her arms, "Your Daddy is going to get better, Sweetheart."

"Promise?" she hoped.

"I.... promise," Michaela committed herself.

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

Loren studied the happy couple as the residents of Colorado Springs offered their best wishes. He watched and he looked for the signs.

"It ain't there," he verbalized his feelings.

"What ain't there?" Dorothy stepped closer.

"Love," the shop owner observed. "She don't love him."

"Lots o' folks get married without bein' in love," she commented. "You an' I both know that. It don't mean the marriage won't work."

"Of all people, I would've expected you t' be skeptical," he faced her.

"Skeptical?" she was taken aback.

"Am I the only one who wonders what's goin' on here?" his volume increased.

"No," Preston joined them. "You're not alone."

"I ain't so sure I wanna have you agreein' with me," Loren glanced at the banker.

"It seems more important than ever that Horace send out those telegrams," Preston recommended.

"Telegrams?" Dorothy tilted her head.

"Never mind," Loren exited the church without speaking to the Reverend.

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

Michaela entered the bedroom, pausing at the door when she saw her son curled against his father's chest. The little boy's resemblance to his father seemed to increase each day. And he had become very clinging since their illnesses, wanting to be held by one of his parents at every turn.

Michaela stepped closer to check her husband's vital signs. He was holding his own, but she had to do something to alleviate his symptoms. She well knew the results of their prolonged continuation.

"Josef," she lifted the child. "Come here, Sweetheart, so your Daddy can rest."

"I sweep by Papa," he insisted.

"Papa needs to be cool," she explained. "He can't if you're so close by."

"I cool him," the little boy pointed to the sponge.

She kissed his forehead, "Please do what Mama tells you."

Matthew appeared at the doorway, "Hey, little brother. Let's go play some hide an' seek."

"'Kay," he turned to his mother. "Down, Mama."

She set him on the floor and he scampered out the door with her oldest son. The sudden up and down movement had caused her queasiness to return.

"No," she affirmed to herself. "I can't be sick. Sully needs me."

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

Michaela sat by Sully's bedside, losing track of the time and the day. Matthew brought her a bowl of broth and a biscuit, hoping her stomach could tolerate it. It did.

Several people from town stopped by the homestead to pay their respects and offer assistance. And still she waited for word from Brian about the colloidal silver. It was an experimental concept, but if Sully did not receive treatment soon....

"Mmmichaela," Sully woke.

"I'm here," she clasped his hand.

She checked his temperature. Still no break in the fever.

"I... just wanted t'.... see ya," he sounded lethargic.

"You're going to see me for quite a long time, Mr. Sully," she ran the damp sponge across his face.

He closed his eyes, "Head.. hurts..."

"It's time for another dose of laudanum," she reached for her bag. "It will help you sleep, as well."

"Don' wanna sssleep," he struggled to remain awake. "I... wanna look at ya..."

She glanced down, "I'm not much to look at right now. I haven't...."

"Shhh," he whispered. "Mosst... beautiful woman... in world."

"Several townsfolk have stopped by to see how you're doing," she informed him. "And they've brought enough food to feed us for a week."

"You... eat?" he asked.

"Yes," she knew the laudanum was beginning to work.

"Dorothy brought some surprising news," Michaela smiled. "It seems that the Reverend announced that he's getting married next week."

"Good..." Sully closed his eyes. "I.... love...." he could not complete his sentence.

"I love you, too," she kissed his forehead.

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

"Well, how did you like your first taste of what it will be like to be married to a minister?" Reverend Johnson asked Isabel.

"I enjoyed it," she commented. "The people here seem very friendly and nice. It's a testament to how highly they hold you in esteem."

"We have quite an assortment of characters in town," he smiled. "But I'm certain they'll all accept you."

"They obviously admire and respect you," she commented. "You are a man of great integrity, Timothy. I'll always be grateful to you for what you're doing."

"I must tell you something about myself," he felt compelled. "I... haven't always led a life that I was proud of. I used to be a gamb...."

She interrupted, "I'm more interested in the man you are right now. Far be it for me to judge your past."

"I just want to be honest with you," he said.

"And I appreciate that," she touched his hand. "You are someone to whom my child.... our child can look up with admiration."

He swallowed hard, "I won't be much help when it comes to teaching him to walk or play as he grows..."

"You'll teach him other things," she comforted. "Shall we go to Grace's for dinner?"

"Yes," he held out his arm for her. "We can discuss our plans for the wedding."

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

Michaela had fallen asleep with her chair next to the bed, her hand resting on Sully's. It was on this scene that Josef entered his parents bedroom.

"Mama," he said.

She woke with a start, instantly feeling Sully's forehead.

"Mama," Josef repeated.

"What is it, my darling?" she drew him onto her lap.

"Tell stowy," he requested.

"A story right now?" she was uncertain about her ability to focus on something other than her husband.

"Pwease," he glanced up at her with his father's eyes.

"All right," she could not resist him. "What would you like to hear?"

"Tell when I born," he rested his hands on hers. "In snow."

She smiled and relaxed at the feel of this little life in her arms, "Yes, it was during one of the worst snowstorms we've ever had. I had prepared to go to the Clinic for your birth, but when the blizzard hit, your Daddy and I had to stay here."

"Katie, too?" he wondered.

"Yes, she was with us," Michaela recalled the frightened little girl who heard her mother's screams of labor pain.

"Mattew an' Bran here?" he questioned.

"No," she answered. "They were in town, stranded by the heavy snowfall."

"I born in here?" he pointed.

"Yes," Michaela kissed the top of his head. "In this very bed. Papa brought you into this world."

"Where was I?" he queried.

