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.
Ashes and Embers
By, Ashley J.
As the train pulled away from the station, Michaela, Sully, and Brian waved at Colleen as she headed off to Denver once again. Each time she came home to visit was a blessing, but it was always a little rough for Michaela to say goodbye again when Colleen would board the train to leave. She came home at least once a month, and sometimes Michaela wondered if Colleen would rather be back in Denver with her new college friends. But, Colleen had assured her mother that coming home gave her a sense of peace in her otherwise hectic life since beginning college. Coming home was always a comfort.
Sully knew that this constant coming and going on Colleen's behalf was taking a toll on his wife, though she was staying strong and being brave about it. Her oldest daughter was away doing something completely different. She was meeting new friends, perhaps new young men as well.
Michaela knew that if it hadn't been for her coming to Colorado Springs, Colleen could have possibly not decided to go to college, and she most likely wouldn't have gotten the idea to become a doctor in her head. Michaela had brought about so much change in Colorado Springs. She had done so much good for the citizens when they were in need.
"You okay?" Sully asked as they walked away from the depot. Michaela let out a soft sigh and nodded her head. Yes, she was okay, but she was already missing her daughter. She missed having another girl in the house to talk to about certain things, and with Katie so young and not talking yet, she mostly talked with Sully, though he couldn't fully understand, because he wasn't a woman, and he didn't have to experience the types of things that she had to experience.
But, what really upset Michaela the most was the fact that accidents happened, and with Colleen coming and going on the train all of the time, she was afraid that something terrible might happen. She didn't mean to have the negative and pessimistic thoughts in her head, but she couldn't help it. Their family had gone through a huge series of changes over the past year, and having Colleen coming and going so often was emotional.
"I know she's going to come back. It's just hard watching her leave when she just arrived yesterday morning." She brushed a lone tear from her cheek.
"But at least she's visitin'. I know lots of folks who don't see their kids 'til they graduate college. Ya don't gotta worry 'bout that with Colleen." He was always trying to look on the bright side of things when it came to these types of situations. But, what Michaela appreciated the most was the fact that he didn't sugarcoat anything. He told her straight out how he felt about something, and he was as supportive as he could be, even during the times when he didn't exactly agree with his wife.
"I know you're right," Michaela replied with a smile. Sully rubbed her back with his hand for a moment before Jake came walking over.
"Dr. Mike. Sully," he said quickly. They stopped, and Michaela handed a fussy Katie over to Brian.
"Jake?" Michaela asked. "Is something wrong?"
"Just got a notice from Soda Springs that another storm is rollin' in. It's a bad one with lightnin' and strong wind," he explained. They looked toward the sky, and the storm was definitely coming their way.
"We best be getting home," Sully warned.
"I have an appointment with Loren in five minutes."
"Can't it wait 'til tomorrow? I think it'd be best if we weren't out when it hits." Michaela chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, contemplating her choices. She looked at Katie as soon as thunder started to rumble in the distance. Katie began to cry. She was frightened of storms, even at such a young age, because it hadn't even been six months ago that she and her mother were trapped alone in the homestead during a tornado. Michaela and Sully hoped she wouldn't have any recollection of it as she grew, and they were both trying to be optimistic that she'd grow out of it. But, storms made her upset, and she wouldn't go to sleep during them. It was sure to be one very interesting night with a storm and a very cranky little girl.
Katie was nearing her first birthday, and since it was nearly summer time, the weather was getting warmer and a little wetter. It was raining at least twice a week, and recently, several thunderstorms had made their way through Colorado Springs. Luckily, there hadn't been very much damage done, though the Widow Jenkins' decrepit barn had caught fire not very long ago. It wasn't as if she needed it, but it had definitely given her quite a fright to wake in the middle of the night to find her barn in flames so close to the house! So, of course, everyone was taking the storms rather seriously lately, and most families were keeping an extra barrel full of water nearby in case of fires caused by the lightning that had been touching down a lot recently.
"Let me go speak with Loren," Michaela replied. Honestly, she didn't want to be out in the storm either considering what had happened at Thanksgiving. Sully nodded.
"C'mon, Brian. Let's go get the wagon." Brian nodded, and he, Sully, and Katie made their way to fetch the horses and wagon. Lightning flashed in the distance, and the sun disappeared behind the dark clouds. "Let's meet your ma at the mercantile." Sully climbed up into the driver's seat, and Brian handed Katie up to him. Once Brian was in the back of the wagon, Sully passed Katie back to her brother and guided the wagon over in front of Loren's general store.
