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.

When You Weren't There

By, Ashley J.

Written, November 28, 2005

Her bare feet sank into the cold, soft mud with each placement of her feet. She ran, as the hard rain spilled down, stabbing through the flesh of the earth, ripping it open like a butcher slaughtering a pig. Her screams were lost amongst the rumbles of the thunder. She needed to find him; not the Almighty Him. What had He done to help her lately? He'd kept her family apart. He was making her friends suffer the impending loss of their son, and He had taken her baby.

"Sully!" she howled, purging her soul of the pain, the anger and frustration. They were looking for her, but she didn't care. She had to keep running, because when she ran, the pain couldn't touch her. She had to be selfish for once in her life. This was her chance; her time.

She wanted to take back the past few months. She wanted her husband. She wanted her baby. They weren't supposed to be gone. Not like this.

When she reached that strange yet familiar place where their differences had collided, she collapsed onto the soaking wet furs and skins, pushing her hands through the materials that still held his scent after all these years. She pulled her emotionally broken body under the worn fabric that covered her, and she curled up in the back, hearing the storm scream all around her. She closed her eyes, missing him and loving him. She swallowed her tears, her fears and the sorrow that she had recently faced. She wanted him there with her.

He wasn't there. It had been so long. He knew now. But, he wasn't there. Had she hurt him? Was he angry with her? The way he had held her…she had never felt so separated from him before. She had needed him more than ever, and his own grief had taken him off to deal with it like he had when Abagail and Hanna died. He had held her; tried to comfort her, but the soldiers had come, and he had had to disappear again. She had expected him to come again that night, but he hadn't. It had been two days, and she was worried that something might have happened. He wasn't at the cave. She wondered if he was as lost as she was. So, she had gone to the only place she could think of, tearing out of the house in the middle of the night, when the silence grew too thick, and the nightmares almost came to life, haunting her and making it difficult to breathe.

"Where are you?" she breathed. "Where did you go?" She felt her soaked nightgown clinging to her flesh, and she brushed her damp hair out of her face. Hot tears singed her wind-burnt cheeks, and she whimpered softly. She had once felt she was stronger than she had ever been. Why did she feel like such a weakling now? She had fought for everything, tooth and nail, and here she was, whimpering in the remnants of her husband's life before her. Somehow, this lean-to was comforting to her, because it reminded her of the innocence of their relationship. It reminded her of everything before the heartbreak. They had been through Hell together, but this was worse. She had never felt so empty and so alone, and all she wanted was to see his face and scream at him and tell him that he needed to hold her, because she wasn't able to keep herself standing anymore.

She gritted her teeth, hating the way she was acting. Her child was dead. Sully hadn't been there. He hadn't been able to help that. He was running for his life, and he was trying to pull his affairs together, so they could live as a family again. She knew that, but it didn't stop the ache she felt, because he hadn't been there. She had always been able to take care of herself, but this was too much. She had never had to deal with such a loss before, and she had never thought that she would have to handle it. Michaela Quinn was a strong woman. She could do anything. She could take care of herself and the life growing inside of her and never fear that she would lose it. But she had. She had lost so much, and even though she had three amazing children back at home and one in school, she couldn't shake the empty feeling, simply because Sully wasn't there to hold her and to tell her that they would get through this. They.

"What's wrong with me?" she asked, baring her legs to the biting wind. She could almost feel the blood stains there, though she had washed them away weeks ago. Her tears hadn't dried, however, and she was lost. She had told him, and he'd gone away. She couldn't even find a way to help that poor boy. Anthony was fading fast, and she knew he was going to die in the matter of a few days. She could barely wrap her mind around that fact, and she knew her son needed her. He needed his mother to be there for him to tell him that he was going to get through it. He was losing his best friend, and he didn't know how to say goodbye. She couldn't tell him how to say goodbye.

She cried out again, searching for the answers and coming up short-handed. She felt this incredible energy build up inside of her, and all she could see was the blood. She could feel her child dying. She could feel her body rejecting it like it didn't belong. Why wasn't that child allowed to live? She looked up at the sky, wondering how this could have happened. She almost begged for lightning. She almost begged for death, so she could stop the pain.

