Niles and Jasmine woke on the morning of his brother's wedding, filled with a sense of purpose. They were nearly silent as they showered, dressed and prepared themselves for the event which lay ahead.
For her part, Jasmine knew why Niles had invited her along when he could have just as easily attended the wedding on his own. She was there to act as a sort of trophy for him, the visual proof that he had reinvented himself while away in Europe. Jasmine didn't mind; she knew she had Niles's respect, why not play the part for him? She looked forward to the wedding, she thought it'd be fun.
To prepare, she slipped into a sheath of fine rose silk. It was a dress she'd brought from Paris, one that held a bit of history for her as it'd been given to her on her very first modeling assignment. Niles thought she looked lovely and told her so, which made her smile all the brighter.
She let her hair out in loose waves down her back and slipped a black velvet choker around her throat. It was a special piece that she only wore on special occassions, it had been a gift from her first lover. She paired her dress with heels and then applied her makeup, subtly watching as Niles put on his dark blue suit. It was the first time she'd ever seen him wearing a suit, and while the dark blue material did bring out the color of his eyes, he seemed removed from the man she'd known these past several months.
He caught her looking at him and winked. Jasmine looked away, blushing. No, Niles is the man I know.
The time to leave was drawing near, and soon they had left the hotel and headed to Frasier's apartment.
Once they arrived, Niles felt his heart lurch at the site of his brother in a black tuxedo, once again preparing himself to be wed. "Oh, there you are, Niles. So, how do I look?" Frasier asked.
Niles shrugged. "You look ready. Where's Roz?"
"She's at her place for the time being. We'll meet at the church in about half an hour." Frasier said, checking his watch. "It's insane, but I'm actually nervous!"
Niles smiled. "Oh, Frasier, what's to be nervous about this time around? It's Roz."
The older man nodded. "I know. If I screw this one up, I'll never forgive myself."
"No worries, Frasier. It will be a wonderful day."
Frasier still looked nervous, but slightly more at ease. Jasmine poked Niles in the ribs as she took a seat on the main couch of the room. "You look beautiful ma cherie," Frasier said as he kissed her hand.
"Ah, merci! Do not fear for the wedding, Frasier. She loves you."
Frasier nodded. "I know she does, that's what makes me even more worried!"
They shared a laugh over it as Martin entered the living room. "Oh, good, you're both here."
"Hello dad," Niles greeted him. "Can you believe it? Another wedding!"
Martin shrugged. "I'm just looking forward to a daughter in-law I can get along with, I- oh, no offense, boys."
Niles shook his head. "It's all right, dad. I was just thinking the same thing. Even I prefer Roz over Lilith or Maris."
Jasmine shrugged absently, not knowing the history of Lilith in the Crane family. "I think you look handsome, Martin." She said, her English was very careful.
Martin smiled at her. "Thanks. I don't have much of a reason to dress up, but I'll always be there in a suit for my son's wedding."
Niles swallowed, nervous about the implication of his father's words. Despite that he cared for her, Niles didn't see himself marrying Jasmine or any other woman; he'd sworn off the notion of marriage for at least a few years. Maybe it was selfish, but he wanted to remain relatively unattached. He'd found that he liked being alone as much as he enjoyed Jasmine's company.
Jasmine only smiled at Marin's comment, but had nothing to say in return. Niles hoped his father hadn't put the idea in her head.
"Oh, hey." Niles looked up to see Freddy come in from the kitchen, a soda can in hand. He smiled at his nephew, only to see that the boy's attention rested solely on Jasmine.
Could Niles complain that she was too beautiful?
Before he could wonder at it much longer, it was time to head to the church for Frasier's wedding.
They all split up once entering the church; Frasier had his other guests to greet while Niles, Martin and Freddy found themselves at the bar. Three generations of Crane men, discussing the various stages of their lives. Niles explained about the job he'd found that had led him to find Jasmine, and the life they had in Paris. Obviously he neglected to mention the fact of their relationship being based mostly on the physical, though something told him both his father and nephew were on to him.
As for Jasmine herself, she had been looking for the powder room and had accidentally stepped into the bridal room. Roz, recognizing her at the door had waved her in. "Hey, Jasmine, what are you doing here?"
"I was searching for the restroom. I'm sorry, I'll go back-"
"What? No way, get back here, you can help me."
