Falling that far, taking that risk, it had all been necessary. They had made their way to the top of a cliff and to Sully's surprise, One Eye had been right behind them. And for once, Michaela had been more aware of this threat, she was still at a heightened state of alert so when she turned and saw One Eye about to attack, it was her quick warning that had alerted Sully and she feared for his life as she watched him fight the man to the death. It wasn't what she wanted, to see anyone lose their life, but she was relieved that he would never be a threat to either of them again. And it also meant that Cloud Dancing would not have to confront the man. She was scared but jumping was their only option as the shots from the rifles grew closer and closer to hitting their mark. She realized that one or both of them might be very seriously injured or even killed from such a fall but the alternative was also death so with the fear of never seeing him again in her eyes, she told Sully she loved him and he told her the same. They were all in and they ran and jumped. Falling felt like a long time and her stomach hurt as it dropped, every moment between them flashed through her mind and then the crash of the water hit hard. Sinking below the surface, she focused on resurfacing and tried to ignore the pain. She kicked as hard as she could. Breaking the surface, she instantly searched for him and realizing that they were both ok, quickly swam to safety so they could escape. Sully knew they would have to keep moving, so after letting her make her own way for a few minutes, he picked her up again. Jumping that far had shortened their trip back to where he had left Wolf with his horse. As he carried her across the shallow creek, he walked directly to his horse, placed her on a rock and grabbed a blanket. Wrapping it around her he quickly mounted his horse and pulled her up behind him. It was time to go home and they were going to be cutting it close getting back in time to save the Cheyenne. Michaela clung to him, exhausted and weak she laid her head against his back and simply held him, she held him until they came into the meadow and saw the sight before them. Custer was going to execute the innocent women and children and the men that had not been a part of the violence. Sully thought Custer might stick to his word and free them, but it became clear that he would have to do something immediately. Lowering Michaela to the ground to be safe with the children, he took matters into his own hands to remind Custer that he had given his word not to harm anyone if Dr. Quinn was returned. It was obvious that he was annoyed with the release, but his pride didn't allow him to go back on his honorable word and he risked looking like a dishonorable man in front of everyone, including his men. Sully and Michaela told Cloud Dancing about his son, and they shared his grief knowing that it was senseless for him to die. Somehow, Cloud Dancing was not surprised when Sully told him it had not been the Army that had done it, but One Eye. Cloud Dancing had really known the answer before he even asked the question.
They took Michaela to the clinic and Grace brought her and Sully some food. She had to remind herself not to eat too fast, as she weakly chewed the food, but as she finished the last bite she was starting to feel a little better and she was regaining her energy. Sully had eaten in the days prior so he didn't have to take as long and he left the room for a few moments to talk with the children. Outside, he explained to them that she probably needed some time alone and that they would be able to be together more in the next few days. Brian stepped forward and said, "Tomorrow's my birthday, thank you for bringing her back, I knew you would Sully." He hugged Brian and sent him and Matthew ahead to see Jake. Coleen lingered behind a little and slowly approached Sully, she nervously spoke. "Sully? Is she okay? Did they hurt her?" She lowered her head. It struck Sully that she was so aware that they might have to deal with such a situation, but Coleen was more grown up than her age and he didn't want her to worry a minute more, as he understood the feeling. "No Colleen, they didn't hurt her." He gave her a warm embrace and softly said, "Why don't you go over to Mr. Bray's and get some things for Brian's party. I'll bring Michaela home, and we can all celebrate tomorrow." She squeezed him a little harder and said, "Yeah, that's a good idea." She turned and walked towards the general store. Sully returned to the clinic. He found Grace and Dorothy talking with Michaela, he gave them a few moments and then interrupted. "Michaela? I've sent the children ahead of us, just let me know when you are ready to go, I'll take you home." She thanked him and finished her conversation, finally telling the ladies that she was so exhausted and needed to go home. They totally understood and they let her know to call on them if she needed anything. Grace was going to help with Brian's birthday cake tomorrow and Dorothy had agreed to bring her a present for Brian, since she would not have time to shop for one herself. She stood up, and the pain had already worked its way into her feet and body. Sully seeing her pain, gently lifted her and carried her outside. Once again, they were together, riding the horse Robert E had let him use to go after her. With the blanket to keep her warm, she softly pressed against his back, and laid her cheek against him. She loved him so much, he was her comfort, he was her heart.
