Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman

'A Guiding Hand: Eagles and Tomahawks'

Summary: When Brian lets his imagination fly away with him, and then he disobeys him, Sully is there to catch—and correct—him.

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 'The Operation'—at least the very beginning of it. In this story, Sully is able to catch Brian before he hits the ground.

Warning: This story contains a scene of disciplinary spanking.

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I just wrote this story for entertainment.

Colorado Springs, Colorado—spring—1868

It was a beautiful early summer day in Colorado—the kind of day that was just made for communing with nature.

Byron Sully walked with young Brian Cooper in the woods.

They had spent the morning fishing at their favorite fishing spot, but around noon the fish had stopped biting.

After eating the lunch Brian's ma, Dr. Michaela Quinn, had prepared for them that morning before they'd left the homestead Sully suggested they take a walk.

"Hey, Sully?" nine year old Brian glanced up at his 'hero'—and the man he wanted desperately to be his 'pa'.

Sully looked down at him. "Yeah?" he asked back, curiously.

"The Reverend was sayin' last Sunday in church that the town's got enough money now to start buildin' the new school house," the boy told him, smiling brightly.

Sully smiled.

Brian had talked of nothing else since it was announced that the town of Colorado Springs intended to build their children a proper school house and hire a 'real' teacher to teach them.

"Makes sense," he told the boy. "Now that the spring rains are over."

"You gonna help build the school, ain'tcha?" Brian asked him, hopefully.

Sully, however, shook his head. "Nah, I don't think so," he told him, scratching his slightly unshaven chin.

Brian was disappointed, but then he glanced back up.

"I bet I know why," he said, smiling. "The Cheyenne don't need no book learnin' and neither do you—you're plenty smart without it!"

Sully stopped, glancing down at Brian. He frowned. "Who told you that about the Cheyenne?"

"You did," Brian told him, honestly.

Sully grimaced. He must have been distracted or something the day he told the boy that

Kneeling down, he stared Brian straight in the eye.

"They just got a different way of learning things, that's all," he explained to him, quietly yet firmly. "But book learnin' is very important, Brian, never forget that. Okay? Look at your ma. She couldn't do her doctorin' if not for them medical books and such. Right?"

Brian nodded. "Ma's the smartest lady in town," he said, proudly.

Sully smiled and nodded.

"She sure is," he agreed with him, whole heartedly. "And I want you to be just as smart as her. So, when they do get the new school built, I want you to study them books really hard and learn everything they got to teach yaw."

"I will, Sully," Brian said. "I promise!"

"Good," Sully told him, pulling him into a tight hug.

He and Brian had always shared a special bond.

While he and Michaela were slowly working towards…something…and he loved all three of the kids as if they were his own—it was Brian who really managed to tug at his heartstrings.

He supposed it was because he could relate to the boy—who lost his parents at such a young age but had not let it effect him any.

He was the bright carefree child he had always been, and Sully hoped and prayed the day never came when he saw that sparkle leave the lad's eyes.

"Hey, look, Sully!" Brian said, pointing at something over his shoulder. "It's a hawk!"

Sully turned his head to see what he was looking at. He smiled.

"That's not a hawk, Brian," he corrected the boy, gently. "It's an eagle."

"It sure is pretty," Brian said, as they watched the great bald eagle soar high over head.

"You know," Sully told the boy, still staring at the magnificent bird of prey. "Cloud Dancin' told me the Cheyenne believe the eagle is sacred…"

"Really?" Brian said, excitedly. He always loved when Sully told stories. Unfortunately, he was still young enough that being still too long a time was difficult.

So, he pulled away and went over to a large tree root that was sticking up out of the ground. He began balancing on it.

Sully noticed out of the corner of his eye, but paid it no mind. The boy wasn't in any danger, after all.

He nodded.

"That's right," he said, turning his attention back to the eagle. "They say the eagle can carry messages up to Heaven. They speak to the Great Spirit and convey His messages to the people…"

"That's neat," Brian said, moving further up the tree root to the base of the tree. He started to climb it.

"Yeah, it sure is," Sully said, standing up. He watched as the eagle soared out of sight.

"Hey, Sully, look at me!" Brian called to him.

