Michaela didn't want him to leave. She had been clinging to him in some way almost non-stop since everything had been resolved in town. She couldn't forget what he had asked her on the edge of that cliff in the small cave. "Did they hurt you?" It must have been terrible for him to think that he was too late to save her virtue. She could feel him trembling as he waited for a response, and the answer she had given had been immediate. She didn't want him to believe for one more second that they had violated her honor. "No." It was the most compassionate no she had ever spoken. She thought back to them making their way up the mountain while they avoided capture. She was exhausted, absolutely exhausted and Sully didn't have a problem carrying her. She was so relieved to be in the gentle hands of someone she trusted so much, and had trusted so much before. Sully had hurt her with his actions when Catherine had been in their lives, but searching for her, endlessly searching, she couldn't be angry with him anymore. They had been mending the fractures in their relationship for weeks and weeks, and now she could not imagine her life without him. She was sure he had exhausted himself looking for her, and she was sure she would not have made it much longer in the company of the dog soldiers. Who knew what the night would have brought on if she stayed with them for another moment? One Eye's actions beside the water had proved that. She turned her head more into him, her cheek finding the warmth that radiated from his chest. She murmured, "Sully, you don't have to carry me, I can walk." She was almost delirious, and Sully whispered to her, "Shhhh, I'm going to take care of you, I won't let anyone hurt you anymore Michaela. Just a little further, I think there is a small cave up here, we can rest there." Relieved that they would rest soon, she was still thinking about how Catherine had changed them. Raising her head she said,"Sully, I'm sorry about everything that has happened with us recently." He softly made his way up the hill so no one would hear them. "It's quite alright Michaela. Please don't think about all that right now, just rest." She sighed lightly, and put her head back against his chest, she was so very tired. The constant need to be alert and aware of her surroundings, the heightened senses, had caused even more fatigue than she realized. His arms were so safe, and as she enjoyed their warmth, she drifted off to sleep.
Reaching the top of the hill, he was happy to see a small cave where they could take shelter for the rest of the night. He had noticed the tension leave her body as she turned into him and drifted off to sleep, he was glad she was resting. He needed to gather some bedding for the hard rock, so kneeling to the ground he gently started to set her down against the rock, but as gently as he tried, she startled herself awake, and gasping for air she became terrified, but she quickly realized she had nothing to fear as he covered her mouth with his hand and with his piercing blue eyes said, "shhhh, we're in a safe location, but I need to gather some bedding for the cave. I'm going to leave you right here but I won't go far, I promise. She didn't want him to leave, but she had survived days alone with the Indians and she slowly nodded her head as she stared into his eyes. Sully could see the fear she had of being alone. He committed himself to moving swiftly and he effectively gathered the pine limbs as quickly as possible. As he made his way back up to the top with the branches, Michaela's eyes were wide with fear and she stood, as she heard him before she saw him in the darkness. He quickly whispered, "It's me, it's me." She relaxed, and he moved to the cave. "This should be soft and it will help keep some of our body heat." She hadn't really thought about it but she supposed this would be just like the rain storm they had endured together so long ago. She had begun to shiver from being alone for so long and he moved to her once he placed the limbs and said, "We have to get out of these clothes or we will get too cold." The river had made sure they would be close tonight. Michaela had been struggling to stay awake as it was but when Sully reached for the buttons on her blouse, her eyes were wide open. "You know we have to get warm Michaela, you know that." She did know that but as it left Sully's mouth, he was sure of it too. He had lived a great deal of his life outdoors, and living it in reality made him more than educated about the proper time to make such decisions.
He slowly unbuttoned her blouse and he did it with the familiar love that he always had, but unlike before she started to shake. Michaela was so nervous and terrified to be so wonderfully attracted to him. She revolved the thought that she could let him be so much more than just the man she loved at this moment, she would throw away her propriety to be with him after everything that had happened. Everything had been so violent, so unsure, she thought about all the times she wasn't sure if she would make it much longer, and she didn't want to cry, but tears were leaving her eyes. Sully was gutted, what had they done to her? He saw the tears start to form and slowly fall down her face. She was trembling and he continued because he knew he needed to get her warm. "Shhhh, it's going to be okay, Shhh, Michaela….." She looked up at him and her lower lip started to shake. He whispered, "I'll die before they take you again, you're safe." He had finished unbuttoning her blouse and he slowly slid it off her arms. He was horrified to see the bruising and the scrapes on her beautiful skin, but he didn't let her see his shock. He just wanted her to get some rest, so he decided now was not the time to ask her, only to make her more upset than she already was. They were both tired right now and the important thing was that right now she was safe and they were going to go home in the morning. Michaela noticed the bruising on her skin and she quickly tried to cover it with her hand but there was no use, the cuts and scrapes and bruises were all there, and she couldn't possibly hide them all. One by one she appeared to discover the damage they had done, she didn't want him to see her this way. He reached for her hand and slowly moved it back down to her side, taking her blouse he used it to gently wipe away her tears. "I'm sorry I didn't get to you sooner Michaela," she could hear and see the emotions he was having. "I know you're hurt, maybe uncomfortable about your clothes, but trust me……" he lovingly implored her, "trust me?" In that moment all the conversations they had about rebuilding the trust of their relationship in the weeks prior were irrelevant. She whispered, "I trust you Sully." He took her hand and caressed the top ever so slightly, then gently pulled her away from the rock and walked around her to release her skirt. He let it fall to the ground and the bruising on her back and legs was just as bad as the rest of her. She had insect bites and more cuts, but it was dark and he couldn't see so well. He would help her clean the cuts in the morning when he could see. He slowly walked back to the front and took her hand so she could step out of her clothes. Leading her over to the tree branches he said, "Sit here, I'm just going to lay our clothes out to dry." She nodded her head. He quickly gathered her things and placed them on the rock where the sun would be shining in the morning. He reached for the bottom of his shirt and quickly removed it laying it against the rocks. The air was cold against his wet skin, and he would have to keep his buckskins on considering he certainly didn't want to frighten her by making her think he would take advantage of her, like the dog soldiers had most likely done. They were mostly dry by now anyway from the climb up the mountain. This was the best he could do.
