Like Woman, A Mystery - Part II
Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Maya. Post-BDM. Inara and Sam have a conversation, there's a dinner, and a dawn ... NEW CHAPTER


Inara walked down the path to the lake, stopping at the end of the small jetty. She could see Mr Boden had been busy, cutting back the undergrowth, and it looked as if the boathouse had finally been repaired. A bird called mournfully from across the water, answered by another further away, and the sound echoed in her heart.

“Inara –“ Sam stopped a dozen feet from her.

“I thought we’d said all there was to say.”

He shook his head. “No. There’s lifetimes of things I’d like to say to you, but right now, I just want to tell you that I'm sorry.”

She didn’t look at him. “Fine. You’re sorry. Well, now you’ve said it you can turn around and go back to Ariel and your sanitised life.”

“Sanitised. Yes. It is that.” He looked down. “I've never had to get these hands dirty. Not once.”

“Something to be proud of.”

“Is it?”

“No.” She turned on him. “How can you even consider treating people when you’re so insular? When you’ve never experienced life?”

“I've been married, Inara. I have a daughter. I call that having a life. And I'm very successful at what I do. You know that.” He was trying to maintain his calm.

“Yes. And you helped me. And I am grateful. But the first spark of something against your sensibilities and you leave.”

“They killed those men, Inara. No matter that it was legal. They just hanged them as if they were so much meat.” There was something in his eyes now, something she hadn’t seen before, and it almost frightened her.

“And they’d killed a lot more. It was justice.” She looked back across the lake, not wanting to see him angry.

“It was barbaric.”

“That’s what life can be out here. And leaving when things get tough doesn’t change anything.”

Sam’s mind went back to that day not so very long ago when he’d walked out of Serenity on Jiangyin, determined to return to Ariel.

“That life you’re talking about turns on a pin out here,” Mal had said quietly. “One moment it’s all sweetness and light, the next someone’s trying to kill you. The way it is is how it is. You get used to it or find yourself a cave and you hide. Or dig yourself a grave and pull the stones back in after.”

“You think that’s what I’m doing. Hiding in my cave.”

“I ain't a therapist. Most kind of counselling I do is with my gun. But you leaving Inara … yeah, I think you’re running away.”

Sam swallowed. “Mal said I was running away.”

“He was right.”

“Perhaps. But I can’t believe that is the right way to punish people.”

“And there are some on Serenity’s crew who lived through the Alliance’s version of rehabilitation.” She shook her head sadly. “Sam, this isn’t the point.”

“So what is? I left Jiangyin fully intending to go back to Ariel. To not think on you or this place ever again.”

“So why didn’t you?”

“Because I realised I was missing something. Something I wanted very badly.”

Inara bit her lip. She wanted to say yes, come home, come back to me, stay, but she didn’t. A sigh escaped her instead.

Sam took a step back. “This was a mistake, wasn’t it? Being here. Waiting for you.”

“Sam –“

“Miss Inara?” Mr Boden was standing at the end of the jetty. “I’ve been asked to let you know dinner’s ready.”

She turned and smiled at him. “Thank you. We’ll be right in.”

The man nodded and started back to the house.

Inara went to follow, but Sam put his hand on her arm. “I am sorry,” he said.

Even though the touch of him sent a frisson of desire through her, she suppressed it ruthlessly. “I think it’s too late for that.” She lifted her head and walked away, composure personified.

He watched her leaving him, the shadows gathering around her as the sun finally set, and his heart ached.


Dinner was an odd affair. The food was good, and thoroughly enjoyed, but the hostess was virtually silent. Not that it stopped most of the others.

“… so we had to perform a daring rescue,” Kaylee was saying. “You shoulda seen Jayne and Zoe dive into the sea … that was amazing.”

“I'm sure it was.” Sam smiled at her.

“Yeah, well, it couldn’t’a been the doc going in,” Jayne said, pointing with his knife. “Seeing as we’d’ve had to rescue him if he had.” He grinned at River, who just rolled her eyes.