"You were... inside of me," she wondered if he could absorb all of this.

"Oh," he surprised her with his easy acceptance of that answer.

"When your Daddy held you up, you were so beautiful," she felt a lump in her throat.

"Name me like your Papa," the little boy understood.

"Yes," she nodded. "Josef was my father's name."

"Michael?" he had heard his middle name often enough.

"Papa chose that because of my first name," she revealed. "Before I was born, my father wanted a little boy named Michael. Instead he got a little girl, whom he named Michaela."

"Did you want girl?" he probed.

"I wanted.... just whom I have," she kissed his cheek. "Your father and I adore you, Josef. When you were born, he said that you were a cherished reminder of our loved ones and of our love for each other."

"I love you," he crawled up to encircle his arms around her neck. "An' Papa."

Michaela heard the front door, then Brian's voice speaking to Matthew.

"Would you go downstairs now, and check on your sister?" she directed.

"I go," he slid from her lap. Then pausing, he asked, "Think Papa like a pokle?"

"Not now, little one," she smiled at his thoughtfulness.

Brian reached the bedroom holding a package, "Dr. Kelly talked t' the chemistry professor at the college. It took a while, but he said this was the best he could do."

Michaela opened the package. Inside was a jar of what appeared to be simply water.

"That's it?" Brian wondered.

"That's it," she nodded.

Pouring a few teaspoons of the liquid into a drinking glass, she filled the reminder with water from the pitcher on the nightstand.

"Help me get him up, please," she requested. "I want him to drink this right away."

"Is that enough?" Brian asked.

"We'll see," she was not sure herself.

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

"Matthew," Timothy Johnson stood at the doorway of the homestead with a woman at his side. "We've come to see how Sully is doing and to see if there's anything we can do."

"Come on in, Reverend," the young man invited. "I'll get Ma."

Katie rushed over to greet him, "Reverend, did ya hear my Poppy's sick?"

"Yes, Katie," he leaned down.

"Mama's been sick, too," she added.

"Oh, my," he stood. "If this isn't a good time...."

"Reverend," Michaela reached the door. "It's nice of you to stop by."

The minister could discern fatigue in her voice, "We won't stay long. I... I know this may come as a bit of a shock, but... I'd like to introduce my fiancee, Isabel Morant."

"How do you do," Michaela extended her hand. "I heard about your engagement from Dorothy."

"It's nice to meet you, Dr. Quinn," Isabel returned the handshake. "Timothy has told me about you, but actually, I learned of your skill as a physician from your daughter and son-in-law in Denver."

Michaela's eyes brightened, "I'm quite proud of their practice there."

"As well you should be," Isabel felt quickly at ease in this house.

"Dr. Mike," the minister requested. "May I go up to visit with Sully? I'd like to pray for him."

"Thank you, Reverend," she answered. "Matthew, would you escort him upstairs?"

"Sure," he consented.

Brian descended the stairs at that moment with Josef, "'Fraid he didn't sleep long, Ma. He wanted t' see you."

"I'll take him," Michaela drew the little boy onto her lap, then turned to Isabel. "Let's see, you've met Matthew, our oldest."

She smiled, "Yes, he greeted us at the door. A pleasure, Matthew."

"Same here," he grinned. "I'll take ya now, Reverend."

Michaela continued her introductions, "And this is Brian and Katie." Then she stood her youngest up on her lap, "And this young man is Josef."

"Hey," Josef shyly put his finger in his mouth.

"I understand that you and your husband have both been ill," Isabel watched as Brian took Katie into the kitchen. "We won't stay long."

"Sully is very ill," Michaela kept her voice low as she set Josef down to play with some wooden blocks on the floor. "He has developed an infection from a tick bite."

"Oh, my," Isabel sympathized.

"Your engagement came as quite a surprise to us," Michaela leaned back in the chair. "Tell me about yourself. How did you two meet?"

"I'm a teacher," Isabel detailed. "I've quit my job to... marry Timothy."

"I see," Michaela sensed there was more. "May I offer you some tea?"

"No, thank you," she seemed to become anxious. "I... I wonder if I might discuss something of a rather confidential nature with you."

Michaela was surprised, "Of course."

"I would like to schedule an appointment for you to see me professionally," she requested.

"Dr. Nelson is seeing my patients while I...." Michaela paused. "Unless it can't wait..."

"Dr. Quinn," Isabel kept her voice low. "I'm expecting a baby."

Michaela was shocked, "You and the Reverend...."

"No," she shook her head. "It's not his child. But he is marrying me to..."

"I understand why," Michaela recalled the minister's proposal to her many years ago in order to give the orphaned children a home.

"He's a dear man," Isabel avowed. "He has been most kind to me, and it's because of him that I decided to go through with having the baby."

"I see," she was relieved at the decision. "I... wish you both the best."

"Thank you," the woman smiled. "About that appointment. I'd prefer to have you examine me, if that's agreeable."

"Are you experiencing any difficulties?" Michaela inquired.

"No, nothing," Isabel responded. "But I think I should have a doctor check on things, just to be certain."

"Yes," Michaela agreed. "Prenatal care is very important."

"I would appreciate it if you could examine me... before the wedding, if possible," Isabel said as the Reverend and Matthew returned to the first floor.

"Sully's awake, Ma," Matthew informed her. "He's askin' for ya."

"It was a pleasure meeting you, Isabel," Michaela stood.

"Let us know if we can do anything, Dr. Mike," the Reverend heard her walking to the steps.

"I will, thank you," she quickly headed to her husband.

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

"Well?" Preston stood at the telegraph office.

"Well what?" Horace leaned forward on his elbows.

"Did you send the telegrams, man?" the banker grew impatient.

