Response to Monthly Challenge #8 September 2009

Authors Note: So this is my first fan fic. I was inspired by the fantastic pics for the challenge, but not in the way I thought I would be ; ) This piece is a bit hmmm…serious, not dark really, but…It's "could have been" episode fillers, if you will. A snapshot of possible scenes sometime after A House Divided, but BEFORE/DURING Season 5's A Moment of Truth. I found myself really irritated during Season 5, and I needed some sort of consistency to feel better. And I took the liberty of "pretending" that the bedroom pic was at the homestead. Comments/Feedback welcomed.

The Calm Before the Storm

Michaela closed her eyes briefly in an effort to control the emotions ravaging her heart. Taking a deep breath, she swallowed the words she had been holding in for weeks. Instead, she simply gazed into the intense blue eyes she always found so captivating, searching for the answers. Trying to discover why recently, the light, the fire, that had always been present, now seemed dim.

"I've gotta go Michaela, I promised." Willing her to understand, Sully lightly ran his hands up her arms to rest on her shoulders.

"I just don't understand why it's necessary to go now. You've just returned from a survey trip. Can't you stay home for a while?" she reasoned, as she gently tucked a golden lock of hair behind his ear. "We miss you," leaning in close, she pressed her lips against his ear. "I miss you," she whispered, her warm breath brushing his cheek.

It had been days since she'd seen her husband, much less spent any quality time with him. Between building Preston's house, land surveys, and the Indians, Sully had been away more than he was home. She hadn't realized until this very moment just how much she was craving his nearness, his warmth, his touch.

"It'll only take a few days. Five at the most. We need the money Michaela, for Daniel. Ya know this." His tone begged for understanding, as he gently began to trace slow circles on her arms.

"I know, it's just…" She didn't know how to explain it. The worry that clawed at the pit of her stomach, waking her from a sound sleep, leaving her trembling and gasping for breath. The worry that made her realize something was wrong between them. Something had gone off kilter; they were out of rhythm, out of sync.

Pushing down the hurt, Michaela raised her arms and slowly pulled Sully near, leaning her head against his warm chest. "Please promise me you'll be careful. "

"Always" he pledged, grasping her tight against his chest, encircling her with his strong arms. Her worry and fear almost tangible, he promised himself that this would be the last trip he would make for a while. She was clearly upset about him leaving again. Running his hand down her hair, he soothingly stroked her back. "When I return, we'll spend some time together, just you and me. How does that sound?"

Michaela murmured her response into the hollow of his neck. "Sounds perfect."

Leaning in, Sully placed a quick kiss on Michaela's lips. As he began to pull away, Michaela surprised him by trapping his face in her warm hands, holding him close, deepening the kiss with an almost desperate urgency. Unused to such public displays of affection, Sully tried to drink in her abandoned response, but he couldn't help feeling guilty at causing her such stress.

Slowly easing back, he rested his forehead against her own, breathing in her scent. "It's going to be okay. I'll be back 'fore ya know it." Placing a quick kiss on her brow, he turned and mounted his horse. Refusing to glance back, Sully could feel Michaela's worried stare as he road away.

It had taken him longer than expected, but he'd earned twice as much. Hoping this would be enough to soothe, what he expected to be, a very upset wife, Sully rode hard to get home by mid afternoon.

As he approached the homestead, Sully could tell from the way she carried herself that Michaela was more than upset. Sully didn't think he had ever seen her look so devastatingly resigned. As if all the fight had gone out of her. He could tell she knew he was there, but she didn't acknowledge his presence.

Not sure how to proceed, Sully attempted to get Michaela to quit fretting with the wash and meet his gaze. Lightly grasping her wrist, Sully tried to turn her to face him, but she resisted.

"Hey," he said quietly, tugging on her arm, trying to catch her eye. "Look at me." When the only response he received was silence, Sully began to feel a twinge of panic. "Michaela…I know you're upset. And you have every right to be. I stayed a few extra days to help out, but I've almost got all the money for…" Sully trailed off as Michaela picked up the basket and strode into the house.

