Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman
'A Guiding Hand: Slap in the Face'
Summary: When Matthew does the unthinkable, Sully steps in to show him the error of his ways.
Author's Note (1): While I know Sully disapproved of beatings and abuse, I do feel he would/should have offered a 'guiding hand' to the children when they needed it.
Author's Note (2): Loosely based on 'Rite of Passage'. Matthew is fifteen.
Warning: This story contains a scene of disciplinary spanking.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I just wrote this story for entertainment.
Colorado Spring, Colorado—spring—1868
Dr. Michaela Quinn sat in her rocking chair beside the fire, staring at the clock.
It was nearing midnight and one of her three children was still not home—where he belonged.
Her eldest son, Matthew, had not come home for supper—nor had he sent word where he was or when he'd be back.
Michaela sighed. Matthew was fifteen—a most difficult age.
She knew he felt trapped—hovering between manhood and childhood—still too young be considered a grown man, but too old to be treated like a child (in his opinion, any way).
The last week had been particular rough, as she had caught him and his sweetheart, Ingrid, in a rather intimate embrace in the barn.
Being a doctor, she knew all about adolescence and what the body did during this critical and crucial time in a child's life and development.
The hormones racing through the body, the physical changes taking place, not to mention the emotional upheaval of it all was enough to confuse anyone—especially a fifteen year old boy.
Michaela knew that out here in the rough and rugged wilds of the New Frontier, Matthew was considered by most to be old enough to do a lot of things—including marry.
She also knew Matthew chafed at her protectiveness of him, believing it misplaced—and unwarranted.
The typical adolescent male response of "I can take care of myself" had been thrown at her quite few times the last few days.
But she couldn't help it. He was her son. She was his mother—blood or not—she couldn't not worry about him!
The sound of a horse outside alerted her to someone approaching the homestead.
She was up on her feet and at the window, to see who it was, in an instant.
Thankfully, there was a full moon shining brightly outside and she could easily see that it was Matthew.
Breathing a huge sigh of relief that he was finally home—and apparently in one piece—she quickly threw on her shawl and raced out to the barn.
Matthew was unsaddling his horse as she entered. She frowned. He seemed a bit unsteady on his feet…
He had turned on a lantern so that he could see. He looked up at her, frowning. "What are you still doing up?" he asked her.
She narrowed her eyes. Was his speech…slurred? She crossed over to him.
"Where have you been, Matthew?" she demanded, hoping she was keeping her voice calm and level.
"In town," was his curt reply.
"All this time?" Michaela asked, skeptically. "And just where in town, may I ask?"
"What does it matter?" Matthew asked her, scowling.
"It matters," she told him, firmly. That was when she caught a distinct scent in the air.
Her eyes widened. "Have you been drinking?"
"Just a little," Matthew shrugged, his speech slurring again. "Nothin' I couldn' handle."
Michaela serious doubted that, especially if his unsteadiness and the dilation of his eyes was any indication.
"Were you with Ingrid, Matthew?" she asked him, point blank.
The look he threw her was pure venom. "That ain't none of your business," he told her, sourly.
"It most certainly is my business," Michaela told him, heatedly. "Especially when you don't come home for supper or even bother telling me where you are or even when you will be home!"
Matthew snorted. "I told you, Dr. Mike," he said, sourly. "I can take care of myself!"
Michaela scoffed at that.
"Like you were doing this afternoon when we saw you crawling out of Myra's window?" she asked him, her anger finally showing itself.
She had been waiting up to speak to him about just that—to get his side of what had happened—but now her anger was getting the best of her.
Matthew's nostrils flared.
"Nothin' happened," he told her, "and even if it had I don't gotta answer to you—you ain't my ma!"
Michaela's eyes widened, the hurt those words caused her was evident on her face, but she quickly swallowed that hurt down.
"You still live in my home, Matthew," she reminded him, crossing her arms over her chest. "You still have responsibilities here. You weren't here to help with the evening chores tonight, do you realize that?"
"So?" Matthew sneered. "I'll do 'em in the mornin'!"
"Don't bother," Michaela told him, bluntly. "Your brother and sister already did them—along with their own chores!"
Matthew sighed. "I'll make it up to them," he told her, grumpily. "I'll do their chores for 'em in the mornin'. I'm going to bed."
"That's not the point, Matthew!" Michaela told him, grabbing his arm to prevent him from climbing up the ladder to the loft where he slept.