He made his way over to her, she was still cold. He crouched down, and Michaela stared at him. His chest was so broad compared to her entire body, and she would be in his arms soon. She shuddered to think of him this way and she felt a little warmer already. He whispered, "You okay?" She nervously said, "Yes." He crawled behind her and gently touched her shoulder, she flinched a little and leaned back into him. He was warm, warmer than she was anyway. He rubbed his hands over her arms being careful not to hurt her injuries any further. He whispered in her ear, "come on, let's lay down." She placed her hand against the tree limbs and lowered herself. He laid down behind her, timidly putting his arms around her, he started to rub her skin. The heat felt good and she paused all thoughts to take in the warmth that was now warming the areas he was in contact with, but she was still cold. After a while she whispered, "Sully, I can't seem to get warm." He thought for a minute, "Hold on." Releasing her felt so empty and it was just as traumatic for her as well. He gathered up some of the branches and built up a small barrier behind her. Without thinking he climbed over the top of her and it startled her a bit. Sully hated himself, he figured she was remembering something bad . Quickly he moved over her and stopped just in front of her on his knees, putting his hands on the ground to back away. She was trembling but he had no way of knowing it was from how nervous she was to be so unexpectedly, intimately close for those few seconds. "I'm sorry Michaela." She was speechless, she didn't know what to say, still in shock, she started looking back into the cave area, she needed to say something to hide her feelings. "I'm just so cold Sully, please hold me." Feeling like he had upset her enough, he gently moved back down on the tree limbs and faced her. Reaching for her shoulder, he said, "I'm going to move in close and cover you if that's ok. She nodded that it was. He moved closer and positioned himself and her body so that her head was just in his neck and chest, and her chest was against his midsection. Intertwining their legs he wrapped his arms around her and pulled himself closer so that her body was between him and the built up tree limbs. It was slightly awkward and uncomfortable for him but he didn't care, he just wanted her to be safe and warm. He whispered, "You're safe." His hands gently caressed her and she focused on the pleasing feel of them. The tension she felt eased and he gently and warmly rubbed his hands over her back. Sully lay there wondering about all that had happened, wondering if he could help her get through any of the traumatic events that had happened during his arduous search.
She was warm and she felt so safe in his arms pressed against his chest. This was the closest they had ever been to an intimate embrace. She knew he would not force himself upon her no matter what. He was the most respectful man she knew, despite his constant advances, previously recognized by her awkward longing and propriety induced rejection of such affections. Her heart beat heavily as she pressed her body into his and her cheek found the warmth of his broad chest to be the most comfortable of all. She could hear the sound of his heart, and it was so strongly beating, doing it's best to circulate the blood necessary to warm them both. She felt slightly guilty for not being able to give him the same warmth in return, but she was so relieved to be warming up. She let the tension melt away and firmly pressed into him. As the heat from his body gently warmed her own, a cold wind blew against him and he pulled her into him, determined to comfort her. Her body was finally staying warm and she didn't even notice the chill anymore, within minutes, she was asleep. Michaela slipped into an almost peaceful slumber as she truly appreciated the feel of him against her skin, against her body.
