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.

The Strongest Woman

By, Ashley J.

Young George Washington was fast asleep with his hat resting upon his chest. Brian had enjoyed playing George Washington even though he had only gotten one line. He had played the part beautifully, however, and Michaela had made sure he knew that by jumping up on the stage to tell him how proud she was. Needless to say, Brian had been embarrassed about the entire situation, but he did enjoy the attention he received after the play. He was treated to a slice of his favorite pie at Grace's, and Mr. Bray even gave him a bag of fresh gumdrops.

He was tired now, and the Cooper children were all sleeping, nestled warmly in their beds. Sully was sitting outside of the homestead, waiting for Michaela to come outside. She'd promised to sit with him after the children were down for the night.

He heard the door squeak open, and she appeared with two steaming cups in her hands.

"I made some tea," she whispered, handing him a cup and closing the door with her newly freed hand. She smiled as he held the cup with two hands and sipped the hot liquid slowly. As she settled down beside him on the porch, Wolf walked over, laid down, and rested his head comfortably in the doctor's lap. She smiled and patted his head before taking a sip from her own cup of tea.

"They're all sleepin'?" Sully wondered.

"Yes. Young George went to sleep before I even came to tuck him in. I must say I was surprised. He had so much sugar this evening that I thought I wouldn't get him to sleep until tomorrow morning." Sully smiled and put his hand upon her back to rub it gently. She had exhausted herself during the Typhus epidemic at the reservation. She'd worried herself sick about the children, and now that it was all over, she was finally able to relax.

"I talked with Cloud Dancin' today."

"How is he?"

"The family's mournin' Little Moon's death. They're mournin' everybody. He says they'll go on."

"I feel terrible," she whispered, shaking her head. "I wish I could have helped her."

"It ain't your fault, Dr. Mike."

"If only I hadn't urged them to take the blankets." Tears formed in her eyes as she thought of all of the deaths she had witnessed and wished she could have prevented. Sully put his cup down and took Michaela's from her hands. As he set the cup aside, he took her hands between his.

"We didn't know, Michaela. There was no way we coulda known." Michaela shook her head.

"I can't accept that, Sully! My own son nearly died!" She was trembling now, and Sully brought his arm around her. She leaned into him, and he rubbed her back soothingly. "What if Matthew had died?"

"He didn't, and that's the important thing. Matthew's strong. You said yourself that the Cheyenne had no natural resistance to it. Matthew survived, and he was lucky to have a sister who learned from a good doctor. She took good care of him 'cause of what you taught her."

"I just felt so helpless."

"Ya did a lot of good too," he whispered. "Most of the folks in this town wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. Matthew might not be here." Michaela wiped the tears from her eyes. How did Sully know the right things to say? She'd told him earlier that evening that he had been her rock. That had been true. She'd felt so low and guilty about what had happened out at the reservation. Unfortunately, many lives were lost, and the Cheyenne had to burn those who had passed on. Traditions had been altered for the sake of saving other lives, and Michaela couldn't help but pit most of the blame on herself. But, Sully was able to explain things and help her realize that those deaths couldn't have been prevented. Killing the Cheyenne had been the goal, and that goal had nearly been completed. Several lives were lost and could never be reclaimed.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "The last thing you need is to listen to me feeling sorry for myself."

"You ain't feelin' sorry for yourself. You're dealin' with loss. We've all been through it."

"I can't imagine the pain Cloud Dancing and Snow Bird are feeling . . . and their son . . . I just . . ."

"Think about it this way," Sully said, swallowing hard, "those blankets woulda got to the Cheyenne whether or not we'd been there."

"If they hadn't listened to me . . ."

"It woulda happened. They woulda found some way to get those blankets to the Cheyenne. Ya know who did this." Custer. The thought of that man angered Michaela.

"Thank you for sitting with me," she said with a heavy sigh.

"You know I ain't always gonna be here when ya need somebody to talk to, but I'll try to be. Hopefully I can say somethin' to make ya feel better."

"You have," Michaela replied with a smile. "Thank you. You've proven me right."

"What?"

"You were my rock, and you've continued to be." Sully shook his head and kissed Michaela's cheek.

"You don't need a rock, Michaela. You're the strongest woman I know." He chuckled. "You're even stronger than most men I know." Michaela laughed at his words. He loved her laugh. Hearing that wonderful sound let Sully know that she was going to be alright. Everybody experienced loss, and it was just going to take her a little while to realize that nobody blamed her for what happened. People were angry and hurt, but they knew where the true blame needed to be placed. "Like I said before . . . I'm not so strong." Michaela smiled as Sully leaned in to press a kiss upon her lips. When he pulled away, she gently ran her fingers alongside of his face.

"You're the strongest man I know," she whispered. With that, Sully pulled her into his arms, and they held one another, never wanting to let go.

THE END