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.
By, Ashley J.
Sully's arm stayed securely around Michaela's waist as he walked with her toward the wagon. The children were waiting for Sully to bring their mother over so they could all go home together. This was the first time they'd all been together as a family since the Dog Soldier took off with her.
After many hugs and kisses, the children had gone to fetch the wagon, and Michaela was left holding onto Sully. Her arm was wrapped around him as securely as his was around her, and she held onto him so tightly that he wasn't sure if she was planning on letting go. Feeling her in his arms put his heart at rest, but he was still worried about her. She had been through a tremendous ordeal.
"You cold?" he asked as she winced from the pain that was throbbing in her scabbed feet.
"No," she replied, her voice weak and lacking something. She was exhausted, and the life seemed to have drained away from her voice and from her skin. She was pale and in desperate need of sleep, food and some clean clothes.
"Maybe ya should go to the clinic for a while so ya can rest."
"No," Michaela replied, shaking her head. "I'd like to go home." Tears had formed in her eyes, and it looked as if they would spill over at any moment. Sully wanted more than anything to take her into his arms and tell her that nothing bad would ever happen to her again. He wished that was true, but he couldn't protect her from everything bad in the world. That had become painfully obvious when the Dog Soldiers had taken her captive. He hadn't been able to stop them. He was wracked with guilt for what had happened to her, but at least she was alive and safe now. At least she'd gotten out of it with only a few scrapes and bruises. God, his blood boiled when he thought of the Dog Soldiers pushing her around. How could they have done such a thing? Michaela had only been at the wrong place at the wrong time, and her own good heart and conscience had pushed her to tell the truth to the army.
When they reached the wagon, Sully helped her up, and climbed in to take the reins. As they headed home, the children were quiet, knowing this wasn't the time to ask questions. They were just thankful they had their mother back. Brian was especially thankful, because his birthday was coming up soon, and he had been afraid she wouldn't be there. But she was safe now. Things could go back to normal. They all knew it would take some time and patience.
Sully glanced at Michaela as they rode, and her eyes were fixated on the road ahead. She was so focused on getting home that she didn't even hear Brian yell out when Colleen pushed him away when he was annoying her.
"Stop!" Brian shouted.
"Brian," Sully warned.
"She started it."
"That's enough," Sully warned, not wanting to take Michaela's place as the children's disciplinarian, but he knew that Michaela didn't need to deal with it right now.
Matthew looked at his mother, knowing that she was going to need a little time to adjust. She'd just been through a terrible ordeal, and he was going to take charge and do what he had to do to make sure she adjusted comfortably.
Nobody else spoke a word for the rest of the ride back to the homestead, and when they arrived, Matthew didn't hesitate to un-hitch the wagon and take the horses into the barn. Colleen and Brian stood on the porch of the homestead while Michaela looked around silently. Sully watched her with worry in his eyes.
"What should we do?" Brian asked, looking up at his older sister. "Can we make her feel better?"
"I think us just bein' here will help her," Colleen whispered. She slowly walked over to Michaela. "Ma? Why don't ya come inside, and I'll bring in some water so ya can clean up." Michaela nodded slowly. She turned toward the house, and she glimpsed Sully out of the corner of her eye. A tear slipped down her cheek.
"Don't worry. I'll be out here when you're done." Michaela nodded gratefully. The thought of having Sully close by right now was a comfort. His gentle, nurturing side had been brought out when he had to care for her after the rescue. He'd been so wonderful to her; so patient. She only hoped this adjustment period wouldn't be awkward. Everything their relationship had been through before the abduction didn't seem that important anymore. What mattered was that they'd gone through Hell and high water together, and they still loved each other more than anything.
The boys stayed outside with Sully while Colleen went inside with Michaela.
"Ma?" Colleen asked, pouring some fresh water into a basin. "I can set out a new dress for ya and take these out to wash."
"Thank you Colleen," Michaela replied with a distant smile, taking her tattered clothes off behind a curtain and taking a sponge to her skin. As Colleen took the dirty clothing out to wash, Michaela found the cold water to be refreshing, though it brought back memories of plunging blindly into the unknown depths of the water below the cliff. She had prayed that it wasn't too shallow, and thankfully it hadn't been.
She brought the sponge to her neck and closed her eyes as the scrapes on her knuckles stung. She took a deep breath, remembering Sully kissing her hand softly, the worry in his eyes and the way he held her when she needed him to.
When she was finished, she ran the brush through her hair and pulled it back into a loose braid. She made a note to take a bath in the creek nearby. She needed to wash off every memory of the Dog Soldier's rough handling of her. Thank God they hadn't gone too far. Thanks to Sully's timing, she'd escaped without being hurt any further.
Sully had been her rock throughout all of this. She had never felt so dependent on anyone, and for the first time, she didn't care. She needed him. She needed his strength right now.
