AN: Fic written in 2000. Spoilers through Something Borrowed Something Blue.

After the Show

WHEN "CHAOS" IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT

I sighed. Poor Niles.

I don't think I've ever felt sorry for my brother a day in his life. Whatever happened to him he brought on himself. Maris, his ex-wife, had come close to leaving him destitute; so maybe that just meant he shouldn't have married for money. Oh, he'll tell you all day that he didn't, and maybe, in the end, he really did care for her, but he loved her money. And, other than Maris, what reason did I have to feel sorry for the eminent Doctor Niles Crane? He was Phi Beta Kappa Yale, he has a thriving psychiatric practice, his research is respected, he's once again financially affluent, he's well-presented on Seattle's social hierarchy, and his IQ is twenty-seven points higher than mine.

Not that I'm counting.

No, I've never felt sorry for my brother a day in his life. I've pitied his stupidity as I envied his genius (not that I'd ever admit the latter bit of that equation), but I've never felt sorry for him.

But now, here, today, I suddenly did. I couldn't even imagine what he was going through. Or maybe I could. After all, I was abandoned at the altar once. If you want to know pain, try that. I know the feeling of being obsessed, of having hope, of being rejected.

Niles' feelings for Daphne have especially never made me feel sorry for him. I think my feelings in that regard fell under the category of "pitying his stupidity," and that's not the same thing. So he had a lustful attraction to our dad's physical therapist. It wasn't sad; it was pathetic. So I always discouraged him from making a fool of himself in front of her. He wasn't in love; anyone could tell that. He had a frankly pathetic infatuation.

But I know now, and I think I've known for awhile, that I was wrong about that. He was in love with her. It was okay, before. Because before, he always had another chance. Now, she's gone for good.

I glanced over at the garden where the wedding was to take place in mere minutes.

It was chaos.

Our bride-to-be's brothers had all erupted by this time. They rushed this way and that, swarming the place. Daphne's bridesmaids were standing around – gossiping, doubtless. The groomsmen were sitting by the altar, jackets off, reliving some droll moment in sports history. Embarrassingly enough, my father was standing beside them, leaning against his cane, Eddie at his feet, joining in their mindless drivel. Mel, my brother's new wife and a royal, class-act snob, was sitting in her seat, Niles-less, her legs crossed, her lips pursed, and her head held high. I wondered if she knew anything of last night's little tete a tete. Donny, the would-be groom, was seated by his mother, wiry, unkempt hair sticking out in all directions, bowtie askew, talking to her about some detail or another. Roz, my producer and best non-familial friend, mother of one darling little girl and world-class dater –

"Hi, stranger."

Roz was behind me.

I turned around and smiled at her. Daphne had good taste; Roz's light blue maid of honor dress was incredibly becoming, a far cry from Lilith's dresses of choice for our own wedding. From the way she sauntered, I could tell she knew it, too. That can be deadly with this woman. I was suddenly reminded of one rather unforgettable broadcaster's conference that we had both, afterward, chosen to ignore – "Hi, honey."

She cut the act and screwed up her face, looking worried. "I'm glad I found you. I need to talk to you. When Daphne's brothers ran off, she told me she was going to the powder room in the inn. I went to look for her, but she's wasn't there, Frasier. I've looked everywhere, and she's nowhere. She needs to be here. Things are beginning to calm down. The wedding's going to start soon. Where do you think she could be?"

All of a sudden, the engine of the Winnebago kicked into gear.

Oh, no.

"Three guesses, Roz. And the first two don't count."

RIDING ON THE WIND

As Mister Crane's Winnebago roared out of the parking lot, I took off my veil and shoes and threw them toward the back. I sighed and smiled slightly at Doct– Niles. He didn't see me. He was staring at the road intently, a few strands of blond hair fallen over his forehead, but he was wearing a positively gorgeous smile.

If I tried for a thousand years, I don't think I would ever completely understand him. He hides behind his sophisticated mystique. His brother – the other Doctor Crane – is quite a bit easier: arrogance, pretension, wit, and sensitivity mixed together in a strange combination. An interesting bloke, quite, but easy to puzzle out. Niles is different. Out of reach and mysterious. Kind, but distantly so. But last night, I saw him. Last night, he told me he loved me.

Well, all right, so I've known since Christmas, when his brother blurted it out to me while he was bloody high on painkillers. But he never showed any sign of it. Except that time he told me my eyes were beautiful... and I drove to Oregon just to have thinking time.

Of course, if I think back, I can now, in retrospect, remember other times along the way. I remember once, during my first year with the Crane boys, on a stormy night when I was at his mansion, when we were talking in front of the fire.

He tried to kiss me.

I knew it, then – you bloody well better believe I have eyes, and besides, I'm a bit psychic, remember – and I strangely wanted to let him. I needed someone after the bad breakup I'd experienced that day. But of course I couldn't let it happen. It wasn't us. It was us and a bleedin' heap of issues thrown between us – close quarters, his wife's absence, the roaring fire, the sound of the rain, my breakup. So I didn't let him. Because if anything had happened, I knew he would have regretted it.

There was another time, after his split with Missus Crane, that we went dancing together. He told me he adored me. He told me I was a goddess. But that wasn't him, either. That was an act.

And then there was the time we came so close to sleeping together. "Oh, I couldn't possibly sleep knowing you were in the next room, all hot... and... hot." "We could always sleep in the same room –" So close. But again, there were factors to explain it away. His loneliness, the heat, my anger and frustration.

The time he got so tipsy and proposed to me.

The time we cooked dinner together for Phyllis, and then had a lovely meal together afterward. We talked for hours, well into the night, on his fainting couch, about so much. My childhood, my brothers, my days in beauty school, my various experimental careers, his childhood, his education, Maris...

I'd managed to explain away seven bloody years of hidden touches, lingering glances, before Doctor Crane blurted out the truth.

Damn him for it all.

Because by then, it was gone. I looked and looked for it, but it was gone. I was so sure I'd never find it again. Bloody hell, he was over me, once and for all. And I honestly didn't think I'd be disappointed. When he took me out to the balcony and didn't tell me how he felt, I thought I'd be relieved.

Then why did it hurt?

I've been a basketcase ever since. I'll be the first to admit it. It's quite embarrassing. But I discovered things about myself that I never thought I would.

