Note: this story arose out of my speculating one day on exactly what Sam almost said to Diane in the final moments of "A Ditch In Time". Several ideas came to mind—all addressing some very big issues regarding Sam and Diane at this point in the show.
I address all of them (sort of) in this tale—but out of the knowledge that what Sam had wanted to say had to have been something innocent in his mind (and that these two so often take "little things" and seemingly blow them out of proportion), I ultimately picked the "answer" in kind. Ultimately, this take speaks to one of Sam's central struggles during the Diane years.
Hope you enjoy!
Sam Malone turned away from her, his soul finally bared. And he'd meant every word, of course—try as he had to deny it…to make all those barbs at the expense of what they'd had—it was all nonsense…a way of covering up how much she'd meant to him…and how much he had to admit it was his fault it had all fallen apart…for taking her for granted.
And he heard her voice—her beautiful, golden voice, as Diane Chambers took a step to him, and softly replied, "That's the nicest thing you ever said to me."
Sam accepted it…the gesture of—was it forgiveness? He wasn't quite sure…but at the very least, it was something like it—a first step, that would lead to it, in time.
He let out a sigh, and turned to her, "Diane, I—"
Diane held up her hands, "No—Sam, stop…" she gave him a nervous half-smile, "I want to get out of here, before you say something stupid that ruins it."
"Wha—nah-nah, now, hold—" Sam reached out to stop her as she opened the door, "I-I'm not gonna—"
"No-no, no, no, now—stop!" she looked at him with such an intense plea in her eyes and her voice, as she added, "Don't ruin it!"
"I'm not gonna ruin it! All I wanted—"
But she cut him off—shushing him rapidly, desperately. And then she closed the door—leaving him alone in his office.
Sam stood there, looking off in bewilderment…wondering what on Earth was the matter with that woman.
What—does she really not trust me that much? Thinking whatever I could've said would've…? I-I mean, all I was going to say was—
He let out a sigh, and turned to her, "Diane, I don't know how I can…believe me, I can't tell you how much I wish it all could've been different."
Diane stood there, staring at him for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, she swallowed, and asked, "…'Could have'?"
Sam spread out his hands. "I—I don't know. I-I wish I could have done better. I just…"
Diane sighed. "Sam…could you have? Done better?"
"I-I don't know! I mean, I'd like to think that I could've, but…" Sam sighed, "Look—Diane, the truth is…well, I'm not—so sure I was…I dunno, ready, or something—"
"Sam," Diane shook her head, "A moment ago, you said—"
"Look…Diane, I said I had blind spots—and I did. Tell you the truth, I didn't even think I had 'em, until it was too late. I…" he swallowed, and looked at her, "I—did the best I could. I-I just didn't…"
She met his gaze…with such sadness in her eyes—such… "You didn't…?"
Sam shrugged. "I dunno—well for one thing, Diane, I…" he sighed, and turned his mind to what was probably the most painful of all the regrets she'd drudged up, a moment ago, "Believe me—I-I didn't know what you'd come down with was that bad until you'd told me…after you came back to work. The flu?—I-I just—"
"Sam," Diane shook her head, "You didn't call me—you didn't do anything to check on how I was, and you couldn't even—?"
"I…" he shook his head, turning away, "It was…a busy week," he muttered. "I…honestly didn't think about it. I—guess I'd thought something came up, or something. Like something always came up for me…I just didn't think about…"
His voice trailed off, shaking his head. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Diane sighed, and took a few steps away—giving him the distance she clearly thought he needed. And boy, did he ever.
Sam sighed, and turned to her, forcing a chuckle. "Wow…look at us, huh? A minute ago, we were on the way to reconciling, or something."
Diane's gaze lowered. "Was that what we were doing?" she quietly asked.
Sam spread out his hands again. "Look, um…thinking about it—maybe we shouldn't even try."
She looked up at him. "What—do you mean, Sam?"
"I don't know…maybe I'm just—panicking, but…maybe I was just—struggling not to notice how…bad I was, for you. Or something."
"How bad you were?" she asked—clearly caught off guard, not expecting that.
"Yeah…" Sam stepped forward, to her, taking her shoulders. "I mean—believe me, Diane, I—I wouldn't trade any of those good times for anything. It's just…"
Sam shrugged, letting go. "Well—maybe it's just not right between us. I mean—you're with Frasier, right? And he…well, he and you like the same things—you do the same things, you…you eat the same things…"
Diane looked off, half-smiling…but it didn't meet her eyes.
Sam went on, "And—well, every time we tried that kind of thing—it just didn't work! And—and maybe that's because we didn't try to see the other side, but—what if that wasn't it? What if…we were just trying all that time to do something that's, well—impossible?"
Diane shook her head at this, "Sam—I refuse to believe…"
Her voice trailed off, and her gaze fell, as her body stiffened. It was like she realized something about what she was about to say…and wasn't too sure about what it meant.
Diane swallowed, and finally looked up, "Sam," she managed to whisper, as her eyes began to moisten, "You…you read War and Peace—for me."