Michaela appeared a few minutes later, and Sully held his hand out to her in order to pull her up into the wagon beside him. Once they were on their way home, Michaela let out a slow breath of fresh air. She felt nervous and anxious, and she was sure it was because of lasting memories from the tornado that could have very well destroyed the home that Sully had worked so hard at building with his own two hands. But she and Katie could have nearly lost their lives in that storm, and that wasn't something Michaela ever wanted to go through again.
The horses seemed a bit skittish, and Sully was seriously contemplating having everyone get out of the wagon and walk back to the homestead in case the horses became spooked and caused an accident.
Katie was really beginning to fuss now, and Michaela reached back to take her from Brian.
"It's alright my love," she whispered. "We're almost home, and once we're there, your papa and I will give you a nice bath, and we'll all sit in front of the fire and talk until the storm passes."
"Looks like it's gonna be here real soon," Brian pointed out as the daylight became dimmer and dimmer. The horses began to whinny and thrash their heads about. Sully slowed the wagon to a stop. "Brian, get outta the wagon with your ma and sister." Brian did as his father asked, and Michaela got out with Katie as well. Sully slowly made his way to the front and detached the horses from wagon. If the horses were going to run off, at least they'd do so without damaging the wagon and possibly hurting the family. "We'll come back for it later." Sully took the reins of both horses, and Michaela walked along side him with Katie on her hip. Brian helped Sully by taking control of one of the horses.
They were close to the homestead, and luckily, the rain hadn't started sprinkling down yet. Thankfully, Brian and Sully's soothing words were calming the horses. The two would reach back to gently stroke the horses, making them feel a bit calmer about the situation. The horses hated storms, and Michaela was uncomfortable, because she knew animals could sense with something was wrong.
As soon as they reached the homestead, the horses were put up in the barn, and Michaela took Katie into the house. She immediately busied herself by warming up a basin of water to bathe Katie in.
When Brian and Sully returned to the house, they shuttered the windows and closed the front door. The wind was picking up, rattling the windows a bit, and it was beginning to sprinkle rain outside.
"I'm gonna go upstairs and help your ma with Katie."
"Alright. I'll get a fire goin'." Brian went to work, and Sully started up the stairs to find Michaela sitting on the floor in Katie's room. Katie was already splashing around in the warm water basin, and the water that was splashing out was being soaked up immediately by the towels Michaela had brought along with her. They'd gotten used to using at least four towels during one bathing session with Katie, where as a normal person used one or two.
Sully sat down on the floor next to Michaela. He watched as she played with Katie, splashing water over her little legs, and tickling her little belly. Katie squealed with delight and slapped the water with her hand, sending a nice warm spray of water in her mother's direction. The front of Michaela's blouse became soaked, and she raised an eyebrow.
"Katherine Sully, what am I going to do with you?" She stood up and un-tucked her blouse from her skirt and unbuttoned it to reveal her camisole. She looked down at sully. "I'll be right back. I need to go change." He reached out and grasped the end of her skirt.
"Why? I think ya look good just like that." Michaela rolled her eyes and pulled her skirt from his grasp. She winked at him.
"I'll be right back." Michaela left the room to change into a different top, and Sully proceeded to wash Katie as she wriggled and squirmed in his arms. Once Michaela returned, Sully was already toweling their baby off. The little girl was getting quite tired from fighting her father as he tried to get a new diaper on her.
"It was easier when she was younger. She couldn't put up as much of a fight," Sully noted. Michaela smiled.
"You go on downstairs. I think Brian's eager to start a chess tournament. I could hear him rattling around in the game chest downstairs."
"Alright," Sully replied. "I'll go downstairs and get started losin'." Michaela giggled and gave her husband a kiss. He placed their daughter into her waiting arms and left the room. Katie grinned at Michaela and showed the few teeth that she had. Michaela threw Katie's towel over her shoulder and placed her down on the bed to finish pinning the diaper on. Katie kicked and tried to roll around, but Michaela managed to get it onto her with sticking her or making her cry.
Once Katie was finally dressed, Michaela put her down into her bed, emptied the washbasin out of her window, and cleaned up the mess the little girl had managed to make with the water. Luckily the towels had caught most of the excess water, or else Michaela would have had an even larger mess to clean up.
Sully and Brian were halfway through their second match when Michaela finally made her way down the stairs to sit in one of the chairs near the fire. Sully looked over at his exhausted wife.
