Sully smiled softly, pulling her against his shoulder and kissing the top of her head.
Michaela felt the warmth of his body against hers, snuggled cozily under the bedclothes. "Sully, do you think it is wrong? What we've done?"
"No," he replied without a moment's hesitation.
"I can't help but turn back the clock. If I'd known things were going to turn out this way; what would I have done differently? I can't imagine Colleen having to endure something like this and never being able to tell me," she paused, "I'm closer to her than my mother ever was to me," Michaela felt his fingers interlock with her own.
Sully nodded, thinking back to their time in Boston. "Michaela, suppose you did tell your mother. What is the worst that could happen, all things considered?" he shrugged, honestly not knowing how that could compare with what they had coped with over the last six months.
"At first, I feared being ostracized from the family. I know that would never happen now, but in all honesty, I'd never expect her to withstand such shame."
"That ain't something I'll ever understand about the East. Explain to me how you surviving a threat to your life, brings shame upon anyone?" he asked in a genuinely baffled tone.
"Because I survived," she shrugged, "I don't agree with it either Sully, it's just the way we were brought up. But it's not the same here. I can't expect Mother to understand that, and at her age, I'd never put her through it," Michaela reasoned.
"Rebecca understood. And I think your mother would be more understandin' than you'd expect," Sully saw the small shrug of consideration.
"I don't know if it's a risk I'm willing to take. It's enough for me to accept how my life has turned out. How do I trust those who couldn't possibly understand?"
"Michaela, can you name one person, who, once in possession of all the facts, did not understand?" Sully saw her eyes drop down.
"Even William understood in the end," she acknowledged.
"In his own way," Sully muttered, knowing he would never forgive the man for the pain he'd caused Michaela.
"I'm not saying I'll never tell her," Michaela glanced over at him.
"That's a start," he replied with a small smile.
"Although there are some things, she will never understand," Michaela gestured to their present proximity.
"Hey, didn't say you had to tell her everything," he chuckled.
Michaela kept her gaze locked with his soft blue eyes as she felt his fingertips trail along her jaw line.
Neither were aware of the pin drop silence that surrounded them, until it was interrupted by the sound of an approaching wagon.
"Sully!" Michaela gripped his arm with a startled gasp.
Quickly, Sully pulled on his buckskins and shirt, catching a glimpse out of the window. "It's only Brian. I'll just tell him you're gettin' changed." Sully located her undergarments on the floor and passed them to her.
Rushing to redress, Michaela's eyes darted between her clothes and Sully. "Tuck your shirt in," she muttered with a breathless chuckle.
Sully did as he was told, again checking on Brian's location. "Still got a couple of minutes." he scrounged around the quilt, locating Michaela's skirt and blouse. "Here."
"Thank-you. You'd better be outside, hadn't you?" Michaela realized, hastily buttoning up her blouse.
"Ah, right," Sully muttered, hearing Brian draw Bear to a halt.
Clearing his throat, Sully slipped out through the front door.
Michaela quickly finished dressing, listening to the distant banter between Sully and Brian.
"Can't remember the last time it was only the three a us for supper," Sully poured the bucket of warm water into the sink.
"It's certainly quiet," Michaela smiled softly, commencing the washing up. "Did Colleen mention what time she would be home, Brian?" Michaela handed the first clean plate to Sully to dry.
"Just after supper. Said Mr Bing'd bring her back." Brian shrugged, turning his attention back to the sketching pad in front of him.
Michaela met eyes with Sully in mutual understanding. "And we don't know what time Matthew will be home either."
Sully raised an eyebrow, "Tell him now?"
Michaela rolled her eyes with a smile, as Brian's attention quickly dropped from his sketching.
"What, tell me what?" his eyes darted back and forth between Michaela and Sully.
"Well?" Michaela looked to Sully. "You brought it up?" She gestured towards Brian.
"Brian, we ah, wanted to ask what you thought about something," Sully commenced.
"What?" Brian couldn't help the smile that slowly beamed across his face.
"Well, how'd you like it, if ya ma and me got married?" Sully glanced at Michaela, both smiling at the look of shock on Brian's face.
"You mean it? When?" the little boy stood quickly from his seat, not sure what to do with his excitement.
"Soon," Michaela answered, feeling Sully pull her into a hug, as Brian arrived between them.
"So then you'd really be my pa," Brian's eyes glistened, as he hugged each parent in turn.
"I'll be everyone's pa, Brian," Sully ruffled the boy's hair.
"So you'll get to live here with us, right Sully?" Brian asked slowly.
