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.
They walked hand-in-hand through the silent meadow as the cool breeze swirled around them. Her hair hung loosely down her back, and the breeze picked it up to trail behind her as they walked. A happy-go-lucky two-year-old frolicked amongst the flowers, as her sister and brother-in-law walked a few paces behind her.
Colleen and Andrew had just arrived back in Colorado Springs after a long and very romantic honeymoon. It just so happened that Michaela was out making house calls all day, Sully was visiting with Cloud Dancing, and Brian was studying for his college entrance exam with Miss Teresa and Dorothy, who was helping him keep up with his literature. Yes, it was a bit early, but even Miss Teresa was convinced that he was ready and well ahead of his classmates in his studies. Those who knew Brian felt that it was pointless to keep him in a classroom where he was only learning what he already knew.
"Look at her," Colleen laughed as Katie's blonde hair blew in the breeze. A butterfly rushed past the little girl's head, and she turned and tried to capture it with her eager and tiny hands. "Andrew, do you ever think about having our own children?" Andrew stared lovingly into his wife's eyes and kissed her hand softly.
"Of course I do. Every moment of the day, it seems. Ever since we saw that couple with twins in Boston during our honeymoon, you've got me wanting a family of our own." Colleen smiled.
"Good," she replied. "I want to have a family too, but I need you to understand that I want to wait until I'm through with medical school. I just wanted to be sure that we both want the same things."
"You could have asked me before we were married, my dear," Andrew teased. Colleen laughed, and her husband picked her up into his arms and twirled her around. She had never been so happy, and now that she had Andrew as her husband, she knew what it was really like to feel the love and warmth that his companionship brought. Andrew captured his wife's lips in a gentle kiss, and she realized that she had never thought this could be so wonderful.
Katie let out a squeal of laughter as she spotted a bunny rabbit. She began to run toward it, and the bunny started off in a frantic hop toward the tree line. Obviously, the fluffy creature was much faster than a clumsy little two-year-old, but nevertheless, Andrew and Colleen sprinted after her to keep her in sight, laughing as they tried to be stern with the little girl.
"No, Katie! Not so fast!" Colleen warned. Katie continued to run forward, and Andrew took Colleen's lead and caught up to his baby sister-in-law. He picked her up and swung her up in the air. Katie let out a high-pitched squeal and laughed as Andrew tickled her belly. Colleen paused for a moment, taking in the sight of her wonderful husband with her baby sister. Seeing Katie giggle like that made her long even more for a child of her own, but she didn't feel ready yet. She felt like she was too young to be a mother, and she wanted to see so much more of the world before settling down. She knew that Dr. Mike was so accomplished, and she wanted to be as well.
When Colleen brought herself back to reality, Andrew was walking over to her with Katie wriggling and giggling in his arms.
"Come here, Katie," Colleen laughed, taking the little girl into her arms. "You have to be worn out by now." Katie shook her head.
"Sorry, Katie, but we've gotta be getting back in town to pick up our picnic basket from Grace. Aren't you excited to be getting an extra slice of pie at lunch? Ma never lets ya do that." Katie grinned. "But it's just this once." As they were starting over toward Grace's Café, Horace came running over.
"Colleen! Where's Dr. Mike!"
"She's off makin' house calls," Colleen replied quickly as Horace stopped in front of them. "Why? What happened?"
"Stagecoach rolled in. It got robbed, and they need a doctor. Andrew? Colleen? Can ya come take a look?"
"Of course," Andrew replied quickly. Colleen handed Katie over to Horace, and she rushed into town with Andrew. Horace followed behind with little Katie in his arms. She was lucky that she was oblivious to all of the bad things that happened in the world. She was still young enough to be naïve and innocent, but when she would grow older, she'd know that not everyday was happy, and not everyplace in the world was somewhere safe to run through the meadow and chase after bunnies and butterflies.
As Colleen and Andrew went to deal with the situation, Horace took Katie over to the depot, knowing that he couldn't do anything else to help the situation.
"Ya know, Katie, my little girl was your size once. Ya don't remember her though, I bet. You were real young when she came for a visit." Horace tickled Katie's tummy, something most of the close friends of the Sully family had realized made her laugh every time. She let out a giggle, and Horace sat her upon the counter outside of the depot. He reached inside to pull out one of Katie's stuffed animals, which she'd left last time he babysat her. "There ya go." Katie took the toy she'd been missing and hugged it close.