Now here they were, at home. Sully had asked the boys to get a tub from Jake and they had brought it out to the homestead, filled it with hot water, and went fishing. Today they took Coleen as well, and they all understood that Dr. Mike needed a little time alone. Sully stood in the homestead with her and looked into her eyes, "I'll just be right outside the door if you need anything." But Michaela didn't want him to be right outside the door, she wanted him to stay. "Sully? Please stay with me." Surely she wasn't serious, he would need to leave her so she could bathe and dress again. "I mean, I'll be right outside Michaela, I'll be here." Trying to find a compromise, she said, "Will you let me get in the tub and then stay with me? I don't want to be alone Sully, I don't want……." She was tearing up and he could see how desperately she needed him to be there. She stumbled through the rest of her sentence, "…… to be alone." He brushed a stray hair behind her ear. "Just tell me when you're ready." Sully stepped outside and waited beside the door. As Michaela unbuttoned the buttons on her now torn and damaged blouse, the emotion of being safe became all too real. She looked at her body, there were small bruises all about her arms and legs. The dried blood still remained on her feet and she breathed in deeply and slowly exhaled. Her eyes shifted to the tub and the milky colored water. She knew this was going to hurt, she knew it would be very painful for her. Lifting one leg over into the tub she timidly moved her foot closer and closer until the sting of her injuries caused her to breath in sharply and then cry out in pain. She tried to subdue the sounds that she produced as she struggled to find relief. Her jaw clenching, tears silently streamed down her cheeks. Knowing this wasn't going to get any easier for her she quickly put her other foot in the water and lowered herself all the way. She wanted to lift her feet up out of the water but she knew it would only feel worse to put them back, so she focused on finding other thoughts as she calmed herself, and waited for some of the pain to go away. She lowered both hands into the water and raised the water to her face. She could feel a slight burn from the scratches and a tenderness from being struck by One Eye. She gently washed over her face and rinsed the soap away. Her fancy lavender soap had never smelled so good. She quickly washed over the areas of her body that would leave her embarrassed if Sully were to be in the room. Her feet were feeling slightly better but still hurt as she finished and then called for him to come in. "Sully!"
He had been at the door listening and Sully had heard the gasps and painful cries that she had tried to silence. Then he heard his name, and he nervously opened the door and walked in. Walking in, the air felt different, slightly heavy, with a touch of sexual tension. Sully grabbed a chair and put it right on the other side of the curtain, sitting down he could hear her pause as the water stilled. She hadn't planned on being so nervous, but as she heard him right on the other side of her makeshift curtain she stopped moving, listening for a sign that he would be staying right where they had both expected him to. He spoke softly, "I'm right here, please relax, enjoy your bath." Michaela didn't notice how tense she had become until she consciously made an effort to relax her entire body. It did feel so nice, the warm water surrounding her body, her muscles ached from all the walking and climbing, and the jump off the cliff had certainly not failed to cause some soreness as well. He heard the water move and trickles started to indicate that she had taken his advice. She lathered the soap on a washcloth and began to wash herself. As the cloth moved over her skin the dirt washed away and she felt herself returning to a place that was beyond the traumatic events that had shaped the last few days. She washed over the scrapes and bruises. There was a bruise in the shape of a hand on her arm from where the dog soldiers had pulled her along after taking her shoes. She stared at it briefly before continuing to wash away the dirt. She was starting to feel better but the stinging pain was too much when she attempted to clean the bottom of her feet. She winced and gasped and let out a muffled cry. Sully gently spoke, "You don't have to hide the pain from me Michaela, I know how bad your feet hurt." She stopped and contemplated then replied, "I know…...maybe I'm just trying to fool myself about how bad they are." Then she said, "It's difficult to see them though, there are cuts and cracked skin that I'm only aware of when I try to wash around them." Sully thought for a moment, then he boldly reasoned, "Well, I could wash your feet for you, if you are comfortable with me being with you." She felt shocked, uneasy, but logical and willing. Stumbling through her thoughts, she managed to say, "there's some bandaging material that I haven't cut up yet in the cabinet next to my bed, bring it with you, I'll cover myself." This was typical for her, how many patients had she seen and used the same kind of modesty? She heard him open the cabinet and close it and his footsteps moved toward her. This was it, she was fine until the reality of his movements couldn't deny that they would soon be together, alone, and for her, very exposed. She covered her breast with her arms. She saw his shadow on the floor and then he came around the curtain. His head was bowed and his eyes were focused to the floor. Walking forward he moved until he saw the edge of the tub. Peripheral vision being unavoidable, he could see an outline