There were several other women in the room, all of them flitting around Roz like bees around a great white flower. One was fluffing the bridal veil, another was preparing her makeup and hair, while another seemed to be bustling the dress. Jasmine didn't want to be in the way, but she thought she would come off as rude if she didn't accept the invitation.
"You look beautiful today."
Roz rolled her eyes. "Thanks, I mean you only get married once, right? At least, I better only have to get married once! This whole thing has been exhausting- I'm not going through it again."
"It's been difficult?"
"It's been a pain in the ass! The caterers, the guest list, the flowers...it's all worth it though. When the party is over, it'll just be me and Frasier, we'll be with Martin and Alice...it's going to be great."
There was a genuine love in Roz's voice which made Jasmine's eyes tear up, though she wasn't sure why. She hardly knew the woman, or Frasier, but all the same she felt a deep swell of happiness to be there on their wedding day.
"Roz, here, it's almost time. I have your boquet."
Jasmine turned to find a lovely brunette woman with a striking English accent. The woman appeared about the same age as Roz, possibly a few years younger, and was dressed as a bridesmaid in a deep blue dress.
Roz seemed nervous for a moment, but then shook it off and cleared her throat. "Hey, thanks Daphne. This is Jasmine, a new friend."
Daphne turned her attention to her and Jasmine realized just who Daphne was. Niles's woman!
"Hello." Jasmine shook the woman's hand and lowered her eyes. "I know you're getting ready, I'll go find my seat."
She left the bridal room and headed for the sactuary of the church.
Daphne raised a brow at Roz. "Well that was strange. I haven't met her before, Roz. Is she one of your cousins?"
Roz shook her head, deciding then and there that she should be the one to explain who Jasmine was to Daphne. "Daphne, sit with me for a second. I know he probably wanted to have some big reveal, but I might as well tell you now."
"Roz, what's going on? Something earth-shattering?"
"No, it's just that I'd rather not have any scenes at my wedding- I plan to only do this thing once, and I'm not going to allow anything to go wrong. Jasmine is Niles's girlfriend. He brought her home with him, they've been here all week."
Daphne frowned. "Dr. Cr- Niles has come back? I don't have to ask why no one told me."
Roz put her hand over her friend. "No one blames you for him leaving. Niles is a grown man and he made the choice to have things end the way they did."
"How has he been? I know Dr. Crane must've kept in touch, has he been well?" Daphne asked, a concern growing in her heart.
Roz shrugged. "Niles has been fine I guess. I mean, he speaks French and he landed a job so I suppose he's been doing all right. Frasier never said anything to make me think Niles was in trouble or anything like that."
"And he's got himself a girlfriend? That's good, I'm happy that he's found someone after...well, you know. Everyone should have someone special. Do you think she's made him happy?"
Roz blinked, not expecting the question. Carefully, she answered. "I think she does. They're a weird fit, I think. She's so much younger than him, and Niles is, well, he's Niles, but they seem happy from what I've seen so far."
"I hope they are. He needs someone. He needed me, but I just couldn't...oh, don't listen to me. I'm being silly, as usual. I want whatever is best for him."
Roz gave her friend a soft, sad smile. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. What kind of question is that? You don't think I've been hoping he's been miserable, moping around for me, do you? That'd be a horrible thing to hope for!"
Roz shook her head. "No, honey, that's not what I meant. I just...well, none of us were ever clear on what happened that night."
"I know. There was so much..." Daphne shrugged. "I've never stopped thinking about him. I missed him every bit as much as his brother and father, though I wasn't able to show it. I've only ever wanted to see him happy."
Roz nodded. "I know. Maybe he only brought her here to boost up his ego, maybe they're not serious. Who knows? You two need to talk."
Daphne let out a laugh. "Oh, goodness, what could I possibly say to him? We haven't spoken since that night, and that he's been here a week and hasn't tried to contact me should tell you enough to know he doesn't want to speak to me. He's a good man, always has been. He's here for his brother's wedding, not me. Today is about you and Dr. Crane, that's where the focus should be."
Daphne reached out and hugged her friend. "You look beautiful, Roz. You couldn't be marrying a better man. I'll see you out there."
With that, Daphne kissed Roz on the cheek and stepped out of the bridal chamber, leaving Roz to wonder if she'd just ruined the day for everyone.
To the joy and relief of everyone, the wedding ceremony went wonderfully. Frasier and Roz married, a joining of friends. Niles was very happy for them both but his happiness for them was undercut by concern for Jasmine. She'd been slightly distracted during the ceremony but wouldn't explain why. Niles would've just shrugged it off, expecting an explanation later on, but something was nagging the back of his mind.
