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.

What Counts

By, Ashley J.

The way she had felt when she stepped off the stagecoach had been a feeling she'd never experienced before. Her stomach had been tied up in knots, and her mind was racing, wondering if she'd lost Sully forever. She loved him so much, but she hadn't been able to get those words out when Sully surprised her with his own declaration of love when she'd confronted him on the train. She had wanted to say it, but her heart and mind had both been working a million miles a second, along with her emotions, and she had barely been able to breathe. It would have been impossible for her to have uttered even a goodbye.

When she'd felt Colleen's hand on her back and turned to see him staring at her from across the street, she wasn't quite sure if he would still want her. But when she saw the smile creeping across his lips, she knew his heart still belonged to her. It had been painful to sit and wait on the train, not knowing what to expect when she arrived home in Colorado Springs. She didn't know whether or not he'd welcome her with open arms or shut her out to spare himself the pain he'd gone through when she'd walked out on him in the train car.

Now she was in his arms, and he was kissing her and holding her so close. She didn't want him to let go. She'd finally been able to say it! There had been no pressure on her part, but when she'd wanted to express her feelings on the train, she'd been so angry with him for just packing up and leaving, and the children were waiting back at Elizabeth's house. She had been so confused, and the words had been lost to her, but now she was home where she truly wanted to be, and she knew now that she had a chance to make it work.

Michaela didn't want to let go of Sully, but as the stagecoach rolled out of town, the crowd began to stare at them. Neither one of them cared though, and as Michaela pulled herself out of their embrace, she looked up into Sully's loving gaze.

"Ya don't know how long I've been waitin' to hear you say that," he pointed out as his hands rested upon her shoulders and traveled down her upper arms, resting just above her elbows.

"I'm sorry it took me this long," she whispered. "I've cared about you for so long, and I'm so sorry for what happened in Boston." She paused for a moment to catch her breath. "I need you to know something. It's been hurting and tearing away at me since the day you left."

"What's that?" he wondered. Michaela looked over her shoulder to see the children being asked a dozen questions by the citizens of Colorado Springs about their journey to and from Boston.

"Walk with me?" Michaela asked. Sully nodded, and the two started across town toward the church. As they walked onto the bridge that separated the meadow from the dirt streets, Michaela stopped and turned to Sully. "I never loved William. I was grateful to him for hearing me out and agreeing to help treat mother, and he was charming, Sully. I started to let myself believe that I hadn't changed since I moved to Colorado Springs. It just wasn't true." Sully swallowed hard, wanting to understand what she was truly saying.

"Why did ya come back if ya wanted to stay?"

"I didn't really want to stay, Sully. I was so worried about mother, and I had convinced myself that she needed me. I think she was convincing me in her own way, but the moment you told me you loved me, the fog that had been clouding my judgment disappeared. I was frightened that I'd let my heart stray from Colorado Springs. This is my home now, and when I realized that I'd completely abandoned the reasons I'd come West, I told my mother that I couldn't stay. But mostly, I couldn't bear never seeing you again. I couldn't let you go on thinking that I didn't care. I do care, Sully."

"I'm glad ya came back."

"So am I," Michaela replied with a smile. Sully was so thankful to whatever powers had brought Michaela back to him, and he couldn't wait to start a new life with her. He could feel in his heart that it wasn't going to be easy, but he also knew that they could make it work no matter what. "Perhaps we should join the children in town."

"I saw Matthew with Ingrid, and he didn't look like he wanted to go home just yet," Sully pointed out. "I know the feelin'. Bein' apart from you ain't somethin' I want to do again. Ya don't know how many nights I didn't sleep while you were in Boston. I just kept thinkin' 'bout how much I care for ya, and I just had to see you. I had to know that you were all right."

"I didn't sleep much either," Michaela admitted, "especially after you arrived in Boston. I kept having the urge to come check on you. I know you weren't comfortable there."

"I didn't care what anybody thought of me. I know I looked about as strange to them as they looked to me, but I was there for one reason. I needed to see you and be with you."

"I'm glad you came, Sully. I just feel guilty that I stayed away so long."

"Your ma needed ya."

"My mother is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and I know that now. I just let my professional feelings get in the way of my personal ones. I'm sorry for everything." Tears brimmed in her eyes, threatening to fall. "I'm sorry for the way I acted the entire time you were visiting. It wasn't me, and I feel terrible about it."

"Ya don't have to apologize. I know how ya feel about me now, and that's what counts." Michaela put her hand to Sully's cheek. Oh, if only he knew how deep her feelings dwelled. If only he knew that mostly every night since their first adventure in the woods, she had dreamed of him, dreamed of how perfect life could be with his love and his tender kisses. She loved him more than she thought was possible, and that scared her. She had been crushed before when David had been killed, but the love she'd felt for David was nothing compared to what she had with Sully.

He made her heart race, her breaths quicken, and her palms sweat with just a single glance. If only he knew. If only he could see into her heart and dreams, he would know just how deep her desire for his love was.

"It does count," she whispered with tears beginning to fall from her eyes. Sully's skin tingled at Michaela's touch. How many nights had he dreamed of her perfect porcelain skin? How many nights had he wondered what it was like to have her heart? He didn't have to wonder anymore. They didn't know it yet, but they belonged to each other for the rest of eternity. What Michaela and Sully had was a bond so unbreakable that even the toughest times couldn't stop them from loving one another.

He stepped closer to her, closing the gap between them inch by inch, and when his lips touched hers with a gentle kiss, the heavens smiled upon them, blessing their love for one another, giving them the gift of a forever kind of love.

Michaela broke their kiss, knowing it was time to head back. Without words, Sully took her hand in his and led her back into town. The looks they received were of mixed feelings from the townsfolk, but it was oblivious to Michaela and Sully. All that mattered was that they had a chance to be happy. They were going to take it.

THE END