"Finally," she replied with a yawn. "I'm amazed she actually went to sleep. She never does when the storms are this bad."
"She was probably too tuckered out to care," Sully suggested. Michaela nodded in agreement. "Or maybe she's comin' outta that phase she was goin' through." Michaela could only hope so, though she couldn't blame her baby girl for being so scared during the storms. Michaela usually felt uneasy during them as well.
"Why don't ya go take a nap, Ma?"
"I'll be alright. I just need to sit down for a little while," she replied. Having Katie had certainly changed things. She never used to tire so easily, but struggling with a nearly one-year-old quickly drained energy that Michaela never knew she had.
"Wind's pickin' up," Brian pointed out. "Ya think Colleen's train made it past the storm?"
"Train was headin' a different direction. I'm sure they'll make it to Denver with just a little rain to slow 'em down," Sully replied, knowing that Colleen was probably not going to have to be stuck in the storm, so he didn't see any reason in putting that worry into Michaela's head.
He could see that she wasn't concerned, because she knew that he was right. Sully swallowed hard as thunder rumbled so loudly outside that it made the dishes shake in the cabinets. Michaela looked toward the kitchen and saw that one of the shutters had come open and the wind had blown out the candles. She started to get up.
"I'll take care of it," Sully offered. He got up to take care of the window and to re-light the candles. Michaela felt herself beginning to perspire from anxiety. She found her hands tightly gripping the arms of the chair, and her knuckles were turning white. She hated storms, especially since the tornado she and Katie were nearly killed in.
As the afternoon wore on, the storm continued on. Though the rain had dissipated a little, it was still thundering and lightning with the promise of more rain to come.
Brian was sitting at the dinner table with a pad of paper and a pencil in front of him. He was working on an essay for school. As he was doing his homework, Sully was helping Michaela with the dishes. Michaela hated leaving dirty dishes, so Sully had started washing them right after they ate a late lunch, and Michaela had come to join him. Though housework wasn't a favorite activity for either one of them, they enjoyed doing things together. Even if they didn't talk and only worked, it was nice to have such a peaceful quiet in the house. It was usually never quiet around the Sully homestead, because Katie was trying to become more verbal, and while she still hadn't really said her first word yet, she was trying very hard! So, when Katie slept, Michaela and Sully could enjoy the quiet long enough to regain their strength and energy for when Katie would wake.
The horses in the barn began to whinny, and they were so loud that Brian jumped at the sound.
"Ma? Pa? Should I go check on the horses?'
"Probably not a good idea, Brian," Sully replied. "They'll be spooked, and I don't want ya getting hurt."
"Alright," Brian replied to his father. A moment later, a loud, unexplainable sound shook the house as the entire sky outside lit up with the flash of lightning. Michaela bit back a scream. The three stood there waiting for another sound, but nothing but thunder followed. The storm was passing, thank God!
"What was that?" Michaela wondered. At that moment, Katie began to scream upstairs, and Michaela's heart caught in her throat.
"Ma, look!" Smoke was rolling down the staircase.
"Oh my God!" she screamed. "Katie! Katie! Sully, the house is on fire!"
"Brian, get your ma outside now! Go!" Brian took his mother's hand.
"Come on, ma."
"No! My baby! Katie!"
"I'll get her. I swear I'll get her!" Sully yelled as he rushed up the staircase. Michaela stood frozen in fear for her husband and her daughter's lives. Brian felt fear gripping his heart as he tried to pull his mother out of the house, and he silently prayed to God that Sully and Katie would be alright.
"Ma! Come on! We gotta go! Pa's gonna get her, and they'll be fine." Michaela felt as if she was frozen in place, but her son's urgent pleas finally woke her up.
"Run! Go Brian!"
"Come with me!" Brian practically used all of his strength to drag his mother out of the house. When they made it out into the muddy lot, they could see the smoke rushing from the roof. Oh God, the fire was spreading like crazy, and since the rain was letting up, it wouldn't do much good of stopping it.
"Sully!" Michaela screamed. Brian gripped his mother's hand tightly as she heard Katie's heartbreaking screams. Michaela broke free from Brian's grasp, and she ran for the house, feeling her heart pounding so fast and hard that she thought it might pound right out of her chest.
Katie's cries stopped, and for two excruciatingly long minutes, Michaela stood in the kitchen of the burning homestead, smelling the smoke that was burning their memories and possessions into nothing but ashes. Brian tugged on his mother's arm.
"Ma! Come on!"
