Maria stirred the boiling pot, being careful not to splash the contents the dress that she was wearing, which belonged to Michaela. Sully walked in the front door. The smell that wafted through the homestead made his mouth water.
"That smells delicious," Sully remarked, taking off his belt with his tomahawk and hanging it on one of the pegs by the door.
"Come, taste this," Maria beckoned. Sully walked over to her and she brought the spoon to his mouth. She blew on it to cool it down and then slid it into Sully's mouth. He tasted it and smiled.
"It's great. What is it?"
"It's stew surprise," she replied. "I've had the recipe since I was a little girl." Smiling, she brought a towel up to Sully's mouth and wiped away a small bit of food that was left over at the corner of his mouth.
"Thank you," he said, feeling somewhat uncomfortable. He stepped away from her and busied himself with the fire.
"I'd like to thank you and Dr. Mike for everythin' that you're doin' for me," Maria announced.
"Cookin' like ya have been and doin' chores…that's thanks enough."
"Those are a woman's duties," Maria corrected. "It's not somethin' a woman should even be asked ta do. She should just do it."
"'Fraid it doesn't always work that way here," Sully admitted.
"Doesn't Dr. Mike cook dinners for ya?"
Sully smiled. "She tries when she has time but she's usually busy with the clinic. Besides, her meals don't usually turn out that great. Colleen does most of the cookin'."
"It's a shame that a woman isn't able to take care of her family," Maria said, as she continued to stir.
"Dr. Mike's able to take care of our family just fine," Sully retorted, slightly aggravated. He didn't mind admitting that Michaela's cooking skills weren't the best but she was the best mother anyone could hope to have.
"I didn't mean no disrespect," Maria replied. "I was just sayin' that it's a shame that she's not able to cook for ya more."
"Well, it ain't her fault. She wasn't exactly taught how ta cook growin' up since she had servants and cooks to do everythin' for her."
"It must be amazin' growin' up in a household like that," Maria exclaimed.
"Growin' up with someone else besides your ma and pa tuckin' ya in at night…it don't so great to me."
"You'll make a good pa," Maria stated. "'Course, it would help if Dr. Mike weren't so busy I suppose but…" She paused. "I'm sorry, it ain't my place ta be talkin' 'bout ya'll like this. Sometimes I just get carried away. My friends always said that my mouth would get me inta trouble someday."
"It's alright," Sully assured her.
"But I would really like to do something extra special for Dr. Mike. I'd just have to think of somethin' first."
"Well, I'm sure whatever you do, she'll greatly appreciate," Sully said.
Maria nodded and smiled, staring at Sully's back, noticing the muscles in his arms as he fed the fire. "Yes, I'm sure she will."
Michaela walked through the lobby of the hotel, trying to catch a glimpse of Dr. Clarke. She had seen him during their last conference on remedies for the common headache but he had since disappeared. Frantic, she ignored other doctors who were trying to speak with her as she walked. It seemed as if the longer she stayed, the more accepted she was but, unfortunately, she didn't have the time to reap the benefits of her newfound acceptance.
"Dr. Quinn," someone called.
This time Michaela did turn around and found her face to face with Dr. Clarke.
"Dr. Clarke," she stuttered.
"Dr. Quinn," he repeated. He folded his hands behind his back and took a step towards Michaela. Michaela noticed that he was uncomfortably close to her.
"I've been meaning to tell you what a wonderful conference this is," she complimented. "You and Dr. Hansen have done an excell…"
"I want to know where my wife is, Dr. Quinn," Dr. Clarke muttered so as not to have everyone overhear.
"I beg your pardon?" Michaela replied, hoping that her denial would be convincing enough.
"I saw you speaking with Hank Lawson," Dr. Clarke explained. "And, when I returned home this afternoon, my wife was gone. I know you're in on this, Doctor."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Michaela insisted. "Perhaps your wife just went out for the afternoon."
