Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. The rights to those characters and to the show belong to the creators of the show, to CBS, The Sullivan Company and to A&E. This is the sequel to "Heartsong."

Blessed

Chapter 1: Split Second

A terrifying silence followed the scream heard by the townsfolk. It was if time had stopped for a split second, and as the moment passed, the eerie, biting wind began to blow again. Everyone was stunned, not sure of what they heard, but as the shock of the blood-curdling scream wore off, everyone slowly left their shops and homes to find out what had happened.

As everyone joined outside, including Matthew Cooper who had just arrived in town from a walk with Ingrid. The only sound was that of a baby crying from its cradle in Emily Donovan's home. A dog barked in the distance, and as the sun disappeared in the horizon, the sound of a horse galloping nearer was heard.

Hank was the first to spot the rider.

"Myra!"

"Help!" she screamed out. The shriek in her voice had been the same shriek heard by everyone in town; the sound that terrified and sparked curiosity at the same time. Myra's horse skidded to a halt and Hank helped her down. Her cheeks were read from the cold, and they were stained by her tears. Horace swallowed hard, knowing that Myra and Holly had gone riding together. Where was Holly.

"What happened?" Horace asked, rushing over as he held Mary's hand.

"Where's my ma?" Mary asked. Myra gasped for air, the bitter chill of the air made her breathing labored and painful. Myra collapsed in Hank's arms and began to sob.

"We were riding," she gasped, the constriction of her air passages barely letting her voice be heard above the commotion. "She fell!"

"Holly?!" Horace asked, terror gripping his heart and squeezing tightly. "Where is she? Is she hurt?"

"She fell," Myra repeated. "The horse slid on a patch of ice that was hidden underneath the snow. Holly couldn't hold her balance. The horse fell and Holly flew over his head. She landed . . . oh God." She broke down into tears again. The memory flashed through her mind, making her feel ill. "She fell and she didn't get back up." She clutched Hank and he pulled her tight.

"Shh, it's alright," he whispered, scared to death of what his wife had seen.

"You just left her out there?!" Horace demanded.

"Mama!" Mary cried, clutching Horace's leg. "I want my ma!"

"I came for help," Myra insisted. "Her neck was twisted in such a way. Oh God. I don't think she made it through the fall." She broke down again."

"Get her into the clinic," Grace demanded of Hank. "She needs to get warm."

"Come on, fellas. We best go look for Holly," Loren suggested. He looked at Jake and Horace who were both standing there, stricken with fear. Hank wasn't going to leave Myra's side, so Horace nudged Jake, knowing that Horace must be devastated. "Ain't ya gonna help me, Jake?" Jake swallowed hard, looking down at little Mary who was shaking uncontrollably with her sobs. Her knuckles were turning white from clutching Horace's pant leg so tightly. Jake knew there was no way that Horace was going to be able to see Holly like this, if she was in fact dead. He didn't think he could bear it either, but little Mary was clutching Horace so tightly that it didn't look as if she was going to let him go.

"I'm comin'," Jake whispered.

"I'll come too," Horace replied.

"Horace, ya don't need to see her like this," Loren replied. "You loved her, and that little girl needs you now more than ever."

"She can't be dead."

"We ain't sure of nothin' right now. She may just be knocked out," Jake replied quickly, trying to deny that the woman he loved was probably dead. He just couldn't get the picture of her lying on the snow with a twisted neck out of his head. No. She couldn't be dead. He couldn't even think it."

"Mama!" Mary screamed. Horace picked the little ten-year-old up into his arms and held her close.

"It's alright, Mary," he whispered. "Let's go inside and get you warm." The tears hadn't even started to flow for Horace yet. He was in shock, but everyone knew that he was going to be a mess if Holly really was dead.

"I'll come too," Robert E. insisted, looking at Loren.

"Me too," Matthew spoke up. Robert E., Loren, Matthew, and Jake started over toward the meadow, all hoping and praying silently that Holly was alright. As they walked toward the meadow, the women filed into the clinic to check on Myra and little Mary. Everyone was shaken up, and there was no way of knowing what was going to happen now. If Holly was dead, a little girl would be left without a mother; a man would be left heartbroken.

Horace tried to pass Mary over to Grace, but the little girl wouldn't un-wrap her arms from his neck. She was crying so hard, and it broke Horace's heart even more.

"Papa! Papa! Don't let her go away!" Mary screamed. Horace swallowed hard. Mary was calling him papa for the first time. He had considered himself as a father-figure to Mary for a long time now, and he didn't know what would happen if Holly was gone. What would happen to Mary? She'd be an orphan, and a half-colored one at that. He couldn't let anyone take her away, but he wasn't sure what it would be like to take care of a little girl who had the likeness of Holly in her face.

