Sam has lost count of the minutes - maybe well over sixty? probably more - he's now spent sitting in his car. Hands at the wheel of his Corvette, his feet have yet to touch the pedals, and the key remains unmoved, and quiet, in the ignition. There's not a soul in sight except for a garbage truck, driving by slowly and past the entrance to his bar, as a reminder that he has closed its doors quite a while ago now.

He's tired. So tired. Exhausted, even. If he's lived through a longer day before, he wouldn't be able to swear by it. Though that's probably because, a few hours ago, already deep into the late hours of the night, Diane was still dragging him around Boston and back to that therapist's hotel to prove… what? That she could annoy a man to no end? That she had to have the last word? That it was her way or the high way? Sam clenched his jaw and shook his head with a scoff. Yep, that was her. That was Diane.

Man, he could still hear the asshole's irksome accent in his ears, and Diane screaming over it, trying to get the guy to say what she wanted him to say. Why was it so goddamn important? Why was his opinion so valuable, why couldn't she let it go? And why had he let himself be dragged back and forth, hungry as all hell, to hear someone who was as exhausted as he was, and dying to get rid of them, say that it was all fine, after all? Under coercion, under… Sam laughed to himself again, leaning against the wheel, rubbing his forehead on his forearm. Ridiculous. The whole thing had been ridiculous.

Diane had gone home hours ago. She had asked him to go with her, the need for him at her side noticeable in the way she had held on to the sleeve of his sweater. Yet Sam had made up an excuse. Said he had promised Woody he'd help him close up and that he better make good on that promise.

"Will you come by after you close up?" her tone far from the exasperation that had so overwhelmed him, the same exhaustion breaking his posture readable in her eyes, hope written all over her almost pleading gaze.

"Nah, I'll sleep over at my place, tonight. Wouldn't want to wake you." Sam had kept his eyes on the ground as he'd delivered the blow, unsure as to whether he needed the time alone, or if he had simply wanted to make her feel a little bit like he had felt through that entire rollercoaster she'd put him through: alone and, if he was honest, a little scared.

"I've never minded that." he had heard her attempt at figuratively pulling him to her in the nearly whispered confession. His hand had wanted to reach for hers then, but he had been too stubborn in proving his point. In not giving in.

He had sent her off with a "goodnight" and an "I'll see you tomorrow", and had walked to the bar with his hands in his pockets and his head down. Feeling crummy, but not crummy enough that he would change his mind and run to her. Woody had distracted him til closing time, with tales of home and jokes about therapists that weren't particularly funny, or always coherent, but that were a welcome departure from the night's events, and helped take his mind off things for a little while. And then he, too, had said goodnight, and Sam had been sitting in his Corvette ever since, right across the street from Cheers.

Sam leans back against the seat of his car and rubs his eyes. He should have gone to bed hours ago. And yet something's keeping him from driving to his place. Something that's gnawing at him, even though he doesn't want to acknowledge it. He knows, though. He knows that if he does drive to his place, the minute he puts his key in the lock will feel like a betrayal to Diane. Like a validation of Finch-Royce's prophecy-like diagnosis. Like a destruction of everything she's fought for that night. Hell, he might as well give her up if he does that.

Because that was her fighting for him, wasn't it? For them. In her way, sure. A way that to most people would seem over the top and disturbing, but that was the one way she knew how. The one way she had found to cope with the fear that damned British guy had put in her head. And, if he's willing to admit to it, in his head, as well.

Sam shakes his head at the realization, and at how dumb he is for not having seen it straight away. After all, he had been front row witness to months of Diane's plight. Through all of his attempts at making her believe he didn't care anymore, after she had turned him down, she had stood by. Unflinching. She had come into work every single damned day and, again through methods that may have made the strongest of men break, had fought her way back in, pushed and pulled as only she knew how to push and pull. Until he'd cave. And cave he did, but not until Diane had nearly accepted defeat. Not until he'd almost lost her to that same resignation he had seen in her eyes today, after he had done his best to ignore the pull of her delicate fingers on his clothing.

Many have told him - and continue to tell him - that they're not a good match. That she's going to drive him nuts, and that he's too much a ladies man to be able to commit to just one woman. The fear of that being true has haunted him many times before, and again today, when Finch-Royce had insisted they do not, under any circumstance, belong together.

