Ok, so tell me how many of you are going back and watching the episode as you read? Makes it much more interesting. Without further ado, the rest of the story…

-Ash

Michaela ushered the children into the homestead to start on supper. Her mind was a flutter and she needed to find something to shut it off. As colleen prepared for dinner, Michaela settled herself into the rocking chair by the fire to read a medical textbook. Try as she might she couldn't stop her thoughts from drifting to Sully. It made her feel as though she was a love sick teenager, not a grown woman in her mid-thirties. She had to stop this foolishness, she told herself, and yet there always seemed to be an unspoken link between them that caused her heart to hope.

Weeks passed and no Sully. He had disappeared yet again, and with each passing day Michaela became more and more distracted. The weather had turned and a hard arctic wind blew over pike's peak. Michaela couldn't help imagining Sully wandering in the cold, trying to find shelter. Perhaps he was sick, or worse, hurt. How would anyone know?

"Dr. Mike? Ya alright? Ya hardly touched your dinner. Didn't ya like it?" Colleen asked quietly. Everyone else at the table had finished and was staring at her. She had been pushing food around her plate for nearly 20 minutes without glancing up once.

"oh! Yes. It was lovely. Thank you. I'm just not very hungry." She replied with a blush. Far too often she had been caught with her thoughts wandering. Get a grip! Matthew and Colleen exchanged worried glances, but said nothing as they cleared the table. Brian however was always curious and moved towards Michaela.

"What ya thinkin about?" Brian drawled.

"Oh, um, nothing important. Just day dreaming I suppose." Michaela stammered as a blush crept across her cheeks. "I think it's time for a story and then bed." She changed the subject quickly to avoid further discussion. Brian gave up easily, and Michaela breathed a sigh of relief. She had no desire to talk to the children about Sully, or to lie to them for that matter. So omission was the best policy.

Sully had been holed up in a cave about 20 minutes from the homestead. He couldn't bring himself to leave completely, but put the thoughts as to why out of his mind. So he focused on survival. Wake up. Chop wood. Make a fire. Hunt for food. The essentials to sustaining life were all he needed.

The days were easy. He found himself wandering the woods hunting for game, and it gave him something to focus on, but as always the nights proved much more difficult. Gazing into the licking flames of his campfire Sully could see her face. Her hair, long and flowing free around her shoulders, was a glowing bronze. Sully longed to run his hands through it to see if it felt as soft as it looked.

Every night had been the same. He dreamt of her. Some nights they were alone in bed, holding each other tight. Others they were with the children having dinner in the homestead as if he was a part of their family. No matter which dream he woke to his heart ached as guilt lanced through his soul. How could he even think such things? You had your chance. Abigail was it. You can't have feelings for another woman. It aint right. But Sully's head was losing the battle with his heart.

Sully walked the all too familiar path to the front steps of the homestead. He could sense the warmth from within and longed to be enrobed in that feeling. His family was waiting inside. But as he opened the door the wind balked and the fire was gone. There was no one there. Sully looked around frantically for a trace of where they could have gone when he heard her voice. "Sully… Sully… where are you? We need you. It's Christmas."

Jolted from his slumber in a cold sweat Sully realized it was 3 days before Christmas Eve. After everything she had done, he couldn't ignore them. It was only proper that he give them each a gift. He knew exactly what he would give her as he sprang from his pad to get to work.

Before the family knew it, it was Christmas Eve. Finally, a night that would distract them all. Michaela thought. Brian had talked non-stop for the past two weeks about Sully and the Indians, and how neat it had been that they were in their house. Michaela couldn't stand another question about when Sully would be back, when she wondered the very same thing.

Colleen was looking forward to the church dance, and Brian to the food at the Christmas party. Michaela had never had a family of her own, and was unsure of what the children's traditions were for Christmas. She didn't want to tread on their mother's memory, but also wanted to somehow make this holiday special.

The snow had been relentless, and Colleen was determined not to let her hopes of going to the dance be ruined. Matthew was staring out the window into the winter wonderland as he tugged at the tie constricting his neck. He hated dressing up.

"It's turnin into a blizzard out there. Can't we get out of these get ups?" Matthew asked.

"No! It's gonna let up any minute." Colleen exclaimed.

"hogwash" matthew replied unsympathetically. He just wanted to eat dinner and go to bed. Christmas was his ma's favorite holiday and he didn't like being reminded that she wasn't here to enjoy it.

"Shut up!" Colleen screeched.

"Stop it!" Michaela proclaimed with a slight edge to her voice. She had been listening to them bicker all afternoon and she couldn't stand any more. Everyone's nerves were on edge, but it was still Christmas after all. "Is that any way to talk on the eve of jesus' birthday?" Michaela scolded them lightly.