Sully was distraught. He wasn't going to sleep at all, he had told her they were safe but in reality, they were still in great danger. It wasn't that he didn't want her to know, he just didn't want her to worry and not get any rest. She was breathing steadily against him now her lips half touching his skin and the air was blowing against him in soft short breaths. His feelings for her grew by the second, and he held her firmly. He wished he had been stronger, or had a better plan for when they had taken her. Now he truly wished he would have fought to the death to let her get away. Terrible thoughts of how they may have hurt her crossed his mind and he kept pushing them away. He felt entirely guilty but for now he hoped she was feeling safe, feeling as comfortable as one could. His hand continued moving slowly up and down her back. Her short steady breathing paused and she mumbled something, but he couldn't tell what it was. His hand stopped and he held her firmly, she breathed a little rapidly and tensed up, but then went back to a more relaxed posture. Her hands had been pressed up against her chest and to his surprise, she opened up to him a little and let her left hand reach up above her and slide into the tiny gap under his arm and around his back, her fingers gently and timidly making their way to a resting place. She clung to him though, and that was the most upsetting to Sully, as she trembled in her sleep and gasp occasionally with tiny whimpers and moans, he knew that she was dreaming about her time in captivity. He gently nudged her and she seemed to wake briefly, shift a little, and then go back to sleep. He was confident that she was warm now though, she felt very warm against his skin. He knew that they would be fighting her nightmares together for a while, and he vowed to give her the time and space she needed to heal and be confident again. He knew, against all obstacles and difficulties they would face, she was the only woman he would ever love for the rest of their lives, and he would spend all his days making hers better and supporting her happiness. After a while he knew he should get up and survey any threat that would be approaching with the morning light. His stomach growled a little and he felt guilty again knowing that she must be so hungry and weak from being held captive. Last night his main goal was to find a safe place where they could be warm. He remembered getting caught up in some thorns while he looked for suitable bedding and wondered if they could possibly be blackberries. Gently easing away from her body, he lingered close for a while to make sure she would be okay. After realizing that, as opposed to last night, she looked very comfortable, he softly rolled away from her and left to look for food. Making his way back from the area where he had been caught in the thorns, Sully was relatively happy with his success. The thorn bush had been blackberries and upon searching the area, he had also discovered a beehive. Honey being good for energy, he figured it might make up for the lack of abundance. When he returned he placed the food near where she lay and looked at her sleeping peacefully. She had stretched out a little and Sully thought that must be a good sign because otherwise she would have been curled up. At least she looked like she could be okay. He sat on the edge of the cliff in the pre dawn glow of darkness listening and looking all around. Eventually he decided that they were in a safe location and now thinking upon the challenges ahead for them, he tried to focus on the love he could give her. He knew she would be reluctant to talk so soon, so he planned to just be supportive as possible. He had held her close until the dawn. He wondered how he could help Michaela most. Standing to search for any threats again, he was deep in thought about how broken she must feel. A most important virtue of hers had most likely been taken from her, and he was to blame for letting them do so. He thought about making her feel safe again, how he would patiently wait for her to find the trust she would need to be with him as his wife. He wanted to build her trust with him to a much deeper understanding than they had shared before. His guilt was threatening to overwhelm him and he thought about how the dog soldiers had hurt her, he was confused about who his friends were right now. He was troubled by his desire to save his Cheyenne friends but also condemned the actions of the dog soldiers. There was no definitive answer to how complicated things were. Thinking about the confrontation, and regarding everything, he heard her call out to him.
She was desperate for his touch, desperate to have him close to her. When she woke, she quickly noticed the cold void as she opened her eyes and called for him. The fear of him being taken, of him being subjected to the dog soldiers was overwhelming. They would kill him for sure. Cloud Dancing's son had been her protection before and he died. All the senseless killing for nothing. She wouldn't be able to take it if they had killed Sully all while she slept. She was afraid for him, afraid of what they would surely do to her when they came back for her. All these things raced across her mind in the half second it took for him to answer back. "I'm here ……" He moved to her and gently took her hand as he locked eyes and repeated, "you're safe." He wanted to kiss her but didn't. Sully knew she was in shock, he didn't want to take advantage of her, he wanted her to be able to control the situation, so he maintained a supportive distance from her. She quickly and passionately reached for his face, he had saved her, he was safe. She wanted him more than ever before. Sully was afraid that he would frighten her with any unrequested affections. Being dressed so similar to her captors, he wanted to make it clear that he was nothing like them, even though she already knew his true character. Because Michaela did know his true character, she was indeed surprised when he didn't show her more affections, but maybe her forgiveness of recent painful truths in their relationship was not an invitation now. She was the one who had needed distance between their trust and their physical relationship. She quickly reasoned that although responsive and caring in his rescue, he may not have wanted to return to her, she had to respect that he was trying to distance himself, no matter how painful that might be to his wants and desires. She eased back a little, barely able to contain her own desire. She needed to be kissed but she now realized that it wouldn't be right given the agreement they had reached. They were both tortured by the want they felt inside being overpowered by the mutual respect