China Doll: A "Bad Water" Re-write
By, Ashley J

After our brief encounter with the rattlesnake and my quick use of the mirror that Sully had previously called "junk," we continued on toward Harding's Mill in silence. Sully seemed to be a little less short with me since I saved his life, and I was quickly beginning to wonder if Olive had been right. Perhaps Sully really was afraid to be alone with me.

A little while later, I had made a miscalculation in my decision to fall off of the side of the rock that Sully and I were attempting to climb. I knew that I had to let go as to keep our presence a secret from Harding's guards. I couldn't let them shoot at Sully or myself, so I was ultimately saddled with a broken wrist.

I thought Sully would be angry with me and send me back, but when I fell, he rushed down to me and held me as the pain began to throb in my arm.

"Are you alright?" he asked. I winced in pain and told him that I thought my wrist was broken. In fact, I was certain that it was. I'd heard it snap and felt the pain rush to it immediately on impact. He helped me up the rock, and we traveled a while longer before we sat down to rest. Sully helped me find something to fashion a splint with and walked off to secure the area for the rest of our journey. We couldn't be too careful, because Harding was bound to have guards posted in more than one area.

For the first time in a long time, I felt completely helpless and dependent. Perhaps Sully was right. I was slowing him down. I shook my head and grabbed the canteen, trying to open it, but failed miserably. Sully walked into the clearing, and he knelt down beside me. He opened the canteen and poured some water into a cup and then asked how the pain was. It was obvious that he wasn't angry with me, but he was a bit frustrated that I was insisting on continuing in the shape I was in.

"A dull ache," I replied quickly. He told me that I should give it a rest, and at that moment, something rose up inside of me. I hated the way he had told me what was best for me. I was supposed to be the one who knew what was best for myself. After all, which of the two of us was the doctor? So, I snapped at him, telling him that I didn't need him to wait on me. He just shook his head. I honestly think he believed that I was the most stubborn woman, no, person that he had ever met.

"There's no shame in lettin' people help ya," he answered sternly. I suddenly felt bad. I had been trying so hard to make it on my own since I arrived in Colorado Springs. Now it was obvious that my words had come across as a slap in the face to my kind-hearted friend.

Olive's assumptions suddenly became a reality. Sully was afraid to be alone with me. I could see it in his eyes, and I was sure that he was not used to my independent disposition or my determination to do something when I had my mind set on it. I knew from observing the townspeople that the frontier wives were submissive to their husbands' demands. I was quite sure that Sully wasn't used to a woman who wouldn't let a man push her around. But, then again, he didn't seem like the kind of man to be dominant and pushy.

"I'm sorry," I answered a moment later. "I just wanted to show you that I could do everything that you could." I chuckled briefly. "Now look at me. I'm almost helpless." Sully glanced at me and looked down before finally locking his gaze into mine.

"Why don't you quit tryin' so hard?" I couldn't help but smile and shrug. That definitely didn't sound like me. Michaela Quinn didn't like to quit anything that she had her heart and mind set on.

"Old habits."

"Give 'em up." He stood and walked over to lean against the tree behind me. I could feel his eyes on me, but at that point, I was so tired that I could care less who was watching me. I reached into my pack and pulled out my mirror. I glanced at my tired face only to see that my hair was a mess. I rolled my eyes, knowing that it was no time to worry about my looks, but also feeling a bit self-conscious with Sully in my presence. So, I tried to pull out the pins in my hair, only to discover that the task was much more difficult with only one hand.

I was surprised to feel Sully's hands brush against mine a moment later. A spark seemed to flow from his fingers into my body as he helped me remove the pins. His fingers were gently massaging my scalp as he did so. His touch was so tender as he reached for my brush and began to run it through my ratted hair. He handled me as if I were a China doll, vulnerable and easy to break. I leaned forward, wanting him to be less gentle. I needed him to know that I wasn't fragile despite the fact that my wrist was broken at my own fault.

We had rested for a while before deciding to continue on. Sully didn't travel nearly as fast with the knowledge that I was injured, so to prove to him that I was fine, I stayed at least two paces ahead of him. Finally, we reached a creek, and Sully was apprehensive about crossing it. Sully's trusty Wolf swam across, giving us the all clear with a bark at his arrival on the banks of the water.

Sully carried most of my necessities while we waded waist-deep into the cold, murky water. As we reached the middle, Sully turned to tell me something as an explosion in front of him sent him flying backwards. When the smoke cleared, Sully was floating motionless in the creek. My heart skipped a beat, and I rushed to him, searching for Harding's guards the whole time.

I dragged him with me and kept my wrist and his head above water at all times. I pulled Sully and our belongings up onto the bank of the creek. I heard the guards on horseback conversing. We hid behind the tall grass and weeds until one guard suggested that our bodies had "floated downstream."

Sully came to a few moments later, and when he began to move under my arm, the fear that gripped my heart disappeared and relief washed over me.

