AN: Fic written in 2000, set immediately before Something Borrowed Someone Blue. Lots of flagrant theft from authors I admire, particularly Tennessee Williams. But I was in college. Who doesn't plagiarize?

To Not Go Gentle

THE MOON HAS APPEARED AND SHE'S BLUE

I sat on my fainting couch in my best silk dressing gown, legs crossed, champagne on the table before me, thumbing through a new issue of the American Psychiatric Association's journal.

I lowered the journal to my lap and sighed. This was pathetic.

Dinner was completely ready in the kitchen, from hors d'eouvres to dessert – although it was all fairly cold by now. The only thing missing was my date. Mel had called thirty minutes before with profuse apologies. She apparently had to have an emergency meeting with a woman who was getting a tummy tuck the following day. At nine o'clock at night. Yes. Just call me Gullible. Another exciting edition of Gullible's Travels. Yes. So, there I sat, sipping the champagne I had planned on sharing, nibbling on the crab puffs which sat beside the bottle, and reading a yawn-provoking article in the APA's journal.

Did I mention pathetic?

I glanced around my apartment, the home which is entirely too large for my needs and merely serves, most nights, to remind me that I am virtually alone.

I would never leave Montana, of course. The good memories it brings to me are simply too vital to my sanity. It reminds me of my childhood, of hoping and dreaming of someday being affluent enough to live here. It reminds me that that dream has come true, even if others haven't. It reminds me of my brother and of many successful events we've thrown here. It reminds me of spending time with him.

It reminds me of Daphne, as well. We started becoming closer after I moved into the Montana. She even started to drop by once in awhile, although not often, and I became a sort of confidante to her. Which is why she felt comfortable asking to stay over after that fight she had with Sherry, in all likelihood. Then, after my run-in with Schenkman, I suppose she sensed that I myself needed someone in whom to confide, because she started coming by often, two to three times a week. She'd bring a movie, and we'd sit in my upstairs lounge on the leather sofa and watch it together. Then, we'd talk for hours. She listened to me talk about Maris, and I listened to her as she told me about her childhood in Manchester, her family, her first months in America, the men she'd been with. I suppose, in the end, those visits, other than our night of dancing, were what Maris used in her case to claim that I had feelings for Daphne. She never took enough notice of me to have realized before.

But Daphne rarely comes by anymore now that she's engaged, and I've almost stopped dropping by the Elliot Bay Towers altogether.

Because of Donny.

Good Lord. I swallowed the rest of my glass quickly and leaned back

Mel was supposed to make me forget Daphne, of course. And I love Mel, in a way. She's very familiar to me. So much like Maris was.

I glanced down at the coffee table at the bottle of wine. My glass was sitting on an old, tattered copy of Tennessee Williams' plays. I lifted it and thumbed through it absently. For a time, at Yale, I acted. I remember, particularly, playing Brick in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." I was ecstatic to land such a role. It proved my merit as an actor and therefore validated the pastime, for I was nothing like Brick, the pro-football player turned alcoholic. Although then it was just a play, a means to an end, in fact, now I see the genius of Williams' play. I think there's a little bit of every character inside of me. Brick's repressed passion and anguish, Maggie's longing, desire, hurt, regret, and self-contempt. What was it that Maggie said in the play about fires? Laws of silence don't work...

I murmured her speech softly to myself. "When something is festering in your memory or your imagination, laws of silence don't work, it's just like shutting a door and locking it on a house on fire in hope of forgetting that the house is burning. But not facing a fire doesn't put it out. Silence about a thing just magnifies it. It grows and festers in silence..."

I suppose that's like my passion for Daphne. I tell Frasier again and again that it's gone, that I'm over her. But I don't think I'll ever be. It grows with every new thing I learn about her, every new second I spend with her.

I still pondered these things, the agony of Maggie and the silent anger of Brick, book in hand, when I was startled by an abrupt knock on the door.

I set the book down and stood, rubbing my temples slightly to allay the dizziness which accompanied the act, and made my way to the door. "Yes, yes," I muttered. "I'm coming."

I pulled open the door to my apartment and was astonished to find Daphne in my hallway, bathed in the dim light of the blue foyer. Her cheeks were streaked with dried tears, her eyes were slightly red with a desperate gleam, her hair, which she wore quite long now, was falling over her shoulders, although a few chestnut strands clung to her face in the tracks of her tears. She looked devastatingly beautiful, like a tragic heroine awaiting her destiny. "Doctor Crane, I've got to talk to you. May I come in?"

I nodded wordlessly. My mouth was undoubtedly hanging open in a ridiculously foolish expression, but it was beyond my power to move a muscle at that point. Finally, I shook myself to my senses. Oh, the state to which this woman sends me. "Daphne. Yes, of course you may come in. Please, please." I swept my hand toward the rest of the room. "Make yourself at home."

She nodded and made her way to the couch, but before she sat, she caught sight of the champagne. She looked around, saw the candlelit table I had set up in preparation for Mel's arrival, and smiled, embarrassed, beginning to make her way back to the door. "Oh, good Lord. Look at me, barging in here. You're obviously in the middle of something. I'll be leaving, now."

I shook my head and hurried over to her. "No, no. You see, Mel was supposed to come over tonight, but she was –" I paused. How embarrassing to tell the truth, or Mel's version of it, so clearly fabricated. "She was called away at the last minute."

She watched me suspiciously as she smoothed her silky, knee-length purple paisley skirt nervously. "Are you sure?"

I took a deep breath to regain my composure. I must be strong for her. She obviously needs my support. "Quite sure, Daphne. Now, please, have a seat." I smiled self-consciously and continued wryly. "And champagne, if you'd like. Or crab puffs. Or anything of the other three courses I'd prepared for tonight."

She smiled thankfully and sat, and I took my own seat beside her.

At a respectable distance. Close proximity to Daphne always seemed to cause me to behave irrationally. Best to keep a discreet separation.

She sighed deeply. "Thank you for letting me call with no notice, Doctor Crane. I hate to intrude."

I smiled and screwed up my courage. "Ahem. Well, you used to come by quite frequently, Daphne. You haven't for quite awhile. In all honestly, I find myself missing your impromptu visits." I smiled. "And your taste in movies."

She smiled self-consciously and turned away, as if she knew something I didn't and was embarrassed by it, and I knew I'd said the wrong thing. I hastened to cover myself. "Um, yes, well, er – Daphne, you obviously have something important on your mind. Please, go ahead."

When she looked back, her eyes shone with tears. She looked at me desperately, pleadingly. And for a moment, I hoped –

"Doctor Crane, I think I might be pregnant."

Oh, my God. I did not hope for that. Never that. Hyperventilating. Oh, Lord. Breathe, Niles. Breathe. "Daphne –" Still couldn't breath.

Her maternal instincts kicked into gear immediately. She turned toward me and began rubbing my back rhythmically. "It's all right. Deep breaths. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. That's it. You're all right." I slowly regained my breath.

She'll make an extraordinary mother.

Now how on earth to explain my reaction?

"Well," I laughed slightly, crying inside. "This is big news, isn't it?"

She moved away again and sighed. "I had planned on seeing Roz about it, in all honestly. I suppose this isn't something I'd normally confide first to a male friend, no matter how close. But it seems that Bulldog is back. His car was at Roz's apartment... I could almost feel it glaring at me, like, 'Go away! Go away! That mean man who drives me is upstairs with your friend and he'll treat me very badly on the ride home if he has to leave now!' So I left." I smiled. With all my heart I love her quirks and eccentricities, the crazy little things she says. Her psychic premonitions. The time she told us if Eddie were a Beatle he'd be George. I don't know why!

She looked up imploringly. "I know it must seem very unusual for me to come to you with this, but I had to have someone to talk to."

I nodded. "Quite all right. You can always come to me, Daphne. Always." I paused, then began again hesitantly. "So, is this... good news? I suppose I should be congratulating you."

She looked up desperately. "No. Oh, God, no. It's not good news at all."

Oh. Okay. Calm down. My heart was beating wildly. What did this mean? "Are you certain?" Oops. I should probably make that clearer. "I mean, do you know for sure whether or not you really are... er –?"

She shook her head. "No. It's just a feeling, really." She smiled. "I suppose it must seem strange to you, me coming here when I don't really know one way or the other. I suppose men are more concerned with facts and proof than women. I had a feeling, and I just needed someone to listen to me. It always makes me feel better."

I looked down at her clasped hands and put one of mine over them. "Well, Daphne. You know I'll always be here for you." I raised my chin, eyes still lowered, the way I have when I'm either embarrassed or ashamed of what I'm about to say. "This isn't good news, you say?"

She leaned back against the headrest of the fainting couch, like she did on that singular, heated night, her face scrunched slightly in a way that made her look like a pouty little girl. "I'm just so confused."

I sighed. She's worried about being a pregnant bride. There's no sense in hoping for more than that. "Daphne, for what it's worth, many women approach their wedding days already with child. Besides, the wedding is only three weeks away. If it's so important to you, you could lie slightly about the due date. You've nothing to worry about, I assure you. You'll be fine."

She shook her head and sat up, leaning toward me as if expounding the greatest secret of her life. "But you see, Doctor Crane, that's not why I'm worried."

I watched her, confused and nervous, as she stood and began pacing the area in front of my couch. No. I will not let myself be too personally taken with this. I am a psychiatrist. I can act as a psychiatrist. "Ahem. Well, why don't we start by your telling me why it is you suspect that you're pregnant, and then we can discuss why it is not a positive realization for you."

She spun toward me, her eyes afire. Good God, I love it when she's angry with me. Oh, mama!

No, I am a psychiatrist. Cool reserve.

She glared daggers at me. "Don't you dare do that, Doctor Crane."

I watched from my position on the couch as she paced wildly. I was breathing heavily, but I tried not to let it show. "Do what, Daphne?"

She waved at me. "That! That! You're my friend, not my psychiatrist. Don't you dare treat me like another one of your patients. I came here to confide in my best friend, not a doctor."

Best friend, did she say? My heart leapt at the thought. Daphne trusts me that much.

I sighed, then. I couldn't argue. To treat Daphne as a patient is an insult not only to our friendship, but also to my feelings for her. "I'm sorry, Daphne. I just don't know what you want me to say, I suppose."

