“Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” ~ Helen Keller
Inara ran her hand lightly over the vase, trying to decide on whether it should be packed or not. On the one hand, she mused, as her fingers ran over the familiar smooth planes, it had been a gift – from the Head of the Guild herself – and she would truly miss it if it were left behind. But on the other, it was large, heavy and extremely fragile, and would most likely be damaged in the places Inara was intending to go. With a sigh, she decided against it, and turned to survey the rest of her room.
With a jump and, though she was loathe to admit it, a loud gasp, she realized someone was leaning against her doorframe, obviously having watched her from there for some time.
“Oh – I’m sorry!” The figure stood up straight abruptly.
“No, no, that’s fine.” Inara waved a hand over her chest. “I’m just not accustomed to people coming up behind me unnoticed. Usually, I would sense--“ The person stepped out of the dim doorway, hands shoved deeply in their pockets. “--John Smith.”
The familiar man--tousled brown hair, thin figure and strange suit just the same as always, offered her a wide grin. “Inara Serra. Just as ravishing as ever. It’s wonderful to see you again.”
Inara would have had trouble controlling her own grin if she had wanted to, but as it was, she just allowed herself to beam. “And you!” She stepped forward, and kissed both his cheeks. “It’s been far too long. You said you were leaving for… Londinium, I believe? Last time we met? How was it?”
“Oh you know,” the man made a vague noise in the back of his throat and scratched an ear, “Same as always, some bits were different--but what’s all this?” His quick gaze was sweeping around her room. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were packing up and leaving.”
“Um… yes.” Inara bit her lip. “May I offer you some tea? I’ll explain myself.”
He nodded “Oh yeah, brilliant,” and arrived at the small sitting area Inara indicated in three quick strides.
With apologies, Inara removed the boxes of books she’d piled on the chairs and then turned to start the tea. John Smith had turned away, and was moving around her room, examining boxes and flipping through her scrolls, all the while mumbling to himself under his breath. It was so familiar that it made Inara smile widely again, and she turned to try and catch what he was saying.
“Tea.” He seemed to be saying, with more than a little fondness in his voice, “Across time and space and it’s always tea. Humans.”
Inara cleared her throat, and he swung around to face her. “The tea is ready.” She explained, with a wink.
“-And I suppose…” Inara sighed and spun her empty teacup between her hands, “I suppose that I’m just tired of being disappointed with life. With life here. Because… there’s just so much more out there, so many more people I can do good for--that I could help. And now that the war is over, we really can go out there! The Guild is wrong in this aspect. I truly believe they are.”
John Smith had gotten to his feet again and was pacing the room.
“Do you… do you think I’m doing the wrong thing?”
“What? No!” He stepped towards her. “No! I think it’s… brilliant, amazing, superb! Brave’s what I would call it. You’re really taking the leap here, changing the order--setting new standards.” He shook his head, his constant grin widening once again. “Always pushing the envelope you lot, always trying new things.”
“And yet…” Just as quickly as he had gotten up, he fell unto the sofa beside her and clasped her hand. “Can’t help but feel there’s something you’re not telling me, hmm? Something else?”
Inara smiled sadly and pulled away. “You know it’s not fair. You’re always able to read me – know what I’m thinking almost – and I’m never able to do the same to you. Companion training or not. But I can’t help but notice that you can’t sit still. You can barely look me in the eyes, and… is there something the matter? You seem… you seem like something has happened.”
“Ah.” He was on his feet yet again and had rounded around the back of the sofa. “You’re changing the subject.”
“You know,” Inara looked down at her hands, “we’ve never really told each other the truth, have we? Or at least you never have. I’ve known you for eight years-“
“-Eight years?” He interrupted, “Eight years, really? Wow. Eight years”
“-But I’ve never really known you, have I?”
There was no response.
Inara, heart beginning to speed, looked up and turned around, afraid he had disappeared again, like he so many times in the past.
“John Smith’s not really my name, you know.”
There he was, leaning against her shuttered window with his hands crossed over his chest. Inara allowed her whole body to relax.