Sully looked back, his eyes trailing from the tree root to the base of the tree and then…upward.

Brian had climbed to the third or fourth largest branch and was balancing precariously on it.

Sully felt his heart lurch in his chest. If the boy were to fall from there…or jump…it would seriously hurt him!

"Brian," he said, speaking as gently as possible so as not to spook the boy and cause him to lose his balance. "Come down from there, right now."

"Ah, Sully, I'm okay," Brian argued, smiling. "I've climbed lots of trees!"

"Maybe so, but that one ain't safe," Sully told him, reaching the base of the tree in three long strides. "C'mon, do what I tell yaw. Climb down here."

"But I want to fly," Brian told him, smiling. "Like the eagle! Like this!" He spread his arms way out.

"Brian, don't—" Sully started to say, but it was too late. The boy leapt from the branch. "NO!"

Luckily, for Brian, Sully was standing close enough that he was able to catch the boy before he could hit the ground.

Sully pulled Brian close, holding him tightly against him, and breathing in his scent—letting it calm him.

Brian was safe—his boy was safe-but it could have easily happened differently.

If he'd hit the ground a certain way…

Sully shut his eyes to shut out the terrible thought. He'd already lost one child he loved beyond imagining.

He would not lose another.

Kneeling down, he sat Brian on his own two feet and pulled him back at arm's length.

"Don't you ever do that again!" he scolded the boy, firmly, giving him a little shake. "Yaw hear me?"

Brian was staring at him, wide-eyed.

He'd never heard Sully speak to him like that before—Mr. Bray, yes. Sully, never. He didn't think he liked it very much.

"I just wanted to fly like the eagle," he defended, pouting.

Sully's grip tightened on the boy's arms, but then he spun him around and delivered a single, solitary, sharp smack to the seat of the boy's britches.

Brian yelped and reached back to rub his bottom. His eyes were even wider. Sully had never swatted him before, either!

"When I tell yaw to do somethin', Brian, I mean it," Sully told him, firmly, standing back up. "You ma would never forgive me if I let somethin' happen to you!"

Blinking back tears, Brian nodded. "I'm sorry, Sully, I'm sorry!" he said, wrapping his arms around his waist. "I won't ever do it again. I promise!"

Sully swallowed, feeling tears of his own burn in his eyes. He hated when Brian cried.

It tore at his heart like a knife through butter—it was worse even then when Michaela or Colleen was crying.

Sighing, he picked him up and held him close.

"Shhh, I know yer sorry," he told him, gently. "It's okay. Yaw just scared me, that's all. I won't ever let anything happen to you, Brian. I promise."

After a few moments, Brian stopped his sniffling and he sat him down on his own two feet again.

"C'mon," he told the boy, placing a hand on the top of his head. "Let's head back into town."

"Ahh…" Brian immediately started to protest. "Can't we stay just a little bit longer?"

"Nope," Sully said, firmly. "I think you've had enough nature for one day. Let's go."

Sighing, Brian nodded and followed beside him as they turned to head in the direction of town.

They walked in silence for about ten minutes, but then Brian glanced up at him. "Sully?"

"Yep?" Sully asked, glancing down at him.

"Can I play with one of your tomahawks?" he asked, hopefully. "Please?"

Sully stopped walked. He frowned down at the boy. "No," he told him, shortly. He continued walking.

"Ah…c'mon, Sully," Brian complained, following after him. "Yaw never let me see 'em!"

Sully stopped again.

"Brian," he said, his voice stern and unyielding. "My tomahawks ain't toys. They're weapons—for protectin' folks and myself and helpin' ta catch food."

"I'd be real careful," Brian told him, earnestly. "I just want to hold it."

Sully sighed. He knew Brian had trouble understanding when something was or wasn't dangerous—to him the world was safe so long as he or his ma was near…

"What if you dropped it by accident?" he asked him, pointedly. "Or tripped while you were holdin' it? You could cut off your foot or arm…or worse!"

Brian heaved a sigh that clearly said 'adults didn't understand anything'. "You and Ma worry too much," he grumbled at him, sourly.