It's all bullshit. What do they know? Hasn't he been committed to one woman for five years now? Through heaven and hell, mostly hell if they're calling a spade a spade, through jealousy and denial, through trying to convince each other and everyone else they felt nothing, through a goddamned trial. Yes they had both seen other people, Sam hadn't remained chaste through their separation - and neither had she, though the thought of her with someone else makes him want to put his fist through a wall - but it had never meant a thing. Unbeknownst to the two of them, it had all been a big waiting room. One they just seemed to never be in at the same time, until they were. And now Sam was deliberately pushing them out of the room again.

Would his life be easier without her in it? Maybe. Would he have slept better in the past five years if he had never met her? Sure. But isn't that the point? Isn't losing sleep the direct consequence of falling hard for someone? Of having them become your every thought?

Carla had asked him once, among another jab at Diane's annoying traits, if he had ever wanted to know. Ever wondered what if. What if he could be free? What if you had never met the stick, she had asked? Wouldn't life be better? He had blurted out a "maybe" then, not wanting to seem weak and whipped, and like he was no longer the womanizer he once prided himself to be.

But now, sitting in his car on a Friday at near dawn, staring out at an empty city inhabited by millions but where, quite unbelievably, only one person is on his mind, he realizes he doesn't want to know.

He doesn't want to know what his life would be like without Diane Chambers ever having marched into it, all wide eyes and smart-ass remarks, and throwing curve balls at him shaped like big words he'll never know the meaning to. And damn it if he hasn't loved every single out and every single strike, even the ones that have knocked the bat out of his hand and bruised his wrist. Especially those. No, he has absolutely no desire to discover what his life would be like without her in it. Without anything that makes him feel the way she does: frustrated, angry, crazy, delirious and, love of Christ, madly in love.

And he understands, with a pang to his chest, that he's let her down today. That in his fear of being wrong about them he had found no way of comforting her in her own fear of that very same thing. He hadn't held her hand. He hadn't told her it was nonsense. Not really. Not meaningfully. In fact, he had gone as far as suggesting they postpone the wedding. He had told her exactly what everyone else had been hammering into his head about his womanizing ways. Hammered so hard, that he had caved into feeling he had to continue to live up to that reputation. He had risked driving her to abandon her fight. How stupid. How absolutely idiotic. She had called him stupid many times before. It was baffling to him that she hadn't done it tonight. Tonight, when she'd finally have had good reason for it.

When Sam turns the key in the ignition, the sky is turning a lighter shade of blue, and he knows exactly where to go. There's never been another destination for him. Not five years ago, not now. And he's okay with that. He's actually very much okay with that.

He parks near Diane's place and exits the car with newfound hope. For her, for him, for what's to come. The keys to her place jingle in his hand and he tosses them in the air as he whistles his way to the front steps of her apartment building. His exhaustion is subsiding and mixing with the sudden rush of adrenaline in his veins. He feels completely alive.

Finch-Royce can go to hell, for all he cares. A quack, like she had claimed. He doesn't know them. He doesn't know her fire, doesn't know his yearning. Doesn't know her commitment to her beliefs, nor his track record at sticking with a game through every single foul ball. He doesn't know she's breath-taking in the morning, and that he falls asleep easier when rocked by the sound of her breathing. He has no idea that she wakes him up every morning with a kiss to the bridge of his nose, and that he likes to watch her brush her hair every night before she nestles into his arms, a perfect fit, like the missing piece of a Lego puzzle.

Sam slips quietly into her apartment. The lamp on the small table by the bedroom door is on, and Sam's breath catches in his chest. Finch-Royce doesn't know this either: that ever since they got engaged, she always leaves a light on for him when she finishes earlier and he stays at the bar until closing time. That she does it even when she isn't sure he'll come at all. Right there, outside her bedroom, staring at the frilly lamp, Sam falls in love all over again. Madly.

The room is dark when he walks in, but the early morning light comes in through the open curtains and as Sam's eyes adjust, he finds her laying on her side, facing the door, hand curled into an open fist by her chest, deep asleep. The light coming from the lamp in the hall shines on her diamond ring, the one he had slipped onto her finger weeks before. She's his. It's dumb to try to pretend he's not happy about it. Over the moon, even.

