This is my first attempt at a parallel universe. It forks out sometime after The Whine Club in season 7. Thanks to Misti for the idea that shattered my writer's block and who has been so helpful throughout. Thanks too to Marissa for supplying the Frasier-related nutrients that keep me focused, inspired and writing.

Away From It All (part 1)

By Amy (amydekanter@yahoo.com)



Each day Daphne worked harder at exhausting herself. Dr. Crane, who in the past had suggested that Daphne put a bit more enthusiasm into her cleaning, now complained that she was constantly underfoot with a rag, mop or duster. Both Mr. Crane and Eddie escaped the apartment often to avoid their new regimen of respective exercises which left them panting and fatigued but only took the tiniest edge off of her own nervous energy. Even Donny, who had always loved how lively and affectionate she was, had started to worry about her level of over-attentiveness and had begged her to slow down a bit.

And yet it still was not enough. No matter how busy she kept herself Daphne's mind kept going back to the Christmas party, nearly two months ago.

She had never experienced such a persistent, nor such a vivid, memory; all senses honed to sharp little points as if being used for the first time, all focused on the moment -- and on the person -- who had made it so important: Dr. Niles Crane.

She would be in the middle of doing something - anything from shopping to having sex with Donny - when, without trying and against her will, her body would remember the satin feel of Dr. Crane's coat lining and the reassuring weight of it on her shoulders. She would recall the clean, cool scent of the man who wore it and who had placed it gently around her. Her ears heard his voice as if were not the same voice she had heard for the past six years, her eyes saw his eyes as if she had never noticed before how blue they were. Since that day she could not turn off the light without seeing his face. She could not even stare into space without the vision of him appearing.

And so she frantically tried to keep herself occupied, refusing to admit that nothing was enough to counter feelings even more powerful than the memory. The one thing she had not done during the past two months -- could not do -- was sit still and figure out what those powerful feelings were.

Dr. Niles Crane had been in love with her. For six years, they said, he had been in love with her. That now he loved someone else should have negated what she had learned, but it did not. If anything it added to the churning tempest within and Daphne did not even have the courage to ask herself why.

Of course, there were some thoughts which crept in when her guard was down. The most glaring was that upon finding out Dr. Niles Crane was in love with her, her reaction was completely different from when she thought her secret admirer was his brother Frasier. Completely different.

When she thought it was the elder Dr. Crane who had feelings for her, Daphne felt panic and dread. There had been absolutely no question of her feeling the even slightest bit romantic about her employer and, while she hated to hurt him, she knew she had no other choice but to tell him so.

When Dr. Frasier Crane himself clarified that it was Niles who was in love with her, Daphne had felt panic and. she had no idea what she the other thing was, but it was not dread. And at no time had that been more apparent than at the Christmas party, while wearing his coat and looking into his blue eyes.

Bloody hell, was there nothing in this oversized apartment she had not yet scrubbed, dusted, washed or vacuumed? Dr. Frasier Crane had warned her away from his wooden statues, complaining that she was close to polishing their features clear off. Already he accused her of causing surface erosion to his floors and furniture.

At least Dr. Crane would not be dropping by today; he was away somewhere with Mel. His girlfriend. Lady friend. A lady. Like his ex-wife. Like the women he dated. Money and success, the makers of American aristocracy. And yet he had been in love with a working class woman from Manchester for six years.

At least he would not be dropping by today. That was the thought she had started with and had intended to carry in a completely different direction from where it had ended up. Thoughts did that. Lately it seemed that in her mind, all roads led to Dr. Niles Crane.

Daphne tried again. At least he would not be dropping by today. That was a good thing. Out of sight, out of mind, Daphne thought grimly. He was out of her sight and she was out of her mind.

Perhaps the sock drawer could use some rearranging. Dr. Crane liked his socks sorted by weave, but colour made a lot more sense. And if he did not like it, she would have something to keep her busy while she put everything back. Once again a woman with a purpose, Daphne strode into Dr. Crane's bedroom. She would not think about him, she would not think about him, she would not think.

The telephone rang. Eager for a distraction, Daphne rushed out to the living room before she realised it was not the house line that was ringing, it was Donny's cell phone. He had left it behind.

