For personal use and select distribution only (c) July 2000 by Rebecca Burkhart

This short story follows immediately after the episode "Sully's Choice", when Michaela is away and Sully is shot by soldiers when the Indians try to blow up the railroad site. There has been a lot of discussion about how and when Michaela found out about the incident, and what her reaction was. This is my idea of what might have happened. Part of the story was also precipitated by a comment in "Another Woman" when Michaela said something about "all those things we said to each other" and Sully replied that he meant them. I don't remember hearing a lot of "those things" in these courting episodes, so I threw a couple in for good measure.

by Rebecca Burkhart

It didn't take long for the story to come out. Sully, bringing logs in for the fire, experienced a sudden twinge and dropped the wood. Michaela had, of course, reacted with concern as Sully tried to brush it off as nothing.

"It's prob'ly just his stitches pullin'," Brian had declared, earning an exasperated look from Colleen and a quickly suppressed smile from Matthew.

"Stitches?" Michaela had cried, looking from one guilty face to another. And so the story had come out. It had been told and retold as they ate dinner, with interruptions, corrections and embellishments as each family member put his or her own spin upon the tale. Sully did his best to tone down the story but Brian, exhausted from not-telling, was determined to relive every gory detail. Michaela had listened, stunned as they recounted the story the story and she now remained speechless as they relived their most memorable moments in the drama.

Brian's eyes were wide as he remembered, "I stayed there, right behind the tree, just like Sully told me to. He told me t' stay there, no matter what happened. Even when he got shot an' I saw him fall, I stayed. But when that soldier looked down an' then shot at th' ground ..." Brian gulped, his eyes filling with tears.

"It was only a snake, Brian, remember, you told us?" Colleen comforted.

Matthew remembered how Wolf had found Sully hidden in the pile of brush and how he'd had to keep Brian away until he saw that Sully was, indeed, alive. Brian was proud that he 'd thought of the cave for hiding Sully, but saddened again as he recalled, "I really thought he was gonna die."

Colleen remarked, "If Mr. Slicker hadn't agreed t' help, he might've!"

Matthew grinned. "You really shamed him into it, Colleen!"

Brian was getting excited again. "That must've been somethin', when the Reverend took the gun and clonked Hank with it!" He turned to Sully. " 'f he hadn't done that, Hank woulda turned ya in t' th' Army!"

"Hank'll do anything for money" Matthew commented bitterly.

"An' then when Sully had that bleeder ..." Colleen remembered her panic.

Sully spoke up for the first time in awhile. "Ya handled that just right, Colleen. Told ya -- you'll be a fine doctor someday." He smiled at Michaela. "You'da been proud o' her, Dr. Mike."

"I ... I am" Michaela said vaguely. "Please excuse me." She rose from the table and, pulling her wrap from its hook, went outside. Sully and the children exchanged guilty, worried glances before they, too, rose and began clearing the table.

When they emerged from the house a little later, they found her sitting on the porch staring at the sky. Sully was carrying two cups of coffee, one of which he handed to Michaela. Colleen was bearing a pile of school books and a satchel. She, Matthew and Brian had on their outdoor things. Michaela looked up curiously as Matthew explained, "I'm takin' Colleen over t' Becky's an' Brian's comin' along for th' ride." He put an arm around Brian whose cross look told that he'd been coerced, but it was Matthew's first statement that interested Michaela. "To Becky's? Isn't it rather late?"

"We have a *huge* test tomorrow" Colleen explained. "Becky asked her Pa if I could come over so we could study together. I'll sleep there an' go t' school with her in th' mornin'." Seeing Michaela's look she added, "Sully said it was okay!"

Michaela flashed Sully an exasperated look but said, "Well, have a good time and be sure you *do* study!"

"Oh, we will!" Colleen rolled her eyes. "History ... all those dates!" She kissed Michaela lightly. "I'll see ya t' morrow after school. I'll come by th' clinic t' help ya out."