they had for each other and neither one of them wanted to jeopardize the love they both knew still burned deep within. It was slightly awkward and Sully remembered the injuries she had. Turning away, he began to talk about getting back to town and in the process cleaning the wounds on her feet. But his distraction was so overwhelmingly obvious as he awkwardly tried to clean her feet. They stung and burned and Michaela knew there would be a lot more pain in her future but at least for now, there was no more risk of worse injury to her already battered feet and body. He seemed distracted. Sully was restraining his anger as he tried to be gentle with her. Every touch brought on new admissions of pain and he could only imagine the other injuries she might have. How they may have violently hurt her, he loathed the dog soldiers above everything else right now. As he cleaned her feet he tried to distract himself by talking of their plan to get back home, but he couldn't think of anything else besides the injury, the blood, and her shame that she might be carrying. He didn't want her to be ashamed, it wasn't her fault if they had forced themselves upon her, brutally forcing themselves upon her. He felt sick and rebuked himself for even thinking about it, he stopped, he was overwhelmed, he had to ask her now. It was so low, his voice, that she barely heard him ask, but she heard his question all too clearly, "Did they hurt you?" She had seen a reaction in him with his back to her, he didn't want to see the answer in her eyes, he didn't want to see his failure in her eyes. It consumed him, and his shoulders sunk and his back gently heaved trying to hide the release of his question, facing his own sickness that a man could be so vile, that he couldn't protect her from them. So that had been the reason he had been so careful with her so far, and she loved him even more that he was so tragically sickened by the thought. Obviously, they had hurt her very much, but not in that way, and she knew what he had really asked. She didn't want to leave him in such a disheartened state of failure and destress for any longer, she quickly answered him with the slightest mix of compassion, joy, and relief, "No." He turned quickly and he looked into her eyes, at that moment she wanted nothing more than to give herself to him and she looked into his eyes to tell him so. Sully was relieved beyond all things, he thought for sure they had raped her. He let out the breath he had been holding and trembled, he wanted her so badly but for now he would accept that she had been spared, rescued from the most vile act. He knew the way he had seen One-Eye treat her by the water, that he most likely would have been too late if he had not found her. Michaela knew it too and she was strangely happy knowing that Sully would be the man to take her innocence away. She looked at him with the desire to have it happen immediately, but he couldn't, it still wouldn't be right, so he quickly changed the subject and suggested that she eat. It wasn't much but he showed her the berries and honey. What he hadn't expected was the longing desire she held for him and so as much as he tried to distract himself, when she dipped her fingers in the honey and touched it to her tongue, the sweet, sticky substance brought a tear to her eye, and he was seduced by her. It was pure and sweet, innocent until it wasn't. Never had anything tasted so good, never had she known that she would be completely his and it seemed so clear to her now. Looking back into his eyes she longed for him to kiss her, she needed him to take her lips, and because she knew him well enough to respect her virtue, she knew they would have to settle for a kiss. She wanted him to experience the same sweet taste, the innocence bursting onto his tongue, and so without even hesitating any longer, she invited him to her, to taste the feelings she now tried to resist. This was new to her, the seduction. She slowly licked the honey and sucked on her finger. She couldn't help caressing her own lip, anticipating his own touch, his lips caressing over hers, she could see it in his eyes that he was longing to taste her, to taste her lips. He couldn't stop himself, passion fully realized, he leaned into her and tasted the sweet honey with his tongue. Licking her lip as he kissed her, he slowly sucked it from her. Pulling away he stopped the reaction he was having and breathing heavily, licked his own lips to recover any remnant of her he could still salvage. This was dangerous, it threatened her virginity and he would not take her now, he would not be unrestrained, he would wait. He respected her more than anything. Michaela realized the same. She realized that he would truly put her before every want and desire. They couldn't act on this. So her request was simple, she needed him to hold her. Fingers still covered in honey, she sensually slid her hands around him, feeling every muscle, feeling the heat that was burning within them. He held her firmly, and she nuzzled against him, into his neck and chest. Repositioning a few times she was distressed about not being closer to him than she was now, there was only one way they could be closer, and that was skin to skin bodies entangled in passion, so for now her cheek pressed restlessly against his bare chest and realizing that she would not find any more satisfying feelings at the moment, she settled against him.
Eventually their desires cooled as they talked of a need to return. They realized they would need to move in order to get back to town before Custer could harm their friends. Despite everything, the treatment of the Cheyenne was still atrocious and they still had friends within the tribe. They couldn't leave Cloud Dancing and the tribe to the mercies of Custer, they would surely die. He had carried her away from the place they had slept together and she was physically exhausted still. She refused to let him carry her the whole time, it just wouldn't be right and it would be so physically demanding of him. He had done his best to take care of her, but she had to find the strength to make this final journey back to where they both belonged, away from the adversities of this threat, to everything she held dear. Stopping to rest, her focus was on the rest of the day, making their way back, finding strength to continue. She was breathing heavily to ease the pain in her muscles, they were burning with exhaustion, more than tired, more than weak, but she still knew she was fully capable of continuing. Continuing to catch her breath a bullet ricocheted beside her as she heard the sound of a gun. Their safety was once again threatened
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.