As she pulled herself out of the lean to and stood in the rain, she saw their faces. Matthew, tall, strong and brave; carrying the world on his shoulders. Brian, brilliant, creative and sweet, ready to meet each challenge as it came yet not ready to say goodbye to the one friend dearest to him. Colleen, strong, ambitious and incredibly brave for taking on the world of medicine. Sully, her light, her peace, her center. He kept her grounded yet let her fly. They were the same and different all at once. Then she saw his face. The child…the child she lost. It had been a boy, she was almost sure of it. Her heart told her it was so, and that's what counted. She had lost her son…Sully's son. He would have been beautiful with hair like his father's and eyes just as blue.

"Sully!" she cried out again. "I need you!" She closed her eyes, sinking her body onto the soaking grass. She had so much anger inside of her over everything that had happened recently. It seemed as if there was no light, and everything kept heading along a downward spiral. She wanted to lash out at the world for taking her son from her. She wanted to hate, but she couldn't. Her heart was too full of love to let anything hateful in, but she wanted to. She wanted to at that moment, though she knew that hating wouldn't bring her son back.

She put her hands on the side of the fortified structure that Sully had built to keep himself away from that old homestead; from the memories of his first wife and child and their untimely deaths. The feeling of power she felt as the lean-to groaned under her touch made her tremble with agitation and raw emotion. She swallowed hard, her body shaking, and the harder she shook, the weaker the lean-to became. It was then that she started to destroy it. Her hands ripped apart the twined-together branches and limbs, and her nails ripped at the fur, feeling it catch and tear. She wanted to stop, but her agony and need to tear something apart kept her going. She was destroying a part of him, and it wasn't right. She couldn't do it. She loved him too much. But, it was too late. The lean-to was in shambles…because of her. She collapsed again, breathing hard and letting the raindrops soak her eyes and fall away with the cascading tears.

She felt like she was dying, when her heart began to slow, and her body began to calm from its previous quaking. As she was about to stand and drag herself back home; back to the room she once spent every night with her husband in, she felt a pair of strong arms envelop her, and she wondered if it was the Almighty, ready to throw her away for being so angry with him. But, when she opened her eyes, she wasn't seeing the eyes of God. She saw the eyes of her husband, concerned, frightened and vulnerable.

"Michaela?" She couldn't move for a moment. She felt paralyzed in the moment, taking in the sight of him. He was actually there. She came to the realization that he had come for her, when she brushed her hand against his cheek, feeling the stubble against the palm of her hand, feeling tears, theirs and the angels' soaking their flesh and bringing them together. She couldn't breathe, and when his hand found hers for a moment, the air came rushing back into her lungs, burning and making her come alive again. The tears sprang forth again, and she shook her head, pulling her body closer to his.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," she cried, choking his neck, as she wrapped her arms around him so tightly. He stood tall, holding her shivering body in his arms, and he let the rain pelt down on them for a few moments. "I'm sorry." She had had weeks to deal with this and think about it. He had had two days, and he wasn't quite ready, but he knew that she needed him. He couldn't be a coward. He had to be there for her, because his usually strong wife felt as delicate as a child in his arms, scared and shivering, helpless and completely dependent. This wasn't his wife. This was what his absence and the miscarriage had done to her. It hurt him so much to feel her struggling to breathe as she swallowed down sobs and thick tears that burned as hot as fire.

"No ya ain't," he breathed. "I was comin' here to do the same thing." He softly brushed the hair out of her eyes and placed a comforting kiss to her forehead. "Let's go someplace and get warm, all right?" She didn't respond. She only clung more tightly to him, feeling like a coward but feeling the strength returning to her soul once again. He was there like he should have been all along. And with that realization, she jumped back as if she'd been bitten, remembering that he'd gone away without telling her. She leapt from his arms, letting her feet soak into the mud again, as the moon towered over them.

"No! No! No!" That was all she could scream at the moment, and Sully watched her. He was a statue, though his eyes purged the tears that his heart was releasing. "You weren't there! You weren't there! And…and you left again. Why did you leave? Why?" When he didn't answer right away, she turned, running from him, running from herself, running from the truth. He rushed after her, catching up to her in a few strides, and he pulled his arms around her. She struggled against him for only a few moments, before her knees buckled, and they both sank to the ground. Sully held back his anguish, and he was solid for her, holding her and letting her scream out her pain. He felt her turn in his arms, but he didn't dare to open his eyes. Her cries were muffled in his chest, and her nails were like razorblades as they unknowingly dug into his flesh. He stayed strong. He swallowed hard and rocked her, feeling his body growing cold and clammy in the storm. "I was alone, Sully. I was alone. I know you…you couldn't be there, but I needed you. I needed…I need you." He clung to her, needing her now more than ever.