"What telegrams?" Horace leaned forward.

Preston rolled his eyes, "Inquiring about Miss Morant."

"The minister's intended?" the telegraph operator questioned.

"Yes, the minister's intended," Preston snapped. "Have you forgotten?"

"Forgotten what?" Horace stood up.

Preston placed his hands on the wooden plank beneath the window and slowly enunciated, "You were going to send out telegrams to neighboring towns inquiring about her identity."

"Oh," he nodded. "I did."

"You did what?" Preston clenched his jaw.

"I did send telegrams," he replied.

"And?" the banker found that his hands were forming fists.

"And that's the end," Horace answered.

"The end of what?" Preston's volume rose. "Oh, never mind. Forget it!"

As Preston stormed off, the telegraph operator shook his head, "He sure is wound tight."

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

"Well, hello," Michaela sat on the edge of the bed and grasped Sully's hand.

She felt his feverish forehead.

"How do you feel?" she knew from his pale and clammy appearance it could not be very well.

"Not so good, Mmmichaela," he struggled to speak.

"I'm going to give you some more of this preparation," she pointed to the jar. "Sully, I have to tell you something."

He attempted to focus on her face, "Go... ahead."

"It's about this infection," she hedged.

Her hands trembled and she found that she could not say the words.

"I... know it's.... bad," he was too weak to lift his arms to comfort her.

Finally, she mustered the courage, "I'm trying an experimental treatment on you. I don't know if...."

"I... trust you... with my life..." his throat was parched.

No longer able to fight her tears, Michaela lowered her head and rested it on the bed next to his. In spite of his grave illness, he could feel her trembling next to him.

He garnered the strength to raise his hand and cup it to the back of her hair, "Shhh."

She raised up to look into his eyes. The spark was missing, and in its place was a glazed appearance. She lightly touched her hand to his flushed cheek.

Sully tried to smile, "I'm... sorry. Ya been so... sick yourself... an' now me."

She brushed back the hair from his face, tears still forming in her eyes, "I'm fine. I wish I could do more to ease your suffering."

"You... bein' here... helps me," he said.

"I'll give you the medicine now," she prepared it.

While administering the treatment, she silently prayed for its effectiveness. Then she held her husband's hand, gently rubbing her thumb across the top until he fell asleep.

How much more could he endure? If his fever did not break by morning, she feared he would suffer brain damage.... or... death. Michaela felt as if her life were being sucked away with each labored breath that Sully took. How helpless he look as he lay in their bed. She struggled to clear her mind and think about anything else she could do to help him.

Her own body had been reminding her of her limitations as a woman, and suddenly her flaws as a physician were flooding her thoughts. So much was out of her control. Then she thought of their children. They were as frightened as she. Each of them sensed on some level that their father might not pull through.

What was it Sully had told her? They have to take what life brings. How could life bring this? The bite of a tiny creature. It was almost inconceivable that something so minuscule as a tick had reduced her energetic and vital husband to this.... a helpless man, barely able to move or speak.

"Please, God," she folded her hands in prayer. "Please give him the strength to fight this. Please for our children... for our little ones... let them grow up to know the wonderful man he is."

She half dreaded, half longed for morning. Morning. That would be the turning point. She knew it in her heart.

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

Michaela felt as if every muscle in her body had atrophied. Her back was stiff from sleeping in the chair. Sully had slept most of the night, and when he woke, she gave him more medicine. Was it enough? Was it too much? Was it helping or hurting?

As she stiffly rose to check his condition, she felt the same queasiness that had plagued her for the past several days. She was not improving, and certainly concern over the ill health of her husband was contributing to that. How much more could she endure?

"Don't feel sorry for yourself, Michaela," she was suddenly ashamed of her selfishness.

She would gladly trade places with Sully, assuming the pain and fever he was enduring, rather than have him suffer one more second at the hand of this terrible infection.

She made her way to the window. Pulling back the curtain, she glanced at the dawning sky. It had been only a few days since she and Sully watched the beautiful sunrise from the Clinic. She would give anything to have his arms around her at that moment, holding her, whispering in her ear.

Michaela turned to face him. So still. So lifeless. She walked to the nightstand beside the bed and lifted the book of poetry he had been reading recently. When she opened it randomly, a leaf once pressed between the pages, fell to the floor. She suddenly thought of the beautiful story he had told their children about why leaves fall in autumn.

Then she read aloud a passage that caught her attention:

"Love, if you knew the light
That your soul casts in my sight,
How I look to you
For the pure and true
And the beauteous and the right."

Sully's voice startled her, "Robert Browning."

She leaned down, picked up the leaf and showed him, "Is this a message from you, Mr. Sully?"

"Yep," he seemed more alert.

She placed her hand lovingly on his forehead, and her heart leapt, "Your temperature seems to have broken!"

"I got a good doctor," his breathing was not as labored. "My headache's gone, too."

Feeling a lump in her throat, she closed her eyes, "It's so good to hear your voice."

He reached weakly for her hand and pulled it to his lips. Placing her elbows on the bed, she moved closer to his face. He turned up the side of his mouth in a half-grin, prompting her to touch his lips with her fingertips.

"Think I could get a bite t' eat?" he requested.

"I'll fix you some...." suddenly her stomach churned.

"Michaela," he noticed her swift change of expression. "Ya still sick?"

"It will pass," she swallowed. "I.... I won't let...."

She rushed to the basin and waited. Nothing came up, and the nausea began to pass.

"Ya okay?" he had followed her movements with his eyes.

"Yes," she was not convincing.

"Would you do somethin' for me?" he inquired.

She returned to his bedside and clasped his hand, "Anything."

"Anythin' at all?" he clarified.

