"Wow".

One hand on each side of the canvas, Sam stared at the painting in awe. Art had never been his thing. He had, in fact, given Diane grief multiple times for dragging him to art museums, galleries and things of the sort. He had been bored - though he would admit sometimes he had exaggerated his boredom to get to her. Especially in recent times. The painting in his hands however; it was her, without being completely Diane. It was a far cry from the one he had commissioned that nobody of an artist he'd found to paint, and it did her far more justice. Had she been right? Had he actually come a long way? Made progress where art was concerned? He scowled at his own thoughts. Bullshit. It was all bullshit. As was this painting, and the way she had gone behind his back to have it done. Bullshit.

"Hi, Sam." Coach came in the door in his usual unaware way. He barely noticed the canvas in Sam's hand, as he hung his coat by the door and made his way behind the bar. Sam dropped the painting to the floor and leaned it against the wooden panel.

"Well, I'll be darned. That looks just like something I made in school once, for mother's day." Coach was looking beyond Sam at the painting. "Say, you didn't happen to find that in my attic, did you, Sam?"

"No, Coach. This is Diane's". Sam couldn't help but smile at the Coach's familiar, endearing confusion.

"Oh thank God. I just realized I don't have an attic. Or a mother, may she rest in peace."

"This is the painting that fella Semestekon…" Sam could care less what the actual name of the guy was. "... made of her." He picked up the painting again and headed to his office. "By the way - Diane isn't coming back."

"Is she sick, Sam?"

"That's a good way to put it, Coach."

"Poor honey. Maybe we should bring her some soup."

Sam placed the canvas against the wall behind his desk. He would think of what to do with it later. He returned to the bar. "It's not that kind of sickness, Coach. It's her head."

"Oh. Did she get hit by a baseball, too, Sam?"

"No. No. Look, the point is, she's not coming back. We're going to need to find a new waitress."

"One with a straight head."

"That's right, Coach. That's absolutely right." Sam looked at his watch. "Where's Carla, anyway?" Sam had no clue Diane had told Carla to take the day off. "Could you call her and see where she is? I'm going to change the beer keg."

"Until Diane's head is all better". Coach said.

Sam turned around. "No Coach, Diane's not..." Sam shook his head. He would try again later.


The quiet that took over the bar after closing time, and after both Coach and Carla had gone home, made Sam aware that he had been holding his breath for what felt like hours. His exhale made him wince in surprise at the dull pain that accompanied it. The hustle at Cheers became a blur in his memory, and the only thing he found his mind could focus enough for him to see it clearly, was her. Leaving. Letting go of the door with that goodbye, the goodbye that had stung. Was still stinging. It was all bullshit, Sam told himself, again. All of it. Her reasons, her painting, her slaps to his face. His slaps to her f… thinking about it made Sam groan. He shouldn't have done that. He'd gone too far. But she was just so, so... Groan. How he hated her. And yet he had not anticipated her actually leaving. Where had her fight gone? Where had her annoying habit of talking back gone? Where had she gone? He hated her for that, too.

Sam turned off the lights in the bar and stepped into his office, closing the door behind him, out of habit. A useless one, now that there was nobody else there. Dropping his weight onto the couch, he realized he had spent the entire night hoping to see her walk back in. Fuming. Mad as hell. She would have walked right up to him and dragged him back to the office, and they would have argued their way through it, and out of it. She would have screamed at him. He would have wanted to kill her. He would have told her to get out again, but she would have refused this time, and Sam would have watched her come back to him in a "I will not get out, Sam. Don't you ever tell me what to do!". He would have reached out for her wrist and yanked her to him with a "Like hell I won't!", and he would have planted a kiss on that goddamned mouth of hers. A kiss she would no doubt try to resist at first, but that she would eventually respond to. Their hatred would transform into passion, the way it always did. She would feel so good in his arms. He would be safe again. He would be okay.

Sam raised his arm to look at the time. 2.43 AM. If it hadn't happened yet, it was not going to. And it was for the best. Everything was the way it was supposed to be. She didn't love him. Not really. And why would she? Why should she? She had told him, time and again, he was not her ideal man. He couldn't speak her language, and she couldn't speak his. They had been doomed from the start. Yeah. This is how things were meant to go. Everything else had been a joke. He knew it, she knew it. Hell, even the patrons at his bar knew it. A big, fat, and not that funny joke.

With a sigh, Sam got up from the couch. He needed sleep. If he'd be so lucky as to catch any. He needed to put everything behind him, start anew the next day. Find a new waitress, someone who looked nothing like her - he'd decided - and forget Diane Chambers had ever been in his life. He grabbed his jacket, that had been draped over the chair behind his desk, and put it on. Checking his pockets to see if he had everything he needed, his fingers grabbed the keys to his Corvette. But there was something else in there. Tossing the car keys from one hand to the other, he grabbed the foreign object and opened his palm to look at it. A set of two keys. Diane's apartment. His brow furrowed for a minute in confusion, but then he remembered: She had given him the keys to her place a couple days ago. Diane had been planning a few days away to go somewhere - some conference about something or other Sam hadn't paid enough attention to to remember - and had asked him to water her plants while she was gone. Why she had asked him, of all people, or why he had agreed to it, he'd never know. He wasn't really the watering-his-girlfriends-plants type of guy. Nonetheless, he had the keys to Diane's apartment. He should probably give those back.