She took a deep breath, calming down, and shook her head. "No, I'm the one who should be sorry. I barge into your house, force this all on you, despite your obvious discomfort, and then act ungrateful when you try to help." She paused, and I watched her, fascinated. She's exquisite when she's passionate. A comment that could quickly lead to unsavory (or quite savory) thoughts. We're helping Daphne. Helping Daphne. "It started last week." She sighed and came back over to sit beside me. "I began having strange visions. A bit like the ones I was having before the engagement." She looked embarrassed. "I know you don't put much credit in them, though, Doctor Crane. But they made me realize something was wrong. Then, I started to have nightmares. I don't remember any of them, but I woke up for several nights in a row, covered with sweat from head to toe, thrashing about under my sheets wildly, like some animal –"

Oh, good Lord! How can I handle this? The image those words invoke! I dug my fingers into the couch cushion, head lowered to hide my blush, but she wasn't looking toward me to notice.

"And then, after all these frightening signs, Aunt Scarlet is several days late for her monthly visit, if you know what I mean." This time, my blush must've been a deep crimson, and, just my luck, she glanced over at that moment. And smiled. "Oh, don't you see, Doctor Crane? This is why I tried Roz before you. You men, all so modest."

I cleared my throat. "No, quite all right, Daphne, quite all right." I paused. "Why don't you tell me more about those... those visions?"

She nodded. "The first was the same one as before. A man in a wedding tuxedo. But I couldn't see his face."

"All right. Any others?"

"Two more. They were unlike any visions I've ever had. Usually, well, I just see scenes. In these, I was... a sort of active participant."

"And what were you doing?"

She looked up slightly mournfully. "Well, in the first, I was holding a baby. A very happy baby. He was smiling up at me in that adorable way babies have."

I nodded. "Anything unusual about the child? What did it look like?" The psychiatrist in me was still full-force. I was taking mental notes about these images and trying to determine meanings in my mind. And trying to remain as detached as possible.

She closed her eyes, pondering the question. I gazed at her, dazed. She opened her eyes, and I quickly looked at the ceiling.

Ooh, good save, Niles.

"It was a boy. He didn't have any hair yet, but he had bright blue eyes."

I nodded. Most babies do, at any rate. "Anything else in that one?"

She nodded solemnly. "A man standing beside me."

"Donny?" I cringed to consider him.

"I don't know. I couldn't see him. I suppose it must've been Donny, though."

I nodded. Well, damn. These didn't sound terrible at all. They sounded wonderful. I didn't even know if I could stand to hear the last. I had to, though. "And the last... vision?"

She nodded. "I was on the beach. Not one of those crowded, commercial beaches, a very rocky, abandoned beach. I could smell the sea. It smelled salty. There was a little boy. He had his back turned to me. He was crouched over by the water, watching it come up and lap over his feet. I called his name and reached out to him and he started to turn around toward me."

I winced. That didn't sound so foreboding, either. "And this is not all a sign that you want children?"

She wrung her hands together again and looked down at her lap, clearly upset. "Well, you see, the way I see it, all these visions connect together into a sort of storyline. A man, a baby, a little boy. But it obviously wasn't MY little boy. He had bright blonde hair."

All righty. Well. I hoped my voice didn't waver when I spoke again. "Did you notice anything else about him?"

She shook her head. "His back was to me."

"I thought you said you called his name? And he turned around?"

"No. I know that I did call it, but I don't know what it was. I just had a feeling that I had said it. And he had only just begun to turn when the vision ended."

I sighed. "But you say you're not sure about the pregnancy? Haven't taken one of those home tests or anything?"

She looked down at her purse nervously. "No. I've been carrying one around with me for several days, but I haven't had the nerve. And I don't know what I'd do, to find out by myself and be alone with a load like that. I needed to talk to someone first."

I looked at my hands nervously. "Well, Daphne, you could always – What I mean to say is that you could –" I took a deep breath. "If you'd like to have someone with you while you're taking –" Oh, God. "Err... waiting for the results, I'd be happy to – That is, you could do it here..." By this time I was fidgeting nervously, my head turned completely away from her.

I didn't expect her to embrace me. "Oh, Doctor Crane, would you really do that for me? It would be so wonderful to have someone here for me."

I turned back toward her, trying to hold onto my confident facade and protect my soft, nerve-wracked underbelly from her view. "Of course I would, Daphne. Do you want to do it now?" She nodded hesitantly. "You know where the bathroom is, of course." We stood together as I ushered her toward the stairs.

She nodded as we walked and then looked over at me at me timidly. "I'm scared."

Daphne, scared? This was big. I've never seen her scared before. Of course, there was the time she came to my office, after her initial visions, but that was nothing compared to this. I wondered which prospect truly scared her more. Or if it was just the uncertainty. "I'm here for you. Go ahead upstairs now."

She nodded and left.

I don't know what had held me together before. Perhaps the knowledge that she needed me.

Now, I fell apart.

I grabbed the edge of my couch for support and lowered myself back onto it. I felt my breath begin to catch again. I glanced at my hands. I was shaking like a leaf.

Daphne, pregnant?

The thought terrified me.

Because I've always been able to pretend, and I supposed I'd have gone on pretending until the end, that there was a chance for us. That she would realize that I'm here for her and devoted to her and always will be, forever and ever till death do us part. And that she would reciprocate my feelings.

No more.

There had always been something possessive about Donny that made me cringe. I found it almost offensive. Of course, maybe I merely interpreted the displays of affection of a man in love as possessive because I myself stood so far from possessing her myself.

But I would never want to possess Daphne. I don't think that Daphne could ever be possessed. She's a free spirit, utterly her own.

Perhaps this is why Donny's possessive, showy nature offends me. Not for my own sake, but for hers. Because Daphne should never be other than her own.

But... pregnant by Donny – that changed that. It joined them forever. It made at least a part of Daphne Donny's.

The woman who belonged to no one, suddenly chained.

I heard a noise behind me, and I turned around. She was standing at the top of the stairs looking at me over the railing. She looked sad.

I held my hand out to her, and she walked over to me, taking my outstretched hand in hers as she sat down beside me. I put my arm around her, surprised at my courage, and held her to me, her head nestled in the crook of my neck.

But I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at myself. After all, there was no risk, now. Daphne no longer could be mine. Her visions were an eccentricity, yes, but, finally, even I, a doctor, am forced to note that they always seem to contain a grain of truth. She has an incredible intuition, at the very least. She must be pregnant.

I bent my head forward and whispered into her hair. "So now we wait?" She nodded against me. She shook slightly. She was crying. I tightened my grip around her shoulders. "Don't worry. You'll be fine. You're strong."

"You're right. I'll be okay."

We sat like that for a few moments, her breath heavy against me. Another time, another place, and this would be heaven. "Daphne?"

"Mmmhhph." Her muffled answer.

"Why are you so scared? Why is this not a good thing?"

She sat up slightly and looked at me, confused. "I'm not quite sure, to be honest. It's just a feeling I have, deep inside. Dread."

I rubbed her shoulder. "But you want children. You've always said so."

She nodded. "Yes, I do. I want children more than anything. But not –" Suddenly, her hand flew to her mouth as if she had been about to utter something terrible.

I watched her carefully. "But not what, Daphne? What were you going to say?"

She shook her head and smiled slightly. "No, it was silly. Ridiculous, in fact. I can't imagine what made such a horrid thought come to my head."

"What was it, Daphne? You can tell me."

She watched me closely, as if judging me, and then smiled self-consciously. "Well, I almost said 'But not Donny's.' Can you imagine?"

Good Lord.

My God.

I tried to smile, as if I thought it were ridiculous, too.

Suddenly, my bedroom alarm clock went off with a loud series of BEEPs. I looked at her questioningly. "I set it to go off in fifteen minutes. I can check, now."

She didn't move, though. Not a muscle. "Would you like me to come?" She nodded, then, and I stood up, pulling her after me. She kept ahold of my hand as she led me up the stairs toward my bedroom.

Another time, another place...

She first shut off the alarm clock, which had been blaring incessantly. Then, she led me to the bathroom.

My bathroom. Oh, God, to hear such crushing news somewhere so intimate. I might have to switch rooms after this.

The test was lying on the sideboard beside the sink. She seemed afraid to go near it, so I came up behind her and laid my hands on her shoulders in what I hoped would be interpreted as a gesture of comfort.

Remind me again where I garnered such courage? Ah, yes. I'm being strong for Daphne.

I watched over her shoulder. Slowly, very slowly, she lifted the test. I didn't look at the result. I didn't feel it was my place to know before she did. I watched her face, instead. Her eyes were closed as she took a deep breath. Then, she opened her eyes, blinked twice, and sucked in a breath sharply. And smiled. I looked at the piece of plastic in front of her.

Negative.

Oh, my God.

Negative.

Impossible. I was so sure she was right.

Negative.

Oh, thank God.

She spun around and threw her arms around my shoulders, burying her face into the crook of my neck. Well, "clung to me for dear life" might have been a more applicable description, as I found it slightly hard to breathe with the vice-grip she had on my neck. At first, I didn't know what to do, but as reality hit me, I found I could breathe again, and I wrapped my arms around her waist and held her. I smiled. "You're all right."

It was a surreal feeling, altogether. I was embracing Daphne in my bathroom, in my dressing gown, my back pressed hard against the sink. Just enough fantasy to be exquisite, just enough reality to be... well, real.

She pulled back and smiled at me. "Oh, dear goodness. I don't know how to thank you, Doctor Crane. You're such a wonderful friend."

I smiled. "No thanks needed, Daphne. I'm happy I could be here for you."

She nodded and glanced at her watch. It must've been after ten by that time. "Oh, I should get going. I told your brother and your father I'd be at Roz's."

Quickly, I sought for reasons for her to stay.

Watch a movie?

I don't own any movies besides documentaries and instructional cooking videos. She brings the movies.

Dinner?

Cold as a brick now.

Dessert?

Probably not much better, but a possibility.

Read?

I should think not. Crash course in the dull reality of my life.

Write?

What's next, arithmetic?

Talk?

We've done quite enough of that to emotionally exhaust me for the night.

Darn socks?

Straws, pulling at straws.

"Daphne, I made Creme Brulee for Mel. Of course, she didn't show up. Would you care to stay for dessert?"

In the end, she did. We didn't say much, though. She told me it was delicious.

It was pretty good, actually. And, with Daphne's help, I'd gotten the proportions in the caramel topping just right. Cooking with Daphne is a glorious experience. I try to find as many excuses to get us together in the kitchen as I can. Of course, the last time, we cooked dinner for Mel...

She left quickly after that. I'm sure she was even more drained than I. I bid her good night at ten fifty.

Knowing absolutely that despite my exhaustion I'd never get to sleep.

I sat on my fainting couch, picked up the current edition of the American Psychiatric Association's journal, and began to read.


LAWS OF SILENCE INDEED

I heaved a sigh as I unlocked the front door of Elliot Bay Towers' apartment 1901.