When he told me last night that he loves me, I refused him. I left. But I didn't go back to Donny. Oh, no. As if I could sleep after THAT little revelation. So I walked around the grounds of the inn for hours and hours, just thinking to myself. Admiring the flowers...

They were quite pretty, really. I suppose that's the good thing about having a wedding in May. Nice weather, nice flowers... They were growing in the garden around the pool, and I was thinking about picking one, but I could just imagine its little cry of anguish: "No, Daphne! Don't pick me! I will miss my other little flowers! Please, leave me here! I love my little flower friends!"

What was I saying?

Oh, right.

I was sitting in the shadows by the pool when he and his brother walked out at close to two. Doctor Crane's arm was draped around his younger brother's shoulders. "I know this hurts, Niles. I knows it hurts badly. And you can try to tell me that I don't understand, but I do. I still love Diane." Ah, Diane. The woman Doctor Crane fell in love with close to twenty years ago in Boston. She left him at the altar. I'd met her once. She came to Seattle and strung him along for quite awhile. And he fell for it. She was quite a piece of work. Nutcase. The Crane boys always seem to fall for insane women. Diane, Lilith, Maris. I must be the most normal one of the bunch. At any rate, I had had one of my psychic flashes a bit earlier, so the two of them showing up out there was not entirely unexpected.

The younger Doctor Crane sighed. "This is different, Frasier." He shook his head and sat down. "You know, I could always deal with our not being together. I had an explanation to give to myself: I simply hadn't ever told her how I felt. And I'd tell myself, no matter how untrue it was, that if I told her, she'd say that she felt the same. It was just that I didn't tell her." He pulled his knees up to his chest. "But now I know. Now I know what she would have said five years ago or seven years ago. She would have let me down as easily as she could, but she would've let me down. I wonder if it would have hurt so much then." He sighed. "I suppose I had to face it one day, Frasier. She just doesn't love me. And now I know. The chance has been taken." He looked up at his brother. "Aren't you supposed to feel better for just trying? Because I don't feel better."

I felt like the breath had been knocked out of me, like when one of my brothers would run up behind me, leap onto my back, and knock us both down onto the ground. Oh, my father'd get mad at them, then, and Mum would make them take their monthly baths early as punishment.

Frasier squeezed his brother's shoulders. "Oh, now, Niles. You know that Daphne loves you."

He nodded. "Yes, Frasier, well thanks," he began sarcastically. "That helps a lot. She loves me. And she loves you, and she loves Dad. But at least before I could pretend –"

"But don't you see, Niles? It's better this way. Now you have closure. Now you can move on with your life."

But do you want to know something funny? Hearing that hurt me. I didn't want him to move on with his life. I wanted him to love me. I needed him to love me. I was used to it. I loved it. If that stopped, where would I be left? I wasn't positive, but I was pretty bloody sure that I loved him, too.

Doctor Crane left, then. Niles stayed by the pool for quite awhile, and I watched him the whole time from my little nook in the shadows. When he left, he didn't go back to the inn and to Mel. He went out to Mister Crane's Winnebago. And I suppose he spent the night there.

Because that's where we were now. Gone, on the road, away.

I've never felt happier or freer in my life. Oh, good Lord, I feel positively giddy.

"So, where are we going?"

He looked over at me, shocked out of his reverie, looking almost surprised to see me, and took a deep breath. "Well, the way I see it, we have three options."

When he didn't keep on, I nodded. "Go on."

"Okay. Number one. We drive back to Seattle. I can drop you off at Frasier's. We can both separately deal with the more unpleasant repercussions of this little venture. When everything is calm again, we can..." He paused too long. "Talk."

Oh, good Lord. Bloody bad idea. Knowing us, we'd both be too nervous or too shy or too something to ever speak another word about it. At least for seven years. We make a fine pair, eh? "I don't think I like plan number one. What do you have for two?"

Another deep breath. "Number two. We drive back to Seattle. We can go to the Montana, relax, plan out how we're going to deal with the next few days, and talk about... us."

I nodded. "I like it a might better than plan number one." I looked up at him. A lock of blond hair had flopped down over his forehead. It was adorable, really. "I really don't think I can handle this all alone." I shook myself out of that despondency. "What about plan number three?"

He looked at me and smiled. "Plan number three is to..." He paused, still grinning. "To go where the wind carries us. We can plan. Or not. We can talk about what's happened. Or not. We can enjoy the freedom we have while we have it." He paused. "We can just be together."

I smiled as my heart fluttered. I don't know if I love him, yet, but I do know that this is what I've always wanted, really. Someone who loves me like this, enough to go through this for me, who simply wants to be with me, no matter what. Someone I love being with. "I think I like plan number three, Niles."

The expression on his face was intense, unmistakable, unforgettable... familiar. And I found it hard to believe I'd missed it for so long. Maybe I didn't exactly miss it, though. After all, I can point out now specific moments when it showed – I think, maybe, I didn't want to see it. But now I do. "You know, Daphne, I believe I like number three the best, too."

So we rode on the wind.

HOW TO CALL OFF A WEDDING

In half an hour, they were still long gone, and we all knew there wouldn't be a wedding today. Frasier had tried Niles' cell phone a dozen times before we decided he'd turned it off, so, after awhile, we apologized to the guests and sent them away.

Daphne's brothers certainly didn't mind. At first, they were upset that the Winnebago was gone because all their liquor was in it. Then, they figured out that the Wayside Inn's bar had already opened, and they discovered Bulldog, who had showed up at the ceremony uninvited for "old times' sake" – something about that auction, I think. The Moon brothers and Bulldog had already found that they had everything in common. Add alcohol to the picture – oh, brother. The brothers forgave all, ran straight for the watering hole with their new best pal in tow, and haven't come back out since.

Mel was totally stoic throughout the whole event. Party face and all that crap. Either she didn't know why he'd left with her or she didn't want to accept the truth.

Or maybe she really is just that strong. I've always thought of her as such a witch, what with how she treats Daphne, but I had to admire her and the way she's handling this and all.

Of course, she'll probably hit him up for everything he's got in the divorce settlement.

Donny knew. I know Daphne didn't tell him before she left, but he knew all the same. He'd gone to sit by the inn's pool. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Daphne's not married to him right now. He wasn't right for her. But at the same time, I feel for him, ya know?

He's a good guy, Donny is. He was always good to me. Before I dumped him, I mean.

Why did I do that again? I don't remember anymore.

