Disclaimer: I do not own the characters who act in this story; I only borrowed them from Beth Sullivan, CBS and whoever else is holding the rights on them.
It isn't possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.
- E.M. Forster
If Michaela had paid attention she would have noticed that every single table in the cafeteria was already taken. But she hadn't, and looking around she now stood somewhat helplessly in the middle of the room, tightening her grasp on the tray with her lunch on it. She really was hungry for once but she wouldn't waste her time waiting for somebody to get up. Yet the moment she turned to the carts with the used dishes she heard her name being called. Pivoting she saw Dr. Samantha Lindsay, a retired psychiatrist who was still consulted now and then, waving from the far end of the room, gesturing for her to join her.
Although there sat a stranger at her friend's table Michaela didn't hesitate. Having lunch actually at lunchtime was already an unbelievable achievement but having it with Sam even topped it. A broad smile lit her face as she hurried over, carefully balancing her food.
As she arrived at the table the stranger, pulling out the chair for her, rose to his feet. He was a tall man and had his long black hair pulled back into a ponytail. The fine lines on the tanned skin on his temples told that he liked to laugh and the ones on his brow spoke of the hard times he'd lived through. Although he only wore jeans and a simple black t-shirt with an unusual necklace he was an impressive figure, radiating authority.
As Michaela put down her tray Sam began the introductions, "Michaela, I'd like you to meet…"
"Cloud Dancing," the stranger chimed in, waiting for the young woman's reaction to his name as he offered his hand for her to shake it.
Since he'd come to Boston he had either been regarded with the kind of curiosity one has for a rare species in a zoo, mostly hidden behind politeness, or insecurity about how to respond to the realization that he was obviously a real Indian.
Michaela, however, accepted his hand without further ado.
"Dr. Michaela Quinn. I'm pleased to meet you," she said sincerely.
Cloud Dancing held her gaze for a moment before he nodded almost imperceptibly and sat down again.
Sam hadn't watched this short scene but rather eyed what Michaela had chosen for her meal. "That's what you call lunch?" she asked, looking at her young friend disapprovingly.
Trying to make light of it, Michaela explained, "Well, it has all nutrients I need: some vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and carbs."
Sam turned towards Cloud Dancing, feigning shock, "She calls wilting lettuce leaves vitamins; can you believe that?"
The Indian only chuckled, watching as Michaela took a hearty bite from her tuna sandwich.
Sam grew serious again though, addressing her younger friend, "You look tired, dear."
Michaela averted her eyes, studying the white bread in her hand seemingly with immense interest when she replied quietly, "I will soon have enough time to rest."
Not able to suppress a gasp, Sam covered her mouth with her hand. As she dropped it again, the anger in her voice couldn't be dismissed when she asked, "Who got the position? William Burke?"
Michaela, who had suddenly lost her appetite, simply nodded. She put down the sandwich and reached for her mug of coffee instead. Hard as she tried, she couldn't swallow the lump that began to grow in her throat. In the end her determination to not fall apart in public won. Putting down the cup, she cleared her throat but when she was about to start speaking again, her buzzer went off.
Fumbling in the pocket of her white coat she mumbled an apology. As she read the tiny screen she pushed back her chair and got up.
"I'm sorry," she began but Sam cut her off. "It's alright," she assured, "I'll call you tonight."
The older woman watched her friend hurrying out of the cafeteria, almost bumping into a colleague who was about to enter the room. Only after the young doctor was out of sight did she turn back to her guest.
"It really is a shame, actually more close to a scandal that Michaela didn't get the job."
Cloud Dancing only tilted his head, looking at Sam questioningly. She didn't need further invitation and explained, "Michaela is an excellent doctor. She did her internship at this hospital as well as her residency and finished her fellowship a couple of months ago. She is a fine cardiologist now and was to start working at the internal medicine ward in June. Dr. Cook senior wasn't happy with that because he wanted his protégé Dr. Burke to get the job. Not because he is better but he is a young man whilst Michaela might get pregnant. Many colleagues agreed with that opinion but Joseph, Michaela's father was a highly respected doctor here and no one dared to bring up this argument. Unfortunately Joseph died four weeks ago."
Cloud Dancing nodded in understanding; it wasn't hard to guess what had happened.
The two of them didn't speak for a few minutes, each occupied by their own thoughts. Only after he'd emptied his cup of tea did the Cheyenne look at his friend again, wondering, "Does she have family?"