"Mr. Bing?" Widow James called, stepping up with a large package in her arms.
"Afternoon, Widow James. What can I do for ya?"
"I need to send this to Denver, and I need to send a long telegram."
"Sure thing," Horace replied. He smiled and brought Katie into the depot with him. He put her down with her toy bunny in her hands and turned to help the Widow James. Katie looked around to see that nobody was watching, and when she realized they weren't, she started toward the open door.
Michaela walked into the homestead after having returned from her last house call of the day. Mr. Granger's eldest son had ridden out to meet her on the Jones' farm and let her know that his father had gone to Manitou. Apparently Mr. Granger felt that he wouldn't need the good doctor's services until after he returned from his short trip out of town.
Colleen and Andrew weren't supposed to be home until later with Katie, and Michaela knew that Brian would be coming home from school in an hour or so. With the house so quiet, Michaela only wished that her husband was there to share it with her, but unfortunately, he was still out visiting Cloud Dancing. She didn't blame him though. He rarely got to visit his Cheyenne brother these days, so every visit seemed to be special.
She let out a soft sigh and looked over toward the fireplace. She was surprised to see Wolf lying there, because he had been Sully's traveling companion for years. Michaela studied the wolf for a moment. She could have sworn he'd left with Sully earlier that morning!
She moved over to kneel beside the sleeping animal, and she brought her hand to softly scratch behind his ears. Wolf's eyes opened slightly, his ears perked a bit, and his tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth. Michaela smiled at the tired wolf.
"What are you doing here, boy?" she asked softly. "Hmm?" Sully smiled as he observed his wife kneeling on the floor beside Wolf.
"He got tired, so I figured we'd best get home." Michaela stood quickly and turned around to see her husband standing in the doorway. She smiled at him, and they met halfway to give one another a sweet kiss. As Sully's arms wrapped around his wife to bring her closer, she let out a content sigh against his lips. When they finally broke away from each other, Michaela cocked her head to the side and gently ran her thumb over his lips where her lips hand previously lingered.
"That's the real reason?" she asked. Sully smiled a little. "You never return home early just because of a tired wolf," she pointed out, studying his beautiful eyes as she playfully questioned his motives.
"Yeah, I know. Cloud Dancin' had to cut our meetin' short, so I decided to come home. Guess it was lucky that you're home early too." A shine appeared in his eyes, and his hands moved to take hers. Their fingers linked together a moment later. He had that look upon his face, and Michaela couldn't help but get the first pulses of desire surging throughout her body. "We're alone?'
"Mmmhmm," she nodded, looking toward the open door. "For about another hour anyway," she explained. "Brian will be home soon." Sully nodded. He moved over to close the front door, and Michaela watched as he hung his belt and tomahawk on the coat rack. He removed his jacket and did the same with it. He was wearing the shirt that she loved for him to wear the most. The cream colored one really looked good against his tanned skin, and as he moved across the room toward her, she felt her heart beginning to beat at a much more rapid pace than usual.
"An hour, huh?" Sully wondered curiously. He watched as his wife nodded and bit her bottom lip. He leaned in to press another kiss to her lips before his hands moved to the buttons on the front of her blouse.
"Sully!" she exclaimed. Sully looked at her with question in his eyes. "What if the children were to come home early?" She had a point.
"Well then, we best go someplace where wanderin' eyes won't see." He scooped his wife up into his arms, and she giggled happily. As their lips met again, Sully carried her up the stairs in his arms to take her to their bed.
They hadn't so much as made it to the threshold of the bedroom door, when they heard the front door crash open downstairs.
"Ma! Pa! Somebody!" came a frantic Brian's voice. Sully put his wife down, and they rushed down the stairs as Michaela buttoned the two unfastened buttons on her blouse. When the worried parents arrived downstairs, they saw Brian standing with one hand on the doorknob and an extremely disconcerted look upon his face.
"Brian? What is it?" Michaela asked automatically, thinking there was an emergency in town. Brian was breathless. He hadn't even bothered to go all the way to the livery to pick up Taffy. He'd run all the way out to the homestead, and now that he was home, he didn't think he'd ever be able to catch his breath. Sully knelt next to his thirteen-year-old son.
"What is it, Brian? What happened?" he asked, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder. Brian swallowed hard and blinked a few times, trying to fight off his overwhelming urge to burst into tears.