After only a moment of indecision, Daphne picked it up. Apologising to Donny later would give her something else to fill up her time.

"Donny Douglas' phone," she answered.

"Hello. Is this Donny's secretary?"

"No, it's Daphne." If she had not recognised the voice, she would have recognised the tone. The voice from the depths of Mel.

"Even better. This is Dr. Mel Karnofsky. Could you give him a message?"

"I don't."

"I need him to call me, no, wait, I don't think he'll be able to reach me. Could you tell him to get in touch with my attorney, Gwen Ellis, of Vaneiden, Ellis and Rodney? Are you writing this down?"

"Yes," Daphne lied, annoyed. "I'll tell him when I see him."

"Tell him he needs to send her the prenuptial agreement he drafted for Niles and I, there are a few details I'd like her to iron out."

"The what?" Daphne sank down to the couch. Dr. Crane was getting married.

"The prenuptial agreement. That's P-R-E-N-U-P-T-I-A-L. They are legal papers, you don't have to understand, just write it down, Donny will know what to do."

"A prenuptial agreement." Daphne repeated it, unable to make it real.

"Yes, by this afternoon if possible. And Daphne, I want you to keep this conversation to yourself. Niles and I are eloping and we want to keep it from our friends and family for now."

"I.I will."

"I'll call later if I need anything else." Mel hung up without saying goodbye.

Daphne sat holding the silent phone. Dr. Crane was getting married. Possibly as soon as tonight. The unidentified feeling roared and howled inside her incoherently. A prenuptial agreement. Who prepares a prenuptial agreement when they elope?

Someone Dr. Crane wanted to marry, that was who.

Inside Daphne it became very silent, very dark. Quietly respectful, like a funeral home. 'We want to keep it from our family and friends,' Mel had said with her usual sensitivity. What did that make her, Daphne wondered. Only even better than Donny Douglas' secretary.

So that was what had kept Donny working so late last night. He had not said a word about it to her but of course he could not. To lawyers confidentiality was sacred. Like priests.

Like psychiatrists.

Eventually it got dark and quiet outside Daphne as well, but she only noticed when Donny's phone rang again. How long had she been sitting there, staring at nothing? Two hours? Three?

She picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

"Daphne, Dr. Karnofsky again. Did you give Donny the message?"

"No, he's left his phone here and I don't know how else to reach him."

"Look, since you already know about the secret, I need you to do something else for me. Call the hospital and ask for Alexandra Ng. Ask her to confirm that I'll be attending the conference in Atlanta and that I'll be staying on to perform the surgery they requested. Ask her to make the necessary arrangements."

"Two tickets?"

"No, just one, why would I. oh, that's right, Niles," Mel giggled, suddenly sounding very different, almost human. Then she must have remembered to whom she was speaking because her tone changed back to the way one speaks to someone who is neither family nor friend nor social equal. "No, I'll be busy while I'm there. We'll plan for a proper honeymoon later. You'll remember not to tell anyone won't you?"

"Yes," Daphne said.

"And do try to get in touch with Donny. I've left three messages at his office and I know he's expecting my call."

"Yes," Daphne said again.

If Mel had left messages at Donny's office, there was little more Daphne could do to find him. She did call Alexandra, though. The noise inside had quieted down so she did not really need to keep busy, but sending Mel to the other side of the country felt like a task worth doing. A task to make her forget Dr. Crane was getting married.

Dr. Crane was getting married. Unsteadily, Daphne stood up, lost her balance and sat back down. The apartment was swaying. She forced herself to stand up and stood wavering for several seconds until she found her sea legs and made her way to her room. The elder Cranes and Eddie would be back any moment and she needed a place where she could continue staring into space in private.

Not bothering to undress, Daphne crawled into bed. Dr. Niles Crane filled her mind. She reached over and picked up the gift he had given her for Christmas to replace the earrings he had bought for Mel. It was a beautiful wooden music box with carvings of a forest full of mystical creatures. At the centre of the scene, kneeling under a pear tree, was a slender unicorn with deep and gentle eyes.