Bloody hell. What a night.

The lights were low, but they were awake, watching tv. The screen sent out a bright, fluorescent glow illuminating Mister Crane, Doctor Crane, and... Roz?

As I walked in, they all looked up, startled, and Doctor Crane jumped up to switch on the overhead lights. "Daphne! Where have you been? We thought you'd be at Roz's, but when we called and you weren't there... and you weren't at Donny's..." He rubbed his face. "Well, you've been so tense these past few days, I thought maybe..." He stamped his foot. "Oh, all right, I was worried about you. There, are you all happy?"

I smiled nervously at him. "No worries. I'm fine."

Roz stood up and walked over. "Well, Daph, where'd you go? I mean, you never stopped by my place, so we sorta got concerned. And, like Frasier said, Donny hadn't seen you either, so –"

I raised an eyebrows at her. "Well, Roz, I would've come by, but a certain cuddly canine was parked in front of your building..."

She blushed and sat back down on the sofa, avoiding Doctor Crane's glare. "Bulldog, Roz? Is THAT what you said I was interrupting? Oh, for God's sake." He turned back to me, his face taking on a sudden pleading quality. "Well, where'd you go, Daphne?"

Mister Crane stood up from his chair, leaning on his cane. "Aw, Jeez, Fras. Leave the poor kid alone. As if it's any of your business." With that, he waved his goodnights and hobbled back to his room.

Doctor Crane waited until he was gone. "I'm serious, Daphne. Where have you been?"

"I said leave her alone, you moron!" Mister Crane's yell echoed from the back of the apartment. I grinned.

"I went to visit your brother, all right?"

He looked surprised. "Oh, really?"

I watched him carefully. "And just why is that so bloody hard to believe?"

He responded in that little innocent, sing-songy tone he has which is really not innocent at all. "Oh, no, Daphne. Not at all hard to believe. Not at all." He leaned slightly on the arm of the couch, picking at the suede absently, his chin raised slightly as his eyes were trained down at his hand in the same expression his brother has when he's about to say something he's either embarrassed or ashamed about but wants to look innocent. "So did you two have a good time?"

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, bloody hell. We talked. That's it. Why does it matter to you?" I walked past him toward my room.

He kept the same expression, eyes down, chin up. "Oh, really? Talked about what?"

I'd had about enough of him by that time, let me assure you, so I turned around, my hands on my hips. "No, we didn't talk about you. We didn't talk about women who might or might not be dating possibilities for you. We didn't talk about your behavior. We didn't talk about your merits or your many, many faults. We didn't talk about you at all." Roz sniggered a bit. "We talked about personal things."

His head shot up. Oh, dear, now he's going to think – "He told you?" Sure enough. Roz looked surprised, as well. She's the only one I'd confided in regarding my little Christmas discovery. She was asking me a thousand questions with her expression: "He told you? What did you say? What did you do? Did you disappoint him? Did you give in to him? Did he kiss you? Did you kiss him? Have you spent the past two hours making the beast with two backs?" I could see them all running through her head (if you ask me, she could stand to grow up just a bit, clean out that filthy mind of hers), and it made me crazy. After all, I've been trying to block out Doctor Crane's little disclosure for months, but every time Doctor Crane touches me or hugs me or looks at me, I feel... And tonight was worst of all. Or best of all. Or bloody something.

But I was blocking it out. Out of my mind. Slamming the door on any thoughts of that nature. Really, as if I needed to be thinking such things with just three weeks to go before I tie the knot!

I frowned at them, feeling close to tears, ready to burst. "Oh, bloody hell! If anything HAD happened, you two would be the LAST BLOODY PAIR ON EARTH I'd tell!" I yelled in frustration as I stormed back to my room.

Dear God. With ragged emotions and raging hormones like these, it's a wonder I'm NOT pregnant.

Behind me, I could hear Mister Crane, muttering, "I told you not to ask her, Fras, but do you ever listen? No..."


ENVIABLY COOL, FOR A TIME

The next day, I walked into Cafe Nervosa at my standard time to find Niles already seated, apparently waiting for me. Just the man I wanted to see.

"Niles!" I cried jovially as I approached him. I wanted to assure he'd be open to discussing this with me. "So how did last night go?"

He watched me curiously as he stirred his coffee. "How did what exactly about last night go?"

The waitress approached. "What will you be having, sir?"

I smiled. "My usual." She looked doubtful. "Oh, for God's sake, just make something up!" She left abruptly, and I grinned innocently at my brother. "Why, your date with Mel, of course."

He looked down indifferently. "Oh. She was detained. I haven't seen her today, either. She's had back to back surgeries all day."

I tried to hold up my carefree facade before I broke down, leaned on the table, and looked at him desperately. "Oh, come on, Niles. I know you were with Daphne last night. Tell me what happened. I simply must know!"

He looked up with that incredulous but bored looked plastered on his face. "Oh, you must, must you?"

Oh, how he infuriates me...

"Oh, come on, Niles." It wasn't exactly a whine, but it was embarrassingly close. "You know you can't keep anything from me for too long. We tell each other everything. It's... it's brotherly bonding. You can't break that now."

I could see his resolve cracking. "Why? Did Daphne say something about it?"

I eyed him and grinned suggestively. "Oh, she said enough, Niles. She said enough..."

He looked shocked. "What do you mean?"

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, I can put two and two together, Niles. She's been miserable and tense all week long. She goes to your apartment, where all sorts of things are revealed and you have a deep personal discussion, and she comes home a new woman." I paused. "You told her, didn't you?"

He blinked several times dumbly. "No, Frasier, I told her nothing, although I find myself frankly flattered you'd assume such a revelation would cause said effect in our Daphne." He says that, sometimes, and it always carries a note of sad and resigned fondness: "Our Daphne." He tries to make some part of her his.

I'm embarrassed to admit that it took me so long to realize he's really in love with her.

He took a sip of his coffee as mine arrived.

"All right, Niles. You don't have to tell me anything." I crossed my legs and looked across the Cafe, taking small sips of my coffee (NOT my usual – apparently my suggestion of making something up had been taken seriously), avoiding watching his own annoying stirring and sipping routine. First, my fingers began tapping the table. Then, my foot started twitching nervously. I turned to him. "Oh, I can't take it anymore! You've got to tell me."

He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Oh, all right. But only because I need a bit of advice from you. Let's call it a psychological second opinion."

I nodded. "All right."

I took a sip of my coffee.

"Daphne told me last night that she thought she was pregnant."

And promptly spewed it all over my brother's face.

He grimaced in disgust and pulled out his handkerchief to dab his brow. "Yes, Frasier, nothing cries brotherly bonding like your own flesh and blood's flying spittle."

I ignored him. "She told you WHAT?"

He smiled wryly. "Yes, I had a similar reaction. Only instead of being unable to swallow, I found myself unable to breathe. She had to calm me down."

Oh, Lord. He attempts to blames his condition on an "abnormally small windpipe." I could just imagine poor Daphne's face. "I'm sure you made quite a little scene."

"I won't tell you if you continue to interject. Or if you spit again, for that matter."

I waved him on, dabbing my upper lip with my handkerchief. "Continue, brother."

"Yes. Ahem. She told me she thought she might be – Daphne."

"How astute of her. And you wonder why I hired her," I muttered before noticing my brother gazing at the door of the Cafe. I followed his line of sight. "Oh. Daphne."

"Daphne!" he called out, standing. She smiled and made her way over to us. And leaned over to give him a quick kiss on the cheek.

What?

"I saw the two of you sitting in here and simply had to come say hello. How is everyone? It's such a lovely day today that I couldn't stand to be cooped up in the apartment."

He was gazing at her, smiling, satisfied. "Yes, it's beautiful. And we're simply wonderful. How about joining us?" He gestured to the seat beside his and even pulled it out slightly.

She laughed and smiled. "Oh, no. I can't stay. Your father and Eddie are outside waiting, and I've got to meet a girlfriend of mine for lunch in just a few minutes. She's only just flown in, so I of course made this lunch a top priority. You see, I was going to have lunch today with Donny, but now we've rescheduled for tonight." When you want to hear the whole story, every mundane detail, go to our Daphne.

I watched my brother carefully at her mention of Donny. His face clouded briefly, but not to the extent that it usually does. I looked up at her. "Well, goodbye, Daphne," I said softly. My God. Pregnant? She's having dinner with Donny. To tell him?

How is my brother still standing?

She smiled. "G'day Doctor Crane, Doctor Crane."

Niles smiled. "Yes, goodbye, Daphne." Oh, the way he says her name. He puts a slow emphasis on the first syllable and glides smoothly over the second, always slightly bashful, as if he's in awe of it. It's amazing, really. I wonder if I'll ever say a woman's name like that.

Lilith.

LIL-ith.

LI-lith.

No, it doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

He paused. "Perhaps I'll see you again today."

She nodded, still smiling, and left. I turned to my brother. "Pregnant?"

He tore his eyes away from her and shook his head. "No, she was scared she was. You see, she'd had these visions –" I rolled my eyes. "– and she's been having nightmares, and –" He looked down self-consciously, his cheeks turning red. "Well, you know."

I sniggered incredulously. "Let me guess. Her cycle's not quite in line with her star sign this month."

He shot a harsh glare at me. "Don't you dare mock her, Frasier."

I bristled. He's never gotten angry with me for joking about Daphne's oddities before. Yes, I've heard him angry with Dad before for arguing with her, and there was that instance with his poor couple's therapy group when he yelled at dear Janice that Daphne was clean and pure and decent, but he's usually not truly angry with me about her. "I was kidding, Niles." He sighed and relaxed. "Go on."

"These visions – there were three. The first was the same as the old, the faceless man in a wedding tuxedo."

I rolled my eyes. "Any more dragons to speak of?" Dad told me about that one later. Oh, Daphne, Daphne, Daphne. Dear, eccentric Daphne.

He looked confused. "No, no. Just a man." He paused. "In the second, she wasn't simply an onlooker, she was a participant. She was holding a baby, I assume her child, and this same man, I assume the father, is standing behind her." He sighed. "The third is of a little boy wading in the water at a beach. She calls to him and reaches for him, and he turns toward her."

I sat up straighter. Daphne has always fascinated me psychologically, but I've never felt free to openly analyze her. Now, the chance was amazingly tempting. Yet these "visions" seemed... well, too ordinary for Daphne. "Niles, you said she was having nightmares and was scared about being pregnant. These images seem perfectly happy. Anticipatory, in fact."

Niles nodded. "And that's what I asked her. She told me that what frightened her was that the child clearly wasn't hers. He had blonde hair and blue eyes."

