In the early summer twilight, a couple stood in a tight embrace on the balcony of the largest suite of a Denver hotel. In less than twelve hours they would board the train that would bring them back home for a whole new chapter of their life. Inside, their things were packed, the trunk and bags sitting by the door. Though it wasn't the most comfortable option, Sully had chosen to wear his wedding tuxedo for the trip. Michaela would put on her stylish travelling outfit, so he wanted to look his best beside her.
He still could not shake off the menacing impressions he had had earlier. As much as he would have liked to dismiss them as maybe the manifestation of his suppressed worry regarding Cloud Dancing's fate, his instinct knew better. The four years he had spent living among the Cheyenne and learning their ways, sharing their spirituality, had taught him to pay attention to even the slightest disturbance and feel the enemy coming. However, he'd been unable to locate the culprit so far, but intuition told him it had to do with Michaela as well. If there was one reason he couldn't wait to be home, it was to get away from the city, the people and their silly social conventions, their ogling eyes and prejudiced minds.
Yet, he shared his wife's thoughts about going home after fourteen days of bliss, leisure and luxury such as most people, even fortunate ones, seldom knew. It had been a dream that even the wisest man wouldn't want to wake up from.
He wasn't too anxious about the "unknown" they were facing, quite the contrary, he had full confidence that they would manage living all under the same roof. He had already found his place in the family, sharing near all their meals, sometimes staying to sleep in the barn or by the fireplace. The real big differences would be that they'd share a much bigger dwelling, without Matthew but with each member of the family having their own room… and privacy. And now that he knew just how compatible he and Michaela were, as partners and as lovers, he was sure they would weather whatever the future held for them, and he was eagerly anticipating the next step of their life together: having a child of their own, maybe two if they were lucky, and watching their family grow…
A soft, cool breeze delicately enveloped them with the sweet fragrances of the nearby trees and flowers, the tiny tufts of pollen dancing merrily around in the fading light.
"You know, my wish did come true," Michaela said whimsically, breaking the companionable silence between them.
At first Sully was not sure what wish she was referring to, till the dreamy look on his beloved's face as she caught a tuft in her cupped hand then released it to the wind by blowing it away, reminded him of that stroll in the woods right after she had returned from Boston, when he had handed her the dandelion to wish upon.
"Mine did, too," he answered, giving her temple a light, loving peck.
She looked up at him, her eyes shining with gratitude and joy.
"What did you wish for?" she softly asked.
"We had just fought 'bout somethin' silly, and I just wanted us to make up and be together – always…" Fairly certain he now knew what that wish was, but wanting to hear it, Sully hesitated slightly before adding, "And ya? Now you can tell me."
"I wished that you'd be the right man for me… there may have been times when I doubted it, but now… I know that there could be no one else but you."
She rose on her tiptoes to kiss him with all the love, all the passion and devotion she felt for this extraordinary man who was now and forever more her husband, her soulmate, her lover and partner.
Well she pulled back, her cheeks were becomingly flushed, her eyes sparkling and her smile lopsided with amusement.
"What's funny?" asked Sully, intrigued by her change of mood. Maybe she was tipsy from the champagne they had just had with dessert… or then again, she might be simply giddy with happiness, like he would have been without the nagging feeling someone was snooping around them.
"You'll think it's silly…"
"Remember when we tracked the turkey right after?"
"Hu-huh," he nodded, then suddenly he broke into a mischievous grin, believing he knew where this was going.
"Well," she went on with unmitigated pride, " I don't know how I managed, but I caught the lone wolf!"
"So, I'm just a prize to ya? Not much of one!" he returned in a mock self-depreciating tone.
"Quite the contrary, I assure you. But I'm glad I'm the only one who knows just how precious you are!"
And with that she kissed him again, and he kissed her back with equal passion and gratitude.
Night was falling, the air getting too cool for them to stay outside much longer. Silently they left the balcony, and entering the room where so many memories were made, they put on their nightclothes and reclined on their bed. Neither wanted to go to sleep already as reason dictated, yet there was little else left to say or do with their departure so imminent. After a few minutes, too agitated to lie in bed quietly, Michaela rose and went to stand by the fireplace. To occupy her hands, she stoked the fire, then remained rooted to the spot, hoping the flames would maybe hypnotize her and make her sleepy.
She startled, more from the sudden feel of his presence right behind her than from the sound of his voice in the otherwise relative quiet of their room.
"Afraid not," she answered with a sigh. It was so silly, this mix of nostalgia and nervousness that wouldn't let her rest.
"How 'bout I tell ya a story, huh?" he suggested playfully, taking hold of her hand and giving it a teasing pull, motioning to the inviting softness of the settee.
Had it been uttered in another context or manner, no doubt that Michaela would have retreated behind her serious façade and protest she was too old or too busy to listen to a bedtime story. But on this last night in their private haven, she felt a sort of desperation to experience anything as long as it meant they enjoyed those last few hours together to their fullest. Besides, she knew what an enthralling storyteller Sully could be, and she could barely contain her curiosity.