Sully snorted. "I reckon that's cuz you don't worry enough," he told him, sternly. "My answer is still no, Brian. Now, let's get back to town."

He stood back up and then feeling that everything that needed to be said on that subject had been said already, he continued walking.

The rest of the trip into town was a silent one.

Sully hated when Brain was upset with him or mad at him, but he also knew the boy would eventually get over it.

One good thing about him being so young was that he tended to let things go easily…

Reaching town, they headed immediately to the clinic—where Michaela was just seeing a patient to the door.

"Hey, Ma!" Brian greeted his mother happily—his apparent 'sulk' over.

"Afternoon, Dr. Mike," Sully greeted her, smiling brightly.

"Well, how was fishing?" Michaela asked them, as Brian hugged her tightly.

"S'okay, Ma," Brian said, shrugging. "Didn't catch much, but we did see an eagle!"

"An eagle, really?" Michaela asked, glancing at Sully.

He nodded. "Yep," he confirmed. "Real pretty it was, too—but not nearly as pretty as you."

Michaela blushed at that. "Sully," she said, rolling her eyes. "Honestly."

Sully chuckled, shrugging. "I can't help it if you just happen to be the prettiest woman in town," he told her, gently. "Everybody says so—even Hank."

"I rarely count Hank's opinion on anything," she reminded him, smirking.

"Me, either," he told her, but then smirked wryly. "'Cept, this time, he's right."

Michaela smiled. "Thank you, Sully," she told him, clearly pleased with his compliment.

Brian wrinkled his nose. He hated whenever Sully and his ma started 'flirtin' with each other.

He knew it was a good thing—it meant they liked each other, after all, and that maybe he'd get his wish and Sully really would be his pa someday—but he still thought it was just plain ole gross!

"Hey, Ma!" he said, catching sight of something. "There's Steven—can I go play?"

Sully and Michaela followed his gaze to where a man and boy were pulling into town in their wagon.

"Of course you can," Michaela told him, "but be sure to ask Steven's father if it's okay. He might need his help."

"I will," Brian said, and then scurried off.

Michaela sighed. "The energy that boy has is amazing," she said, smiling. "Exhausting sometimes, but still amazing."

"Yep," Sully agreed, smirking.

"What are your plans for this afternoon?" Michaela asked him, curiously.

"Gotta take my tomahawks over to Robert E," Sully told her. "They've got some nicks in 'em that I can't seem to work out myself."

Michaela nodded. "Will you come to supper tonight?" she asked him, curiously.

He smiled. "Course, I will," he told her, bending down to kiss her cheek. "See yaw later…"

With that, he turned and headed for Robert E's livery and blacksmith shop.

Michaela watched him go—a warm and fuzzy feeling welling deep inside her—pleased.

*****DQMW*****

Brian ran over to his friend Steven, who was jumping down off his wagon with his pa.

"Hey, Steven!" he greeted his friend, smiling.

"Hi, Brian," Steven said, smiling back at him.

"Howdy there, Brian," Steven's pa said, nodding. "How's your ma?"

"She's good," Brian told him. "She's at the clinic. Can Steven come-n-play?"

"Sure," Steven's pa said, chuckling. "I'm gonna be awhile, anyway."

"Afternoon," Robert E. greeted him, wiping his hands on his smock.

"Afternoon, Robert E," Steven's pa nodded. "Think you can check out this wagon axal for me? It was soundin' a bit off this mornin'?"

"Be glad to," Robert E. told him, smirking.

Just then, Sully came walking up. "Afternoon," he greeted Robert E. and Steven's pa.

"Afternoon, Sully," Robert E greeted him. "Somethin' I can do for yaw?"

Sully removed his tomahawks from his belts. "Think you can work the nicks out of these?" he asked him. "I can't seem to."

"Be happy to," Robert E told him, "but first I gotta look at a wagon axal." He nodded at Steven's pa.

"Much obliged," Steven's pa tilted his hat to him. "Steven, I'll meet'cha back here in a couple of hours—don't be late, son. Yaw hear?"

"I won't, Pa," Steven told him, smiling. His pa nodded and then turned to head for Mr. Bray's store.

"I'll have these ready for you in a few hours, Sully," Robert E. told the mountain man.