Looking up at the sky, Sully ran his hands through his hair. This was new. He didn't know how to deal with this Michaela. Sully had seen her in various emotional states, but this self-contained reserve scared him more than he'd care to admit.

He glanced at the inviting woods. Peace. Tempted, Sully paused as he considered giving Michaela and himself some time apart to calm down. But a twitching somewhere deep inside his gut told him leaving was not a good idea. Leaving appeared to be what started this, leaving sure wasn't going to fix it.

Making up his mind, he hurried up the front steps and made his way into the house. Allowing his eyes to adjust he peered around, noticing for the first time, the silence. Where were the children? Did something happen to the children? Was that why she was so upset?

Heart racing, Sully climbed the stairs two at a time. He found her standing at the window, a single tear trailing down her cheek. Before he could voice his concerns, Michaela broke her silence.

"Why didn't you go?" She asked quietly, in a voice he didn't recognize, still gazing out the window.

Confused, Sully asked simply, "Go where?"

"Into the woods. I saw the yearning on your face Sully; the desperate desire to escape."

Sully needed to see her face, read her eyes, so he reached out to turn her around, and for the first time ever, she flinched from his touch. That one action made him hurt in places he didn't know he had. And just like that, he broke.

"Look, I didn't leave. I stayed." Agitated, he began to pace, "What else do you want me to say Michaela? Tell me what you want to hear and I'll say it. I'm sorry! I'm sorry I had to leave! I'm sorry I came back late. But most of all, I'm sorry if I made ya worry!" Reaching to grab her shoulders, Sully froze at her words.

"Worry? Worry!" Michaela let out a sad laugh that made Sully's heart break into pieces. "Maybe you should go to the woods for a while. Maybe you were right. Maybe…" Sighing, Michaela finally turned to face Sully, and the grief and hurt etched across her face sliced painful cuts across his already broken heart. "Maybe our family's not enough, Sully. Maybe…I'm just not enough."

Completely at a loss, Sully realized this incident had clearly triggered some underlying issue. "What are you talkin' about Michaela? Enough of what?"

Realizing this was it, Michaela decided to voice her deep dark fear. The one that had been lurking inside of her since the day they said I do. "Do you remember when I asked you if you'd wished you'd gone with the Cheyenne before we were married?" Michaela paused, trying to read his eyes.

Sully, becoming frustrated at his inability to understand what Michaela was trying to tell him, gave a sharp nod. "Yeah, and I told ya they would always be my family, but my heart belonged to you now. What is this 'bout, Michaela? What are ya tryin' to tell me?"

"Something's different, Sully. You're always away, and when you're here, you're…distant. I just…I don't know what's going on in your head any more. You used to let me in, if not with your words, at least with your heart. But now…it's like you've put up this wall. And…I..." Michaela trailed off on a soft rush of air, a tear silently slipping down her cheek.

"Michaela," breathing her name out on a sigh, Sully scooped her up into his arms, cradling her tight against his chest. Realizing this conversation was far from over, Sully knew Michaela needed holdin' more than anything right now, and he could show her better without words, how much she meant to him.

In a desperate attempt to block out the fear and doubt, Michaela fiercely clung to Sully's warmth.

With a searing intensity, Sully placed kisses along her hair line, making his way to her lips with each sincere word. "I love you Michaela, with all of my heart. Don't ever doubt that."

Wanting desperately to believe that love was enough, Michaela allowed herself to be swept away by his sweet caresses and tender kisses. Passion igniting, the two came together and found their rhythm, if not in words, at least in this, always in this.

With a warm kiss and the promise of her return, Michaela quietly slipped from the room.

Alone, Sully sat thinking about what had just happened, fearing she was right. He felt his responsibilities pushing in on him: the Indians, Cloud Dancing, his family, and Michaela, especially Michaela. The walls were closing in and he knew that soon, he would have to take action. He would have to right a wrong, try and save his brother. He only hoped that the price wouldn't be more than he could pay. And that he wouldn't lose his family in the process.

As weeks went by, life at the reservation for the Indians was getting progressively worse. New rules and regulations were being implemented daily, stripping away the Indians' identity, and ultimately their very existence.

