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Michaela couldn't help it, she was frustrated. Sully had been beaten badly and despite her efforts he just wasn't communicating with her at the same level they had always found with each other. When Cloud Dancing had brought him to the homestead, Sully was shockingly unresponsive and his injuries were great. It had taken every bit of her physicians resolve to not let them all see how upset she was by the brutal way he had been injured by the attacks from Rankin and his men. The silent tears slowly crept down her face as she avoided the emotional state of her heart, knowing that was not what everyone needed to see from her. If she truly let everyone know how bad things were, well then she feared she would have to fully accept that she may never speak to Sully again and that he may in fact die from his injuries. How truly unfair that had felt to her. It was important that she address his injuries though and letting her emotions get the best of her wouldn't actually help anything.

After the initial assessment, the children had given her space to deal with Sully's health. Her heart ached with them because she knew they were worried about the outcome of it all. Mathew and Cloud Dancing had helped her strip the dirty, bloody clothes from him. It was tempting for her to notice his physical form as they undressed him. Matthew had looked at her when she asked him to remove Sully's buckskins. He had helped her with other unconscious patients before, but he knew Sully's pride would have a problem with letting her see him completely exposed. It just wasn't in Sully's nature to share everything about himself out of turn, despite his confidence in his own body. That's what caused Matthew to pause, and as Sully's shirt had been removed, Michaela prepared her answer for the questioning look that she knew was coming. "It has to be done Matthew, I'm his Doctor." However mechanically she needed to be to say that, she truly meant it. His injuries were very serious and she didn't want to miss anything that required her attention due to propriety. "Matthew, please, just remove his clothing and place the sheet over him." Matthew didn't hesitate any longer, she was right, it was what needed to be done to help Sully. After he had prepared Sully for the exam, he had helped Cloud Dancing lift and turn Sully so Dr. Mike could dress his wounds and injuries on his chest and examine his back for signs of further internal injury. After discussing his condition, Matthew excused himself to the barn to comfort Colleen and Brian. Cloud Dancing excused himself as well, going to warn the tribe of the violence that had been given when he knew Sully had peacefully approached the buffalo hunters on their behalf. He would warn them and then find a quiet place to call to the spirits for guidance and healing for Sully. He thought of locations to find the plants he could gather later for Sully's healing.

Michaela started with the remaining large bruises on his chest and shoulders. His swelling was extensive and she gently but thoroughly applied a salve that Cloud Dancing had shown her how to make from a yellow, daisy like flower that grew among the golden fields. It was effective in easing the swelling that occurred in the relatively small amount of time that had passed. He had cuts which she cleaned and sutured, and then she continued to wash his chest of remaining debris and dried him with a clean towel. She should examine his lower extremities now she thought. It did give her great pause, she was attracted to Sully, there was no doubt about that and she was curious about his body, but she never thought she would be rationalizing what she was preparing for and she was scared of her feelings for him. She knew this would change their friendship, but like she had told Matthew, it had to be done.

This was silly, she had seen many men that she had treated before, she reached for the sheet and paused, just be professional and do the examination she thought. Upon removing the sheet Michaela immediately noticed a large bruise and a laceration on his thigh. She made a mental note to get to that area as soon as she examined any further injuries. Sully had been lucky, he had severe bruising on his midsection, and many bruises around his genital area but not any serious injuries to the area itself. She quickly covered him after the examination and proceeded to suture the cuts he displayed on his legs. She had seen him, and it changed things for her, but only because she knew Sully would realize that she must have seen all of him to find the cuts on his upper legs. She had managed to maintain a professional observance of him and only briefly thought about the difference in other men she had examined. She bathed him and covered him with a blanket. Now she would address his face. The cuts on his face would require her most delicate sutures to avoid significant scarring. She dipped a new washcloth in warm water and began to clean his face. She was gentle with him, his lips were swollen and cut, his eyes were swollen shut. How could anyone beat a man so for simply trying to make peace. She focused on delicate strokes that caressed his cheeks and tried to clean the dried blood from his face. Eventually after hours of caring for him, there was nothing left to do, she would have to wait until he was conscious to determine the full extent of his injuries.

She placed all the towels and clothes into a laundry pile and decided to clean them the first chance she had when she woke the next day. That's if she got any sleep anyway, she pulled a chair up next to the bed, next to him, and sat down. She sat there fumbling her fingers against her dress and stared at his face, a beautiful, handsome face, all marred up and purple. He had the most beautiful hair, wavy and such a beautiful color of brown. She reached out and tucked an out of place curl back behind his ear. Drifting slightly, she stroked the place just above his eyebrow, and whispered, "Sully, if you can hear me, I need you to fight, I need you to wake up." She stared at his face, she whispered his name. "Sully…." She waited fighting her emotions, and decided to give him what he may need to hear in that moment. "Rest now, you are safe with me and I'm going to take good care of you, I'm going to help you get better." A single tear fell from her face onto the blanket of her bed, the bed he now slept in. She leaned forward and took his hand caressing it softly. She wanted to be near him, to protect him. Surely it wouldn't hurt to be closer to him she thought, she slid forward and curled up beside him keeping her hand on his. She watched his chest rise and fall and not wanting to add any pressure to his injuries but wanting a better connection, moved her hand above his heart almost at his neck so she could feel his pulse, she could feel the faint beat of his heart and it gave her comfort. She'd never seen him so vulnerable, her heart briefly pounded in her chest. She rose up and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead, looked at the profile of his face and then lowered herself back to a safe distance between them. She was so afraid to close her eyes, afraid that she might lose him in the middle of the night. So she watched as he breathed in and out, and contemplated treatments in her mind that she may have to render. With her left hand gently resting on the beat of his heart she slipped her right hand underneath his arm intertwining them and interlocking their fingers. She put her forehead against his shoulder being careful to avoid his injuries. It humored her that his skin smelled of lavender because of her soap, not that Sully would really mind, but he had always complained about the smell. Besides, it was the best thing she had at the homestead anyway.