"Take your time," Sully told him. "I ain't gonna need 'em any time soon."

"Grace has some of that cobbler you like so much," the blacksmith told him, smirking, referring to his wife—who owned the town café.

Sully smiled. "I reckon it'd be rude not to go and try some, wouldn't it?"

Robert E. nodded, smirking. "I reckon it would," he said, chuckling.

Sully glanced at Brian and Steven.

"You boys want to come along?" he asked them, knowing they loved Grace's cakes, pies, and cobblers.

"Nah," Brian piped up, an idea having already formed in his brain. "We're gonna go play."

"Suit yourself," Sully told him, reaching out to ruffle his hair. With that, he turned to head toward the café.

"Well, boys," Robert E. said, placing Sully's tomahawks down on his anvil. "I'd best get to lookin' over this here wagon for your pa, Steven."

"Okay, see you later Robert E," Brian told him, pulling Steven along to the other side of the livery—out of sight.

"Why couldn't we go with Mr. Sully?" Steven asked him, curiously. "I love Miz Grace's cobbler!"

"Me, too," Brian told him, "but I wanted to play 'Indians'."

Steven sighed. "That ain't no fun less we got some bows and arrows," he reminded him.

"What if we got us some tomahawks?" Brian asked, smirking.

"Where we gonna get tomahawks?" Steven asked him, curiously.

"Right there," Brian told him, pointing at Robert E's anvil.

Steven gasped. "But those are Mr. Sully's!" he exclaimed. "Does he let you play with 'em?"

"Sully won't ever know," Brian told him. "And neither will Robert E. We'll bring 'em back a'fore he notices they're gone. Keep a look out."

"I'm not sure 'bout this, Brian," Steven said, hesitantly. "We're gonna get in trouble…"

"Nah, we won't," Brian told him. "Don't be such a chicken!"

Steven bristled at that. "I ain't a chicken!" he hissed at him, huffing.

"Then, keep a look out," Brian told him, and then crept into Robert E's shop.

The blacksmith was busy with Steven's pa's wagon, so he couldn't see anything.

Brian reached the anvil and ever so slowly reached out for the two tomahawks.

He hesitated—remembering Sully's stern words from earlier—but then reached out and grabbed them off the anvil.

Sully worried too much. He and Steven would be careful with 'em.

All they were going to do was wave them around a bit. That was all.

Quickly exiting the blacksmith shop, he handed one of the tomahawks to Steven.

"C'mon," he told him, smirking. "Let's go to the meadow!"

Steven, who still looked unsure, nodded. "Okay," he said, after a moment. "Let's go."

The two boys quickly made their way to the open field that was just on the edge of the town near where the church was and the new school house was going to be built.

"Wow, Brian," Steven said, admiring the tomahawk in his hand. "This sure is nice."

"Sully is really good with 'em," Brian told him, proudly. "He told me when I get bigger he'd teach me how to throw 'em!"

"Really?" Steven asked, impressed. "Gee, you sure are lucky. I wish my pa knew how to do something neat like that."

"C'mon," Brian said, smiling. "Let's be Indians on the war path!"

He then began making hooting noises by popping his hand over his mouth again and again, and waving the tomahawk about.

Steven quickly followed suit.

Before long, the two boys were chasing each other about—waving the tomahawks in the air and making the war cries they'd hear the Dog Soldiers use.

Unfortunately, their fun didn't last, as Steven inadvertently tripped over a large rock and fell.

Brian stopped running and spun around when he heard his friend cry out in pain…

Rushing back to him, he dropped the tomahawk in his hand and knelt down beside him.

"Steven?" he asked, hesitantly. "W-What's wrong?"

Steven looked up at him. "M-My a-arm," he said, biting his lip, as tears were leaked outta his eyes. "I-It hurts!"

Brian, being the son of a doctor, immediately looked at the arm he was holding. He bit his lip.

Steven's arm was bleeding badly—apparently, when he fell down the blade of the tomahawk cut into him…and it cut into him deeply.

Sully said this could happen, a voice in the back of Brian brain said, why didn't yaw listen?

"W-We gotta get'cha to my ma," Brian told him. "S-She'll fix yaw right up."

