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.

Past Mistakes

By, Ashley J.

"Where are you, Katie?" Brian asked, throwing his hands into the air after exactly twenty-two minutes of searching for his three-year-old sister. He heard giggling coming from the crawlspace underneath the stairs, and he shook his head, not believing he hadn't thought of searching there in the first place. "Come on out, Katie. You won. Again." He was tired of playing Hide-and-Seek with her, because she seemed to find him easily. He figured it would be the other way around, because her beautiful blonde hair always gave her away. She was easy to pick out of a crowd, and there weren't too many places she could get into to hide. "Come on, Katie. Ma is expectin' us in town in an hour. I don't wanna be late!"

Katie popped out of the crawl space with a big grin on her face. Brian pretended to be surprised, and the toddler giggled with delight.

"I won, Bwian!" she exclaimed.

"Yep, that's right," Brian replied with a laugh. "C'mon. We gotta go get your clothes changed right now."

"Why?" She looked down at her dusty dress and tried to brush off as much of the faint gray material that had collected on the fabric as she could.

"'Cause you've been hidin' in the crawlspace, and Ma don't like it when ya get your clothes dirty." Brian picked Katie up and carried her up the stairs.

"Bwian, we pway again? Pwease?"

"Maybe tomorrow, Katie. When we get into town, I gotta go help Miss Dorothy at the Gazette."

"Candy?"

"I'll get you one licorice stick at Mr. Bray's if you promise not to tell Ma this time. She don't want ya ruinin' your supper."

"I pwomise, Bwian!" Katie said with an eager nod. Brian grinned at his little sister and took her into her room to change. He pulled out the only dress he could find and held it up to her. "No! Not that dwess!"

"Katie, this is your only clean dress. You got your other three dirty yesterday, and that was before lunch."

"Gween dwess."

"You gotta wear the blue one," Brian replied, trying not to grow impatient with his baby sister.

"I don't wanna go," Katie pouted.

"Well, ya gotta go. I can't watch ya, 'cause I'm busy."

"I wanna pway Hide-and-Peep!" Brian chuckled a little as he wrestled with his little sister to get her into her dress. When she was finally dressed, he helped her into a different pair of shoes and picked her up.

"I promise that I'll play later."

"I want Poppy," Katie pouted.

"Pa's at the reservation, so Ma's watchin' ya at the clinic, remember?"

"I member," Katie replied. "I be a doctor too! Like Mama and Coween!" The front door opened downstairs, and Brian wondered who was home. He looked out Katie's bedroom window and saw Sully's horse alongside a horse he didn't recognize. A bad feeling automatically settled in his stomach, and he wondered what Sully was already doing home.

"Brian?" Sully called from downstairs.

"Upstairs, Pa!" Sully met the two in Katie's room a minute later. "What's goin' on?" Sully looked a bit apprehensive.

"There's somebody downstairs who wants to see ya."

"Who?" Brian wondered. None of his friends rode a horse like that. Sully wouldn't be nervous if it was Cloud Dancing. Who was it?

"I'm gonna watch Katie and Tess," Sully replied. "Don't worry 'bout your Ma bein' worried. I passed Horace on the way here and told 'im to let Miss Dorothy and your Ma know your plans were changed. I figured ya might wanna change 'em anyway."

"Pa, what's goin' on?"

"It's, um, it's your pa. Ethan's here."

"What's he want?" Brian asked automatically. He had heard from Ethan once in the past couple of years, and that had only been after he'd written a letter to him. Why was Ethan here now?

"He wants to talk with ya."

"Do I have to?"

"It's your choice, Brian. You're old enough to make your own decisions." Brian swallowed hard. He figured that if Ethan came all the way from San Francisco to see him, it must have been important. Though he didn't feel like wasting his time with a man who would never be a good father, he felt like he should at least go say hello.

"You're sure Ma won't get worried?"