"Let go!" Matthew yelled at her, savagely.
He only meant to jerk his arm out of her grasp, but as he was pulling it loose the back of his hand connected with the side of her face—hard.
Michaela cried out, cupping her cheek that was stinging fiercely from the blow.
She looked at Matthew with wide, disbelieving eyes.
He looked back at her, seemingly stunned into silence by his actions.
"D-Dr. M-Mike…" he started to say, but she stepped back away from him.
Tears welling in her eyes, her cheek on fire from pain, Michaela said the first thing that sprang to her mind.
"You aren't a man!" she threw at him, and then she spun around and raced from the barn.
Entering the homestead, she locked and bolted the door behind her.
Leaning against it, still cupping her stinging cheek, she sank down onto the floor and pulled her legs up.
Laying her head on her knees, she allowed the tears to flow freely.
"Oh, Charlotte," she whispered to the children's true mother who died of a rattlesnake bite nearly a year ago now. "I'm so sorry I'm failing you…"
Byron Sully and his wolf trailed up the path toward his old homestead—which he'd built with his own two hands for his wife, Abigail.
Unfortunately, Abigail had died in childbirth and so had their baby girl—Hannah—and he hadn't been able to live there anymore.
When Dr. Mike had come from Boston and had put up an advertisement needing a more permanent place to live other than Charlotte Cooper's boarding house, he had decided to rent it out to her.
Then, of course, Charlotte had passed away and the children had come to live there, as well.
Sully had slowly found himself coming around more and more, growing closer to both the beautiful lady doctor and the kids.
The pain of Abigail and Hannah's loss was still with him, but it had begun to ease as his feelings for Dr. Mike began to grow and change.
He knew what he felt for her now—the moment they had shared that one sweet, gentle kiss he had known—even if he wasn't quite ready to say the words out loud.
He also loved the kids like they were his own. He'd do anything for them.
Reaching the homestead proper he found the yard empty—which was a bit odd.
Usually by the time he arrived to have breakfast with the family, the kids were up doing their morning chores…even on Saturdays.
There was smoke coming from the small chimney, so that told him someone was up and moving about.
Going to the door, he gently knocked. "Who is it?" Dr. Mike's voice called from within.
"It's me," Sully answered, loud enough for her to hear.
"It's unlocked," was the reply from within, and he opened the door to step inside.
Dr. Mike was already fully dressed, her hair flowing freely down her back. She was at the stove, her back to him.
"Where are the kids?" he asked her, curiously. "Usually they're up by now?"
"Colleen and Brian were up rather late last night," she told him, still not turning around to look at him yet. "I'm letting them sleep in today."
Sully nodded. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something just didn't seem right.
Why hadn't she turned around towards him like she usually did?
Even when she was busy cooking, she at least turned to give him a 'hello' and a smile…
"What about Matthew?" Sully asked, curiously.
Dr. Mike stilled a moment, but then continued whatever she was doing. "He got in rather late last night, too," she told him, gently.
Now he knew something was wrong. Her voice had a hitched quality to it, as if she had a lump in her throat.
"Dr. Mike?" Sully said, frowning. "Is something wrong?"
Again, she seemed to still her movements. "Why would you think something's wrong?" she asked him, trying to sound like everything was fine.
Sully was many things—stupid wasn't one of them.
"Maybe 'cuz you're refusin' to even turn around and talk to me face to face," he told her, crossing his arms over his chest.
Dr. Mike sighed. Taking what was obviously a pan of frying bacon off the stove, she turned around to face him.
Sully's eyes widened and he crossed the distance between them in three long strides.
Reaching out, he grasped her chin gently—turning her face slightly to get a better look at her right cheek. It was swollen and bruised.
Sully's eyes hardened. "Who hit you?" he demanded, his voice low and dangerous.
Dr. Mike sighed. "It's nothing, Sully," she told him, gently prying his hand from her chin. "I'm fine."
He glared at her. "That didn't answer my question," he told her, firmly. "Who hit you?"
"How do you know someone did?" she asked him, pointedly. "I could have easily bumped into something…"
Sully snorted. "You ain't that clumsy and I ain't that stupid," he told her, bluntly. "Was it Jake or Hank?"
He'd named the two men most likely in town who would strike a woman.
He knew Robert E. would never…and Loren Bray might be gruff and surly but he was all talk and bluster.
Jake Slicker wouldn't normally either, but if he'd been drinking again…it was possible for him to lose control of his volatile temper.