Reaching for his unhurt arm, Brian wrapped it around his shoulders and helped him up.

In an odd move, he then scooped up the two tomahawks—Sully would never forgive him if he just left them there, after all.

It was slow going, as both Steven and the combined weight of two tomahawks, were awkward for Brian to support.

But they managed.

Nearing the clinic, Brian called out, "Ma! Ma! Steven's hurt! He needs yaw!"

Michaela came running out of the clinic.

Sully, who was coming from the café, and Steven's pa, who was coming out of the store, both ran over as well.

"It's his arm," Brian said, as Steven's pa scooped Steven up and carried him into the clinic. They all followed.

Michaela went to work immediately, accessing the damage. She glanced up. "This is a pretty serious cut," she told them. "How did this happen, Brian?"

"W-We was playin'," Brian answered, feeling tears sting his eyes. "W-With these…" He held up the two tomahawks.

Michaela glanced at Sully, wide-eyed. "You let them play with those!" she exclaimed, heatedly.

Sully shook his head. "No!" he exclaimed, just as shocked as she was. "I left 'em with Robert E!" They both glanced back down at Brian, who bit his lip.

"W-We kinda took 'em when Robert E. wasn't lookin'," he admitted, quietly. "I'm sorry, Ma…"

"Brian," Michaela said, obviously very disappointed by her son's actions.

Sully, whose face resembled a thunderclap at the moment, snatched the tomahawks from him and glared down at him.

"Can you fix my boy, doc?" Steven's pa asked, worriedly.

Michaela nodded.

"Of course," she told him, gently. "It's a deep cut, but it doesn't appear to have nicked any veins or arteries or even the muscle. It'll require some stitches and he'll need to wear it in a sling a couple of days, but after that he'll be good as new."

"Thank God," Steven's pa said, reaching out to rub his son's hair gently.

It was clear he was both relieved and still worried at the same time.

"S-Sorry, Pa," Steven said, tears falling from the pain.

"Not as half as sorry as your gonna be, Steven Daniel," his pa promised him, darkly. "Just you wait 'til your feelin' better. You and me will be takin' a trip out to the barn!"

Brian winced at that. Not only had he gotten his friend hurt, he'd gotten him into big trouble, as well.

Steven had told him that the only time he and his pa took a 'trip out to the barn' –when they weren't doin' chores, that is—was when he was gonna get a spankin'.

"If you all will wait outside, please," Michaela told them, quietly. "This won't take long."

Steven's pa, Sully, and Brian all headed out the door to sit on the bench out front.

For several minutes, none of them spoke a word—merely sat there—but then Brian glanced over at Sully.

"S-Sorry, Sully," he said, hoping the man he loved like a father would forgive him.

Sully stared down at him, his blue eyes hard as a pair of stones, and reached out to lift his chin up.

"Why, Brian?" he asked him, pointedly. "After I told yaw exactly why you couldn't touch my tomahawks, why did yaw disobey me?"

"I-I didn't…" Brian said, hesitantly. Disobeyin' was for parents, weren't it? And his ma hadn't told him he couldn't touch the tomahawks…only Sully.

"Yaw did somethin' I told you specifically not to do," Sully told him, sternly. "That's disobeyin'."

Brian cringed. He was right. "I, uh, I just thought you was bein' a worry-wort," he told him. "We was gonna be careful with 'em!"

"And were you?" Sully asked him, scowling. "Is Steven laying in there with his arm bleedin' 'cuz you was careful!"

"That was an accident!" Brian hollered, standing up.

"Would that accident have happened if you two young'uns weren't playin' with them tomahawks?" Steven's pa asked him, getting his attention. "Sully's right, Brian, you and my boy had no business playin' with 'em—especially if he had already told yaw not to."

Brian bit his lip. "P-Please, Sir, don't be mad Steven," he implored him. "It was my idea—he didn't even want to do it. He said so."

"But he still did it," the man told him, staring him right in the eye. "I'm raisin' my boy to think for himself, son, and Steven knew better—yet he did it anyway. That's why he gonna be in trouble when he's feelin' better."

"But—" Brian started to protest, but just then the door to the clinic opened.