It might have seemed unethical to be so close to a patient, but now that she was done with his examination, she had lovingly set aside the doctor in her, she was now the woman that was worried about losing a man that she might possibly love for the rest of her life. At some point she drifted off, still lightly touching him. When she woke, she startled herself awake, surprised that she had drifted off, immediately looking to see if he was still breathing. He was, and she was relieved to see that, but he still had not regained consciousness. She looked around, surprised that Coleen hadn't come back into the homestead to start breakfast but kind of glad that she hadn't found her in this compromised state. She knew Coleen would understand but Sully was only covered by a sheet and blanket. Goodness what was she thinking? She quickly, but gingerly got up and collected the laundry she had set aside the night before. As she prepared to go outside, the children entered the homestead, curious about seeing if Sully was awake. Feeling uncomfortable about the way she had acted she nervously straightened her dress and hair. The children however, didn't even notice her fidgeting. Much to their disappointment, Dr. Mike had told them that Sully had not yet regained consciousness. Knowing they needed to be distracted, Michaela asked Coleen to prepare breakfast and she asked Matthew and Brian to take turns watching Sully, and talking to him. Brian began by telling him all about a fish he had caught. It warmed her heart to know that Brian could be so comfortable and caring towards Sully. Matthew helped her carry everything she needed outside and then returned. She gathered some water from the creek and prepared a fire to sterilize the bandages and cloth she would need for his wounds. She would also wash his shirt and clean his buckskins. As she plunged his shirt against the washboard she thought about how Sully liked to live outside. She hadn't ever had the desire to live outside but it certainly wasn't as if she wouldn't spend a few days there, or sleep in the wilderness. His shirt, it was well used but it was also well cared for. Sully wasn't always neatly dressed in the latest styles, but he was always well dressed in clothes appropriate for his life. True, he was always dirty, but he took care of himself and he never smelled unpleasant. There was a woodsy smell to him, a natural earthly scent. Her thoughts wondered back to her lavender soap she used to bath him, and she truly hoped he wouldn't be bothered by the flowery smell. It had felt pleasant to touch his chest so freely. She was toiling over the thoughts of him in her mind lifting bandages onto the clothesline when Matthew came outside and said Sully was waking up.

Sully could hear a noise, it was Matthew talking, telling him how worried everyone was, especially Dr. Mike even though she was trying to hide it. Worried about what? Suddenly it all came rushing back and he woke up somewhat defensive. It was the sudden breath of lavender that lost his resolve to fight back. Sully was confused, how did he get here? Here in her bed? That's when he noticed how sore he was….all over! He could barely see and his face felt really swollen, it hurt to move but he was otherwise cognizant of his surroundings now. Just then, Michaela came in the door. She smiled at him, happy that he was awake now. Beautiful, she's beautiful. Sully remembered how she had filled his mind when he briefly had conscious thought at the bottom of the hill. He must have called out to her. "Cloud Dancing found you and brought you here, you have significant injuries, but Sully, now that you are awake it's important for you to tell me where it hurts so I can better assess your injuries."

He agreed, she immediately moved to the areas she had questions about and began massaging the areas for signs of more serious complications. Everything hurt and Sully gasp out in pain when she began pressing on his body, she stopped and mentioned how difficult she knew it would be, but she only wanted him to call out when there was great unbearable pain. She continued and as Michaela pressed in on his ribs the pain was too much, the pain shot through him and he called out in pain and took ahold of her hand to stop anymore actions. Just as she suspected, he had some broken ribs. After she examined his torso she moved on to his legs, there were a couple of places she suspected had some very deep bruises but she didn't think there were any breaks. As she pushed in on the first spot she expected a small groan but Sully made no sound, she pushed again and still nothing, she knew instantly. She moved to the worst injury and pushed in on it, nothing. Her mind raced wondering what to say but as she contemplated her words Sully seemed to notice that he couldn't feel his injuries or her touch. Michaela had grabbed a device from her bag to test his contact sensory and there was absolutely no reaction. Sully was nervous, the impact of this new knowledge was all too fast, he knew this was bad.

Michaela had to go to town, she found Matthew that morning and asked him to hitch the wagon. Colleen and Brian were awake so she asked them to do their chores, and also asked Colleen if she would prepare some soup for Sully. Colleen was happy to help and she and Brian both went outside to do their chores. Michaela walked over to his bedside. He was peacefully resting except for some mild mumbling. He moaned in his sleep and she reached out to caress his face and hair. This did the trick as the warmth of her hand comforted him and gave him peace. He gently turned his face into the palm of her hand. How she longed to be closer to him? She was determined to heal him, and if this terrible paralysis was for the rest of his life, she was determined that she would take on that responsibility. She could give it all up, her dreams of a family, just to love him would be enough. A tear formed at the corner of her eye and she gently withdrew her hand and walked out the front door.

It was midmorning. The smell of lavender engulfed him. It was bad enough that her smell was all over the bed sheets and the blanket, but the scent of her soap that always pleasantly accompanied her skin caressed his senses, and was taking him to another place. He closed his eyes, and he could see her in sunlight, in a field of lavender. The light green dress top she wore perfectly accentuating her form, and he wanted to go to her, take her in his arms and lay her down in a bed of beautiful green and purple, caress the skin that tortured him so, and love her gently. He held his breath and in that split second, he came back to reality. What was he thinking? How could he let himself think such things, lying here in her bed, where she sleeps. Besides, what if he never walked again, what if all this was permanent? He couldn't take that thought, what would he do? He certainly wasn't going to burden Michaela for the rest of her life and she certainly didn't need someone that couldn't take care of her. It wasn't fair and he had to push her away, for her own good. But this wasn't Michaela's fault and it certainly wasn't his. Rankin and his men were to blame, they ambushed a peaceful meeting and he wouldn't forget. He wouldn't forget that he was helpless, a feeling he hated, and he would be returning the favor, because if they were willing to carelessly destroy civilizations and lives, then they would stop at nothing. He had to stop them. Rankin and his men had meant to murder him and they almost succeeded, not to mention the death they had already caused. Sully had hoped that Iron Knife was alive when he briefly managed to regain consciousness at the bottom of the hill, but that had not been the case. It was thoughts of vengeance that played over and over for Sully as he lay there. And then the lavender came back to him. He needed to walk, to get out of this bed, but he couldn't, there was no possible way, the slow darkness of melancholy drifted through his mind. He'd never be able to love her like this. Just then Colleen walked up with soup, followed by Brian with a plate of cookies. He wasn't interested in food though, he felt guilty for Colleen's trouble, but he just couldn't eat anything right now. Of course Brian tried to bribe him with a cookie which made Sully laugh a little. To a little boy, cookies made everything better, and that's why Sully decided to humor him when he asked for a story. Cloud Dancing had mentioned the white buffalo prior to his visit to Rankin, and this would be the story to tell, because when Sully got better he would ask for protection again from the spirits. He was halfway through the story when Michaela walked in, lavender's scent swirling around him and she was acting so overly happy. Well, there wasn't anything to be happy about, of course she was happy, she could walk! The thought of his impedance was setting in as something that wasn't going away! Even if he could accept his crippled body, how would he ever be able to love her, to give her children. Sully hung his head, he had to know if she had any proof that he would get better, if he had any chance to walk again. He would ask her, he would ask her now. So because he just couldn't pretend anymore, he was cold to her when she remained so positive asking about how he was today. It hurt him to be so cold towards her, but this was how he needed to proceed, he needed the truth.