"For your collection," Dr. Crane had told her. When she opened it the exquisite sound of Debussy floated out. He had ordered it made especially for her because "you told me once it was your favourite."

Daphne had been touched beyond words, at once forgetting the awkwardness of having to return her earlier gift. The earrings he had given Mel were splendid, of course, but this. to imagine Dr. Niles Crane picking out something like this, something he himself had to hate, simply because he knew Daphne would love it.

She had thrown her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek, realising at once that this time it was different. Not for her - she was already busy not thinking about that - but for him. Before when she hugged or kissed him she would pull back barely noticing, but noticing nonetheless, the lingering smile on his face she had once mistaken for shyness. This time, he retreated before she did, hardly glancing at her, smiling not at her but at the anticipation of going out to meet Mel, which he proclaimed he had to do at once. The door closed behind him while Daphne was in the middle of trying to thank him again.

Daphne had placed the music box next to her bed and wound it up every night before going to sleep. If she did not know how to feel about Dr. Crane she knew exactly how to feel about the music box: She loved it. It would never be just a part of her collection; it was its own individual treasure, something almost living that she spoke to and caressed. She loved it so much she forgave it for the dreams brought on by its lullaby. Dreams which invariably featuring the younger Dr. Crane.

Who was getting married. Daphne ran her trembling fingers over the graceful carvings, still trying to figure out whether she should feel anything about the news. And while she was trying to decide, tears started streaming down her cheeks. Apparently she was sad. And then the crying became bone- rattling sobs it became apparent that she was not just sad, but wretchedly miserable. Dr. Crane was getting married. To Mel. To someone else.

The resident Dr. and Mr. Crane returned but they must have thought she was staying at Donny's because neither of them called for her. Daphne lay on her bed, salt-saturating her pillow. She stared at the unicorn long after its music had finished, long after the apartment became quiet, sometimes seeing the gift, sometimes seeing the blue eyes of a man who one night noticed she was cold and put his coat around her shoulders.

The night was long, with tears ushering her in and out of sleep a hundred times until finally Daphne woke to daylight instead of darkness and her eyes, while sore and tired, were all cried out.

The morning light was bright and harsh. This will never do, it said in a cross voice and sternly ordered her out of bed. Daphne obeyed. The new day reminded her that even though she had never claimed to be unselfish, neither was she someone who dwelled on spilt milk. It was simply not her. It never had been and just because it felt like her life was over.

Waves rippled along the floor of her room and Daphne nearly lost her balance again. Where had that thought come from? Of course her life was not over, not because of something as silly as this. Even if she had forbidden herself from identifying her feelings for Dr. Crane it was too late to start now. She still had a life and she should bloody get on with it.

Briskly, Daphne pulled the covers over her bed, locking tight against the temptation to spend the next twelve hours under them. She took a cold shower to shock herself back into sobriety and dressed in the first things she pulled off her shelf. Her eyes were swollen and red-rimmed but that would pass . with time.

Daphne faltered. Time. She could barely imagine coping with space, but how in the world would she be able to live with Time? The whole lifetime ahead of wondering and of trying not to. She had to get out of her room.

The apartment was empty. Guiltily, Daphne remembered that Mr. Crane had an early doctor's appointment today and that she had bowed out. At the time she had had plans, but then did not tell either of the Crane's that her plans had changed. If only she had. There would be something to do with all this Time.

Daphne glanced around helplessly. Not much had changed since yesterday's cleaning frenzy, leaving her with absolutely nothing to do today. If she did not find something to occupy her time she would go insane, she knew it.

What if he had not gone through with it? What if Time were in her favour and he had not married yet. Daphne chided herself for the hope that accompanied that thought. She did not even know if she wanted him herself and she was already reserving him from anyone else. How could she even begin to imagine she might love him if she were such a poor friend to begin with? How could he have possibly been in love with someone like her for so long? And why had he stopped?

Defeated, Daphne sat down heavily on the couch as she had yesterday, again staring at nothing and again seeing his face. Whatever fighting spirit had been in her earlier had seeped out soon enough. She could kill herself trying to pretend everything was all right or she could close herself against all feeling and do what she had done yesterday - sit very still and try not to think. Since she had more practice at the latter, Daphne opted for the tried and true and slowly slumped forward.