She was over at the cabinet with her back to him, rinsing the razor and sanitizing it. He just watched her. Then he grabbed the washcloth at his hand and lathered it with soap. He washed his leg and then the other one. Then he started washing his chest. The caress of the washcloth felt good against him and he was enjoying his bath very much. She backed away and turned around, eyes softly looking upon him, she said, "I'm just going to return the razor to its case." He looked over and said "okay," and he smiled a little. He continued to slowly wash his chest and she lingered for a moment, watching him. She awkwardly shook herself a little when he made eye contact again and she walked away. Her cheeks were warm as she walked to the cabinet. She stood there and placed the razor back in it's case. Meanwhile, Sully had decided to dip his head below the water so he could wash his hair. He shifted a little and let his head sink backwards, holding his breath he slipped below the surface. She heard him splash the water a little, her internal dialogue was trying to reason with herself. She had to stop these feelings she was having for him, because she feared the outcome of such affections and they had obviously crossed some boundaries in the past day. It was a little unsettling to her virtue that they had become so familiar, so close. She heard the water splash again. She had absolutely no reason to go back in there. She trembled a little and turned towards the curtain. Sully lathered the soap in his hands, and then he paused, and stayed still. He turned his head slightly to the side. "I'd like to wash your hair Sully." Her voice was quiet, her hands were down at her sides and she waited. Sully put his hands in the water and then grabbed the left side of the tub, twisted his torso and turned his head to look up at her. He held the soap out to her and after she took it from his hand, he turned back around and grasped the sides of the tub again. Abigail had been the last woman that had washed his hair and it had been a very long time ago now. She dipped the soap in the water, careful not to touch him, and then she lathered it in her hands. Placing the soap in a dish, she started working it into his hair. He suddenly asked her to stop and it alarmed her, maybe they were going too fast with these re-established feelings. But her fears of rejection quickly faded as he reached for the braid upon his chest and removed the tie that held it. She watched as he carefully took the braid out and then held his hand over it as he briefly closed his eyes. She timidly touched his shoulder and her hand slid forward. His head turned slightly towards her and he let her hand slide beneath his for a moment. Then he moved it back to the edge of the tub. A tear formed in the corner of her eye because she knew how much he had loved Abigail. She knew he loved her enough to not only trust her with his past, but also with his love for Abigail and their child as well. She massaged his scalp letting her delicate fingers work their magic and he had forgotten how truly wonderful this had made him feel before. Michaela loved his hair, it was beautiful and she slowly worked her way to the base of his neck where she continued to massage his neck and shoulders. She could feel all the muscles she had studied in anatomy and he was a beautiful example of a man. She asked him to lean forward and he did. Now his muscular back was before her and the water glistened upon it. She used the washcloth and washed across his tight muscles. Maybe he hadn't realized how hard he was on himself, the tension that had built up, because he was thoroughly enjoying the release that he didn't know he needed. And where he had tried to be brief with his massage, she continued with firm pressure knowing he needed this more than he would ever say. Finally she moved back to his shoulders and she put the washcloth on the side of the tub and used her hands to massage his neck again. Moving back a little she took one hand away and the remaining hand stroked lightly across his neck and shoulder as she softly said, "You may rinse your hair now, I'll just wait for you on the other side of the curtain." Sully waited a moment and leaned back sinking below the water. After he rinsed his hair, he finished washing himself and then got out of the tub and dried himself off. He felt better, the stiffness in his neck was mostly gone but still a little sore. He put his clothes back on and walked around the curtain. She had taken her hair out of the towel and had been brushing it contently. It was so beautiful in the light and he slowly walked over to her. She asked him to sit and he did. She stood and dried his hair as much as she could. Using her own brush she began to brush his hair until it was smooth and then she focused on the longer piece that was his braid. She brushed it until it was smooth and looked into his eyes. He gave her a quick nod and she sat back down facing him, and started to separate the hair into three small sections. Meticulously, she braided it together and then tied it off, looking back to him, looking into his eyes. He reached for her hand that still held the braid and gave it a gentle squeeze as he looked into her eyes and said, "Thank you." She replied softly, "You're welcome." Just as she was about to say how appreciative she had been for everything he had done for her, the children made their way back to the front porch, and hearing them outside, they separated. They didn't want the children to find them on the bed together no matter how innocent it was, so Sully quickly stood and walked over to the table. Michaela turned away and walked over to the stove, where she put some water on to boil so they could enjoy a cup of tea, but it would have to wait until later.