"Thank you, Colleen". Giving her a brief embrace she added, "And good luck on your test." She checked to be sure Brian was dressed warmly enough and admonished Matthew not to keep him out too late. Then she and Sully moved back into the house. Once inside she turned on Sully. "Well, you certainly managed to take over in my absence!"

Sully was genuinely puzzled. "What are you talking about?"

Michaela gestured in the direction of the departed wagon. "Telling Colleen she could stay at Becky's without consulting me!"

Sully squinted at her. "You weren't here," he pointed out. "She asked this mornin' before we knew you'd be home. I said yes. I ... I don't know nothin' 'bout how t' help her study for her test. I figured without you here she'd be better off workin' with her friend!"

Michaela looked down. "I suppose you're right" she conceded. But her calm lasted only for a moment. "That doesn't explain why you spent the entire time I was away leading my children into all kinds of danger ..."

"I took Brian to explore a cave" Sully said evenly.

"Yes, because of one of your famous stories!" Michaela interrupted. "I would have thought you'd have learned your lesson after Brian fell from that tree!"

Sully realized Michaela was distraught and so he remained silent, but this served only to infuriate her further.

"Don't you have anything to say?" she asked accusingly.

"What do you want me t' say?" Sully asked, his temper rising. "Brian wanted t' do somethin' t' gether. He was missin' you and feelin' sad an' I thought th' cave might take his mind offa things. We walked through th' cave then headed home and th' rest just sorta happened!"

"Things always 'just sorta happen' around you, don't they, Sully?"

Sully faced her, seeming to take her measure with his blue eyes, thoughts, impossible to read, swirling around their inscrutable depths. "Yes, they do" he answered her at last. "And likely they'll continue to, 'f I'm gonna be th' man I need t' be, an' fight for th' things I need t' fight for. It'll be part o' yours, too, 'f you're gonna be part of mine."

Michaela had to think about this for a moment, then turned to Sully with tears in her eyes. "Sully, were you *really* trying to stop the Indians from violence, or were you helping them?"

Sully looked at her, amazed. "I told ya what I was doin'!"

Michaela gave a bitter laugh. "Yes, you did, after you got 'caught'. Were you planning on hiding this little incident from me forever?"

"Of course not," Sully answered sharply. "We were gonna tell you when th' time was right. Th' kids an' I decided not t' hit ya with it soon's you got here, is all. We wanted t' give you a chance t' settle in, first."

"So you conspired against me? I'll thank you to remember these are *my* children we're talking about!" Michaela shouted.

"That *you* left in *my* care!" Sully shouted back.

"Obviously a mistake! Evidently you don't know the first thing about caring for ..."

"We cared for each other" Sully interrupted quietly. "I *do* care for Brian. An' Colleen an' Matthew. I would *never* have let anything happen to them." He looked her in the eyes. "Or to you" he said in almost a whisper.

That did it. Michaela broke down completely. Tentatively, unsure of her reaction, Sully put an arm around her. When he didn't encounter any resistance, he took her in his arms, cradling her head as she sobbed on his shoulder.

"I was away" she cried, "I wasn't here. I didn't know ... there was nothing I could do!"

"Shhh" Sully comforted, "It's all right, Dr. Mike. Everything came out all right ..."

Michaela rose to face him. "But what if it hadn't? Brian could have been hurt, could have been run down by a horse or caught in the cross fire ... and you, Sully -- you were shot! If Robert E and Matthew hadn't found you ... if the soldiers had arrested you ... if Jake hadn't helped Colleen ... if Hank ..."

Sully placed a finger on her lips. "Shhh" he said again. "I told ya, it all worked out. Wasn't much ya coulda done, anyway, even if ya had been here."

"But I *hate* that!" Michaela exclaimed angrily. "I hate not being in control of a situation!"

"I know," Sully said with a grin. After a moment, Michaela had to smile back.

