AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story covers the time span among the second season episodes, "Another Woman", "Buffalo Soldiers", and "Luck of the Draw." It also covers the time frame between "Moment of Truth" and "Reason to Believe". If you have not seen the second season episodes, it might be wise to do so before reading this story.
of a Long Time Past
by Megan Lavey
Part 1: Keeping the Home Fire Burning
Late May 1872: The Sully Homestead
Colleen Cooper stilled in her sweeping. The seventeen year old peered anxiously out the window, hoping to catch a glance of long auburn hair or bright golden-brown hair flying by on a horse. Nothing had been heard from Dr. Mike or Sully in several hours. Matthew had left as soon as Dr. Mike had. She had gotten around to cleaning up the mess O’Connor had made earlier.
She surveyed the kitchen and looked under the cabinets again. She had to be careful that none was left on the floor, or else the baby would somehow get hold of it. Completely satisfied at last, she picked up the piece of brown wrapping paper that she had swept the pieces of broken china into and set it on the table. "Brian! It’s okay to bring Katie in here."
Brian carried in their youngest sister and placed her on the floor, then placed a toy beside her. Katie quickly began to amuse herself with the toy. Brian looked up at Colleen. "Is it all up?"
"I think so. There’s no more glass that I can see."
Brian looked at the remains of the china lying on the table. "Remember when we first fixed these plates for Ma?"
"Yeah." Colleen looked over at the cabinet. "O’Connor broke four and there is only two left. What happened to the other six?"
"Remember when we told ya about the Currier brothers?"
"One of them got into a big fight with Sully. They broke the others while fighting."
"Oh." Colleen gazed dismally at the shattered glass. "There’s no hope for repairing these again." She wrapped the paper around the glass and carefully tossed it into the fire.
Brian walked over and stood by his sister. "It’s like….."
"Watchin’ a part of yourself burn away?"
A cold chill spread over the two siblings as they watched the china burn. It was a sudden feeling of dread, as if something awful had happened. They looked at each other quickly.
"Do you think Sully’s okay?"
Despite the fear she felt, she managed a smile. "I’m sure he’s fine, Brian." Looking back into the fire, both of them knew what would happen if O’Connor got hold of Sully again. "Isn’t he always?" Colleen added for extra emphasis. But, perhaps, she realized, it was to comfort herself.
Brian checked quickly on Katie. "I haven’t felt since scared since Sully and Ma had that big fight right before Ma was kidnaped by the Dog Soldiers. Remember that?"
Colleen laughed. "Yeah, I do. I remember there was several times then Matthew and I wanted to throttle you."
"I didn’t know better!"
"Sometimes, Brian, I still wonder." Brian scowled as Colleen mussed up his hair. "I still remember that sometimes. Makes me wonder whatever happened to Katherine….."
It was silent that cold winter morning. The only sound heard in the homestead that morning had been the strikes of three forks hitting three tin plates. The four fork remained still beside a full plate.
Matthew Cooper cast a glance across the table at Colleen. The uncommon stillness had been going on for four days now. That was the day that their adopted mother, Dr. Michaela Quinn, had come home distraught. She had quickly sent the children out to do their chores in the barn. Matthew and Colleen had left Brian in the barn, while they walked back to the homestead. They knew something had to be wrong.
Sure enough, when the two had looked into the window of the homestead, they saw Dr. Mike sitting at the table, crying. Colleen had looked at Matthew with a concerned expression. "I’ve never seen Dr. Mike like this."
"I think it has somethin’ to do with that lady, Katherine, and Sully."
"You don’t think Sully loved Katherine, do ya?"
"No. But I think Dr. Mike believes he does."
"That’s crazy! Sully would never do that to Dr. Mike!"
"Dr. Mike still don’t know him like we do. We know he wouldn’t jilt her, but she don’t."
"Well, Dr. Mike told me about her fiancee, David. Maybe that made her scared of men."
"Well," Matthew looked back in the window. "She didn’t want us to see her like this. Let’s go back to the barn and don’t say a word to Brian about it. He’ll just ask too many questions. And don’t say anythin’ to Dr. Mike about it either. I don’t think she wants us to know."
"Why, because we’re too young?"
Now the family was quietly looking across the breakfast table at each other. Colleen glanced at Mike’s plate and noticed she had hardly eaten a bite. "Dr. Mike? You haven’t touched your food."
Mike sighed. She hadn’t felt much like eating since she had her argument with Sully over Katherine. She knew that not eating was bad for her health, but she could not muster the energy to eat. She smiled wryly. It was weird, being able to diagnose the problems with not eating and then not eating. "Colleen, I’m not very hungry."