"Right, Brian," Sully answered, "'least until I can get a new place built," he looked back to Michaela for a response.
"A new homestead?" she shook her head in surprise.
"Sure. I've already got the land. Maybe take six months or so, dependin' on the weather and gettin' materials, but, by summer next year, should have a brand new place." Sully watched Michaela take in his words.
"You didn't think of all this just today, did you?" Michaela inquired slowly.
"Nope," Sully smirked. "Was waitin' 'til it was the right time."
"Can I tell Colleen and Matthew?" Brian chimed in, having just realized he had acquired important information ahead of his brother and sister.
"You may," Michaela kissed the top of his head. "So I take it, you approve?"
His smile slowly dropping, Brian nodded, much more seriously. "Sully loves all of us, Ma. But he loves you the most. And he will make you happy," Brian smiled.
Michaela was just about to acknowledge the maturity of Brian's comment, when they heard an approaching horse. "It's Matthew!" Brian darted quickly towards the front door and disappeared out onto the porch to break the news to his brother.
Resting her head against his chest, Michaela listened to the sounds of the children's conversation.
"Brian's right," Sully wrapped his arms around her back. "I wanna make you happy, Michaela,"
"Well, we're off to a good start," she looked up, feeling his lips meet her own in a soft, lingering kiss.
Taking the wooden bucket out to the barn, Sully was surprised to find Colleen pacing in circles.
"Somethin' wrong Colleen? You've been out tendin' the horses for a while," Sully glanced over towards Flash, Taffy, Scout and Bear. "Ain't been fed yet."
"Huh? Oh, yeah." Colleen shook her head, and headed across to fetch the hay.
"Had a good time tonight?" Sully asked carefully.
"Oh, yeah," Colleen beamed. "Real good about you and Dr Mike, too," she attempted to change the subject.
"That ain't why you're pacin' the barn though?" Sully smiled knowingly.
Colleen shrugged, knowing she had to tell someone.
"Sully? It's just, well, Lewis asked if he could court me, and I said yes and all, but," Colleen trailed off when she saw Sully nod in understanding.
"But ya worried Dr Mike ain't gonna approve?" Sully raised an eyebrow.
"What if she says I'm too young?" Colleen challenged.
"Perhaps courtin' for her, is somethin' different than it is for you and Lewis?" Sully suggested.
"I ain't thinkin' 'bout marryin' him or nothin'. It's just, Lewis listens to me. Makes me feel special. Tonight, after supper, he took me for a walk. And we talked. I trust him. I can tell him stuff, knowin' he won't go blabbin' all around school. It's been real hard this year, just nice to have someone worry 'bout me for a change. Bring me flowers, hold my hand." Colleen shook her head, having drifted into memories of that evening. "Sully, if Dr Mike doesn't know, then she can't object." Colleen reasoned.
"Think it's right to keep it from her?" Sully asked skeptically.
"I wouldn't if I knew she was gonna approve," Colleen defended.
"And what if she didn't approve?" Sully frowned, noticing the determination in Colleen's face.
"I, I'd probably just keep seein' Lewis anyway." Colleen shrugged. "It's my life, Sully."
"That's true, but, she is your ma, Colleen. She has a right to look out for you," Sully reasoned.
"She ain't really lookin' out for me, Sully! She's holdin' me to the standards she was raised to, and, ain't the same here!" Colleen sighed in exasperation.
"That's true. But you and ya ma gotta find a way to work through this. You need to be honest, Colleen." Sully checked each of the stalls, making sure the horses were secure for the night.
"Are you gonna tell on me?" Colleen asked nervously.
Sully drew a long, thoughtful breath. "No, I'm not gonna tell on you. But I ain't gonna lie to your ma, either. If she asks me, I'll tell her the truth."
"But only if she asks?" Colleen checked.
Sully rolled his eyes, "See ya inside, Colleen."
Matthew triumphantly prized Brian's last checker piece from the board.
"That'll teach you to get all cocky, Brian," he smirked.
Dropping his head, Brian helped his brother rearrange the pieces for another game. "When are you and Ingrid gonna get married?"
"Soon as I finish the homestead," Matthew sighed, knowing winter was fast approaching.
"You and Ingrid could have a double weddin' with Ma and Sully?" Brian announced cheerfully.
Matthew turned his head to glance in his mother's direction, just as Michaela looked up from the book she was reading.
"Brian, Sully and I are having a very quiet wedding," Michaela informed her son.
"So Grandma ain't comin'?" Brian asked, his face dropping in disappointment.
"No, Brian. In fact, we're not going to tell people until afterwards," Michaela decided, hearing the door open behind her.