"I want to know where she's gone!" As he raised his voice, other doctors turned towards them.
"I wish I could help you, Dr. Clarke but I don't know what you are talking about. If you're having problems at home, I am sorry but I don't think that you should…"
"I'll find out where you're hiding her, Dr. Quinn. I swear I will. She can't have gone far. Doesn't have a brain in her body, that woman. She can't get anywhere without money and she's only good for whoring so it won't take me long to find her. Where is it that you're from, Dr. Quinn? Colorado Springs?"
"I don't see how my place of residence has anything to do with your wife disappearing."
"Colorado Springs happens to be the hometown of Mr. Hank Lawson, doesn't it, Dr. Quinn? Sounds like more than a coincidence to me. I assure you, Dr. Quinn, if I find out that you are somehow connected with my wife's disappearance, I will make your life miserable."
"Threaten all you want, Mr. Clarke but I assure you I have no idea what you're talking about."
Aggravated, Dr. Clarke turned. As he walked away, he suddenly turned back to Michaela.
"Oh, and Dr. Quinn, I'd be careful who you've got her around," Dr. Clarke warned. "Maria can be one persuasive woman. I would hate to see you responsible for the failure of your own marriage just because you were trying to protect my wife. You are a newlywed, are you not, Dr. Quinn?" Michaela stared at him with anger coursing through her entire body. "Good day, Dr. Quinn."
Michaela immediately turned for the door and stormed out of the hotel. She found Hank nearby, lurking outside of his own hotel.
"I'm going back to Colorado Springs on the next train," she shouted, "and so are you."
"Easy, Michaela, I haven't found all the girls I need yet."
"Hank! I don't care about your girls! I care about my husband and my children and your sister!"
"Woah…calm down. What's goin' on?"
"What about him?"
"He knows that Maria's missing and he knows that we are both somehow connected. He's going off to look for her and we have to beat him to Colorado Springs or he will take her back."
"Can't we just send a telegram to Sully and tell him to hide her?"
"If I send that telegram, the whole town will know that something's going on. And then when Dr. Clarke arrives, I have no doubt that someone will be more than willing to help him locate Maria and Sully. We can't take that chance. If we get on the next train, we should be able to beat him there or at least get there at the same time. While he's questioning everyone in town, we can go warn Sully and get her out of there. We just can't let him see us on the train."
"What is it that you're more worried about, Michaela?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Seems to me like you're not just worried 'bout the good Dr. Clarke finding Maria. Perhaps you're a little worried 'bout what might be goin' on at home while you're out here playin' doctor?"
Michaela slapped Hank across the face. Stunned at her own actions, she turned from him and headed back to her own hotel. She didn't need his help and she certainly didn't need his thoughts.
"Didn't think ya had it in ya, Michaela," Hank yelled, laughing.
Michaela quickly jumped off the back of the train before it had come to a complete stop. She ran around the back of the post office, glad that no one noticed her. After slapping Hank in Denver, she had quickly returned to her hotel to pack up her things and she boarded the next train. As she took the ride to Colorado Springs, she couldn't help but feel bad for not saying goodbye to William. However, she had more pressing things on her mind like the fact that Dr. Clarke and two men traveling with him were on the same train. Fortunately, they didn't notice her since she disguised herself as a poor woman. She had taken one of her dresses and thrown dirt on it to make it look like it hadn't been washed in a while and she tore some holes in it. She wrapped a scarf around her head and she kept her hair hidden beneath it. The disguise seemed to work. Michaela made her way over to the livery, trying to be as secretive as possible. She didn't need everyone to see that she was back.
"Dr. Mike?" Robert E asked as he saw Michaela creeping around some of the horses that he was housing.
"Robert E," Michaela whispered. "I can't explain right now but I need to borrow one of your fastest horses."
"Thought you weren't comin' back 'til tomorrow," Robert E commented quietly as he began to saddle up one of his horses.