We've stayed pretty good friends. He's great with Alice, so he babysits a lot. He's really great. The catch of a lifetime.

Damn.

So here I sat, in front of the altar, where Daphne would've been married to Donny Douglas just a few minutes earlier, my elbow on my knee, my hand supporting my chin.

Damn it. Here I am. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, as they say.

Of course, this time, I didn't even make bridesmaid. Damn, damn, damn. And I was looking forward to catching the stupid bouquet.

I sighed and buried my face in my hands. Ick.

"Hi, Roz."

I didn't have to turn around. He's my best friend, after all. The man who wanted me to name my would-be son "Little Frasier." I would have known he was there even if he hadn't said anything. "Hi, Frasier."

He sat down beside me. "It looks like things have calmed down a bit. Still no word from Daphne or Niles, though." He paused. "Are you okay, honey?"

He always calls me "honey." I don't really know why. I've never much thought about it, actually. But it probably looks funny, so I thought I should explain. He's been doing it since way back in the beginning. When we were first working together. He does it when he thinks I might be upset, or when I'm really happy, or... basically whenever I'm emotional about anything. It doesn't mean anything or anything like that. That's just how he is. And I'd never admit this to him, but I love it. It makes me feel good to know he cares.

I shook my head, sort of to myself. "Damn her," I muttered. "How could she do this?"

He looked at me sharply, in that suspicious way he has. The one where he sort of cocks his head and lifts up his eyebrow. Yeah, that one. "What do you mean?"

I glanced up at him. "Right now, two people are really happy. But two other innocent people are hurting. I mean, I'll be the first to admit that I've never much liked Mel. But she cared about Niles, right? And Donny was in love. Did they really deserve this?" I shook my head. "Daphne owed him an explanation."

He nodded. "On one hand, I agree with you. Honesty is always best. But on the other hand..." He sighed. "My brother deserves happiness. When Daphne and Niles come back, they are going to have to deal with a storm. Right now... well, consider this the buffer period. The calm before the storm." He sighed. "After seven years, they deserve to at least be able to pretend all is right with the world."

I nodded. "I guess you're right. I guess I just thought she would have told Donny. Or he would have told Mel. Or they would have called by now."

He put his arm around my shoulders and rubbed my neck. "You'd like to talk to him. Is that right?"

I looked at him cautiously. Why did I feel guilty for admitting that to him? "Yeah, I guess I would. But then I feel bad for wanting to, like I'd be moving in on my best friend's fiance."

He watched me. "Maybe that's why you feel need to place blame on Daphne, Roz. So you won't feel guilty about your feelings."

I nodded. "Maybe so. What do you think?"

"I think it wouldn't do any harm to talk to him. If that's all it is. Talk. Or, better yet, just let him talk." He squeezed my shoulder. "Roz, Daphne has things to talk to him about when she's back. It's not your place to go into those things. Just be a listening ear."

I nodded, stood up, and made my way to the pool.

AND THE JUKEBOX PLAYED ON... or BREAKFAST AT... WHERE?

"Oh, Niles, pull over here," she exclaimed with excitement. We'd been driving several hours, and we hadn't said much. It's not that we didn't have anything to say; Lord knows after seven years we both had plenty to say. But I'd simply been enjoying her company, reveling that she was actually here with me. It was surreal, more so than our night of dancing, even, because now, I know that this is real. Daphne'd been looking out the window with an expression that changed by the second. Sometimes she looked angry, sometimes worried, sometimes content, sometimes positively joyful. Now was one of those times.

I grinned at her but played along. "What? Why? What's here?"

She glowed. "Just... just stop, Niles."

I did. I pulled into the parking lot of the horrid little diner to which she referred and parked the Winnebago beside a long line of eighteen wheelers. I turned off the ignition and turned to her. "What's here?"

She smiled a smile that told me she was planning something grand. Her cheeks were shining, and her eyes sparkled. "Have you ever seen Breakfast at Tiffany's?"

I nodded. I didn't want to admit that it had been well over a decade. I'd been in my twenties, but, now, I had no clue as to what the occasion had been. Perhaps a Yale film club meeting? "What about it?"

"Well –" She looked down at her hands, which she was wringing in her lap, and then back up at me. "I've always wanted to be Audrey Hepburn. And I know I'm probably more of an Eliza Doolittle than a Holly Golightly, I mean, what with –" She stopped again, self-consciously. I didn't know Daphne had a self-conscious bone in her body before today. Frankly, I'd been expecting, as was Daphne's charming way, a short essay on the conflicting natures of Eliza Doolittle and Holly Golightly. It didn't come. "Well, in the spirit with going where the wind takes us, there's a scene in the movie when Holly and Paul decide to spend the whole day doing things neither of them had ever done before, so, when I saw the truck stop." She grinned and grabbed my hand. "I am absolutely sure you have never set foot in a place like this before. I certainly haven't in a wedding dress." Her eyes twinkled mischievously. "As long as we're on this journey, we can at least make it an adventure. Let's have some fun. You still know what that is, right?" She was egging me on, I know. It was working.

Never before have I considered the idea of going in a place like this "fun," but Daphne's exuberance was amazingly contagious. And I had to admit, the prospect of people seeing me in a tux and Daphne in a wedding dress together was frankly irresistible.

I nodded, climbed out of the Winnebago, walked to her side, and opened her door. I held my arm out for her as she climbed out of the monstrous vehicle, and we walked into the little diner arm in arm.

I opened the door for her and held it open long enough for her train not to get snagged. The diner itself was the epitome of what I'd always imagined so-called "greasy spoons" to be like. Big burly men – loggers, or men of similar profession – sat around in yellowed booths, drinking coffee. Most of them sat alone. One was fiddling around with a jukebox in the corner, and I dreaded the country drivel I knew would soon be emitted. A very large waitress, doubtless named Darla or Marge or something of the sort, took orders from a few of the men.

As we walked in, though, so incredibly conspicuous in our wedding attire, every eye raised to train on us. The applause broke out in a dark corner of the diner, but the ripples spread quickly. Soon, everyone was clapping, hooting, and grinning.

I've never been happier than the day I stood in that greasy diner where everyone mistook me for Daphne Moon's husband.

One of the larger truckers was the first to approach. "Congratulations, you two. You just finish?"

I was considering explaining to him that I was, indeed, not the groom. That at this moment, there, in fact, was no groom. Daphne beat me to it, though. "Oh, just now. It was a very hurried decision, and we're so excited!"