"Don't worry," Sully promised. "I'll explain it to your Ma later." Brian looked out his window and finally nodded.

"I'll be home later." He kissed Katie on the cheek and handed her over to Sully. Sully watched as Brian left.

"Who's here, Poppy?"

"Shh, it don't matter, Katie. Let's go check on Tessie, alright?"

"Kay," Katie replied. Sully carried Katie down the hall to the master bedroom to check on a napping baby Tess.

As Brian descended the stairs, his stomach did flip-flops inside of him, and he felt as if he was confronting the monster in his closet for the first time. He didn't have many memories of Ethan from his younger childhood, and the ones he did have were rather fuzzy. But, the two memories that stood out the most to him were the last two visits Ethan had paid, and neither one of those memories were good.

He glimpsed Ethan pacing back and forth on the porch through the window. What was he supposed to call him? He wasn't his pa anymore. Sully was his pa. Ethan stopped being a father the moment he walked out on the family so many years ago.

Brian stepped onto the porch, and he found that he didn't have to look up at the man anymore. He had grown so much since he'd seen Ethan last, and now he could stare straight into the eyes of the man who had never been there for him when he needed him the most. He wasn't an naïve little boy anymore. He was a responsible young man who was sure that he knew exactly what Ethan Cooper was.

"Brian? Is that you? Boy, you've grown," Ethan said with a friendly smile. Brian flinched a little, feeling his nerves rubbed raw at his father's question. He had the strong urge to reply with a smart-ass comment about how his father would recognize him if he had been around more. But, he remained silent, and Ethan extended his hand to his youngest son. Brian hesitantly reached out and shook his father's hand. He suddenly realized how Matthew must have felt when Ethan came back the first time.

"I'm not a boy anymore. You missed out on those years, remember?" Ethan cleared his throat, and Brian started over toward Taffy. He removed the reigns and hopped into the saddle.

"Where ya goin', son?"

"I ain't your son," Brian replied. Ethan mounted his own horse and started to ride next to Brian as he broke free of the shadow of the corral. "Sully's my pa now. You don't have that right anymore."

"It's good to see you again, Brian. How's your brother and sister?"

"Matthew's studyin' law. He's in Denver right now. Colleen's in medical school. She got married last year."

"I got that invitation," Ethan said quietly.

"Why weren't ya here?" Brian kept his eyes on the steady dirt road ahead of him.

"I had business to take care of."

"Right," Brian replied, shaking his head. He couldn't believe how much time had changed his opinion of his father. He used to look up to him so much, and after Katie had been born, he felt out of place and wanted to relate to someone. All he got back as a response to his heart-felt letter was a picture with a very distant message with no feeling put into it at all.

"I tried, Brian. I did."

"Sully was there to give her away. Don't feel guilty. It wasn't the first important thing ya missed."

"Brian, I'm tryin' here."

"Why did you even come here?" Brian wondered. "Ya don't think I'm comin' back to San Francisco, do ya?" He clicked his tongue to get Taffy to trot a little faster. Ethan brought his horse into an equally matched trot.

"I came 'cause I have some news." Brian rolled his eyes. What kind of news could it possibly be?

"Let me guess. Ya found gold and ya thought ya would brag 'bout how ya got all the money ya ever wanted and left us with nothin'?"

"I'm bein' serious, Brian," Ethan said sternly. "And you're gonna hear me out."


Michaela paced the kitchen with Tess in her arms. Sully watched her nervous movements as he played chess with Katie. Katie didn't know how to play, but she liked knocking the game pawns over.

"Michaela, why don't ya come sit down?"

"He's been gone far too long. He never came home for dinner. He didn't show up at the Gazette to work with Dorothy. When Horace told me that Brian's plans had changed and that you were going to watch Katie, I figured he went fishing with Steven or some other friends from school. I never expected Ethan to come back. Sully, what if something terrible happen? What if Ethan's hurt him?"

