It was with deep regret that Joana boarded the shuttle that would take her home to her mother a few days later. She had said good-bye to all her new friends, promising to visit them again real soon and Leonard had decided that he'd fight Jocelyn for joint custody if he had to.

"That's an excellent idea," Anya had told him approvingly, "she's good for you, you know. And bring your daughter along, whenever she's around, I absolutely adore her! She's just the cutest kid…"

"We'll send you pictures of our trip to Japan," Charlie promised Joana.

"Cool. Will you have to eat with chopsticks all the time?"

"It's not really that hard to do. I'll teach you next time you come," Mal replied.

Then Joana was gone, Hoshi and her husband herded their children homewards and Leonard suddenly felt very much alone. Vacation had started for most of the cadets, too, so the Academy grounds were less populated than usual. Jim was due to leave the next day to visit his mother, while Nyota was going on a field excursion and Christine had already left to spend a week in Florida with her boyfriend.

Leonard went back to his apartment and instantly missed the chatter and laughter that Joana had brought with her and that was gone, now that she'd left. He had put up a few new pictures of her, including one where she and Yumi Archer where dressed up as princesses, but the pictures could hardly replace Joana's presence.

He sat down at his desk to read and study, but couldn't concentrate and went to bed early, where he couldn't sleep either. In addition to his familiar nightmares, which had subsided a little due to all the excitement of the past few weeks, he now had visions of suffocating to deal with.

Well, he thought grimly, at least Ryan and Samosa accomplished one thing – I don't think I'll ever get drunk anymore. Just the smell of alcohol is enough to make me sick now.

Tossing and turning in his bed, he wondered where Chris had gone to for his vacation – stop it – and whether he was more an adventure or a relaxation kind of person when it came to spending his free time.

If he even had such a thing as free time… actually, Chris always seemed to be occupied with something.

And I wonder what it is now…

Damn, I miss him…

He was still contemplating the unfairness of life itself, when a soft knock called him from his thoughts. His first thought went to Jim, who had probably managed to get into trouble again, some way or other, but then, Jim wouldn't have bothered to be so quiet. Jim didn't do quiet very well.

He got up and walked over to the door, yawning.

"Is it anything important?"

"That sort of depends on your point of perspective," Chris replied from the other side of the locked door and his voice sent a familiar thrill through Leonard.

What the hell…!

"You're crazy," Leonard informed him, once the door was open. "Come in. It would be kind of embarrassing if anyone saw the two of us standing around in our pajamas."

"It's not like they have kittens and flowers printed on them," Chris said, a hint of amusement in his voice.

Leonard snorted. "Please don't tell me you got bored and wanted to discuss fashion issues with me."

"I couldn't sleep," Chris replied quietly. "And apparently, neither could you, or you wouldn't have heard me."

"You know I don't sleep well," Leonard muttered, not looking at him.

"I do."

For a moment, both of them were silent, then Chris said: "I came to apologize."

"Again?" Leonard sighed.

"I mean it, Leonard."

"I know. It just doesn't make me feel any better, you know?"

Chris raised a hand to touch his shoulder. Leonard looked up and their eyes met, gazes locking.

"Then what would make you feel better?" Chris whispered.

"You ought to know that by now," Leonard muttered, leaning his head against Chris'.

For a moment they just stood there, silently, then Chris drew Leonard into a tight hug.

Well, at the very least, this feels good.

"Come on," Leonard murmured, freeing himself and leading Chris back to the bedroom. "It's late. We might as well try and get some sleep, if we're not going to talk."

He lifted the covers for Chris to join him, then drew them over both of them.

"You know," Chris muttered, his head against Leonard's shoulder, "we should talk about it."

"We can do it tomorrow, if you promise to still be around by the time I wake up."

"I promise," came the sleepy answer.


Leonard's first thought upon waking up at dusk was amazement: Chris was still there. And sound asleep. His head rested against Leonard's chest, dark hair all messed up and sleep-tussled. Leonard carefully drew an arm around him, marveling at the fact that this was real.

Not a dream, nor wishful thinking.

And I'll be damned if I EVER let him slip away again…!

Chris started stirring, blinked and took in his surroundings with obvious confusion. Yet Leonard could have killed for the look on his face, when he finally realized where he was and why. It was just a brief moment, but in those few seconds, an expression of infinite delight and contentment shone on Chris' face.

No need for any more explanations, Leonard thought happily. Life is good.

"Good morning." A soft smile lit up Chris' grey eyes.

Indeed.

"You stayed."

"I keep my promises." Chris shifted a little in his arms to be able to fully look at him. "You look happy. No more nightmares haunting you, then?"

Leonard shook his head. "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to rid myself of them completely, but as for now… it was something nice, or at least something normal. About Joana."

That earned him another smile. "Anya will be jealous. A little girl did what she wasn't able to do."

"Give her some credit. Without Anya, I probably wouldn't be around anymore. She's doing an incredible job and her patience is almost inhuman. By the way – has she forgiven you yet for ruining her work, as she puts it?"

Chris chuckled. "Not entirely."

"I'm touched at her concern for me," Leonard snorted, "but if I remember correctly, you saved my life…"

"Right after I completely fucked it up, you mean." A pained look crossed Chris' face.

Leonard shrugged. "It was already pretty bad before that, you know. No, please don't apologize again. Try to explain what happened instead…"

Chris sighed. "After what happened that night, I felt like I had made an incredible mistake. It had nothing to do with you and everything with me… I… I felt as if I had taken advantage of the situation, and I hated the thought. That morning, I absolutely despised myself. I had vowed to take care of you, and I felt as if I had abused you, betrayed your trust in me, ruined everything."

"Well, the last two were true, but only after you left me" Leonard muttered. He looked up at Chris, eyes lined with tears he couldn't blink away. "Idiot. Chris, just in case you hadn't noticed: I love you. Had you stayed that morning, you would not have ruined my life, you'd have made it whole and complete again. You could have saved both of us one hell of a lot of pain and misery."

Chris reached up to touch his cheek and caress his face. "I know," he whispered. "But I didn't know then. I wasn't entirely sure about my own feelings and I was in doubt about yours…"

"Maybe we both ought to have listened to everyone else, huh? Seems like Jim knew more about our mutual feelings then either of us."

"He did?"

"He told me you were in love with me, before I had even given a thought to that. I told him he was crazy."

"He was right, though." Chris stared down at him, that intense gaze Leonard had come to know so well and this time, it was not awkward or uncomfortable. Leonard drew a shaky breath, then wrapped himself around Chris, kissing him fervently.

When they came up for air, Leonard pressed his face into the other man's shoulder, not daring to say or even think any more.

"Oh, to hell with it all, Chris, I love you…!" His voice sounded hoarse in his own ears.

He felt Chris grow very still in his arms for a moment, then he drew back, forcing Leonard to look at him. "You really do, don't you?"

Leonard nodded, swallowing hard.

"Then why are you crying?"

"I… I don't know…"

"Hm. Let's ask Anya about it some other time, shall we? She usually understands why you're doing things. As for now…" He lent closer again, searching for Leonard's lips and brushing them with his own.

"… so do I…,"Chris whispered, before starting to kiss the tears of his cheeks. "Beloved."

"That's a very old-fashioned term."

"Shut up! You sound like Spock." But he was laughing, they both were now, laughing and crying at the same time, absolutely, deliriously happy.

"You should have told me earlier," Leonard complained.

"You weren't ready. Or at least, that's what I told myself. In truth, I guess, it's me who wasn't ready. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"

"I love you."

"I'll take that as a yes."