"Come on, Ma!" Brian piped up. "It’s actually good for once!"
"Brian!" Colleen cried out.
Brian glared at his sister. He hated to be scolded and this time he didn’t even know why he was being scolded. He pouted for a moment, then remembered the burning question on his mind again. He had been thinking about it for a couple days now, guess he could ask it. "Ma? When’s Sully comin’ over?"
Colleen dropped her fork. "Brian!"
"What? What I’m doin’?"
"You’re bein’ plain annoyin’"
"Brian, Colleen!" Mike spoke up then, wondering why the children were arguing all of a sudden. It wasn’t like them to argue, but then again, they were brother and sister. She winced slightly as she remembered all the arguments she had with Marjorie over the years.
Brian stood up, then stomped out of the house. Matthew shot Colleen a look, in which she groaned in reply. She stood quickly and snatched hers and Matthew’s plates off the table as he was trying to spear up another bite of food. He looked at the table in surprise, then scowled at Colleen as she scraped the remains of their breakfast into the scraps bucket.
Mike got up from the table and put on her coat. The children are acting strange this morning, she thought. This is not like them to be so tense with each other. I wonder if they know about me and Sully? Matthew and Colleen are very bright, it would not take long at all for them to guess. A warm smile grew on Mike’s face, the first in days. She was so proud of the children, prouder than she could put into words. "Matthew? Colleen?"
Matthew looked up and Colleen stopped washing dishes. They started at her quietly. Expectantly.
Mike smiled warmly at them. "Leave the dishes, Colleen, you’ll be late for school."
Colleen looked at Matthew and beamed. Something we did must had made her feel better, she thought. I’m so glad! "Okay, Dr. Mike," she said, grabbing her shawl and wrapping it around her. "Comin’ Matthew?"
"I’m comin’" Matthew said, getting up and grabbing his hat as he followed Mike and Colleen out the door.
Outside, Brian was kicking at the dirt. He looked up as the door opened and scowled at his sister until Matthew walked over and thumped his hat on Brian’s head. "Come on, Brian, you can help me hitch up the horses for Dr. Mike."
Brian eagerly began to follow Matthew, but his gaze was suddenly averted by something coming up the road toward the homestead. He stopped to look at it, then a grin spread over his face. "Hey! It’s Sully!"
Mike, Colleen, and Matthew all looked toward the road. Mike’s heart stopped as she saw the familiar man riding up the road toward them. He looks like he’s riding home, a part of her mind said. He is, her heart answered back. Part of her wanted to turn and flee to the barn to get the wagon herself to avoid him, but her heart urged her to stay. For some reason, she just wanted to….look at him.
He stopped before the family and just looked at them a moment, not knowing quite what to say. Sully had been brooding himself for the past four days. He had remained at the Cheyenne camp never straying toward town, This morning, Cloud Dancing had finally caught him alone at the creek. Without one prompt, he had told Cloud Dancing all about Mike and Katherine.
"I don’t get it, Cloud Dancing," he had told him. "Abigail could never make me feel the way I do when I’m around Michaela. What do I do now?"
Cloud Dancing had thought for a moment. "The spirits gave us women to balance men. They are behind the peace to every war. They are the ones who give mercy to our weaknesses. They give us strength to our weaknesses. I have learned again and again that without Snow Bird, a large part of me would be lost. Go to her before you are too late."
"What’ll I say to her?"
"Nothing. Your heart will guide the way."
So now he was before her, as if this was his judgment day. The only thing that belayed his nervousness about being there was his hand clenching and unclenching the reins. He managed a smile at all of them. "Matthew, you want to go huntin’?
"Sure!" Matthew turned around and went back to the homestead for his rifle.
"Can I come too?" Brian asked eagerly.
"Brian, what day is it?" Sully asked, his eyes twinkling at him.
Brian’s grin faltered. "An I’ve gotta go to school."
Sully dismounted, then knelt before Brian. "Look, I promise ya that I’ll take you huntin’ soon. But right now, you’ve gotta go to school."
Brian nodded eagerly. He would do anything to go hunting with Sully.
"Come on, Brian. Help me with the horses," Colleen beckoned Brian to follow her. They walked quickly to the barn. There, Matthew was waiting, having already finished with the horses. "Are they alone?" he asked Colleen.
"Yeah," Colleen climbed onto the wagon seat.
"Can I drive them out to Ma and Sully?" Brian asked.
"No, Brian," Matthew said. "Let’s wait for Dr. Mike to come in here. Meanwhile, let me tell you the story of Barnaby Jones……"
"I had no idea about that. You should had told me about Ma and Sully." Brian threw another log onto the fire.