And Hank Lawson owned the saloon and employed whores—it was his philosophy a woman deserved a good slap every now and again.
If either one of them was responsible for this, he would…
"Neither," Dr. Mike said, quietly.
Sully's frown deepened. "Who, then?" he demanded.
Dr. Mike gave him a pleading look. "Please, Sully," she told him, gently. "Just let it go."
"Michaela!" he growled, impatient.
Her eyes widened in surprise. Heck, he'd managed to surprise himself.
Ever since meeting her, he didn't think he'd ever used her full name before—referring to her just like the rest of the town did as 'Dr. Mike'.
"Just tell me who hit you," he said, speaking softly—as he would to a wounded animal. "Please?"
Tears formed in her eyes. "It was Matthew," she told him, her lips trembling.
Sully felt like he'd been hit in the gut—and in a way he had.
Matthew—responsible and respectful Matthew Cooper—had struck his own ma across the face!
"What happened?" Sully asked, his own voice sounding hollow in his own ears.
Dr. Mike swallowed, obviously trying very hard to think of how to explain what had happened.
"There was a…incident…yesterday in town," she told him, gently. "Ingrid, Colleen, and I caught Matthew climbing out of Myra's window at the saloon…"
Sully frowned. Why would Matthew have been climbing out of a whore's window?
He knew the boy was feeling…urges…lately—urges every man felt at one time or another—but he never thought he'd do that.
"Ingrid got upset and ran off," Dr. Mike told him. "Matthew ran after her and we didn't see him the rest of the day. I was planning to find out his side of it, because there had to be another explanation, but he didn't come home for supper last night, Sully. I waited up for him, but he didn't come home until after midnight…"
Sully nodded. She must have been out of mind with worry by then.
"When he finally did get home, I was so scared by then…that I lost my temper," she told him, biting her lip.
Sully knew she hated losing her temper with one of the kids—it always made her feel like she was being a bad ma; which she wasn't.
"I demanded to know where he'd been and his only answer was in town," she told him. "That was when I smelled the whisky on his breath…"
Sully's eyes widened. "He was drinkin'?" he asked, surprised.
"Not enough to be completely intoxicated, I think," Dr. Mike told him. "But his speech was slightly slurred and he was unsteady on his feet. It was also enough to make him lose control of his emotions…"
"In what way?" Sully asked, narrowing his eyes.
"When I asked him if he'd been with Ingrid, he told me it was none of my business," Dr. Mike told him. "He said he could take care of himself and…and that he didn't have to answer to me because…because I wasn't his mother."
Sully saw quite clearly the look of pain in her eyes, and he knew that pain had nothing to do with her bruised jaw.
Matthew's words had cut her deeply—more deeply than she would ever admit, he was willing to bet.
"I reminded him that he still lived here, with me," Dr. Mike went on, "and that he still had responsibilities—he wasn't here to do his evening chores so Brian and Colleen did them for him…which is why I'm letting them sleep in. He told me he'd make it up to them by doing theirs this morning. He then tried to go to bed, but I wasn't through speaking yet and…I grabbed his arm. He growled at me to let him go and then jerked his arm back—when he did…his hand…"
Tears fell down her cheek as she reached up to cup her bruised jaw.
"Hit'cha," Sully finished for her, a hard note to his voice. A note she had only ever heard when he was about to go after that vile man Rankin.
"I don't think he meant to," Dr. Mike said, quietly.
"That ain't the point!" Sully growled, angrily. He spun around toward the door.
"Where are you going?" Dr. Mike asked him, worriedly.
"To have a talk with Matthew!" he told her, firmly, and then stormed out of the door.
Going to the barn, he entered it and gazed around—taking in things.
The cow hadn't been milked yet. The hay hadn't been swept out. And the horses hadn't been fed.
Those were the kids' morning chores, mostly, and they hadn't been done yet.
That meant Matthew hadn't kept his word…yet…but he would.
Sully intended to see to that.
Glancing up at the loft, he heard the distinct sound of somebody still sleeping.
Sully's nostrils flared, angrily. "Matthew!" he yelled up at the loft. "Matthew, wake up!"
The boy jerked up, spinning around to gaze down at him.
His blonde hair was disheveled and his eyes had a slightly glazed look Sully had seen quite often in the mining camps after a night of drinking.
Matthew frowned down at him. "Sully?" he asked, wincing slightly. "What's wrong?"