For Michaela, she was fighting her own personal battle; trying to be sympathetic to Sully's distress, while coping with her own feelings of frustration and fear. It was difficult figuring out how to balance both. When Sully was with her, he alternated between moments of quiet despair, staring off into some troubled world he wouldn't let her be a part of, and a false cheer, where he denied anything was wrong.

It didn't help that Brian was struggling with his place in the family, which finally resulted in a new precarious dynamic between father and son.

Moments of peace and normalcy were few and far between, making them all the more precious when they materialized. Tonight at dinner, with both Colleen and Mathew present, everyone seemed to cherish the evening, lingering at the table long after the meal was finished. It was as if the family could sense a storm was building, and they wanted to appreciate every second they had together.

Michaela had left Sully and Mathew in the kitchen to clean up while she put Katie to sleep. Assuming Sully would be up soon, she prepared for bed hoping they could finally continue their conversation about Cloud Dancing and the reservation. Awaiting Sully's arrival, she busied herself tiding up the room and eventually sat in front of the mirror running her brush slowly through her hair.

"I thought you'd be asleep." Startled, Michaela hadn't heard Sully enter the room. Meeting his eyes in the mirror, Sully took the brush from her hand and gently ran it through her hair. With each stroke, she could see him begin to relax. Slowly, the wall that was so frequently between them began to crack, and she could see him clearly for the first time in what felt like weeks. And it was heart breaking.

Turning around she took the brush out of his grasp and placed it on the table. In response to a light tug on his hand, Sully sank to the ground until he was kneeling in front of her.

Taking a deep breath, Michaela started speaking quietly, afraid to see him shut down again at what she was about to say. "I know that it's hurting you not being able to help Cloud Dancing. That you're breaking up inside. But we have to handle this the safe way, Sully. The right way."

He had tried to avoid this conversation, lingering in the kitchen with Mathew for as long as possible. Justice wouldn't prevail this time without laws being broken, and he knew how Michaela felt about that. Battling how much to reveal to her, Sully's protectiveness won out and he silently vowed to keep her and the children away from any possible involvement or repercussions. No matter what, he would not risk her safety; he would not allow her to be a part of this.

Looking her in the eye, he decided to focus on what he could share with her. Placing his palms on the top of her knees, he leaned in close, "I ain't gonna lie to ya; it's been hard. I feel like I'm failin' him, Michaela. He saved me from the darkness, and I'm doin' nothin' to rescue him when he needs me."

"Sully, Cloud Dancing doesn't expect you to risk your life to save him. I have faith that eventually you can find a way to have him released from the reservation, free to live his own life."

"That'll take years Michaela. Who knows what'll happen to him before then, another beating, this one to death, starvation, or worse yet, a slow death of the spirit. He won't last in there Michaela, no one could."

"Then what do you propose we do?" It was a question she had dreaded asking.

With no hesitation, Sully answered, "I've no idea, but I'll take my chance when I get it."

Searching his eyes, Michaela saw no trace of dishonesty. "Just promise me you will think it through Sully. It's not just you or me anymore. We have little Katie and Brian to think about. They need their pa. And I need my husband. "

Whatever Michaela had been expecting in response, she was surprised when he emitted a self-depreciating grunt, "I haven't been a very good husband lately or Pa for that matter. I'm not sure you'd really be missin' much."

Eyes wide, Michaela just stared, "Sully, how can you think that?"

"It's true. I cause more trouble than I fix. I leave you and the kids alone for days at a time, missin' out on all the important things. I can't pay for our house, havin' to depend on others for charity, Michaela. I can't even protect Cloud Dancin'. I'm pretty sure, right now, you're thinkin' you shoulda married someone else."

Michaela picked up Sully's rough hand where it had been absently tracing intoxicating circles on the inside of her knee and placed it firmly over her heart. "You are the only man that I want to spend the rest of my life with. You are the father of my children. And you are my heart." Imploring him with her eyes to listen and believe, Michaela choked back a sob, "If I lose you, I fear it will be more than I can bear."

