The next morning, Michaela got dressed and went into town. She had spent a great deal of time the night before, going over and over the things she had said to Sully. She had cried a little and went to sleep knowing that if Sully really was going to kill Rankin in cold blood, then she would never be able to forget that he was capable of such a thing. She couldn't love a man like that, no matter how much she might actually love him. Her heart was breaking in two, but she still had responsibilities and that led her to put the thoughts of Sully behind her, at least long enough to go to the clinic and care for her patients. She was determined not to think of him anymore. She had stopped by the telegram office early that morning and asked Horace to wire the Marshal. She still had every intention of doing the right thing, or at least what the law deemed to be the right thing. She walked out to the Dickson homestead and put a splint on one of their boys after she reset his broken bone. Ellis was his name, a young man really, and he had a handsome smile, dirty blond hair and crystal blue eyes. He had broken his arm while protecting his sister from a stranger, a young man that had obviously had too much to drink. Ellis had fought bravely, but in the end the stranger took a cheap shot and hit Ellis' arm with a rotten tree branch that was lying on the ground nearby. Ellis had blocked the branch and punched the young man hard. That had been enough to send the young man running. Michaela couldn't help but have a healthy respect for what he had done, and while Ellis was recounting what had happened, his sister had come over to where they were applying the splint. Her name was Josephine, and she threw her arms around Ellis' neck, and said "I'm so sorry you got hurt because of me Ellis." He stopped her, "Shhh Josephine, you know you're my sister and I love you, and I'd never let anyone hurt you no matter what, do you understand?" The young lady shook her head yes and wiped a tear off her face. She looked at Dr. Mike and ask, "Dr. Mike do you have brothers?" Michaela shook her head no, but she answered her also. "Well, no Josephine, I don't, I only have sisters." Josephine considered Michaela for a moment, "Well Dr. Mike, who looks out for you when you can't look out for yourself?" Michaela was already thinking of Sully, how much he helped her, the bar fight he had gotten into defending her honor when she first arrived, the way he had ripped the boards off the clinic doors when the influenza had taken the town by surprise, and the way he had apparently stayed by her side the whole time she had been barely conscious with the grippe. Then she thought about what Matthew had said about Sully. She smiled a little, "Josephine, I guess you are very lucky to have such a caring person in your life already, we should all be so lucky." The young woman smiled and gave her brother another hug.
Michaela finished placing the splint and left. She was thinking about all the good things Sully had done since she knew him. Then it started to trouble her that, as good as he was, and as bad as Rankin was, Sully would be the one to lose the most, and she would lose that man in her life, her protector, when things were too much. She was caught up in her feelings but trying to go about her day, briskly making her way back to the clinic. Horace caught her attention and stopped her. "Oh, Dr. Mike, I sent that telegram to the Marshal in Denver for ya, I..I hope they do something to that fella that beat up Sully." She was busy mulling over things, "I do too." Horace seemed nervous that Dr. Mike was maybe upset with him, and it seemed as though she would have to stop and talk it through with him. It was really about him selling his property to the railroad, which she didn't hold against him. Upon discussing the situation, Michaela came to an interesting conclusion when Horace had asked her about the stocks he had received. They sent a telegram to the train company and waited for a reply. Mr. Birch, a supposed representative from the railroad, had been conning the whole town with fake stocks and promises of the best prices for their property. When it came down to it, he was a con man and it was up to Michaela to save the town's people from a terrible mistake. She was proud of the results she had gotten after confronting Mr Birch. Everyone had gotten their land and property back. She couldn't help but reason that if Sully would go about this the right, legal way, nothing would happen. When she thought about it more, "nothing would happen" hadn't really held true though. Yes, she had saved the town's people of Colorado Springs, but how many other towns would be affected by Mr. Birch? Just like Ellis and the stranger, how many other families would be affected by the same bad man. Mr. Birch wouldn't stop, he had almost succeeded in conning their town. She was their protector at the moment and she had done things the right way, but he would be moving on and eventually taking advantage of some other place. Sully was trying to stop Rankin so he would never do any of these terrible things again. Unlike lost money and property, these would be lost lives, lost futures, they couldn't be brought back by the law. The law had been on her side, the town's people had been with her backing her up, but Sully was alone, and the law wouldn't be on Sully's side. After all, the railroad companies and the government had sent the buffalo hunters and the Army to make sure the natives wouldn't be a problem.