Colleen returned a few minutes later as Michaela was lacing up her shoes.
"Feelin' better?" the young girl inquired. Michaela smiled honestly.
"A little," she admitted. "Where are the boys?"
"They're out with Sully."
"Colleen, would you mind going to Grace's with the boys? I'm not feeling up to dinner right now."
"But ya gotta eat, ma."
"I will," Michaela promised. "I just feel like resting right now."
"Alright," Colleen replied. She wrapped her arms around her mother, and when she pulled away, tears were staining her cheeks.
"Oh, Colleen," Michaela whispered, brushing the tears from her daughter's face.
"I'm sorry," Colleen sniffled. "I promised myself I'd be strong."
"Colleen, you don't have to be strong for me," Michaela replied. "I know you must have been scared."
"We didn't know if we were gonna see ya again. We kept prayin', but we didn't really know if anybody could hear our prayers."
"Somebody did," Michaela whispered. She hugged her daughter again. "You and your brothers know I love you all so much. I'm not going anywhere."
"But ya came close to leavin' us."
"The point is that I'm here. I'm not always going to be here, but for now, you don't have to worry."
"How can you say that?" Colleen asked. "You can't make promises you can't keep." Michaela looked down.
"You're right. I can't. But, I can tell you that no matter what happens, I'll never stop loving the three of you." Colleen hugged Michaela once more before she headed outside to get the boys.
Sully was left alone on the porch, staring after the kids before they disappeared around the bend. He heard Michaela's footsteps inside of the homestead, and for a moment he wondered if she had forgotten he would still be there.
His heart was still hurting from nearly losing her. When he'd seen the Dog Soldiers ride off with her, he hadn't known if he'd ever see her again. He'd been powerless to stop what had happened, but he still wished he could have tried harder.
The feeling he'd had when he finally found her had been one of complete relief and joy. Now that she was back home and safe, Sully wondered if the Michaela he loved was still there. What if she was a completely changed woman after this terrible ordeal?
"Sully?" Michaela asked, stepping out of the homestead. Sully turned to look up at her.
"I'm here," he whispered. She stepped out and sat down beside him. "Feelin' better?"
"Physically, yes." Sully's thumb gently rubbed over the scratch on her cheek. "It'll heal."
"Michaela," he began, "I need to know that you're gonna be alright."
"I'll be fine."
"I ain't convinced." He took her hands in his. "I need to know that you're the same woman I fell in love with. I need to know that you're still the same strong woman who stood up to all the men in Colorado Springs and beat them in a horse race." Michaela smiled a little. "But I also need ya to know that I'm gonna love ya no matter what."
"I'm the same woman, Sully. But, you do need to know that I have changed." Her fingers laced with his, and their hands seemed to lock together for a moment.
"What are ya talkin' about?"
"I had a lot of time to think about so many things while I was being held captive. I thought about the children, you, and us."
"Us?" Sully honestly had thought that their 'us' had been over when the whole incident with Catherine had occurred. He'd hurt her terribly, and he hated thinking about seeing the pain in her eyes as she poured her heart out to him after Catherine's departure.
"I realized that life is too short and too precious to waste dwelling on the past." A tear trickled down her cheek and stung the sore scratch. "I do love you. I love you so much, Sully, and I know that you never loved her."
"Catherine," Sully breathed. Michaela nodded.
"I know this sounds ridiculous now."
"No it doesn't. I hurt you. I'll never forgive myself for it, but it happened, Michaela. I can't take it back, but I would gladly do it in a heartbeat if it would take away the pain I caused ya."
"I'm not angry anymore, Sully. I'm not angry, but I'm still unsure of us."
"What are ya unsure about?"
"Well, I'm unsure of where we were heading before Catherine showed up. Sully, I didn't express my affections in the ways you wanted me to when you wanted me to."
"You just weren't ready yet. I just wasn't patient enough."
"No. I was ready," Michaela insisted. "I just didn't know how you'd react if I showed you how much I really cared. I was holding back."
"You don't have to hold back with me," Sully promised.
"I know that now."
"Well, I guess the question ya gotta ask yourself is if you're ready to start up what we had before. Ya know I never stopped loving you."
"And I never stopped loving you," Michaela breathed. Sully's hand came up to caress her cheek. "But I need time. I need a little time to think about everything."
"I understand," Sully replied. "Take all the time that ya need. I ain't gonna go away unless ya tell me to."
"You wouldn't go away," Michaela said skeptically. Sully chuckled. Michaela knew him so well. She yawned, feeling even more tired now, but a little better overall.
"You should get some rest." Michaela nodded in agreement.
"Yes. I agree."
"I hope ya don't mind, but Matthew asked me to sleep here in the barn tonight. He, uh, he wants to stay in the house with you and the kids, but I'll sleep in the loft." He looked toward the barn. Michaela was too tired to put up an argument or lie and say she didn't want him to stay. She needed him there. Having him close would help her sleep better, she thought. She simply nodded and disappeared into the homestead.