"Get down here," Sully told him, pointing to the ground in front of him. "We need to have a talk!"
Matthew blinked at him. "O-Okay," he said, clearly not getting what had him so riled. "Give me a minute to get my clothes on."
"NOW, Matthew!" Sully told him, his tone of voice brooking no argument or delay.
Wincing even more, the teenaged boy forewent putting is pants and boots on and climbed down the latter in just his long johns.
"What did yaw want to talk about?" he asked him, with just the hint sarcasm in his voice.
Apparently, he didn't appreciate being woken so abruptly.
"You hit your ma last night," Sully told him, glaring at him fiercely. "I want to know why?"
Matthew frowned, biting his lip slightly. He looked down, refusing to make eye contact.
It was obvious he was ashamed of his actions. "That was an accident," he muttered, quietly.
Sully reached out and gripped his chin firmly, pulling his head up so they were looking each other in the eye.
"Then why didn't you apologize?" he asked him, sternly.
"She didn't give me a chance!" Matthew defended, jerking his chin free. "She ran off back into the homestead!"
"Did you even try?" Sully demanded, crossing his arms over his chest. "Did you follow after her? Knock on the door to be let in?"
"I, uh, I didn't want to wake the kids," Matthew said, hesitantly. "'Sides, I was tired!"
Sully glared. "I reckon I'd be tired too if I didn't come home 'til after midnight and I'd been drinking," he told him, coldly.
Matthew scowled at him.
His head hurt like hell, he felt bad for what he done to Dr. Mike, and now he had Sully crawling up his backside on top of all that!
"You don't know nothin'," he told him, sourly. "You weren't even here!"
"I didn't have to be," Sully told him, evenly. "I know your ma. She was no doubt worried sick about you—afraid you were hurt or worse somewhere with no way of knowin' where yaw were or how to get ta yaw!"
Matthew snorted. "Dr. Mike worries too much," he told him, sneering. "I can take care of myself!"
Sully raised an eyebrow at that. "Last week I would have agreed with you," he told him, quietly, "but the way you've been actin' this week…"
He shook his head, disappointment and disapproval warring in his blue eyes.
"Why don't you just mind your own damn business?" Mathew yelled at him. He turned to climb back up the latter to the loft.
Sully grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.
"Why don't you act like the man you keep claimin' to be?" he asked him, bluntly. "And for the record, Matthew, you kids and Dr. Mike are my business 'cuz I happen to care a lot about ya'll!"
"Who asked you to?" Matthew snarled. "Just leave me the hell alone!"
He then swung out with his right fist, catching Sully across the jaw.
Sully jumped back, rubbing his jaw. The blow hadn't been that hard—he'd had worse before—but it had caught him by surprise.
Apparently, it had Matthew too. He was staring at him, his own blue eyes wide with disbelief.
"So?" Sully said, his voice calm—dangerously calm, in fact. "This is the type of man you want to be, Matthew? One who lets his fists do the talking for him? Who hits anybody that disagrees with him?"
Matthew didn't meet his eyes, merely continued to stare at the ground—not even offering an apology or anything.
Sully quit rubbing his jaw, setting it firmly instead, and stepped back up to him. Once again, he made him look up at him.
"You know what?" he told him, his eyes hard as a pair of blue stones. "You ain't actin' much like a man, son—reckon is, you're actin' younger than Brian. Like a bratty little kid throwin' a tantrum just 'cuz things ain't the way he wants 'em to be!"
Matthew opened his mouth to say something, but Sully had had enough of his attitude.
"Since that's the way your actin' I reckon I ought to treat like it," he told him, latching onto his arm and dragging him over to where the hay bales sat.
Sitting down on one, he gave Matthew a hard yank that sent the boy sprawling across his knees.
"What the hell do you think you're doin'?" the boy demanded, struggling to get back up onto his feet.
"Given yaw what yaw deserve, son," Sully told him, pinning him down with a strong hand to his back. "Yaw've been askin' for this all week, Matthew. No matter how angry you are at Dr. Mike, that don't give yaw the right to strike a woman—ever!"
"I told yaw it was an accident!" Matthew yelled, still struggling to get up.
"Accident or not, it was wrong," Sully told him, firmly. "So was staying out all night worrying your ma half to death and drinking yourself to the point you couldn't control yourself. I reckon the only way to get that through your head is to go through your rear."
With that said, he felt the time for talking was over.