Sully had been resting at the lean-to, he felt like he would be ready to take on Rankin and his men by evening. Her words repeated in his head. 'If you kill Rankin, you're no better than he is.' Rankin was a vile man. That may have hurt him more than anything else, and amid her usually kind nature it had taken great courage to say that to him. That's how Sully knew she meant what she said. If he killed Rankin, she would never see him again. He had taken her threat to heart, but he was obligated to confront such a terrible man, and Rankin wasn't going to be peaceful about it. He wished Michaela wasn't ready to commit to a relationship that was more serious, but he knew when the time was right, they would be one spirit and one body. That meant they would be making decisions together. She had begged him not to do this. Maybe she was right, but he just didn't know what else to do to fix this, and their time hadn't come yet. Sully had removed the saddle from his horse when he returned. He had been propping up on it while he was resting. He sat up and reached into the saddlebags nearby to gather the things he would need. His hand hit something soft and when he removed it, it was the green shirt Michaela had given him as a gift. Sully stared at it, remembering. That evening had been so pleasant, almost everything he had ever hoped for. He lifted the shirt and to his surprise, it smelled of her lavender soap. Sully, producing a small growl in his throat, breathed in, that woman was everything, and everywhere. He didn't know if he would kill Rankin or not, but for her sake he would do his best to consider other options. He would leave in the next hour and meet his fate.
She had gone home and she needed time to think, so she was enjoying a walk around the property. It was the same walk they had taken before, when Sully was regaining his strength and she had supported him by holding his hand. She stopped and looked into the distance. Sully was out there somewhere, and he was all alone. He shouldn't have to do this alone. Maybe that had been the difference with Mr. Birch? If she had confronted him alone, things might have been different. She thought back to Sully's warm hand in her hand. Had she abandoned him? She had left her comfort zone and taken his hand the whole walk to keep him from falling, to keep him from getting hurt again, to keep him safe. He was so important to her, the best man she knew, he was her one in a million. She turned suddenly, she had to get help, and the Cheyenne were his best chance right now. She quickly made her way to the barn and retrieved her horse which she had left saddled when she returned home. Michaela raced over to the camp to ask Black Kettle to help, but when she arrived, they had turned her down. Again, like when Sully had helped her find Brian, the Cheyenne were held to their camp and would be shot by the Army if they left. They offered to do all that they could, but they couldn't leave. They would call on the spirits to protect him. Cloud Dancing said that she was the only one Sully would listen to. Was that true? She had no idea her thoughts were so important to him. Or maybe it wasn't so much her ideas but the way he felt for her, doing things he wouldn't do for others. She had to hurry. If she had rode fast to begin with, now she rode even faster. She was taking unnecessary risk to get to him and she didn't care, she didn't want him to die, she didn't want to lose him to Rankin's rifle or otherwise a prison and a rope. She was riding into an area that she thought he might be in when she heard the shots.
Sully had gone back to Rankin's camp and he had snuck up on his men, quickly rendering them unconscious. He could feel his ribs hurting even more after he had kicked one of the men in the face, knocking him out. But he was on a mission to get Rankin, and there wasn't any pain in his body that would stop him now. He heard a gunshot, Rankin was in the field below killing more buffalo at this moment. Sully went and got his horse. He was going to do this in a way that would honor his Cheyenne friends, so he found Rankin and rode straight at him with his tomahawk drawn.
Rankin was shooting buffalo, and he was all too happy to do it. He didn't care if it was wasteful, he had a job to do, and he enjoyed it. He would be making a small fortune off the buffalo hides he and his men collected. He wouldn't be getting his hands dirty though, he would shoot them and his men would come and collect the hides. As he took aim, he suddenly heard the sound of an Indian warrior's cry, it had sounded strange, almost like an echo, like an echo from all the times he had shot an Indian that came to confront him. Spinning quickly and raising his rifle, Rankin was surprised to see a white man charging at him. Like a man coming back from the dead, it was this Sully fellow that he had sent his men to track. There was no way after taking a beating like they had given him, that he could be riding like that, but here he was. It was no matter though, the fool would be laying on the ground in as long as it took him to sight in and pull the trigger. When Rankin raised the rifle to look through the sights his vision was blurry. What was happening, he focused on his target, but the image in front of him faded from a man to a giant white buffalo. Was the man a ghost, or was the buffalo a ghost? Rankin slightly lowered his rifle to see with both of his eyes. The animal charging at him turned into a man again and then back to a buffalo. What was happening, was this even real?
