Title: What If?

Summary: After Dr. Mike starts thinking about a simple question Sully asked her after she was abducted by the dog soldiers, she starts to question Sully's love for her. After she is kidnapped, however, they must come to rely on each other's love. (This story takes place right after Cooper vs. Quinn.)

Disclaimer: I do not own Dr. Quinn or any of its affiliated characters.

Chapter 1

Michaela watched her youngest son wave goodbye to the stage coach. His smile was stretched ear to ear, his hand waving frantically in the air. Other children stood around him, all waving. She knew that they were both sad and excited to see their classmate go. Rose was the oldest student in the red schoolhouse and she had learned all that the reverend could teach her. She was headed to New York to go to a teacher's college so that she could learn how to spread her knowledge to others. Michaela knew that the other students would miss her since she had become as much of a teacher to them all as the reverend was. Rose helped students before and after school and was able to explain difficult concepts that the reverend had trouble with since his background was in the lord and not in schooling. Michaela silently thanked the girl for helping Brian on more than one occasion with his homework. Michaela mentally berated herself for not being there to help her son more with his schoolwork but she also knew that he would rather have learned it from Rose, who was more patient and better at teaching such concepts.

Michaela watched the stagecoach roll down the main street in town, the dust kicking up under the horses hooves. The children ran behind it, continuously waving and shouting. They ran until the stagecoach was out of sight.

Brian turned back and walked over to the clinic where Michaela stood, his head hanging low.

"Sad that she's leaving, Brian?" Michaela asked. She ruffled his hair as he stepped beside her.

"Yes. She was a good teacher."

"Well, that's why she's leaving, to become a better teacher."

"Think she'll come back, ma?"

"Oh, I'm sure she'll come back one day to see her family and to visit all of her friends."

"What's New York like?"

"I don't know, Brian. I've never been there. But, I imagine it can't be much different than Boston."

"Ya mean lots of buildings and people and fancy things."

"Something like that."

"Think she'll like it there?"

"I'm sure it will take some getting used to but I'm sure that she'll love it because she'll be doing something that she loves to do."

"Just like when you came here from Boston."

"That's right."

"I hope she comes back real soon."

Michaela smiled at him. She knew that Rose had taken a personal liking to Brian, as did many people. Brian had a magic touch that made people instantly love him. After all, it had worked on Michaela when they first met, before she had even taken him into her care.

"Besides," Brian said, "If she stays gone too long, people might not like what's left of her when she comes back."

Michaela looked at him inquisitively. "Why do you say that?"

"That's what the people were sayin' when you was taken by those dog soldiers."

"Who said that?"

"Dunno. Everyone." Brian noticed the saddened look that came over Michaela's face. "What is it, ma? What's the matter?"

"Brian, that isn't something that you say when someone leaves."

"Then how come they were all sayin' it when you were taken? What does it mean, ma?"

"Well, Brian…" Michaela stuttered, unsure of how she was going to explain it to him. "When people go away, it's usually a happy thing."

"You mean, Rose is happy that she's leavin'?"

"Well, yes…and no. She's happy that she gets to go to New York and go to school to become a teacher but she's not happy that she has to leave all the people she loves and Colorado Springs. But…that's not really what I meant."

"What do ya mean?"

Michaela sighed. "When the dog soldiers kidnapped me, Brian, I was in danger. They could have hurt me."

"Like shot ya or something?"

"Yes. They could have shot me or something that's equally as terrible. And sometimes, when something that terrible happens to a person, that person changes and is different from before they were taken."

"But you're not different, ma."

"No, no I'm not. But the dog soldiers didn't hurt me, Brian."

"But they coulda."

"Yes, they could have."

"But Sully saved ya."

"Yes, Sully saved me."

"Even if they had hurt ya, ma, I'd still want you back…everyone would. Me, Colleen, Matthew, and Sully. Even if ya changed."

Michaela smiled. "Thank you, Brian."

"'Cause no matter what, you'll always be my ma."

"And you will always be my son." She hugged him. "Now, why don't you run off and see if you can find your sister and then we'll head home."

Brian began to run off but he turned. "Is Sully comin' for supper tonight, ma?"

"He's visiting with Cloud Dancing but I'm sure he'll be back in time for supper. Why?"

"I wanna show him what I been carvin'." Brian pulled a wooden object from his pocket. Michaela smiled to herself, having no idea what the wood was supposed to be. She admired Brian for trying the difficult art of carving but she hoped that he wouldn't get too disappointed if he wasn't very good at it.

"I'm sure he'll love it," she assured him.

Brian smiled and ran off. Michaela looked down at her hands, not noticing that she had been wringing them since Brian had asked her about what it meant to not want what was left of someone. Michaela wondered who had started saying such things about her when she was missing. She knew that whoever said it was talking about Sully not wanting what was left of her. It made her wonder if Sully had been thinking the same thing while she had been missing.

They had never really discussed what had happened to her. When Sully found her, he just asked if they had hurt her and when she assured him that they hadn't, he seemed content enough. What if she had told them that they had hurt her? Would they have shared that passionate kiss? Would he have asked her to marry him? Would he even still be there with them all or would he have been so disgusted by her that he would have left? Michaela thought of the children, knowing how attached Brian had gotten to him. As she walked back into the clinic, she couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if her simple no had been a simple yes.

That night, Michaela stood at a bucket of warm water. Her fingers were beginning to prune from being in the water for so long and yet, she had only managed to wash one dish. She had sent Colleen and Brian to bed, even though it was relatively early for their bedtime. Brian had protested but Colleen, knowing that Michaela had asked them to go to bed so that she could talk with Sully, ushered Brian out of the room and into the barn. Sully sat at the wooden table, sipping his coffee, staring at Michaela. He couldn't help but stare at her at times when she wouldn't notice. He caught himself staring at her all the time, thanking the gods for sending him the love of his life.