"It's Katie," he cried. "Colleen and Andrew got called back from their picnic on an emergency."
"Oh my God," Michaela whispered in an almost inaudible tone.
"What happened?" Sully asked, his blood starting to freeze with fear.
"Horace was watchin' Katie, and he said he put her down inside the depot office to help Widow James'. When he turned around, Katie was gone. Everybody was too busy with the emergency in town that they didn't notice where Katie went. They didn't see if somebody took her." Brian took a couple of shaky breaths. "Horace pulled me outta class with Miss Teresa and Miss Dorothy. Ya gotta come to town. Everybody's lookin' for her. Matthew's leadin' a search party." Before Brian had finished the sentence, Michaela and Sully were pulling on their jackets and grabbing supplies they figured they might need, and within two minutes, the three of them were piled into the wagon, trying not to let fear and pessimism cloud their thoughts. They had to be optimistic. This kind of thing happened everyday, right? Little kids were prone to running off without thinking, and Katie was probably just playing her favorite game of Hide-and-Go-Seek. She'd probably just forgotten that somebody was supposed to find her. They couldn't think negatively yet. It wouldn't do anybody any good.
"Mama, why are we still in Washington?" four-year-old Lucy asked as she held her mother's hand. Michaela smiled down at her daughter who looked so much like she expected Katie would look like today.
Lucy Sully clutched a ragged old stuffed animal in her hand. It had been Katie's. That toy had been the only thing that the search party had found near a creek bed, and the tracks of the kidnappers had been cleared away. There was no doubt about it that Katie had been kidnapped, and after months and months of searching, there hadn't been a single lead. Now, five years later, the only thing that most people could say to explain the situation was that whoever had taken her didn't want money, and they didn't want to be found.
"Sweetheart, I told you before that we're staying an extra day because I need to give inoculations to the orphans." She had originally intended to lock away Katie's favorite toy, but when Lucy was beginning to walk, she'd found it tucked away, and Michaela would have felt guilty if she'd taken away a newly found toy. She finally decided that letting Lucy play with her big sister's favorite bunny would be like keeping Katie's presence in their home alive.
"Why can't another doctor do it?" Lucy's twin brother Ben asked. Ben held onto his father's hand as they walked along the busy sidewalk.
"Remember what your ma said," Sully asked. "She's the only doctor in town who's willin' to do it." They'd come to Washington originally to see Brian. After the boy had graduated from college, he had traveled to the nation's capitol to take a high-paying job at a newspaper.
Life had gone on after Katie's disappearance, and though Michaela hadn't wanted to, she had finally admitted to herself that Katie was gone and never coming back.
"Don't worry," Michaela said with a smile as her youngest children sighed heavily, wanting to go home to Colorado Springs. "Brian's going to take you both to the candy store while Papa and I are at the orphanage. Brian, who was prompt as usual, rounded the corner. As soon as Lucy and Ben saw him, they jumped with excitement and ran to him. As Lucy reached to grab her big brother's hand, she dropped Katie's bunny.
"I'll get 'em back to the hotel without lettin' 'em ruin their supper," Brian promised. Michaela chuckled.
"Thank you." Brian walked off with his little brother and sister, and Michaela looked down to see the stuffed bunny lying on the cold ground like it had been when they found it five years ago. She quickly bent to pick it up and tenderly brushed the dirt off of it with her gloved hand. Sully watched as his wife's heart broke again. It happened at least once a day. She would see a flower that Katie liked, or she'd see a child with a bonnet like one that Katie had worn as an infant.
Sully put his arms around Michaela, and she blinked back the tears that were threatening to fall.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, not having cried once in the last week. Her heart would break, but she'd fight off the tears. She couldn't help it this time though.
"Ya don't have to be sorry, Michaela," Sully whispered. "I miss her too." Michaela swallowed a sob that wanted to escape, and when she pulled away, she found herself drying the tears she'd fought so hard to hold back. Sully smiled a little and cupped her face with his hands. As he brushed the remaining tears from her cheeks, he kissed her lips softly. She sighed with frustration as Sully pulled away.
"Will it ever get any easier?" Sully shook his head.
"No. The pain won't, but as the years pass, it'll get easier to accept. The pain will still be there. It'll be the same." Michaela shook her head as they continued on toward the orphanage hand-in-hand. After Katie went missing, many months had gone by, and nearly every post in the states and in Mexico had been wired about the missing child. But, nobody responded with any knowledge of the situation. How could she just disappear into thin air?
