The waiter came back, with two filled mugs. He set them down, Sam and Diane thanked him, and he left.

"Look—Diane," Sam said, "It's not that I don't like the…thought of you seeing me as some kind of 'hero', but—I'm not. To be honest, hon, I'm pretty shocked you said all that, as it is."

Diane chuckled, as she wiped her tears away. "I-I know, Sam. But still…what you told me, a moment ago…it actually helps me, realizing how deeply I owe you."

Sam shook his head. "No, you don't owe me a thing."

Diane smiled at him, with that perceptive look in her eyes he'd so often found so maddening and so captivating. "Don't I?"

"Well, okay, why don't we take all the times I hurt you inside—and call it even, or something."

Diane shook her head, still smiling. "It doesn't work that way, Sam."

"Oh yeah? And how would you know?"

"Well, for one thing, I've already long forgiven you for all that—and to be honest, I wasn't exactly guiltless in our relationship. And you're right, of course—there are often times when I behave as though I know all the answers when…well, when I don't."

Sam sighed. "All right—Diane, how the heck did we start talking about this?"

Diane leaned back in her seat. "Well, let's see: we walked up the stairs, discussing the pros and cons of minimalism; then as we entered Melville's, we discussed our writing, and then my writing…you brought up your desire to try your hand at reading literature; we discussed Westerns and Raymond Chandler—"

"Diane…you know what I mean."

Diane chuckled. "Well, then…eventually, our conversation turned again to my novel-long-in-progress, you so clumsily insulted it, and we started deconstructing one another…which, ironically enough, led to my being stunned at the depth of certain feelings you hold, which I'd never truly considered—not even when we were together—"

"Hold on, hold on: Diane, I'm not sure I like where this is going."

Diane shook her head in what looked like wonder, still smiling. "Sam…I should chide myself for never realizing it, but until tonight, I—I had no idea you felt so…protective of me!"

Sam froze for a moment. Then he let out a scoff, leaning back as he shook his head. "Great—more 'hero' stuff."

"No…" Diane grinned, "Sam! For the longest time, I'd always suspected you'd first hired me merely because of physical attraction—I admit, not entirely surprising, but—"

"Maybe I did," Sam muttered.

"Perhaps…and perhaps, underneath that burning desire, you felt—well, it's not simply that you felt 'sorry' for me—not pity, per se; but you felt as though I didn't deserve to face the world as I'd otherwise have to: alone, without any sort of guidance or direction whatsoever…and you felt as though I didn't deserve such a terrible fate."

"Okay—look. Maybe I was studying you throughout the day, and I saw something—'potential', I dunno—and maybe I thought I wanted to help…and I'll be honest, you sure as heck were pretty as all—"

"Were?" she grinned.

Sam snickered, as he leaned to her. "You know what I mean, sweetheart. Anyway, it all fit kinda great in a glove for me…and I guess the rest is history."

Diane's eyes sparkled as she leaned to him, still smiling. "Then you're saying I'm right."

"Oh, please—I'd have thought you'd find the idea, what, 'degrading'. Come on! Treating you like a 'damsel in distress'—a pretty distressing 'damsel', while we're at it…."

Diane shrugged. "Well, I suppose it depends on the context. But I suppose my time here has…well, 'softened' me to such concepts. Personally, I think it's a very sweet and romantic sort of thing…wouldn't you say?"

"What, you in distress or me being protective?"

She shook her head in amusement…then she looked off and upward, face aglow, "The…rogue knight, living by his own code, priding himself on being accountable to no one…and yet, without admitting it to himself or to others, he's looking for redemption—which he finds in a moment of grand chivalry, as he gallantly comes to the rescue of a young princess…innocent and vulnerable, yet spirited and highly intelligent, possessed of a certain rapturous beauty of a most ethereal quality—"

"Aw, geez…" Sam rolled his eyes, "Come on, when I gloat about my looks—"

"Why, Sam," she cooed at him with a smile, "I'm only evening the score!"

"Uh-huh."

"Anyway…" she resumed her position, "He comes to her in her darkest hour of deepest need, and is captivated by her…discovering a compassion he'd never known existed. And he rescues her, and they are inspired by one another to triumph against the dark forces of the world…."

"And they all live happily ever after, huh?"

Diane turned to him. "Naturally," she said with a wink.

Sam paused, and let out a sigh. "This just keeps coming back to 'romance' with you, doesn't it?"

Diane laughed. "Well, you don't seem particularly willing to brace yourself for it until it's too late…now, are you?"

They both leaned back in their seats. Sam took his coffee, drinking it all, until the mug was dry. Diane shrugged, and had a big sip of her own.

Sam shrugged. "Knight, huh?"