of her feminine form as he held the material out and offered it to her. Still holding herself, she knew if she were to lean forward and reach for the material, her breast would be exposed, she calmly asked him to step closer and drop the material in the water. After doing so he immediately turned around and gave her some privacy to cover herself. She spread the material over herself and calmly said,"okay." Nerves on edge he turned and despite the covering this was an overwhelming sight, his eyes shifted up from the floor and across her covered body to her face. There was a hint of blush but for the most part she had accepted the situation they now found themselves in. Sully stuttered a bit and said, "I…...I…. I'll just sit right here." As he moved to grab a chair, he knocked over one of the empty buckets on the floor. Then when he quickly bent down to get the offending bucket he hit his head a little on the cabinet. Embarrassed, he picked the bucket up and placed it out of the way. Then he stood up and, laughing a little, he placed his hand on the chair, picked it up and turned. She had a smile on her face trying not to laugh but when their eyes met, neither one could contain their laughter. Both of their nervousness had faded and they only had eyes for each other after the laughter faded into a respectful tone again. Michaela eventually smiled and said, " Well, I think I feel better now, how's your head?" He rubbed the offending spot and said, "probably fine after my pride recovers." She laughed and distracting him from his own embarrassment, she winced a little and lifted her foot out of the water. Speaking softly she said, "Well I appreciate your willingness to help me, I can check on your bumped head in a little while if you think you are okay." Smiling, he simply grasped the chair and sat down in it. Reaching for a wash cloth he dipped it into the water and held her leg up by the heel. Her skin was beautiful despite the bug bites and scrapes, her legs soft and supple, and her feet were perfectly shaped. He held her in his hand and his touch made her warm. Considering her tired, sore legs, he decided to delay the washing of her feet for a few moments. He placed the washcloth on the side of the tub and grabbed the soap, then lathering it in his hand, he placed it against her skin and rubbed over it a few times. Returning the soap to a dish he turned to her and gently stroked over her leg applying pressure to her muscles in the most pleasing way. He had surprised her a little, she hadn't asked for anything more, but she did appreciate his hands relieving the aches that had built up in her legs. Michaela breathed out a sigh of relief and closed her eyes as she let her head slowly fall back and touch the back of the tub. She was trying to control her breathing but she could feel her chest rising and falling faster than she would have liked. Sully could feel her tight muscles and he applied firm pressure to help ease the soreness. She made little sighs of relief as he continued. As he stroked over her calf he asked, " Are you sore from the jump into the water?" She breathed in and answered, "Yes, I'm sore, mostly my neck, I guess." Sully stopped at her kneecap, caressing over the top, he ran his hand down the length of her leg. He lowered her leg back into the water and reached for the other one, providing the same relaxing massage as he washed over her skin with the soap. "Yeah, my neck has been a little stiff since then too. It was quite a long way to jump." She smiled, " It certainly was," she commented and then looked into his eyes, "When we jumped, were you scared Sully?" He laughed and breathed out a little, "I think anyone would be scared of a jump like that Michaela, I was scared for both of us falling that far." Michaela looked down into her bath water and quietly spoke, "It's miraculous that neither one of us got hurt. I was scared Sully, so scared, but I knew we had to jump. They would have killed us you know, after everything that happened." She gently moved her hand through the water and softly wiped a tear from her face. Sully finished massaging her leg and lowered it back into the water. Then he picked up the washcloth and the soap. He dipped it in the water again and lightly lathered the soap onto the cloth. Reaching for her leg again, he lifted her foot up and propped it up under a towel. He studied her injuries closely and determined that a lot of the actual injuries were just in need of a gentle touch from someone that could see the damage. He wasn't so distressed this time, and that led to him being so gentle as he started stroking over the tender and broken skin. She winced a little but tried to be strong as he caressed her injuries. She knew in the end that she would require rest and bandaging to give her feet the chance to heal. Sully was so careful as he washed the dried blood away and he was so careful not to break the skin that remained intact. He gently stroked over each toe as he slowly made progress with the dirt and blood. Eventually he was able to move on to the next foot and repeat the whole process over again. As he lowered her foot into the water, he looked into her eyes. "Michaela, may I wash your hair?" It was a simple request but it was full of complexity. He paused and said, "I mean, I'd like to if that's ok with you." She didn't say no, although, her initial reaction was to say no. Propriety winning out when it came to her speech and being able to say yes, she stared at him for a few lingering seconds, and realizing the incredible trust she had with him, she softly nodded her head yes as she blushed a little and looked into the water.