He said that deliberately, as if I was supposed to garner from it some great meaning. I sighed. "Niles, you want this all to point to you, but it doesn't have to. You realize that."

He shook his head. "I do. I do realize that. But that's not why I want you to hear this out."

I nodded. "All right. Go ahead."

"So I pondered this and thought to myself, 'But Daphne's always wanted children!' So I asked her. 'I thought you wanted children?' Do you know what she said, Frasier?" His eyes gleamed. I shook my head. "She said, 'But not–' and stopped. I asked her to continue. She said that she'd been about to say 'But not Donny's,' before she caught herself. She brushed it off as silly and ridiculous, but Frasier..."

"All right, Niles, so how do you know she's not pregnant?"

He leaned back and took a sip of his coffee haughtily, as if I should have known all along. "Because she took the test at my apartment."

She what?

"She what?"

"You heard me."

I sighed. This was growing stranger by the second. "And it was negative."

He looked at me curiously. "I've never seen her so scared as before she found out, and I've rarely seen her so happy as she was after she got the result. She stayed at the Montana afterward to eat the dessert I'd prepared for Mel." He paused. "What's your take on all this, Frasier? I don't want to think I'm jumping to a hasty conclusion, you know, seeing simply what I want to see. I did that last time, and we see what happened."

"Well, Niles, as much as I hate to get your hopes up, it sounds to me as though she's having serious subconscious reservations about her relationship with Donny. A child psychologically represents a part of oneself which will eternally join one to another person. Regardless of divorce, regardless of death, half of a child will always be someone else. That represents a huge commitment, and she is clearly not prepared to make one of this magnitude to him. And if she's not prepared for this, she can't logically think she's prepared for marriage."

Niles nodded thoughtfully. "Your thoughts echo mine precisely." He looked up at me. "And do you realize what this could mean for me? She's been my dream, Frasier, for seven years. Now I find incontrovertible proof that she is not satisfied with her current state of involvement. If I could – If she could – Oh, Frasier, I felt so close to her last night." He gazed off into space dreamily in that way he only has when speaking of her. I coughed and glared at him.

"Niles, if she ends her engagement, you must not approach her too quickly. She'll need time."

He returned my glare. "You tell me that every time, Frasier, and it ruins me every time!" He sighed. "But, Frasier, she has no intention of leaving him. You realize that. She's loyal to the core. She would never spring this on him now, at least not without some serious influence behind her. Perhaps the influence of a psychiatrist..." He paused and looked up at me. "Will you talk to her, Frasier?"

I did a double take. "What? Of course not! I think we both know whose place it is to talk to her."

He crinkled his brow a bit and then smiled. "Of course! Roz!"

"Oh, for God's sake! It's you, you numbskull! Good Lord, this coffee's terrible! I'm leaving!"

"Oh, no you're not. Because I'm leaving." He set his coffee cup down, lifted his briefcase, and stood up. "Goodbye, brother. I'll see you later."

I was still sitting at the table, a grimace plastered on my face, when Roz walked up and took her seat where Niles had been. She rolled her eyes. "Oh, Lord, Frasier, who died? What's eating YOU?"

I pondered impatiently whether or not to tell her. Finally I shook my head and said tensely, "Oh, all right. The reason Daphne has been acting strangely is that she thought she was pregnant."

Roz looked up, astonished. "Daphne's PREGNANT?" she practically yelled.

And then, as if the whole situation wasn't terrible enough, a little wiry black head of hair turned toward us from the door to the Cafe, through which he had just entered. His eyes were wide, his mouth agape. He looked confused, as if he didn't know whether to be delighted or utterly stricken. He seemed to be favoring "stricken." "Daph's pregnant?"


BEFORE HE KNOCKED (AND AFTER)

I looked up from my folding at the knock on the door. Then I glanced over at Mister Crane. He was being an absolute bear today, which was part of the reason I urged him to go on that walk earlier and all of the reason I'd been so desperate to have lunch out. He sat on his chair, Eddie in his lap, both of them staring at the tv. Neither twitched a muscle.

I rolled my eyes. "Ahem. 'Daphne, would you mind getting that? I'd greatly appreciate it.' 'Oh, no, not at all Mister Crane. I'd be delighted.' 'Oh, thank you Daphne. What would I ever do without you? We all appreciate you so much around here.'" I shook my head when he still didn't move and went to the door. I was surprised at who it was. After all, he hadn't been around very much recently. When he was here, it always seemed to be with Mel. "Well, hello again, Doctor Crane."

He smiled and buried his hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat self-consciously. "Daphne." He looked up at his father. "Hi Dad." Mister Crane still didn't move except to mutter, "Son." What a git. Doctor Crane looked back at me. "I was hoping to talk to you, Daphne."

I looked at him curiously. "Don't you have appointments this afternoon?"

He looked down at his feet. "Err– no. I've rearranged my schedule for today a bit."

Oh, dear. What's this about? He doesn't generally flip his schedule about just to see me. Unless it's finally about – Ever since Christmas, I'd been terrified and excited both every time he and I were alone together. "Of course, Doctor Crane. Why don't you come in? I'm just folding the laundry."

He looked at his father pointedly, and then back at me. "Actually, I was hoping that we could perhaps go to the park. Take a walk –"

Well, regardless of whether the mongrel had been paying attention before, he was listening now. Before Doctor Crane could say another word, Eddie was sitting at his feet, leash in his mouth. I tried to smile past my worry of what our little chat would be about. "Eddie seems to think that that's a fine idea. Would you like to leave now?" He nodded, and I glanced back at his father as I hooked Eddie. "I'm leaving. You need anything before I go, you lazy old sod?"

His gaze didn't leave the tv. "Another Ballantine."

"Well this time you can bloody well get it yourself. I won't be around forever, you know. In three weeks, I'll be a married woman." With that, I stepped out into the hallway.


THE LIPS THAT SPOKE A WORD FELLED AN ENGAGEMENT

"Oh my God."

"Oh my God."

"Oh my God."

"Donny's standing there."

I shook my head. "Not anymore. He just walked out the door. I should go after him and clear this up."

We sat a few seconds in silence. "Well," she began, "Are you going?"

I took a sip of my coffee. "I'm trying to figure out how exactly to explain how we all know when she never even mentioned it to him."

She grimaced at me, stood, and grabbed my arm. "Oooh, come on! We'll figure out how to save this on the way!" I let myself be dragged toward the door. As we were leaving, she looked at me again in awe. "Daphne's pregnant?"

Oh, for God's sake. I'd explain on the way to find her poor fiance.


OUR HERO BARES HIS NERVES

We walked for a little while in the park in silence, Eddie, whose leash I had the job of holding, stopping every few feet to leave his calling card. I've figured out his game, though. You see, he acts very brave and daring when he's just around us. But the second a German shepherd comes over to cover Eddie's trail with his own, Dad's little pooch turns tail and cowers.

He just PRETENDS to be brave.

Much like me, when I pause to consider. When he's comfortable, he's confident and will stare at Frasier until my brother's face turns blue with yelling. But beyond his comfort zone, he's scared. I suppose that would do a fine job of explaining why I ran back to Maris all those times.

Oh, good Lord. I'm comparing myself to a dog.

I wonder if all these similarities mean that I, too, am like that fourth, least-known Beatle, the one that always seems to fade into the background when compared to the others? I don't know why!

I'm stalling. Must say something. "Oh, Daphne, isn't that a lovely tree? A dogwood. Dogwoods are actually in the Cornaceae family, you know, but this one is a Pacific dogwood, which would make it Cornaceae nutal –" I stopped myself. I have a tendency to ramble on ridiculous topics when I'm nervous; she was looking at me like I'd gone mad. Wonderful beginning. I took a deep breath. "Daphne, there's something very particular I'd like to talk to you about."

She stopped in her tracks and turned toward me anxiously. "Yes?" She looked a bit like she had on the balcony that night... The night I asked her to return Mel's Christmas present.

Another deep breath. "I've been thinking –" I paused and looked at the ground as I ran my hand through my hair nervously. What if I was wrong? What if this was the last thing in the world she wanted to hear?

"Yes?" Her expression was still anxious and expectant.

I pushed it out. "I've been thinking about your visions, Daphne, and I think they're very important."

She looked down. "Oh." She sounded almost disappointed.

"No, no, Daphne, come sit down," I quickly cut in, leading her toward a wooden bench. So great was my urgency that I didn't even dust it off. Imagine! "Daphne." I took one of her hands in mine, Eddie's leash looped around one of my wrists, and looked into her eyes. She looked – dare I pray – hopeful. I took a deep breath. "I don't think you should marry Donny."

She didn't looked angry. She didn't look confused. She looked as though she'd expected it. She was smiling. Just slightly, at the corners of her mouth. "Oh you don't, do you?"

I shook my head. "No. I don't. In my psychological opinion –"

Her face suddenly clouded. "In your what?"

I was breathing rapidly now, my nerves firing. I rushed through what I had to say mechanically. "In my psychological opinion, your visions are a clear sign that you are not prepared to commit to him now and probably never will be. A child represents a... a permanent bond, more real than marriage, even, and your reaction to that– You weren't only uncomfortable, you were terrified. Daphne, you can't hide from me. I know you. You meant what you started to say. The pregnancy only scared you because you're not sure if Donny's right for you. And Daphne, if you're not sure now, three weeks from your wedding, then he's not. I've never claimed to know what makes you happy, Daphne, but I do know when you're happy, and I could see last night –" I looked up at her. "I just want you to be happy. And I'm not convinced that he is able to give you that." I was revealing more of myself in that than I'd ever revealed to her. And it terrified me.

She smiled a bit shyly. "Are you sure you don't have an ulterior motive behind this little speech, Doctor Crane?"

I blinked. Again. A third time. Opened my mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. I felt like little Michael Banks in Mary Poppins, when he's told that he resembles a codfish.

Finally, I worked up the courage to say it. I had it prepared. It was short and to the point: "Yes, Daphne. I'm saying this because I'm in love with you, and I have been for seven years. Marry me." But before I could say a word of it, a familiar short, stocky figure ran up to us. "Daph!" Donny called. "Thank God I found you!" She stood up, a shocked expression on her face, as he hugged her.

"Donny," she said. I myself didn't acknowledge him, but he didn't acknowledge me, either.

He was panting a bit. He looked happy and terrified at once. "Daph, why didn't you tell me?"

She wrinkled her brow a bit and spoke nervously. "Tell you what, exactly?"

He was still breathing hard. "That you're pregnant, of course."

Oh, my God.

Oh, my God.

I'm the only one she told.

I told Frasier.

And somehow... Oh, I should know by now that my brother has the biggest mouth in Seattle.