Sully had started his charge at Rankin and he knew he would be shot at but the closer he got the more Rankin just stared in disbelief. With a courageous heart he rode straight to Rankin and struck with his tomahawk. The blade catching the metal on the rifle, it fell to the ground. Rankin, being a stout man, didn't fall but by the time he had recovered, Sully had turned and jumped from his horse tackling the offensive man where he stood. It had almost been a surprise to him, or so it seemed. Now Rankin was fully aware that this was a man attacking him, and it was a man he hated. He hated that Sully wasn't dead, he hated that Dr. Quinn had threatened him over the first time this man should have been dead. His men had failed and he would get his hands dirty for this, he would do the job himself. They rolled and Sully knew it would be a mistake to get into a bear fight with such a stout man, he let go and got to his feet. Spinning in a circle the two were focused on each other. Rankin pulled a large knife and slashed at Sully. He avoided the blade and convinced Rankin that he would never be able to keep up with Sully's nimble speed. "Come on, make your move," Sully said as he watched very closely. "This time, I'm gonna kill ya!" Rankin knew he had to act fast, so he threw his knife quickly to distract his opponent, and immediately charged at him. Sully avoiding the quickly thrown knife was taken by surprise and he braced for the impact of falling and also immediately positioned himself to use Rankin's own leverage against him. After taking a solid punch to his face, he used his leg to flip Rankin over the top of him. It was tactics the Cheyenne had shown him, and they were very effective in situations like these. He hurried to where Rankin was and punched him with his fist, then alternated to his other fist. The combination was stunning enough for Sully to quickly grab his tomahawk from his belt and lift it above his head.
This was the moment, everything he had to lose flashing before his eyes, and her words came back to him, "If you kill him, you're no better than he is." Well that wasn't the kind of man he was or wanted to be, but he would make sure Rankin didn't forget him, and honestly it was the best he could do not to kill him when his blade came down to the side of Rankin's head, it would have been so easy to alter his aim. Cutting off a part of Rankin's ear had been kind in Sully's eyes, and he was no murderer. He warned Rankin and told him to take nothing and leave by morning, "If I ever see you again, I will kill you." That had been a promise. Sully returned his tomahawk, covered in blood, to his belt and made his way to his horse. Rankin wasn't going to let him go that easily, he got his rifle and pointed it at Sully's back. But Rankin was quickly distracted. As Sully rode away he heard the sound of a charging buffalo. Turning to look back he saw it, Running Ghost, charging fully at Rankin. There was nothing to be done and Sully watched as Rankin was gored to death. Just as quickly as it had happened, the buffalo was gone. He turned and headed back towards the homestead. He needed to see Dr. Mike, he needed to tell Michaela what had happened.
Michaela heard the gunshots, there were a few and she worried because she knew that had to be Rankin, Sully wouldn't use a gun. She had raced to the area where she heard the sound and was making her way to the high ground so she could find the best possible way to avoid any danger. If Sully was laying in the field with bullet wounds, she would need to render aid quickly, but she would have to go unnoticed. She hoped it hadn't come to that, maybe Rankin had missed. Deep in her soul she knew this moment would define her future with or without Sully. She raced up a hill but was startled by a movement. She pulled up on the reigns and her heart started pounding, if it was Rankin she would need to hide. Then she saw his hair, shining in the golden sunlight, amongst the golden fields. It was Sully, and he was hunched over his horse. Her horse was restless, it had been running flat out for a good while. When she held it from moving, it huffed and made noises. Sully was in great pain and he was sitting upright but quickly hunched over his horse, he had to keep going, he had to get to her, despite everything, he hoped she would help him heal again. He was hurting more than he expected and he was trying to not feel every step that his horse made. Sully was succumbing to the pain and realized that the best he could do was hold on, that was it. He lay over his saddle and whispered her name. He heard a horse in the distance, looking up, she was staring at him. The desperation in his eyes was thankfulness that she was here, but to Michaela, she wasn't sure that he hadn't been shot. He sat up straighter. He had his hand over his side and the more she searched for signs of injury, the more he slumped over. Sully was fully leaned into his horse and she feared the worst, was he dying right in front of her, she couldn't move. She was afraid she might