"Well, I suppose an archer would've been more in line with a…baseball pitcher, but—that story was already taken. Besides, I doubt you're one for tights."

Sam smirked at her. "I might try it out, you know—see if it can't help pick up a few—"

"Oh, Sam!"

"Hey, anything to ruin the mood."

Diane stiffened, lip tightened. "Well, you certainly did—and what I can't understand is, why on Earth are you so reluctant to discuss such things around me?"

"Come on, Diane—we tried it, remember? It didn't work out so well—"

"Sam—I recall your confessing to me, in the convent, that when you flew to Europe, it was with the intention of asking me to marry you—"

"Oh, you had to bring that up. Come on, we agreed—"

"Sam, listen to me," Diane held up a forefinger, her gaze intensifying with her voice, "Those are not the sort of feelings one can simply discard! They simmer within one's soul if one does not acknowledge and deal with them, and they threaten to eat one up—emotionally, of course—until one finds oneself…possessed of the subconscious need to allow said feelings to burst out, oftentimes in unusual ways that one would not expect—"

"Diane, one person at this table is getting a little tired at your overusing the word 'one'."

Diane nodded slowly, pursing her lips for a moment. Finally, she relaxed and said, "To be perfectly honest, Sam, I think today's incident with Claudia is a golden—if you'll pardon the unintentional pun…a golden example of such a burst."

Sam chuckled. "Boy, you've really got an ego, don't you?"

Diane snorted. "I beg your pardon?"

"Oh, come on, you're so stuck on Claudia being some kind of clone of you—well, I tell ya, the woman's a walking freezer."

"You know that now. But you and I both know that, had you known this beforehand, you would hardly have been drawn to her in the first place."

"Well, hey—I took her for a challenge from the start."

"Sam—I was a challenge. And you assumed that that was what you desired—when in reality, it was hardly that simple."

"You know, Diane," Sam said, "I really think you're so desperate to get me to say I've still got some "torch" for you, so you won't have to say you've got one for me."

Diane stiffened. "Why, of all the…" she seized her mug, and finished it.

Sam chuckled. "No fun when you're on the receiving end, huh?"

Diane sighed, putting her mug down. "Sam, that isn't fair."

Sam nodded. "Right, well…do you?"

Diane huffed. "Do I what?"

"Oh, knock it off—Diane, you're always so stuck on how I'm supposed to be nuts about you: 'Sam, when are you gonna tell me you're nuts about me?'"

"I don't recall using the word 'nuts'—"

"You know what I mean! So if you're so stuck on me saying it—why don't you say it, huh? Why are you so obsessed with my feelings, if you don't feel anything?"

Diane looked at him. "Why does it matter, Sam? Is it that you want me to say it, so that…you can safely tell me the truth about your feelings?"

"Funny, I just asked you the same thing."

Diane stared at him for a while, a thoughtful look in her eyes. Finally, she chuckled silently, in bitter amusement, shaking her head. "So that's it, then," she muttered.

"What's 'it'?"

She sighed. "Sam…somehow, I feel as though neither of us is willing to be…vulnerable to one another—neither of us wants to suffer the possibility of rejection by the other—however remote that possibility may be."

"Okay, honey—so how do we solve this?"

"I don't know…perhaps it is how competitive we are—I want you to admit it first, you want me to admit it first—"

"Hang on: you sure you know what I want, here?"

"Sam…how many times have you tried to get me to admit to being 'nuts' about you?"

"Well, you are!"

"Sam!—isn't it obvious to you what I want?"

"Besides me? Not a clue."

Diane tightened her lip. "Sam," she said quietly, "Stop it—please."

Sam swallowed. "Honey, I—"

She looked at him. "'Honey'…'Sweetheart'…do you really mean all that, Sam?"

Sam felt a tug at his heart. "How do you mean?"

"You know to what I'm referring, Sam—when you say those things, do you mean them? Do you really see me as…your 'sweetheart'—or is it only a line to you? A…tease?"

Sam tensed. Just like her, again—taking little things like that

"It's just that I…" Diane pursed her lip for a moment, and blurted out, "Oh, Sam, I can't settle for 'a day at a time'—I just can't!"

Oh, boy… Sam set his jaw, saying nothing. He remembered when he'd said that to her—how he could not make the kind of guarantees that Frasier could. And the look she'd given him, then—both touched by his heartfelt honesty, and so deeply hurt that that was his answer…

Diane shook her head, blinking back tears. "I…I have to know, Sam. I need the reassurance I was so certain we'd had, once, that—"

She cut herself off, hanging her head, eyes closed.

"Diane…"

Diane sighed. "Forget it. Just…forget it."

She rose to her feet—but Sam did the same.