Sam felt his heart skip a beat, and nodded. "Yeah…well, a lot of progress that was, huh?"
He'd meant it as a barb…but Diane nodded, smiling faintly.
"You…you'd come so far, Sam—and…"
Sam sighed, "Maybe I did…and you know what? Maybe I should've gone and run with it—maybe I should've gone with you to that…art show, huh?" He looked off, and muttered, "Sure could've saved us a lot of trouble…."
"Sam…." The tears in her voice—Sam turned to her, and suddenly realized how much he'd hurt her with what he'd just said.
The art show—where she'd taken another guy, and had struggled with admitting it to him—and when she did, she'd confessed that she'd found it a relief—that it'd felt so good to have such an intellectual outlet….
It had been the beginning of the end for them, hadn't it? The feeling that…that maybe they were a mismatch—that maybe…as far as Sam was concerned—he just wasn't good enough.
"Oh…Diane," he took her shoulders again, "I—I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought that up—"
"No," she shook her head, as she walked past him, wiping her tears away with her sleeve. "Sam…you're right. That was…it wasn't fair of me. What it meant—I mean…I mean, you'd come so far—and I just…grew impatient, I guess." She shrugged, and forced a smile. "As I said, Sam, I was not a perfect girlfriend—"
"No—no, Diane, don't. It wasn't you—I should've tried harder, but I didn't—and maybe I couldn't."
Diane pursed her lips, and looked off.
Sam stared at the floor for a while, and chuckled.
Diane turned to him. "What?"
"Oh…I was just thinking—" Sam looked at her, hands in his pockets. "You remember that—painting that guy did, of you?"
Diane swallowed, and nodded cautiously. "How could—I forget, Sam?"
"Yeah…well, funniest thing—just after you walked out, I…took a look at it."
Diane stiffened. "And?"
"And…well, I guess I was pretty stunned by it. It was…" he felt himself deflate. "It was great, Diane…and maybe that guy was a jerk—I mean, he hated my guts the moment he saw me, and darned if he didn't let me know it!—but…boy, he was good. The painting, I mean."
He hung his head at that, waiting.
For a while, Diane said nothing. After what seemed like forever, Sam heard her whisper, "I…I didn't know, Sam."
Sam looked up, "What?"
"I—didn't know he…treated you like that. If—if I had—"
Sam chuckled bitterly, and shrugged. "Well, you know, I should've told you—instead of acting like a total jerk, myself. Boy, what a jerk I was, right there."
Diane said nothing, looking off, wringing her hands.
"You know, honey, I…I guess maybe I'm right about one thing. Maybe…it's impossible."
Diane turned to him. "…What?"
"Diane—maybe we were both trying so hard to be what we're not. And maybe it wasn't worth it, in the end."
"What—Sam!" Diane stepped to him, "Can't—don't you think people can change? We could have tried harder—I could have! You could—"
She cut herself off, and muttered, "I'm sorry…"
Sam swallowed, and knew he was going to regret what he was going to say…but as far as he was concerned, after all that'd just been said—he had to say it.
"Hey," he forced a smile, "I, uh…guess you'd better go check on Frasier, huh?"
Diane blinked, as though she'd completely forgotten the man. "Wha—oh!" she nodded. "Right…Frasier. I—"
She froze, as she stared at him.
Sam nodded. "Like I said, he's…got a heck of a lot more in common with you than I do. I…don't think he'd have to try as hard."
Diane stiffened. "Sam…that's not fair."
Sam shrugged. "No—look…maybe he's right for you, after all. Maybe, these past few months, I've been wasting my time—I'm not good enough. I—" he shook his head, "I guess what I'm trying to say, is…maybe I don't deserve you, Diane. Maybe he does."
Diane's eyes widened a little. "D—deserve…?"
Sam sighed. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just going a little crazy here…." After a moment's pause, he muttered, "You know, I think I'd better be alone for a while."
Diane pursed her lips, and nodded. "That…would probably be best."
She walked past him, to the door. She opened it…and looked to him, one last time. "Sam…" she said.
Sam shook his head. "Good night, Diane."
Diane nodded. "Good night, Sam."
And then she closed the door. And Sam Malone suddenly found himself wishing, more than anything else, that the talk they'd just had…hadn't turned out the way it did. Suddenly, it seemed to him as though a door that should never have been closed…had just been shut in his face, forever.
It hit him—exactly what was wrong with what he'd wanted to say, before Diane had shushed him and pleaded with him not to ruin it, just now.
"I wish things could've been different," or something like that…well, then—
Sam then felt as though a light bulb had gone on, and he straightened out, throwing up his hand in realization.
"Oh yeah, that would've ruined it!" he said, as he headed over to his desk. And as the imaginary conversation played out in his head, he squeezed his eyes shut, shaking it away.
"Oh!—would it ever!" he said.
And despite his brief frustration at being shushed by Diane Chambers…in this case, he supposed, it had turned out for the better.