The looked she shot me froze me. She looked confused. Then betrayed. Hurt.

And angry.

Furious.

At me.

This time, I wouldn't enjoy our fight. It wasn't about something so simple as a soap opera. It would spear us to the core.

She returned Donny's hug. "Let's go get some coffee, shall we? I've got some things to explain."

He nodded, and they left, he with a smile, she with only a cold nod at me.

I stared at Eddie, who had wound his leash around my legs in a way that ensured that, should I stand, I would fall on my face.

As if I hadn't already.

I wanted to cry. I couldn't breath.

She'd never leave him, now.


We sat side by side on the window bench in Cafe Nervosa. We'd talked a little, and she'd explained that she'd been suspicious but that it'd turned out to be nothing.

She also explained that Frasier found out before anyone because he found the box of the pregnancy test in the kitchen.

It made sense.

She didn't tell me how she felt about it.

I've always wanted kids. And when I thought she might be pregnant, I was ecstatic. Just jumping out of my skin, really.

Now, I was disappointed, but I knew we'd have other chances. I mean, God, we weren't even married yet. We had time, ya know?

Daph was looking away from me, out the window, and man, she looked crushed. Devastated. Like her best friend had just walloped her one or something. Damn, I've never seen her look so bad. She was fighting back tears, I could tell.

"Daph, it's okay. We've got years and years to think about this. We don't have to have kids right now. Maybe we'll try again after we're married. It's okay."

She looked over me and nodded tearfully, but I got the impression that there was a hell of a lot more to this than she was letting on.

I mean, I'm a divorce lawyer. I see these things, ya know?

And come to think of it, what were she and Niles doing out in the park, anyway? He hates the park.

I shook my head. No sense in filling my head with ridiculous notions. As if Niles was plotting to break us up or something. Niles couldn't plot himself out of a paper bag. "C'mon, Daph. We'll go get some dinner, okay?"


A CRACK IN THE WALL? – OF COMPOSURE?

or

MARTIN TRACKS HIM DOWN

When I finally found him, he was sitting in the park, Eddie's leash wrapped about ten times around his ankles. He was bent over, his elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands. His hair was all out of place and everything. His trenchcoat was falling open, all crooked and stuff. His tie was loosened, and the top button of his shirt was unbuttoned.

Aww, Jeez. Something's eating him.

Bad, too.

Niles usually doesn't let anybody see him when he's not immaculately groomed. I mean, ever since he was a kid, it's been, 'Dad, could you make sure my hair's combed down in the back?' or 'Dad, would you press my tie?' or 'Dad, did you take my boy scout uniform to the dry cleaners?' or 'Dad, what do you think you can do about these stains in my cooking apron?' or, for that week that I made him try tee-ball, 'Dad, if I have to wear this ridiculous jersey, could we at least bleach it so it's not quite so dingy?' Ah, who was he kidding? He didn't play long enough to even get dust on it. The first time he swung the bat at the ball, he missed and hit the tee. He got so scared when the rubber tee bounced back at him that he ran crying into the stands, where Hester told him he didn't have to play if he didn't want to. He'll tell you he won't go to baseball games because he can't stand the smell of boiled peanuts, but now you know the REAL story.

But the point is that something had to be really out of whack for him to be like this in a public place.

Which reminds me, something's missing in this picture. He left with – Aw, man, how could I have missed it? I rushed up to him – well, as much as I can rush anywhere. "Hey, Niles, where's Eddie?"

No worry, though. The little guy poked his head out from under the bench, right between my son's ankles. Thank God.

Niles looked up at me, then. And boy did he look like he'd been through the wringer. "Hi, Dad."

I sat down beside him. "What's wrong, son?"

He shook his head. "It's a really long story, Dad."

My eyes widened as I remembered a story I myself'd heard just a little while ago. "That reminds me of a story I just heard a little while ago. Donny came by! Yeah, something about Daph being pregnant! Then, like five minutes after he left, FRASIER and ROZ came by, all sweaty and panting, saying they had to FIND Donny!" I shook my head. "Can you imagine?"

He looked at me like he could imagine that very well.

I took a deep breath. "I was hoping Daphne'd be here with you, to be honest. I came to apologize to her. I was pretty bad to her this morning." I stopped. "Ya know, come to think of it, I've been pretty bad to her for a couple of weeks now. I think it's just because she's leaving. I'm really gonna miss her, and I guess I'm trying to sort of cut the tie voluntarily before I have to let her go. Distancing myself, you know. Maybe I think it'll hurt less this way." I elbowed him. "How's that for some psychiatry from your old dad?" He smiled weakly, and I shook my head. "Aww, Jeez, son, is what Donny said what this is about? Damn. I can imagine how hard this is. I mean, you never really had to deal with it before, but now that she's pregnant –"

"She's not pregnant, Dad."

I looked over at him. "What?"

And that's when he started on the whole story. Every damn sentence of it.

Poor kid. The things he goes through. He's always had it rough, ever since he was a kid.

"It's okay, son. We'll get through this."


DAPHNE THE CAT

I sat on my bed, my hands folded behind my head, thinking about my night and day.

I'd had dinner with Donny. He tried to "reassure" me that we'd have more chances to have children.

Which only depressed me further, because I know Doctor Crane was right in what he told me in the park.

At least, part of it. Yes, I'm afraid of making a commitment like this. But that does not mean that I'm not ready. It's like jumping in the deep end of a pool for the first time. You just do it. You might be scared, but you jump all the way in, and for a little while it's terrible and suffocating and you think you're going to die, but you eventually come to the top again.

Unless you're like little brother Michael, of course, and then you're hurled in by brother Nigel without your consent and have to be hauled out by the paramedics.

But after you come to the surface, you're able to tread water. You're fine.

Of course, is that what I want to be? "Treading water," "fine"?

I'd never leave him, of course. Not without a damn good reason. I make it a habit not to leave men. I stick it out, wait to be left. The only time I ever left anything in my life was when I came to America.

But that was because of Billy. Billy told me to come. That I didn't want to end up like Mum, that I needed to get away while I could.

So I did.

Billy gave me the reason, the push I needed.

Which Doctor Crane, in his current state, is certainly not able to do.

My God, how could he bloody do this to me?

I don't think I love Donny.

Nice segue, Daphne. But I've said it.

A few strains from one of my favorite plays came to me, then, and I closed my eyes, remembering the production Billy took me to in London that day. The only theatre production in London I ever went to. That was the day he told me I had to leave.

I spoke them softly to myself as I hugged my knees to my chest, my eyes squeezed closed. "What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof? – I wish I knew... Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can." I balled up my fists, speaking louder now. "I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof!" What was Brick's response? Then jump off the roof, jump off it, cats can jump off roofs and land on their four feet uninjured! I shook my head. "Well, I'm taking no chances. No, I'd rather stay on this hot tin roof."

A hot tin roof's 'n uncomfo'table place t' stay on...

Yes. What else did Maggie say? Life must be allowed to continue even after the dream of life's gone. Isn't that right? Something along those lines.

Yes, I'd rather stay on this hot tin roof.

I could feel the tears springing up, but I wouldn't let them.

In three weeks, I will be Missus Donald Ronald Douglas.

What's so bad about that?

I'm emotional. I'm having mood swings because I'm nervous. Yelling at Roz and Doctor Crane last night proves that. And everyone's nervous so close to their wedding.

I heard my door creak a bit. I opened my eyes and looked at it. Eddie was poking his head in.

"Oh, come here, you little mongrel." He ran over and jumped onto my bed beside me. I held him to me. It made me feel good to have him so near. "What on earth are we going to do when you're not around anymore, my little bloke?"

Then I stopped. What would it matter to me, really? I won't live here anymore. I tell the Cranes I'll be around almost as often as I am now, but I know that's not true. It'll start by me missing the little things. The little fights between Doctor Crane and his father. Come to think of it, I probably won't see Doctor Crane very much at all, anymore. He'll be gone to work around the time I'm working with his father.

Oh, Mister Crane will probably tell me stories. Some little competitive war that went on between Doctor Crane and his brother. Some little event they dragged him to. He'll complain to me that Doctor Crane didn't let him watch the game because he and Roz wanted to watch that dumb tv show she's gotten him hooked to. He'll tell me about the current state of Doctor Crane's war with the bloke upstairs.

But I won't be here to see it all myself, anymore. I won't be here to keep Doctor Crane in order, to loan Roz clothes, or to go out to eat with the Cranes when they need a fourth person. I won't be here when Doctor Crane drops by...

He's probably the person I'll see the least, in fact.

I'll always see Roz. We're close enough that we won't lose touch. We go out quite frequently for little girls' nights out, and I'm sure we will long after I'm married.

I'll of course see Mister Crane once a day, probably twice, if he'll ever actually do his exercises.

Doctor Crane... I'll see him often, too. He only works three hours a day, after all. I'll probably see him several times a week. Saturdays. But let's face it, we're not exactly social. The only reason he's asked me to family functions before is because, well, I was part of the family. I won't be anymore. I'll be part of Donny's family.

And what about the other Doctor Crane? When I do see him, it's because he's dropped by his brother's apartment. There was that period of time after his divorce when I dropped by his apartment quite often. But I suppose as a married woman, night visits with another man are a wee bit extreme. Donny's not really the jealous type, but he has been known to flair up. So when would I ever have occasion to even see him?

Of course, thinking about him reminds me of what he did to me.

How dare he? How could he? I trusted him.

"Oh, Eddie, you're one Crane who I'll never have to worry about," I told him, rubbing his ears a bit. Then, I noticed the piece of paper under his collar. I looked at it. "I'm sorry" with a frowny face under it. That's it? All of a sudden, there was a knock on my door. Oh, goodness. I should've known. "Whaddayou want, Doctor Crane?"

He opened the door slightly and peeked in. "Did you get my note, Daphne?"

I rolled my eyes. "I might've. What's it for?"

He walked in, shuffling his feet slightly, his hands buried in his pockets. His classic pose when he's embarrassed about something. "Well, Daphne, I wanted to apologize about my part in your little mix-up."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, it's hardly your fault. I only told one soul, and as far as I'm concerned, it's his bloody fault."

He shook his head, holding his hands out, and came to sit on the end of my bed. "Daphne, no. He didn't mean anything by it. He just came to me for advice."

I was becoming angry just thinking about him. I sat up indignantly. "Well, that's his bloody problem, isn't it? When he grows up enough to stop being so bleedin' dependent on everyone else's opinions, you tell him to give me a ring."