They'd gone through every possible scenario over and over and over again. Michaela didn't want to think it, and in her heart, she knew it wasn't true, but her head told her that Katie was dead. She'd grieved. They'd all mourned. Where was Katie? Was she alive? Was she scared, or was she happy? There were so many unanswered questions, and neither Sully nor Michaela had the answers to them.
Katie's disappearance had an impact on the entire town. Horace felt so guilty, and though Michaela and Sully were initially angry with him, they came to terms with the fact that he had only been doing his job when their daughter disappeared. They'd blamed themselves as well for taking part of their afternoon off for a little romance. Though that hadn't really factored into it, they still felt that they should have been with Katie that afternoon.
It had taken a toll on Andrew and Colleen as well, and both of them felt responsible. They had even separated for a while once their grief began to gnaw at them. They had started blaming each other, but soon, they came to realize that the only person fault should be placed upon was whoever took Katie. So, Colleen and Andrew worked things out, and they moved on to Boston to start a partnership while raising their two-year-old son Andrew Jr.
Everyone seemed to be moving on, and while Michaela's mind was moving on, her heart was still stuck back in time five years ago. She couldn't bring herself to even walk into Katie's old room. She hated herself for that. Her twins slept in that room, and she couldn't even bring herself to walk in to tell them a bedtime story. Any bedtime story she told them would take place in her and Sully's bed, and then Sully would carry them to their beds once they were asleep. She felt like a horrible mother, but she also knew her children loved her anyway. Sully and Michaela had told them a lot about the big sister they never met, and they even noted to celebrate her birthday a few months ago. That had been the day that Michaela went over the edge and withdrew inside of herself for a while. Her husband and children's patience with her had brought her back to them, but she just wasn't the same since Katie was taken away from them.
As they entered the orphanage, Michaela's hand gripped Sully's a little tighter as they passed a few children walking down the corridor with their heads hanging low. They looked pretty well kept for being at a poor orphanage, but their emotional health didn't look so great.
"It's alright," Sully whispered. "Do ya need me, or do ya want me to wait?"
"You can wait out here. I'll be fine." Michaela gave him a reassuring kiss upon the cheek, and a moment later, she was disappearing behind two large, swinging oak doors.
Sully turned his attention to the bench alongside the wall. He sat down and rested his elbows on his knees. He buried his face in his hands and rubbed his exhausted eyes. How many nights had he stayed awake for hours on end just listening to Michaela sobbing herself to sleep? How many nights had he replayed the last five minutes he had spent with Katie over and over again in his head? He remembered that he was putting her shoes on, and she kept tugging at the beaded necklace he wore around his neck. After she'd disappeared, he'd pulled the necklace apart. He'd completely destroyed it, and when Michaela found him sobbing beside Katie's empty bed, they'd held one another for hours without speaking. He re-strung his beads the next morning and hadn't taken them off since. Sometimes he swore he could still feel her tugging on them, and then he'd feel as if he were choking.
His hands began to tremble as he thought of the moment he'd lifted Katie into the world. The sun had shone down upon her tiny body, and she'd squinted and cried. He had never seen Michaela so happy. How had it all changed so quickly? Why had yet another child been taken from him? Why did he have to see the pain inside of Michaela every time he looked into her eyes? A light that he'd always seen in her had become so dim that he could barely see it anymore. Life wasn't supposed to be about pain and loss. It was supposed to be about hope and love and living life to the fullest, wasn't it?
"Excuse me, sir. May I help you?" asked a tall older gentleman who came walking out of the swinging doors. Sully looked over at him and shook his head.
"No. I'm just waitin' on my wife," he replied. "Dr. Quinn."
"Oh, that charming lady is your wife? You're a lucky man, I can assure you." The man smiled.
"I don't need no assurance," Sully replied as he stood. "I know how lucky I am to have her."
"She's very good with the children," he said with a smile. "Oh! How rude of me." He extended his hand. "My name is Charles Ellsworth. I come in from time to time to read to the children. They practically let me run the place as it is." He chuckled a little
"Byron Sully," Sully replied, swallowing hard and shaking the man's hand.
"My own grandchildren have moved westward with their parents, so I spend a lot of my time here. I was just about to get a few things to take to the hospital ward."
"Yes. Your wife has agreed to look in on some of our ill orphans and perhaps administer a few inoculations to those who may benefit. Would you like to accompany her? The children love having visitors. Or would you rather wait?"