Kicking off his shoes, Sam goes around to the other side of the bed and climbs on top of the sheets to lay beside her, turning on his side and gradually moving towards her body, until his chest is lightly touching her back. He doesn't want to wake her, but in his selfishness he needs to touch her. His arm goes over her frame, and as his hand catches hers on the mattress, his thumb rubs her knuckles under the engagement ring.

"Sam?" Her voice is foggy and sleepy. "What time is it?" she's trying to look at him. He feels her hand, the one he's not captured, reach for the sleeve of his shirt.

"Shh. It's early, still. Go back to sleep."

"You haven't undressed?"

Sam gives her fingers a squeeze, plants a kiss to the back of her shoulder, a second one to her jawline. His words are low in her ear. "I'll go do that in a minute."

"Are you alright?" there's no acute concern to her tone, and he feels her frame mellow under his touch.

"I am now." earnestly, and giving her hand another squeeze. His thumb rubs her knuckles again, grazes the ring on her finger. "Have I told you that's one hell of a diamond you've got there? Looks good on your hand. Lucky guy, that gave it to you."

"I don't know if he's lucky... but he is a wonderful guy, at that."

Sam watches the wrinkles form on her cheek, that indicate she's smiling, and he leans in to kiss the corner of her mouth. His finger presses on the diamond once more.

"He is lucky. The luckiest bastard."

"Oh yeah?"

"You bet."

Diane's entire hand splays under his palm and she moves it upward, causing their fingers to intertwine. She bends her thumb to touch the back of the ring.

"Have you ever wondered why it is that the engagement ring goes on this particular finger, on this particular hand?"

"No. But I'm sure you're about to tell me anyway." he nuzzles the back of her earlobe with the tip of his nose, to let her know he doesn't mean the words as criticism, but more a way of saying he knows her that well. He likes that he does.

"It's been reliably traced to Ancient Rome, though some say the tradition goes even further back."

"Oh, those guys. Yeah... yeah. I've heard of them. They were smart, right?"

He feels her back tremble against his chest, perceives her soft chuckle in the murk. It makes him grin like an idiot.

"Smart, yes. And... among quite a vast panoply of beliefs, they were convinced that the fourth finger on the left hand has a vein that leads straight to one's heart. Vena Amoris. The love vein."

Sam has no idea what panoply means, but the sweetness in her voice coupled with the way she almost sings the words Vena Amoris incites his arm to draw her further in against his chest. He kisses the back of her shoulder again, closer to her neck this time, and as he does, she moves to turn around and lay facing him. Her arm hooks around his neck and she leans her forehead against his chiseled jaw as her body presses against him, as close as it can go.

"You need to sleep." she whispers, and Sam realizes she's aware he hasn't been there very long.

His hand reaches up to hold her chin between his thumb and forefinger, and he pulls away to look at her face, shadowed but for the thin light of the brewing morning. With a small bend of his neck, he kisses her mouth warmly, pulling on each lip with a tenderness only she can bring out of him. Diane snuggles in even closer after his kiss, and exhales like she's about to drift off to sleep again.

"Hey, Diane?" one more thing, before he allows slumber to steal her from him.

She draws her head back, gazes at him through barely open eyelids.

"You know I love you, right?"

Diane's eyes stay on him a moment, and when her eyelids close, it's to press her lips to the tip of his chin and tuck her face against the column of his neck. Sam feels her fingers gently scratching at the hair on the back of his head.

"Sometimes." Her voice is so quiet, her tone so sincere, that Sam feels his insides churn and his heart deliver a sudden aching thump. Like glass that's touched lightly enough not to break, but hard enough to crack. Fixable, God help him.

"Do you know it today?" he's hopeful, but anticipates her response before she utters its first few words.

"Today's a little hazy." her voice is dragging again, he feels her fingers grow sluggish in their journey through his hair.

She spares him the truth, the harsher honesty. He's thankful.

"I know... I know. I'm going to do a better job of showing you tomorrow." he touches his lips to the top of her head, tightens his embrace on her body. "I'll try again tomorrow."