I stared at her, agog. "Yes, yes," I managed. "We've just driven in in the... Winnebago."

The trucker nodded knowingly. "I bet you two've got a real humdinger of a honeymoon planned if you've got one of those. I'm sure any of the guys in here can tell you how great this ol' country can look from the highway." A noise of general consensus rose up among the crowd. The big trucker smiled. "Well, hey, you two. While you're here, why don't we treat you to a good post-wedding party? Seems a shame for you to be alone after such a monumental event." He looked around. "Guys? Whaddaya say?"

And that's how I ended up sitting beside Daphne, our arms interlocked, in the middle of a very large table formed by shoving many very smaller tables together, a room full of truckers surrounding us.

"So then," Daphne continued, "We realized we simply couldn't live like that anymore, hiding our relationship from everyone. So we decided to spend the rest of our lives together." She leaned in conspiratorially. "The family doesn't know." She leaned back, then, and spoke louder, carelessly. "Or maybe they do, really. I'm sure they do by now. But we don't care. We're seeing where the road takes us." A partial truth, at least. I laughed to myself.

The big trucker grinned. "So, how long have you two kids been together?"

"Seven years," I stated without the slightest hesitation. Then, I felt my face grow a little red.

The trucker just laughed. "Well, I'd say it's about time you two got hitched!"

Daphne looked at me shyly. "Yes, I'd say it's about time." I nodded and tried to speak, but my mouth was too dry to form a word.

The big trucker took the need away from me. "I think I see a kiss coming on..."

And then, there it was. Not my first or even my second kiss with this woman, but my second real, "I mean it" kiss.

In the middle of a greasy diner.

And it was magnificent.

It didn't matter that the place didn't smell as good as it could have. It didn't matter that the coffee was cold, or that we were surrounded by men who may or may not have taken a bath in the last week. When her lips touched mine, even for the brief second it happened, the world was perfect.

As she drew back, they applauded again, and she did a mock bow to appease them before taking a large bite of the chocolate chess pie she had ordered.

"So what made you finally decide to go through with it, Niles?" one of the truckers asked me.

Daphne, too, looked at me questioningly. I smiled. "I realized that time was running out. And that if I waited a second longer, the love of my life would very likely be gone. I'd waited for seven years, and I always thought, 'I'll have another chance.' And then, suddenly, I saw that there were no more second chances. I couldn't wait a second longer."

She smiled at me and rubbed my arm under the table, then glanced up at the men in the room. "It's been absolutely smashing talking to you gents, but we should go."

They nodded, and the big trucker escorted us out. As we left, Daphne still clinging to my arm, the faint strains of a country singer followed us and a beautiful, blood red sunset stood facing us.

She looked up at me. "You can't tell me that that wasn't fun. Those men were some of the nicest blokes I've met."

I smiled. "It was wonderful."

"So what's your idea for our next experience?"

I smiled. "I think that before we have any experiences we should find more clothes."

She looked at me curiously. "Find?"

I nodded and pointed down the road we'd come. "I saw a group of my favorite stores that way. A sort of oasis. We'll buy some clothes."

She looked at me suspiciously, doubtless wondering to what "favorite stores" I referred, but remained quiet as we drove in that direction.

WHAT DONNY SAW

"Donny?" I asked quietly as I walked over to him. He turned and looked at me from where he was sitting by the pool, wiry hair sticking out

in all directions, and he smiled kind of sadly. "How're you coping?"

"It's tough," he sighed and turned away from me.

I walked toward him and sat down (at a respectable distance, of course), wondering what I could possibly say to the poor guy. In the end, I didn't say anything. We just sat there in silence. It was like a bad date or something. Except if you don't have anything to say to a date, you can – Never mind.

Finally, he spoke up, shaking his head. "I just can't figure it, Roz. I can't at all. She seemed happy. I mean, sure, she's been sort of distracted these past couple months. But I chalked it up to jitters or nerves or stress or something. I never dreamed that she'd do this. I never dreamed that she wasn't happy with me." He looked up sort of desperately. "Do you know why, Roz? If you know anything, please tell me."

I sighed. Frasier told me not to say anything, that it's Daphne's place and all, but... "Are you sure you want to know?"

He nodded but turned away. "Yes. I've got to know. I've got to know if it was something I did, or..." He shook his head again. "I need to know."

I took a deep breath. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather hear it from her? It's not really my business." I don't think I've ever in my life said those words. My God! Unprecedented events are just abound today.

He smiled. "Roz, honestly, I think it'd be better to hear it from you. First of all, you're a great friend, Roz. And secondly... I think it'll hurt too damn much to hear it straight from her without a little buffer. I'd rather know what I'm headed into before I talk to her."

I nodded. "Um... would you like the long version or the short version?"

"How about if you give me the short version now, and if I see a need for the long version, you can dive into that one next?"

I nodded. "It was Niles, Donny. She left to see if they stood a chance. She wasn't sure about being married, and she doesn't know how she feels about Niles, but she thought she owed it a chance."

He nodded slowly. "I sort of saw this coming. Since his divorce." He paused. "How about if you give me the long version? I'd like to know what led up to it."

Oh, here goes. I shouldn't have even offered. But by now I guess I knew every detail of their private lives, from a combination of sources, almost as well as they did. I'm a gossip queen, after all. I was probably as close to an authority as he'd get. And if I talked fast enough, maybe I'd get through it alive. "He's loved her for as long as I can remember. As long as he can remember, probably. He loves her like I've never seen. But, see, he's never been able to tell her." I paused. "So Daphne found out about his feelings over Christmas and started having second thoughts about the wedding. She started having weird feelings about him, too, but she didn't realize what it was until she saw that psychiatrist about her little anger thing. She wanted to talk to him about it, but he showed up married. She pretended it had just been nerves and that nothing was wrong. Frasier told Niles about Daphne, because she'd confided in him about her feelings, asked for his opinion." I sighed. Here was the kicker, if that all hadn't been enough. "Last night he told her he loves her and'll divorce Mel if she wants him too. She said no way. Told him she made a promise to you and wouldn't hurt you for anything. He left in tears, the little wuss, and hasn't shown his face all day." I sighed. "But I guess she changed her mind all of a sudden, because she's gone. And he's with her."

Ouch. I shouldn't have told him. He looked like someone had kicked him where the sun don't shine.