The guests rose, all following the bride and groom who were heading out to for the reception.
Niles held fast to Jasmine's hand. "Are you all right, Jas? You look worried."
His slender blonde lover shook her head. "No, I'm fine."
He smiled to reassure her. "Come on, Jas. I know you better than that. Tell me."
Jasmine tightened her hold on his hand. "Your woman is here."
"Your Daphne. I met her in the bridal room. Tall, brunette, English. She was a bridesmaid, didn't you see her?"
Niles shook his head. No, he had barely glanced away from Frasier and Roz. He blinked in slight surprise. The old Niles would've been able to spot Daphne from miles away but he hadn't even noticed her in the same room! He reeled to think that the impossible might have happened, that he had fallen out of love.
"No, I didn't see her."
"Don't lie to me, Niles! She is the reason you brought me here, how could you not have noticed her? You were so in love it almost killed you, and now you don't even see her?" Jasmine wished she could explain why she was suddenly so upset; she could have written it off as being tired, the emotions connected with the wedding or homesickness, but she knew she'd only be lying to herself.
Niles framed his hand over her shoulders to keep her calm. "Jasmine, please. No, I did not see her. I don't know why I...let's just go to the reception." He finished lamely. They were alone now in the sanctuary of the church.
"Niles, do you love her still?"
He paused at the question. "I thought I did. Now I'm not so sure. I didn't feel the same way when I saw her in the restaurant. I don't think I feel the same way now."
She gingerly touched his face. "And how do you feel?"
He shook his head and kissed her palm. "I feel...free from all that I once was." He laughed slightly. "It's a good feeling. Come, Jasmine. I want to dance with you."
Niles lead Jasmine from the sanctuary and into the reception hall, where Frasier and Roz were already nearing the end of their first dance as husband and wife. Quickly, they took their seats at the reserved family table and held hands underneath the table like a pair of teenagers.
Jasmine's sharp eyes caught Daphne across the dance floor at another table. "You must speak with her, Niles. To close the door on your past here."
He thought her phrasing was elegant, but he wasn't sure how he could approach Daphne or what on earth he could say to her, especially on his brother's wedding day! He took her hand. "I brought you here to show everyone that I'd moved on, but I don't have to anymore. Not if it hurts you."
"You should go see her, and I'll wish the best for you, so long as you come back to me once it's over."
Niles shook his head. "It's strange. I'd planned this for so long in my mind and now that we're down to it, I don't have any idea what to say." He leaned forward and kissed her soundly. "I'll go talk to her, Jasmine, but I will come back. I owe you that much."
His heart was thudding rapidly now as he left the table, heading out to the loud, crowded dance floor in search of Daphne. He saw Frasier and Roz dancing, and near them Freddy and Alice were dancing as well. Niles frowned slightly to see that Daphne was no longer at the table.
His shoulder was bumped and he turned to find his father with Daphne in his arms! His eyes widened and he took a step back out of surprise, and Daphne did the same. "Dr. Crane."
Martin raised his brows and cleared his throat. "I think I'll grab a drink, and leave you two kids to it."
Neither of them paid much attention as the older man left them; rather, they took the time to absorb the sight of each other, the first time to see each other in over a year. Daphne was just as strikingly beautiful as she'd been the first night they'd met and the last they'd seen each other.
Likewise, Daphne found herself transfixed; a change had occurred in this man, it was something she could feel. She didn't know how to describe it. The younger Dr. Crane was standing taller, he seemed more confident somehow, more aware and in control. It was attractive, she could easily admit, and she felt a kick in her chest to see him again. Here he was, stronger and more sure, and back with his family.
She'd blamed herself after his departure, the guilt unbearable. If only she'd known his real reason for leaving!
"Dr. Crane, when did-"
He glanced at something behind her and then met her eyes. "Let's talk somewhere else."
Daphne allowed him to lead her out of the reception hall and into the hallway, away from the crowd, the music, and the eyes of Jasmine. He discreetly closed the doors behind them, shutting out the distractions of their friends and family. Daphne swallowed, feeling a heavy apprehension to know that they were alone for the first time in over a year, since the eve of her wedding.
Slowly, Niles turned back to her. For a few moments all they could do was stare and linger in the uncomfortable silence.