"Ethan might be a lot of bad things, but I honestly don't think he'd hurt Brian. Plus, Brian knows how to defend himself." Michaela sighed, and Tess began to fuss.

"It's alright, sweetheart," Michaela whispered. "Shh . . ." Tess calmed soon and relaxed in her mother's arms. "That's my sweet girl."

"Where's Bwian?" Katie wondered, bringing a chess pawn up to her lips and nibbling upon the top. Sully quickly moved to take the pawn from her grasp.

"He'll be home soon, Katie," Sully replied. "It's way past your bedtime though, young lady. Time to go to sleep and have sweet dreams."

"Not 'til Bwian's home! We pway Hide-and-Peep!"

"Don't argue, Katie," Michaela warned. "Come along. I'll tuck you in." Michaela handed Tess to Sully and took their older daughter's hand. The two disappeared upstairs, and Sully smiled down at his six-month-old daughter.

"Tessie, promise me you'll never grow up," Sully said with a grin. Tess gurgled and pumped her little legs in the air. Sully kissed the top of her head and rocked her in his arms until she fell asleep. It wasn't long before Michaela joined her husband downstairs in front of the fireplace.

"Sully, I'm really worried about him."

"I'm sure he'll be here soon, but I'm getting worried too. It ain't like him to be out this long." He thought back to when Ethan visited with his new bride, and they kept the children out especially late.

"You really don't think Ethan would have hurt him?" Michaela asked. Sully swallowed hard. He hadn't thought so, but then again, Ethan had managed to hurt the children in every other way that wasn't physical. What if he'd gone too far this time? Sully stood, kissed Michaela and handed Tess over to her.

"Why don't ya go on up to bed and get some rest? I'll go out and look for Brian."

"I won't be able to sleep knowing that he might be hurt. Sully, I should go."

"If you go, I go, and somebody's gotta stay with the kids."

"I'll be fine, Sully."

"If Ethan did do somethin' to him, which I don't really think he did, he could be dangerous. 'Sides, Katie'll be wantin' you to read her a bedtime story. You always do the voices the way she wants." Michaela swallowed hard and finally nodded.

"Take my medical bag just in case. There are a few supplies you should know how to use in case something's wrong."

"Try not to think about bad things," Sully replied softly, kissing her upon the lips. "I'll be home as soon as I can." Michaela nodded and watched as Sully left with Wolf. As Michaela headed up the stairs with Tess in her arms, she only prayed to God that Brian wasn't injured. She also knew that if he wasn't injured, he was going to have to have some answers as to why he was kept out so late.


Sully's horse snorted as he caught up to Wolf. Wolf had found Taffy grazing in a secluded lot near an abandoned shack. The air was growing chilly, and Sully rubbed his hands together as he surveyed his surroundings.

"Brian?" Sully asked, dismounting his horse. "Brian?" He called louder, hoping to hear from his son. He heard movement inside of the abandoned little shack. "Brian, come on out here. Your ma's worried sick about you."

Silence followed Sully's words, and he began to grow suspicious. He drew his tomahawk from his belt and slowly stepped up toward the house. It was a new moon, so without the light it was more difficult to see.

Wolf began to growl, and Sully shushed him. He knew Brian would make himself known if he was in the shack, but the silence left Sully with a bad taste in his mouth.

"Show yourself!" What if it was Ethan in there? What if he'd hurt Brian? Sure enough, Ethan Cooper stepped out onto the porch. Well, he actually stumbled out with a flask in one hand. "Ethan? Where's Brian?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Ethan slurred. Sully felt his blood begin to boil by just looking at the scum who'd run out on his wife and three young children so many years ago. Ethan never knew how wonderful he'd had it. He had had a wonderful, loving wife and three amazing kids, and he ran out on all of that for the sake of money. Than never deserved to have such a wonderful family.

"You're drunk Ethan. I don't wanna have to force ya to tell me where my son is."

"Your son?" Ethan laughed. "I don't recall you havin' any part in bringin' him into the world."