Raising his hand back, he brought it down with a sharp smack across the boy's union suited backside.
Matthew yelped when he felt that first smack, unable to actually believe that Sully—Sully of all people!—was actually whooping him!
He hadn't been given a whipping since he was ten years old and he'd taken a dare from another kid to swipe something from Mr. Bray's shop.
He'd been totally scared to death of the gruff old man back then and of course had gotten caught.
Not only had Mr. Bray chased him out of the shop with his broomstick, he'd told his ma what he'd done.
Charlotte Cooper was a kind, upstanding woman, and she had her principals.
One of those was that you never stole nothing from nobody.
She had been very displeased with her eldest child—so much so that she took a keen hickory switch to the seat of his britches!
Matthew winced. He remembered the sting of that switch all too well, but even it didn't seem to compare to the hard callused hand of Byron Sully!
"Damn it, Sully!" he hollered, as the man continuing to light a fire on his rear end. "You ain't got no right to do this! You ain't my pa!"
"Maybe not, but I sure am the closest thing to one you got right now," he told him, continuing to whoop him. "And I love yaw like you were my own son, Matthew, and no son of mine is gonna go around hittin' on women or any other livin' creature—not while I'm livin' and breathin'!"
Sully strongly disapproved of beatings and abuse to any living creature—especially young creatures—but he also knew that sometimes one had to inflict a little bit of hurt in order to help 'em heal or grow.
Like whenever he had to remove the prickly nuts from Wolf's pelt or snip his claws so that they didn't curl under and hurt his paws…
Or whenever Robert E. had to put shoes on a horse so that their hooves didn't get cracks and sores in 'em…
Or whenever Dr. Mike had to set a bone or lance an infected sore…
He reckoned the same was true of kids, as well.
Sometimes they needed a guiding hand to help 'em along on their road to adulthood.
Dr. Mike was doing a fine job with Matthew, Colleen, and Brian, but Sully also knew that sometimes 'talking' just wasn't enough.
Sometimes they needed to be shown, as well. And, apparently, this was one of those times.
Matthew hissed, his backside felt like it was blistered clean through, and to make matters worse he felt hot tears stinging his eyes.
He was almost a man, for pity's sake! How could he cry over a little thing like a spanking?
Maybe 'cuz you deserve it, a voice in the back of his head seemed to say. Maybe Sully's right, and yaw have been actin' just like a little brat!
Matthew sniffed, feeling a sob bubbling up in his chest, and was unable to hold it back any longer.
"I'm sorry!" he cried out, allowing his pent up guilt out. "I'm sorry, Sully! I'm so, so sorry!"
Sully halted the whipping then and there—knowing Matthew had reached the point he needed to be at.
Letting the boy off his lap, he stood up and placed his hands on his shoulders.
"I ain't the one who needs to hear those words, Matthew," Sully told him, firmly. "Dr. Mike is."
Matthew nodded, wiping at the tears that were still spilling down his cheeks. "I'm sorry I hit you, too," he told him, sniffing.
Sully smirked, rubbing his jaw. "I reckon I'll survive," he told him, raising an eyebrow. "What about you?"
Matthew blushed, reaching back to rub his stinging rear end.
"I reckon I will, too," he muttered, glancing down. "I know I deserved it."
Sully lifted his chin again.
"Yeah, I reckon yaw did, but I hated havin' to do it," he told him. "You kids mean a lot to me, Matthew, and I just want ya'll to grow up to be the best adults ya'll can be."
Matthew nodded. "Yes, Sir," he said, quietly. "And…I feel the same way?"
"Huh?" Sully asked, puzzled.
Matthew blushed again.
"I care about you, too," he told him. "You were right, you know? You are the closest thing to a real pa we've got—whether Ethan is alive and kickin' or not he don't got the right to claim us as his—but you do."
Sully swallowed the lump that formed in his throat and blinked back the tears he felt well in his eyes.
"Thank you, son," he told him, pulling the boy into a firm embrace. "That means a lot…"
Matthew returned the embrace whole-heartedly.
Since Ethan Cooper had abandoned them, he'd felt as if he had to be the man of the house, the one to take care of his ma and younger siblings—it had forced him to grow up before his time—which is probably why it irked him so much to still be treated like a kid at times.
But at that moment, he allowed himself to be that kid—to allow somebody else; that was just a bit stronger than he was, to be in control.