"Well, Matthew and I thought that it was best." Colleen laid a now sleeping Katie in her crib. "I didn’t think Matthew and I were suppose to know that they did fight."
"What did they fight over?"
"I think over Katherine."
"Next time Ma and Pa have a fight, let’s tell Katie the story of Barnaby Jones."
Colleen laughed. "Knowing Dr. Mike and Sully, Katie will be reciting the story perfectly from memory by her second birthday. Let’s wait up for them."
The Burden of Conscience
Late May 1872: A creek somewhere outside Colorado Springs
I should be dead.
Those were the first words that came to his mind as he became aware of his surroundings. He could smell the fresh air around him and sighed in relief. He was still alive. He tried to open his eyes, but the sharp pain in his legs weighed down his lids so much that it hurt to open them. He rested for a few moments, then tried again. This time, he succeeded.
He could barely remember pulling himself out of the river, could barely remember setting his own leg. He knew both of them were broken, but one wasn’t as bad as the other. If he could make a crutch, he could probably manage. He hoped so. But for now, it was time to rest.
He closed his eyes again briefly, then opened them again to see some ripe blackberries hanging on a branch. He reached out and was able to snag them. He began eating them one by one, savoring the taste of them as if each one was a piece of Grace’s blackberry pie. If I ever get home, he thought, I will never pass up a piece of her pie again. The thought sobered him. If he ever got home.
He glanced out at the creek, trying to gage how much time he had to get ahead of the army. He wondered where Cloud Dancing was. Was he safe? And Michaela. She must be worried sick by now, he thought. He hated that they had parted on such tense terms. He sighed. It wasn’t as if one misunderstood matter hadn’t driven him and Michaela apart before. It had. But the last time, they weren’t kept together by the bonds of marriage. They had to realize and believe in their love for each other.....
Sully watched as Colleen herded Brian toward the barn. He knew what the fourteen year old was up to. She was an incurable romantic, ever since the time the year before that Colleen had fallen for him. It had led to some embarrassing moments for both of them, but they had emerged better friends.
He turned to face Michaela, who looked ready to bolt after the children. Who could blame her, he thought. She’s scared. Her fiancee had died in the war, and now that she was learning to trust him and he had found the capability to love again, Katherine had happened.
Mike glanced down at the ground. For once in her life, she was speechless. They stood that way for several moments. Meanwhile, inside the barn, Colleen had pressed her ear up to the door, trying to hear. Matthew had begun telling the story of Barnaby Jones and all she could hear was the rich timbre of his voice. She looked over at Matthew and shook her head. "They ain’t talkin’ yet."
Brian pouted. "Can somebody tell me what’s goin’ on?" he begged again.
Matthew and Colleen gazed at each other.
"Come on! I’m gonna be nine years old soon."
"We’re waitin’ to see if Dr. Mike and Sully will stop arguin’," Matthew told him.
That seemed to pacify Brian and he and Matthew joined Colleen at the door to the barn.
Sully finally was able to speak. "I’m sorry. I know I said it to ya once, but I’m saying it again, Michaela. Am I gonna be apologizin’ for this for the rest of my life?"
Mike shook her head. "Of course not, Sully. It’s just.....I have never been good at expressing my feelings. My engagement to David was simple. We worked together, so naturally keeping each other’s company was easy."
"You sayin’ that I don’t come around enough or somethin’?"
"No. I was around David for most of every day until he left for the war. I knew everything he was doing. Not like you. I never know what you’re doing from one moment to the next."
"Spontaneity ain’t a bad thing, Michaela."
"I know. And it’s.....different."
"So you’re sayin that if it had been David in that room, he would had never kissed Katherine because you knew exactly what he was going to do?"
Anger leaped into his eyes. "Maybe you ought to hear the story from my side. All you heard was the side on an eight year old boy. You know how children can blow things up out of proportion, no matter how well meaning they get. I didn’t kiss her, she kissed me. I didn’t want to kiss her, I had never thought about kissin’ her. How can I when the only person I wanted to kiss was you?"
His voice had risen so that the children could clearly hear it in the barn. They glanced at each other, then Colleen and Matthew glanced down at Brian. Brian fidgeted.
Matthew caught his little brother up by the shirt and promptly hung him from a nail in the wall. Brian kicked out at him. "Let me down! Let me down!"
"Not until you tell us what you saw," Colleen said, pulling her shawl tighter around her.
Brian stopped kicking. "Well, I went up to get Sully to go fishin’ and when I walked into the recovery room, I saw the lady lean over and kiss Sully."
"And what did you tell Dr. Mike?"