After inquiring about his day she needed to talk to him. Michaela was a little nervous, she knew something was very wrong. For her, having Sully conscious alive, and mending, was something to be happy about. She wanted to stay positive to help him stay positive, but his coldness had cut through her hope. She couldn't imagine life without him now, not after everything they had shared and how close they had become, but there was a darkness settling into him, and it needed to be addressed. She removed her coat, ask the children to give them a moment and turned. Maybe she could find the goodness, maybe she could reason with him. She had seen this behavior before though, in the wounded men of war, and it usually ended up causing severe melancholia, shutting out loved ones and isolating one's self. She simply couldn't allow this, and his personality was changing hourly. She spoke softly, hoping she could find a friendly way to give him hope. But when he went straight to the facts, she couldn't hide the seriousness of his injuries with him anymore. She had to tell the truth, in an honest way, they had always been honest with each other. She had to admit she didn't know if he would get better. After he hit the bed she knew she had to give him the facts of the hope she still held onto, even if he couldn't accept it for himself. She needed to show him now that there was still hope. If he continued to lay there in the bed amongst all his melancholia, his muscles would become weak. Why hadn't she thought before, they needed to keep his blood circulating.

What was she doing? She had quickly pulled the covers back and Sully knew that his night shirt was too high on his legs. He was comfortable with his manhood but he was not ready to address anymore embarrassment considering she had probably already seen too much during his initial examination. He pulled the shirt down and covered himself with his hand. She touched his legs and he didn't understand, she knew he couldn't feel anything, what was the point? He became agitated. She was talking about blood flow and circulation. If he could only feel her hands upon him, he wasn't used to massages, so when he watched her move further up his leg he couldn't help but let his mind wonder what that would actually feel like, how it might otherwise stimulate him. He needed to relax. He crossed his arms accepting that this was going to happen whether he could feel it or not. But then it happened.

She was massaging his leg and she knew this was important to keep the blood circulating, she continued to make her way higher and higher to get the blood flowing. What she hadn't planned on was the unintended consequences of the stimulation. She had seen his manhood briefly while he was unconscious and unknowingly she had just stimulated it. She saw a sudden twitch and slight elevation under his night shirt and immediately looked up at him. Sully not realizing what had happened, glanced down when he saw her staring at him, a light blush on her face. It twitched again and he realized that she was on the verge of giving him an erection that was totally unintended. He was embarrassed, for him,and her. She had only been trying to help, despite his protest. He grew very uncomfortable with where this was leading and nervously reached for her hand quickly stopping her. He had to make this better.

Michaela had seen his reaction, and as much as it embarrassed her she was willing to continue, because his legs needed the circulation. Maybe she could pretend she didn't see anything, so she looked up at him to see if he had noticed his new movement. His questioning glance had told her he did realize, and he looked down to see if he could cover himself before she saw more. So she continued on pretending that she wasn't bothered by his completely uncontrollable movements, but he quickly stopped her. He was so defiant that she not help him now, and it made her angry, if she could ignore such things for the sake of his own health that could prove valuable in his recovery time and health, then he could get over these involuntary movements. He had to be embarrassed though, Sully had always been a gentleman toward her, and now this uncontrollable desire that he couldn't even feel was showing its undeniable attraction to her. It must have been from the circulation though not his own desire, but then she had seen it in his eyes, the undeniable truth.

Sully covered himself with his hand and Michaela's eyes fluttered rapidly as she put the covers back over him, trying to look away. She was going to address what had just happened but he turned away from her and she knew now was not the best time. She turned away. She did feel sorry for him and he knew that. He didn't know how to react, so amongst his embarrassment he blurted out, "Don't go feeling sorry for me." He couldn't believe he just said that, he breathed out with hurt in his heart. With her back turned ready to leave and give him space and time, she simply couldn't ignore it anymore. Sully had never been the type to feel sorry for himself and she wasn't going to let this continue. She was hurt by the way he was just giving up,not dealing with reality. Her breath was heavy, and she released a frustrated sigh as she turned and walked back to him. "I'll make you a deal, I won't feel sorry for you, as long as you stop feeling sorry for yourself." His eyes shot to her and he wanted to be mad, but she was right, he had been feeling sorry for himself. Things had to be different now, he had to start working on getting better. As she left he removed his hand from covering himself and feeling guilty for his actions, thought about what he needed to do.

Chapter Text

As Michaela left the side door of the homestead, she grabbed the bowl that contained the chicken's food, frustration driving her to accomplish something, but she didn't immediately go to feed them. She walked to the front porch and sat down, placing the bowl beside her. Everything that had just happened troubled her greatly. She looked at her hands. If she had only not moved so high, so close to him, maybe things would be different right now. Maybe Sully could accept her help. Didn't he understand, that's who she was, a healer. She wasn't proud that she had caused such a reaction in him. Besides, what had he felt if he couldn't even feel her physical touch? Surely, he couldn't have those feelings from thoughts. Was it possible? She closed her eyes and imagined him massaging her legs, no touch, just feelings. To her surprise, the thought stirred something deep inside her. That sent feelings of desire throughout her and a faint, almost longing, to feel more. When she couldn't take it anymore, she firmly, but gently grasped her own legs through her dress and imagined they were his hands. Faintly gasping, she quickly withdrew her hands and stood up taking up the bowl into her hands. It was then that she realized that maybe she would have to approach his treatment from another place. From now on, Matthew would be the one to touch Sully, she certainly didn't want anything else to happen that would make them both uncomfortable, and she couldn't risk that such a reaction would happen with the children present. She knew Sully wouldn't want that either. She needed to talk to Matthew, she needed to ask him to become more involved in Sully's recovery. She reached into the bowl and walked to the chicken coop. She would find Matthew after she finished her chore.

After feeding the chickens, she looked in the barn to see if Matthew was there, he wasn't. She was wondering if he had gone back inside the homestead, then she saw him coming out of the front door. She could only assume that he had been talking with Sully. She paused when she saw him, nervous about any decisions Sully had made. She called after him "Matthew," he stopped," ?" She wondered what they had been discussing, "I need to talk to you about Sully" Matthew looked at her and said, "I know, we've been talking." Questioning her own comfort with discussing such matters with Matthew she continued, "Oh, you have?" She grew more nervous, this was the kind of parenting advice she had wondered about when the time came for the maturity of her children. Even this was silly of her, she was a doctor, she could discuss these issues with any of her patients, what made it so much more difficult now? Matthew just looked on,"Yeah, Sully told me what happened, I went back in to get a fishing pole so I could take Brian fishing." She was nervous about what came next, but much to her relief, he said something she didn't expect. "Sully said you two had argued about his treatment, and he had decided, you were right, he can't just be lying in bed anymore, he needs to get better." He wants me to find a tree limb so he can start lifting himself." Michaela was stunned, he actually cared now, he cared about making progress, and he saved her from any embarrassing details he could have told Matthew. She didn't know how to feel, but she was glad he had decided to progress in his treatment."Well," she breathed out, "I think that's a fine idea. She smiled and then hesitated, "I, I want you to be the one to help him from now on, with everything, I think maybe it would be better for him that way. Maybe he feels like my sympathies are keeping him from progressing any further," she paused and reasoned, "and he is out of danger now. You could help him with some male companionship." Matthew smiled gathering the fishing rod, "Ok, Dr. Mike, we'll be home before supper," and he called for Brian as he walk away.