"Just 'cause you're his pa by blood don't make you a father." Ethan thought for a moment.

"Well it's too late now. Too late to make things right with my boy."

"What are you talkin' about?" Sully was suddenly afraid that Ethan truly had lost his mind and done something to Brian.

"It's between me and my son!" Ethan snapped. That was it for Sully. He put his tomahawk back into his belt, moved toward Ethan and grabbed him by the coat collar.

"Where's my son. Where's Brian!" Sully demanded. Ethan held his hands up clumsily and let his flask drop to the floor of the porch.

"I don't know!" Ethan replied angrily. "But it don't matter now. It's too late to make things right."

"What did you do with him? Ethan! What did you do to Brian?"

"He ran off, and his horse spooked," Ethan explained. "I came lookin' for the damn horse, but I didn't find the boy."

"You tell me the truth, Ethan!" Sully yelled. "Where is Brian!"

"I'm tellin' ya all I know! I swear it!" Ethan barked. "Now let me go!" Sully finally gave in and let the man wriggle free from his grasp. If it wasn't for the family he'd created with Michaela, he figured he wouldn't have had the hesitation not to strangle the man. He'd hated Ethan since he first met him, and those feelings had yet to be changed.

"Why'd he run off?"

"Ya might wanna talk to him 'bout that yourself. I've gotta get back into town. I got a train to catch tomorrow mornin'." Ethan stumbled over toward his horse and practically passed out as it started off in the direction that Ethan could only hope was town.

Sully looked down at Wolf.

"C'mon boy. Find Brian." He held another article of Brian's clothing out for the dog to sniff. A few moments later, Sully was following his trusty wolf once again.


"Please stay in bed, Katie," Michaela said with exasperation as she picked her rambunctious daughter up for the fifth time. Katie had been having a hard time settling down for the evening. She kept asking for Sully, and even a cup of warm milk would not calm the girl enough to relax and go to sleep.

"Where's Poppy?" Katie demanded.

"He's looking for Brian, sweetheart," Michaela replied, walking into Katie's room and placing her down in her bed. "I told you that, remember?" Katie ignored her mother's question.

"Where's Bwian?" Michaela wished she knew. For all she knew, Ethan could have had him kidnapped and on his way back to San Francisco. No. She couldn't think like that. Brian was going to be okay. He had probably just lost track of time. She supposed she could ignore the fact that Brian rarely ever lost track of time.

"He'll be home soon, Katie," Michaela promised. "Please go to sleep for Mama now." She pulled the covers up on her daughter's bed and tucked the little one in snugly.

"Kay, Mama," Katie replied, yawning a little. Michaela leaned down and kissed her little girl. "Night, Mama."

"Good night, sweetheart," Michaela replied. She handed Katie her favorite doll named Annie and left the room, closing the door halfway behind her. When Michaela returned to her and Sully's room, little Tess was awake. It was about time for her to be hungry again, so Michaela carried her over to the rocking chair. Once Tess was nursing, Michaela rested her head on the back of the chair. She stared down at little Tess. She was so beautiful. Even though it wasn't biologically possible, Tess looked so much like her big brother Brian. Her hair was a light brown, and her eyes had the same curiosity in them that Brian had when he was a little boy. Of course she hadn't known him when he was Tess' age, but she could already tell that Tess was going to turn out to be a lot like her big brother.

She sighed heavily, wishing that Ethan Cooper had never come back into Brian's life. She knew it was selfish of her to think that, because Brian had the right to decide if he wanted to see Ethan or not, but she couldn't help but despise the man with every fiber of her being. What he'd done to Charlotte and the children so many years ago had been unforgivable. What he'd done when she and Sully had wanted to adopt the kids had been uncalled for. The only reason he had wanted them was for the sake of money, though she'd never tell Colleen or Brian. Matthew knew, but Matthew had been old enough to know and understand when that had happened.