"I've been around sick patients at her clinic all the time. I don't mind comin' along."
"Ah, well, let me go get the children's toys from one of the nurses, and I'll lead you back with me." Sully nodded and waited a few minutes until Mr. Ellsworth returned. The two men went through the swinging doors, and Sully could see Michaela sitting with the healthy orphans, giving them vaccinations one and a time. He saw the smile on her face, but even from a distance, he could still see the sadness in her eyes. The children surrounding her were all of about seven years of age. Katie would be seven. She looked so comfortable with them, but on the inside, her heart was shattering into a million little pieces as she thought of what she was missing out on with her first born daughter.
Sully watched her for a little while longer before he took a seat next to Mr. Ellsworth in the hall.
"Do you have children with Dr. Quinn?"
"Yeah," Sully replied quietly. "We've got three kids who she took in when their real ma died. We've got a little boy and a little girl of our own." He saw the look of sadness in Sully's eyes and decided not to ask any further questions. Obviously something painful had happened that he didn't want to talk about. He'd seen that look in many of the children's faces.
Michaela came out into the hall a while later. She smiled when she saw her husband, and he stood to go to her side. When his hand clasped around hers, he felt her hand trembling. As they followed Mr. Ellsworth down the corridor, Sully leaned over to whisper into his wife's ear.
"You okay?" She nodded, swallowing hard though her throat was dry. She only nodded and kept her eyes staring straight ahead as they walked into the hospital wing of the orphanage. It was a very poor looking establishment. The beds were close together, and no sunshine could be let in, because there were no windows. The poor children! Their blankets had holes in them, and their glasses of water on their bedside tables were dingy looking. Mr. Ellsworth let out a grief-filled sigh.
"I've been trying to get them to change the conditions here," Mr. Ellsworth explained. "I've even donated money, but I've yet to see an improvement." Some of the children perked up and sat up in their beds at the sound of Mr. Ellsworth's voice. He smiled and waved at them.
"Good afternoon, children. This is Dr. Quinn and her husband Mr. Sully." The children all quietly and shyly greeted the visitors. "Dr. Quinn is just going to come around and see how you're all feeling today." Sully looked at his wife and saw that her face had practically turned a shade of white. She'd worked in worse conditions, but seeing so many ill children not being taken care of properly made her stomach turn and her heart go out to all of them. She could only imagine what Katie had gone through after she'd been taken. God, Michaela hoped that her daughter never had to suffer like this.
Michaela went around to each and every one of the patients, learning their names and delivering good news to them. Most of them all had a mild fever, and after she gave them what they needed, they seem to be feeling much better. A few others had a common stomach bug that was relieved with a little chamomile tea.
Sully watched his wife as she worked, and he couldn't help but smile as she made each and every one of the orphans feel much better. It was a while later when he noticed a bed in the back of the room with a curtain pulled around it. He tapped Mr. Ellsworth on the arm.
"That bed in the back? Who's that for?" Michaela joined the two after hearing Sully's question.
"They're all feeling much better," Michaela said with a smile. "What about the child in the back?" Mr. Ellsworth sighed a little.
"She was brought to the orphanage four years ago," he explained. "She hasn't spoken a word since she arrived, and the only thing we know about her was that she was brought in after the two men who were traveling with her were shot as they were robbing a bank. She was found near Pueblo out West." Michaela and Sully looked at one another.
"How old is she?" Sully wondered.
"By the looks of her, she's five, but she was about three when she was brought in. I'd say she's going on eight now. Seven, perhaps? She's so small, but she's been so healthy. All of the sudden, she came down with different symptoms, so they're keeping her isolated from the other children." Michaela started to walk toward the child, but she stopped and turned back to Sully.
"Michaela?" Michaela looked at Mr. Ellsworth.
"What does she look like?"
"Michaela, what are ya thinkin'?"
"Oh no," she whispered. "This is silly. It can't be. Not after all of this time."
"You think she's Katie, don't ya?"
"Don't tell me you weren't thinking it," Michaela warned. "Sully, it's been five years, but there was never a body found. Sully, we know she was kidnapped, and everyone only assumed she was gone forever. What if . . .?"
"Michaela, let's go look at her before we get our hopes up," Sully said softly. Michaela shook her head.
"I can't," she whispered.