“I know. Or at least, I guessed it some time ago. There were clues, when you were first introduced to me at that party, subtle signs when you responded to the name. I always assumed you would tell me when you were ready. Plus… John Smith?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Guess you’ve got me. Should never underestimate the Guild. You lot get some fantastic training, I’ll have you know. Subtle signs, body language - breathing too, I take it? Your government had a few well-trained Companions under their employ, they wouldn’t have to be messing about with-“
“-Who are you?” Inara stepped towards his and opened the shutters with one swift movement. “I’m sorry to interrupt, I’ve just… I guess I’ve run out of patience.”
He smiled at her, and shook his head slightly, so close now that she could see some of the sadness in his eyes. “I’m known as the Doctor.”
Inara sank unto the ledge beside him. “Just… the Doctor?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
“For how long?”
“I see.” Inara looked at him, trying to fix this ‘Doctor’ to the man she knew.
“And what is it you… do?”
“Well…” He stuck his tongue between his teeth in thought. “I guess you’d call me a traveller. I… travel around-“
“No, well, I… yes-“ He was stumbling over the words, and again he couldn’t seem to look right at her. “I had a… person with me, but now she’s gone, so…”
Inara touched his hand. He stopped. Coaxingly, she reached across to cup his cheek, lifting his face until he met her eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
He took a breath. “Thank you… Inara Serra.”
He stood up again, and sadly, she followed him with her gaze as he walked the room once more.
“Inara.” He had spun towards her, a curious look on his face. “You’re leaving Sihnon, aren’t you?” He asked, arms sweeping across her packed boxes.
“I am.” She smiled, unsure of where he was going with the question.
“Leaving – travelling – going to see the universe, discover all those wonders, yes?”
“When are you leaving?”
“Today.” Inara stopped, surprised at her sudden resolve. But why not today? She had everything she wanted, all she need do was find a ship that could take her.
John- no, the Doctor was bouncing just the slightest bit on his heels. “Then how would you like-“
“-Wait.” Inara stood. “You’re asking if I would like to travel with you?”
He nodded, eyes sparkling. “How about it? I have a ship – a ship unlike any other in the universe. The things you could see!”
“I…” Inara faltered, suddenly confused in the face of this man’s enthusiasm. He had been so sad a moment ago, and now he was ready to explode.
“I don’t think I can.”
The grin disappeared from his face.
“I’m sorry, I’m just-“ She stepped towards him, “I need to do my work. I need to be able to be a Companion and bring comfort, to as many people as need it. And with you-” She reached for him again, “You’ve always been a dear friend, you helped me so often. But I don’t think I could help you. Or at least, if I tried, it would take all my skill, all my time, and right now, I don’t want just one man--no matter how dear--to complicate things. I need…”
“… Independence.” He smiled at her. “I understand.”
“Will you be alright?”
“Oh, yeah!” He stretched away, “Lot’s of time on my own, no problem with it. Just thought I’d offer so… but that’s quite all right.”
“Thank you. I really do appreciate it.” She squeezed his hand. “Will I ever see you again?”
“That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Can’t make promises, but I’m sure we will anyway. Exciting bit of the universe you live in – can’t hardly stay away now, can I?”
She shook her head. “There’s so much I still don’t understand about you, Doctor.”
“Don’t worry,” he leaned down, whispering conspiratorially in her ear, “no one ever does.”
Quickly, before she could change her mind, Inara pressed her lips to his, relishing that familiar tingling feeling, that seemed to travel from her mouth through to her entire body.
She pulled away, smiling at the slightly goofy expression that covered his face.
“Well…” He coughed and shook his head. “I may not be giving you a ride in my own ship, but I can certainly offer you an escort down to the docks. Help you pick out a real winner – a ship to see the stars in!”
He offered his arm. “Well, Miss Serra?”
She beamed once again and took it. “I’d be delighted Mr. Smith.”
“Right then!” Nearly running so she could keep up with him, she found herself whisked away from her room, and before she knew it, from the House Madrassa, and her old life itself. As they neared the docks, she squeezed his arm, trying to fight against the fluttery feeling of fear in her stomach.
“Don’t worry about it.” The Doctor leaned into her. “It’s just the feeling you get before an adventure happens.”