Sully and I headed off in the direction the guards had come from. We hurried in silence, soaked to the bone, until we reached a large oak tree to rest.

"We best lay our clothes out to dry," Sully suggested. No matter how much I wanted to refuse, being quite nervous myself, I knew Sully was right. We both removed our clothes and spread them out on a few sunlit boulders. I was dressed in my under garments, and I suspected Sully was wearing nothing as he told me not to look and pulled a towel around his waist.

We sat on opposite sides of the tree for a while, making small talk about the weather, Harding's mill, and the children. I began to worry about them, but Sully assured me that Robert E. And Grace were taking proper care of them.

Sully told me I "did good" and that I had a debt on him. I replied that everyone had a debt on someone.

"Do you think the clothes are dry?" I asked.

"I don't know. I'll check," he answered. "Don't look." I smiled to myself.

"I wouldn't dream of it," I answered with amusement. I stood and glanced back Sully against my word, getting a brief eyeful of his muscular torso and arms. He handed me my top with his eyes shut, and I warned him to keep them that way.

I finally put my shirt on and asked Sully if he could do up the buttons. He turned to me and started at the top. I looked away nervously, and he decided to start at the bottom. As his fingers moved up, our eyes locked. He finished his task and his fingers found mine. He held my hand for a moment, and I thanked him graciously. Our eyes kept fighting the other's stares, but when Sully pulled his hand away, I felt like I needed his hand to hold mine again. It had seemed natural . . . although it was frightening at the same time.

When night fell, it became painfully obvious that I shouldn't have left my tent at Sully's suggestion. The storm clouds rolled in, and Sully worked hurriedly to construct a lean-to. He made me get in while he covered it with twigs, leaves, and pine braches. He was finishing up when the rain began to pour. He put the last branch on but stayed outside where he was exposed to the elements.

"Sully?" I asked.

"What?" he asked a bit harshly. I was taken aback, but I decided to let it go. I knew my presence and my helplessness at the moment was not making anything easier on him.

"Come inside."

"It'll stop soon," he answered, avoiding my gaze and staring up at the sky.

"Don't be stubborn," I warned. Sully knelt down and looked into my eyes.

"It's an old habit," he replied. I smiled knowingly, remembering his advice earlier.

"Give it up." I laid down, pulling Sully's blanket over me. I couldn't get over the fact that it smelled like him, and I pulled it closer around my body, reveling in the feel of its softness on my cold cheek and hands. He crawled in from the back and pulled himself under the blanket. His hand found mine, and our fingers laced together at my side. My heart began to pound, and I feared that Sully felt it too.

Sully was shaking, and I began to wonder if he was cold or just nervous.

"Sully, you're trembling," I whispered.

"I'm alright," he answered, gripping my good hand.

"Sully, you could get hypothermia."

"I'm fine. Let's just get some sleep." I sighed and rolled onto my back, turning my head to look at him.

"You're being stubborn again." I looked into his eyes. For a moment, I thought he was going to leave my side, but he did something I didn't expect, but needed at the same time. He leaned down and pressed his lips against mine, giving me my first real kiss. I sucked in a sharp breath, and he pulled away.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that." I sat up slowly, and he sat up as well.

"Yes you did," I answered. "I think you've been meaning to do that for a long time." Sully looked away again.

"I care about you, Dr. Mike. I just don't know what I'm supposed to feel. We're friends, and . . ."

"I'm just as confused as you are. I know you feel guilty."

"Guilty?"

"Because of Abagail," I replied. Sully looked away.

"I'm sorry." I immediately regretted mentioning Abagail, because she was such a sore subject.

"No. Don't be. I don't think I'm ready to share my life with someone all over again."

"I understand." I paused for a moment and swallowed hard before continuing. "When David was killed in the war, I promised myself that I wouldn't fall in love again." Sully looked at me, and I knew my face was turning fifteen shades of red. I was scared. The words just spilled out, and I had no control over them. "I mean . . . I wasn't going to care about anyone else like that." Love. I was amazed at the speed my heart was beating.

"Love isn't easy," Sully replied. I shook my head.

"Do you realize what gift you've given me?" I asked, my eyes sparkling and my throat completely dry. That had been a bold question!

"Gift?" Sully asked. I nodded shyly. There was no dismissing it now.

"You gave me my first real kiss." Sully looked surprised.

"You're serious?"

"Hmm," I mumbled with a nod. "Yes. When David and I were engaged, we rarely saw each other because of our busy schedules. We kissed . . . but not the way sweethearts kissed. Besides, I thought it was proper to wait before marriage."

"There's nothin' wrong with kissin'."

"I know. I guess I was scared. He was the first boy to ever pay attention to me. I didn't know what I was doing." Sully reached out and caressed my cheek with his fingers. I leaned into his touch. I was expecting him to kiss me again, but he didn't. He gave me a gentle smile and pulled his hand away.

"Good night." He lay down and faced the other direction. I smiled and did the same.

"Good night."

The End