"If ya wanna blame me…go on. Blame me." She shook her head, trying to pull back from him but failing due to her own need to be there with him; in his arms. She wanted to work through the pain and the tears no matter how much it hurt.

"I don't blame you. I just…needed you." Sully nodded.

"I know. I know. I need you, Michaela. I could feel it. I could feel that ya needed me too. I should've come home when I felt that." He stood, drawing her up and into his arms. She looked up into his eyes, and he wanted to break down. The pain in her eyes ripped through his heart. "I should've stayed when ya told me, but I just…I couldn't." He paused, swallowing his worries. "I don't wanna be the reason I see that look in your eyes for the rest of my life." She shook her head desperately, weeks of worry and sorrow seeping through her skin and revealing itself to Sully.

"You aren't the reason. I just…I'm angry." Sully swallowed hard, searching her eyes.

"With me?" She shook her head.

"With myself," she said in an exhausted attempt to hate herself for only a moment. She wanted to know what it was like, but she couldn't. She knew the truth, and she couldn't hate herself for it, but she wanted to, because she thought that might take away some of the pain. She wanted to blame herself so at least she could blame someone. She could take her pain out on herself, and she knew it wasn't healthy. He had a pull on her, and he was helping her to see that they truly could do anything when they were together. But together was what she needed, and he was always going away. He couldn't be there at night to hold her through her nightmares, and he couldn't be there in the morning to kiss her and help her greet the sun and the new day.

She cried, as the thunder roared again. Exhaustion was setting in. A week of not sleeping was catching up to her. When she stumbled backward, he reached out, catching her before she could fall. She let out a heavy wail, and he scooped her up, holding her body to his tightly. The rain poured down harder, and he felt her go limp in his arms. He didn't know what to do for a split second, but he knew she needed to be warm and dry. He didn't care about himself. He only cared about her, and he cursed under his breath, angry that he hadn't stayed for her, when his own emotions drew him away so he could grieve alone. That had been the last thing Michaela needed. She had been at her most vulnerable state, and he had left her so he could grieve in private. He felt selfish, and he vowed to never let a thing like that happen again.

He trudged through the trees and thick brush, his guilt weighing him down. He had wanted to stay with her, but he had been afraid of saying the wrong thing and hurting her. He had been afraid of weakening their already fragile situation. Their love was so strong, but the world was against them now, and they had to fight so hard to keep themselves from falling apart. They had so many struggles, yet it all came down to one thing. His absence had caused an emotional stress to be put on Michaela's shoulders. She had lost their child, and he hadn't been there for her. If he hadn't been wanted by the army…maybe their child wouldn't have died. On the other hand…maybe it wouldn't have been created at all. He still couldn't quite grasp it.

As he carried her, he recognized something around her neck. It was so familiar and broke his heart. It was his necklace of beads, the one he had given Katie to sleep with while he was gone. Michaela had been through so much, and the closest thing she had had of him at home were those beads.

"I'm sorry," he breathed. "I'm so sorry." He finally threw open the door of a small cabin, a simple place he had stayed in from time to time during harsh weather. He placed her down in a cot, stripping her of her clothes and covering her with a blanket. He hurried to start a fire, and afterward moved to tend to his wife. "C'mon, Michaela. C'mon. Wake up." He took her hand in his, and Michaela's eyes fluttered opened. Sully smiled in relief. "That's it. Stay with me."

"I…"

"You're all right. Your body just needs to rest." She nodded in concurrence.

"I haven't rested in so long," she whispered. Sully nodded. In fact, Michaela had been on the go for the past couple of weeks, trying to keep her mind off of the miscarriage. But, the harder she tried, the more she thought about it. It had weakened her spirit, and it had made her face herself. She was tired now. She knew the baby was gone. She just didn't want to accept it yet. Not without him. She had been independent for her entire life, and right now, she needed more than just herself. She needed her husband, her lover, her soul mate, the one person who knew her better than anyone.

"Ya need to let yourself heal," he said quietly, trying not to let her hear his voice breaking. But, she heard it. She needed to.

"You sound like Cloud Dancing. He told me that when I…I nearly lost Katie." Her eyes clouded over. "Sully…" She pulled herself up to sit, finally noticing how much her body actually ached.