"But everyone wants ya to get married, Ma. They'll be happy for ya," Brian looked to Sully, as he took a seat at the table, catching up on the conversation.
"Hush up, Brian," Matthew muttered under his breath.
"Don't you tell me to hush up, I ain't a baby!" Brian threw several checker pieces across the room, darting quickly towards the front door.
Matthew looked between Michaela and Sully as the wooden door slammed behind Brian.
"What was that?" Sully shook his head, having walked in on the outburst only moments earlier.
"When's that kid gonna grow up?" Matthew sighed, putting the checkers pieces away into the wooden box.
"You didn't help, Matthew," Michaela stood and headed out the front door after Brian.
Michaela glanced around the porch, surprised when she didn't see Brian nor Pup anywhere.
"Brian!" she walked briskly down the steps, looking over towards the barn.
"Ma?" Brian poked his head out from underneath the porch.
"So this is your new hiding place?" Michaela smiled, crouching down between the stacks of firewood.
"Had it for a while," Brian shrugged.
"And, do you hide under here often?" Michaela cringed, thinking of the recent conversations that had taken place between her and Sully on the porch.
"Nah. Only if I want some place to be by myself," Brian answered, patting Pup who lay curled up next to him.
"Well, Brian, I think you're right about not being a baby anymore." Michaela crawled her way in beside Brian, much to the boy's intrigue.
"Maybe I don't understand everything all the time, but why do you gotta worry about what people think, Ma?" Brian asked.
"About Sully and I marrying?" Michaela thought back over the previous conversation.
"Yeah. People will be happy you're gettin' married, won't they?" he shrugged.
"Oh, it's not that, Brian." Michaela frowned, trying to put in to words the feelings she had behind marrying Sully. "It's just something that I want us to share as a family."
"As long as Sully gets to be our pa," Brian agreed.
Michaela nodded, thinking back to the conversation she'd had with Sully earlier that day.
"Brian, Sully and I were talking, and since you are getting older, how would you feel about sleeping out in the barn with Matthew?" Michaela asked hesitantly.
"That'd be good," Brian answered immediately. "I'm gettin' too old to be gettin' dressed with Colleen," Brian scrunched up his face in repulsion.
"I thought that might be the case," Michaela smiled. "You know, Brian, you can talk to me about anything. Even man-stuff," she saw Brian's head drop in embarrassment.
"Aww, Ma," Brian cringed, thoroughly humiliated.
"Unless you'd prefer to talk to Sully or Matthew?" Michaela dismissed.
Brian nodded sheepishly, choosing a random spot on the ground to focus his gaze on.
"All right." Michaela smiled.
"It's just, you and Colleen get to talk about girl-stuff. Like her and Lewis courtin'," Brian giggled, assuming his mother had heard the news.
"Colleen and Lewis are courting?" Michaela saw the excited expression on Brian's face melt into regret.
"Thought you knew." He shrugged. "That's why they been spendin' so much time together."
"I see." Michaela brushed the dirt from her hands.
"Don't tell her I told you." Brian rubbed his forehead.
"Oh, I won't." Michaela crawled back out from under the porch and got to her feet. "Come inside young man, it's freezing out here."
"Do I have to?" Brian sighed.
Michaela considered his objection. "No, you don't have to. Would you like me to fetch your jacket?" Michaela smiled.
"Yeah." Brian nodded.
Walking back up to the homestead, Michaela quickly retrieved Brian's jacket, eyes meeting only briefly with Sully, before she headed back out onto the porch.
"Here," Michaela arrived back to Brian's hidden location, handing him the jacket.
"Thanks." Brian shrugged.
"I'll have Matthew take your cot into the barn." Michaela headed back towards the porch when she saw Colleen appear through the barn door.
Fighting every disapproving and worried instinct within her, Michaela forced herself to approach Colleen in a calm manner.
"You've finished your chores?" Michaela asked calmly.
"Sure." Colleen nodded, avoiding direct eye contact.
"How was supper tonight?" Michaela continued, watching Colleen's awkwardness.
"Good. Myra weren't feelin' well, so we went to Grace's." Colleen chewed on her lower lip, wanting to share her news with her mother, however, afraid that she would disapprove.
"We?" Michaela picked up on Colleen's statement immediately, her tone more accusing than she would have liked.
"Lewis and I," Colleen replied in an almost daring fashion. "Well, Myra was tired, so Horace wanted to stay with her." Colleen defended, able to tell by her tone that her mother would never understand.
"I see. And you had a pleasant evening?" Michaela probed, although aware that Colleen's avoidant tone was making it more difficult to remain calm.