"I shouldn't have told you all that. I'm sorry."

He shook his head. "No, no. I needed to know. I knew that he loved her, you know. I mean, how could I miss it? The little looks, the touches. And I knew how much she cared about him, but I never imagined that she'd..."

"Feel the same about him?"

"Yeah. That's it."

"Honestly, Donny, I don't know if she knows how she feels. But she had too many second thoughts about the whole thing to commit herself right now." I reached over and touched her shoulder. "I know you're hurting, but I hope you know that she didn't mean to hurt you. Daphne just doesn't always think about... you know, consequences and stuff." Ha. Like I do. Little Alice is pretty much evidence of that.

We were quiet for a little while. Then he spoke again. "I don't blame her, you know. If she wasn't sure, I can't fault that."

I turned to him and took his hand. "And, Donny, I don't know if this will help at all, but... if they end up together... She's in good hands, you know. He'll take care of her. He'd die before he'd let her get hurt."

He nodded. "Yeah, it does help, to know that she'll be with someone who loves her that much. My problem... I guess I just don't know where to go from here."

I nodded. "Um. Well, if you ever need a friend to talk to... please. Just, you know, call me."

He nodded, we hugged, and I decided he probably wanted some Donny-time. I stood up and turned away from him to find Frasier.

But not before I saw Mel, who'd heard the whole thing, run off toward her Mercedes.

Great. Just great.

SHOPPING WITH NILES

"Niles?" she asked me. "But this is..."

"Neiman Marcus. Yeah." I blushed a bit. "Get anything you'll need for several days." My brow knit. "If, of course, you want to be with me that long?"

She favored me with a radiant smile. "Yes, I want to be with you. We're going where the wind blows, and we're not done yet."

"How about that?" I pointed to a casual, summery pastel knit top accompanied by white capri pants. Maris would never wear anything of the sort, but it seemed perfect for Daphne. Light, casual, happy.

She nodded. "I'd like to hurry and get something so I can get out of this ridiculous dress." I grinned. We were making quite a scene. A few minutes later, she had tried on the impromptu outfit, and we'd purchased it. Now, she walked beside me toward the Armani shop, her arm threaded through mine, she in casual summer attire, I in a tux. Of course, she was also carrying a bulging clothing bag containing her wedding dress in one hand, so I suppose I wasn't the only one who seemed out of sorts now.

After a few feet, she stopped short. "If you picked out my outfit, can I pick out one for you?"

"Well... well, I suppose you can. What –" But she had disappeared into Armani, and I was left to sit near the entrance while she rummaged through the clothing. When she came back, she carried white linen trousers, a white linen shirt, a pair of charcoal dress pants, a crimson dress shirt, a white polo, a blue sweater vest, and, of all things... a pair of shorts. I don't wear shorts. Well, I do when I play squash with Frasier, but...

I think she caught onto what I was thinking. "I assumed that our little jaunt to Neiman Marcus was my new experience, so here's a new one

for you." Then, she loaded the clothes into my arms and pushed me toward the dressing rooms.

I modeled each outfit individually for her. White pants and white shirt. "That outfit reminded me of a certain outfit you wore on a night I visited you." She sounded like she'd thought I'd forgotten about it. I nodded, my mouth dry. Then, the crimson shirt and charcoal pants. "That one seemed dashing, somehow. It looks very dashing on you." I nodded again. How could I resist making the purchase with sales talk like that? Finally, the last ensemble: white shirt, white shorts, blue sweater best. In the spirit of my alma mater, I couldn't nix the colors. But... She studied me. "I like it. It's different." The strangest thing about the whole adventure was that there wasn't a wrong size among the lot. Is she really that good at this? Or attentive of me... I smiled at the thought.

"We still need more for you." She nodded and smiled. "Do I get to pick out the rest of your wardrobe, too?"

She pondered for a few minutes. "You get to make suggestions."

We left with several casual outfits and two fantastic formals for her, a couple more purchases for myself, nightclothes, and, at Daphne's suggestion, a camera. The saleswoman looked at us like we were crazy when Daphne asked her to take our photo, but she just muttered something about newlyweds and did our bidding. Later, I had considered buying a new suit. "Nonsense!" she exclaimed. "This is a week of new things, not old patterns. Dashing, not conventional, is the look we're going for this week."

We left, her in the capri pants combo and I in the white linen getup, both of us carrying garment bags over our shoulder. "What's next?"

She smiled. "I don't know. Isn't it your turn?"

I shook my head and took her arm. "No, I leave it completely up to you. Where are we going?"

She smiled. "California."

DEEP THOUGHTS WITH MARTIN CRANE

Frasier, Roz, and I sat at home, me in the Barcalounger and the kids on the couch. I took a swig of my Ballantine. "Fras, I just never would have guessed that this would happen."

He looked up. "Really, Dad? I guess I'm surprised, but after the way she talked the other day... She told me she couldn't get him out of her mind and that she thought she loved him. She couldn't ethically get married if there was a chance she felt more strongly for my brother than she did for the groom."

I shook my head. "Yeah, I know. I guess they did the right thing. I just wish we'd hear from them soon. It's getting late, and they're nowhere, and they've got my Winnebago," I grumbled. "Besides, I feel bad for Donny. Poor kid."

Roz leaned back in the sofa. "He was all right when I talked to him. Shaken up and all, but all right. He told me he didn't blame her and he'd seen this coming." She smiled. "I guess Niles has never been one for subtlety, you know."

"And what about Mel? I mean, I know none of us liked her, and she was always pretty bad to Daph, but... well, she must be hurting." I leaned back farther in the Barcalounger. Eddie stared at Frasier from the ottoman.

Just then, the phone rang. I jumped up (as well as I can jump anywhere) and worked my way over to it. "Hello?"

"Dad. Hi."

I covered the mouthpiece and whispered, eyes wide, to Roz and Fras, "It's Niles."

"I heard that, Dad. Yes, it's me." His voice seemed a long way away.

"Niles, son, where the hell are you? Is Daphne still with you? What the hell are you doing?"

"We're heading south. We're going to California for a little while. She's right here. Would you like to talk to her?"

I nodded. Course, then realized he couldn't see me. "Uh, yeah, that'd be great, son. Put her on."

I could hear the phone clanking around and them whispering. Then, there she was. Her voice sounded weird and timid or something, but there she was. Our Daphne. "Hi, Mister Crane."