"Ya don't gotta say anything," he said quietly, helping her up, wrapping the blanket around her and helping her toward the fire. They sat down, and Michaela scooted close to the warm flames, feeling warmer than she had in a long, long time. She had been walking around with a head full of worries and thoughts and a body that refused to let in any warmth. Now he was here, and she was warm again.

"There are so many things I need to say, Sully," she said softly. "I just don't know how to say them all yet." He reached out to stroke away the tear that slipped down her cheek. She was so sad and small looking, but she was still beautiful to him. "I never wanted to be this weak."

"You're not weak, Michaela," he said quietly, defending her to herself.

"I feel so…so insignificant. All of these years…I've fought for the freedom to be myself. I've never needed anyone, and then you came along…" She sighed softly. "I never meant for it to happen."

"Meetin' me?" he asked warily, but in his heart he knew the truth. She smiled a little.

"I'm thankful that I met you," she replied, her voice straining above a whisper. "I never counted on losing…" She choked on the final words. "I never thought it could happen to me. I wasn't prepared to go through it…let alone without you." Before Sully could say another word, Michaela noticed him shivering, and she let the doctor in her take over. She instructed him to peel himself out of his clothes and join her under the blanket. She didn't want him getting sick, especially when he didn't have a warm bed to sleep in at night anymore. She only hoped that things would work out soon. When he joined her under the blanket, they scooted even closer to the fire, and his hands found hers. They were both quiet for a moment, before Sully took control of the conversation again.

"I never thought I'd need nobody," Sully said quietly. "Since I could remember, I took care of myself. It wasn't 'til you came along that I let somebody take care of me." Michaela swallowed hard.

"When I found out I was pregnant, I didn't want to let myself be happy. It just wasn't a happy time, and I feel like that's why it happened…" Sully shook his head.

"Hey, hey…This ain't your fault," he said softly. "If it's anybody's fault…"

"Don't say it, Sully. I won't let you blame yourself." She turned her body away from his, and she looked so small again. He reached out to touch her, and she closed her eyes, shaking her head. She wanted to go back inside of herself and not think about it. But, he was here. She had to face the truth, and the hard truth was that they needed to talk about the child they'd lost, and they needed to let each other know how they felt about it.

"It's too late for that," he said softly. "I broke our family up, Michaela. I did somethin' without tellin' ya, and look where it got us." Michaela turned back toward him.

"You did what you thought was right, Sully. You're a good man…a good man. You were looking after your friend, and…"

"But my family suffered."

"You made a choice. Our lives are full of them, and…" She sighed softly. "I was upset that it happened, but…you made a choice that I couldn't make for you, and you got caught. We never thought it'd happen…"

"And ya had to hide me. Ya nearly gave your life up for me."

"I'd do it again."

"Don't say that." Michaela was taken aback.

"Sully?"

"No. If it wasn't for me bein' in hidin', ya wouldn't have been so worried, and…" Michaela sighed heavily, her own personal pain starting to fade at her husband's admission of feeling guilty.

"Sully," she began softly, some flicker of light coming to life inside of her. "I don't know why I lost our baby. I don't know what caused the miscarriage. All I know is that we…we haven't grieved…properly." She choked on her words, feeling like she was saying the wrong thing, but she knew it was right. "Tell me why you left after I told you. Tell me where you went. I need to know." Sully shifted, scooting them closer to the hearth. He closed his eyes, searching for the right words. Finally, he spoke.

"I…I walked and walked and asked myself how it could've happened to us…to you. I couldn't begin to understand what ya went through." Michaela felt her heart breaking again, re-living the night she miscarried, almost feeling the pain deep inside of her again, feeling the absolute feeling of loss and emptiness after it had happened.

"I didn't think I had ever felt anything more painful. It wasn't just physical pain. It was emotional and spiritual. It was terrible, and I felt like I was dying with our baby." He didn't dare to touch her yet. "It was the most lonely, empty feeling when it was all over. There was no pain afterward…just…this terrible calmness." She looked up into his eyes, her own flooded with tears again. "I wanted to find you, but I didn't know how to break your heart. I…I hadn't even gotten the chance to tell you, and the children were so excited…I just…I felt like I hadn't been happy enough or that I just didn't want it enough. I was so focused on the bad things." She let out a sob, feeling his hand squeeze hers.

"I'm sorry, Michaela. I'm sorry for the way I acted when ya told me. I didn't know what to say…" Michaela nodded.