In the middle of staring at the wooden grain of the coffee table, Daphne's psychic bell started chiming. Shut up, Daphne told it. She may as well accept that this would be the first of many days that would stretch ahead of her, knowing Dr. Crane would not be dropping by as he used to for a visit. Surely now if he came at all it would be with his new wife and she did not want the bell calibrated to her, thank you very much.

Stubbornly the bell continued chiming, and Daphne covered her ears with her hands but all that did was raise the pitch to a wild clamouring when suddenly it stopped. The front door opened and Daphne stood up. It was Dr. Crane. Dr. Niles Crane. They stood frozen, staring at each other for several seconds.

"Daphne, I'm sorry. I used my key because I didn't think anyone would be in." He hid his hand behind his back, but not before Daphne saw the new band of gold on his finger. Heart deadened, she stared at him. Whatever her feelings for Dr. Crane, it was now officially too late to try and sort them out. He was married.

"I. my plans changed," she said. She did not mention the ring. If he was hiding it it was because he did not want her to know. Presumably Mel had not told him she'd spoken to Daphne the day before. It was just as well. Ordinary words were hard enough to get out without having to choke up congratulations.

"Er, look. I'm sorry I barged in on you. I'll be out of your hair in just a minute." He avoided looking at her.

"You are not staying?"

"No, I'm going to the cabin. I just came to pick up the keys, Frasier left them for. ah, there they are." For the first time Daphne noticed some keys on the sideboard. Still keeping his left hand behind his back, Dr. Crane picked them up.

"I thought your. Mel, was in Atlanta for a conference." Despite herself, Daphne stared. She could not help it. She had missed him.

"Oh, yes, she is. I'm going alone." Casually, he dropped the keys into his pocket then hid his right hand behind his back as well. "Well, good-b.." this time he did meet her eyes and, once again, froze.

"Are you." he came closer. "Are you all right?" he asked. The gentle concern in his voice was almost more than she could bear.

"A bit of flu," she said hoarsely, quickly rubbing the tears back into her eyes. She had forgotten about her night of mourning. She must look bloody awful.

"Why, then you should be in bed," his voice became agitated. "Would you like me to make you some soup? Do you need to see a doctor?"

"No, I'm fine." His offer was an echo of the kindness he had always shown her. Except according to his brother then it had not been mere kindness, but loving attention. Daphne's tired tear ducts began to swell. "Really." His hand was on her forehead and then slid down to her cheek, searching for signs of fever and Daphne could not take it anymore. She did not want him adding any more to her trough of torturous memories.

She burst into tears.

"I'm not ill," she confessed. "I'm sorry, Dr. Crane." Anything else she could have said was lost in the repentant flood. She had hated lying to him and hated it even more that he had rewarded the lie so immediately. And now she hated it that he so readily forgave her, at loss only for an instant before offering a soothing hug.

"Don't be silly, Daphne, I'm glad you don't have the flu." That made one of them. At least she knew that the misery that came with flu was only temporary. "Now, something is bothering you and I want you to tell me what it is."

Daphne cried harder. Of course he wanted her to tell him, he probably thought he could help. Well, Dr. Crane, I know that you were in love with me for six bloody years but I was too stupid to see it. And now, guess what: just when you found someone else, I realise I may have feelings for you too. So, take your pick. Either you still love me which means you will have to suffer through your new marriage knowing that you could have had me, or, you have stopped loving me and now only have to deal with the guilt. Lovely choices the two, aren't they?

Daphne struggled to pull herself together. Perhaps there was nothing either of them could do to make her feel better, but there was no reason for him to feel bad as well.

Seeing that Daphne was not about to speak, Dr. Crane ventured into guessing.

"Does it have to do with Donny?"

"No," Daphne answered. At least that was mostly true. "Please Dr. Crane."

"I'm sorry, I just want you to know that I'm here."

No, he bloody wasn't. He was standing right there in front of her with a wedding ring hidden in his pocket. And that meant he was not there.

But that was not his fault. She tried to smile at him.