Well that was settled, she decided to go back inside. Maybe Sully wasn't as stubborn as she thought. When she walked back in Sully was lying on his back staring straight up at the ceiling. Michaela walked over and he still wouldn't look at her. What she didn't know was that Sully was upset. He felt useless and feeble, he didn't want to be a burden anymore and he needed to get better. "Matthew told me you want a tree branch to pull yourself up with. I think that's a wonderful idea," she said, trying not to sound too happy. "We can hang it right here for you." Sully retained his gaze and almost monotonously said, "Yeah, I think you were right Dr. Mike, I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and really try to get better." She was glad to hear him say that, but it was chilling the way he said it, and he still didn't make eye contact. "Sully," she said, "look at me." There was hurt in both their eyes, but they didn't necessarily focus on it. "I'm going to help you get better, but I've asked Matthew to be your main caregiver, I will be guiding him and assisting him through your therapy." Sully looked down a little, just breaking contact, and said, " I think that would be best, thank you Dr. Mike." She fidgeted with her dress and said, I'm going to have some soup that Coleen made now, would you like some?" He looked back up, "Yes, I would, thank you," and he smiled at her a little. She smiled briefly and went to the stove. These feeling he had for her would be buried deep within him, he had to get better and he had to go after Rankin. If that was his only goal for walking again, then so be it. He had been in a state of melancholia for too long and depending on the next few days, he would will himself back. He would get the man that caused his pain, her pain, the pain of the Cheyenne.

That night Colleen helped Matthew by standing in a chair and holding one side of the tree branch he had prepared for use as a pull up bar. Matthew secured both sides and everyone held their breath as Sully painfully lifted himself a few inches off the bed. It was a start and that's all that mattered. Michaela was quite proud of Sully for those few inches he had lifted himself, she could tell that his newfound determination was real. And it had taken everything he had to do so. She went and got a cup of water. Handing it to him, their fingers briefly touched and this was the first contact they had since the massage. It was no wonder that both of them felt something, but they continued on like nothing had happened. After supper, the children retired to their beds. Matthew had taken to sleeping in the barn. Since Michaela didn't have a bed to sleep in, he would give up his. As she put her feet under the covers, Sully watched her with silent admiration. He had taken so much of her time and comforts of home, that again, he felt guilty. And he truly hated to bother her for anything else but he had slid so far down his pillow, it was now hurting his neck to stay in the same position and it was more difficult to breath with his ribs still healing. He needed to be up against the headboard. He couldn't ask though,he just couldn't. He wrestled around, trying to prop himself back up, slowly making his way back to where he had been. Michaela could hear him, wrestling around, she wondered why he didn't just ask for her help. She got up and saw him, he was halfway off of his pillow and couldn't get back to where he would be comfortable. "Sully…" she whispered, he stopped moving and looked her way. "Do you need help? I'll go get Matthew." He quickly whispered back, "No, I don't want you to go out in the dark over me, I can make it?" She went to him and leaned over to readjust the pillow. He was laying flat on his back, she had taken the pillow and a few other ones and moved them back to the headboard. Her night gown hung loosely on her body and the moonlight coming through the window illuminated the material while her silhouette remained. He could see the shape of her body. As she leaned over him, the fabric brushed against his face, he closed his eyes and thought about Shoal Creek, were he and Daniel had jumped into some of the coldest water he had ever felt. She whispered again, "Sully...Sully," and he opened his eyes. "I don't think I can move you, I think it would be best if Matthew did this." He thought for a moment, "It's ok Michaela, Brian told me there's been a bear nearby lately, and I don't think you should be going to get Matthew in the middle of the night. If you can just help me up, I'll be able to move myself." Michaela knew he was right, there had been a bear around lately. "Ok," she thought for a minute. She wasn't sure she could pull him up and she didn't want to put so much stress on his broken ribs, so she thought of another way. She moved to the right side of the bed. "Here, put your arms around me." She planted her right foot on the ground, her left knee at his waist and her left arm stayed straight out as she leaned over him. Sully was in shock, they were face to face, her hair falling against him, and as she noticed their more than friendly proximity she decided to get it over with as soon as possible. She looked him in the eyes and said, "On three." After he nodded, she slid her right hand around his back as she bent her left elbow into position and her head went to the left of his. At this point all he could think of was Shoal Creek, and that's what he repeated in his head as she whispered, "One, Two, Three." She pushed with her left hand as she pulled with her right, and moved into a sitting position that ended up right beside him. It was the right amount of leverage as they quickly ended up face to face, her with her hands on either side of him and he was holding onto her still. There was a brief moment between them, eye to eye, lips so close, and Sully had put his hands back. He started scooting back, away from her. "Thanks," he managed to whisper. "You're welcome," she returned. Michaela stood and walked back to her bed. Sully sighed and leaned against his pillows. For all their efforts, they were now both experiencing restlessness.

Michaela had been awake all morning, she was just restless about everything. The way things had been between her and Sully, the way she had taken a step back from his treatment, and the way he was still focused on revenge. She wondered if that focus would still continue to get worse. She was contemplating what to do, feeding the chickens, when she heard a horse approaching. Turning, she realized it was Cloud Dancing. He had brought the root that he vowed to find. It had taken him almost a week and a half to find enough. When she told him of Sully's mood, he decided to return later, and he also told her of the worsening relationship between the tribe and the buffalo hunters. When he mentioned that two more men had been killed by Rankin and his men, Michaela realized just how lucky Sully had been, just how lucky she had been not to lose him. She knew she would need to prepare the root before she could make a salve that she could apply, or rather, Matthew would apply. She said goodbye to Cloud Dancing and went to look for Matthew. She had an idea to take Sully to the hot springs and let him soak in the water. The therapy would be good for him and it might ease some of the swelling. She found him and explained what they would be doing. Brian and Coleen wanted to accompany them and she noticed that Sully was usually a little better tempered when they were around anyway. Maybe this would be really good for him. It was interesting to say the least getting him into the hot springs, but they had managed to get really close with the wagon, and Matthew and Michaela each took a shoulder and a leg to carry him, although most of Sully's hold had been on Matthew, to keep Michaela from lifting too much. They walked him down into the water and began the therapy. Colleen and Brian cheered him on from the bank of the spring. His grip was firm against Matthew, but he also held Michaela close, being in the water and not being able to independently stand was an uncomfortable feeling for him. After they finished, Michaela help Matthew take Sully to a safe spot with submerged rocks to sit on so Sully could have a bath. Matthew stayed close by to assist if Sully were to lose control of his surroundings. Again, the only soap she had for him was the lavender soap that she bought from Mr. Bray at his general store. Sully was glad to be out of the homestead and back in the wilderness, if only for a little while. He lathered the soap on his chest and sighed. They sat on the rocks later, Sully propped up against a tree and watched as the children played in the water for a while. Michaela had brought a picnic in the hopes that it would brighten his spirits. And it had, Sully felt good besides the obvious, and he was thankful for the much needed time outside.