"Michaela?" Michaela rushed out of the room at the mere thought of coming into contact with a child that could quite possibly be her own flesh-and-blood that had been taken so many years ago. As Mr. Ellsworth went to sit with the isolated child, Sully rushed after his wife. He caught up with her in the hallway, and he found her leaning against the wall, her entire body wracking with every labored breath she took. The tears were falling freely, and she couldn't control them. Sully walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. She turned to face him. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Michaela."
"No," she whispered. "It's alright. I shouldn't have overreacted. There's no way that's our little girl in there. Sully, I've already mourned her. I grieved for her, Sully! My heart tells me that she's still out there somewhere, but my head is telling me the complete opposite. Why should we even be thinking that it's her?"
"You're right," Sully whispered. "It's a long shot. I'm just thinkin' that we should go see her. First off, you're a doctor, and she needs ya. Second of all, if that is Katie . . . five years is a long time, and I ain't gonna lose her again."
"Sully, listen to yourself!" Michaela exclaimed. "You can't honestly think. . ."
"I don't know what I think, but I do that even if that little girl in there ain't Katie, she still needs a good doctor. That's what you are, Michaela." Michaela realized that her husband was right. She needed to go in there and take care of a sick child. It didn't matter if it was Katie, and though her heart was begging her to hope and believe that her daughter was in fact alive, her mind wouldn't allow her to believe in such a long shot. It was foolish! It was most likely a coincidence. Many children had been kidnapped over the years. What was the chance that the one that they actually would come across could be their very own? The odds were against them.
Michaela closed her eyes and waited until her heart stopped pounding so hard. Sully pulled her close, and they held one another for the longest time. Mr. Ellsworth finally came out and cleared his throat.
"The little girl is awake. Her condition seems to be getting worse." Sully and Michaela pulled away from one another, but joined hands. As they started toward the door, Michaela put her hand on Mr. Ellsworth's shoulder.
"Does she have a name?" Mr. Ellsworth nodded slowly.
"When she was brought in, she didn't have a name, but the dress she was wearing was red and too small for her. It was all torn up. They called her Rose for the color of her dress." Michaela felt her heart catch in her throat. Katie had been wearing a red dress on the day she disappeared, hadn't she? When she looked at Sully, she knew he was thinking the same thing. Of course she was wearing a red dress. They had both memorized that morning, and would never forget a moment of it. They could both still remember that Katie had oatmeal for breakfast that morning and ended up spilling it all over the floor only for Wolf to eat it all up. They both also remembered her protesting wearing the red dress, because she wanted to wear her green one. Yes, she had ultimately lost the fight and worn the red dress.
"C'mon," Sully urged gently. "Let's go have a look." They walked along hand-in-hand, not wanting to let one another go. Neither one of them wanted to get their hopes up, but the coincidences were adding up and building onto the tension. Mr. Ellsworth led them over, and he reached the little girl's bedside first. She'd fallen back to sleep, and her little face was covered in sweat.
"It's alright, little Rose," he whispered. "The nice doctor is going to fix you right up."
When Michaela and Sully reached the little girl's bedside, they found a malnourished little girl with greasy, dirty blonde hair lying under ratty old covers. Her bed sheets were soiled with dirt and bodily waste, and her entire body was soaked with sweat. She was shaking. Michaela's heart stopped for a second as she peered down at the face of the beautiful little girl. Her facial features and were so much like Katie's, but the hair was so darkened by dirt and grime that it was difficult to tell. But, when she looked into that beautiful little face, memories of holding Katie as a newborn danced through her thoughts.
"Oh God," Michaela muttered. It was Katie, and she was seriously underweight and underdeveloped. Sully tensed up when he looked down at her little body.
"Why is she livin' like this!" he demanded, knowing automatically that this was his daughter. "How can they let these kids live in these conditions?" He pulled back the blanket to reveal a nightgown on the little girl that was so dirty that it was nearly appalling.
Tears fell from Michaela's eyes.
"It's her," she whispered. "It's Katie. Our little girl, Sully!"
"This is your daughter?" Mr. Ellsworth asked with shock in his voice and in his expression. Michaela nodded with bewilderment.
"I know it." She looked at Sully.
"This is a dream," she whispered, closing her eyes. His hand squeezed hers.