"I had to come back a day early. But please don't let anyone know I'm here. Not yet anyway."
"This don't have anythin' to do with that woman up there in your homestead whom everyone thinks is a friend of yours, does it?"
"It has everything to do with her," Michaela replied, glad that Sully had confided in Robert E. It would make explaining herself so much easier when she would later have time to explain. Robert E finished getting the horse set. He gave Michaela a boost onto the horse's back. She thanked him and rode off towards the homestead. She turned and saw Dr. Clarke at the saloon, most likely asking questions.
Sully stood outside theclosed door of his bedroom, chewing on his lower lip. Although he had allowed Maria to wear some of Michaela's dresses since she had none of her own, he didn't exactly feel comfortable with the fact that she was trying some of them on in his and Michaela's bedroom. Of course, Maria said she was only doing it so that she could get a pattern to make Michaela a dress as a thank you gift but it still made him feel uncomfortable.
"Sully, I'm ready," Maria called.
Sully slowly opened the door and saw Maria standing in the middle of their bedroom with one of Michaela's most beautiful dresses on. She had worn it the day of the sweetheart's dance. The dress would always remind Sully of the first time they ever really kissed.
"What do ya think?" Maria asked.
"It looks real nice," Sully replied.
"Not what do you think of the dress. What do you think of me copyin' it and makin' a new one for Dr. Mike?"
Sully nodded. "I think she'll like it."
"I just need ta measure it. Can you grab that measurin' tape over there?"
Sully picked up the measuring tape from the bed.
"I'm gonna need your help," Maria said, spreading her arms out.
Sully didn't move. Although he had liked Maria initially, she was beginning to make him feel uncomfortable. He couldn't wait until Michaela returned home the next day and hopefully he would be able to bid farewell to Maria. He also couldn't stand her incessantly talking about Hank and how suave he could be. It was like she was suggesting that there might be something going on between Michaela and Hank just to make Sully angry.
"Wouldn't this just be easier if ya took the dress off and measured it on the table?" Sully asked. "Or ya could wait for Colleen ta come home. She'd be much better at measurin' than I am."
"If I don't start now, the dress'll never be finished," Maria protested.
Maria grabbed his hand that had the measuring tape in it and brought it to her waist. As Sully began to push away, he heard the sound of a gasp from the doorway.
"Michaela…" Sully stuttered, almost pushing Maria out of the way.
Tears began to sting Michaela's eyes but she would not let them fall. She thought back to what Hank had said about Maria and Sully. She could tell now that everything he had said was true. She wanted to hate Sully for what he had done. She wanted to scream and yell at him until there was no breath left in her body but she couldn't. She would always love him and she couldn't deny it.
Sully wanted to say something. He wanted to tell her exactly what had happened and how the entire time he wished Michaela was home and Maria was gone but he was at a loss for words. He saw the hurt in Michaela's eyes and he just kept thinking about the fact that he had caused that hurt.
"Dr. Mike," Maria said, breaking the silence. "We were expecting you tomorrow."
"I came early," Michaela stuttered. "Your husband…he's here."
"In Colorado Springs?" Maria questioned.
"He's looking for you. You have to get out of here."
"Where will I go?"
"You can have one of our horses. We'll give you some money and you can go wherever you want," Michaela said, just wanting the woman out of her house.
"I don't know how to ride," Maria confessed.
"Michaela!" A voice yelled from outside.
Michaela hurried to the window and saw Hank and Jake out in the front of the house with a wagon. Jake was sitting beside the wagon on his own horse with a smug look on his face.
"I ended up catching that train after all," Hank yelled.
"We'll be right down," Michaela yelled back, wondering how Jake had become involved.
As she walked past Sully, she wouldn't even meet his eyes. She hurried down the stairs and out of the homestead with Maria and Sully in tow.
"Jake, what are you doing here?" Michaela questioned.