"After you take another dose of medicine," she added.

"I'll take it," he pledged.

"Then what can I do for you?" she smiled.

"Have one o' the boys bring Dr. Nelson out here," he encouraged.

"You want another physician to treat you now?" she teased.

"Michaela," his tone was serious. "You know why."

She had to admit, "Yes. I'll see him... but only when I'm certain that you're better."

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

That morning, with spirits buoyed by the turnaround in their father's condition, Brian and Katie went to school.

By noon, Sully's condition had improved dramatically. Though his muscles were still weak, he was able to eat small quantities of food. The color even began to return to his complexion.

He and Michaela took short naps with Josef tucked between them. The little boy was determined to not let either of his parents from his sight. If his mother left the bedroom, he followed her, then quickly returned to see his father.

Michaela made the decision to discontinue the experimental medicine she had been administering to her husband due to uncertainty of its side effects. She monitored closely any adverse changes in his condition. None were observed.

By the end of the week, Sully was able to move more freely, even climb the steps. Michaela's fatigue had only slightly abated, and Sully knew that she was pushing herself too hard.

On Friday morning, as he sat in the living room telling a story to Josef, he was surprised to see Michaela descend the steps and don her coat.

"Where ya goin'?" he stood.

"Mama," Josef reached for her.

Michaela gathered her son into her arms and kissed his cheek, "I'm going to the Clinic." Before Sully could offer protest, she added, "It's only for a brief time. I promised a patient that I would see her by week's end."

"I go?" Josef requested.

"Then who would take care of Papa?" she smiled.

"Come on, Joe," Sully took him back.

Her husband's quiet communicated his displeasure for what she was doing.

"Sully," she touched his arm. "It's Isabel, the Reverend's fiancee. She's...."

"Ya don't have t' tell me," his expression seemed pouty. "I know it's important. More important than...."

"Nothing is more important than you and our family," she interjected.

Growing weak from holding Josef, he set the little boy down, "I was gonna say more important than your own health. Ya told me you'd see Dr. Nelson, an' ya ain't done it yet."

"I've been feeling a bit better," she pointed out.

He sighed and extended his hand to touch hers. She stepped closer, wrapping her arms around his waist.

"I'm so happy that you're improving," she rested her head against his chest.

He rubbed her back, "Go on now. The sooner ya go, the sooner you'll come home."

After a tender kiss, she departed.

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

The townsfolk were happy to see Dr. Mike back at the Clinic and many stopped in to say hello or have her check on their various ailments. She sent word to Isabel to stop by, and busied herself updating files until the woman's arrival.

"I appreciate your seeing me, Dr. Quinn," Isabel removed her hat and coat. "How is your husband?"

"He's doing much better, thank you," Michaela put on her apron. "Shall we begin your examination?"

"All right," she nervously began to undress.

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

Sully heard a knock at the door, and rose to answer it.

There stood Cloud Dancing, "My brother, Dorothy told me that you have been ill."

"It was pretty bad there for a while," he invited his friend to enter.

Josef ran to the medicine man, who lifted him toward the ceiling.

"How is Ho'neoxhaaestse?" Cloud Dancing smiled at the boy.

Josef did not respond.

"That's you, Joe," Sully chuckled. "Brave Wolf."

"I good," the child responded. "Papa better."

"Can ya come in an' keep us company?" Sully asked. "Michaela went t' town t' see a patient."

"How is she doing?" Cloud Dancing queried.

"I'm worried about her," he sat down. "She still gets that nausea."

"Does she use her medicine?" the Cheyenne wondered.

"She puts somethin' in a tea," Sully noted. "That seems t' be workin', but I don't know why it's happenin' in the first place. An' she hasn't let Dr. Nelson look at her again."

"I see," Cloud Dancing's brow wrinkled.

"Could it be from that change o' life?" Sully observed his expression.

"There is that possibility," he did not sound convincing.

"Or somethin' else?" Sully worried.

"Maybe she does not see this doctor because she fears what she will hear," Cloud Dancing came to the point.

"So ya think Michaela believes it's somethin' serious?" he swallowed hard.

"It is possible," his friend admitted. "The body tells us when things are wrong, but we do not always listen."

"This has gone on long enough," Sully's voice became stern. "I'm gonna have Brian fetch Dr. Nelson after Michaela gets home."

"This I believe to be a good idea," Cloud Dancing agreed.

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

Michaela washed her hands as Isabel sat up.

"Dr. Quinn?" the woman tried to read her expression.

Drying her hands, Michaela broke the news to her, "Isabel.... I'm sorry, but... I have some bad news."

"Something's wrong with the baby?" she felt a lump in her throat.

"No," the physician hesitated. "It's.... you're not pregnant."

"What?" she was shocked. "But I have all of the symptoms."

Michaela placed her hand on Isabel's, "You have a tumor."

"A... tumor?" she struggled to comprehend.

"I'm afraid that I'm going to have to operate on you," the doctor spoke softly.

"You're certain that there's no baby?" Isabel was still finding it difficult to accept.

"I'm certain," she nodded.

"This... this changes everything," the woman suddenly realized.

"There's more," Michaela needed to tell her. "In removing the tumor, I must also remove your uterus. It means you will never...."

"Never be able to have children," Isabel completed her sentence. "My, God."

"I'm very sorry," Michaela sympathized. "Would you like for me to get the Reverend?"

"No," she began to cry. "Not... yet. I need some time to...."

"I understand," Michaela placed her hand on her shoulder.

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

Sully requested that Cloud Dancing pick up the story of the Nez Perce from the point of their realization that their former friends the Crow had deserted them.