When the children walked through the door they were excited to tell Sully about the fish they had caught. Even Colleen was excited, for she had caught the most fish out of all of them. Sully was really proud of all of them and he and Matthew decided to clean the fish and prepare them for Colleen, who would be cooking them for dinner. Sully put on his boots and walked outside with Matthew. Brian, wanting to be included, followed along hoping to help and learn. Michaela watched as Sully left the room and although she really didn't want to be away from him at all, there was relative safety considering she would be with Colleen, and Sully would just be right outside. Colleen noticed the way she watched Sully leave and she realized that although strong and resilient, Dr. Mike had her own vulnerabilities. Colleen walked over to her and said, "Dr.Mike…...Ma, I'm so glad you're home, and you're safe. We were all worried about you, and Sully never stopped looking from the time you went missing." She paused, unsure about making such a definitive statement, but then found her courage. " He loves you, you know, and he loves us. He sent me over to Mr. Bray's today to get some birthday decorations for Brian. I got a pin the tail on the donkey game and some other things. I know you're still in pain and tired but the past week has just been so terrible, I hope we can all celebrate tomorrow like a family and be happy" Michaela reached to Colleen's face and caressed a hair behind her ear, then she embraced her and held her close. "Colleen, Brian's party is going to be a day of forgetting everything that has happened, and just being happy to have each other, and that's what I want for this family. Sully has always been a friend to you, and Brian, and Matthew, even when things were not so good between the two of us. We've been working things out, and even though it will still take time, we are a family, and he's a part of our family, he'll always be a part of our family." Colleen hugged her tightly and stepped back. "Even before you came, he used to check on us, he used to check on Ma, and make sure we were ok, make sure we had things,but we all knew he was missin' Abigail….. missin' Hannah. He wasn't so free of himself, but it's changed since you've been here, he's changed." Michaela had to hold herself together, Colleen was so observant for her age and she noticed things, important things. "We're going to be alright Colleen, everything is going to be alright." She hugged her again and made a mental note to let Brian and Matthew also see the evidence that things were improving between them, and it was going to be ok. "Let's get everything ready for supper okay." Colleen pulled back and smiling said, "okay Ma." Meanwhile outside, Brian was putting Sully through question after question, Matthew chucked a little and spoke up, "Hey little brother, how about you go dump this bucket in the creek so we don't get any attention from bears tonight." Brian smiled, happy to help, and lifting the slightly heavy bucket, he took off towards the creek. Sully looked at Matthew and chuckled, "Thanks." Matthew smiled. Then continuing to prepare the fish, he said, "He's worried you know, about you and Dr. Mike." Sully sighed a little, "Matthew it ain't so simple sometimes, I can't just force Michaela to take me back, but things have improved, even before all that has happened with the dog soldiers, we were working out our problems. It's up to her, I'm not going to say when things will change." Matthew quickly reasoned that Sully was being fair about things and said, "Well I hope she decides soon, we all miss those happier times." Sully looked at Matthew, "I think things are getting better, but I do too Matthew. I've made my mistakes, I don't intend to make any more." Brian came running back up the hill and they finished everything and cleaned up. After Michaela had set the table, Colleen made her sit down, she had to be exhausted and she wasn't going to be asking for help when Dr.Mike had been through so much. Sully,Brian and Matthew came back inside and Sully helped Colleen cook the fish and prepare potatoes and some fresh green beans. He washed his hands after everything was done and started taking the plates of food to the table. They laughed and had a good time and ate a delicious meal. Brian told them how he had worked to get Hank's horse, and that Hank had gone back on his word. Michaela and Sully both agreed that it was wrong of Hank, but in the end, it was his horse and he had every right to do as he pleased, unfortunately. They talked about Brian's party tomorrow, and then the kids went to bed. Michaela made herself and Sully some tea for the front porch.
Walking outside Sully sat down and stuck his arm out so Michaela could be close to him. She sat and moved in close, snuggling up against him to stay warm and safe. They both sipped their tea in silence, enjoying the closeness they shared while doing it. She spoke first, "Sully, I think the kids are worried about us. I mean, I think we have done a decent job on working things out, but maybe I need to tell you now, actually say it, that…. I want to renew our courtship, I want us to move forward." Sully smiled and he caressed her arm as she laid against him. " I feel the same, Matthew told me Brian has been asking him all kinds of questions and I think he just really needs to see us back together, I think, we have both grown enough to realize that we hurt each other, and with recent events, there's far too much hurt coming from other places than is supposed to come from someone who deeply loves you. I know I've realized that I don't want to be without you." He paused and she raised up and turned towards him and he continued. "I don't want what happened to cause us to rush into anything, but I think as long as we start rebuilding our foundation, things will turn out even better than they were before. I….I love you more now than I ever have." His eyes sparkled in the moonlight, and she leaned in and gently kissed him, pulling back she said, "I love you too, so much. I'm ready Sully, I'm ready to be us again." He kissed her and she put her hand in his hair and kissed him back. They parted and their eyes both studied each other. Michaela smiled and laid her head against him and he embraced her warmly. They stayed like that for a few minutes and then Sully suggested that she go to bed knowing how exhausted she was. He stood up and took her hand as she stood, then he reached down and picked her up. Michaela giggled, "Sully, it's not that far from here to my bed, I can walk." He simply smiled, "I'm not carrying you because of your feet, I'm practicing for something else someday." Then he turned and walked to the door gently knocking it open. He stepped across the threshold and kissed her. Walking straight to the bed, he gently lowered her where the covers had already been pulled back and placed his hand against her torso as he leaned in and gently kissed her again. Then he backed away and softly pulled the covers over her. He leaned in again and whispered, "Sleep well, I'll be right here with you." Then he kissed her on the forehead and walked over to a place near the fire and laid down. She desperately wanted him beside her but it wouldn't be right with the children sleeping in the house. She did take comfort in the fact that he would stay in the house with them though. She looked over at him and he looked at her, a slight smile forming on her lips as the exhaustion finally caught up to her, she slowly started closing her eyes as the firelight glowed and faded until she was asleep. Sully closed his eyes and faded off to sleep as well.