Breaking again from his old self, Niles decided to initiate. "It's good to see you again, Daphne."
"It's wonderful to see you, Dr. Crane."
His former title rankled. "I...please, Daphne, it's Niles now. Only Niles."
"You've given up being a doctor?"
He shook his head. "Not exactly, no. I still have my license, I just haven't been in practice. But that's not what we're really talking about."
"No, it's not."
"Daphne, the night I-"
"Do you hate me?"
Niles started. "What? Hate you? No, never that."
"I never meant to hurt you, it was just too much, and I was afraid..."
Feeling a surge of compassion, Niles reached for her and lead her over to a pair of chairs. His hands did not tingle as they had whenever he'd touched her before. He felt no maddening, desperate lust with her now. Only a concern, a tender protectiveness. He had her sit down and then pulled a chair over so that he could sit close to her. "Daphne, no, no, I don't hate you for what happened between us. I...there was so much that went wrong that night. Really, there was no much that went wrong for years before that."
"I'm sorry I hadn't been able to see it."
"No, I'm sorry that I wasn't strong enough to either ignore my feelings or to tell you. I shouldn't have told you, but so many things were standing in the way." Niles said.
Daphne looked up from their entwined hands. "What things?"
Niles let himself laugh a bit at her question. There were hundreds of excuses he'd invented for his failures, but there was only one true reason that she had never known: he'd been terrified of her rejection. To see her as a friend had been better than not seeing her at all. "Daphne, I was married when we met, and then the divorce was so...no, no, those are idiot excuses. I never told you because I didn't want to lose you."
"There was so much between us that I didn't think I stood a chance. Rather than putting you in a position where you felt you had to leave, I kept quiet. I couldn't stop the way I was feeling, though. I grew to love you more and more, to the point that every time I came over to Frasier's apartment, it was to see you, not him."
Daphne felt her eyes tear up at his words of past devotion. "I don't know how I never saw the truth. I was angry with you the last time we were together; I felt like everyone else knew but me, that you'd only been my friend as a way to get to me. I didn't know it was the way you said."
Niles shook his head. "I never should have let you think that. I never wanted to disrespect you that way."
"It should have been me that left. Your brother was hurt most of all when you went away. Roz was there for him."
Niles reached forward to embrace her. "Daphne, I didn't leave because of you. I left because of me, what I'd become."
"What do you mean, Dr. Cr- ah, Niles?" She asked, catching herself. "You've always been wonderful. Charming, smart, sweet."
"And always under some woman's heel." He said. "I had lost myself before I ever met you, Miss Moon. As my feelings grew for you, and after that last night, I could see myself clearly for the first time in years. I was weak and dependent on my wives for strength. I was so wrapped up in these meaningless pursuits, I was just unhappy. Daphne, I had to get away from everything to get back to myself. Can you understand that?"
She nodded. "Yes, I can. I just wish things had ended differently between us. I missed you, you know. I missed everything about you."
He shook his head. "I missed you too, Daphne. But time has a way of clearing things."
Her grip tightened on his hand. "Another life, maybe."
His eyes held hers and he nodded. "Another life."
Niles leaned forward and kissed Daphne, first on the cheek and then on the lips. It was soft and warm, a kiss for all that they were to each other in the past. Distantly, Niles remembered her taste from the night of their dance; she tasted hot, sweet and all woman. Intoxicating as she was, Niles ended the kiss and stood up with her.
They parted then, returning to his brother's wedding feeling fulfilled and happy that there was no animosity, no hurt feelings. There was only relief now, and a vague happiness that things were finally resolved between them. They were happy and content with the way things were.
Niles returned to the head table where Jasmine had been chatting with his nephew. Her eyes lighted when she saw him. "Niles, how are things?"
He took her hands in his and kissed her palms. "Everything is fine."
She paused before asking the question that weighed so heavily on her heart. "Niles, will you come back with me?"
He nodded and smiled. "Yes, Paris is waiting for us. But first, Jasmine, I have a request."
She grinned at him, coming back to her vibrant, playful self. "Anything, Niles."
He took her hand and lead her to stand. "I want to dance."
"Just a dance?"
"A few dances, and then back to our room." He murmered against her lips between kisses.
"And then back to our city?"
"Yes. Back to Paris, back to another life."
"Are you happy with me?"
Niles nodded. "I'm happy with myself when I'm with you. For the first time in years." He kissed her again. "Come, Jasmine, let's dance."