The medicine man watched Sully cradle Josef on his lap, then he began, "They decided to cross Montana and onto Canada, where Sitting Bull had found safety. In the beginning, nothing stopped them. They crossed the Yellowstone River and by late September reached the Missouri, where they defeated troops at Cow Island. There, they gained more supplies."

Sully was calculating in his head, "They traveled hundreds o' miles in some o' the roughest terrain in North America."

Cloud Dancing added, "Seventeen times, they faced the Army's troops, over 2000 of them. And after hardships, disappointments and the loss of loved ones, they continued on. They were within two suns of reaching Canada, and Howard was two-days ride from the Nez Perce, or so they thought."

"What went wrong?" Sully asked.

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

Isabel's crying finally subsided long enough for her to ask, "Dr. Quinn, when do I need this operation?"

"Very soon," she counseled. "The tumor will grow and spread, affecting other organs."

"I need to think about this," she finished dressing. Opening her purse, she handed Michaela some money, "Will this cover your fee?"

"It's not necessary," Michaela urged her to take the money back.

"Thank you very much," the woman appeared quite distraught.

"If you need to discuss this further...." she offered.

"Not right now," Isabel seemed anxious to leave. "Thank you, Dr. Quinn."

The woman left abruptly. Michaela watched her turn the corner and head for the church. Glancing up at the clock, she saw that there was another hour before Katie would be finished with school.

"I know I must do this now," she took a deep breath. "I must ask Dr. Nelson to see me."

A knock at the door interrupted her.

"Come in," she called.

"Hey, Michaela," it was Hank. "I heard ya were back, so I figured I'd stop by. How's your hard-headed husband?"

"He's much improved," she smiled at the gruff facade of this man.

"Good," he glanced around the room.

"Any other reason for your visit?" she sensed.

"Just wonderin' how you been, too," he was direct. "Ya been faintin' anymore?"

"No," she smiled. "I... I am feeling better."

"Don't look like it t' me," he was blunt.

"I beg your pardon?" she took offense.

"I just mean ya look tired, is all," he folded his arms. "Seems t' me like takin' care o' Sully an' them kids might have taken a toll on ya. I doubt if ya had much time t' do that restin' the doctor told ya t' get."

"I am limiting my hours here at the Clinic today," she informed him. "I was just going to consult with Dr. Nelson and then go home."

"Well, if you're expectin' him, I reckon I'll leave," he tapped her desktop. "Le' me know if ya need anythin'. All right?"

She appreciated his concern, "I shall. Thank you, Hank."

"I saw the padre's intended leavin' a little bit ago," he commented as he approached the door.

"Yes," Michaela said.

"She sick?" he pried.

"Hank, you know that I can't...." she stopped when he held up his hand.

"I know," he smirked. "Ya can't talk about your patients."

"There is one thing you might do for me, if you would like," she glanced up at him.

"What?" he raised his eyebrows.

"Would you mind going to Sarah's house and asking Dr. Nelson to stop in to see me?" she requested.

"So ya ain't got an appointment with him?" he questioned.

"Not yet," she smiled.

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

Cloud Dancing continued, "The Nez Perce decided to rest their horses for a day at the Bear Paw Mountains. Suddenly, there was an attack on them."

"Howard caught up t' 'em?" Sully was amazed.

"No, it was Colonel Miles," the medicine man identified.

"The man who replaced Custer?" Sully remembered.

"Yes," Cloud Dancing resumed. "He rode into the Nez Perce encampment with Lakota and Cheyenne warriors."

"Cheyenne?" Sully was stunned. "They rode with the Army? With the Seventh Cavalry?"

"My people have little affection for the Nez Perce," he stated.

"But Yellow Wolf met with you," Sully noted.

"I am one man," Cloud Dancing answered. "I am not a warrior."

"So there was more bloodshed," Sully shook his head.

"The Nez Perce were sleeping when the attack came," the medicine man described. "The ground shook from the horses. The Nez Perce turned back the first attack, but all of their horses had been driven off. Both sides dug rifle pits. The weather turned colder and snows came. Looking Glass had been killed."

Sully watched his friend's face intently.

Cloud Dancing detailed, "By nightfall, most of the warriors from Big Hole had been swept away as leaves before the storm. They were cold and without fire. Everywhere the crying, the death wail signaled the end. All for which they had suffered was lost. Yellow Wolf said that he thought about where he grew up. Of his own country when only Indians were there. Of tepees along the bending river. Of the blue, clear lake, wide meadows with horse and cattle herds. From the mountain forests, voices seemed calling."

Sully choked back his emotions as he listened.

The Cheyenne detailed, "For five more days, the siege continued. A few Nez Perce managed to get to Canada, but Sitting Bull did not send help. Finally, Joseph ordered a white flag to be raised. Miles told him that if his men turned over their weapons, they could return home in the spring. The chief knew that his people were divided about surrendering."

"T' come all that way an' have t' surrender...." Sully shook his head.

"If they left their wounded, old women and children behind," Cloud Dancing paused. "The rest could have escaped. But they had never heard of a wounded Indian recovering while in the hands of white men. Chief Joseph could not bear to see his people suffer any longer. Believing that they would be allowed to go home, he surrendered."

"October 5, 1877," Sully recalled reading the date.

Cloud Dancing said, "Chief Joseph told Miles and Howard that his heart was sick and sad. 'From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more, forever.' The Army put them on a riverboat and sent them down the Missouri River."

"But will they be allowed t' go home in the spring?" Sully recalled. "Maybe I could do somethin'... say somethin' t' make sure they get back."

"Maybe you could," Cloud Dancing said.

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

"Dr. Quinn?" Nelson removed his hat. "I understand that you wanted to see me."

