Michaela stirred from a deep, dreamless doze, to Sully's fingers softly raking through her hair. She remembered falling asleep like that, lulled by his gentle caresses, and his whispered reassurances that they had to have faith, that they would get out of this mess, that they had too much to look forward to not to do everything in their power to succeed… However, the brief moment of security and contentment she felt from his touch was short-lived and it didn't take long for adrenaline to race through her veins again as her surroundings and circumstances rushed back to her consciousness.
But she didn't have the time to ascertain whether Sully had recuperated or not for the landlady was already knocking at their door: it was time to go.
This time, with the help of the early November nightfall, Hattie and her boyfriend found it much easier to smuggle the fugitives out of the boarding house and through the busy streets of central Washington. Using the decoy of a large two-wheeled cart full of empty crates, piled up high upon a curled-up Sully, while Michaela was rolled into a striped awning draped over the mule's back, they were able to walk through the many roadblocks of policemen patrolling around the capitol's commanding buildings without being stopped, searched… and discovered. If one of them had had the idea of looking a little more closely at the strange form of the awning, he might have thought this particular young Negro couple, apparently on their way back from the market, quite suspicious.
From the second they ventured out to meet with Parker, to both Michaela and Sully, everything felt like a huge, whirling blur; the unbelievable luck of being able to slip in and out the Department of War building without being detected; the victorious excitement of discovering a solid proof of Senator Stewart's involvement in Sully's framing; and last but not the least, upon arriving at the White House, the horrific realization that what they had feared – a sniper poised to shoot at the President during the concert – was indeed happening, despite Parker's assurance that security was way too tight that night for anyone carrying a weapon more dangerous than a nail file to get through the White House gates...
Adrenaline buzzed in their ears as they rushed into the concert hall. Time felt distorted again, the events unfolding as if in slow motion, and yet too fast for them to collect their thoughts and act carefully. Sully literally flew over the rows of chairs to knock the President out of the way of the bullet, the loud detonation of shattered glass followed by the terrified screams of the guests, and the roars of the security agents. Barely aware of the two hands closing on her arms in an iron grip, Michaela screamed even louder than everyone as she watched, helpless, a policeman violently bringing down his club onto Sully's head, who collapsed. With an energy only despair could give her, she shook herself out of her guard's clutches and ran to Sully only to be caught again, this time by two policemen.
Her relief at seeing Sully still conscious and able to stand on his two feet, apparently unharmed, was short-lived, however. Their last hope was presently held in the President's hands. Time stopped altogether, their fate suspended…
Michaela could hear what President Grant was saying, saw Senator Steward and Inspector Simpson taken away in shackles, shook the President's hand and hugged the First Lady; she felt her children's hugs crushing her – the children!? where did they come from? – and yet, she could not grasp that he whole ordeal was over. After all they had been through, the quick pardon and their subsequent release felt utterly inconceivable.
It was not until the police and the guests had cleared the concert hall, and the First Lady had left them momentarily to give the staff all the necessary orders to accommodate her husband's savior and his family for the night, that Michaela, Sully and the Cooper children could have the chance to sit down and process all that had happened since the previous night.
"So what happens now?" piped up Brian, more than ready to go home.
"Are you really free to go as if nothing happened?" asked Colleen, doubtful.
"I ain't sure. President said we'd be cleared of all charges, but maybe we gotta go through some legal procedure… I dunno… Do ya, Michaela?"
She jumped a little, startled by the question. An inexorable weariness was creeping up on her, making her mind slower than usual.
"I… I don't know, I'm not sure… Maybe if the presidential grace is directly issued by the President himself, it shouldn't take too long?... Oh!" she exclaimed, looking aghast.
"What?" said Colleen, worried her mother's sudden outburst might mean the whole pardoning process would be much more complicated than what they were hoping for.
"Our things! And my medical bag! I left them at the hotel!"
Matthew jumped up. "I'll go fetch 'em, Dr. Mike, don't worry!"
"That's sweet of you, Matthew, but I was the one who rented the room, I should go…"
"It can wait till tomorrow, Michaela," interjected Sully.