"Guess so," Colleen replied coolly.
Matthew sat with his arms over the back of the wooden chair, watching as Sully tended the fire. "Nah, real good you and Dr Mike decided to get married."
"So how far along is your homestead?" Sully asked, taking a seat on the floor, beside Wolf.
Matthew sighed, "Don't ask. Haven't done nothin' in months. Ain't no way I'm gonna get the walls and roof all done by winter now, so, the foundation's gonna be damaged by the snow. Pretty much have to start over next February."
"Got a proposition for ya," Sully stroked Wolf's back.
"Yeah?" Matthew leaned fowards.
"You help me with the new homestead. Soon as that's done, you can have this one, and I'll help ya work on it, ready for Ingrid and her family." Sully watched Matthew consider the idea.
"What, you'd give me this homestead?" the young man's eyes widened.
"Sure. Long as ya help me build the new one. Ain't no way we're all gonna fit in here, and I think it'd be good to have a new place. Fresh start and all that," Sully reasoned.
"You're right." Matthew nodded. "All I want at this stage, is to get married, don't much care where we live. Ingrid don't neither. Anything is better than where she and her family are livin' now."
"So it's a deal?" Sully leaned forwards, offering his hand.
"Yeah. Could probably get Robert E. and Jon to help too." Matthew suggested. "When's Dr Mike due?"
Sully shrugged, realizing he didn't actually know for sure. "Gotta be around February sometime."
"Ain't no way we're gonna have the homestead built by then." Matthew sighed.
"I know. I was hopin' for summer, though," Sully reiterated.
"Well, we'll do the best we can." Matthew nodded.
"Be good to give ya ma somethin' to look forward to." Sully smiled.
"Ingrid too," Matthew contributed. "She's been real understandin' the last few months. Had to keep puttin' off the weddin', and with all the extra responsibilities out here, ain't had as much time to spend with her."
"Well, think things are gonna start to get better," Sully glanced over to Wolf, who had jumped to his feet with a concerned whine.
It wasn't until Matthew and Sully stopped talking that they could hear the raised voices from outside.
"I did not lie to you!" Colleen bellowed, as she slammed the heavy wooden door open and stomped back inside the barn.
"You're too young to be courting anyone, Colleen." Michaela followed closely on her daughter's heels.
"Where, in Boston! Look around, Dr Mike, we ain't in Boston. Ma was married at sixteen. And I'm gonna be fifteen in a week. People go courtin' for years 'fore they get married," Colleen defended angrily.
"Times are different, Colleen. You have to finish your schooling," Michaela saw the defiance in her daughter's eyes.
"I didn't say I'm gettin' married or nothin'. Lewis asked if he could court me and I said 'yes'. It's my decision; I don't need your permission!" Colleen retorted, crossing her arms tightly and leaning up against the barn wall, a daring expression on her face.
Shaking her head with an exasperated sigh, Michaela simply turned and headed out of the barn, back towards the homestead.
Matthew and Sully looked up as the back door slammed closed.
"I better go chop some firewood for tomorrow," Matthew excused himself very quickly, making a bee line for the front door.
"Something the matter?" Sully watched as Michaela took a seat at the table.
"I don't know what to do about Colleen," she sighed.
"What's up?" Sully had a pretty good idea, but had promised Colleen he would not break her confidence.
"Apparently, she and Lewis are courting. Not that she told me, I had to hear it from Brian." Michaela glanced around the room, ensuring they were alone.
"You think she's too young?" Sully speculated.
"Of course she's too young!" Michaela answered without thinking, "Isn't she?" she paused long enough to glance in Sully's direction.
"I started courtin' Abigail when she was little older than Colleen. Don't think she's too young, provided courtin's all it is," Sully shrugged.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Michaela frowned.
"Well, courtin' ain't a big deal, Michaela. Just means, goin' to supper, takin' walks, talkin'. Unless it's serious, ain't nothin' to be worried about." Sully tried to calm her down.
"You think I'm overreacting? Just like I did with Matthew," Michaela remembered the battle she's gone through with him, little over a year ago.
"Matthew was talkin' about marryin' Ingrid, so was different. I don't think Colleen's thinkin' a that. Think she just wants something of her own to enjoy for a while. Been a tough year for her, she just wants to do the normal things her friends are doin'," Sully watched Michaela process his words.
"Did you know about this?" she asked suspiciously.
"I," Sully paused, sensing he was going to be the one in trouble next. "Only found out when Colleen got home. She was worried you'd disapprove. I told her to talk to you about it."