"Yes," she folded her hands nervously. "I have continued to experience the nausea and...."

"I heard about your husband's illness," he interrupted. "No doubt that has contributed to your condition."

"Yes," she agreed. "But I have a feeling that my problems may be caused by something other than my concern for him. I would like for you to give me a more thorough examination. It's time I knew what is wrong with me."

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

Sully's mind began to race, "Maybe I could go check on the Nez Perce... find out how they're bein' treated.... when they're bein' sent home."

Cloud Dancing smiled, "I see a spark in my brother."

Sully kissed the top of his sleeping son's head, "I just wanna feel like I'm doin' somethin' t' help the Indians, 'stead o' stayin' here watchin' events unfold like they have."

"My brother," the medicine man advised. "I know of no white man who has tried to help the Indians more than you. Yes, you have felt helpless, but even your smallest gesture has brought a measure of comfort to my people and other tribes. You and Michaela...."

"Michaela," he suddenly considered. "I can't go anywhere 'til I make sure she's gonna be okay."

"This is true," the Cheyenne conceded. "And you have regained your strength."

"Maybe after Christmas," Sully figured.

"The weather may make travel difficult," Cloud Dancing advised.

"I'll discuss it with Michaela," he concluded. "Once I know she's all right."

"Perhaps she knows already," the medicine man recalled his conversation with her.

"Knows that I wanna go t' check on the Nez Perce?" Sully questioned.

"Knows that you have become restless to do something to help the Indians," Cloud Dancing amended.

"It's hard t' explain t' her that it's not 'cause o' her," he sighed. "I don't want her thinkin' that I ain't happy with her or our life t'gether."

"The mind of a woman can be a path full of perilous turns," his friend noted wryly. "But Michaela knows you better than I. Better than anyone. And she knows what's in your heart, even without words being exchanged.

His statement prompted Sully to pause, "You're right. She does."

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

"Timothy?" Isabel spoke from the rear of the church.

He turned toward her voice, "There you are. That took longer than I thought. What did Dr. Mike say? Is everything all right?"

She steeled herself for what she must do, "Won't you have a seat?"

"Why?" he reached out for her hand.

She clasped it and guided him to a pew. Sitting beside him, she did not release her grasp.

"I... I have something very important to tell you," she hedged.

"You and the baby are all right, aren't you?" the Reverend anxiously asked.

"Timothy...." she found herself unable to look at him. "There is... no baby."

"What?" he was stunned.

"I'm not expecting," she stated.

"It was a lie?" he struggled to comprehend.

"No," she squeezed his hand. "I truly thought I was pregnant. But, Dr. Quinn has found something else."

"Something else?" he was uncertain.

"A tumor," she found it difficult to say the word.

"Oh, Isabel," his heart sank.

"I... I have to have an operation," she revealed.

"Yes," he swallowed hard. "It's important to have it removed."

"She said that... I shall never be able to have children," Isabel added. "This changes everything, doesn't it?"

The question caught him off guard, "Let's only think about your health right now."

"No," she felt tears welling. "It releases you of any...."

"Isabel," he stopped her. "I... I still want to marry you."

"I don't expect you to..." she hesitated, noting the expression of sincerity on his face. "Timothy, how can you want this?"

"The Lord brought you here," he spoke softly. "My offer still stands. I would be honored to marry you, Isabel."

"I have nothing to offer you," she whispered.

"That's just what I told you when I proposed," he swallowed hard. "I've grown very fond of you in the brief time that we've known each other."

"Fond enough to want to marry a woman who cannot give you a family?" she was in awe.

"We could adopt children when we feel ready to be parents," he reasoned. Then it suddenly occurred to him, "I... I'm being selfish. I'm sorry. I'm only thinking about my own feelings. You must think I'm crazy. It's presumptuous of me to believe that you would still want to marry someone who can't even...."

"No!" she interjected. "A woman would be fortunate indeed to be your wife."

"I have an idea," the Reverend concluded. "Let's not make any decisions yet. Let's wait until after your surgery. It will give us time to get to know one another better and for a proper courtship... if you're willing to consider me as a suitor."

"I... I would like that very much," she nodded.

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

Michaela arrived at the homestead with Katie and Brian.

Sully heard the horses approaching and smiled, "Your Ma's home, Joe,"

With widened eyes, the child rushed to the door in time to greet her.

Cloud Dancing smiled as he watched the reunion. Though parted only a few hours, the love between his brother, his wife and their children was evident. Michaela invited the medicine man to stay for dinner, but he sensed the need for his friends to discuss the events of the day without his being there.

After his departure, Brian and Katie began to work on their play, and Josef occupied himself with hiding the checkerboard pieces. Michaela and Sully stepped into the living room. She insisted that he sit down and pulled up the stool to be near.

"How are you feeling?" she felt his pulse.

"Tired, but pretty good," he was honest. "Think I might need a nap before supper."

"That's a good idea," she noticed the continuing improvement in him.

"How's the Reverend's fiancee?" he questioned.

"Sully, it's so sad," her shoulders slumped. "She has a tumor that requires surgery. It will mean she can never have children."

"I'm sorry t' hear that," his heart grew heavy.

After a few moments of silence between them, she inquired, "How was your visit with Cloud Dancing?"

"He finished tellin' me about the Nez Perce," Sully glanced toward the fireplace. "But for them, it ain't really over yet."

"How so?" she questioned.

"They were promised a return to their homeland, but right now, the government's got 'em someplace else," his jaw tensed.

"Tell me about it," she encouraged.

As Sully related the tale of the Nez Perce, Michaela watched his eyes. There was compassion and heartfelt concern for what the Indians had endured. She read in his face a desire to do something to ensure that they would be fairly treated. This was the man she loved, caring about a wrong that needed to be made right.