"Shh," Horace whispered. "Don't worry, Mary. It's all gonna be alright. It's gotta be alright."

The snow was starting to come down in blankets, and the meadow seemed to be getting further and further away as the men waded nearly knee-deep through the mess. They could see Holly's horse in the center of the meadow, trying to graze at the dead grass so far beneath the snow. From what they could see, he was moving around well, and probably hadn't gone lame. The first thing that came over Jake's mind was that Holly loved animals, and it would be a shame if they had to put the animal down if it went lame.

"I see somethin' in the snow. That looks like Miss Tucker's coat," Matthew pointed out.

"I think you're right," Loren replied grimly. The men journeyed on, hoping that Holly was going to be alright, and that Myra had just been hysterical when she described Holly's accident. Perhaps she had exaggerated a bit, thinking what she was saying was right. Everyone hoped that Holly Tucker was alive, because she had the ability to bring out something in everyone; to touch the soul of the hardest person.

Dread filled Jake's heart as they neared Holly's still form. As soon as he saw that she was quickly becoming buried in the snow, he rushed to her against the blinding snow. He fell to his knees in the snow beside her.

"Holly?" he asked weakly. "Holly? Answer me." He looked at the way her neck was settled, and he knew something was wrong. She was too still. "Holly! Answer me!" The other men caught up to Jake and stood around Holly. "Ya gotta wake up!"

"Jake," Loren started quietly. Robert E. knelt down and felt for the woman's pulse.

"She's gone," Robert E. whispered, glancing up at the other men. They all removed their hats and braced the cold wind and snow. Jake kept his hat on, and he pulled Holly into his arms as he sat in the snow.

"Come on, Jake. Let's get her back to town."

"I never even got to say goodbye," Jake sobbed. "She was my friend." She swallowed hard. "I loved her." The men had never seen Jake break down like this, and it was a bit unsettling, but at least they knew he could expression real emotions. It was just a shame that the woman he loved had to die in order for that to happen. Robert E. knelt down next to Jake.

"We gotta get her into town."

"Yeah," Matthew agreed. He knew that as soon as Michaela and Sully got home, they would have to hear the news. Matthew knew Michaela would take it the hardest because she and Holly had become very close friends. It wasn't fair. Why did Holly have to die? She and Horace were happy together, and she had her little girl who loved her more than anyone else in the world. It didn't seem right that she could be taken away like that.

The Reverend, who had been at the church, was now making his way over. He had been practicing at the piano and hadn't heard the screams. He had only looked out of his window by chance to see the men gathered around Holly.

"What happened?" he asked as he neared the group.

"Holly Tucker got thrown from her horse. She's dead," Loren replied quietly.

"Oh no," Reverend Johnson replied, shaking his head. "She was a good woman." Jake looked up at the Reverend.

"She was a good woman?" he asked. "She just got killed and that's all you can say? 'She was a good woman?!'"

"Jake, I'm sorry, I don't know what else to say."

"Try something a little deeper than that, Reverend! She was beautiful and loved everybody. She didn't deserve this!"

"Nobody deserves it, Jake, but ya can't change what happened. Ya can't fix it," Loren insisted.

"We're all gonna miss her," Matthew whispered. "She was a great teacher and she was a good friend to my ma." Jake looked at Holly's lifeless body and shook his head.

"She can't be dead," he whispered. "She can't be!"

"We best get her into town," Reverend Johnson said quietly. Robert E. moved to pull Jake up, but Jake pushed him away.

"I'll take her," he replied bitterly.

"Let's take her to the clinic. We'll bury her in the morning," Reverend Johnson suggested.

"Bury?" Jake asked. "Maybe, maybe she's just cold. Maybe her heart's beatin' too slow to tell she's alive. Dr. Mike'll be back soon. She can help her."

"No Jake," Loren replied.

"I'm sorry," Matthew whispered, turning to look toward the town. The sun had completely set now and it was dark.

"We better go, Jake," Loren urged. Jake stood shakily with Holly in his arms. He kissed Holly's pale, cold cheek.

"Goodbye," he whispered before he started off toward town with her limp, lifeless body in his arms.

The other men followed behind silently, not knowing quite what to say to their friend who had just lost a woman he never could have had. They all knew Holly and Horace were in love, and it only would have been a matter of time before they became husband and wife. Little did they know was that Horace and Holly had gotten engaged earlier that afternoon. Now all that was left of Holly was that little girl of hers. Mary was alone now, and that was the next concern. What was going to happen to her now?

As soon as they reached the clinic, Robert E. moved to open the door. Grace, Dorothy, Myra, Hank, Horace, and Mary, among a few other concerned citizens were seated in the main room.