Just as she was about to sit down, he stopped her by tugging at her nightgown. "Er, I need ya to take this off, first."
She froze in uncertainty, her self-consciousness returning about how ignorant she still felt regarding some of the most intimate marital matters. Did the phrase telling a bedtime story have a different meaning between married people? Was it a metaphor for a way of pleasing her husband she had yet to learn?
Momentarily confused, she wasn't sure whether he had truly uttered the words, if it was his spirit talking to hers or her heart that was repeating what he had told her many a time. Either way, she trusted him with every fiber of her being, so she resolutely raised the garment over her head, and walked into his embrace.
Sully hadn't missed her hesitation, and wondered if asking her to take off her nightgown had been wise, especially considering he didn't truly have a story ready to tell her, only a vague idea upon which he would improvise as he went along. He didn't mean for it to necessarily end up in making love, he only intended them to just enjoy some snugglin', skin to skin, one last time.
He didn't know if it was the reflection of the flames or something else that made her eyes blaze when she looked up at him, but suddenly any Cheyenne tale he could have told her vanished from his mind, wiped off by his acute awareness of her. Her nudity didn't solely stir him in a sensual way. It was more than unquenchable desire, more than fierce tenderness and protectiveness that drew him to this woman. She had a power over him, always had since the beginning, but that power seemed to have grown beyond all measure. For two weeks, he had been focused on making her comfortable with their intimacy, reveling in his own joy and pride to be married to her and enjoying her undivided attention away from her duties as a doctor, a town council member and most of all a mother. He hadn't paused to reflect upon how all that had transpired in the past fortnight had changed him, and the life he used to know. Not so much the unexpectedly wide realm of pleasures found in the physical component of their relationship, but the baring of his soul to hers, and hers to his, whether they were talking, or they let their bodies do the talking. Their commitment to each other demanded to be absolute, unconditional and everlasting, nothing less. He would not, could not, ever, walk away, bound to her by something far more meaningful than their wedding vows and the consummation of their marriage…
The only story he could think of presently wasn't Cheyenne, but from the true India, where lovemaking was celebrated as an art and means of communication with the gods. As he tried to recollect all the essence of what the lascar had said, suddenly his keen senses perceived the faint echo of music, in which he finally found the inspiration he needed. He felt that it would be the perfect conclusion to their honeymoon.
"Wait, I got a better idea…"
Her eyebrows rose in silent query.
"Will ya dance with me?" he suggested.
Michaela knew that Sully didn't mean they'd get dressed in their finery all over again, go down to the main hall, or venture out again. The seductive tone of his voice and the caress of his hand on hers were too reminiscent of that other evening, early into their honeymoon, when they had danced so intimately that she would never be able to waltz with him without thinking of how they had made love that night. Yet, the invitation was subtle, letting her know that he wouldn't take offense if she declined. But how could she refuse?
"I'd love to," she answered, her countenance radiating with sensuality.
There was no need to count one-two-three out loud this time because they knew the other's rhythm well enough to synchronize their kisses and caresses. There was no reserve when they swayed together, their skin rubbing in the most electrifying way, their breath mingling in a heated kiss. They waltzed following their own cadence, their own music, unhurriedly allowing the warmth of desire to turn into a raging fire.
There was little shyness when Michaela took the lead and guided her husband to sit on the sofa; no hesitation in her slow, purposeful movements as she knelt between his legs. There was a fiery determination in her eyes, in her touches, her kisses, that drove him out of his mind as surely as the erotic sensations she ignited in him.
He didn't fully abandon himself though. Fortunately, it seemed that the past two weeks of intense and frequent solicitation had strengthened his vigor and endurance rather than wearing them out, and he wanted to take full advantage of his capacities. He gently interrupted his wife's ministrations before he might lose control and pulled her up, so she was straddling his lap. She was panting, her eyes shining with the dark, heavy gleam of arousal. When he made no further move, she needed no other nudge, no better encouragement than the naked hunger in his eyes, and she only had to wiggle a little forward to take him in, welcoming the sensation of completeness with a blissful sigh.
Now that she was more seasoned when it came to expressing her desire and her affection; now that he didn't have to be so mindful of her insecurities and inexperience, an infinite expanse of sensual exploration lay open before them.
"Let's dance some more," he rasped as he sprang to his feet, lifting her up effortlessly by cupping the back of her thighs, while she instinctively wrapped her arms and legs round his body. Holding her securely to him, he resumed the waltzing motion in direction of the bed, where they would be much more comfortable, both laughing softly amidst lust-fueling kisses.