When Michaela woke the next morning, she expected to see Sully first thing but the first person she saw was Brian leaning in close. She smiled. She knew he was excited about his birthday so she reached out for him and put her hand in his hair. In a well rested tone, she said, "Happy Birthday Brian!" He laughed and smiled, "Thanks Ma, I was just wondering when we could start my party?" Michaela laughed a little, "maybe after breakfast." Raising up she told him, "Grace will be coming to help with your cake and then we'll have to set up outside so you can play games. It's much too early right now but I promise soon, okay?" He smiled and said, "Sure Ma, I'll just go see what Colleen is doing, probably chores!" Then he went to leave but turned around again, "Ma? Do I have to do chores today?" She smiled, "No Brian, not today." Colleen was indeed outside but she had already finished her chores and Brian's as well. She and Matthew were moving the table for later and also hanging decorations and games. As Brian left, Michaela's attention turned back to the fireplace. Sully was still peacefully sleeping. He must have been exhausted because he often started his day well before everyone else. She stared at him, he was so handsome, and she loved him for his gentle ways. He looked so peaceful right now. A gentle smile crept across her face, and it dawned on her that one day she would wake, and he would be right beside her. Sully had returned a certain thought to her head when he carried her across the threshold last night. In return she didn't dream about the things she had been dreaming of the past few days, she dreamed about their wedding. It was beautiful and everything was so perfect. Perfect like this day should be. She couldn't help herself, leaving her bed she walked over to where he was. Kneeling, she settled beside him and watched his chest gently rise and fall. It surprised her that he didn't wake, but she just sat there for a minute or two and watched as she developed her feelings. Reaching forward she put her hand on his arm and spoke his name. Peacefully opening his eyes he saw her before him and he smiled. Then he gently said, "Good morning," to which she replied, "Good morning." They both smiled and Michaela lowered her head a little, blushing because his greeting had caused her to wonder if they would always wake with such pleasantries. Sully sat up, and Michaela waited for him to get his bearing. He smiled at her, thankful for waking up to her beautiful face. Honestly at this point, he didn't see any of the scrapes or bruising that still lingered as they healed, all he could see was her warm beauty. "Brian is already awake, he asked me when his party started," she laughed a little and continued, " he's outside helping Colleen and Matthew put up the decorations." Sully chuckled a little and said " He's a good kid, I hope he is dealing with his disappointment over Hank's horse. I hope we can all celebrate today despite everything that has happened recently." Michaela smiled and asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee while she made some breakfast. He replied, "Yes, I would, thank you." After they ate, Michaela got dressed behind the curtain. As she unfolded the blouse she chose to wear, the stiff collar and pearl buttons seemed almost strange given her appearance for the past few days. So new and untested. The fabric was clean,strong, and unblemished. She slipped her skirt over her body and fastened it neatly. The solid security of the belt as she fastened it felt strange as well. This was a truly fragile place for her, so unrelated to Boston, and yet it was the only place she had truly ever felt alive, even with the risk. She smoothly ran her hands over the front of her skirt and leaving the cover of the curtain behind, she smiled as she rejoined Sully and the rest of the family.