There was the painting, too. She had left it there, forgotten in the midst of their argument, their ugly break up. She would probably want that back, too. Looking from the keys in his palm, over to the painting and back, Sam decided he would stop over. Drop both things at her door and leave. Forever. Let that be the last thing he would do for her. And, he told himself, mainly to avoid her waltzing into his bar in search of them. This way he could be sure he would never have to look at her face again. Nevermind the little voice in the back of his head he was choosing to ignore, the one telling him he was making excuses. Excuses to try and see her. To not let go right away. Not just yet.

Grabbing the painting, Sam got into his car and drove to Diane's place. It was past three in the morning, she would surely be asleep. He parked right outside her building, and as he stepped out of the Corvette, he glanced up at her windows. The light in the living room was on. Sam froze. What was she doing up this late? Was she with someone? Sam's jaw became stiff at the thought but he pushed it away. None of your damn business anymore, Malone. Leave the painting and get out.

Upon getting to her floor, he tiptoed his way to her door. It was almost eerily quiet and Sam leaned the painting against the wall in the hall with as little noise as he managed, dropping her keys under her doormat. If she were indeed awake, or with someone, he sure as hell didn't want to be caught outside her door. He turned around to leave. What if there really was someone else in there. Some guy. Could she be on the rebound already? No, that was his way of coping. Not Diane's. Or was it?

Curiosity got the best of him and he retraced his steps to her door, trying to make out any sounds coming from the apartment. Nothing. There seemed to be no one at all in there. Sam exhaled and turned to leave again. What if they were in the bedroom? The thought made his heart beat furiously. Driven by the beat, in an impulse, he grabbed the keys from under the mat and slowly, carefully opened the door. She would kill him for this. It would be like the first time he'd barged into her apartment and she had fake called the cops on him. Except this time there would be real cops. And she would have every right to have him arrested. When no noise was apparent, he dared open the door a little wider and peek inside. Nobody. Sam relaxed and pushed open the door even wider. There didn't seem to be any movement in the apartment. The door to her bedroom was open as far as he could see from where he stood, and there was not a trace of movement coming from that side of the apartment, either. Where was she?

He grabbed the painting and brought it inside - might as well, since he had gone and done the unthinkable as it was. He closed the door behind him with care, least she would somehow pop out of nowhere and startle him. Sam peered into the kitchen. The lights were out. With slow, soft steps, he made his way toward the bedroom.

The bright red of her dress was the first thing he saw, bathed in the light coming into the bedroom from the living room. Sam hesitated, taking a few steps back in case she was awake. He listened. Her breathing, soft but present, was steady. She seemed to be sound asleep. His rational voice saying he should turn around and leave immediately, it was his less rational one that won by a mile, and Sam was soon inside the bedroom, leaning against the wall, watching her sleep. He had watched her sleep so many times before. Like this. Without her being aware of it. His heart had been full then. He remembered thinking he couldn't believe his luck. Now Sam couldn't believe…. well he couldn't believe he was there, to begin with. Was her pull that strong that he had lost his mind for good?

His worry was confirmed when, without his brain interfering, his legs folded and he sat down on the floor, by her bed. Diane was lying on her back, her head turned to the side, and her face now visible to Sam in the half darkness of the room. He held his breath in surprise at the two black lines drawn down her cheeks. Mascara. She had been crying. The sight of it made him feel small. He felt rotten. Worse than he had ever felt where she was concerned. Maybe because, and although he knew he had jerked her around numerous times during their one year relationship, she had never really let the depth of her hurt show. Sam realized part of him did think Diane was made of iron. That she could take anything thrown at her. Because he had never seen her cry, really sob, he understood at last that he had always been able to pretend that nothing he could do would be bad enough. Nothing he could say would ever make her leave. The reality of it now slapping him across both cheeks. And it hurt far more than any slap he'd received from her that day. Or ever.

Part of him wished she would open her eyes. He wanted to apologize, tell her it was his fault. Run his fingers through her hair and kiss those black mascara lines off her face. He wanted to hold her and promise her he would never hurt her again. Never make her cry. He lifted his hand and brought it to hover above her head. A little lower and he would touch her. No. Waking her up would do either of them no good. It was dumb to think things could ever be that simple. That his apology could make things right. Above all, it was foolish to believe he would be able to keep the promises he wanted to make to her. Except... he would. He would keep them both. He would never hurt her again, and he would never make her shed another tear.

Sam stood. The heaviness in his heart had turned his body into rock and he had difficulty finding his balance again at first. Taking his fingers to his eyes, he realized he, too, had been crying. With one last look at her, feeling both relief at his resolution and sorrow that it had to come to that, Sam closed the door to her bedroom behind him. He looked around her living room, where they had spent so many moments together. Loving ones. Bad ones, too, he was sure, though his mind couldn't place those, right there and then. He would search his memory for them later, when he would need their vital help with forgetting her.

He was about to leave when his eyes fell on her bar cart, forgotten by the kitchen door. Turning off his bad memories of Diane had also seemingly turned off his bad memories of his life before her, because the next thing he knew, Sam was grabbing a bottle of whisky off her stash and making his way down and back onto the street.