"That Sully was kissin’ her."
Matthew grabbed his little brother by the shirt collar. "If you cause Dr. Mike and Sully to break up...."
"I didn’t mean to Matthew! Honest!"
"Brian, how could you? You have to go tell Dr. Mike the truth. Now."
"Now!" Matthew grabbed his brother and slung him over his shoulder. Brian began pounding at his back. "Let me go, Matthew!"
Colleen opened the barn doors and the Cooper children paraded out. Mike and Sully were surprised to see the children coming toward them, especially Brian kicking and screaming while slung over Matthew’s shoulder.
"Matthew! Put Brian down. What’s going on?" Mike asked.
Matthew did as he was told, but still kept an iron grip on his brother. Colleen gazed at the adults. "Brian had somethin’ to tell ya, don’t ya Brian?" she cast a sideways glance at her little brother.
Brian sighed. "I’m sorry, Dr. Mike. I’m sorry, Sully. I lied to ya. When I told ya about Sully kissin’ Miss Katherine, I was wrong. She was the one kissin’ him."
Sully did his best not to glare at Brian. He knelt down to his size. "Why’d ya tell Dr. Mike that I’d been kissin’ her?"
"Cause I thought men always started the kissin’."
In any other time, in any other place, Brian’s words of innocence would had been funny. Now they served to calm Sully’s nerves, but Mike’s conscience broke open. She had been unfair to Sully and now the guilt was coursing through her. She could feel tears pricking at the back of her mind. She didn’t want to face this now. She had to sit down and think.
"Can we talk later, Sully?" she whispered, feeling no other energy to do anything but that. "The children will be late. Come on, Colleen, Matthew, and Brian."
He didn’t get a chance to reply. She had ushered the children off to the barn and herded them into the wagon. When Matthew drove the horses out, Sully was gone, leaving Mike alone with her conscience.
Late May 1872
He had to get moving again. It was the only way to return to Michaela. This time, it was he who had the burdened conscience. He was the one who had to make amends with his family. And now, there was so much more at stake here, more than he had ever realized. Not just his life or his honor. But his family.
Because family was the most important thing of all
The Weight Off One’s Shoulders
Late May 1872: Further up the creek by the cliffs
Mike held Sully’s necklace in her hand, tears streaming down her cheeks. Standing next to her up to their knees in water, her best friend, Dorothy Jennings, put an arm around her. "Michaela, just because we haven’t found a body doesn’t mean that he isn’t already..."
"He’s not dead, Dorothy." Mike gazed at her. "I could feel it if he was dead. We...he has told me that I am his heart’s song, that our souls are tied together. I feel the same way. Dorothy, my heart would know he is dead long before my eyes would settle on his body. And my heart tells me that he is not dead."
Dorothy hugged her again. What Michaela and Sully had was something special, she could see that. The love that was visibly shared between them was something that she had only longed for, even after Marcus took to beating her. She could trust Michaela’s word, and her heart, that Sully wasn’t dead.
Mike gazed at Dorothy, her conscience full of remorse. They had parted on such heavy terms, her and Sully. My way of thinking has changed, ever since Sully put Katie in my arms as a newborn baby, she thought. A few years ago, I probably would had been right beside him, she realized.
Cloud Dancing is Sully’s family. Would I go to such lengths for the children? We both would. Would I do so for Mother, Rebecca, Claudette, Maureen, and Marjorie? Yes, I would. And Sully would had been by my side the entire time without question. And here I am refusing to do so when he asked me. He has asked for so little and has done so much. Fresh tears poured down Mike’s cheeks as her conscience overwhelmed her.
Dorothy put her arm around her to comfort her. "It’s okay, Michaela. It’s not the first time when burdens of the conscience have gotten you and Sully back together. Once we find him, you’ll be able to patch things up."
Mike managed a smile at her. She was right. It wasn’t the first time that her conscience had judged Sully wrong and she had felt overburdened by it. She could remember one time extremely well.....
Her conscience still bothered her.
Mike laid down her pen and stared at the picture of her family on the desk, not really seeing it, her thoughts elsewhere. Even though she and Sully had worked together to help out the Cheyenne and the Army sergeant, Zachary, her conscience still bothered her. She and Sully were closer, she knew that. He was hugging her and holding her close again, but they hadn’t kissed since before their argument.
She missed his kisses.
She blushed at the thought. If Mother could only see what I’m thinking now, she’d have a heart attack. Mike chuckled out loud at that one. Elizabeth Quinn would most likely have one indeed.
She picked up her pen and began tapping it on the desk. She had to speak to Sully and ease the burden off her mind. Though Brian’s confession had served as an anchor to bring them closer together, not all could be totally forgiven until she could apologize to him for judging him wrong.
