The wagon pulled into Soda Springs as the day was winding down, and many townsfolk were heading home or having dinner at a little restaurant at the end of town. As soon as Robert E. stopped the wagon, Sully hopped out of the back and pulled a weakening Michaela into his arms. Robert E. glanced over his shoulder.
"I can't leave her, Robert E," Sully explained. "Send a telegram to Custer in my name. Tell him I've got her, and she's bein' checked out by a doctor in Soda Springs. Tell him…tell him I'll have her home tomorrow." Robert E. nodded.
"You think he'll let the Cheyenne go?" Sully thought for a moment, and he took a deep breath.
"Tell 'im I found the Michaela six miles south of Soda Springs. He's more interested in earnin' a name for killin' Dog Soldiers. He'll let 'em go and head out as soon as possible." Robert E. eyed him worriedly.
"You sure about that?"
"I gotta be," Sully said, breathing heavily with anxiety. Robert E. nodded.
"I'll get right on it." He slapped the reins, and the wagon took off across town, while Sully rushed up onto the porch of the small clinic. When he knocked on the door, he was relived to see a kind older gentleman open the door. Before he could even ask what was wrong, Sully barged in with Michaela in his arms.
"Good God," he breathed. "What happened to her?"
"She was kidnapped," Sully murmured, smoothing the hair back out of her eyes, as she blinked in confusion. "She's hurt real bad, and…she can't remember anything that happened. I don't know how bad…how bad they hurt her." He looked away, and the doctor knew what he meant. Sully felt Michaela's cool hand grab his, and he squeezed it. "I'm right here."
"I'm going to need to do a thorough examination," the doctor said quietly. "I'll have my nurse wash her up first and find her a clean dress."
"I got to get her home by tomorrow."
"I'm afraid she won't be going anywhere…"
"Please, doc," he urged, lowering his voice. "General Custer's got a whole tribe of Cheyenne captive in Colorado Springs, and if I don't get her back home, he's gonna kill all of 'em. Not just the men, but the elders, the women, and the children. A lot of innocent people are gonna die." The doctor sighed and finally nodded his head.
"I can give her something if she's in any pain, but you're going to have to take it easy on your ride home. Elsa!" A moment later, a young, redheaded woman came in from the back room.
"Yes, Dr. Stephens?"
"I need you to clean up…"
"Dr. Quinn," Sully said quickly. Dr. Stephens stared at him as if he'd grown an extra head before he turned back to the young woman.
"Please clean up Dr. Quinn. I need to do a thorough examination of her…" He turned to Michaela. "If that's alright with you." Michaela looked up at Sully and finally nodded, tears streaming from her eyes. "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"No!" Michaela cried out. "Sully, please stay. I…I don't want to be left alone." She was trembling now, and he felt his heart breaking.
"I'll be right outside the door," he whispered.
"No," she cried.
"It wouldn't be proper, Miss," the doctor said quietly. "Elsa will take good care of you, and she'll see to it that you have a decent dress to wear." Michaela began to sob, and she gripped Sully's hand harder.
"I don't wanna leave ya, Michaela, but it might be better if I waited outside." He didn't want to leave her side, but he felt her grip weakening, and he kissed her knuckles softly. "I swear, Michaela. I'll be right outside that door if ya need anything." Finally, she nodded, but she continued to tremble, her breaths coming in short gasps. Right before Sully showed himself out, he heard Dr. Stephens mutter something to Elsa.
"You know the appropriate measures to take," she said quietly, "I need to check for signs of rape."
General Custer stared at the piece of paper in his hand, the wheels in his head turning, as he thought about his options. He looked out toward the meadow, seeing the shadows of dozens of redskins leaning on one another, as if they were trying to draw strength from each other. They'd been without food for days, and had been surviving on very little water each morning. It'd be easy to lead them all to the gallows and kill them, pretending that he'd never received the telegram. Maybe the right price could buy the telegraph operator's silence. But then again, six miles south of Soda Springs…why, his men could be there in the matter of a few hours, if they traveled fast enough.
"What're you gonna do, General?" Horace asked, his eyes wide with curiosity, as he watched the man's yellow mustache twitch back and forth in thought.
"I suppose I've let the filthy redskins soil your town for long enough. Besides, Mr. Sully will have your precious doctor back tomorrow." He clenched the piece of paper in his fist. "Let this be known as the day that General George Armstrong Custer showed mercy to those merciless, enemy-scalping savages. It won't happen again." With that, he stalked off toward his camp, and Horace closed up shop, eager to tell the rest of the town what he'd just heard.
Sully paced the small porch of the clinic, seeing strangers cast glances in his direction, wondering who this strangely dressed fellow was.
"Sully?" Sully turned to see Robert E. heading up the street with a crate of supplies in hand. "No word yet?"
"Nope," Sully replied, crossing his arms and stretching his stiff neck. "What's all that?"
"Supplies I thought Dr. Mike might like to use on the way back to Colorado Springs. A brush…some food…some of them good smellin' soaps."
"Ya didn't have to do that, Robert E."
"I wanted to," he replied quietly. "Dr. Mike's a good woman. She didn't deserve any of this." Sully shook his head.
"No she didn't."
"How ya holdin' up?"
"I'm not real sure. I ain't really been thinkin' much about myself," he said a bit harshly. Robert E. understood that his friend had just been through a lot, so he let the harsh comment pass by. "Sorry. I just…I'm worried 'bout her. She don't remember."
"Don't remember what?"
"Anything about Colorado Springs…about us. She remembers bein' a doctor. She thought her pa was still alive." He shook his head. "She's havin' dreams…memories of us, but she don't know what to believe. It's hard to watch her go through it, and I…I ain't sure she's ever gonna be the same Michaela again."
"Ya can't think like that, Sully. Ya gotta believe she's gonna be alright; she's gonna remember."
"It's hard, Robert E.," he admitted. "It's hard thinkin' about everything we've gone through. She don't remember fallin' in love with me. She don't remember the things we said to each other. She don't even remember the bad times. Or the kids…"
"The bad times?" Robert E. asked. Sully closed his eyes, and he looked away.
"I hurt her." Robert E. placed the crate in the wagon and stepped closer to Sully.
"Hurt her how?"
"That woman…Catherine." Robert E. sucked in a breath. "I kissed her…well, she kissed me, and…Brian saw. And when Michaela found out, she…she said she couldn't be with me." He looked back at his friend. "We never really talked about it after that. We stopped courtin' I guess, and that was it. But things were getting better I think. I don't know how she felt, but now knowin' she don't even remember…if I gotta tell her everything…I'm gonna have to hurt her all over again." Robert E. frowned and thought for a moment.
"Ya know…most other men in your situation…they might leave out the bad parts so they don't have to deal with it all over again. But ya know that'd be a lie to do somethin' like that. If ya want to help her, ya gotta tell her everything. Otherwise, she might learn it for herself sometime or…or remember, and she'll know ya didn't tell her everything." Sully nodded.
"I never wanna lie to her. I just…I can't stand to see the hurt in her eyes. She's already been hurt enough."
At that moment, the door opened, and Elsa walked out.
"Dr. Quinn is resting comfortably upstairs, sir, and Dr. Stephens would like to speak with you privately." Sully nodded thankfully and he cast a glance at Robert E.
"I'll be waitin' out here," Robert E. promised. With that, Sully followed Elsa into the clinic and prepared to learn the extent of Michaela's injuries.
Author's Note: Thanks for all the feedback so far! Please keep it coming!