"Sully!" she screamed, pushing Brian toward the door, needing him to get out for his own good. She struggled with her son, and when the smoke began to overtake her, she knew it was time to get out. Brian pulled her out and they fell down onto the muddy ground. Brian was shaking with fright, and Michaela pulled him into her arms. He had been so brave for a moment while she had been the weak one, and now here she was, holding him the way she used to when he was a little boy.
Her heart felt like it was going to stop beating as she waited for her husband. She couldn't speak or scream any longer. The tears couldn't even fall. She felt paralyzed as she watched the roof cave in on the second floor. Brian screamed, scrambled to his feet and rushed toward the front porch. Sully came barreling out with Wolf, who'd been sleeping in the kitchen, right behind him. He had Katie bundled in a blanket in his arms.
"Sully," she whispered, finally compiling enough strength to move from her spot on the ground. Brian wrapped his arms around his father, and Sully's free but shaking arm held him with all of the strength he had left in his tired, aching body.
"Pa," he sobbed as the reality of the situation hit him at full force. When Brian pulled away, Michaela practically threw herself into her husband's arms. They held each other so tightly, and the next thing she did was take her little girl into her arms to make sure she was alright. Katie was crying, but she appeared to be fine.
"C'mon," Sully said breathlessly. "Let's get in the barn and get outta the rain. The rain was beginning to shower heavily down upon them again, so they rushed into the barn, knowing there was nothing they could do to stop their home from burning down. It was falling to pieces as the flames spread from beam to beam, and as the wood withered away, so did the chance of saving their home.
The family stood in the barn as the rain poured onto their burning house. Neither one of them could speak, but when they held each other, that was enough. They needed nothing else to know what the other was feeling and thinking.
Katie quieted after awhile, and Michaela so desperately wished that she could turn back time. Poor Katie had had to go through another terrible trauma, and she wasn't even a year old yet.
Sully looked at Michaela after having nearly lost his life inside of that house. He'd never tell her, but as he and Katie were coming down the stairs, a burning beam just barely missed him. If he had hesitated a split second longer, he and Katie wouldn't be with Michaela and Brian at that very moment. They'd been given a second chance, and though starting over would be difficult, it would have to be done.
Night fell on Colorado Springs, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The moon was big and bright, and the only blemish against the cool night sky was the haze from the smoke that rose up and swirled from the smoldering ashes and embers. Where a beautifully hand-built homestead once stood, lay a terrible, ugly heap of charred furniture and wooden planks. The only thing standing was the fireplace that had been made of stone. Each stone had been placed by Sully's hands with the hope of a wonderfully long and prosperous life with his new family. Those hopes and dreams lay amongst the ashes and embers now. They could be salvaged, however, because though their possessions were gone, they still had one another. Somehow, they could rebuild.
The townsfolk had spent hours pouring buckets of water from the nearest creek onto the ruined homestead until the last flame was extinguished. Now, everyone was gathered in the barn with offerings for the homeless family. How had they gone from one of the most important families in Colorado Springs to being given charity by those who were less fortunate than they?
At the moment, Michaela was holding little Katie in her arms. One of Sully's arms was wrapped protectively around Michaela, while the other held Brian close.
"What are we going to do, Sully?" Michaela whispered. "This was our home."
"I'll build us a new one," Sully whispered, kissing the top of her head. "We can stay at the clinic 'til it's done."
"Sully, we can't afford it," Michaela whispered. She appreciated his attempt at being positive at a moment like this.
"That don't matter. I'll do whatever it takes to make sure we have our home." Michaela began to sob silently, clutching her sleeping daughter to her chest. She turned to Sully, and Brian looked at them both, not knowing what to say.
"Sully, everything we own, aside from the clinic, was in that house. The cradle you spent weeks making for Katie; the hand-made bed you made as a wedding present to me." She swallowed hard. "My wedding dress. I was going to let Colleen wear it on her wedding day. And now . . . now it's all gone."
"Those are just things, Michaela. They can be replaced. We've still got the memories," he whispered. Michaela nodded sadly. It was true. They were lucky to have all of the happy memories. They were lucky to be alive, but they were still going to pay. They would be paying until everything was set right, but the memories of this terrible night would never leave them. Their minds were branded with this terrible tragedy.
"Ma?" Matthew had just arrived from Manitou and had heard about the fire. Michaela turned to her oldest son, and he drew her into his arms.
"Thank God you're here."
"I'm sorry I'm so late. I can't believe it."