"Daph. How are you?" I leaned against the bookstand where the phone was. Eddie jumped up onto the kitchen table, cocked his head to the side, and stared at the phone. The little guy'd been worried about her, too.

"We're both great. We're feeling a bit guilty. Are you angry with us?"

I shook my head. "Of course not, Daph. We're happy for you. Everybody is." I stopped and glared at Frasier, who had walked over and was standing practically on top of me trying to hear what she said. "Hey, Daph, why don't I put you on speaker? It's just me, Fras, and Roz here."

"All right," she agreed hesitantly. "That'd be fine."

I messed with the phone some before I finally got it right. "There, Daph. Can you still hear me? Are you still there?"

Frasier did that little huff of his. "Well, you don't have to yell, Dad. I'm sure she can hear you just fine." He stopped. "Can you hear us, Daph?"

"Ooh, yes. Although sometimes I bloody wish I couldn't." Ah, there she is. Our girl's back.

"Hi, Daphne," Roz spoke up. "How ya doin', girl?"

I could almost hear her smile. "I'm good, Roz."

There was a moment of silence. "Donny's fine, Daphne. He understands."

"Yes. Um. I really ought to call him. I managed to get in touch with my mum earlier. We were going to call Mel and Donny after we called you."

"He'll be okay, Daph. Don't worry about him. Just so long as you're happy."

"Daphne?" Frasier spoke up.

"What is it, Doctor Crane?"

"So how are you, sweetheart? Is everything all right?" He stood right next to the phone, leaning over it protectively. He can be a royal pain in the ass to her a lot. You know, "Daphne, make my coffee! Daphne, butter my bread! Daphne, don't fold my clothes like THAT, fold them like this! Daphne, that's what sock-cubby-hole things are for!" But the boy really does care about her, and he can be so damn protective over anybody he cares about.

"Oh, it's fine. It's wonderful." She stopped for a second, and I could almost hear that little Daphne grin kick in. "Better than being with the lot of you. 'Daphne, make my coffee! Daphne, butter my bread! Daphne, fold the laundry THIS way! Daphne, you really should beat the egg whites thoroughly before you put them in. Daphne, where's my Ballantine? Daphne, you didn't pick me up and left me to freeze to death in the rain.' Oh, yeah, anything's better than all that."

He smiled. I know he's said it before, but he really does love Daphne. Probably as much as his brother, even if it's in a different way. Sure, when she first moved in, he thought she was totally loony, but, I mean... what would we do without her? "Where are you?"

"Um... Well, let me see. We're parked at a rest stop for the night, but I think we're almost in California."

He stood up in the blink of an eye. "WHAT?"

Okay, so she still upsets him sometimes.

There was a rustling, and then Niles there. "Frasier, what in God's name is wrong with you? I could hear you from across the Winnebago."

He started pacing behind the couch and flailing his arms around like he was crazy or something. He does that sometimes. I deal with it. I'm just his dad. But there he went, up and down, up and down, up and down. "Niles, what is wrong with YOU? Doesn't this seem to you the slightest bit ESCAPIST? I can't believe you're running away like this."

Niles' voice was rock-hard. "We're not running away. We're enjoying each other's company for about a week before we have to see you again. And we're dealing with everything from here. No stone unturned, you know. We're making a lot of phone calls tonight."

Frasier took a deep breath. Poor kid. I know he's just worried. Niles is his kid brother, after all. Man, when they were kids... "But Niles, you've got to see that –"

You wouldn't have wanted to see them when they were kids.

"No, I don't see, Frasier. We've got to go, okay? Good night, Dad. Good night, Roz. From Daphne, too. We love you all. Even you, Frasier."

THE END OF THE ENGAGEMENT

And then he hung up.

He handed me his phone, and I dialed with the appearance of a good deal more confidence than I actually had. He probably sensed that, because he took my hand and held it. He's such a dear.

"Hello?"

"Donny. Hi. It's me."

"Daphne."

Oh, God. What to say? "Donny, I'm sorry."

He was quiet for a few moments, as if collecting his thoughts. "It's all right. I understand. It hurts me, but I understand."

"I do love you, Donny. You've been wonderful to me. You're one of the most amazing blokes I've ever known. But... I wasn't sure. And I couldn't marry you without being sure. I would've regretted it, and I couldn't do that to either of us."

He sighed. "I know. I wish you'd said something to me before you left, though."

A few tears slipped out from behind my eyelids. "I know. I wish I had, too. I'm so sorry."

He paused, as if working up courage for his next words. "Are you with Niles, now?"

"He's here, yes."

"No. That's not what I meant. Are you WITH him?"

I sighed. "I'm not sure if I will be. I don't know how I feel. All I know is that there was an unexplored possibility lying there, and I couldn't just ignore it. I couldn't get married now." I paused. "But to answer your question, no. I wouldn't do that to you. I would never do that to you. Not so soon, no matter how I felt."

"I know you wouldn't, Daphne." He paused. "I love you, too."

My cheeks were wet, now. "Donny, would you like to have lunch sometime next week? I'd love to see you. I don't want this to mean we can't be friends. I really treasure your friendship." I smiled slightly. "And I owe you a ring."

He took a deep breath. "I think it's a little early for that, Daph. I need to work through some things on my own. But we'll see each other soon. And we will be friends. Don't worry. It just might take time."

I was nodding when I heard the beep. "Donny, there's another call. Call me when you're ready, all right?"

"Of course."

I glanced at Niles, and he nodded, so I pressed a button to answer the second call. "Hello?"

A few seconds of silence, then, in a harsh voice, "Oh, DAPHNE. I should have known you'd be with him, you little working-class tramp. Give Niles the phone."

Oh, my God. In a daze, I handed him the phone, stood slowly, and walked to the back of the Winnebago, ignoring his worried glances. As I laid on one of the Winnebago's cots, I could faintly hear his rhetorical answers: "Yes, Mel. No, Mel. Yes, Mel..."

IT'S MY PARTY

He paused as if he hadn't even heard my last question. Then, "Mel, what did you say to her?"

I glowered. "What? Is that all you're thinking about? Is that why I can only get a word or two out of you? Why does it matter?"

I could imagine him wearily running a hand over his face. Good. I was glad he was tired. He deserved it. "It matters," he answered in a dejected tone. "What did you say?"

I bristled. "I merely named her the little slut she is," I replied stiffly.