"When you left that day, I didn't know how you felt. I wondered if maybe…maybe you blamed me." Sully quickly shook his head, placing his hands firmly on her shoulders.

"I'd never blame you. Never." He breathed in slowly, gently reaching over to caress her cheek. "I walked 'til my legs gave out under me, and where I fell, I closed my eyes and prayed."

"Prayed?"

"I prayed to whoever was listenin'. Cloud Dancin'…he always told me the Spirits watched over me, and I asked 'em how they didn't watch over you when it happened…I was so angry. I still am." She clutched his hand. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost ya, Michaela. I'm thankful you're alive and healthy, and we still got four kids at home. But…just knowin' that another child of mine died 'fore it got the chance to live…it just makes me wonder why. Why do some folks have bad luck and…" Finally, Michaela's eyes flickered with that fire again, and she cupped Sully's face in her hands.

"We don't have bad luck Sully. Sometimes…sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes we can't control it. Sometimes…life has a way of running away from us and getting out of hand before we can control it again." There it was. She breathed a sigh of relief, feeling a weight being lifted off of her shoulders. She had wanted to say that for so long, though she hadn't been able to find the will or the words. "I suppose I've been so preoccupied…so worried about telling you that I haven't been able to grasp that." She shook her head slowly. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you right away. I was afraid…"

"I know. Ya don't gotta apologize." He kissed her hand gently. "And I'm sorry for worryin' ya. I could never blame ya for what happened. You're the woman I love…the woman I married…the woman who gave me a beautiful little girl." Michaela nodded, turning to lean against him. She took a shaky breath, feeling relaxed for the first time in a long time.

"Sully?"

"Yeah?" His arms encircled her body, holding her snugly against him.

"Will the pain ever go away?" His chin rested against her shoulder, and he sighed softly.

"I wish I could give ya an answer to that, Michaela. All folks are different. Some folks never let go of the pain. Some folks…it gets easier over time. You're strong, Michaela. You're the strongest woman I've ever known. I know ya can do anything. Ya won't let this stop ya from livin' life and bein' happy again." Her husband's words sparked her tears again. "Losin' Hanna was one thing. I got to hold her right 'fore she passed. I think her eyes opened…yeah. She looked at me, her eyes tellin' me we only had a few minutes. God, I'll never forget the color of her lips. They were so…so blue." He shuddered and shook his head, and Michaela's arms wrapped around his. "Losin' this baby…I never even got the chance to see your belly grow…or to feel him kick inside of ya. We never even got to know if it was a boy or a girl…"

"A boy," Michaela whispered, holding back a sob. "I have the feeling it would have been a boy."

"Do ya?" She nodded, leaning into him.

"He'd have looked just like you. I can picture him." She turned a little, her eyes sparkling with sadness. "Can you, Sully? Can you see him?" Sully sighed softly.

"I can see him," he whispered, leaning back against an old chair, bringing Michaela back with him. She rested comfortably in his arms. "Katie'd be a good big sister."

"She would," Michaela whispered, a tear falling from her eye to his chest. He could feel the warmth of it, and he closed his eyes, letting a tear of his own fall. "Sully?"

"Hmm?"

"Tomorrow, before we leave…will you help me with something?"

"Anything. What is it?"

"Help me…help me rebuild the lean-to." She swallowed hard, trembling.

"What? Why?"

"I need to. I need to re-build it, because it wasn't mine to tear down. I…I have to let go of being angry."

"Sounds like ya already have." Michaela shook her head.

"We both have a long way to go, Sully. But…I need to do this. Will you help me? Will you be there for me?" He knew what she was asking, and it was the least he could do. He smiled a little, nodding.

"I will. Tomorrow mornin'…we'll start over from scratch. Someday we may need to tear it down again." Michaela smiled a little.

"Not if I have anything to say about it." She leaned up to kiss him softly. "Thank you."

"Nothin' to thank me for." She nodded.

"Thank you for letting me…for letting me be like this."

"If ya ever need to scream or cry or just break somethin' Michaela, ya know ya can do that with me. I want ya to know I love ya more than anything, and ya can tell me anything, even if we ain't together. Ya know where to find me."

"I know," she whispered. "It'll be over soon, Sully. We'll have our family back together soon enough. All of us…" Sully nodded, not sure whether to keep his hopes up, and he tightened his embrace, letting her know he would always be there. Finally, they fell asleep together for the first time in far too long. They were together for the moment, and that was what mattered most.

The End