"Aw, come on…" he said, as he headed over to her, putting his arm around her shoulders. "Sweetheart…I'm sorry."

He hadn't meant to say the word again, "sweetheart"—and he hoped silently that she wouldn't ask about it again. She didn't—thank goodness. To be honest, Sam didn't really have an answer himself.

Diane sighed, and looked up at him, eyes still moist. "Oh, Sam, it isn't really your fault."

As Sam pulled his chair over, next to hers, and they sat back down, Diane added, "I…I just have to know if…I could—Sam, I can't risk giving my heart to a man, when I can't be sure he feels the same way. I would have to know, without any ambiguity whatsoever, that he…that he doesn't see me as—well, only as a lover. I can't do that again. I have to know that I'm…"

Sam put his arm around her again. "That you're what, honey?"

Diane blinked, and whispered, "Perhaps it'll sound funny to you, but—I have to know that he sees me as…as even more than just 'important' to him. Whoever it'll be…I have to know that I'm special to him—truly special. Is—is that too much to ask?"

Sam swallowed, and looked off, staring at nothing in particular.

"Special"…oh, great—now, how am I supposed to handle this? Of course she's special to me—she's a darn good friend, and I'll always like her—and darned if I won't always want—

"Sam…?"

Sam sighed, and stared at her. "Look, honey, I don't know what to say to that, to be honest. Diane…I don't know how I feel, okay? I mean—there are times when I don't want anything to do with you, and other times—like right now—when…"

Diane straightened up as she looked at him—her eyes wide, with a faint open smile, as if she were bracing herself for something wonderful. The glow in her face was enough to melt any guy's heart….

Oh, she's beautiful. God, the prettiest woman you ever sent my way just had to be the one who drives me the most INSANE!—and not always in the good way….

Sam sighed, shaking his head. "Honey, I honestly don't know. You're a…'special' person, sure—but does that mean I l…I lo—well, you-know-what?"

Diane blinked, and chuckled silently.

Sam shrugged. "Well, that's it—I don't know if it means…that, or not. I-I guess I thought it did, when I flew to Italy, but…I don't have a clue if that was just crazy or not. Until I do…" He shrugged again, and tried to smile. "That about good enough, for now?"

Diane swallowed as she stared at him in silence…and she smiled. "For now, I suppose."

"Yeah…" Sam chuckled, as he patted her shoulder.

The waiter came back. "Will—that be all, sir?"

"Check, please?" Sam asked as he let go of Diane.

"Right away, sir."

As the man left, Sam turned to Diane, who was looking off in silence. "You okay?"

Diane shrugged. "I'm not sure, Sam. All we said, here…well, I suppose it all needed saying." She turned to him, and smiled. "I hope you'll still want to continue your…visits to the library."

"Hey, don't worry about it—I got a few ideas, right now. So…you gonna finish that book?"

Diane shrugged. "As I said, Sam, it'll involve the right time and circumstances."

Sam nodded…and felt a smirk as a thought occurred to him. "You know, come to think of it," he said, "I kinda liked the 'knight' part."

Diane chuckled silently. "Well…oddly enough, Chandler often made it a point to compare Phillip Marlowe with a knight."

Sam laughed as the waiter showed up with the check, leaving it on the table, and left. Sam paid up with a tip, and turned to Diane. "Well, I'm no detective."

"Certainly not."

As they stood, and left for the stairs back to Cheers, Sam turned to Diane once again. "Hey…didn't that girl call him at the end of the last book?"

Diane blinked…and smiled. "Linda Loring?"

"Yeah, I mean—not in Long Goodbye, but the next one—the last one, you know…."

Diane paused, looking off to think. "Why…yes, I recall she did!"

"There you go."

And then Diane turned to him with another smile, and a glint in her eye, "And as I recall, Sam…they agreed it was time for them to marry."

"Oh, now—now that's not fair!"

Diane shook her head, with a grin. "You brought it up, my darling…."

Sam let out a sigh. Yeah…I kinda did.

Without much warning, the words of a song filled his head—something by Billy Joel. The past year and a half or so, hearing it on the radio or wherever tended to make him feel a little eerie inside, whenever he heard it:

She is frequently kind—and she's suddenly cruel…

She can do as she pleases—she's nobody's fool…

And she can't be convicted—she's earned her degree…

And the most she will do

Is throw shadows at you

But she's always a woman to me….

And Sam Malone tried his hardest not to notice that the hand of Diane Chambers was in his own, as the two of them walked down to the bar together.


A little closing note: I strongly recommend checking out Billy Joel's song, "She's Always A Woman", which I quoted above. Really, how much the words scream out the angst of Sam's feelings towards Diane is just eerie...