"But Sully, I must tend to you, yours wounds need a proper dressing, and I must examine you for any sign of concussion…"
Just then, Julia Grant reappeared, and said with her natural decisiveness, "I couldn't help but overhear. Dr. Quinn, Mr. Sully, if you need to go anywhere, we will provide a cab and an escort, and you'll be back in no time. Yet, we have everything you might need to care for Mr. Sully right here. I only need to summon our personal physician, so you can sit back and rest, Dr. Q… Michaela."
It was finally decided that Matthew would indeed go to the small hotel to collect his mother's bags, accompanied by a staff member of White House. The hotel manager made no difficulties, with the help of the generous handout from the White House employee. Matthew thought to himself that it was a good thing Dr. Mike and Sully hadn't come along, for they would have certainly protested about the money.
Meanwhile, Michaela was given all she needed to tend to Sully's wounds, which she did somewhat mechanically, yet as meticulously as ever, without having to wait for Matthew's return. The happy outcome felt so unreal to her that she might as well have been the one who had been clubbed over the head instead of Sully. It wasn't until she found herself alone in the luxurious guestroom that reality could finally sink in, in the form of body-wracking sobs of relief. She barely heard the discreet rap at her door, but she knew right away it wasn't one of the children. She'd recognize that knock anywhere.
Indeed, it was Sully. He had paced for quite a while before coming to her. He had meant to apologize, and had even thought of trying to talk Michaela out of their engagement in a bout of self-loathing and shame. But he didn't have the strength to follow through with that – he needed her too much. He knew that if he were to lose her, this time Cloud Dancing wouldn't be able to restore his will to live. And he needed her love, her strength and her generous heart to help him forgive himself for his sins. She was his reason to live and to want to be a better man.
He opened the door and slipped silently inside the room at her invitation to come in. No other words were exchanged as he enfolded her in his arms the instant he saw her stricken face. He felt pretty close to tears as well, awash with a maelstrom of emotions, the first of which feeling more in love with Michaela than ever, followed closely by the immense debt of gratitude he owed her. Over and over, he murmured "Thank you, thank you, thank you," like an impassioned, chanting prayer of gratefulness and reverence. Too choked up to articulate anything coherent, she only hugged him tighter. As she shook in his arms, he eventually let his own tears silently fall onto her hair…
And then before they could make sense of what was happening, they were kissing each other's tears away, on cheeks, noses… chins… lips. Once their mouths met in a charged, desperation-laced kiss, as if they still believed they were going to be separated forever, they couldn't part. Their intimate embrace at the boarding house, although interrupted, had nevertheless caused quite a breach in the reserve they usually maintained around each other for propriety's sake. Neither had had enough time to rebuild their defense, and in the wake of their present emotional release, the need to hold, to touch, to kiss, to unite was terribly potent.
She leaned into him, instinctively signaling her acceptance, her abandon… her usual reserve and self-control were in shreds, still numb from the shock of the past hours. Even though they were now safe and about to head back home, to resume their life and the preparations for their wedding in the Spring, it was hard to ignore the nagging need within her to join with him fully. Still, she forced herself to break off the kiss, and the frustration was like a hard punch in her stomach. They couldn't afford the luxury of throwing away caution now and forgetting about social conventions any more than they could have run the risk of getting pregnant while they were on the run, when the possibility of being sent to prison or facing a firing squad was hanging heavily over their heads…
Sully didn't protest, despite his obvious state of arousal, his entire body tense and giving off an inviting heat. He only gave her forehead the softest kiss and one last hug – Oh, how she loved the way he held her, how safe and cherished she felt when his hand rested so protectively and caressingly on her nape, and she could bury her face in the crook of his neck!
He whispered, "Good night, Michaela," against her ear and then he was gone, slipping out of the bedroom as if he was a murmur himself. She remained rooted to the spot for a few seconds, staring at the closed door, before realizing that not only was she alone again, but that her earlier state of shock was all but vanished, replaced by a feeling of peace. She smiled softly as she realized that Sully's tenderness, strength and courage had healed her frayed nerves.
As she slipped under the covers a few minutes later, she looked to her left where Sully could have been laying had she invited him to stay with her. Soon, she thought, trying hard to convince herself it wasn't that long.
Soon they would become lovers. But not as desperate fugitives. They would come together lawfully. Blessedly. As married lovers.
Without a doubt, she knew it would be worth the wait.