"Is there something we can do to help?" she asked at the conclusion.

"I was thinkin' maybe...." he paused.

"Yes," she encouraged.

"Maybe I would go check up on 'em after the holidays," Sully came out with it.

He waited for his wife's reaction. There was no protest. No pleas that he stay. There was only a faint smile from her.

"I think that would be a good idea," she approved.

"Ya do?" he reacted.

"Yes," she rubbed the top of his hand. "It's something you need to do... for the Indians... and for yourself."

"Michaela..." he found her to be strangely calm about it. "You sure ya don't mind?"

"I want you to be happy, Sully," she rested her palms on his knees. "I want you to pursue your dreams and continue to passionately act in defense of those who are in need of help."

He swallowed hard, "Ya know how much I love ya?"

"I know," she closed her eyes. "I was reminded of something when you were so ill, and I thought I might lose you."

"What?" he noticed a tear forming in the corner of her eye.

"We are only on this earth for a short time," she stated. "I believe that in that period, we must be committed to people. You have shown time and again, your commitment to me, to the children, to our future. I cannot ask that you not commit to anything else that fulfills you as a human being."

"You're an incredible woman, Michaela Quinn," he cupped his hand to her cheek.

"There is one condition to my position, however," she smiled.

"What's that?" he raised an eyebrow.

"I insist that you come home to us as soon as you can!" she sounded serious.

"You know I will," he pledged. "I can't stand t' be apart from ya. Maybe you could even come with me."

She directed her attention toward the kitchen, "It's rather difficult with our brood."

He changed the subject, "Now it's my turn t' insist on somethin'."

"What?" she adored his expression.

"Dr. Nelson," he broached the subject of her health. "I want him t' see ya right away. I'm gonna send Brian t'...."

"I saw him before I came home," she interrupted.

"Ya did?" his brow wrinkled. "Did ya have another spell?"

"No," she glanced down. "I... I'll tell you about it later."

"What'd he say, Michaela?" Sully did not want to wait.

"Mama! Poppy!" Katie called to them. "We finished the play!"

"That's wonderful, Sweetheart," she replied.

"Can we show ya after dinner?" the little girl requested.

"We'd be glad t' see it, honey," Sully informed her. Returning to his wife, he commented, "What did the doctor say, Michaela?"

"I'd rather discuss it when we're alone," she sidestepped it. "For now, take your nap."

Sully watched her as she went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. She seemed different. She WAS different than she had been in days, even weeks. The anxiety and moody temperament were replaced by a calmness, a serenity that he had not witnessed in her in some time. It was almost as if she had achieved an inner peace with something.

"What could it be?" he scratched his head.

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

"I saw the Reverend's intended comin' outa the Clinic t'day," Hank informed the crowd at the Cafe.

"Dr. Mike was in town?" Loren's face brightened. "Must mean Sully's doin' better."

"She said he was," Hank confirmed.

"I wonder why she was at the Clinic," Preston rubbed his chin.

"Oh, that reminds me about them telegrams," Horace sat up.

"You sent them?" the banker was sarcastic.

"'Course I did," the telegrapher cast him a disapproving glance.

"Well..." Jake prodded. "What'd ya find out?"

"Nothin'," Horace shrugged. "She ain't some wanted criminal from all I can tell."

"Well, that's good t' know," Jake sighed. "Maybe the Reverend just had a whirlwind courtship, an' this is all some Cinderella story."

"The padre ain't no Prince Charming," Hank joked.

"I don't think they'll get married," Loren asserted.

"What d' ya mean?" Horace said. "Day after t'morrow's the weddin'."

"I bet ya it don't happen," Loren repeated.

Hank pulled a rolled-up wad of cash, a pencil and small tablet from his pocket, "Okay, I'm takin' odds."

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

After dinner, the children performed their brief play. Katie wore beads and feathers, as did Josef. The youngster was laden down with so many, he nearly tripped over them at one point. Though the show was brief, Michaela and Sully marveled at the creativity and sensitivity of the work. They vigorously applauded at its conclusion.

Sully pulled his daughter closer, "That was great, sweet girl. Ya gonna be okay with playin' a Pilgrim now at school?"

"Yep," she hugged him. "You won't miss watchin' the play, will ya, Poppy? It's next week."

"I won't miss it," he avowed. "I'm feelin' lots better now."

"Good," she grinned.

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

The parents tucked in their exhausted children after the remnants of the play were put away.

"I'll go check on the animals," Sully told his wife in the hallway.

"It's rather chilly out," she protested. "I'd prefer you stay indoors, Sully."

"Won't take long," he countered. "Besides, the fresh air will do me good."

Michaela entered their bedroom and began to prepare for bed. She wondered how to tell Sully what the doctor had said. She was certain of his reaction, but she hesitated in how to word the news.

Sully did not tarry long in the barn. As he was about to close the door, he noticed Brian's old flute laying near a bridle. He smiled, recalling when he carved it for his son. Wondering how it sounded, he dusted it off with his sleeve, then raised it to his lips. A few puffs of air into the shaft, and several awkward notes were emitted from it.

He tucked it in his pocket, secured the barn door, and turned to walk toward the house. Glancing up, he saw Michaela's silhouette against the bedroom window. His beautiful wife. A fanciful thought crossed his mind.

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

Michaela stood near the window, watching that Sully did not stay very long outside. When she noticed that he had paused just outside the house, she leaned her elbows against the sill and observed him more closely.

Then she heard it. He was attempting to play a melody on a flute. She focused on his form, delightully flattered that he was directing it toward her, as the young man had done in Sully's story to the children.