"No, Michaela," he answered with a tear streaking down his cheek. "It's real." The only thing Michaela could think of was that this little girl was in the early stages of influenza, she needed immediate treatment, and she needed to get out of this rat-infested makeshift hospital in the orphanage. She had half a mind to contact the president himself and force him to check out the conditions. The first thing she was going to do when she got home was take up a collection to send to the children in that orphanage. They needed the money more than anyone. The next thought that crept into her mind was how she was actually standing over the daughter she'd lost five years ago. It had to be her. It had to be!
"I have to be sure," she whispered. "I have to know for certain. It's been so long, Sully, and I know it's her, but I have to confirm it."
"How would you go about doing that?" Mr. Ellsworth wondered, stroking the top of the little girl's hair. Michaela sniffled and swallowed the lump in her throat.
"When Katie was born, she had a very slight case of Stenosis. That's where the bone plates in the skull push together. It formed a small ridge, but it wasn't really noticeable. You could feel it though." She demonstrated what she meant with her hands and sat down at the little girl's other side. She went to touch the little girl, but drew her hand back, afraid of what she would or wouldn't find.
"I can't," she cried. She was ashamed of herself for being such a coward, but Sully didn't feel that way. His hands rested on her shoulders and massaged them a little, letting her know that it was alright to be afraid. He'd always be there to support her.
"I'll do it," Mr. Ellsworth said softly. "Lord knows that this little girl needs a lot of love and attention. You do realize that if she is yours, you'll have a lot to deal with." He also knew that if he were to feel that ridge for himself before the doctor, he'd know that Michaela and Sully had the right to take her home.
"I know," Michaela whispered. "Just tell me if you feel anything." Both Michaela and Sully held hands and closed their eyes, praying for a miracle. They needed and wanted with everything they had for this to be Katherine Elizabeth Sully, the bright, beautiful little girl they'd created out of their never-ending love for one another.
Silence pressed on for several seconds, but it felt like an hour. Finally, Mr. Ellsworth spoke up.
"I believe you've found your daughter," he said quietly. Michaela and Sully's eyes flew open in unison, and Michaela's hand moved to touch the spot that Mr. Ellsworth was touching. She sucked in a sharp breath when the child opened her eyes. Those eyes that she'd loved so much. They were the same eyes that had been wide and curious and watched everything while she was awake.
"Katie!" she whispered, tears sliding down her cheek. "It's you . . ." The little girl's eyes filled with a distant recognition. She knew this beautiful lady. She could feel that she had a bond with her, but everything was overwhelming. She was feeling weak as well, and Michaela leaned down to kiss her forehead. "My little girl! It's really you . . ." Katie's wandered to Sully as he sat down next to Michaela. Her eyes focused on the beads around his neck, and she reached out. She didn't speak, but her tired little eyes were full of some sort of recognition. Her little hands tenderly clutched the beads as they had when she was an infant.
"Kates," he whispered. Her eyes went wide, knowing she'd heard someone call her that before. Michaela felt the room spinning around her, and the next thing she knew, she was slumping over and feeling Sully's arms catch her as she began to fall over in her chair. Everything went black for a few moments, but when she finally came to, Katie had gone back to sleep, and her arms had fallen limp at her sides. The doctor inside of her came out, and she grabbed her medical bag. Sully was about to tell her to calm down before she passed out again, but she couldn't waste anymore time. Her daughter needed her, and for the first time in five years, she was going to be there to see that she made it through.
Hours passed, and it was growing late. Sully knew that Brian would be worried when he didn't find them at the hotel, but he also knew that Brian had a good head on his shoulders and would look out for his youngest sister and brother until his parents showed up. Either that, or he would bring the children along to the hospital to make sure everything was alright.
Katie's fever had broken, and Sully was making arrangements with the officials at the orphanage, explaining to them the entire situation. He hoped that they would believe him, and by the evidence that Mr. Ellsworth had given with Michaela's correct diagnosis of Stenosis, everyone hoped for a positive outcome.
Michaela hadn't left the child's side, and now that she was feeling better, she'd been given a bath. Michaela had arranged for her to have a new dress, and the child was so small that she fit into clothes that a four-year-old could wear. It made her so angry that someone could take such horrid care of a child, but at the same time, she was grateful that Mr. Ellsworth had come by on his own time to look in on the children that needed somebody to love them. Poor Katie had had someone to love her but hadn't even known it.
Michaela was brushing the freshly washed hair of the little girl, minding the tender scalp that was underneath the beautiful blonde hair. Michaela smiled weakly, remembering her own scalp being so tender as a child and fussing every single time her mother tried to fix her hair. But, Katie was being pleasantly quiet and clutching a familiar toy in her hands.