He walked over to a cabinet and removed the water picture from the top. Turning back to the tub, she was mesmerized by his movement back to her. He was so handsome, so gentle, so sensually appealing in the fluidity of his solid frame's movement. He reached for her hair moving it about her body, and as he caressed his hand along it he made his way to her face and then his thumb slid to her cheek as he caressed her face and used the pressure from his fingers to gently press against her neck and lead her to a good position. The ends of her hair fell into the water, and Sully raised the picture as he started to pour the warm water over the edge of her crown. It cascaded down her hair and tiny streams ran around her hairline and across her neck, simultaneously caressing her and pooling in his hand as he wet the back of her hair and her neck. His hand slowly pulled away as he set the picture, still half full, on the floor. Reaching for her soaps he began to wet his hands and lather the soap within them. He reached for her hair and began to work the soap into it. Silky smooth locks played against his hands and he reached behind her neck and massaged the tension away. Michaela closed her eyes and breathed slowly. His large hands massaged her scalp, avoiding the place where she had told him she hit her head, and he did this for several minutes, letting her enjoy her new appreciation for what his hands could do. She felt one hand leave as the other supported her neck and then he poured the remaining water over her once more, rinsing away the soap and leaving her with her head back. Sully grabbed a small towel and wrapped her hair in it. He gently twisted it on top of her head and tucked the end into the bottom. She slowly leaned her head forward again and stared into the water. Standing above her he looked at her shoulders and her back, the water gently moved against her skin rhythmically offering a view of another inch more of her skin as it rippled and steadied itself. He longed to touch her back, to run his hands smoothly across her shoulders and move down her. He had wished for this very opportunity since seeing her exposed skin so long ago when she was sick. Deciding to keep himself grounded, he grabbed a washcloth and lathered it with soap. He smoothly ran it across her shoulders and over her back, washing away the dirt and relieving the stress she still had. As she drew her shoulders in, she arched her back into his hand that held the cloth against her. The same cloth that now separated their desire. She was slightly embarrassed that she had done so, being that he now knew she desired more of his touch. He continued to rub her back firmly, but gentle. Her eyes closed and then weakly opened and she stared into the water. A single tear warmly ran down her cheek, and then another. She was in her head, what made him so different, so gentle, not like other men? More than anything she appreciated his gentleness immensely. His touch, the way he truly cared. Hours ago she had fought to be released from a hand that was not so gentle, not so caring. It was a little overwhelming. Sully reached for a large towel. He gently dried her upper back and moved around her. The water was still on her face from her hair and he carefully dried her face and unbeknownst to him, her tears. He had been brief to wash her hair and massage her head, neck and back. He feared too much would make her feel uncomfortable. At this point it was all about making her feel better, more relaxed. For it wasn't just the want to comfort her, he could tell that deep down, she needed it. Her arms still across her chest he leaned in and gave her a gentle hug, her freshly washed skin and hair smelling of lavender, he breathed in and sighed. He softly said, "I'm going to turn around, wrap yourself up and I'll lift you out so we can tend to your feet." He moved to release her but she reached up as she made sure she covered herself with her other arm, and held onto him, and pulled him to her. Not saying a word, she waited a moment and released him. Somehow she was having trouble finding the right words. They were both silent with their emotions for fear of acting upon them, but they both knew that their relationship had evolved.