Grace and Dorothy came by, and through their women's intuition, they knew Sully had stayed for the night. They both smiled at each other and then to themselves as they thought about how good it was for those two to be back together again. It wouldn't be long before they figured Michaela would be engaged. For now they directed their thoughts to getting everything ready. While Dorothy had spent her time this morning picking out a present for Michaela to give to Brian, Hank had come by Loren's store early enough to make sure he could negotiate a fair price for the whiskey he wanted to order. Loren hadn't budged though, and he told Hank so. Dorothy had overheard them speaking and she couldn't take it anymore. She looked at Hank with her blue eyes unwavering, "Oh really Hank, that boy wanted that horse so bad, enough to show up for work while he worried about his Ma. He's never had anything except for loss and disappointment. And I can guarantee you that eventually one day Michaela will marry Sully and he will be Brian's father." She continued to speak her mind, "He is a good man, and he always keeps to his word. He promised to get Dr. Mike back and he did. Did you not see that Sully stood up to General Custer because he was about to go back on his word? Men like Custer are terrible, hiding behind their promise of being faithful to their word. Marcus was always saying he wouldn't hurt me anymore…." She paused briefly distracted by her own troubles she had endured while she was married, but then she went right back to saying how she felt about the situation "..... but you Hank, we all know you are a good man deep down, enough to give that boy a chance to earn his own horse, and I just think a good man ought to keep to his word is all. She paused and then said, '' I've said my peace, Loren' can you wrap this gift for me, it's Brian's birthday today?" Loren beamed with pride that Dorothy had called Hank out on his upsetting behavior, and Hank just watched her continue about her day. Loren replied, "I sure will Dorothy, you're a fine woman, and tell Brian I said Happy Birthday!" He wrapped the gift and walked over to the candy jars. He gathered a bag full of taffy and handed them to her as well. "Tell him these are from me." Smiling, Dorothy walked to the door, turned briefly and said, "Good day gentlemen." Then she walked over to Grace's cafe and the two of them made their way to the homestead.
Grace helped Colleen make a cake for Brian and insisted that Michaela rest her feet. Sully agreed that she should rest and even checked on her bandages again. Sitting before her he gently caressed her feet as he tried to avoid any attention from the others, with his gentle caresses being more like that of an intimate nature. Michaela blushed but recovered quickly because he had been brief with his affections. She was scraped, bruised and sore, but she felt so loved today, and Brian had continued to find her all morning, giving her little hugs and then running off again. When they had finished helping, Dorothy and Grace wished Brian a happy birthday and left for town. Michaela had asked them to stay if they liked but they had refused saying that it was time for them, as a family, to have some special moments together. Plus, they had seen all morning how Sully and Michaela longed for more time together, staying almost right beside each other, and those were moments they didn't want to disturb. And so they started celebrating Brian's birthday, laughing together and showing affections. They were having a wonderful time. Brian had rushed up to Sully at one point, and even though he had already thanked him, he gave him his best bear hug and said, "Thanks Sully, for saving Ma, this is the best birthday I've ever had. Then he ran off to get Colleen and Matthew , who were cleaning up the pinata they had just broken, so they could play pin the tail on the Donkey. Of course, Brian being the birthday boy, got to go first."
They were all enjoying the misdirection of Brian as he tried to do his best to find the donkey. Brian laughed knowing Matthew was trying to confuse him. Michaela, being distracted by the sound of an approaching horse, noticed Hank come around the bend with a smaller horse. She was surprised and got Sully's attention. As they all noticed Hank, Matthew decided to lead Brian towards them. This was going to be a fantastic surprise. Brian growing dizzy, asked them to stop, and they all waited for what they knew was soon to be a very happy little boy. As Hank handed over the reins, Michaela knew that deep down Hank was a good man and she appreciated that he was here to make things right. Watching Brian give his new horse a piece of the candy that Mr Bray had sent, she gasped with shock and slight amusement, " She likes candy?" Brian explained, "Yeah, she's got a sweet tooth." Michaela laughed, "Then she is your horse. That gave way to laughter as no one was surprised when he chose the name, "Taffy."
She felt so much in this moment looking over her happy family knowing that they all shared a love for one another that could not be matched. It was somewhat different from where they had started so long ago, and Sully had been the one to help her rescue Brian when he ran away. He was indeed the man that had always remained, and also the reason they were all here at this moment, happy and safe. He was so close to her, watching Brian with the same love that she shared, and that was so important to her happiness. It dawned on her that she had never properly said thank you, not just for her but for them all. She had almost lost this, they had almost lost her. He had struggled most of his life to save the ones he loved, failing time and time again. Looking up at him she exhaled and spoke, "Sully? Thank you." She had undeniable happiness in her eyes and he could see it, she truly appreciated him. Reaching for her chin to tilt it to him, he gently kissed her lips and then simply replied, "Couldn't miss a birthday could we." She smiled and leaned back into his embrace.
It was later in the evening when everyone was settled and the children were out in the barn taking care of Taffy. Michaela and Sully sat on the front porch sipping on hot tea. She was securely resting against him and they were quite content. She wanted to be in his arms. Sully breathed in and then sighed a little, "Michaela?" She looked up at him a little and he continued, "Today was a good day." At that moment she knew that he could never really say that he was making up for the missed childhood, but her instinct told her that watching Brian be so happy had pleased him very much. She thought of a future, a future with him and all the children and maybe even children born of their love. Yes, she wanted that very much. Sighing, she said, " It was indeed," then placing her hand against his chest she said, " there will be many good days ahead Sully, as long as we're together. " She turned her head to him and gave him a gentle kiss, opening her eyes she requested one thing, "Hold me?" He lifted his arm and she moved against his chest, finding the perfect place to lay her head. She returned her hand to his chest as her other arm slid behind his back.