"Please God, please don't let him be hurt," Michaela whispered softly as a tear cascaded down her cheek. It wasn't long before Sully stepped into the room. Michaela looked up at him with tears in her eyes. She hadn't heard him come in. "Where is he?"

"I didn't find him. I found Ethan though and brought Taffy home."

"Oh God," she whispered. "Sully, do you think he's hurt?"

"No. No, I don't think he was hurt. His journal wasn't in his saddlebag where it usually is, and I just checked his desk."

"What are you saying?"

"I think he wanted to be alone. Ethan said Brian got upset and ran off."

"Do you believe him?"

"He was drunk, but I think he was tellin' the truth." Sully sat down on the edge of the bed. "I'll go back out and look for him, but I thought I'd come tell ya." Tess pulled away from Michaela's breast, and Michaela stood, put the baby down in her crib and buttoned her gown up again. She moved to sit next to her husband on the bed.

"You're certain he isn't hurt?"

"Yeah," Sully replied, putting his arm around his wife.

"Sully, did Ethan say why Brian got upset?" Sully shook his head.

"I didn't ask. He was too drunk to cooperate anyway." Michaela took a deep breath. She was about suggest that they take the children into town to stay with Robert E. and Grace so she could search with him, but as she opened her mouth, the door downstairs opened and closed.

"Brian," Michaela whispered. She and Sully hurried out of the room and down the stairs. The found Brian sitting down at the table in the darkness.

"Brian?" Sully asked. He walked over to the fireplace, struck a match, and the room became illuminated a moment later. Michaela immediately saw tears in her youngest son's eyes.

"Brian? What is it?" She moved to sit in the chair beside his. "What happened? Did Ethan hurt you?" Brian shook his head.

"He didn't lay a hand on me," Brian replied.

"What happened, son?" Sully asked, putting his hand on Brian's back. Brian shook his head.

"He's never been here. I don't need him anymore. I feel like I shouldn't care at all, but I can't help it." Michaela looked at Sully for a moment before turning her attention back to her son. "He's goin' back to San Francisco in the mornin'," he explained.

"Did he ask you to go with him?"

"No," Brian replied. "He came to tell me I ain't ever gonna see him again."

"What?"

"He gave me this," Brian replied quietly. He pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to Michaela. She opened it and found several bills inside. She counted the money quickly, and looked at Sully with wide eyes. She handed it over to him and cleared her throat.

"There's over three hundred dollars in there."

"Brian, did he say why he was givin' this to ya?" Sully wondered. Brian nodded.

"He told me he was sorry 'bout runnin' out on Ma. He said he wished he woulda been a better pa. I told him you're my pa, and he got real upset. He said he wished he woulda had another chance." Brian broke down at that moment and reached out to his true father. Sully pulled the young man into his arms and hugged him comfortingly. At this point, Sully felt the closest he'd ever felt to Brian, and he wanted to do whatever he could to make sure the boy wasn't hurting.

Michaela's heart began to break for her son even though she didn't quite know what had upset him so much.

"Brian, what else did he say?" she asked softly, reaching over to rub his back supportively. Brian pulled away from both of his parents and walked over to stare out the window. Michaela and Sully followed, knowing they needed to be there.

"He's dyin'," Brian whispered. "Cancer, he said."

"Oh Brian," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."

"I don't know why I'm so upset. He was never a good pa," Brian replied, covering his mouth with his hand. He wanted to be strong. He was growing into a young man, and he felt as if he needed to keep a stiff upper lip and act like a man. But, at this very moment, all he could think about was how angry he was at Ethan for leaving so many times, and how he only wished there was a way that they could make things right with one another.

"Brian, just 'cause he wasn't a good pa don't mean ya can't be upset."

"I'm more mad than anything!" Brian shouted. Out of instinct, Michaela nearly called out to him to hush his shouts as to not wake up the children, but she bit her words back and mentally scolded herself.

