Rated: PG
Category: Drama
Spoilers: The Student, Where There's Smoke, Abby Normal and Drive
Description: Neela makes heads and tails of the past, the present and an uncertain future.
Notes: [secret note to my usual readers] Another character from England? Yikes. [/secret note]
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not mine.
Feedback: I fiend for it.
"Mauf karna."

She wakes with the phrase on her lips, so gently spoken, she can't tell if they were the last words of her dream or the first of her wakefulness. But there they are, the tacit alarm that has sounded her awake for several weeks now. She doesn't know if and when it will stop. Sometimes she thinks it never will.

She is idle today - no plans. It is the first time she has been idle in some time. Perhaps ever. She is an industrious person, a scholarly person, a person with direction, and goals, and plans everyday. So this idle day is a surprise, most of all to herself. She is not quite sure what to do with it.

So she does nothing. At least not until she decides. She doesn't want to ruin the moment - lying here in an Ann Arbor hotel bed, savoring idleness and a quasi-state of sleep/wakefulness. Not because it is a pleasant feeling. It's something less than pleasant, or perhaps more. Less pleasant, more...melancholy. It's a sweet melancholy though, sweet and self-indulgent. The tone of her mood is set by her dream. She cannot remember what the dream is, what is was, but she is certain of what it was about. It was about something that would have her wake with "Mauf karna" on her lips. It was about Gallant.

Or Michael. She always used to call him Gallant. Why? Because that what he was called, and she is not one to deviate from convention.

She used to think that was a good thing. On some level she still does. It is her belief system, her own code of behavior. What is established, what is correct, what is prescribed are by nature virtuous. The Americans, the British, the Westerners, they agree too, don't they? "You can't argue with success," they often say, and she says it too. She believes it to be so.

But now, she is having doubts. She is having reservations about convention, and conformity, and propriety. She doesn't want to be raucous, or reckless or outrageous. She doesn't want pink hair, or an Anglo boyfriend or "Vadiya" tattooed on her hip in Punjab script. She doesn't want any of these things.

She does want some things, though; things that break with convention, the convention of her life, the convention of her upbringing and how she defines herself.

And it started with "Mauf karna."

She heard that you weren't a doctor until you killed someone. She used to laugh it off. It was a joke. Until she did it. She went to med. school, passed her boards, and then she killed someone.

She shudders just thinking back on the entire ordeal. Horrifying enough in it's own right. She was guilt-wridden to a degree she thought wasn't humanly possible. And then Gallant, Michael, came along. And then mistakes turned into mistakes with lies. And lies turned into board meetings. And board meetings turned into deployments to Iraq. And aborted dates. And tearful good-byes. And almost-love that would never be.

Lying here, in the cocoon of her blankets, snips of conversation whirl around her, out of context, the sounds fading in and out .

"Listen, he's just motivating you for a match."

"Michael, go to bloody Iraq and tell yourself you've done something noble."

"I just want you to know I shouldn't have left you alone with a patient until he was stable. It's my fault"

"It's just not comfortable for me. Lying and having someone else cover my mistakes. And it just sort of keeps on compounding, one on top of the other."

"Seems kind of silly now, but out in the bay this morning I was thinking about asking you out."

"I was thinking of saying 'yes'."

She sighs.

She isn't the girl that gets embroiled in scandal, the damsel in distress, the girl fancied by the teacher's pet, the heartsick girl left behind.

She also isn't the type of girl that leaves behind a cozy internship at the University of Michigan, a "transitional internship leading to dermatology," cold turkey with absolutely no plan for the future. This move is a complete coup of her internal convention.

She doesn't know what to make of these events. "Meri smajhich nahi aanda," she whispers. I don't understand.

But, for the first time, she doesn't want to. She'd rather wallow in her sweet, self-indulgent melancholy. Dreaming of Michael Gallant: tall, dark, and handsome. Smart. Mmm, so smart. The way he almost cried when he almost asked her out. The way she almost said yes, if he would have asked. She dreams about the way she kissed him as he stood there, on the brink of departure, taxi just feet away. The way he looked in uniform: smart and clean, and ten kinds of handsome. The way her eyes teared up as she watched him ride away. The way the professor looked when she said she was leaving U of Michigan before she ever began.

It all does seem kind of silly now. They were never a couple, and never would be. She isn't a dermatologist - she wasn't meant to be.

But, now, she knows what she wants. She wants a career that makes her overflow wth purpose and makes her want to go at it another day.

And, she wants love.

Still, she wishes she could have held on to those conventions one more day for Michael. She wishes she could have been clinically correct, and focused and perfect one more day, even if she was a little stiff and trapped in her conformity. She wishes she hadn't needed saving, and hadn't screwed up so very badly. Then she could have found what she wanted in a life-saving, trimphant save in the ER, or an El ride home, or in his strong, loving arms, instead in bed on an idle day, dwelling on "what-coud-have-beens." Maybe he wouldn't have had to find refuge in a hostile, desert place, far, far away. They both could have found that in each other.

"Mauf karna, Michael," she repeats, very awake this time. I'm sorry.

Author's Note: Vadiya is a slang word meaning cool or awesome in Punjabi.