The next day, the Reverend came by to talk with Sully and give him the message of hope. It had done a little good and when he had asked about the tree branch above the bed, Sully had volunteered to show the Reverend his progress. It had been two weeks of progress that had gotten Sully to this point where he could lift himself almost to the top of the bar, a skill that actually took a lot of strength to do. Michaela watched ever muscle in his arms as he lifted himself, he was a very strong man. She was happy with his progress again, but when Sully dropped himself back to the bed he was weak and exhausted and he looked away to regain his composure even while the were congratulating him for doing so well. No one knew how hard this was for him. He was very pleased with his progress, but he still couldn't feel anything in his legs, and he was starting to think that maybe in all actuality, he would never walk again. After the Reverend left and after they had supper Sully had a long talk with Michaela about being transferred to a hospital if things didn't improve soon. It wasn't that he didn't think he was getting the absolute best care, he just didn't want to be a burden to her anymore if this was going to be permanent. Michaela had respected his wishes, but it did hurt her, she would happily stay with him for as long as he needed and she just didn't understand why he couldn't accept that. She told him goodnight rather early and went to her bed. Laying in her bed she stared at the ceiling, what were these feelings she had?

The next day Michaela spent most of the morning grinding up the roots that Cloud Dancing had brought. She had to give it one last good try to get him back on his feet. Otherwise he would be leaving and who would know when she would see him again. She was standing at his bedside contemplating the fact that all her efforts at this point had only led to his survival, and nothing more. She didn't want to see him go, and nothing seemed to work yet. She looked at his profile as he sat there, his face, she was trying to study every detail and she just couldn't believe he would leave. What could she say or do to make him stay? Sully could feel her gaze, he knew he had made the right decision, but it still made him a little uncomfortable. The way he could see her out of the corner of his eye, she wass staring and she didn't even realize it yet. She must have really believed that he would get better, and he was starting to realize that she would really care if she never saw him again. He felt guilty, this isn't what he wanted for her. He lowered his head and thought about everything that had happened between them. Matthew was rubbing the root salve all over his legs, and he remembered the last time someone had done something similar.

Matthew was totally focused on doing a good job, Dr. Mike had told him to make sure the mixture was thoroughly rubbed in and covered everywhere. He was running out of salve and she had mixed more but so far she hadn't handed it to him yet. Well, he simply couldn't wait any longer, everything was starting to dry. He looked over and she was almost nonrespondent, so he took matters into his own hands and grabbed the bowl from her. Michaela hadn't realized that she was done mixing the salve a long time ago and when Matthew surprised her by taking it from her, she quickly found something else to do with her hands. Maybe that was it, maybe she needed to occupy her hands since she couldn't actually preform her medicinal duties. Thoughts of before when she massaged his legs lingered and besides the attraction,she wished she could be able to do the job herself. She was growing hopeless again, and maybe her disappointment was showing because Sully was suddenly looking into her eyes.

He found himself wanting to tell her that he knew how hard she had tried to help him. He wanted to ease her fear that she would never see him again, he didn't know that he could ever be in her life like he wanted to but he would be a part of her life, he would somehow keep a part of the friendship they had. He needed to convey a little bit of hope, because right now, she seemed hopeless. He needed to look at her. He cautiously started to look her way, maybe he was trying to keep his feelings in check, so he looked her general direction and slowly worked his way to her face, her eyes.

Michaela caught his gaze and strangely enough he even seemed hopeful, like he was trying to tell her everything was alright. He even had a faint hint of a smile. For a moment, she even believed it, that everything would be alright. Sully was excited to find a glimmer of hope in there. She was beautifully wanting so much to heal him. But then reality settled in and the hope they found in one another vanished for her and she almost stared right through him now. Nothing would be good without him. Her medical training took over and she started to disassociate with the feelings, emotionless she started looking over his body, wishing for something, anything. She was sad.

He lost her, and he could see it, his internal dialogue told him he wanted to hold her, give her something real to thank her and let her know she had done her best. He cared for her so, and he dare say, maybe even loved her. She shouted, "They moved!" Sully looked at her and then it registered. "Your toes, they moved! Concentrate," she encouraged him. Sully focused on his foot and sure as anything, his toes moved! He laughed a little, "they sure did." Michaela was elated, every day they had hoped for this, the swelling was fading away and she knew he would be walking in no time. When she told him this much, she expected him to be happy because he would be staying, because he was getting his life back, because maybe they could spend more time together, but Sully had other plans. His mind was instantly preoccupied with going to Rankin's camp. It was disappointing as he focused on his recovery becoming his revenge. Her spirit was dashed a little, but in the end, he was going to get better and she was going to help.

Chapter Text

Michaela had finished the exam and she found the sensations in Sully's legs were enough to warrant a little freedom. "I want to try to walk today," he proclaimed with enthusiasm. She looked back up from putting away her medical tools, "Woah, woah, woah, not without your doctor's approval." His enthusiasm faded, but only a little, he was still excited. He was a little flirty and he smiled a little, "Well then, what do you suggest Dr. Mike?" Smiling a crooked smile she went to the front door, opened it, and called for Matthew. "Matthew and I are going to hold you this time, and we will go for a walk, but I want you to take it ever so easy. You're weak from the paralysis." Sully was dealing with his revenge in a rather round about way. On the one hand, getting Rankin was his number one goal, not because of hate, but because he needed to be stopped and someone had to do it. If there was anyone that would be justified, it was him. Rankin had tried to kill him and he almost succeeded. In a court of law, maybe that would help him, maybe it wouldn't, but either way, brutally killing his Cheyenne friends and effectively starving the tribe was something that couldn't happen, and wouldn't happen to them or any other tribe. However, he knew he had to be ready and he couldn't even walk yet, but he hoped it wouldn't be too much longer. Maybe if he worked hard he could make progress sooner than expected. On the other hand, now that he had some of his confidence back by knowing he was getting better, his thoughts shifted a little. This would all end soon. He had gotten used to good morning greetings, breakfast made with love, family meals, little conversations, and seeing Michaela and the children every day. He wondered if this was something he could get used to for good. "I've got this crutch you can use, but I want you to rely on us until you get comfortable, then we can let you start walking. Eventually after a few days, you should be able to walk on your own." She was right, but he knew if he objected, she wouldn't want him to try walking today, so he stayed quiet and agreed. He was going to walk today.