Although she was curious where this would lead, Sam didn't ask but replied, "She still lives with her mother, Elizabeth. I'm afraid they don't get along very well." Knowing that this sounded rather odd she quickly continued, "Michaela was engaged to David Lewis, and they made a nice couple. But David went missing six years ago when this hurricane hit New Orleans. Of course Michaela was devastated. Yet instead of turning to her mother, she turned to her father as she usually did. There was a very special bond between the two of them, and I believe the pain of that makes her mother hard on her."
Sam paused for a moment. "If you ask me," she eventually said, looking at her guest with a serious expression, "losing her job might be the last straw that could send Michaela over the edge."
Cloud Dancing nodded. "I'd like to meet her. Could you please arrange that?"
"Of course," Sam retorted without hesitation. Then she smiled at him, "A penny for your thoughts."
And the Cheyenne replied somewhat mysteriously, "I think the Spirits have spoken."
Michaela couldn't believe she was actually on a plane to Colorado Springs. It was only a bit more than two weeks since she'd first met Cloud Dancing and already he had changed her life completely. Well, in the end it was her doing but if he hadn't given her the opportunity for a new job she wouldn't have been able to get away from her mother. Now she could finally have a second chance on building her own life after her first one was shattered six years ago when David went missing.
Apart from her last two years at medical school in Harvard she had lived in her parent's house on Mount Vernon Street in Boston's Beacon Hill all her life. She loved the red-brick building with its white bay looking at the lime tree right before the house yet she couldn't bear to live there any longer. She wondered how her mother could. Every room felt empty, begging for her father's presence, ever step on the stairs waited for him to rush upwards again. But he never would.
Michaela shifted in her seat so that her neighbor would be discouraged from talking to her. Fortunately she had managed to get a place at the window and pretending to take in the view outside was a good excuse for being quiet. Thinking of her father still put her in that dark place where all she could do was try to not fall into a bottomless hole from where she wouldn't be able to get out on her own. Only work helped her keep her sanity and fortunately she would soon have a job again. Sam had recommended her to Cloud Dancing, praising her skills as a doctor, and after some long talks the Cheyenne had offered her to go into partnership with him in a joint practice in Colorado Springs. He was working there as a psychologist as well as a medicine man, and a Dr. Bernard covered gynecology plus obstetrics. The third partner would retire in two months so the position of the internist was vacant. Although she was specialized in cardiology, Cloud Dancing had assured that her experience as a doctor at a hospital for so many years and her knowledge about emergency medicine was qualification enough for him and his colleague who had already agreed to accept her since he trusted the medicine man's judgment.
It had taken Michaela only twenty-four hours to make her decision. Her father was gone and she was unemployed so there was nothing that held her in Boston. Of course her mother had disagreed, suggesting she could have everything if she only finally accepted Dr. Burke's advances. Although the man was nice enough and a skilled doctor as well, Michaela couldn't see herself spending her life with him. She didn't want to. When she had been told that David was missing it felt as if her heart had been ripped out of her chest. It hadn't been replaced yet and she doubted it ever would. However, starting over at a place she'd never seen before sounded like a good idea. A clean break, an untainted start.
Michaela took in a deep breath, trying to ignore the lump that had formed in her throat again. There was no distraction in sight for her though. She knew she wouldn't be able to concentrate on the medical text or the Sudoku puzzle in her bag, and walking around wasn't an option either. Sighing, she leaned back, closing her eyes. This would be a very long four-hour flight to Dallas where she would have to change planes.
"Dr. Quinn?" Hearing the quiet female voice and feeling a light touch on her shoulder Michaela was instantly alert and ready to spring into action.
What puzzled her were her surroundings though. The air was filled with a soft hum and the light quite dim. Eventually she remembered that she was on a plane. The flight assistant recognized that she had the doctor's full attention now and explained, "We need your help. Would you please follow me?"
Only a minute later Michaela kneeled in front of a middle-aged woman who sat bent forward on the seat in the private area of the flight assistances. Although tanned her face was ashen now, her breathing shallow and quick. Clutching the hand of another woman standing beside her she slowly raised her fear-filled eyes when Michaela introduced herself, "I'm Doctor Quinn, Ma'am. Can you tell me what happened?"
The woman shook her head, only managing to get out two words, "My heart..."
Michaela looked up at the stewardess who already held out the stethoscope from the emergency case for her.
It turned out that the woman had a massive panic attack. As relatively harmless as it was medically seen, the patient still suffered. That was all that counted for Michaela and as always she did her best. Half an hour later the woman could be led back to her seat, calm from the doctor's reassurances and a pill of Midazolam.
For Michaela the incident had done something good as well: the dark cloud had lifted from her mind and she thought about what was to come rather than what lay in the past and couldn't be changed anymore. She would build herself a new home, and making plans was something she always enjoyed.
The rest of the flight went by without her noticing it.