After returning from making arrangements with the officials, Sully was pacing back and forth out in the hall, waiting for Michaela to come out. He had spent time with Katie, and she was beginning to remember him and Michaela. She had seen the stuffed bunny that had been hers so long ago, and she'd reached for it. It had been sticking out of Michaela's coat pocket when her eye caught it. Katie was slowly remembering, but it would take a long, long time for her to fully grasp the situation she was in and who the people who loved her really were. As a baby, she knew "Mama" and "Papa," but those had just been words. She knew that "Mama" was the pretty lady with long hair, and "Papa" was the man who had long hair and a necklace she could play with and chew on. But she never fully understood why she called them those words. Since being kidnapped, she'd never known what a mother or a father was. They were just words she'd heard as well. She couldn't identify them with anyone at all, much like the other orphans she had met. She'd never spoken with them, but she'd listened and learned their broken and fuzzy stories. She never spoke, because she had even more shattered memories that she couldn't attempt to piece together. She wasn't even sure if she could speak, but she thought a lot, and those thoughts sounded like words she'd heard normal people like Mr. Ellsworth speak. Perhaps she could try it soon. Being around Mama and Papa was helping her remember things she hadn't recalled before, and she figured that they could help her with other things too.
While Katie was sleeping, Mr. Ellsworth took over and began to read to the little one so Michaela could talk with Sully. When she opened the door and walked out, Sully turned to her. Without words, they came to one another to pull each other into a strong embrace.
"I can't believe it's really her," Michaela whispered. "My head keeps telling me that I'm going to wake up at any moment."
"Mine too," Sully admitted. Michaela brushed away her tears.
"What matters now is that we have our daughter back." She froze in fear for a moment. "We do, don't we? What did the orphanage officials say?" Sully couldn't speak now. He only gave her a weak smile and nodded. Her eyes filled with light and hope again, and the nearly extinguished flicker he'd seen there years ago was back.
"Why would I kid 'bout somethin' like this?" Michaela nodded quickly. She had to think positively.
"Sully, do you think she'll ever remember that we're her parents?"
"I think so," he whispered. "It's gonna take some time, but we're gonna make sure she gets caught up with the rest of the kids her age. We're gonna love her and make sure nothin' like this ever happens again."
"It won't," Michaela said with a sure nod. "She'll be alright. She remembered the bunny and your necklace. She recognizes us, but she will remember us. I know it. My heart tells me she will. My heart . . . my heart's been right all along." When they embraced once more, they heard frantic footsteps rushing down the corridor.
"Ma! Pa!" It was Brian! Oh, those words had echoed through their minds for years, remembering him yelling for them when he delivered the news about Katie's disappearance.
"Brian," Michaela whispered, bringing her son into a loving embrace as soon as he reached them. He was startled, but wrapped his arms around his mother anyway. When he pulled away, Sully was lifting both Lucy and Ben into his arms. He knew they couldn't go into the room with all of the sick children, but Brian had had everything that was contained in that room, and he needed to see Katie. It was time.
"I got worried when ya weren't there. What's goin' on?"
"Brian, something wonderful has happened," Michaela replied with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. That smile was one that Brian hadn't seen on Michaela in such a long time. Sure, she smiled when it came to the twins and to him, Colleen, Matthew, and Sully, but there was always something bittersweet about it.
"What?" he wondered. Sully looked at Michaela, and they smiled at one another. Michaela took her son's hand.
"Come on. There's someone very special waiting to meet you." As Michaela and Brian walked through those doors, Sully watched with his youngest children in his arms. Never in a million years had he thought that he'd see this very scene play out before his eyes.
He walked over to peer into the room in time to see Brian break down at the sight of his baby sister. God, what a sight!
"Papa, what's goin' on?" Lucy wondered.
"Somethin' I never thought could happen," Sully replied, kissing her forehead softly. Lucy furrowed her eyebrows, and she reminded him so much of her mother. He smiled at her and sat down on the bench against the wall, placing the twins on the seat beside him.
"What's that?" Sully thought for a moment, not knowing how to explain it. How could he sum up everything he was feeling about everything that had just happened? How could he fully explain the miracle that had just happened that very day? A moment later, one word came to mind. One word could sum it all up and explain why they'd been blessed with one more chance with their firstborn daughter.