"You won't lose me." Reaching for Michaela, Sully quickly pulled her off the seat holding her tight as they slid to the floor. Facing his chest, Michaela settled herself in Sully's lap, as he leaned against the side of the bed.

It wasn't enough, Michaela thought, she needed to be closer. With an urgency that was starting to spiral, she found her fingers desperately tugging Sully's blue shirt out of his buckskins.

There was a frantic edge to Michaela's actions that Sully wasn't sure he'd seen before. In an attempt to soothe and slow her down, Sully trapped her hands in his own bringing them to his lips. However, much to his surprise, Michaela pulled her hands free and continued to work the shirt up his torso, until she slipped it over his head tossing it aside. When she started attacking the buttons on her nightgown, almost ripping a couple off in the process, Sully broke the silence.

"Shhh, we got all night," he murmured, as he slid the nightgown free of her body.

Trembling at the contact when they were finally skin to skin, Michaela firmly pressed herself against his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around him, burying her face in the warmth of his neck. "I don't want to ever let you go, " she whispered trailing her soft hands up and down his sides.

Sully understood her need to strip away all of their barriers, both emotional and physical. Threading his fingers into her hair, he eased back to look her in the eye. "You won't ever have to." He silently prayed that was one promise he would be able to keep.

Holding her gaze, Sully slowly began to map her delicate face with his fingertips, trying to commit every angle to memory. Reaching her lips, he lightly rubbed his thumb back and forth feeling her moist breath coming faster. Michaela couldn't help herself as the tip of her tongue snuck out to taste his skin before he continued the light caress down her neck.

Seeing a certain gleam in his eye, Michaela had to fight back a blush. "What?" she asked intrigued.

His hand paused in its' agonizingly slow descent down the valley between her breasts, his lips twitching into a smile. "I was just thinkin' how far we've come."

"How so?" Her hands had found their way to the top of his buckskins, where she would occasionally dip her fingers under the fabric, teasing him, slowly opening one button at time.

"There was a time you woulda never sat naked on my lap, but here we are, you bein' so at ease with lovin' and cuddlin'." He illustrated his point by tracing the shadows from the flickering fire that played over her breast.

"Yes, well, when you put it that way…I sound quite scandalous." Looking into his eyes full of love, she thought back to all her overwhelming doubts and insecurities she'd had regarding this aspect of married life. It all seemed like a life time ago, but she could clearly remember one particularly embarrassing exchange.

Running her hands through the light hair on his chest, she leaned forward "I think," she whispered huskily, then placed a heated kiss over his rapidly beating heart, "…this turned out to be one of my favorite chapters."

Puzzled, it took a moment for him to remember the long ago conversation they had about cheatin' yourself out of certain experiences, and it bein' kinda' like skippin' over parts of a book.

Grinning, his hands softly glided down her back. "I knew you'd like this part…and be good at it. We were always pretty good at kissin'"

As her hands slipped lower, Michaela shifted close and whispered, "I had a great teacher," before capturing his lips in a passionate kiss.

Realizing they weren't in a very comfortable position on the floor, Sully pulled her legs around his waist without breaking the kiss, stood up, and placed her in the middle of the bed.

Michaela felt the cool air hit her skin as he moved away from her to peel off his buckskins. Gazing at his bronzed skin in the lamp light as inch by exquisite inch of him was revealed, Michaela thought again about how much she loved this man. He could take her breath away, but more than that, he made her feel alive in ways she never thought possible. She felt assured once again, that they would get through this. That they would be able to weather the storm, whatever it may bring, and come out on the other side together.

Crawling over to brace himself above her, Sully looked down to see her face glowing with love. He felt the sweet piercing desire that always grabbed him by the throat. "You are so beautiful," he said in awe.

Eyes bright with tears and love, Michaela reached up a hand to caress his cheek. "I love you, so much."

Capturing her hand that was lying on the bed beside her head, Sully linked their fingers as he slowly sank down into her warmth. "And I love you."

The last fleeting thought Michaela had before she was completely swept away by their passionate joining was that Sully never did promise her he'd be careful.