He took a deep breath. "God, Mel. It wasn't her fault. You want to blame her, but you can't, because she didn't do anything wrong."

I sat up straight on my couch. "Nothing wrong? She abandoned her fiance, hopped in a Winnebago with a married man, and hasn't been seen since. Nothing wrong? But of course. You would defend her."

He sighed. "But it was me. I'm the one who should've told her years ago how I felt. I'm the one who threw it all in her face the night before her wedding just because of some rumors from Frasier. If you're angry, Mel, and you have every right to be, be angry at me."

I sighed. I wasn't angry. Not really. If I were Maris, I would have felt socially humiliated and slighted and therefore angry. I only felt a profound sadness which, by my nature, exuded as anger. "I'm not angry, Niles. I'm hurt. Hurt that you'd do this to me. Hurt to know that I could never be what you want and that I was only a consolation prize to begin with."

"No, Mel! Don't think that!" He came alive. "Please, Mel. You're wonderful. You've been incredible for me. You're the first woman I'd ever known who truly loved me. God knows Maris never did." He paused. "I'm so sorry I hurt you, Mel, but when I heard about Daphne from Frasier..." Another pause. "I'm not sure why it is, Mel, that I feel this way. A long time ago, I was talking to her about passion. Maris was comfortable to me, but Daphne... I feel a passion for her that I've never felt. I love you, Mel, but when I found out that I might actually have the chance to experience the..." He struggled for words. He sounded pretty stupid, but I let him go on. "... complete love I feel for Daphne... I do love you Mel, and I'll always love you for what you've done for me. I'm so sorry I hurt you, and I'll understand if you –."

I sighed. "Don't worry. It shouldn't be a problem. We can get a clean split. I'm not going to make you hurt in all this, Niles. I'm not Maris."

I could hear him smile slightly. "I know, Mel. Thank you. And someday, Mel, you'll find someone who really makes you happy."

I sighed. "I hope, Niles. I really do."

"You will. I guess we've got some legal things to work out, don't we?"

"Don't worry about it. I'll get the papers together. You just sign them." I ran a hand through my hair.

"All right, Mel. Would you like for me to call you later?"

I shook my head. This was hard. "No, Niles, I think it would be better if we... if we didn't see any more of each other."

"I understand."

"Goodbye, Niles."

I hung up the phone, curled up on my couch, and, for the first time since all this began, for the first time since I can remember, in fact, I started to cry.

REDISCOVERING DAPHNE

"Daphne?" I understood why Mel did it. She was hurting. But why did she have to take it out on Daphne? "Are you all right?" I made my way back to the bedroom area of Dad's infernal beast of a vehicle. She was curled up, pajamas on, her back to me, breathing deeply. Her sleeping face was still streaked with tears.

So I did all that I knew how to do. I laid down beside her, wrapped her in my arms, and held her until morning.

When I awoke, she was gone. I jumped off the cot, tried my best to straighten my rumpled white linen clothes, straightened the sweater that was tied around my shoulders, and walked toward the front of the Winnebago.

She was sitting on the sand in front of the vehicle in a pastel sundress, her knees pulled to her chest, gazing out at... the ocean?

I walked outside and stood behind her, hands buried in my pockets.

"I didn't realize we'd driven all the way to the ocean last night."

She didn't look up. "We didn't. I couldn't sleep, so early this morning I decided to start driving. And I ended up here."

I looked around. It must have been a bit before dawn, because the light was just beginning to creep over the horizon behind us. Not a soul in sight. We could've been the only people on earth. I looked down at her. "It's beautiful. Exquisite."

She just nodded. "Yes. When I was very little, my father would take vacations from the dock to leave us to go into London for a fortnight at a time. But once, he took me and my brothers to the southern coast. I loved the white cliffs. I was just a wee thing, eight or nine, but I'd stand on those cliffs, calling out the words to Matthew Arnold's poem for all the world to hear while my brothers tussled and wrestled behind me. And while my brothers were coming to blows – they'd be white from head to toe afterward – my father took me down close to the edge of the cliffs and told me all about his work on the docks and our family and my brothers. About the Moons and who we are and what we were." She paused. "It was one of the only times I ever felt close to him." Most of her stories were fairly laughable, or downright frightening, but that... that – "I love the water. It's so calming." She paused. "Except when my brothers tried to drown poor little Baby Michael that time. Knocked out three of his teeth on the rocks. He refuses to take baths now. If he goes near the water, he falls on the ground, screaming, 'Thapa thave Michael!' over and over." She sighed. "It's sad, really." Okay, so it turned out to be amusing and strange after all. I suppose it can't be avoided when it's about the Moons.

But she was covering. I could tell.

"Daphne?" I watched her in concern. "How are you?"

She looked up at me, finally, and smiled just slightly. "I'm fine, Doctor Crane."

That shocked me. "What?"

"I'm fine."

"No. You called me Doctor Crane. What's wrong? Was it Mel? Don't worry, we worked everything out. She understands and is going to send me divorce papers. A simple break."

Tears suddenly came to her eyes. "She..." She shook her head and looked away. "I'm not sure that you and I can be together."

I was floored. I dropped down to the ground beside her, gasping for breath. "What? No, Daphne. Don't tell me this now. Please, don't tell me this. Once this happened for us, it was supposed to be forever. Don't tell me it's over before it's started."

She looked away. The wind billowed through her hair. She looked perfect. Like a classic painting. Depicting a tragic heroine, no doubt.

"Why, Daphne? Was it something I did? Something I said? Please don't do this to me, Daphne."

She shook her head. "No, nothing like that. It's just that..." She took a deep breath. "Last night, Mel called me... Well, it doesn't matter what she called me. But the point is that I began to think about who I am and who you are." She looked up at me a bit desperately. "I'm a working class girl from Manchester. My brothers work on the docks with my father to get by. The only reason I'm here at all is that Billy told me I had to get away. I worked for months to scrape up enough for a plane ticket. In San Francisco, I had a place to stay, but when I first moved to Seattle, I was virtually homeless for weeks. Now, I work for you. And I'm thankful for that. I've worked for you for seven years now. Mel knows that, and that's how she's always treated me – as the help. You and your brother and your father are so wonderful to me that I forget that sometimes, I forget who I am and what I am, but that's really all there is. And that's not right. Not right for you. You should be with some heiress like Mrs. Crane or a doctor like Mel. Not me. You're better than that."