Mike laid down her pen again. There had been no patients that day, perhaps when Colleen came in from school, she would go find Sully. Colleen was capable of handling the clinic for a few hours and if there was an emergency, Matthew could come find her.
Determined now, she picked up her pen and began completing the letter she had been writing to her mother for the past hour or so now. Completing it, she began a new one to her friend, Miriam in San Francisco. She was engrossed in the letter and the sound of the door opening was of complete surprise to her. She looked up to see Colleen walk in.
"Hey, Dr. Mike," she greeted her warmly.
Mike quickly set the letters away and stood, eager to be on her mission. "Colleen, how was your day at school?"
"Fine. I just came by to see if I could go eat supper with Becky."
Mike’s smile faltered. The selfish part of her screamed to ask Colleen to stay so she could find Sully. But she knew that Colleen almost always spent her afternoons working in the clinic without complaint. "Of course, Colleen, you may go."
Colleen beamed at her. "Thanks." She gazed at her. "Do ya need me to stay, Dr. Mike?"
"Of course not," Mike put a reassuring hand on her daughter’s shoulder. "I can manage everything just fine."
"Okay." Colleen’s smile returned and she turned toward the door.
She turned around. "Yes, Dr. Mike?"
"If you happen to see Sully, can you ask him to come by the clinic?"
"Sure." Colleen walked out of the clinic.
Mike sighed and sat back down at her desk, pulling the letter back in front of her. She began writing again when the door opened. She looked up to see Sully peer in, then smile at her. He walked into the room. "Colleen said ya wanted to see me."
"I do," Mike said, standing once again. "We need to talk."
Sully pushed the door shut and walked over to lean against the examining table. He crossed his arms and gazed at her. "What about?" he asked warily, remembering all too well what their last "talk" had been about. Michaela was finally warming up to him again and things between them were very tentative. He did not want to destroy that again.
Mike clasped and unclasped her hand in front of her and then behind. She fought the strong urge to pace the room. "Well, I want to apologize."
"For falsely accusing you of kissing Catherine. It was wrong of me to jump to conclusions without asking you first and I’m sorry."
Sully sighed. The last thing he wanted to talk about at the moment was Catherine. Facing Custer was better than talking with Michaela about Catherine. "Michaela, it’s all water under the bridge."
"No it’s not. I feel horrible."
"Leave it be, Michaela." To silence her even further, Sully reached over and took Mike in his arms and drew her into a slow, lingering kiss.
Meanwhile, Colleen’s conscience was bothering her. She quickly apologized to Becky and hurried back into town to meet with Mike. She met Matthew and Brian drive up in the wagon from the livery and they all gathered outside the door of the clinic.
"Let’s take Ma to Grace’s for supper," Brian suggested.
"Sounds good to me," Matthew said. "I’ve got a hankerin’ for Grace’s meatloaf."
"Yeah, ya only eat it every day," Colleen pointed out.
"Well, I feel like eatin’ it twice today," Matthew declared, pushing the door open and treating all three children to a wonderful surprise.
In the dark recesses of her mind, Mike could barely hear the door opening. The rest of her being was too involved in the excitement she was feeling from his kiss. She felt melded to him and didn’t ever want to let him go. The feeling was mutual as he explored every recess he could find of her mouth. All of a sudden, she pulled away in surprise.
"What’s wrong?" he asked in a low husky voice. Feeling the coolness of the February air at his back, he turned to face a grinning Matthew, Colleen, and Brian Cooper. He shook his head with a rueful grin on his face. Mike, standing beside him, was blushing furiously.
Matthew grinned. "Come on, we’re going to Grace’s for dinner. Wanna come? Or are ya too busy?"
"No! Of course not!" Mike and Sully said together, then grinned at each other. Putting his arm around her, Sully lead Michaela toward the door.
Late May 1872
Dorothy led Mike out of the creek and over to Sergeant McKay. "This was all we could find," she said, softly.
Sergeant McKay gazed at Mike in sympathy. "We’ll keep searching, Mrs. Sully. You can keep that."
"Thank you," Mike said, putting the necklace in her bag. Dorothy put her arm around Mike and led her to the horses. Mike prayed silently. God, she thought, you gave me a chance to ease the burden of my conscience once before. Please, please give me the chance to do so again.
Upon reaching the horses, Michaela felt a new confidence filling herself. She would find Sully, no matter if it took the rest of her life. He was her heartsong. Her life. The other half of her soul. And she will never give up trying. Not until he was in her arms again.
Completed November 20, 1997