not be able to save him. Sully was in so much pain now, he wanted to hide that pain from her but he was overwhelmed and leaned fully onto his horse and rolled off. Michaela saw him fall, and she had to get to him. He hit the ground and it hurt, but Sully was so relieved that Dr. Mike was here, he was relieved that she had come for him, not knowing the outcome of his actions. He turned over and raised up, looking for her. She rode right up to him and quickly dismounted her horse kneeling down and falling to the ground. "Sully!" She was looking over him and she wasn't sure if he was wounded, but when he spoke he didn't mention any injury, he just said"It's over." She quickly assessed his mid section first and then his body She looked at him and said, "Please tell me you didn't kill him." Sully was all too eager to tell her that he didn't but his ribs felt so heavy and it was hard for him to say anything, "I…. I didn't….." he knew he wouldn't be able to say it unless he relieved some of the pressure weighing down on him. He rolled over and gently fell into her lap. "I didn't kill him," he breathed. She was thankful. When he rolled into her lap, she was taken back, but she quickly accepted him and placed one hand on his arm and the other in his hair. She looked to the sky, breathing deeply, she closed her eyes and thanked God and whatever spirits may be for the protection they had given him, and for the answered prayer that he not be arrested and executed. She exhaled, thankful for the chance she still had to love him. The sun was shining down in golden hues and Michaela's auburn hair was shining beautifully in the open sunlight. She was surrounded by golden fields and the light blue flowers that grew around her. Sully was exhausted, and he lay in the comfort of her arms while she caressed his hair and forehead. Some of his stress and pain had melted away as she stroked his forehead, and looked after him. Eventually, they would have to get Sully back to the homestead to rest. She couldn't condone the reinjury, but there was a need to take the time to let his body heal.
Sully lay there on Michaela for a good while and recounted the events that he had just taken part in and witnessed. He assured her that Rankin was dead and there was no chance of his survival. Before they left, Michaela rode her horse down the hill to act as a witness to the verification that had caused Rankin's death. He had indeed been gored by a buffalo. But while they remained there, in fields of gold, they talked about their last conversation. Michaela started, "Sully, I know the free will you exercised in not actually being the one to kill Rankin, but I'd like to think that how I felt might have meant something to you. Sully tenderly breathed in, "Michaela, I wasn't happy with what you said, but you were right, I'm nothing like that man." She was silent, and she caressed his hair again, slowly. "Sully?" He looked up "Yes Michaela?" She continued to caress his hair, "Thank you for being my friend, thank you for all that you have done for me." Sully closed his eyes and truly felt the gentle touch of her hand, "You're welcome." She paused briefly, "Sully?" He smiled a little, "Yes Michaela?" She smiled a little and then a touch of sadness came over her, "Abigail was a good woman wasn't she?" Maybe it was her guilt that had made her say it. She was falling in love with him, and knowing those wounds were still healing, she couldn't push herself to take any further steps in progressing a more serious relationship. Sully was a little surprised, "Yes Michaela, she was." She gently placed her hand near his injured ribs but close to his heart, the warmth taking the sting off of the question and the response. "I think we should get you back to the cabin now."
It rained that night, a gentle rush of life and coolness, and breezy refreshing renewal. Michaela couldn't help but open the door and let the sound calm her soul. She felt like she had been holding her breath for a very long time. She could hear what would be loud thunder in the distance as the sky turned lighter shades of purple. Mercifully, the storm would keep its distance tonight. For now, it was a steady rain singing a peaceful song. She listened to the chaos that created the calmness. Sully was lying on his back, propped up on his pillows again. The sound of rain, echoing through the homestead, he watched her in the doorway as he tenderly inhaled and exhaled. She was at peace with their relationship, she was at peace with herself. He knew he had some mending to do, on the outside and in his heart. Abigail had only been gone for a relatively short amount of time, he couldn't just forget about her overnight, but he made the decision to start letting go, he would always be grateful for what they had. Now only time and healing could keep him away from the feelings he had for Michaela. His heart could be trusted to love again, and maybe be happy again. That wouldn't depend on his decision, it was independent of him, fully dependent on the reactions within his heart.