"Holly!" Horace exclaimed as he saw her in Jake's arms.

"Mama!" Mary cried out. The grim expressions on the weary men's faces told everyone that this was bad.

Jake put Holly down on the exam table and kissed her forehead. He looked at Horace, Mary, and the other folks in the room. After that, he turned toward the door and hurried to his shop, needing to be alone.

"She's gone, Horace, I'm sorry," Reverend Johnson explained, putting a hand on the distraught man's shoulder.

"No! She . . . she can't be!" Horace exclaimed. He picked up her hand and studied it. The ring was gone. She must have lost it in the snow. He began to weep and nobody knew what to say. "We were to be married. She can't be gone! She can't be. We were gonna spend the rest of our lives together."

The Sully family left for Colorado Springs early the next morning. Since the children had been woken up at three that morning, they were now sleeping in the stagecoach while the tired parents played with their twin sons. Connor was in Michaela's lap, and Daniel was in Sully's. The boys were kicking around and smiling brightly. The proud parents were beaming with excitement despite their exhaustion from the past few days.

"I can't believe how fast they're growing. They are just over three months old, and they are starting to be their own little persons. They have completely different personalities."

"It's easier to tell 'em apart that way." Michaela smiled.

"I wonder if we'll have a daughter one day?"

"If we try hard enough, we just might," Sully replied with a smile, leaning over to kiss his wife. Just as they were pulling apart from one another, Connor let out his first real laugh. Both Michaela and Sully gasped and stared down at their son.

"Oh my goodness!" Michaela exclaimed. "He's laughing!" Sully grinned proudly down at his son and reached over to tickle the baby's tummy. Connor laughed again and Michaela burst into tears. Sully looked at Michaela with astonishment.

"Michaela? What's wrong?"

"He's growing up so fast!" she cried.

"He's only three months old."

"I know, but he's laughing already," she replied. She realized that she was probably a bit emotional from the past couple of days. Sully knew it too, and he simply kissed her hand and patted it. He looked down at Daniel, who was grinning up at him.

"Aren't ya gonna laugh for papa?" Sully asked. He made a face at his young son, and stuck his tongue out. Michaela grinned and dabbed the remaining tears away from her eyes as she watched her husband and son playing together. A moment later, Daniel began to laugh and Michaela felt the urge to cry again. But, she kept it inside and smiled, enjoying the beautiful sound of her little boy's laughter.

As she watched them, something inside of her seemed to click. She loved all of the precious moments she and Sully got to spend with their children. Colleen, Brian, and Matthew were amazing kids, and she felt so honored to be thought of as their mother. Now that the boys were here, everything was even more wonderful. The cries and the laughter of a child brought new meaning to life, and that's what Michaela loved the most. She loved her children and her husband. They brought joy to her everyday, and she couldn't think of anything else that could do that.

Sully looked up to see Michaela staring at him. The look on her face told him that the wheels were turning in her mind.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she replied with a shy smile.

"Alright, Michaela. Something's going on. You're gonna tell me eventually, so just spit it out."

"I want to have another baby."

"What?!" Sully asked, nearly choking.

"You said that you'd like to have another one," Michaela replied.

"I do want another one, but I thought you wanted to wait."

"I do want to wait a little while. I think it would be best if we waited until Daniel and Connor are older because newborns take a lot of attention. But, I just want you to know that if it does happen again, I'll be more than happy to be expecting another child." Sully sighed softly and kissed his wife.

"Me too. It's gonna happen again, Michaela," he whispered.

"I know," she replied with a confident nod. "But for now, we can focus on the five beautiful children that we do have." Connor yawned and Michaela pulled him into her arms. "What wrong, my love?" Connor's eyes slowly began to close as Michaela rocked him back and forth and began to hum to him. She looked at Sully and whispered to him. "We are truly blessed, Sully. I feel like we're the luckiest parents in the world." Sully grinned and began to rock Daniel back and forth in time with Michaela's movements with Connor.

"I gotta say I agree with ya," he replied. "A lot of people ain't got half as much love as we got." Michaela smiled and glanced over at Colleen and Brian. Both of them were leaning against the sides of the coach. Michaela couldn't believe how much they'd grown since she had met them. Brian was nine and growing taller by the month. Colleen was thirteen and growing into a beautiful young woman. Then there was Matthew back at home who was sixteen and becoming a man before everyone's eyes. She knew that it would only be a matter of time before he went to college, which she hoped he would, or decided to settle down and marry Ingrid. Michaela loved Ingrid dearly, and she wanted Matthew to be happy, but she still wasn't sure if he was ready to marry yet. She knew that in the summer, he'd be seventeen, and he'd be making the decision of whether or not he wanted to go to college.