Suddenly, an idea occurred to her. She rushed to the dresser and pulled out a pair of scissors and slip of paper. Returning to the window, she hastily scribbled a message on it, then cut the paper in the form of a leaf. While smiling down at her Romeo, she took the paper leaf and threw it out the window, hoping that the wind would carry it beyond the porch roof and down toward him.

Fortune was on her side. The paper waffled downward and landed near Sully's feet. He lowered the musical instrument and returned it to his pocket. Then, with a smile on his face, he picked up the paper. In the darkness, he could not make out the words, so he ascended the steps of the homestead to read by the porch lantern's light.

The words stunned him, "My God."

An energy he had not felt in over a week suddenly surged through him, prompting him to rush into the house and bound up the steps by threes.

"Michaela!" he felt as if his heartbeat would never slow.

"It's true," she held her hands to her cheeks, unable to contain her smile.

"When?" he rushed to her and lifted her up to the level of his eyes.

"May," she circled her arms around his neck.

They joyfully embraced and laughed with the giddy excitement of children.

Sully set her down and held out the note, "Read it t' me out loud. I wanna hear ya say the words."

She drew his arms around her again and leaned back against his chest to read:

"I have heard your song of love. I return it with this message of our blessed news. We are expecting a baby. Forever, my love, Michaela."

"This is unbelievable!" he pivoted her around to face him. "That's why ya been feelin' nauseous an' faint? It's why ya been havin' all the other symptoms, too. It ain't the change?"

"I suppose I'll have to postpone my aging for a while," she stroked his chin.

He leaned forward to kiss her, "How ya feel right now?"

"Loved," she whispered.

"We been wantin' this for so long," his smile broadened.

"I know," she looked down. "I'd given up hope of...."

He was exuberant, "Think o' it, Michaela. Another baby in the house."

She took a deep breath, "Diapers, nighttime feedings, no sleep, no...."

"No two luckier people on this earth," he completed the thought.

"What would you like this time, Mr. Sully?" she ran her fingers through his hair.

"I think I'd love t' have another little girl," he kissed the sides of her mouth. "How 'bout you?"

"I think I'd like that, too," she warmed at his proximity.

"We agree on somethin'?" he teased. "Ain't often we come t'gether in agreement."

"I think we've come together quite perfectly," her comment held a double meaning.

"Can I get ya anythin'?" he wanted to pamper her.

"I want you to get into bed," she directed. "You are still far from ready to be so active. You'd better build up your strength for that baby girl."

Sully removed his clothing while Michaela climbed into bed. Then he snuggled up against her, resting his hand where their unborn child was growing.

"Ya know what?" he spoke low.

"What?" his voice made her tingle.

"I thought I noticed a difference in your figure last time we made love," he recalled. "We had all the signs starin' us in the face, an' didn't even see it."

She linked her fingers in his, and together they gently stroked her abdomen, "I can't wait until May."

"Looks like Katie's gonna have some birthday competition," he chuckled.

"She'll love this baby," Michaela stated. "I'm not as certain about how Josef will react."

"He'll do fine," Sully declared. "We'll just have t' make sure he don't feed it pickles."

"When do you want to tell the children?" she rolled over to face him.

"Whenever you want," he had no preference.

"How about at Thanksgiving?" she suggested.

"Think we can keep it a secret a whole week?" he teased.

"I can, if you can," she tapped his side. Then she observed more closely the fatigue on is face, "It's time for you to sleep. I know that you're tired."

"I am," he admitted. "But, inside, I'm wide awake."

"Rather like a child the night before Christmas," she drew the analogy.

"'Cept I know what the present's gonna be," he grinned.

"You don't know the gender," she reminded.

"It'll be a little girl, remember?" his face beamed. "I can't wait t' hold her."

She pulled his hand back to her abdomen, "How about holding her mother instead?"

"My pleasure," he turned onto his side and fit his form against her.

Resting his chin on her shoulder and his hand softly where his wife had guided it, Sully fell asleep.

Michaela smiled at how quickly he had succumbed to slumber. Tilting her head to the side, she kissed his forehead.

Knowing that he could not hear her, she whispered, "Let us rejoice in what life brings, my darling. What life brings."

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

THE END

EPILOGUE

Chief Joseph (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt or Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain) was a great statesman and leader of the Nez Perce. He is remembered as the "Red Napoleon" for his daring and skill in battle. The journey of his people is ranked as one of the most brilliant military retreats in history. Even the unsympathetic General Sherman said, "The Indians throughout displayed a courage and skill that elicited universal praise."

Ironically, it was more likely that his brother masterminded the military maneuvers while Joseph guarded their camp. Still, Joseph's widely quoted surrender speech ("I will fight no more, forever") imortalized him as a military leader in American popular culture.

MEDICAL WARNING: This story is in no way intended to endorse the use of colloidal silver as a medical treatment. In researching how physicians combated infection before the development of antibiotics, I came across the use of colloidal silver.

Silver has been used as a medicine and preservative dating back to ancient times. The Greeks used silver vessels for water to keep it fresh. The American pioneers placed silver and copper coins in their water casks to retard spoilage. In addition, they added silver dollars in their milk to keep it fresh.

Silver was used as a medicine beginning in the late 1800's and early 1900's, owing to its properties as a germicide. The colloidal state proved to be the most useful method of administration. Pharmaceutical companies manufactured silver compounds even into the 1940's. With the discovery of antibiotics, the use of silver as an anti-microbial medicine declined. Since the recent renewed interest in colloidal silver as a medical supplement, it is expected that the FDA will investigate its reported positive health benefits, including the claims by some that it is useful in combating AIDS and Lyme Disease.



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