"I'm just thankful we're all safe now," Michaela whispered. "And I'm glad that Colleen doesn't know about it yet. I don't want to upset her right now."
"She's gonna find out sooner or later." Michaela nodded. "Ya know ya'll are welcome to stay at my place for awhile."
"Thanks Matthew," Sully stepped in, "but we don't wanna impose. We're gonna stay in town at the clinic 'til I can build a new homestead." Several of the townsmen started over.
"We're real sorry 'bout what happened. Nobody deserves it, Sully, least of all the four of you." Loren reached out to touch little Katie's cheek as she slept. "We figured that you're gonna build a new homestead," Loren started. Sully looked from Loren to Jake to Hank.
"Well," Matthew chimed in, "we know you wanted to build this homestead with your own hands, and if ya still wanna do that, it's fine. But, we wanna help by payin' off the loan ya have with Preston so ya can make a fresh start." Sully looked at his oldest son with surprise in his eyes. He was about to refuse when he saw the looks in Michaela and Brian's eyes. His heart broke all over again, and he was brought near the edge of tears.
Sully simply nodded.
"I appreciate that," he said quietly, "but don't feel like ya gotta do it out of guilt."
"Guilt ain't got nothin' to do with it," Jake pointed out. "You and Dr. Mike've done a lotta good for this town, and we figure it's 'bout time we did somethin' good for all of ya." The men walked away, and as the evening wore on, Michaela and Sully were approached with even more words of regard and offers of a warm bed to sleep in.
Once they were in town, Brian and Katie fell right to sleep, though Brian had been sure he'd never get to sleep after what had happened. But, he was physically and emotionally exhausted. It took no time for him to go right to sleep.
Michaela and Sully couldn't sleep, however, and as they lay in bed holding one another close, they thought of everything that they'd accomplished since they'd married and moved into that house.
The fire had burned away so many treasured possessions, but at least it hadn't taken their family away. That was what was important. The family had created those wonderful memories, not the house. A house was just a house, even though it was the first gift Sully had given to his wife and adoptive children.
"Sully, when you went up to get Katie," Michaela whispered as she obviously choked back tears, "I don't think I was ever so scared in my entire life." Sully swallowed hard.
"I didn't have time to get scared when I was runnin' up those steps. All I could think about was how my little girl needed me. I kept seeing her face, and I just acted on it. I didn't have time to panic, and when I heard you screaming for her, I felt like I was lettin' ya down."
"Letting me down? Sully, you didn't let me down! How could you think that?" Sully shrugged a little.
"We worked so hard to get what we had," he explained. "And now everything's gone." Michaela took a deep breath.
"Yes it is," she whispered. "But we're all here, and we're alive. That's what counts. Like you said, what we lost were just things. We still have one another, and as long as we have that, Sully, we'll be alright." She began to cry silently, but Sully could feel her shoulders trembling. He held her tightly.
"Don't worry," he whispered. "We're gonna get past this. We've been through lots of bad things before, Michaela, and we always manage to work somethin' out. You'll see. It'll all be alright once the dust settles."
And he was right. Over the course of the next half-year, the rubble from the ruins of the homestead was cleared away, and a new homestead was built in its place. This one was a bit larger than the first, but it bore a slight resemblance to their previous home. It hadn't been planned, but that was the way it turned out.
Everyone had been so wonderful and helpful, even Hank, and the citizens of Colorado Springs had really pulled together in their efforts to help their good doctor and her family have the home they deserved to have. Everyone had pooled enough money together to pay off the old loan from Preston, and Michaela and Sully had penned out a new contract with a bank in Denver, knowing that working with Preston again would be a mistake.
By the time Katie had turned two, the Sully family was moving into the home they had worked so hard for. Brian and Matthew had helped their pa build the place, and Michaela was so proud of the men in her life for working so hard. She had wanted to help as well, but when a new visitor made its presence known, she was forced to stay relaxed and do as little physical labor as possible. Now, Michaela, Sully, Brian, Katie, and little Rebecca Sully were moving into their new home. Michaela and Sully hoped that they could spend the rest of their lives in their new home watching their children grow up. The unfortunate incident that had occurred with their first home together would forever be in their memories, but they had grown stronger and closer than ever with the after effects.
Though the physical possessions that brought those memories to life were long gone in the ashes of the old homestead, new memories were already being made in the new home. A new addition to the family brought happiness and life to them again, and though the dreams they used to have were burnt up in the fire, they would move forward and hope for the best in the future.