Michaela had Matthew briefly massage Sully's legs to improve circulation, and once they were ready, they turned him toward the side of the bed. He could move his legs and feet, but it was still difficult. He placed his feet on the floor. Who knew that it would be such a relief to feel the floor again, but Sully was taking in all these renewed sensations? Matthew sat on his left side and Michaela sat down to the right of him. He could feel her pressed against him and she leaned forward looking at Matthew, "We're going to stand up on three Matthew. Sully, if you need to sit back down, the bed will be behind you, but we're going to support you, so try to stay upright." Sully nodded. Michaela had Matthew put his arm around Sully and she did the same. She could feel every muscle in his back along the path and place her hand had come to rest. She moved across his back, latissimus dorsi to the lower part of his obliquus externus abdominis in her medical charts. They had learned all the Latin phrases in medical school and it was something she had enjoyed. She had asked Matthew to go a little higher and this would require more strength from him, all to avoid the injuries to Sully's ribs on the right side of his body. She would be lifting from the lower part of his body and for that she firmly gripped his oblique at the crest of his hip, medically referred to as christa iliaca. This connection she had with him, the way she touched him never went unnoticed by either one of them. Sully put his arm around Matthew's neck and grasp his shoulder tightly. Because of his rib injury, Sully gingerly and slowly worked his hand from the lower part of Michaela's back to her shoulder. She dipped slightly to help him and she came to rest under his arm. The contact for her had felt intimate, his hand warm and gentle, but she realized that he was in pain and needed the full contact movement to linger firmly across every curve of her as he traced his way upward. She was a strong woman for her frame, and he thought back on his time in the clinic during the grippe. He would have done anything to make her better then. He had carried her limp body to Cloud Dancing, tended to her with gentle concern, she hadn't resisted him. He had seen her ivory skin and the soft, supple arch of her back. Arms extended, the soft curve of her breast barely visible, he hadn't been able to look away until Brian had called his name. But he couldn't let thoughts like that start to get into his head, he had a job to do and he needed to focus. He wanted to make this as easy on her as possible, so he gave it everything he could when she asked if he was ready, looked at Matthew, and counted, "One, two, three!" They raised up and Sully pushed with all his strength, Michaela could feel the intense flex of his muscles as he wobbled and tried to balance himself. "Good, good," she reassured him. There he was, standing, and amidst small gasp of pain, he was smiling and laughing, overcome with happiness.

When they started moving, the pain set in, and Sully focused hard. He could bare the pain if it was worth it, and it was. Carefully moving through the doorway, Dr. Mike had instructed him and he honestly thought he was doing really well as they moved to the bottom of the steps. He felt good, his newfound success had given him confidence to tell her he could do this on his own. Michaela asked if he was sure, and when he answered that he was, she knew he wasn't ready but she wasn't going to stop him. He needed to see for himself. She stayed close and made eye contact with Matthew to make sure he would stay close as well. One step was all it took and Matthew grabbed him as he began to fall. He could have seriously hurt himself, but he didn't because Matthew had caught him. His ribs being compressed were a whole other issue. Sully was gasping as Matthew and Dr. Mike pulled him to the steps. "I wasn't going to fall," he proclaimed. Not wanting to discourage him, or his pride, they both agreed that he wasn't falling. That was his stubbornness talking. Matthew, who really had a hold on him, set him down and Michaela rubbed his back as he tried to get his breath back. He was in great pain and maybe she was right about walking too, but he had taken a step and that was better than not taking that first step. He looked to her as if to acknowledge her wisdom and she was already looking at him, proud of his courage but amused by his stubbornness. They would need another day or two for his walking therapy. The next day Sully had shown remarkable improvement, and still the next day he had improved even more. Matthew continued the leg massages and on the third day, Sully was able to walk by himself, although his movement was slow.

Michaela had been to town and upon looking over Mr Bray's inventory, she found a beautiful, new, green shirt for him, as a present for his remarkable recovery. She also stopped by his lean-to that was closest to the homestead and gathered a few of his things. She returned his clean buckskins and shirt but then handed him the neatly folded and wrapped shirt. He was surprised and reached to open it. Nervous that he would suspect her feelings, she told him how proud she was of his recovery and she hoped he would accept the gift. Sully pulled the string surrounding the paper and saw a new green shirt. Looking up at her, he earnestly and warmly thanked her. He made his way behind the curtain they used to change, and removed the night shirt. He put on his buckskins and then the new shirt. It fit him very well and he struggled to button the buttons. He could ask her, just like she had asked him not too long ago after breaking her wrist. Another memory of her learning to trust him while she was at a disadvantage. Maybe he needed her more than he would admit. Her chest had risen quickly as she nervously held her garment together, eyes wide, he stared into them. His large hands working the buttons into place, so close to her, and at the end she had taken his hand with a light squeeze. It was hard to imagine the same vulnerability within himself and maybe he had been a little bit of a hypocrite when he had said it didn't hurt to let people help. Of course that was sound advice, but maybe it was easier said than done. She was brave enough then to let down her guard, maybe he would do the same. He managed to get enough of them buttoned to be comfortable, like his other shirts allowed. Walking out from behind the curtain her eyes were on him, "Well, how does it look?" She smiled, "It looks very nice." She wanted to say handsome, but she was afraid to give such a compliment. She had taken a short stroll around the property by his side and they talked about his healing and what he would need to do to fully recover. The rest of their evening walk had been so pleasant and she had held his hand to give him a reference when maintaining his balance. When they returned to the homestead supper was ready, and a fire burning kept them warm and cozy.

Sully watched as Michaela tended to the fire, and he recognized that they would need more wood soon. It didn't feel right that she was tending to him, and besides, he could walk now, he could take care of her and the children again. He would be careful and go outside for some firewood. As he rose from the chair, Michaela turned from the fireplace and steadily gripped his body with both hands on his arms. This time when she mentioned a doctor's approval, he had recognized that she was right and he wasn't going to disagree with her again. He slowly lowered himself back into the chair as Matthew volunteered to get the wood. He had felt better that she had not had to go after it like she said she would. "Boy, are we lucky, nobody else has a doctor for a ma," Brian boasted. "You're lucky alright," he said as he made eye contact with her. Michaela was taken back a little. Did he really appreciate her advice and talents, up until now it had seemed like a fight most of the way, but maybe he respected more of her expertise than she thought, maybe things were changing between them? She went back to cleaning up. Then Brian mentioned the story about the white buffalo, Running Ghost. Michaela was intrigued, not only was it charming, it was a glimpse into the Cheyenne way of life and their beliefs. Sully delighted in telling them the story and when he finished, they all smiled and marveled at such a tale. They enjoyed each other's company for about an hour more and then everyone decided to turn in for the night.

Sully walked over to her as the children climbed into their beds and Matthew went to the barn. He was very close and he looked at her, "Thank you for my shirt, I like it very much" She blushed ever so lightly, "You're welcome." He leaned in and kissed her cheek, "Goodnight Michaela." "Good….night, Sully" she stumbled over her shock. He turned and walked gingerly to the temporary bed she had set up closer to his bed. He wouldn't allow himself the comfort of her bed any longer. He whispered, "I want you to have your bed back. I'm well enough now to sleep elsewhere. She went to him, "Sully, I…," "No Michaela," I won't sleep there, it's your bed and you have been very kind to me." She was moved by his concern. She whispered back, "Ok, if you are sure." He looked into her eyes, "I am." She went and changed into her nightgown. Climbing into her soft comfortable bed had never felt so good. Not only did she have her bed back but there was the lingering thought of his lips upon her cheek and a rather heady scent of him mixed with the faintest smell of her lingering soap. Sully laid down in her temporary bed and the sweetness of her scent engulfed him again. Yes, it was lavender soap but since he too had used the soap for his own baths, he had realized that she had a different and naturally sweeter smell. It was an unintended, but pleasant consequence of his act of gratitude. For this moment, all was right in the world and it had been a wonderful day.