He studied at me carefully. "Daphne, this is about more than Donny finding out, isn't it?" I looked down but didn't say anything. I think my tone of voice might have given a wee bit too much away. "Daphne, the reason he spoke to me is that he cares for you and your happiness. He had a particular opinion about the subconscious motivations behind your concerns, but he wanted to check himself before launching into advice that could very well change your life. He had to make sure he was doing what was best for you."

I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. "If he doesn't know what's best for me by now, I suppose he never will. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to take a shower."

He sighed and stood. "Daphne, regardless of what you think of him or me right now, I'd like for you to think about his advice. For what it matters, I think he's right."

I went into my bathroom, leaving him standing by my bed.


THE CHARM OF THE DEFEATED

I closed Daphne's door behind me, Eddie at my feet. I know how the woman values her privacy, after all.

Niles was in the hall waiting for me, looking anxious, but when he saw my face he slumped. "I'm sorry, Niles. I couldn't do anything."

He nodded as we walked toward my living room. "Well, I've got to meet Mel in half an hour at any rate."

I glanced at my watch. Nine o'clock. "So late?"

He nodded. "Yes, apparently she has a patient who insists only to come out at night. This pushes Mel's evening schedule back considerably." He glanced at my sofa and lowered himself onto it. "Well, Frasier, I've got a few minutes, at least. Will you tell me what she said?"

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, Niles, are you actually trying to tell me you didn't eavesdrop through the door?"

He gasped dramatically. "Frasier, I'm appalled that you'd think such a thing!" I glared at him. "Oh, all right, I tried, but the wood of her door is abnormally sound-proof."

"Well, I told her not to blame you because it was my fault." He looked hopeful. "But she said that it was your fault." He frowned. "So I told her you just needed my advice." Again, hope. "And she said you needed to grow up enough not to depend on other people's advice."

He looked indignant. "I do not request your advice! You force it upon me! This is your fault, Frasier."

"Oh, will you be quiet for two seconds? So then I said that you care for her very much and didn't want to risk giving overly hasty advice and therefore needed a sound second opinion, because you wanted to do what was best for her." He raised his eyebrow questioningly. "And she said that if you didn't know by now what was best for her, you never would."

He looked confused. And disturbed. "Frasier, this doesn't sound like it was just about Donny."

"Well, let me tell you, that's EXACTLY what I said to her."

"And she said...?"

I thought for a moment. "Well, she didn't say anything, come to think of it. She just looked down at her lap."

He shook his head and stood up. "Oh, for God's sake, you'd think after seven years I'd have learned. I should just let her marry him and get on with her life."

What?

What?

My brother, conceding defeat?

"What?"

He nodded. "I'm serious, Frasier. I'm in a good relationship right now, and Daphne's getting married. Oh, sure, I'll probably never stop thinking about her, but more than anything I want her to be happy. And I think, at this point, we'd both be happiest if I were to simply leave well enough alone. To paraphrase a play I've had on my mind a lot recently, Frasier, well... well, damn it, I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof, and it's an uncomfortable place to stay on too long. I think it's my time to jump off, and cats always land uninjured."

I stood up, lifting my arms in the air. "No, brother! 'Do not go gentle into that good night! Rage, rage against the dying of the light!'"

He rolled his eyes at me. "Oh, come now, Frasier, I hardly think a poem about death is applicable here. Don't you think you're being a bit dramatic?"

"And you haven't over the past years been dramatic about this unrequited infatuation/lust/love you have for her? What about that little Tennessee Williams reference you just spouted? Good God, man, all I'm saying is that you can't give up now! I agreed with your little diagnosis regarding her visions, and I frankly think that for her to marry him would be a mistake."

He shook his head. "Frasier, there comes a point when one must simply trust a person's judgment. Daphne knows what is best for Daphne. I've given her something to consider, and if she decides to act on that, it will be because she thinks it best, not us." He put on his overcoat. "Now, Frasier, I bid you adieu. Take care."

I slumped on the couch and nodded. "All right, Niles. Have a good time with Mel."

He smiled a bit. "I plan to, Frasier."


THE CAT FINALLY JUMPS

I tiptoed back toward my room. I always seem to pick the wrong bloody times to walk in on the two of them. Of all times to run out of fresh towels in my bathroom.

I closed my door behind me and leaned against it.

That was the first time I ever heard him admitting to having feelings for me.

We've talked about it before, when Missus Crane made all those claims during the divorce. But he dismissed it offhand. Didn't even pause to consider it. I suppose I've always known that he was attracted to me. That was hard to miss. But... true feelings?

"I'll probably never stop thinking about her."

He thinks about me.

Often, I assume.

Oh, good Lord.

I suppose I've known since Christmas that he has felt something, but... well, he doesn't exactly act as though he does. And he's been so wrapped up with Mel. He barely takes notice of me when she's in the room. So it was never really real until... well, now.

But now that I think about it, there's always been something.

Even just in the way he says my name.

He doesn't say it like everyone else. I know it sounds ridiculous, but most people just slide over each other's names. You say enough of a name to identify and then leave it. So everyone either calls me "Daph," or they slide over both syllables as if they were one, which results in "Daph" with a slight "n" tacked onto the end.

When he says it, it's different. It's reverential, almost.

He says it slowly and purposefully, enunciating it clearly. And he lingers on the first syllable in a wonderful way.

And he always smiles when he says it.

Isn't it strange that we've been thinking about the exact same bloody line from the same bloody play. That's got to be a sign.

Oh, for God's sake! Listen to me! I can't do this! I'm getting married in three weeks!

...And now he's giving up.

I thought that nothing was more determined than a cat on a hot tin roof?

I guess I was wrong.


TALK ABOUT A REAL CAT...

My evening with Mel was, to say the very least, less than extraordinary.

We went to dinner at Le Cigare Violant. I'd had the table for weeks, so it was at an especially lovely location. Private, intimate.

"So, darling, how did your day go? You must be tired after all those surgeries."

She glared at me. Yes, I suppose so. Then, she caught herself, smiled, and batted her eyes in that way she does when she wants to look innocent but knows she's far from it. "Niles, darling, how did you occupy yourself last night while I was with dear Loren Washington for her weekly night appointment?"

I blinked and tried to keep my voice passive. "I read."

She smiled tightly. "Oh, really? What did you read?"

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

That strange smile again. "Oh! That's a silly little play, isn't it? But everything like that paints life out to be so much more complicated than it really is." What? "Niles, I called your office this afternoon. Your secretary told me you rearranged all your afternoon appointments. Why?"

It took me a moment. "Oh, you know I do that once in a while, Mel, when I want some time to relax."

She smiled that sickeningly sweet smile again. "Oh? So what did you end up doing, darling?"

"Well," I paused. "I spent a bit of time with Frasier. I talked to Daphne about her wedding plans." Both truths. "I talked to Dad for a while." Another truth.

She forced a quick smile. She was angry about something, and she was having a harder and harder time hiding it. "And what did –" She paused with a tight smirk. "DAPHne have to say?" As she said her name, she speared a piece of lettuce with her fork so hard that I thought I could hear it crying. Oh, God.

I swallowed. "Err– well. We talked about Donny, mostly. We talked when... when she and Donny are planning on trying to have children." I gulped. "Donny wants to go ahead, you know, and Daphne wants to wait a bit." Half truths and omissions abound tonight.

"Oh, is that right? And where did you have this little chat?"

Oh, God. Someone saw us. "Um. Well, darling, we were walking Eddie –"

Mel let out a sigh and relaxed a bit. "Oh, I'm sorry, darling. I don't know why I'm worried and jumpy. As if you would cheat on me, especially with the help." I sucked in a deep breath, bristling, but she didn't notice. "It's not really that I was worried, Niles, about that. Don't worry. I trust you. It's more that –" She paused. "How do I put this delicately? Well, Niles, one of my clients saw you in the park with Daphne today. It's not that I mind you spending time with her, you know, at Frasier's apartment, but it's a bit embarrassing to me when my friends and patients see my boyfriend fraternizing with his father's help. You understand, don't you, Niles?"

I just stared at her. For a good minute. She didn't seem to notice, simply continued to dig into her salad with renewed vigor. Suddenly, my phone was ringing. I stood up. "If you'll excuse me, Mel, it seems as though I have a call."


THE CAT LANDS...

I stared at the phone.

I couldn't believe I'd done it.

I had the sudden urge to call him back. "Donny, I was just scared, forget what I said."

But I couldn't, now.

I'd broken our engagement.

I jumped off the hot tin roof.

I shuddered as I placed the telephone on the receiver, and I walked over and slumped down onto the piano bench.

Doctor Crane chose that moment to walk out of the kitchen. "Daphne, are you all right?"

I nodded mechanically. "Just fine."

He looked at me critically. "Are you sure, Daphne? You know you can talk to me. I owe you that much after the way I've behaved."

I smiled a bit sadly. "Yes, you do. But it's all right. I think I'd just like to be alone, to think."

He nodded and sat down on the sofa.

I glared at him. I had in mind a little more alone.

He picked up the morning's newspaper, and I knew he had it in his mind to stay.

So I left. I went out onto the balcony.

Seattle's really beautiful by night. It's all aglow. And from Doctor Crane's balcony, you can see the Space Needle, which is quite a sight in the evening.

The light from the living room glowed out onto the balcony in a little box, leaving just a bit in the edges, beyond the doors, shrouded in darkness.

So, I sat in the shadow, away from the door, my back pressed against the side of the building, and looked up at the moon. It was full.


A "TRAGICALLY ELEGANT" FIGURE DISCOVERS THE TRUTH

"Hello?"

His voice was a little bit scratchy. "Niles? Where are you?"

He sighed. "Roz? Is that you? Why are you calling me now?"

I rolled my eyes as I paced my apartment's single room. "I have important news for you. What're you doing?"

"Having the worst date of my life."

I sat down on my bed and grimaced in sympathy. It's weird, Niles and I have grown to be pretty good friends over the past seven years. Believe me, I never saw it coming. I mean, he didn't even remember who I was the first twenty times I met him. I remember what he said the second time I saw him: "Oh, well, I'm far too successful to feel embarrassed about this. Who are you again?" I knew right then and there that we could never, ever be friends.

But we are. Isn't that strange? He feels pretty open telling me his problems, and I can tell him most of mine, even if he does roll his eyes like I'm crazy when I tell him about my men. I mean, our relationship is nothing like the one Frasier and I have, but, well, we sorta have a truce.

That doesn't mean I can't insult him every now and then, though. He needs it. It's good for him.

Not tonight, though. He sounds about dead, and I have important new for him. Tonight, it's time to be civil.

"Yeah, Niles, you don't sound too good. What happened?"