"Knew there was somethin' goin' on," Jake replied. "When I saw Hank runnin' from the train, figured I should follow him and see what it is that I was missin'."
"I'll take ya to the next town," Hank said to Maria. "Ya can catch a train or a stage and be as far away from here as ya can get."
"What 'bout Robert?" She asked.
"I'll hold him off here," Jake offered. "It'll give ya plenty of time."
"You can go somewhere where no one knows ya and change your name. He'll stop lookin' eventually. Robert was never one to follow through," Hank explained.
"I'll just go up and change," Maria announced, heading back into the homestead.
"I'd like to have a word with her before she goes," Michaela replied.
"Michaela…" Sully began, trying to grab her arm. She wriggled free of him and stormed off.
"Don't look like she's too happy," Hank commented.
"Looks like ya weren't just protectin' her," Jake sneered.
Sully ignored them both, knowing that whatever he said, they still wouldn't believe him. And they weren't the ones who were important. How would he ever be able to explain himself to Michaela? Would she ever trust him in the same way again? A million thoughts raced through his head but the only one he could concentrate on was that he could lose her forever.
Inside, Michaela waited outside of the guest room as Maria changed back into the clothes that she had arrived in. Maria opened the door and jumped slightly, not expecting Michaela to be standing there.
"You'll want to take care of those cuts and bruises," Michaela instructed. "They still need a few days to heal. Be sure to see a doctor wherever it is that you end up to make sure that everything healed properly."
"I will," Maria replied.
Michaela turned. She was prepared to say so much more to the young woman but words didn't seem to make a difference. The hurt would still be there.
"You have an amazing husband," Maria stated.
With that, Michaela hastily turned around. It took all of her being to not slap Maria.
"You have no right to…" Michaela began as the tears began to fall.
"Dr. Mike, your husband is amazing because he loves you. I know you think something happened between us but I can assure you, nothing did." Michaela's tears immediately stopped and she began to listen attentively. "I was taken by him…by his looks, by his gentleness. He's the kind of man that every girl dreams of being with. I've never had a man who was so interested in me…in my mind and my thoughts and not my body. I've never met a man like him. But, as much as I wished it to be otherwise, your husband's heart belongs to you and only you."
"Then what was it that I saw? What was it that you were doing when I walked in the room?"
"You saw your husband being the true gentleman that he is. I was going to make a dress for you as a thank you for helping me and I asked him to help me measure it. He didn't want to but I pushed him. My plan wasn't to…" She paused. "I know that you think that I'm a bad person and maybe I am but I don't know how to be any other way. I grew up mostly without a ma or a pa and when I got sent to Hank's…" A tear rolled down her cheek.
"What?" Michaela asked, probing for more.
"Robert was Hank's best friend. One day Robert came over when I was home alone, before Hank's ma sent me away, and Robert he…he…found me in the barn and he made me…I didn't know what he was doing but he made me…"
Michaela gasped. "But he's so much older than you. You didn't tell anyone?"
"He said it would be our little secret. I never told anyone but I think Hank always knew something was wrong. But Hank…his ma always made him think that I was what killed his pa. That I was what made his father leave them."
"That's why Hank didn't want anyone to know about you?"
"Hank knows that it wasn't my fault but it's difficult to stop thinkin' the way your parents taught you how to think. I think he always felt bad 'bout it. 'Bout his ma sendin' me away so that's why, when I asked for his help in Denver, he agreed to help me."
"But why did you end up marrying Robert?"
"I saw him as a way to get out. To come West and start a new life. I felt comfortable with him despite what he did and I knew that, as a doctor, he would be able to give me a good life. I just didn't know he'd turn out to be how he is. I'm sorry for the trouble I caused you. I never meant…I never meant to try and take your husband away. Sometimes I just don't know what comes over me. I'm sorry and I want ta thank you for everything."
"I'm sorry, too," Michaela replied. "I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions and I'm sorry that you didn't have a better life."