But then she went on, "I just got so upset at the thought that something might have happened to the children, at the thought of ... of losing you ..."

Sully caught his breath. "You ain't gonna lose me" he said hoarsely.

"I haven't even asked how you are" Michaela said repentantly. "Are you in any pain? You did drop that wood ..."

"Nah." Sully waved it off. "Jake an' Colleen did a fine job."

"Well, I still ought to examine you," Michaela persisted. She briskly fetched a lamp from the sideboard, placing it on the table, then without thinking what she was doing, she reached to unbutton Sully's shirt.

Blushing, Sully placed a staying hand on hers. "I c'n do it!" he said roughly, but he made no move to remove the shirt.

Reddening, Michaela thrust her hands behind her back. Looking at a point over Sully's head she stammered, "Just ... just pull the shirt back over your shoulder so I can examine the stitches, and be sure there is no infection ..."

"It really ain't necessary," Sully protested feebly.

"As your doctor, I say it is!" Michaela retorted in a firmer voice. But as Sully unbuttoned and folded back his shirt, she felt her resolve leaving her. She hadn't realized how the sight of him would stir her. She'd never felt this way before. Swallowing hard she reminded herself she was a doctor and went to work.

Sully forced himself to remain still as she stepped behind him and began gently to probe the wound with firm but caring fingers. He was totally aware of her reaction when he'd pulled back his shirt, and as he felt her fingers caressingly examine the stitches, he was having some reactions of his own.

At last Michaela swallowed and said, "The wound appears clean and dry, and free of infection. I would say the stitches could come out by the end of the week."

Gratefully Sully shrugged back into his shirt and rebuttoned it. "Good," he said softly. "Good." A moment of silence ensued as both struggled to regain their equilibrium.

Sully turned down the offer of more coffee and Michaela sank into a chair beside him. "I do want to thank you again, Sully, for staying with the children for me. I'm sorry I was so angry. There really was no one else I would have trusted as much."

"You're welcome," he said, his blue eyes looking at her in a way that disconcerted her.

Adopting a light tone she said, "I suppose you'll be glad to get back to the woods after all this!"

Sully continued staring at her, as if mesmerized, but then taking her hand in his, he replied, "Yep. It'll be good t' see my lean-to again, sleep under the stars. But I kinda liked bein' a 'family man' for a few days too." Michaela raised her eyebrows in surprise and Sully could resist no longer. He leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on her lips, and Michaela found herself responding with a kiss of her own. They broke apart only when they heard a wagon clatter into the yard. "I love you, Dr. Mike," Sully whispered.

"I know," Michaela said with conviction. "And I love you, Sully." They stood and Sully gave her a swift embrace which Michaela quickly broke as Matthew and Brian clumped into the house.

Sully gathered his things together and said goodnight to everyone, preparing to leave.

"Aw, Sully, do ya gotta go? I wanted you t' play me a game of checkers!" Brian complained.

"At this hour, young man?" Michaela admonished. "You have school tomorrow!"

"Aww!" Brian was disappointed.

"Another time," Sully promised and with a last, loving look for Michaela, he was gone.

Reaching for a cookie from the plate on the table, Brian inquired with his mouth full, "So did you an' Sully fight an' make up?"

Michaela looked startled and Matthew gave an agonized "Bri--an!"

Brian looked at Matthew innocently. "But you said that's why I hadta come with you t' Becky's! You said ... mmph ...mmph" His last words were muffled by Matthew's hand over his mouth.

"G'night, Ma." An embarrassed Matthew began dragging his struggling little brother out the door toward the barn. His eyes, as well as the seldom used form of address, begged Michaela for forgiveness.

"Good night, Matthew," she said fondly. "And thank you."

Relieved, Matthew grinned and nodded. He set Brian down, who immediately began berating his brother, continuing all the way across the yard to the barn.

Smiling, Michaela shut the door behind them. You know, she thought, I just may be the luckiest woman in the world.

The End