She stood, letting the material float away from her so it wouldn't cling to her. She reached over to where Sully had left the towel and picked it up. Wrapping it around herself, she called to him. As she held the towel closed, he reached down and lifted her out of the tub, carried her to her bed and set her down so she didn't get her feet dirty. Then going to her chest of drawers, he asked which drawer held her nightgown and robe. After she told him, he brought the clothes to her and stepped back behind the curtain where the bathtub was. Michaela put the garment over her head and slid her arms into the robe, then she used the towel to step on the floor and smooth them, tying the robe around her. She was now as decent as she had been times before when Sully found her dressed in her night clothes. She called to him to come back into the room.
She was sitting on the bed and Sully brought the chair with him to be able to tend to her. He placed it in front of her. He sat down and she mentioned that they would have to wait a little while for her feet to dry properly. So they talked, which happened to distract them both at how intimately close they had been. Michaela started, "It's Brian's birthday tomorrow." Sully looked down, "I know, while we were still in town he thanked me for bringing you back in time." He raised his head and looked at her, she was trying to control her emotions. "Sully, he's been through so much for such a young age. I just kept thinking while I was with the dog soldiers, that I was going to miss his birthday and he would be so sad." She looked down at her hands, she had begun to fidget with her robe. "Maybe, I was worried that he would always remember that….. if things had taken a different path." Sully knew she was thinking of the worst. " Michaela, I spent a lot of birthdays as a young boy wishing my life was different, wishing my ma was there, and my pa. It never got any easier." Her heart longed to comfort that little boy, all alone in the world. She found it a strange desire and she wished someone could have cared for him the way she now cared for Brian. She whispered his name with compassion as her eyes searched his, "Sully…." He was open to sharing his pain but he did restrain himself, they had enough to deal with already, so he made light of his past, "I... I'm glad we got you back, that's all. He would have remembered for a very long time if not." He stared for a few seconds and then his eyes looked away, he looked at her feet before him. " I guess I could get the salve we need from the cabinet, which one is it in?" She blushed a little and he noticed but he didn't say anything, and just waited for a reply. She gathered herself and said, "Well actually, it's not in my medicine cabinet at all, it's in the kitchen. Actually as a natural remedy it is sometimes quite effective at healing wounds. It's in the top right cabinet over there," and she pointed towards the cabinet that held her dry goods for cooking. Sully crossed the room and opened the top right door. There was flour and cornmeal, and there in a small glass jar, a honeycomb with half a jar of honey. He had brought her the jar a few months ago after he had discovered a beehive near one of his campsites. Slowly reaching up, he took the jar down and tilted it as he watched the honey smoothly flow around the jar and coat the sides. After a moment, he turned his head while he held the jar and looked right into her eyes. He could feel his heart pounding and so could she but neither said a word. They held each other's gaze for a few moments and then he walked to her cupboard and found a small bowl, he took it back to the kitchen and opened the honey, then he looked at her again, "How much?" She caught herself staring and quickly tried to answer him. "Oh, just a little, not much at all really." She had been thinking about the moment up on the cliff, in the cave. Everything she had done was so uncharacteristic of herself, but he somehow brought out the feelings inside of her that no one else could, and she knew that meant something. Sully poured a small amount of honey into the bowl and replaced the lid, taking the honey jar back to it's cabinet. Then he picked up the bowl and walked back to the chair beside her bed. "What about bandages," he asked as he was doing his best to be the responsible caregiver now. She was amused with how professional this all was, and she smiled and said, "over in this cabinet beside my bed." He walked over to it and she added, "in the drawer." Sully opened the drawer and saw rolls and rolls of new bandaging. He took one roll as it would be plenty for her feet.