Colleen sniffled, and Matthew instantly felt like a heel. "Aww geez" he murmered.

Michaela moved closer to Colleen and wrapped her arm around her shoulders. "Christmas isn't about parties, Colleen."

Colleen continued to sniffle as her tears dried. "I know. I was just countin on it for so long."

Michaela sympathized with the young girl. She had often wanted to go to parties as a child that she was deemed too young for. But by the time she was of the appropriate age she had lost interest altogether, making them seem like somewhat of a dream. Shaking herself from her reverie she directed the children to sing a few carols to lighten the mood. The family gathers around the table to eat supper. Holding hands Michaela prays "Dear Lord, Grant us the strength to accept the misfortunes of this past year. Please give us the courage to face the challenges that lie ahead. Whenever possible, watch over and protect us from harm. We thank you for bringing us together, for our good health and for this bread... And, Lord, please tell Charlotte we think of her often and miss her dearly. Amen."

Colleen is in awe "It always sounds like you're talking to God like he was sittin' here with us."

"I'd like to think that he is." Michaela replies softly. She can see the light at the end of the tunnel. She is turning a corner with the children. She's roused from her thoughts by Brian.

"Dr. Mike?"

"Hm?" she hums.

"Do you think Ma would mind if I called you Ma too?" He asks innocently. Brian has no idea that he has just given her the greatest gift she could ever receive. Her heart swells, and she looks to Matthew and Colleen for their reaction. The last thing she wants to do is to replace their mother, but she wants them to be a family. A real family. Gaining a slight nod from Matthew and a smile from Colleen she replies. " I don't think she'd mind a bit."

"Good." Brian seems comforted by the thought and settles back into his chair to enjoy the meal. Before the family can dig in there is a brusque knock on the door. Michaela is on high alert. There's no telling who it could be at this hour and in this storm. "Matthew…" she murmurs a warning for him to protect his siblings as she answers the door. Swinging it open she finds a mass bundled in blankets. As it moves she realizes that it's Sully.

Michaela's heart leaps and she can't stop the smile that lingers on her lips. He came! "Hello." Sully issues curtly. He's walked for hours and is freezing, but he had to get to them.

"Come on in, warm yourself by the fire." Michaela utters. Sully is momentarily stopped in his tracks by the sight of her. She looks just as she did in his dreams, and she is breathtaking. It's as if she is a siren calling to his soul.

Sully moves into the house with wolf ever faithful at his heels and heads towards the fire. Everyone stares at him unsure what to do. Here they are all dressed up in their best clothes, and Sully has on buckskins and icicles hanging from his coat. Michaela takes a deep breath and steps towards the table. "Colleen…give him some tea." Before the sentence leaves her mouth fully she can hear whining coming from Sully. She looks up in time to see him present Brian with a wolf puppy. "Merry Christmas Brian"

"Thanks Sully!" Brian replies. He's squirming with excitement as he pets his new friend.

Sully continues with his gifts "Colleen…" He hands her a hand carved comb for her hair. Colleen thanks him and smiles. In turn he gives Matthew a whittling knife.

"Thanks" Matthew replies. He's surprised to have received anything from him. Michaela waits patiently as she knows her gift is last. Sully smirks, as if he's read her thoughts and pulls a large shingle from under his coat. Brushing the snow and dust from it he hands it to her. It reads. "M. Quinn M.D. Medicine Woman" Michaela is both honored and touched by the thought put into her gift. "Now that's a shingle." Sully states, remembering their first meeting as he made fun of the shingle she presented to him. She smiled from ear to ear and replied "It certainly is…"

"Merry Christmas" Sully said to the whole group with his eyes locked on Michaela's. He wanted her to feel how much she meant to him already. Her and the children. "Thank you" she whispered back. "You're welcome" he stuttered.

Sully became uncomfortable under her gaze as he realized he was intruding on their dinner. "Uh, good night. Merry Christmas" Sully murmured and shuffled towards the door. The children all looked to Michaela to invite their friend to stay. Michaela wanted nothing more than for him to stay. She hadn't seen him in so long and the thought of him leaving so soon made her heart drop.

"Wait! Please… stay. Eat with us."

"I'd like that." He mumbled with a smirk. She wanted him. It was written all over her face, but she had said it out loud. She didn't want him to leave. Michaela dropped her gaze demurely and moved to grab another chair. Sully settled in beside her at the table as they passed food. Their fingers grazed as she passed him the rolls and the all too familiar current sparked through them. Michaela gasped as Sully's gaze darkened.

Don't worry folks, I'm not gonna leave out the bit after Christmas dinner. Hehe. Patience is a virtue. Read and Review!

-Ash