"Dinner was wonderful, as usual," Sully complimented.

"Yes, it was," Michaela agreed. "Colleen really outdid herself."

Michaela began washing a bowl but her mind was far from the precious dish in her hand.

"Something botherin' ya, Michaela?"

"No, why do you ask?" She began to wash the dishes more frantically, suddenly realizing how long she had been standing there without really accomplishing anything.

"You've been awfully quiet tonight."

"I just had a long day at the clinic."

Sully stood and walked over to her. He wrapped his arms around her, placing his hands in the water on top of hers. He took the cloth that she was using to wash the dishes from her hands.

"I'll finish these," he whispered in her ear, caressing her fingertips with his own.

Michaela's skin tingled where he touched her and his breath on her ear sent a pleasurable shiver up her spine. She loved and hated that he could do that to her with just a touch or a word. She knew that no man, even David, ever had that effect on her and she knew that no man ever would. Michaela reluctantly took her hands from the water, not wanting to take her hands from his. She tried to get by Sully's arms that were enclosed around her but he would not let her go.

"Sully."

"What's the password?" She smiled, turned to face him, and kissed him lightly on the lips. He did not lift his arms. "Close," he replied, smiling.

Michaela stood on her tiptoes and kissed him more deeply. She was surprised at her own boldness. It had taken her so long to get used to being with Sully in such an intimate way. Usually it was he who had to kiss her first and she usually stopped him before it became too serious. Recently, however, she was feeling a need to be with him and she couldn't help herself.

As they kissed, Sully took his hands from the water and touched her lower back.

"Sully!" She yelled playfully, as she felt the wet handprints sink through the fabric of her dress.

"Password accepted." He lifted his arms and Michaela separated herself from between him and the bucket. She picked up an extra rag and began wiping down the table.

"Brian was really excited that you agreed to help him with his carving," Michaela said. "I'm impressed that you even knew what it was that he was carving. I hadn't figured it out."

"When I was a boy, I carved somethin' that looked a lot like what Brian did."

"What was it supposed to be?"

"A buffalo. Turned out lookin' more like a bowl." Michaela laughed as she put the coffee pot back on the stove. "Took me a long time to get real good. I carved quite a few bowls in my life before I actually got it to look like an animal."

"Well, hopefully Brian won't be too disappointed if his looks more like a bowl than a wolf."

"He'll get the hang of it. Besides, I never had a pa to teach me but he does." Michaela smiled, remembering how close they came to losing both Colleen and Brian not too long ago to their real pa. Michaela wasn't sure how she would have been able to survive without waking up to their smiling faces every morning.

Michaela grabbed a towel and began drying the dishes as Sully washed them. As she watched him, she thought back to what Brian had told her earlier. Should she ask Sully about it? She didn't want to make him angry but she also wasn't sure if she would able to keep it to herself. She had to know what Sully would have done if she had said yes.

"Sully…," she began.

"Michaela…," he said at the same time.

"Go ahead," she quickly replied, glad that she wouldn't have to ask him.

"What do you say we take a ride tomorrow?" Sully asked.

"A ride?"

"Yeah. Jus' me and you. Won't even take Wolf with us. We can take our horses out somewhere nice. Have a little picnic. Spend some time together."

"It's February, Sully."

"Yeah but there's been quite a warm spell recently. The weather's been real nice."

"What about the children?"

"Matthew'll drop 'em off at school in the mornin' and then they can help out Grace at her café until we get back."

"I don't know, Sully. I hate to…"

"I already talked to Grace. She said it'd be fine."

Michaela smiled, knowing that Sully had put some serious thought into their possible excursion.

"What about my patients?"

"You don't have any patients tomorrow. I already checked with Colleen. She made sure that your day was clear."

Michaela couldn't help but smile again. Neither could Sully. He knew that she couldn't refuse him.

"What if someone were to become ill or get shot?"

Sully sighed, knowing that Michaela would come up with any excuse. He knew that it wasn't that she didn't want to spend time with him but that she genuinely worried about the people in the town and that she had her own fears about their intimacy.

"If we tell Matthew where we're goin' so that he can come get ya if somethin' goes wrong, will ya go?"

Michaela knew that she had no choice. She did love him and wanted nothing more than to spend time with him but she also worried about things at home and she wondered what her mother would say if she found out. In Boston, even if a man and woman were engaged hey did not go horseback riding for an entire day by themselves, without a chaperone. Michaela tried to get her mother's voice out of her head as she thought that the picnic would be the perfect time for her to ask Sully about her being abducted by the dog soldiers.

"Well, what do ya say?" Sully asked. She nodded to him. He leaned over and kissed the top of her head. "What were you gonna say before we started talkin' 'bout the picnic?"

Michaela had forgotten that she was going to ask him about the abduction before he had asked her to go riding with him. "Oh, nothing."

"Ya sure?"

"Yes, it was nothing." He scrubbed the last dish and placed it on the table to dry.

"Well, I best be off," he said, drying his hands. He kissed her on the cheek.

"Goodnight."

"Goodnight and I'll see ya tomorrow. No backin' out."

"No backing out," she promised him.

He kissed her lightly on the lips and left. Leaving was the one thing he hated doing. He wished that he could stay with her all night even though he knew that it wasn't proper. He hated to think that while he was sleeping in his lean-to, something could happen like the day that lightning had hit the barn. He wanted to be there for her and the children and, more than anything, he wanted to sleep with Michaela wrapped in his arms. He knew that the time would come, however, when they would be able to fall asleep together every night for the rest of their lives. He only wished that the day wasn't so far away.