It felt good that he had somebody he could rely on, that he knew he could talk to about anything and he wouldn't judge him or accuse him, somebody who could help him when he needed it, even—as he had just proven—help him keep him from goin' too far down the wrong path.
He knew that was what a real pa was supposed to do for his kids—something Ethan Cooper had never done even when he was with his family—and if things went the way Matthew thought they were goin' between him and Dr. Mike, Sully would one day be their real pa.
He realized then that he was looking forward to that day—he really was.
"Why don't you go get dressed and then we're gonna head in so you can apologize to your ma," Sully told him, firmly. "We'll eat breakfast, you'll do your chores, and then we'll take a ride out to the reservation."
"Why?" Matthew blinked at him.
Sully looked him full in the eyes, a note of his disapproval still there.
"There are better ways of provin' you're a man then drinking and staying out all night, Matthew," he told him, firmly. "The Cheyenne youths who believe they are ready to be considered men go on what's called a Vision Quest. Cloud Dancin' will be able to explain it better than me, since he's the medicine man."
"You think if I go on this Vision Quest Dr. Mike'll start treatin' me more like a man?" Matthew asked him, hopefully.
Sully smirked. "Nope," he told him, chuckling.
"Why not?" Matthew asked, frowning.
"'Cuz," Sully told him. "She's your ma—and no matter how old you are or grown up you get she's always gonna want to keep you safe and close by. All ma's are like that—it's just their way."
"Then why go on this Vision Quest?" Matthew asked him, curiously.
"So that you will know if you're ready to be a man or not," Sully told him. "You have to be ready to act like a man before anybody else can start treatin' yaw like one, son."
"Yeah," Matthew said, "and I reckon I haven't been doin' too good at actin' like one lately…"
"You're gettin' there, though," Sully told him, rubbing the back of his neck. "Now go on and get dressed so we can head inside."
Matthew nodded and turned to climb up the ladder.
"And Matthew?" Half way up, he stopped and glanced back at Sully.
"Yeah?" Matthew asked him, curiously.
Sully's eyes took on a hard look again.
"If you ever lay a hand on a woman again," he told him, sternly. "I'll make the tannin' I just gave you seem like nothin'. Understand?"
Matthew swallowed, wincing. That whoopin' had been the worst one he'd ever recieved…and if Sully could do worse than it…
"Never again," he shook his head, firmly. "I swear it."
Sully nodded. "That's good enough for me, son," he told him. "Now, hurry up. Your ma is probably thinkin' I'm killin' yaw out here or somethin' by now…"
Matthew smiled at that and then scrambled on up he ladder to pull on his clothes and boots.
Unfortunately, he knew now came the really hard part.
Facing his ma.
Michaela was taking the biscuits out of the oven when Sully and Matthew walked into the homestead.
She turned around, surprised to see them. She nearly dropped the hot pan, but managed to set in down just in time.
"Sorry," Sully said, smirking. "Didn't mean to startle yaw…"
"It's okay," she told him, quietly. Her eyes travelled to her son.
Matthew stood in the middle of the room, simply staring at her—or rather at her swollen and bruised jaw.
"Oh gawd, Ma!" he cried, his face contorting in shame and anguish, and his voice breaking down into sobs. "I did that! I'm so sorry, Ma. Please, please don't hate me!"
Michaela crossed the distance between them, reaching out to place her hands on his shoulders and then pulled him into a tight embrace.
"Shhh, Matthew," she told him, rubbing his back and hair gently. "It's okay. I forgive. Nothing you do could ever make me hate you. I love you too much for that to happen."
This seemed to make him cry even harder, but she simply held him and whispered soothing words into his ear.
She glanced over at Sully, who had a quiet smile playing at his lips, and smiled at him despite herself.
Whatever he had done or said to Matthew out in the barn must have worked, apparently.
After a few minutes, Matthew's crying softened and he pulled away from her—staring into her eyes.
"I'm sorry about last night, Ma," he told his, his voice cracking a bit from emotion. "N-Not just for h…hurtin' yaw, but for worryin' yaw and not comin' home. I, uh, I wasn't with Ingrid last night."
"You weren't?" Michaela asked, relief evident on her face.
Matthew shook his head.
"T-Truth is she's still mad as hel—uh, heck at me for yesterday and wouldn't even let me in the tent to talk to her," he told her, honestly. "Jon said I should just leave and let her cool off."
"Good advice," Sully said, quietly.