His ma and Steven stepped out of it.

****DQMW*****

Sully and the boy's pa stood up and turned to the beautiful lady doctor.

Michaela smiled, placing a hand on Steven's head.

"I cleaned and stitched the wound," she told his pa. "He'll need to keep the bandage dry and not move it too much. You can bring him back in a couple of days and check to see how's it coming. If it looks like its healing just fine, we can get rid of the sling then."

Steven's pa nodded. "Much obliged, Dr. Mike," he told her, gratefully. "How much do I owe you?"

Michaela shook her head. "Given the circumstances," she told him, with a significant glance at Brian. "I'd say I owed it to you."

"Thank you," the man said, smiling. "I'll bring you one of my best layin' hens when we see yaw in a couple of days."

He then gently picked Steven up. "If ya'll will excuse us, I'd best get my boy home," he said, but then glanced at him pointedly.

Sully understood the message all too clearly. 'And you'd best do the same with yours'. That was exactly what he intended to do.

"I'm gonna take Brian back to the homestead," he told Michaela, after a moment.

Michaela frowned, hearing the serious note in his voice, but then saw the pleading look in his eyes.

The look that said 'please, this once, let me handle this'…

Normally, Sully didn't handle the kids' discipline—unless he felt they needed a 'guiding hand' to help understand what their ma's words were tryin' to instill but wasn't quite getting through—but this time he needed to be the one to handle this.

Brian needed him to handle this.

Michaela knew that—and given the circumstances she did feel he was the one to handle it.

She nodded. "All right," she said, but then glanced back down at Brian. "You and I will be having a long talk tonight, though, young man."

Brian nodded. "Okay, Ma," he said, and then hugged her tightly. "Thank you for fixing Steven—I told him you would."

"Thank for the confidence in me," she told him, kissing the top of his head, "though I shouldn't have had to fix him up."

Brian sighed. "I know," he admitted, quietly.

"C'mon, Brian," Sully said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "We'll take the wagon and I'll come back for you later."

Michaela nodded. "Okay," she told him, giving his hand a squeeze. It was her way of saying she trusted him.

She knew he loved the children—especially Brian—as much as she did.

In a way, they were raising them together. She wasn't really there mother, and yet she was their ma. He wasn't really their father…and yet he was their pa.

They were partners, and someday [perhaps] they'd be more…

She looked forward to that day and hoped he did, too.

Sully nodded his thanks and then he and Brian walked over to the livery.

"Here yaw go, Robert E," Sully said, handing the blacksmith the tomahawks.

"Lord sakes, Sully, I was wonderin' where these had gotten to," Robert E. told him, taking them.

"Somebody decided to borrow them," Sully said, glancing down pointedly at Brian. "Him and Steven—only, one of 'em got hurt in the process…"

"Was that what all the fuss was about?" Robert E. asked. "I'd wondered…"

Sully glanced down at Brian. "You got something you want to tell him?" he asked him, firmly.

Brian nodded. "I'm sorry, Robert E," he told him, quietly.

"I should have been payin' better attention," Robert E. told him, reaching out to ruffle his hair. "I'm just glad you both weren't hurt or worse."

"Got that right," Sully said, pulling Bear and Flash over to hitch them up to the family's wagon.

Once they were all hitched up, he lifted Brian into the seat and then climbed in himself.

"Thanks again, Robert E," Sully told him. "Take your time with 'em—like I said, I won't be needin' 'em for awhile."

With that, he clicked the reigns and the wagon sped out of town.

The ride back to the homestead was a quiet one. Sully stared straight ahead, attempting to calm his raging emotions.

On the one hand, he was relieved Brian hadn't been hurt. On the other, he was down right furious with the boy for deliberately disobeying him.

After what had happened that morning in the woods, with the eagle and the tree, he had thought he'd made it very clear to the boy that when he told him to do something—or not do something—he meant just that.

Apparently, though, the message hadn't quite sunk in as well as he had hoped it had.

But it will, Sully vowed silently.

He knew exactly what he was going to do—even though he absolutely did not want to do it.

Steven wasn't the only one going to be making a trip to the barn for his little misadventure…

Brian kept glancing at him, worriedly. The look on the boy's face was a mixture of anxiety and regret.