“I’m getting better,” Simon insisted, not taking offence. He looked at Sam. “I should never have told everyone I couldn’t swim.”

“Neither can I,” the therapist admitted. “It didn’t seem necessary to learn.”

“People can drown ‘cause other people don’t know how to swim,” Mal pointed out, shivering just a touch at the memory.

“And it was cold,” Zoe added. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in water quite like that.”

“Not even on New Casmir?” Mal teased.

“That was a puddle of melted snow. Not the same thing at all.”

“Well, it was sure amusing to see you slide down into it.” He laughed. “I don’t think you got rid of the mud in your hair for weeks.”

“I didn’t.”

“You let my fiancée fall into a muddy puddle?” Hank asked, attempting outrage.

“Wasn’t a case of letting,” Mal explained. “And she damn well pulled me in too, trying to get her out.”

“It was waist deep.” Zoe sighed. “Gritty, too.”

“And pretty tenacious. There were places I kept finding it for a hell of a long time.” He grinned. “Mind, I don’t think my skin ever felt softer.”

“I think I’ll pass on that beauty treatment,” Freya said, laughing.

“You’ve certainly led interesting lives,” Sam said.

Mal shrugged. “It was war. Saw a lot of places, did a lot of things.”

“I didn’t.” Sam glanced up the table at Inara, but she wasn't looking at him, just pushing the food around her plate. “I'm afraid my experiences stalled at helping some of the soldiers who came back deal with what they’d seen.”

The atmosphere in the room cooled a little.

“There was stuff you try and forget, Sam,” Mal said quietly. “But sometimes there was a moment, just one or two maybe, that made you realise there’s humanity in everyone.” He glanced at Zoe, who returned his gaze and nodded slowly.

Sam didn’t know what they were remembering, knew no-one was going to ask, but still felt the tug of the past between them. He paused, long enough for them to realise he wasn’t deliberately ignoring their feelings, before saying, “And Saffron? Do you think her husband will catch up with her?”

“Which one?” Jayne asked. “She’s had a lot. Including Mal.”

River thumped him on the arm, but not very hard. “They weren’t married. The judge on Boros said.”

“More by luck than anything else,” Simon added.

“Hey!” Mal sounded affronted.

The tension had eased, and conversation flowed again, until Kaylee yawned.

“Oh, sorry,” she said, clamping her hand over her mouth. “Don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Bed,” Simon said, standing up and holding out his hand.

She took it. “Are you propositioning me, doctor?”


“Good.” She got quickly to her feet. “G’night,” she said, smiling at the others, picking up Bethany who complained a little but fell asleep against her shoulder. “See ya in the morning.”

There was chorus of goodnights as they left the dining room, then Freya stood up. “I'm going to have a bath, then go to bed. Join me?” She smiled down at Mal.

“Best offer I've had all day,” he joked. He looked at Ethan, already dozing off in his chair. “Looks like someone else needs his bed.”

“We’ll put him down,” River said quickly. “It will be good practice for Jayne.”

“Don’t need that kinda practice,” the big man complained. “But I’ll do it.”

“Thanks.” Mal looked at Inara. “You gonna be okay?”

“I'm fine, Mal,” she said. “In fact, I think I’ll turn in as well.” She let her gaze wander across the others, pausing only for a moment on Sam’s face. “Goodnight.”

“Night, ‘Nara.” Mal put his arm around his wife and they strolled out of the room.

“What was it?” Freya asked softly, as they climbed the stairs. “The moment?”

Mal didn’t answer for a second, then exhaled. “We were on a rock, name of Harmony.” He gave a bark of laughter, but it wasn't funny. “Always figure someone had a sense of humour, however misplaced. It was nothing, just a little way stop between bigger battles, but we were stuck for near three weeks. Constant shelling, nothing to do but peck at the purple-bellies. Our officer liked to lead charges against the enemy lines, only one time he didn’t come back with the rest of the men. We were about to go out, look for him, at least try and bring back his dog tags off his body, when this huge hulk of a man loomed up out of the smoke at us.” Mal licked his lips, seeing into the past.

“Go on.”