Matthew glanced back at him, smirking a bit.
"I guess it was, but I didn't think so then," he said. "All I wanted to do was explain that nothin' happened with Myra—she was just tryin' to get me away from Hank and Jake…"
"I knew there had to be a good reason," Michaela said, reminding herself to thank Myra the next time she saw her.
Matthew nodded, biting his lip.
"After Ingrid wouldn't talk to me, I was still mad," he told her, "but I didn't want to have to go listen to Hank and Jake tease me 'bout being a 'mama's boy'…"
Michaela frowned. "Then, where…?" she asked, puzzled. Where had he gotten the whisky he'd obviously drunk?
Matthew hung his head. "I, uh, I swiped some from the store while Mr. Bray weren't looking," he admitted, wincing.
"Matthew," both Michaela and Sully said at the same time, their tones equally disapproving.
"I'm sorry," Matthew said, quickly glancing in-between them. "I was plannin' to pay for it, b-but I didn't think he'd sell it to me…"
"Good," both the adults in the room said, firmly. Matthew blushed at that.
This was even worse than facing his ma five years ago…at least then he'd only 'attempted' to snitch something. Plus, their were two he now had to face.
"What happened after that?" Michaela asked him, gently.
He looked at her, surprised she hadn't said more about his theft.
"Uh, I rode down to the lake and sat there drinkin' it," he told her. "It was only a little bottle, but it burned my throat so…so I drank it slowly. It was dark by the time I finished it and then I threw it in the lake. After that…I came home."
"I see," Michaela said, quietly. "I suppose there's just one thing to do, then."
"W-What's that?" Matthew asked, worriedly.
"Go to Mr. Bray and tell him what you did," she told him, firmly. "I'll pay for the bottle of whisky."
"I can pay for it," Matthew told her.
"You are saving your money, remember?" Michaela reminded him. "You'll work to pay me back."
"Doin' a few extra chores won't hurt'cha none," Sully said, his voice quiet yet firm.
It didn't sound like it, but Matthew knew he was really saying 'Don't argue with your ma, or else we can have another 'talk' in the barn'.
Matthew nodded. "I reckon that's fair," he said, quietly. More than fair, actually…
"We'll all head into town after breakfast," Michaela told him, smiling.
"I best be gettin' to those mornin' chores, then," Matthew said, quietly.
She nodded, giving him one final brief hug, and then he turned to head back out of the homestead.
Sully stopped him briefly on his way to the door, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Matthew smiled at him, and nodded—understanding the silent message of 'I'm proud of yaw, son' that he saw in his eyes.
He then headed out to do those chores.
Michaela crossed over to Sully. "That must have been some talk," she told him, gently.
He shrugged one shoulder.
"He's a good boy," he told her, gently. "He knew what he'd done was wrong—he just needed a bit of a guidin' hand to admit it."
"Thank you, whatever you said or did," she told him, smiling.
"I love him too, Dr. Mike," she told him.
"I know you do," she told him, gently."And Sully?"
"Yeah?" he asked, looking at her curiously.
"Will you try to call me 'Michaela' more often?" she asked him, blushing.
He smiled at that. "I'd be happy, too," he told her, cupping her bruised cheek gently. "Michaela…"
They stared into each other's eyes for a long moment.
"Ma?" Brian's voice called out from his and Colleen's room. "Is breakfast ready?"
Michaela smiled. "Yes, Brian," she told him. "It is. Wash up and get dressed, please?"
"Is Sully here, Ma?" Brian asked next.
"Yeah, I am," Sully answered him this time. "Do what your ma said, Brian."
"Okay, Sully," Brian called out and the sound of two small feet thumping onto the floor was heard.
Michaela and Sully smiled at each other, before separating to get the table ready and put the food on it.
Once everyone was up and dressed, the table set, and the chores done, they sat down to breakfast.
"Matthew?" Michaela asked. "Will you say the blessing today, please?"
Matthew smiled. "Sure thing," he said, "Ma."
They all bowed their heads, as he started to pray. Then, they started eating.
Michaela and Sully exchanged glances and smiled across the table.
Their family was once again happy, healthy, and whole.
They couldn't have asked for a better blessing than that.
(AN: Some might think Sully and Matthew were out of character in this story, but I disagree. There were plenty of times it looked like Sully wanted to lay down the law with the kids, but apparently didn't think it was his place…and plenty of times Matthews temper got the best of him. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this story. Thanks.)