Sully fully intended to relieve both of those emotions from the boy—along with instilling in him in the utter folly of what his actions had caused.

Reaching the homestead, he pulled up on the reigns to stop the horses and then climbed down.

Going around to the other side, he helped Brian down. "C'mon," he told the boy, leading him to the barn. Opening the door, they went inside.

"Matthew," Sully said to the eldest Cooper child, who was busy cleaning out the stalls. "I need you to go unhitch the horses for me. Brian and I need to have a talk."

Matthew raised an eyebrow at that, taking in the serious expression on Sully's face and the guilty one on Brian's.

It looked like his little brother had done something to earn himself a taste of Sully's 'guiding hand'.

"Sully," Matthew started to say, but the man's hand descended on his shoulder.

"Matthew," Sully said, simply, and then nodded his head back toward the door. "Go on."

Matthew swallowed, reading the message in those hard blue eyes all too clear:

'This is between me and your brother. Don't put your two bits in 'less you want a share in it, too.'

He'd already been on the receiving end of that 'guiding hand' once before, so he knew exactly what Brian was in store for, and quite frankly he did not wish a repeat encounter.

Giving Brian a sympathetic look, he put his pitchfork down and headed out to do as he was told.

Sully waited 'til the door was firmly shut behind Matthew, before he led Brian over to where some haystacks sat and sat down.

Putting both hands on Brian shoulders, he stared him straight in the eye.

"Brian," he told him, gently yet firmly. "What did I tell yaw this mornin' 'bout my tomahawks?"

Brian squirmed underneath that piercing blue gaze. He didn't like this. He didn't like that Sully was looking at him like that. Not one little bit.

It made him feel guilty.

"They weren't toys," Brian answered, honestly. "They weren't to be played with."

"That's right, because you or somebody else could get hurt," Sully told him. "And somebody did get hurt, didn't he?"

Brian bit his lip, feeling tears well up in his eyes. He hadn't meant for Steven to get hurt.

"Yeah," he answered, sniffing. "Steven's pa is gonna spank him, ain't he? When he's feelin' better?"

"I reckon so," Sully said, seriously. "Do you think it's fair that Steven be the only one to get a spankin' for doin' something that was your idea?"

"N-No," Brian answered, his lip trembling a bit, "b-but Ma don't believe in spankin'…"

"I know," Sully told him, "but that's okay. Your ma uses words—which is good—but sometimes words just ain't enough. Sometimes, you kids need a guidin' hand, too."

"I don't get it," Brian said, frowning.

Sully nodded. He knew he might not. "It's my hand that'll do the guidin'," he told him, seriously. "I'm gonna give you a spankin' for disobeyin' me, Brian."

Brian's eyes widened. He shook his head in disblief. "No, Sully, you can't!" he exclaimed. "I thought we was friends!"

Sully reaching out to take a firm hold on Brian's chin, to steady his shaking head so that he could look him in the eye.

"I am your friend, Brian," he told him, gently yet firmly, "but sometimes I gotta be more than your friend—'cuz I'm an adult and I love yaw like you was my own son—and this is one of those times."

A tear fell down Brian's cheek.

Despite knowing he did deserve a spanking after what he did, it broke his heart that it was Sully who was going to give it to him.

"We'd best get it over with," Sully told him, gently. Picking him up, he lowered him face down across his lap.

Raising his hand back, he brought it down across the slightly squirming seat of the boy's britches. "Ow!" Brian cried out. "Sully! That hurts! Stop it!"

Sully raised his hand back, even as tears fell down his own cheeks, and brought it down again.

He had once heard a pa tell his son, 'this hurts me more than it does you', and at the time he hadn't believed it.

But, by God, he believed it now.

The more Brian cried out, squirmed, and the more he had to strengthen his resolve to get through this, the more it tore at his heart and ripped it to shreds.

Sully continued to spank Brian, despite the boy's [loud] protests and his own crumbling resolve.

Brian finally could not take it any more and began to sob heartbrokenly over his lap. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" he cried. "I'm sorry, Pa! I won't ever do it again!"