He collected everything he had gathered and sat at the foot of her bed once again. "Tell me what to do Michaela." She instructed him to spread a small amount of honey over the areas that needed it. He dipped his finger in the honey and softly, gently touched the areas that needed to be bandaged. Maybe he was being too careful but he didn't want to hurt her and the application became small intimate caresses. He was very close, really trying to get everything just right. She let him take his time, because in the end it felt good and she was enjoying the pleasing touches. After he finished the areas around her toes he moved to the bottom of her feet. She had to admit that this tickled a little, and she smiled as she tried not to laugh but he eventually stroked a very sensitive area and she giggled. He stopped, and smiled, "Sorry." Then he carefully wrapped the bandage around her foot and tied it. He repeated the same tenderness with her other foot, and she enjoyed the same pleasing touch that he so carefully applied the honey with. Finishing up, he walked over to the tub and washed his hands. When he returned she was still sitting on the bed. He slowly walked over to her. She smiled, and he smiled saying, "I had no idea that honey could be used to heal wounds." She looked up at him, "it has many benefits." She blushed heavily. It was another moment that encouraged them, and he leaned over and kissed her. He felt so good, and his tongue touched her lip and she gently touched him with hers as well. They pulled apart. She had been bold, and then shy, up on the cliff when he had touched her lip, collecting the taste of the honey from her. But now they didn't need anything other than each other to encourage their own desire. The contact was brief and he pulled back. It was a small step but a necessary one, and he was proud of her for meeting him on the cusp of something much more intimate. Backing away, he smiled. She wanted to give him all the same love he had just shown her. And she wanted to take care of him now, to please him.
She stood up and reasoned with him, "The water is still warm, would you like a bath?" He looked into her eyes, knowing that he was tired and exhausted himself, and he had spent many days with no other thought but to find her. They had been in so much water the last few days and he would indeed enjoy washing the dirt and exhaustion from himself. His focus was on her though. She knew what he was thinking about as she said, "we're both safe now you know?" She was looking at her hands, clean, but still showing the signs of the last few days. He took her hand and raised it to his lips, gently kissing her skin. "Thank you, I believe I will." She turned away and went to the cabinet nearby, removing a fresh towel for him. Then she reached into the top and removed a small bowl, placing it to the side. She turned and gently walked back to him with the towel in her hand. Holding the towel out, she said, "I'll let you get to it then." Sully took the towel from her and stepped back behind the blanket they had used to screen the tub. He removed his shirt and laid it on a nearby chair and then he removed his buckskins. Meanwhile, Michaela moved to the stove and placed a kettle on the top. She had a bucket of fresh water and she was planning on mixing some of the hot water with cold so she could bring it to him.
Sully eased down into the water, her lavender soap still very present in his mind. It was still very warm water and it felt so good. He dipped his hands in the water and wet his face. Then he lathered the soap and washed his face. Letting the water trickle off of him, he leaned back. His muscles were sore from all the climbing he had done in the past few days and he sighed and closed his eyes. With his eyes still closed, he heard her enter, and he sensed her closeness.
She touched his face, stroking the bristles of his facial hair which was starting to form a rather attractive look for him. He opened his eyes, beautiful and blue like cornflowers. It was strange the attraction that she often felt around him. She had in fact touched many men but touching him always felt so warm, so good. She smiled, and simply said "May I?" She had a bowl and a straight razor and an extra towel sitting in her lap. Sully leaned back and rest against the back of the tub, slowly lifting his chin and exposing his neck. She took a washcloth from the hot water and let it cool slightly before placing it on his face. It felt good, really good. Then he felt her delicate hands turn his face away from her. She had purchased some oils at Mr. Slickers barber shop in her quest to obtain a more comfortable experience for her patients. She was firm but gentle as she worked the oils into his skin and facial hair. Then she removed the excess oil with the warm towel. It felt very nice to have her do this for him. Reaching for the small bowl she lathered up some shaving cream and spread it out to the areas that needed a trim. The razor gently scraped across his throat as she carefully shaped and removed the excess stubble. He held still and he knew her hands to be the most steady he had ever seen. Delicate controlled movements with just the right amount of pressure. The touch of her hand holding him in the correct position was warm and pleasing. It was dangerous, trusting her so fully with the sharp edge so close to his throat, and they both knew that this was an admission of their trust for each other. Beautiful, calculated, controlled danger, and suddenly the vulnerability of the risk they were edging closer and closer to didn't seem so risky anymore. As she turned his head towards her now, their eyes met and shared a serious look. She was standing and she stepped behind him and leaned over to shave the other side. Sully had closed his eyes again, but he could tell that she was very close. She could feel tiny puffs of his breath against her skin but she was used to that not affecting her surgical skill. It was different this time though because it was him, she paused and then continued, and she was thankful it was just a trim. Finishing the last section, she used a hot towel to remove the excess shaving cream. He looked very handsome, and she had done a fine job of keeping his beard well shaped. Now with his hands up on the side of the tub gripping the edges, he opened his crystal blue eyes again.