"And I reacted exactly the way she expected me to, didn't I?" Michaela ran her hands over her face as she got to her feet.
"She's just tryin' to find her own space, Michaela. It's just the way things gotta be. Worst thing you can do is overreact. She'll just push harder against you." Sully watched as Michaela crossed the room, clearing up the last of the supper dishes.
"I'm supposed to pretend I don't care?" Michaela asked skeptically, as she sat back down at the table.
"No, the opposite. Make sure she knows you'll always care about her. But sooner or later, she's gotta learn to make her own decisions in life. Gotta learn she can trust herself."
"It's not her I'm worried about." Michaela cupped her chin in her right hand.
"Lewis? He's been sweet on her for years," Sully smiled, thinking back to when the young boy had first brought Colleen flowers. "Now, if it was Benjamin Avery, I'd be concerned."
"Is Brian still outside?" Michaela glanced worriedly around the homestead.
"Guess so," Sully shrugged.
"He's quite happy sleeping out in the barn. You were right, Sully, he was uncomfortable changing in front of Colleen. I should of thought about it sooner." Michaela looked up, when she hadn't received a reply from Sully.
Sully met her gaze immediately, both looking away when they realized they were thinking about the same thing.
Clearing his throat, Sully changed the subject. "Matthew's gonna help me with the homestead. Have it finished soon as we can."
Distracted, Michaela nodded.
"What ya thinkin'?" Sully asked calmly, standing and moving behind Michaela to tenderly grasp her shoulders, commencing a gently, soothing massage.
"That somehow I've distanced myself from the children too much, Sully. I don't know when it happened; I don't know how it happened. Brian's growing up so fast, and Colleen, she seems to be deliberately rebelling against me." Michaela moved her head slowly from side to side, gradually feeling her shoulders begin to relax.
Allowing the silence to linger whilst he unhurriedly continued the massage, Sully phrased his response neutrally. "It's just the way it's meant to be, Michaela."
"But what I am to do about Colleen?" she sighed.
"Just keep talkin' to her. Try not to show that you disagree with her decision, it'll only make her angrier. Reckon ya gotta loosen the reins for a while, 'til she realizes you're not going to react to every little thing like it's the end of the world. When she sees she ain't fightin' ya no more, she'll come 'round." Sully bent down, delicately trailing several kisses around the side of Michaela's neck.
Wearily, Michaela nodded in acceptance of his words. "I need to lie down for a while."
"Anythin' I can get ya?" Sully smiled, dropping his hands from her shoulders and stepping backwards as she stood from the table.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Michaela bent over to begin unlacing her boots.
"Uh," Sully touched her arm lightly. "Lie back."
Obeying his instructions, Michaela watched as he slowly removed each shoe. "I seem to remember we've been here before," she smiled wryly.
"Indeed," Sully winked, dropped the boots to the floor, as he leaned forwards to kiss the corner of her mouth teasingly.
As she felt Sully carefully remove each of her boots in turn, Michaela knew she wanted him to stay.
"Sure there's nothin' I can get?" Sully touched her right knee gently, pulling her from her thoughts.
Rubbing her eyes tiredly, Michaela simply shook her head. "But thank-you," she forced a weak smile.
Sully watched as her smile faded into a concentrated frown.
"What?" he prompted.
"I forgot to ask Matthew to move Brian's cot out into the barn," she sighed.
"I'll do it," Sully offered immediately, standing from the bed and turning, only stopping when Michaela spoke his name again.
"Sully?" Michaela paused, waiting until she had his attention.
"Yeah?" he looked back, seeing the frown return to her face.
"Did, did you want to stay?" she asked awkwardly.
Resuming his seat on the edge of the bed, Sully studied her expression before replying.
"If ya want me to?" he answered softly.
"It just seems strange, you leaving," Michaela shrugged. "But if anyone found out," she trailed off.
"Michaela, if you want me to stay, I'll stay," Sully replied sharply.
Looking from his calm expression, back to the quilt, Michaela tried to rationalize her answer.
Blinking and quickly looking back up at him, Michaela answered, "But what about Colleen? It hardly seems fair for me to criticize her and Lewis courting, and for me to,"
Sully interjected sharply, "Ain't the same thing, Michaela. Colleen's old enough to understand the difference. You didn't answer my question; do you want me to stay?"
"Well, yes, but," Michaela sighed, watching as Sully stood from the side of the bed.
"That's settled," he winked, crossing the room. "I'll go put Brian's cot out in the barn."
"Thank-you," Michaela sighed, turning onto her left side, eventually feeling the ache in her back subside.