"Can't change the past, Dr. Mike. I can only look towards the future. But I think ya should be tellin' your husband that you're sorry instead of me."
"We gotta go, Maria!" Hank yelled from outside.
"You have to go," Michaela said, placing her hand on Maria's back. They began walking downstairs.
"Make sure you hold on to that husband of yours," Maria said as they neared the door.
Michaela smiled. "I will."
Hank hopped off of the wagon and helped Maria up.
"Thank you," Maria said to Michaela as Hank snapped the reins. The horses lurched forward and the wagon rolled out of sight.
"I guess I should be headin' ta town and makin' sure that that Robert fella stays put for a bit."
"What'll you say to him?" Michaela asked.
"I'll tell him that she's hidin' in the woods somewhere. Have him looking for days 'fore she realizes she's gone."
"Thank you for your help, Jake," Michaela said. Jake turned his horse around in the direction of town. "Jake."
He turned to face Michaela. Yeah?"
"Could you ask Matthew to have the children over tonight?" Michaela asked. As much as she wanted to see her children, she knew that she and Sully needed some time.
Jake nodded and rode away, leaving Michaela and Sully alone.
"Michaela…" Sully said, needing so desperately to explain what happened.
"I know, Sully," Michaela replied. "I know that nothing happened and I'm sorry that I overreacted. And I'm sorry that didn't trust you. Maria explained the whole thing."
"I wanted nothing more than for you to come home so that I could hold ya in my arms," Sully responded as Michaela walked into his embrace.
"I feel bad for her, Sully," Michaela commented.
"Because she never had a family like we have. Because she doesn't have an amazing husband like I have."
Sully kissed her deeply.
"You know that you're the only one I could ever want," he reminded her.
"I know. But Hank kept saying all of these things about you two being alone together and then walking in and seeing you like that I just…I didn't know what to think."
"Hank? Hank was saying things about me and Maria?" Michaela nodded. "Maria kept sayin' things 'bout you and Hank bein' alone in Denver together."
"Me and Hank?"
They both laughed at the ridiculousness of everything and kissed once again.
"What happened to your dress?" Sully questioned.
Michaela looked down at her dress, having forgotten that she had made it look so shabby.
"I was in disguise from Dr. Clarke," Michaela admitted. She smiled, realizing how ridiculous she must look. "He might come here to question us when he realizes that Maria is finally gone. What are we gonna tell him?"
"We'll tell him that he can chase her for the rest of his life but he ain't gonna find her. Now when she's got a brother like Hank lookin' out for her."
"Think he'll leave her alone?"
Sully nodded. "Eventually." A comfortable pause fell upon them. "So, between everythin' that's happened, did ya actually get to go ta any of the conference?" Sully asked.
"Some, yes," Michaela replied. She immediately thought about William and wondered whether or not she should mention him to Sully. "I ran into William," she said, deciding that it was better to have everything out in the open.
"William? William from Boston?"
Michaela nodded. "He was disappointed when I told him that I am very happily married."
"I'm glad to hear that," Sully joked, planting small kisses down her neck.
"Sully," she said weakly, her heart racing from his kisses. "It's the middle of the day."
"We have a lot of catching up to do," he answered, scooping her up in his arms.
"Five days is a long time," Michaela whispered.
"Except you were only gone four days," Sully reminded her as he carried her into the homestead and up the stairs towards her bedroom.
"Even four days is far too long," Michaela determined as Sully lowered her down onto the bed.
Author's Note: This was actually the second Dr. Quinn fic that I wrote but the 4th one that I posted since it remained just sitting on my computer, unfinished, with only one chapter left to write. So, I finally decided to finish it and here it is. I also really wanted to do a fic that dealt a little bit with Michaela and Hank because I think their relationship is so interesting. However, there were a lot of logistics in this and things I had to keep straight so I hope it all worked out and I remembered everything! And please don't forget to leave me feedback and let me know what you thought!