He paused, as if he was trying to consider whether he could trust me or something. "Well, it's Mel. She's just being ruthless."

"Well, Niles, I gotta tell you, I only saw Maris a few times, but Mel has always reminded me of your descriptions of her."

He sighed. "Yes, I'm beginning to see that."

I wrinkled my nose as I leaned back in my bed. Thank God. "What'd she do this time, Niles?"

"Oh, she's just said terrible things about Daphne. It took everything I had to restrain myself."

Ouch.

The Crane boys each have very interesting relationships with our dear Daphne. I learned that in the very beginning. I don't really know what it is about her, or maybe about them, but she managed to endear herself immediately to the three of them to the point that she became every bit as much a Crane as she was a Moon. They all have these weird, special bonds with her.

Let's take Frasier as an example. Yes, he laughs about her weirdness as much as he's amazed (Prince Charles! Who knew?), but deep down, he's damn protective of her. To him, nothing is good enough for Daphne. Maybe not even his own brother. I remember once, way back in those first couple years, when Daphne'd hit a dry spell in her dating. Frasier made it his goal to find the perfect man for her. No one was good enough. And when he finally found someone, well, he turned out to be... well... let's just say not quite right.

I've really never known what to think about Frasier's attitude toward her. I mean, on one hand, I'm still sort of offended. Why was Sven good enough for me but not for her? But I don't think he really means it as an insult. He just views us differently. I am (dare I say?) his equal? His confidante? His best friend? He trusts me to make my own judgments, and he respects me enough to know that I can handle whatever comes my way. I mean, I know he'll be there for me no matter what, but he trusts me enough to give me distance. Daphne's different. She's sort of like his baby sister. He makes fun of her mercilessly, but he adores her and would strangle any man who hurt her, like any good big brother would. I think that's why it bothered him so much back when Joe started spending the night. It wasn't just that sex was happening in his study. It was that Daphne was having sex in his study, and no big brother ever wants to let his little sister grow up that much. Especially not one as protective as Frasier.

Martin sees her in sort of the same way, I think. She's like his daughter. He treats her almost just like he treats Niles and Frasier, complete with complaints and orneriness. Only difference is that Daphne doesn't get mad like Frasier does, and she can't leave like Niles can. So she ends up just laughing at him. He is funny, the old bear.

From what I gather, though, Daphne never had a really healthy relationship with her dad. She doesn't say a lot about him, but it's never sounded like they were close. I think the relationship she has with Marty is the one she sort of wishes she had with her own dad.

Oh, God. I think I haven't been getting enough sleep in my booth. I'm actually picking up some of Frasier's ideas.

But seriously, she absolutely adores him, but she still feels comfortable enough with him to put him in his place when he needs to be brought down. He's the father figure in her life now, and she's like his daughter. Only unlike Frasier, he's let Daphne grow up.

And Niles. Niles is different entirely. He worships the ground she walks on. His attitude about her... it's sorta like he's some kind of ancient knight, and it's his duty to protect her honor or something. Which is why he's so pissed at Mel, I guess.

Of course, it wasn't always like that. He used to just be a horny little dog who'd give anything to get her into his room for just one night. It was sort of insulting to poor Daph. I blame it on Maris and her mind games.

But now, he treats her with this... what's the word... reverence or something, like she's holy. Damn, what I wouldn't give for some guy to treat me the way he treats her. I think it's been ever since he realized once and for all that he really does love her, that it's not just a lustful attraction he's feeling. And I think he's only known that (or been able to face that) for the past few years.

Why? Well, he tried so long to believe he really loved that psychotic Maris. I think that if he'd admitted to himself how he really felt about Daphne, it would have ruined that illusion. So he kept it sort of crude and crass, below the belt, in some weird effort to hide what he really felt.

Oh, man, I sound like Frasier again. I've really gotta stop listening to him.

But damn, now that Niles's realized once and for all how he really feels (which I think came right after the thing with that freak Schenkman)... damn. I've never seen a man so in love. I'm surprised she only just figured it out.

Anyway, back to our little conversation.

He'd just said to me, "Mel said some positively vile things about Daphne. It took my greatest effort to retain my composure." Or something snooty-sounding like that. We'll just pretend that's right.

"Why would she do that? I mean, I know she's never thought too highly of Daph, being the little witch she is – no offense or anything, Niles – but what would make her say something now?"

He heaved this deep, mournful kind of sigh. "Well, you see, Daphne and I had an – interrupted conversation in the park today. Apparently one of Mel's friends saw us."

Ooh. This was getting juicy. I rubbed my hands together excitedly. "Ooh! And she thought you were having an affair? Man, Niles! Well?"

He huffed. "Well, what?"

I rolled my eyes. "Well, ARE you?"

"No, ROZ, I am not having an affair with her. I think you owe Daphne quite a bit more credit. She does have DIGNITY, Roz, unlike some people. She is first and foremost a lady." Oh, Lord. What did I tell you? He's got it bad.

"So you told her you weren't having an affair?"

"Actually, that's not why she was angry. She simply thought it was beneath her for her significant other to be seen in public with his brother's maid."

I stood up, shocked. "She SAID that?"

It's a wonder he didn't deck her.

Oh, God, that last thought is making me laugh. Niles, throw a punch? Yeah, right.

But at least now I understand why he's totally ditched her to have this... well, pretty damn long conversation with me.

His voice was really rough. "Well, it's close enough to what she said. I'm appalled. That she would have the nerve –"

I had walked over to my couch, phone pressed against my ear. Now I sat down on the arm of it. Or not. These shorts ride up pretty bad when I try that... That's what I get for mucking around the house in running shorts and a sweatshirt. But who's looking, right? As long as I close my blinds, at least. I only open then when I was to put on a show for that cute guy across the way. So what if he's married? His wife doesn't like it, she can shove it.

"Niles, you've gotta take this in context. I mean, she'd have no way of knowing you'd be so offended by something like that."

He was really quiet for a little bit. "What do you mean?"

I rolled my eyes. "Well, she'd have no way of knowing how much you care about Daphne."

Another pause. "Isn't it obvious? That she's my best friend?"

I sighed. Men are so dense. "That you think she's hot? Yes. That you're totally in lust? Yes. That you fall over your feet for her like a dog in heat? Yes. That you really, really care for her, deep down? That she's one of your closest friends? That there's no one on earth more important to you? Sure, you may act that way when it's just the two of you, Niles. I don't really know how you act when it's just the two of you. But when you're around a lot of people? When you're concerned about making an impression? No, it's not obvious. Especially recently. Around Mel, you sorta treat her like the help."

A very LOOOONG pause. "Oh my God."

I smirked. "Sorry to tell you that."

"Oh, dear. Oh, good Lord. What do I do?"

"Oh, God, Niles, I don't know. Ask someone else." I glanced at my watch. "Won't your little dinner companion be missing you? You're supposed to be a gentleman or whatever."

"Oh, yes, yes, I suppose I should go."

"Yeah."

"Er – Was there any especial reason you called, Roz, or was it just to tear me away from my filet mignon?"

Oh, yeah. Oops. Almost forgot about that.

"Oh, yeah. Damn. Donny called a few minutes ago. Needed someone to talk to. Apparently Daphne's called off the wedding or something."

The line went dead.

He hung up on me!

Can you imagine that?

Little twerp. That's the last time I do HIM a favor.


THE LION CUB FINALLY LEARNS HOW TO GROWL

or

THE NIGHT THAT NILES GREW UP

I made my way slowly back to my table.

Mel was finishing her salad. As I approached, she glared at me. "I hope you have a good reason for humiliating me like this! Abandoning me for..." She glanced at the gold Cartier watch I'd given her. "... twenty minutes? In the middle of a popular restaurant! I'll have you know that I actually saw PITY in the eyes of several of the patrons! Do you know how embarrassing this is?" She folded her arms in front of her and looked away from me, toward the potted plant in the corner of the room.

If she expected me to grovel, to bend to her will...

Well, that was the old Niles.

"I'm sorry, Mel. I've got to go. I think... hope someone needs me right now."

She turned toward me, her eyes wide with shock. "If you leave this restaurant without giving me a better explanation than that..." She shook her head. Her glare was lethal. "Then, Niles, we're over."

And for the first time in my life, there was no question in my mind.

I'll admit right now, in the confidentiality of these pages, that I'm not a very strong man.

I'm a weak man who often finds himself dominated by the woman in his life, as my father will be the first to point out.

I cowered before Maris. And I crawled back to her every time she asked me to.

And when, at last, I finally didn't go back to her... I still doubted. I was still tempted to. Frasier helped me through those times. He convinced me that freedom from Maris... freedom from Maris was worth even the Shangri-La.

Although Mel is different in the respect that she really does love me, she has been similar to Maris in her control over me, although her ploys have been a far cry from Maris' elaborate machinations and manipulations. But I've been trained to cower, and cower I did. When Mel had a problem, and changing myself in some small way would solve it, I did so. I have compromised myself, once again, for a woman.

But I will not now.

"All right," I responded, nodding. "Then I suppose we're over."

I reached into my wallet, pulled out two hundred dollar bills to cover the meal and tip, and walked out. Her shocked expression followed me out.

When I arrived at Frasier's apartment, I hesitated at the door.

Do I dare disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Oh, good Lord. Quoting T.S. Eliot now? What's next?

And J. Alfred Prufrock? That is not me. Not anymore. Never again. It was the old Niles who wouldn't have been brave enough to do this.

I knocked on the door, fully expecting Daphne to answer it. I took a deep breath.

I heard a voice. Frasier's. He opened the door. "Oh, hello, Niles. I thought you were out with Mel."

"Don't play dumb, Frasier. I'm sure you just got off the phone with Roz." I walked around toward the balcony to hang my trenchcoat up. I glanced out at the moon. It was full.

My brother wrinkled his brow. "Oh, all right. Well, I'm assuming that since you're home already, something happened between you." He grinned. "Or nothing happened between you."

I nodded absently, not having the energy to rebut his vapid insinuations and jabs.

Dad shook his head from his chair as he scratched Eddie's ears. "Fras, shut up and give your brother a little space. He obviously has something on his mind."

I nodded again. "Frasier, where's Daphne?"

His face clouded. "No, Niles. She needs space. I don't think it would be a good idea for you to see her right now."

I shook my head violently and swallowed. "No, Frasier, I will not let you do this." I took my suit jacket off and threw it on Frasier's sofa on my way toward Daphne's bedroom. "Daphne?" I knocked on her door and opened it.

And was greeted by no one. "Daphne?"

I stormed back out to the living room. "Daphne?" I glared at my brother. "Where is she, Frasier? I've got to talk to her."