Maybe it was the wonderful day and Rankin being the very last thing on his mind that had caused it, maybe it was the new bed and the sweetness of her safety, but Sully woke up in the middle of the night sweating and feeling helpless. He had a terrible nightmare about the day Rankin and his men had beat him almost to death. He immediately looked around to see if he had woken anyone else up. The children were still quiet and Michaela was sleeping with a pleasant expression on her face, she looked so peaceful and part of him was happy she was resting in such a manner. He quietly got a drink of water and went back to his bed, the cool liquid had helped him regain his composure. Sully realized that for now, he was in a safe place and went back to sleep soon after that. However peaceful he may have been resting for the rest of the night, the dream had done it's damage. Sully wasn't at rest with what happened, and he had lost focus in the fact that things had recently been improving greatly. He would practice with his tomahawk today, and he would need to be going after Rankin soon.

Michaela woke to a pleasant morning, she was surrounded by good things and a fair amount of success in bringing Sully back to his former self. He was kind, if not more affectionate than he had been before. She felt comfortable going to the clinic for a while today, she had a few important appointments and then she would be returning to check on Sully. He had been awake also, and he wished her a good day as he went to find Matthew. Today he was going to test himself and Matthew had been almost a constant companion in his healing. After Dr. Mike left they both went to the front of the barn. Sully took his time and as he turned and threw the tomahawk it flew to the barn with precision accuracy. Immediate pain shooting through him he let out a grunt and a gasp of pain. Thankfully, his throwing skills were still intact. He remained outside and threw his tomahawk a few more times. Again, precision accuracy followed all his throws. He was thankful for Matthew and because he knew he shouldn't overdo it , he offered to help Matthew learn this most valuable skill. They were both having a good time when they noticed the stormy skies and headed inside.

Meanwhile in town, Michaela had confronted Mr. Rankin, in fact she had called him a liar to his face. He had threatened her, but she didn't care. Perhaps it was her own confidence in public accountability or the fact that Hank was just a short distance away. Not that Hank had much thought of her, but she was confident that he wouldn't like Rankin so much either. She had no problem telling Rankin that his threats would be met with justice, and she planned to fully prosecute his actions against Sully. After she walked away, it was a little numbing, she had faithfully defended Sully and stood up to a man that had violently beaten one of the strongest men she knew. She wasn't afraid though, and she started back to the homestead to let Sully know of her plans to prosecute.

Meanwhile, Matthew had made sure Sully was getting some rest after throwing his axe that morning. It had been a productive day so far, and he knew Dr. Mike would be coming home soon because she had scheduled all her appointments for earlier so she could be home around lunch time. He wanted to help by cleaning out the barn, so he told Sully he would be away for a little bit and went outside. To his surprise, a man dressed in leather and sitting upon his horse was watching the house, when he saw Matthew, he turned and left. Matthew could see buffalo hides on the back of the man's horse. Why would anyone be watching the house, no one had known, except a few people in town that Sully was staying with them. If the men that thought Sully was dead left him at the bottom of a hill, why would they think he was still alive. Matthew went back into the homestead and told Sully what he had seen. Sully knew immediately, somehow they knew he was alive.

Chapter Text

When Michaela reached the homestead the skies were turning grey and the general feeling was that this was going to be one of those days where the whole sky fades and greyness engulfs the land. It was indeed ominous outside, but the drizzling rain was the worst of it. One of those days when the rain just keeps falling. She went inside and noticed Sully sitting on his bed waiting. He was dressed in his old clothes and he had his poncho on. Matthew was in the barn, she had seen him when she returned her horse, and she had suspected something was wrong because he was putting the saddle on as she walked out.

Sully stood up and faced her when he heard the door close. Michaela knew he was leaving, she didn't know when or why but she knew it would be soon. "Sully, what's wrong?" She needed to tell him about Rankin, but her heart was truly troubled over his serious nature. "Michaela, I have to leave," he said, a sadness had fallen over him but also a slightly obsessive determination. "Leave?" Michaela's face said everything, she didn't want him to go. "Yes, I don't belong here anymore, and I need to be moving on." What did he mean? His words were unintentionally hurtful, a feeling she had been more than sure she wouldn't have felt when the time came for him to go as she had planned. She thought, as his doctor, she would be the one deciding on the very hour he left when it came time for him to return to the wilderness, and that wasn't going to be happening anytime soon. Michaela was so upset within herself, any thought of Rankin just left her and she switched from telling him about the encounter, to a complete refusal of his abandoned health and abandonment of the relationship they had been building over the weeks. "Sully, you can't leave, you may be walking now and feeling better, but you're ribs are still healing, you are weaker than you think." Sully tussled his hair with his hand. He didn't want to tell her he was leaving because he was going to go after Rankin, he was going to find him and he would do whatever was necessary to get rid of the threat. "Well, I can't stay here anymore." He proclaimed those words sternly, knowing that wouldn't be good enough for her, she would want to know the real reason why. "Sully, I don't think you should, I'm your doctor and I'm telling you that leaving will only cause you to reinjure yourself!" How could he do this? She thought they had reached an understanding about her medical expertise, she thought they had discovered new feelings for each other that hadn't been present before. Sully could see the turmoil in her eyes, he hated to do this to her, she must have a million thoughts running through her right now. He had come to a point of no return as far as feelings go and as much as he wanted to love her, he just wasn't quite ready to leave his solitary life behind, not when he was still not fully dealing with the death of his little girl and sweet Abigail. He had serious feelings for her, but it was still too soon. He had lost enough already and losing more friends, not doing this right, losing his future with her, was not an option. Besides, he had to deal with this now if he was finally going to be free of the notion that Rankin might someday return, maybe very soon, and finish what he started. Rankin wasn't the kind of coward that wouldn't act irrational. He wouldn't just let things go, and he would get what he wanted. Sully couldn't ignore the fact that Matthew had seen the man watching the house and he didn't like it one bit. What if the man were to return looking for him and find Michaela alone, these were bad men, he couldn't take the risk that something truly terrible might happen. He was going after them all. How dare they come here, to her home, how dare they make it personal and threaten the only happiness he had found in his life for many seasons? The look in her eyes was borderline betrayal. Michaela was struggling with all her thoughts of inadequacy, for as confident as she was in her medical profession, she lacked the confidence to display her feelings towards men. And now Sully was taking some of her confidence in her ability to influence him on medical grounds. Could she not convince him to stay for her? This was a taste of the rejection she feared. He was proving right now that he was capable of leaving her. They were both caught up in a tornado of emotions, thoughts becoming more mixed up and intoxicatingly irrational. One thought rang clear though. Sully knew this was serious. He had to tell her. "Michaela I have to go, I have to make sure that everything will be ok, I'm going after Rankin, and I'm going to make sure he doesn't come back."