“I think it was only the surprise that kept us from riddling him with holes, but no-one fired a gorram shot. He was carrying something, and as he put it down I realised it was our officer. He was in a bad way, but still alive. The purple-belly muttered something about not wanting to leave a good man to die, and disappeared back into no-man’s land.” He shook his head. “You know, that whole time, I don’t think there was a shell burst. You coulda heard a pin drop.”

“Did he make it? Your officer?”

“Yeah, he did. We had a good medic at the time, and we were lifted out a couple of days later, left the Alliance to it. Heard tell the officer was given a medal.”

“For getting hurt?”

“For leading courageous attacks on the enemy.”

Freya snorted. “That sort of thing gets people killed.”

“It does. But that was the moment. That purple … that man didn’t have to bring him back, coulda just left him where he fell. But he carried him all that way.”

They stopped outside the bedroom door.

“Humanity, Mal.”

“Yeah.” He pulled her into his arms. “Find it in the strangest places.” His hands wandered south.

“You expecting to find some there?”

He grinned finally. “Never know.”


Mal was asleep. After their activities the previous night this wasn’t surprising, but Frey put it down a lot more to the comfortableness of the bed. On Serenity he was usually awake before the rest of the crew, even if he didn’t necessarily get up. But on Lazarus, in a proper bed with deep pillows, linen sheets and a soft mattress, he always seemed to sleep late.

Freya watched him, and listened to the rest of the house. Small noises from downstairs suggested that Mrs Boden was already firing up the ovens for an industrial sized breakfast, but there was no other movement. With a gentle and wary touch she checked the other bedrooms. As she suspected her son and daughter were both in the nursery with Bethany, fast asleep, as were the rest of the adults. She withdrew and got carefully out of bed.

Mal didn’t wake, just rolled over into the warm spot she’d vacated, mumbling to himself. She smiled indulgently at him. He looked like his son, sleeping like that on his chest, his cheek pressed into the pillow, his mouth slightly open. He was going to make the slipcover damp doing that. And his eyelashes were fluttering –

No. Enough of that. Or she’d be waking him up just to see his eyes spark with recognition and love.

Slipping into her clothes, she quickly grabbed her shawl to wrap around her shoulders, and left Mal to his dreams.

There was something about this time of day – not quite night, not yet morning – that drew her. Mal would have laughed if he’d known, but ever since she was a child she’d loved the break of dawn, and would often set her alarm to wake her well before her parents and brother, to creep out onto the balcony to watch the sunrise. She’d never told Alex in case he’d ridiculed her, but it was her time, her special hope for the new day. And during the Academy, during those long, dark, endless hours of pain, it was one of the few things she’d held onto, her lifeline. Only in this was she still Elena, not Freya.

The air was cool against her skin, and she hugged the shawl a little tighter, but the sky was already shot through with deep purples and pinks. Walking into the orchard, through grass that clung damply to her boots, she reached the wrought iron chairs, and contemplated sitting, but decided having a wet backside was a step too far. Instead she leaned against a tree and watched the sun come up over the edge of the world.

“May I join you?”

She didn’t turn, didn’t let the sigh escape her lips at the intrusion into her reverie, but said instead, “It looks like you already have.”

Sam paused. “I'm sorry. I've interrupted you.”

She stood straight, the spell broken. “Yes, you have.”

“I'm sorry,” he said again. “But I saw you leave the house, and I … I wanted to speak to you. Alone.”

“Well, I'm here, and so are you. Say your piece.”

to be continued


Wednesday, November 21, 2007 3:26 AM


I know some of the others commenting dislike Sam, but I have to say that I find him an interesting character. Having lived a life so very different from the rest of them would make him uncomfortable, naturally. This is shaping up to be very intriguing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 3:50 AM


I really enjoy your stories. The little war tale thrown in here was great. Not a Sam hater, unless he's hurting Inara. He seems to be minding his P's & Q's this time.

Thursday, July 3, 2008 4:48 AM


I like Sam too and I am glad that he is back at least for the moment. He seems to be a good diverson for Inara.


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