He looked surprised. Then resigned. "The balcony, Niles. Check the balcony."


I heard him from where I was sitting on the balcony yelling for me. I didn't move. I didn't have the energy to move, much less to have a deep conversation with him about why I'd broken up with Donny.

I should've known Doctor Crane would tell him where I was.

The balcony door opened, and he came out. He was wearing his grey dress slacks, the loose ones that hang so nicely, a dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, a tie, and his usual suspenders. He was carrying his suit jacket over his arm.

He glanced down at me.

And handed me his jacket.

"Thank you."

He nodded and walked to the edge of the balcony, leaning against the railing, gazing at the night sky. "The moon's full."

I nodded and then realized he wasn't looking at me. "Yes, 't is."

We were quiet for a little while. I closed my eyes and breathed in the cold Seattle air as I pulled his coat around me.

"I'm sorry, Daphne." I didn't open my eyes. I didn't say anything. I heard him shift a bit. "What you told me – what we shared – was private. I had no business disclosing that to Frasier. I wish I hadn't."

I nodded but kept my eyes shut. I could almost feel him watching me. I heard him shift again, and I could sense that he'd turned away. Back toward the moon.

"And I'm sorry about Donny. This must be hard." I nodded again.

"Daphne, do you still want children... someday?" The question startled me, and I opened my eyes. He wasn't looking at me. He was leaning heavily against the rail, his back turned toward me. I leaned my face into his jacket a bit. I'm not sure if the smell is cologne or just – him – but it's a smell I've always associated with him. It's very distinctive, his alone. It smells like – it sounds strange, I know – it smells like the sea. Salty and sweet.

I wonder if he liked the sea, when he was a little boy?

I wonder if he waded in the water, watched it come up over his ankles.

"Yes, I still want children."

He nodded, almost to himself. "How many, Daphne?"

I smiled and closed my eyes. "Two. A boy and a girl."

"What will they be like, Daphne?"

My eyes were still closed, and I imagined my children. "They'll be smart. So, so smart. Full of wit and grace. Loving. Excited by the most minor details. Ceaselessly amazed by life and everything in it."

"They'll be amazed by you. They'll try their whole lives to be as wonderful and loyal and loving as you."

"And they'll be a lady and a gentleman. They'll appreciate the finer aspects of life. They won't grow up like I did. Not that I complain, mind you, I treasure my days growing up. But their childhood won't be like that."

He sighed. "They'll be perfect. They'll be yours."

He's amazing, altogether. He says the most wonderful, most beautiful things to me.

But this – he's never been like this before.

"What about you?"

He glanced back at me and then turned toward me, leaning his back against the railing now. We looked at each other for the first time that night. "What about me what?"

"Do you want children? A long time ago, you thought you might."

He smiled self-consciously. "No, I tried to convince myself then that I did, but it wasn't the right time for me. Maris wasn't the right person for me. The circumstances weren't right, and I only ended up proving that to myself."

I took a deep breath. "What about now?"

He barked out a self-deprecatory laugh. "Well, currently finding myself unattached, I imagine it would be quite a feat to have children." I just stared at him, trying to tell him I wouldn't let him get away without answering. He sighed. "If you're trying to ask me if I can still see myself having children, being a father, then yes. The answer is yes."

"What will they be like?"

He shook his head. "Of course, in all likelihood, I'll never have the opportunity to know, but..." He paused. "I've always envisioned my perfect future in a particular way.

"I'm sitting in my living room at Montana on the fainting couch. There's a novel on the couch beside me, folded down at a certain page. I've been reading aloud from it.

"There's a little girl, maybe six, asleep in my lap. Her name... maybe it's Hester. Whatever her name, it will be something with a grand meaning. Something that took us a long time to decide on, but it's perfect.

"All of a sudden, a little brown-haired ten-year old boy comes bounding down the stairs. His name..." He smiled fondly. "Well, it will probably be Frasier, in all honesty. He runs toward me, but I gesture for him to be quiet, because his sister's asleep. So he comes to sit next to me. He sits up straight and tall and gracefully at first, but then he leans into my shoulder. I put my arm around him. He's sleepy because he's been practicing his piano all day just so he could impress me with the first of the Goldberg variations when I came home from work. And he did.

"And then she comes out onto the balcony that overlooks the living room, and she smiles at us. It's that smile that makes my knees weaken."

I smiled. He sat down, leaning against the bars of the railing, so that he was opposite me. His knees were pulled up toward him, his elbows resting on his knees, his hands clasped between them. "'Frasier,' she says." He paused. "She still feels a bit uncomfortable saying the name. 'Frasier,' she says. 'Come back up here. Your father'll tuck you in in a bit.'" He closed his eyes. He was living the scene out in his mind. "So our son runs up to her. He's so alive, just like her. She takes him to his room. I pick up our daughter and carry her up to her room. I'm tucking her in when she comes up behind me and wraps her arms around me. 'Your son's waiting for you,' she whispers to me. I turn around and hold her. She kisses me. And I'm so, so happy."

"What's she like?"

He opened his eyes and looked down. "Well, she's very beautiful. And very sweet. Oh, and that smile..." He closed his eyes again. "She's the love of my life." I wanted to cry. He shook his head. "Of course, that's just the ideal. It won't work out that way. Nothing ever works out how I plan."

"So don't plan." He looked at me curiously. "Just let it happen."

He shook his head. "If only."

I glanced up at the moon. It's a very powerful thing, the moon. Makes people act in strange ways. "I don't blame you, you know." He raised an eyebrow. "In fact, I suppose I should be thanking you. To marry Donny –" I shook my head. "Would have been a mistake. I know that, now."

Music drifted down from the upstairs apartment. I smiled. "Sounds like Mr. Sports Utility Vehicle is having another party." I closed my eyes. Bluesy jazz floated down at me.

He sighed. "I'm here for you, you know. However you need me."

I nodded. "I know you are. You always have been."

He nodded. "Of course I have been. It's because –" He stopped abruptly and looked down.

I reach across the breach between us and took his hands, which were still clasped together between his knees. He looked up at me. "You can say it, you know. I've been waiting to hear it since Christmas."


What?

"What did you just say?"

She smiled nervously. "Come sit next to me."

I nodded nervously and crawled over to sit beside her. She kept hold of my hands.

"I'll tell you a secret."

I glanced over at her. She wasn't looking at me. She sat with her right shoulder pressed tightly against my left, holding my left hand in her lap between both of hers, but she was watching the sky. "What secret is that?"

"Do you remember the last time we were out here together?"

"It's been a while. Since Christmas."

She nodded. "You brought me out here to ask for Mel's Christmas present."

I closed my eyes. I should never have. What she must have thought of me. "Yes, I did." I paused. "You were going to tell me a secret."

"The secret was that I thought you'd brought me out here for an entirely different reason."

"You thought –"

"But, NO. You just wanted to steal back my Christmas present. Should've known then never to trust you. You can never trust the honest looking blokes. It's all a disguise." She sighed dramatically.

I rolled my eyes and hit her lightly. "Oh, you. As if you're any better. You're positively evil. A temptress in lamb's clothing."

She hit me back. It's our little game. I hit her, and she hit me. And then it became war. I suppose, as distractions go, this was a good one. We needed a break in the tension. I grasped in vain for her hands, and she began to tickle me.

Has the woman no mercy?

I finally caught her hands and looked over at her in triumph. She was giggling madly. She looked incredible.

But, presently, the reality of the cold, hard concrete under me and the unresolved problem between us came back to me.

What she had meant was slowly dawning on me. "Seriously, Daphne." I paused, sobering a bit but still grinning from our mock-fight. "You thought I was going to tell you that –"

She interrupted me with a good-natured smirk, elbowing me slightly. "Yes. I thought you were going to tell me THAT." We were still clasping each other's hands, and now she looked down at our joined fingers. She was running her thumb back and forth over the back of my hand.

Oh, my God. My smile changed to a look of awe. "Good God. You've known since then?"

A slight nod. "Yes. Your brother let it slip. He's quite the blabbermouth, he is."

I couldn't possibly be angry with him. It was all too ironic. I just shook my head at the humor. "Don't I know it." I leaned my head back against the building and laughed softly. "Oh, but Daphne, what you must've thought of me."

She leaned her head back as I had mine. I followed her gaze to the top of the Space Needle. She laughed softly. "I was shocked. I never would have guessed in a thousand years."

I looked at her. "No?"

She smiled. "It was just so unexpected. You and me? No, I never would have guessed."

I've sort of thought, at least for the past year or so, that the real reason she's never commented was she didn't reciprocate my feelings. She's certainly hinted in the past that she knew, with all of her talk of sensing feelings through intuition. "Why not, Daphne? Why is it so hard to imagine? You've got to have realized how much I care for you."

She nodded, still not looking at me. "I know that you do. But I'd never have thought you'd have thought of us as a..." She grinned self-consciously. "... a couple."

I watched her carefully. "Why, Daphne?"

She sighed. "I clean your brother's house for a living. What else is there to say? I'm an employee."

I shook my head. "No, Daphne. And if I've ever, ever treated you as such..."

She smiled and squeezed my hand. "You haven't. You've never. But I suppose because I've always differentiated between us in that way, I only assumed you did as well."

"And then Frasier told you."

"He was a bit drugged up on those tranquilizers for his back. And he told me."

"And you've known since then." She nodded. "And you've been waiting for me to tell you."

She shook her head. "Not exactly waiting. The longer I went without seeing anything, the more I convinced myself your brother was wrong."

"I'm so sorry, Daphne. If I'd known..." I drifted off. She didn't say anything. "I'll tell you now."

She turned toward me. "Do you still feel it?"

I shook my head, laughing a bit. At myself, of course. "When have I not?"

She smiled. "Tell me."

I looked into her eyes. "I love you, Daphne. So much."

She leaned into me, and I wrapped my arms around her. "That makes me feel so much better. I needed that."

"So did I, Daphne. So did I."

I glanced behind me through the glass of Frasier's balcony doors. He was standing beside his couch talking to Dad. I watched him for a bit before he walked over to check on us and saw me. He looked down at me curiously. I smiled and nodded, and he beamed and walked back toward Dad. I'm happy. And that makes my brother happy.

No, she didn't tell me that she loved me that night. I don't suppose she was ready for that yet, and I wasn't about to push her.

So I didn't exactly get what I wanted, a confirmation of her own feelings for me.

But I got what I needed. I needed to hold her. I needed for her to know how I felt, from the bottom of my heart.

I suppose that was enough for now.

And I was determined, now, to wait for her. For as long as it took.

And nothing's more determined than a cat on a hot tin roof, is there?