She was running. Her feet pounded on the hard, rocky ground, as she heard the calls of the wild Dog Soldiers on horseback. They were hunting her like she was their next meal. She had to get out of there.
"Please," she cried. "Sully!" She needed him! Where was he! Why wasn't he there to save her? Oh God, they were getting closer.
She stumbled, hitting the ground hard, and once she picked herself up, the Dog Soldiers were closer. She could see them moving in the darkness like wicked phantoms chasing her relentlessly.
"Sully!" she cried out, knowing that being quiet didn't matter anymore. They were going to grab her again. "Sully! Help me!" She felt a strong arm grab her from behind and pull her up onto a horse. She hoped it was Sully, but when she heard that snarl in her ear and a loud, triumphant howl, she knew it was over.
Michaela woke up gasping for breath. She peered into the darkness of the homestead, seeing that she was safe at home. One Eye was dead, and she and Sully were safe. Her heart was pounding a mile a minute, and she hoped she hadn't woken the children.
She climbed out of bed, sensing that the children were still sleeping and pulled her robe on over her nightgown. She couldn't think, and she needed to get out. The first place she spotted when she left the homestead was the barn, and she rushed inside, closing the door loudly behind her. For a minute, she forgot that Sully was sleeping soundly in the loft. He woke when the door shut, and he peered down at her from the hazy darkness.
Michaela didn't hear him coming down from the loft as she collapsed into a large pile of fresh hay. Tears stung her eyes, and she felt powerless to stop them. She began to sob into her hands. She needed Sully, and her mind was racing, trying to remember where he was.
"Michaela?" he whispered. She gasped, and suddenly remembered that Sully had promised to stay in the barn that night. She jumped up and rushed over to him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. He had never seen her so vulnerable and upset before. She sobbed into his shoulder, and his hands caressed her back soothingly. "It's alright, Michaela. I'm here now." He kissed the top of her head, and they stood that way for several moments. When Michaela pulled away, Sully took her hand and led her over to sit down on the pile of hay again.
He lit up a lantern so they would have some light, and when he sat down beside her, he looked into her tired, frightened eyes.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to wake you. I forgot you were out here, and . . ."
"No need to apologize," Sully replied, taking her hands in his. "What happened?"
"It's nothing. It was just a dream."
"Dreams can be pretty scary sometimes," Sully pointed out. "Come on. You can tell me."
"I trust you, Sully," she whispered. "Maybe I had that nightmare, because I'm afraid of . . ."
"The Dog Soldiers? They ain't gonna hurt ya anymore."
"No," she whispered. "I'm afraid of losing you. I was running from them. I was screaming your name, wanting you to come to me. But you never came, and they took me back."
"That ain't gonna happen," Sully whispered.
"I'm so sorry I ever doubted you," she sobbed. "I love you so much." Sully pulled Michaela into his arms, swallowing the lump in his throat.
"I love you too," he replied. "You can trust me, Michaela. I don't ever wanna hurt you again."
"I do. I do trust you." For once, Michaela didn't feel ashamed to break down and cry in Sully's arms. She loved him so much, and she trusted him with her heart. She knew that he wouldn't hold this against her. It would only make them both stronger.
"I was never so scared in my whole life when they took you away from me," he explained. "But here ya are in my arms, and I don't want it any other way."
"Neither do I, Sully," she whispered. "I need you in my life. I need you, Sully."
"And I need you," Sully replied. Another tear trickled down Michaela's cheek, and Sully leaned in to kiss her lovingly upon the lips. He could taste her salty tears on her lips as she kissed him back, inviting him into her mouth.
They held one another so close that it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began, and when Sully pulled away from their kiss, Michaela smiled gratefully at him and rested her head upon his chest. She closed her eyes, thinking back to when Sully had held her so close after their kiss upon the cliff. She had never known a love as genuine as Sully's, and now that they had one another again, it was time to move on.
Sully escorted her back to the house that evening, and when he retired to the barn once again, he knew for sure that Michaela was the woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with. They'd been through so much together already, and it was obvious now that they could handle any obstacle that came their way.
She would be his wife, he was sure of it, but it was too soon for that. Now he wanted to be careful with her and wait until she was ready, because nothing was ever going to keep them apart again. He knew she knew it, but he wanted her to be ready. When he asked her, he wanted it to be special for her. He wanted to know without a doubt that she wouldn't turn him down or be frightened.
Love was strange sometimes, and Sully was only thankful that he'd found it again after Abagail's passing. Michaela was nothing like Abagail, and that didn't mean anything bad or good. Michaela was everything he had ever wanted, and he made a vow to himself that night to never let her slip through his fingers again. They were meant for one another, and now that they both knew that, they could focus on the rest of their lives and their future together.