It seemed as if every time Matthew mentioned marrying Ingrid, it would spin into an argument between him and Michaela. Michaela wondered what Charlotte would think of her son wanting to marry so young. It wasn't uncommon. Emily Donovan was very young, not much older than twenty-two or so, and she already had two children. Michaela supposed it just didn't seem right seeing her oldest son getting married when she hadn't had much time to spend with him yet as a mother. But she would enjoy the time she had with her family while it was still together, because she knew that as soon as Matthew was of age, he would be moving away and starting his own life apart from theirs.

Colorado Springs wore the color of mourning the next day as Holly's coffin was lowered into the frozen ground. The gravediggers had worked all through the night to break through. Mary and Horace were devastated beyond belief, and Jake hadn't managed to make it out of his shop to get to the funeral. His grief had caused him to go on another binge, and he had passed out, feeling as if he didn't want to wake up. He wanted to sleep through it all and not have to be reminded that Holly had died.

As Horace walked with Mary through the meadow after the funeral, the little girl gripped his hand as she stared at the blinding snow.

"Everything's gonna be alright, Mary."

"Do I have to go away?" she asked quietly.

"No," he replied. "I'll take care of you, sweetheart." Mary looked up at him with wide eyes.

"You will?"

"You're like a daughter to me, Mary."

"Really?"

"Yeah," he replied picking her up into his arms. "I love you."

"I love you too, papa." As they walked, the sunlight sparkled off of something that stuck up out of the snow in the spot where Holly's body had fallen. Horace slowly put Mary down and walked over to kneel down in the spot. Holly's engagement ring was partially preserved in the snow that had fallen the night before. Horace felt the tears begin to fall again, and pulled the ring up to his lips and kissed the small diamond. His body began to tremble with sorrow, and Mary wrapped her arms around Horace. "It's okay, papa. I'll take care of you." Horace looked up at the sky. There wasn't a cloud up there, and the sun was shining down on the frozen town of Colorado Springs. Holly would have loved it. She loved the sunlight, and Horace could just see her standing out in the meadow with the sunlight sparkling down on her as if she was sent from Heaven. "Ma's not comin' back, is she?"

"No, Mary, she's not," Horace replied, putting the ring into his pocket and picking Mary up again. They started off toward town again where Grace was serving hot chocolate to warm everyone up after the funeral. "She up in Heaven with the angels."

"You think she's happy?"
"I think she is," Horace replied with a smile, sighing heavily. "And I think all of the angels in Heaven are happier with her to keep them company."

The stagecoach pulled into Colorado Springs, and the Sully family was surprised to see that nobody was around, especially when it wasn't the weekend. None of the shops appeared to be open, and the few people wandering around seemed tired or sad.

"Can we go home?" Colleen asked with a yawn.

"Yes, of course," Michaela replied, getting out of the stagecoach. "I need to pick up a few things at the clinic. Colleen, help your father with the twins while he gets the wagon from the livery." Colleen nodded, and she and Brian hurried after Sully.

Michaela stepped into the clinic and rubbed her cold hands together. She went about, re-stocking her medical bag as she wondered what was going on in town. She contemplated going upstairs to check on Mary and Holly, but she heard footsteps coming down the stairs. She was surprised to see Matthew enter the room.

"Ma!" he exclaimed. Michaela noticed that he was dressed up.

"Hello sweetheart," she said with a smile, walking over to give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"It's good that you're back."

"What were you doing upstairs?" Matthew swallowed hard.

"I was getting some of Mary's things." Michaela looked down to see that he was carrying a small suitcase and the doll that Colleen had given the child. "She's stayin' with Horace."

"What? Where's Holly." Matthew looked down and Michaela could see that something was troubling him. "Where is anyone, for that fact?"
"Most of the folks are at Grace's. After the funeral . . ."

"Funeral?" Michaela asked, her eyes wide with worry.

"Miss Tucker got thrown from a horse last night," he replied. "The horse slipped on a patch of ice, and she fell . . . broke her neck."

"Oh my God," Michaela cried, tears flowing immediately. "Not Holly!"

"I'm sorry ma. I know she meant a lot to you." Sully rushed into the clinic to see his son holding Michaela.

"I just heard," Sully said quietly as the children followed in behind him. Everyone had grim looks upon their faces, and Michaela seemed devastated. Though she had acquired a great deal of blessings in the past year, she had had a great deal of losses and tragedies in her life. This just added to that pile.

"The funeral was this mornin'."

"Michaela, we best get you home," Sully whispered, rubbing his wife's back.

"No, I need to say goodbye," she replied. She dried her eyes and started off toward the graveyard to say her goodbyes to a simple wooden cross.