However, as if the spirit of the Hindustani sailor, with his tales about the sacred nature of human love, had been invoked by Sully's reminiscences and was watching over the lovers like a benevolent genie, the tempo of their dance shifted to an even slower pace. Their union was no longer so much about giving and receiving sexual gratification as it was about letting the other know how much they were loved and cherished. They were both feeling the same way they had after sharing Whitman's poetry, that unspeakable surge of alternate consciousness that would lead them to another dimension of love. This time, their awareness of each other seemed clearer and brighter, both their physical and spiritual connection magnified by how well they knew each other, body and soul. Sometimes they would change positions, or they would simply pause a few minutes to just kiss and hold hands and murmur sweet nothings. When one of them, or both, reached a peak of pleasure, still their embrace miraculously continued, as if it wasn't a release of sexual tension, but a mere threshold on the way to something more powerful…
And powerful, the conclusion of their honeymoon was. It wasn't until the wee hours of the morning that they finally separated, breathless, speechless, sated at last… Not only had their ultimate dance of love lasted much longer than their first, but it would stand out, engraved into their memories, as their most pleasurable experience of all for a long, long time…
They nearly missed the morning train. They would have if not for their friend John, who had convinced the conductor to wait for them for a couple more minutes and helped them load their trunk and bags into the luggage area before heading home himself as he had finished his shift.
In their hurry, neither Michaela nor Sully had the luxury to feel any more anxiousness or regrets about leaving the place where their love had so magnificently bloomed, and it was only with sighs of relief that they sank onto their seat, blissfully oblivious of the annoyed stares from the other passengers.
Propriety meant that the most intimate contact they could afford in such close quarters was holding hands, or looking in each other's eyes. They hadn't slept near enough to recover, yet their exhaustion wasn't enough to mar the lingering afterglow of the magical night that had so splendidly concluded their honeymoon.
After a few minutes, however, Sully felt once more a disturbing presence, closer than ever before. But how could that be? He cast glances at the other passengers around them, but they all seemed harmless, though the man sitting right across from them stood out like a sore thumb, as he was so obviously from back East. He unpleasantly reminded Sully of the arrogant and pompous men he had come across both in Boston - including his own brothers-in-law – and in the highest social circles in Washington. The man was clearly absorbed in his copy of the Washington Post, so Sully dismissed him as the possible source of the malevolent spirit that had been lurking around them for the past couple of days.
"Something wrong, Sully?" Michaela whispered, keenly sensing her husband's unease.
"Nope. I just can't wait to be home. " He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, "Three hours without bein' allowed to kiss ya, that's three hours wasted in my book!"
"Sully!" she half protested, half giggled, her cheeks flushing, Sully smiled indulgently at her, and brought her palm to his lips.
"At least I can still do that," he mouthed, so that even the passengers right in front or behind them could not hear, "and tell you 'I love you'."
"I love you, too," she answered in the same manner.
Suddenly, her expression changed from loving to crestfallen.
"What?" Sully asked. Had she seen, or felt the venomous creature that seemed to follow them?
"The roses! We forgot them!"
Relief washed over Sully that the cause of her outburst wasn't too serious, but still, he gave her cheek a soft caress, and said with a helpless shrug: "Afraid there's nothin' we can do 'bout that, now. I'm sorry, 'Chaela." His light, loving touch and use of his pet name for her had their desired, placating effect and she soon forgot her disappointment as she snuggled against his shoulder.
The rest of the trip went without a hitch, though the hostile spirit could still be felt at times, like tiny, sharp, invisible knives directed to Sully's neck and back. He hoped that whoever it was, they would be continuing their journey South and leave them alone. If not, he would have to perform a cleansing ceremony…and for that, he needed Cloud Dancing…
Finally, the train pulled into Colorado Springs' station. Sully rushed to get out of the stuffy train carriage and most of all away from the irksome phantom.
Before they stepped out, however, he cast one last look at his wife.
"Ready?" he asked quietly, almost breathlessly.
She couldn't find her voice as the magnitude of what was to come overwhelmed her, but she nodded nevertheless and followed him, their hands clasped tightly once more.
A new life was awaiting them.
A word from the Author:
First, I would like to thank all the readers who took the time to post reviews, for us fanfiction writers, reviews are quite precious as they are the only payment we receive for our efforts to entertain our readers.
I must also thank you all for your patience and encouragements when I seemed unable to go on despite my best efforts.
I must address special thanks to Kruemi, who had pushed me in the right direction in the beginning of this great adventure that has been imagining the integrality of our favorite couple's honeymoon;
Linda, who deserves the award of the best Beta ever, without whom you wouldn't have had the pleasure to get 27 chapters so full of love and passion;
and lastly Judy and Liza who have been helping me when Linda couldn't.
I send a grateful prayer to Catherine, my wonderful, loving compatriot who sadly passed away before I could write The End, but whose spirit has accompanied me these past few days as I finally found my way back to my computer.
And of course my loyal friends from the Facebook group "The Dr Quinn Fanfiction Enthusiasts"
PPS: if you want to know more about what has disturbed Sully, please check NIWS's companion short story : Second Best