Sully's hand stilled in mid-air. He blinked through his tears. Had the boy really just called him….Pa?

He stopped the spanking right then and there, lifting Brian up and sitting him on his lap.

Pulling him against him, he stroked his hair and rocked him back and for the gently.

"Shhh, shhh, Brian," he whispered to the boy. "I've got you. It's all forgiven now, and I'm not mad anymore. Shhh, son, shhh…."

Brian continued to cry into his neck for a minute or two, but then he glanced up at him. "Y-You're cryin'," he said, seemingly surprised.

Sully wiped at his own tears. "Y-Yeah, I reckon I am," he told him, gently.

"W-Why?" Brian asked, puzzled. "I was the one who got a spankin'…"

Sully chuckled at that. "But it hurt me to have to be the one to give you that spankin'," he told him, gently.

"That don't make no sense, Pa," Brian told him, wiping at his own tear streaked face.

Sully wondered if the boy realized that was the second time he'd called him that.

He knew he should correct him—Michaela might get offended if she heard—but apart of him just couldn't.

Apart of him liked hearing it.

"I reckon at your age I didn't think it did, either," Sully told him, gently. "You won't understand it—not 'til the first time you have to spank your own child someday."

"I ain't ever gonna spank my kids," Brian told him, vehemently.

"I said that, too," Sully told him, gently. "Yaw know why I spanked you, though, right?"

"Cuz what me and Steven did was wrong," Brian told him, "and I disobeyed'cha."

Sully nodded. "That's right," he told him, gently. "I love yaw so much, Brian. I don't ever want anything bad to happen to you."

"I love yaw, too," Brian said, throwing his arms around his neck and squeezing tightly. "Pa."

Sully returned the hug whole-heartedly. Again, he didn't bother to correct the boy. He and Michaela would talk it over with him later…

Just then, a knock sounded on the barn door. "Uh, Sully?" Matthew's voice called out. "Can we come in now?"

"Sure," Sully called out, smirking. He had a sneaking suspicion the older boy wasn't just talking about him or the horses.

Sure enough, Matthew and Colleen led Bear and Flash into the barn. They both had a slight mixture of anxiety and guilt on their faces.

"We was just…" Matthew started to tell him, but he quickly ducked his head and put the horses in their stalls.

"We just thought…" Colleen said, trailing off as she bit her lip.

Sully raised an eyebrow at both of them. "Did you really think I'd hurt him?" he asked them, pointedly.

"No," both of the older children said at the same time.

Brian snickered at that. "Better watch out," he told them, teasing. "Sully's got a hard hand."

"We know," Matthew and Colleen told him at the same time, and then glanced at each other in surprise. Then, they blushed and glanced away.

"See?" Sully said, placing a hand on Brian head. "You ain't the only one who needs a 'guidin' hand'…"

The Cooper children all laughed at that—though they knew it was true. So long as it was his hand that did the guiding. That was all right by them.

"Let's go inside and make a nice supper for your ma," he suggested to them, smiling.

"Yeah, let's go," Brian said, tugging on his hand excitedly.

"He sure does bounce back quickly," Matthew muttered, as he and his sister followed them out of the barn. "Took me a whole week."

"Took me a whole day," Colleen told him, smirking.

"You two comin'?" Sully called out from the homestead, raising an eyebrow at them.

"Comin'," the two of them called. "Pa." That last had been added where only they could hear.

Sully smiled, and then ducked back inside.

When Michaela arrived home later that night, to be greeted with a meal fit for a queen, she smiled at her family.

"Well, this is a surprise," she told them. "Maybe I should let Sully bring you all home more often."

"S'all right with me, Ma," Brian piped up, smiling at Sully.

"Me, too," Sully told her, taking her bag and shawl. "Go on, sit down."

Michaela did so—though not before noticing that Brian was seated on a cushion—and took hold of her children's hands.

Sully sat down and caught her eye across the table, linking hands with the children as well.

Their family was complete.

Nothing else mattered.

The End.

(AN: I hope ya'll enjoyed it. I'll be posting another Sully-n-Brian story sometime this week entitled 'Burning Curiosity'. I think you'll enjoy that one, too. Thanks.)