"Thanks," she said.

"So," he asked in the easy tone of someone trying to change the subject. "How are your wedding plans coming along?"

"Could we have one day of not talking about weddings?" Her unreasonable tone and reaction brought on that psychiatrist's look of 'ah-ha.' And something else. His right hand dropped from her arm.

"Yes of course." Dr. Crane's hands were fidgeting behind his back. "In fact, I welcome that suggestion." He brought his hands back to the front, slipping the right hand into his pocket. He must have forgotten he already had keys in there because he hurriedly coughed as if to cover up the clinking sound of metal falling on metal. Daphne glanced down. Sure enough, his left hand was now ringless.

Preventing herself from bursting into tears was getting no easier with practice. Although she could not face up to the idea that she had lost him, it pained Daphne that he was keeping this secret from her. Perhaps it only meant that at least to him she did fit into the category of family and friends.

"It's nothing," she said as soon as she could. Both of them knew that was a lie, but it was the kind of lie that said she did not want to talk about it.

Dr. Crane nodded. He had been in such a hurry earlier, but now he showed no interest in leaving. Part of her wished he would go so that she could stop lying and stop pretending. But that was a very, very small part.

"So, you are off to the cabin," Daphne tried to adopt his conversational tone.

"Er. yes," Dr. Crane said as if he were no longer sure. Silence fell again as if such information deserved long pondering.

"It must be great to get away," Daphne had not meant to say the words out loud, nor to say them so wistfully.

"It's beautiful this time of year."

"I remember." He had invited her up last February but she had bumped into Donny and left with him soon after. She gazed up at him. "Very beautiful."

"Very beautiful," Dr. Crane agreed, gazing back. "Very quiet and very far from everything. Would you like to come with me?"

"Yes."

The gazes turned into stares. Daphne had not had the time to recover from the shock of his invitation before the new shock of her answer. Dr. Crane looked similarly stunned by what had just happened. What could she possibly have been thinking? It probably had not even been a serious invitation. Better set things right.

"Can you wait a few minutes while I pack?" was the last thing she expected herself to say. But she said it and fled to her room without giving him a chance to answer. She found that she was past caring whether or not she was putting him in an awkward position; If she was so determined not to think, she might as well not think about something that had felt right for a change.

In her room she swept a couple of things into her overnight bag and was back in the living room in less than a minute. She did not want to give him a single chance to change his mind. She did not fancy giving herself that chance either. The first thing that had felt right and honest in months.

"Ready," she said, trying to sound as cheerfully normal as possible. Dr. Crane still had exactly the same expression she had left him with. He must think her insane.

"Daphne." Oh no, he was wearing the same expression he had been wearing on the balcony that night, when she was so sure he would be saying she wanted to hear but ended up saying something different. "You can't possibly go." Daphne's shoulders sagged under the weight of her bag and she let it thud to the floor. ".without your coat. It will be freezing up there."

Daphne looked up, barely daring to hope. He was already across the room, taking her coat off the hook. Daphne closed her eyes as he came close.

"Allow me," he said and for once it was not just a memory but a new reality where she felt a the light touch on her shoulders, then the comforting weight of a coat, placed there tenderly by someone who still cared enough to keep her warm.

Daphne turned to look at him. She herself had recited that old cliché to countless friends: 'When you are in love, you will know.' It had always worked for her in the past but what she felt now was something she had never felt before. Except she had. She had started feeling it years ago and if the feeling had not flowered it had gathered root, moving deeper and deeper within coiling around every cell in her body.

Daphne looked at him looking back at her as in a trance. For months now -- ever since that night on the balcony, or perhaps earlier but more timidly -- the feeling she had kept small and tied like a bonsai strained to burst through the surface, climbing to the light and towards the one person who could nourish it to size. She felt its needles, pushing out from within her skin, dying to break loose and entwine itself around him.

Without breaking eye contact Dr. Crane bent over and picked up her bag.

"Well, then," he said softly. "I think we both deserve get away from it all."

He might have been the one to say the fatal words but it was Daphne who slipped her hand around his as they walked out together. The surface had been broken. And she was in love.