Michaela was in shock, this wasn't what she expected, was he really saying he was going to kill Rankin? "Somehow he found out that I am still alive and I have to go." Michaela dropped her head and quietly said, "Sully, I met him in town, when he introduced himself he was charming but when he said his name, I couldn't help it, I was furious. I was furious about what he did to you. She paused briefly, her feelings for him threatening to show and then she quickly rambled on. "I told him I knew he and his men had tried to kill you and I was going to wire a judge and prosecute him to fullest extent of the law. I called him a liar, and he threatened me, but I wasn't going to give up and I plan to wire a judge and the marshal tomorrow." Sully just stared in disbelief, Rankin was no one to be messing with and Michaela had said some fairly insulting things to him. No he thought, now the situation had become even more serious. Now Rankin and his men would target Michaela as well, and Sully would not take that chance that anything bad could happen. Rankin would certainly come for her next after he finished things with him. He had threatened her and Sully was boiling over inside, for her sake, he remained calm. So now he was more determined than ever to stop this man. "Michaela, I have to go." He turned and walked to the side door of the cabin, she rushed to stop him, "Sully, please, don't do this, please stay here, we can wire the authorities tomorrow and they will come and get him, and you won't get hurt again!" She wished he would just listen. She had used so much care and time to get him back to this state and he seemed to only care about Rankin and not the fact that all his progress could be gone. His ribs could puncture his lungs, and besides all the current medical issues, he could be killed. He paused at the door, with his back to her he said, "It's too late." He pushed the door and hurried out. Michaela quickly following after him. She was desperate to stop him. "It's too soon for you to be riding." Sully knew he wasn't staying, no matter what she said. "I can't stay here anymore." He walked to the horse Matthew had saddled for him, and took the reigns. Sully turned to look her in the face. "Why, how do you know they're coming after you?" Just walking out, he was breathing deeply but his response was immediate. "Because you told him I'm still alive." She stared at him, she didn't want the reason for his departure to be because of her mistake, but he was right, she was the one who had revealed this to Rankin. She looked at his chest, he was struggling, and she looked to the side with her own guilt with how inappropriately risky this all was. She breathed out all her pent up guilt and said, "I'm sorry." Sully could tell she had accepted full responsibility for what he had just said, he tried to ease her guilt as he noticed her hands in her pockets and her slightly labored breathing. "It's alright, they had to find out sooner or later." Matthew wanted to at least help her understand, and he told her about the buffalo skinner he had seen watching the house that morning. "He rode off as soon as he saw me." Matthew looked at her along with Sully. Sully knew she just needed to accept what was about to happen. "There's only one way to end this." Again she protested about him being in no condition to do what he planned. Sully explained that if Rankin was gone, then it would solve a lot of the problems with the Cheyenne. The hunters would leave, the Army would leave. He was also thinking about her safety, but he wouldn't say it. She was clinging to some kind of reasoning, "Well, then they'll just send more hunters." She was desperate. "What are you going to do, kill them all?" Sully knew she had the moral high ground now and what he needed to do had no room for moral high ground. He stayed emotionless and looked her in her eyes, goodness, she was disheveled and upset, yet she was still just as beautiful. "Thank you for taking care of me," he said flatly. She had no clue that if he didn't do this, her life would also be in danger. With emotion in her voice she pleaded, "Sully, don't do this." How could he, the man she respected more than any man since her father, how could he go against God's law? He was going to murder Rankin! This was not the man she knew, this was not the man she had developed feelings for, this was not the man she loved. And for what, revenge? He was cold with his answer as he sternly looked into her eyes mustering the courage to not give in, knowing murder would be wrong, "I got to." It was his way of shutting her down. They shared a few seconds of a deep stare that searched desperately for an out. Uncomfortable, Sully looked at Matthew, he knew what he needed to do, "Take care of the wolf for me." Those words not being idle, there was a real possibility he might not come back, and he could admit that man to man, but he wasn't going to admit that much to her other than saying thank you. Matthew agreed to as he stepped out of Sully's way and Michaela stood back and helplessly watched, she knew she wasn't going to change his mind so she had to make her peace with it, and for some reason she had the feeling she wouldn't actually get any peace out of what she was about to say. She didn't want him to get hurt so she grabbed the reigns as he mounted the horse but she also wanted one last bit of control before he willfully left. With sadness, desperation, and a little disgust in her eyes she let Sully know what she thought. She didn't care that Matthew would be hearing every word, "If you kill Rankin, you're no better than he is. And if that's what you have in mind, I," Michaela stumbled over her speech, really it wasn't a stumble, she just didn't want to say what she was about to say, and admittedly it broke her heart a little, "I don't know who you are anymore, I've never seen you like this." Sully was looking into her eyes with a dark intensity. If you kill him," she paused, "I never want to see you again…." The bitterness and hurt beginning to show she had to get away but she wanted to leave him with something finite, so she repeated, "Never." As soon as she said it, she turned and went into the house. There was no way she could look into his dark eyes any longer and she had nothing more to say to him. Sully stared as she disappeared inside and he gave Matthew a glance just to make sure he was ok, then he gave the command to move his horse and rode off toward one of his more hidden lean-tos. He would save his strength for tomorrow and then go after them.

Matthew went in the house to find Dr. Mike standing at the window watching in the direction Sully had left. As much as she meant what she said, she was still watching after him. She spoke softly but sternly, "Matthew, please go get Brian and Colleen from school, you can take the food on the table with you and stay at the clinic tonight since it's bad out, and the rain is going to last for a while." She sounded broken. Matthew wanted to say something, but he knew he should just leave her alone. He agreed to do what she ask, but then he decided to say one thing before he left. "Dr. Mike, Sully is your best friend, he wouldn't be doing this if he wasn't trying to protect his friends, the Cheyenne, me, Brian, Colleen, and especially you." She almost interrupted him but she let him finish. "I've spent more time with him recently than anyone. When he found out that man was here at the house, a threat to all of us, a threat to you, he was more determined than ever to stop Rankin. He doesn't want to do this, but if you think he's only doing this for the Cheyenne, you're wrong." Matthew put his hat back on his head, gathered the bundle of food off the table, and left.

Michaela waited, holding back tears. How had everything changed so fast? They had been like a family, and now she had proclaimed she would never see Sully again if he was to follow through with his plan. Matthew had said some more than true things, but it had still been hurtful to her. She had been so close with this man, she loved him, and now that was all gone. She couldn't lie to herself, she did want to see him again! She fell onto her bed and sobbed as the rain gently poured down against the secluded homestead.

Chapter Text

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.