"Brian," she whispered, "I know what it's like to lose a father."

"Sully's my father," Brian replied. "I don't think of Ethan as my pa anymore. I stopped lookin' at him as a pa a long time ago. He ain't never been there for me, and all of a sudden he comes here, gives me a bunch of money and tells me he's dyin'. Why'd he do it? What'd he have to do this to me? Why'd he have to make me care about him?" Brian slammed his fists down on the windowsill. He was angrier than he'd ever been in his entire life. How had Ethan had the courage to come face his youngest son after all of these years? How had he swallowed his pride long enough to tell his son it was all too late.

Sully swallowed hard, remembering being angry that he never really got to know his own father. The only things he knew about him were what his mother had told him. And when she'd died, he had begun to forget what everyone he'd ever cared about looked like. But Brian, poor Brian had lost so much. His birth mother was dead. He'd lost his father so many times due to Ethan's own problems, and now he was going to lose him permanently. Sure, Ethan had been a rotten father, but he was still a father by blood, and that was a bond that nobody could break.

"I know you're hurtin', Brian. I know you're angry."

"I hate him! I just wish he hadn't come back. I wish Lillian woulda just sent me a letter or somethin' after he'd already died. Why did he have to come back? Why, Pa? Why'd he come back!" Brian sobbed into his hands, and Sully pulled his hurting son into his arms again. Michaela didn't know what to do. She hadn't had to go through the types of loss that her husband and son had gone through. Her mother was still alive, and she'd had a wonderful relationship with her father. "Does he hate me? Is that why?"

"Brian, I don't think Ethan hates ya. He loves ya in his own way," Sully replied, staring his son in the eyes. "But ya gotta remember somethin'. He did come back. I know it ain't that obvious, but the fact that Ethan did come back shows that he cares about ya."

"He doesn't. He doesn't love me! He didn't love none of us!"

"I'm sorry sweetheart," Michaela whispered. Though Ethan hadn't proven his feelings for his children in the past years, his willingness to travel all the way back to Colorado Springs to see his youngest son proved that he did have the capacity to love in the heart that Michaela had always believed to have been made of stone.

"Thanks Ma," Brian whispered, wiping his runny nose and the tears from his eyes.

"Sully and I are here for you, you know that, right?"

"I know. Thank you both." Brian swallowed hard. "I just wanna be alone for a little while."

"Ethan's leavin' in the morning. Ya know that."

"I know. I think I might ride into town and see him before he goes. I wanna let him know that I hate him for leavin'. I want him to know how much he hurt me, Matthew, Colleen and Ma." He cleared his throat and looked over to see Katie crouching at the top of the stairs watching with sad eyes. He smiled a little, recalling doing the same thing at the farm in Kansas when he was near Katie's age. He barely remembered sitting there, watching Ethan play with Colleen in the living room as Charlotte sat mending their clothes. God, why had that memory come back to him after all of the years? "And I'm gonna tell him that I still love him. He wasn't always a bad pa. I almost remember when he was a good one."

Brian hugged Michaela and Sully once again before he started up to bed. Katie had snuck back to her room, and before Brian retired to his own room, he opened her door and looked in on her, knowing she'd never have to feel the loss he'd felt all of his life. But that hole had been filled with the love of Michaela and Sully. That wide gap that had been left after his father's abandonment and his mother's death had never gone away, but having a new mother and father in Michaela and Sully made him feel loved and worthwhile. He thanked God for them. He thanked God for them every day of his life, and he knew he always would.


The next afternoon, Brian sat upon his bed with his journal in his hands. He wasn't writing. Instead, he was staring down at the blank pages, thinking of the words that he could possibly use to try to convey his emotions. But, his emotions were running in every which direction. At least he'd had some comfort in the fact that he'd met Ethan before the train took off. He'd screamed at him and made a scene. But he hadn't cared at the time. He was angry, and before long, he and his birth father had wept because of the past and all of the mistakes that Ethan had made.

After Ethan was gone, Sully and Michaela had comforted their youngest son. Ethan wasn't dead yet, but to Brian, it was if the final nail had been hammered in. Ethan was out of sight, and he knew he'd never see him again. Soon, he'd fade into the back of Brian's memory like Charlotte had. He couldn't even remember what she looked like. Would the same happen with Ethan? Would his face become a blurry and distant memory, or had he been hurt so badly by him that he'd never forgot those eyes or that greedy look that had shined in them all of his life?

Brian had told Michaela and Sully how much he loved them, and the three of them had spent hours walking and talking about many things. Just spending time with them helped his grief. Knowing that his blood father was going to be put into the ground just like his birth mother had seemed unreal to Brian, though for many years, it had been as if he was already dead. He'd received one letter. One! Now here he was, left with the memories and a small part of Ethan and Lillian's money.

Michaela and Sully had finally given their son some space. He was thankful for their understanding and cooperation, and now that he was alone with his little sisters at the house, he felt a little better, knowing that he acted like a better big brother, because he'd grown up with a great big brother and sister. For many nights, he'd wondered if he would turn out like his father, but when he saw the pride in Katie's eyes when she looked up at her big brother, he knew that he could never abandon a child the way Ethan had. No. He'd be a better man and learn from Ethan's mistakes. That was the best thing he could do to deal with the hurt.

"Bwian?" came Katie's soft voice from the doorway. Brian looked over at her. She slowly walked into the room clutching Annie in one tiny hand. A curious half-smile played upon her lips, and she wasn't sure if her brother was in the mood to play with her or not.

"Come here, Katie," Brian whispered. Katie climbed up onto Brian's bed, and he pulled her into his lap, encircling his arms around her. She leaned against her big brother and looked up at him.

"Don't be sad, Bwian." She put her little hand to his cheek.

"I can't help it right now," Brian replied.

"If you're sad, I'm sad," she said, sticking her lower lip out and looking at him with sad eyes.

"Don't you be sad, Katie. You're a happy little girl, and ya shouldn't have to be sad. Ya shouldn't have to know what sad is yet."

"Mama and Poppy are sad for you."

"I know," Brian whispered. "But I'm gonna be okay, Katie. It' s just gonna take a little time."

"Why?"

"You'll understand someday, Katie. But I hope ya don't have to know for a long time. I don't want ya to ever be sad. I'm your big brother, and it's part of my job to keep ya from bein' sad."

"What's my job?" Katie wondered. Brian smiled a little.

"Your job?" He squeezed her and she giggled. "Your job is to be the best little sister. But ya gotta be a good big sister to Tessie too."

"I will."

"Promise?"

"I pwomise, Bwian," Katie vowed. She grinned and kissed her brother upon the cheek. Katie climbed down from Brian's bed and slowly began to walk out. Brian watched her, and something came to him. He couldn't let her walk away when he'd promised her something that was very important to her. He just couldn't let her walk away.

"Katie?" She turned back to him.

"What?"

"Didn't I promise you I'd play Hide-and-Seek?"

"You wanna pway!" she asked with excitement in her eyes.

"I promised ya I would. I ain't ever gonna break a promise to ya."

"Weally?"

"If I can help it, little sister." He smiled at her and stood from his bed. "I want ya to know that I'll always be around when ya need me. I don't want ya to ever think ya don't have somebody to talk to, you hear me?" Katie nodded. "Good."

"You go first?"

"Nah. You hide first," he said with a smile. "I'll find ya." Katie nodded and ran off. Brian smiled and stood there for a moment. His heart was filled with a whole new appreciation for what he had. If it hadn't been for Ethan's leaving, he probably wouldn't have all of the wonderful things he had now. So in a way, Brian felt as if he owed his birth father something. A thanks would never be a good enough payment for the gift he'd received from Michaela, Sully, his brother and his sisters: The gift of family; the gift of love.

The End