I gasped. I tried to breathe but couldn't. How... how... how... I was hyperventilating by now, surely. I tried to regain myself and turned toward her, grabbed her shoulders and kneeled in front of her. "No. No, you're wrong. You're so much more, Daphne. You're the moon and the stars and the sun and the rain and everything that is beautiful and lovely in life. And it wouldn't matter if I were the president or the Pope or the Prime Minister of England or... or anything. You transcend everything. You're a goddess, Daphne. I could persevere my whole life and still never be worthy of you. I'm nothing next to you. And it doesn't matter what people say. It doesn't matter how much money you have or don't have. I don't care. I've never cared. I just want to be with you. Because you're magnificent. You're my goddess."

She smiled, teary-eyed at me. "You say that now. You even believe it now, but this is just the grace period. Once reality sets in, I won't be that pretty. I won't be that special. It will just be me without the pedestal. Just Daphne, the little working-class girl from Manchester who grew up rough and lived rough and hadn't lived a polished day until I came to work for you and your family. And I'm not what you need."

I felt like crying. I must have been, because she wiped at my cheek and her hand came away wet. "But you're precisely what I need, Daphne. When I first met you, I may have loved the person I wanted you to be. I may have seen the ideal. But it's been seven years, Daphne. Don't you think I know you? Don't you know I love you? Not the ideal. I love you. And I love who you are and where you've been and what you come with and the way you look at me and the way you smile and the way you laugh. And I love your soul. It radiates. I love who I am when I'm with you. I've grown more from knowing you than from any other thing in my life. I love how you make me feel – like I've finally found that there's more to life than what I've always been told. You're amazing, Daphne, and you make me happy. Believe me. I don't want the illusion. I want you. Forever."

She smiled at me through her tears. "You're sweet." She took a deep breath and nodded. "I can't guarantee anything, but we'll see. We'll try. But not now. It's too soon. Let's slide into this slowly."

I nodded and held her for a few minutes out on the sand. "Where are we going?"

She smiled. "We're going to California."


DINNER AT SIX THIRTY

I motioned for him to wrap it up. He nodded. "Well, it looks like that's all the time we'll have today, Seattle. Until tomorrow, this is Doctor Frasier Crane wishing you a good Monday and, as always, good mental health." He sighed. Niles and Daphne being away had been hard on all of us, but especially hard on Frasier. They had been gone for one night, and he was already worried out of his mind.

I stood up and walked into his booth. "Five o'clock, Frasier. What are you doing for dinner?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. And I didn't eat any lunch. What do you say to a coffee and then a good meal?"

"That's great, Frasier, because I knew you hadn't eaten lunch, and I was thinking to myself, 'Damn, if he keeps up like this, he's going to just waste away.' I can barely see you as it is, Frasier."

He shook his head at me and pushed me through the door of our booth. "Oh, come now, Roz, no need for such blatant sarcasm."

He told me to go home and change into something nice. And then he did something that he's hardly ever done. He treated me to a nice restaurant. I mean, a REALLY nice restaurant. Le Cigare Violant or whatever.

And you wanna know what?

It was really good. I could definitely live like this.

He moped all through dinner, though, which didn't help the general "ambiance." Halfway through, I was sick of it, and I couldn't take it another second. "Come on, Frasier, spill. What's bothering you?"

He looked up. "Oh, all right, if you insist," he replied in that way that let me know he's been dying for me to ask him what was wrong all night. Oops, negligent me. "It's about Niles and Daphne."

I rolled my eyes. "As if THAT wasn't hard to figure out. Jeez, Frasier, they've only been gone a day. Give them a little time before you get so restless."

He shook his head. "No, no, no. That's not what's wrong. It's just that I'm having reservations about their whole relationship." He paused. "He's idolized her for seven years, Roz. I worry about what will happen when he realizes it's not like his dreams. This is reality. She's not perfect."

I rolled my eyes again. "Oh, come on, Frasier. Give Niles a little credit. Don't you think he knows her a little better than that?"

He looked up at me skeptically. "How can you be so sure? He's seen what he wanted to see."

"For seven years, Frasier? Yeah, Daphne's not perfect. She's pretty wacko, and she's touchy, and she can't take hints, and she's the least subtle person I've ever met, and she never thinks about consequences. But Niles knows all that. Don't you think that maybe that's also why he loves her? Not just for the good but for the bad as well?" I paused. "Let's take you for example, Frasier. Lord knows you're not perfect. You're arrogant and showy and pretentious and a busybody –"

He cleared his throat. "Thank you, Roz, for that glowing commentary."

I wrinkled my nose at him. "– and you can't take criticism for the life of you! But that all makes up who you are. That's why your family loves you. That's why I love you. People don't love each other for what's good about them. We love each other for what's good about us and what's bad about us. And maybe, in the beginning, Niles was in love with some illusion he thought was Daphne. But he knows her pretty damn well, Frasier. In fact, he might just know her better than any of the rest of us. She's always trusted him with more than any of us." He was gazing at his meal in this weird, forlorn way, so I put my hand on his. "Give them both some credit, Frasier. It'll be hard, but they'll make it. They're supposed to. That's how the story goes."

He smiled up at me and squeezed my hand back. "I wonder what they're doing right now?"

THE INNER CHILDREN IN US ALL

He ran behind me, his pants rolled up above his ankles, his tux jacket, shoes, socks, and bowtie scattered somewhere far behind us, his shirt collar open just the slightest bit. Of course, I couldn't talk. My hair was a bloody wreck as the salty wind blew through it. My dress billowed behind me while the bottom hem soaked up the ocean water I was splashing through. He caught me around the waist and spun me around. He was breathing hard and grinning.

He arched an eyebrow and gazed at me. "You were right, Miss Moon. I should have tried running along the ocean after dark in a tux with the woman of my dreams long before now."

We'd gone to an extremely expensive ocean-side restaurant (his idea) after which we enjoyed a beach walk (mutual inspiration) which had become a game of beach tag (my idea).

I giggled and pulled him farther up the beach. "Let's dance."

He nodded into my shoulder and pulled me closely. I could hear his breath next to my ear as he whispered. "But there's no music."

I leaned back and grinned at him. "Ah, you want music, do you? I'll give you music." I leaned forward again as we resumed our mock-dancing. We just held each other and swayed slowly, and I began to hum a bit of Gershwin that I've always favored. Before I knew it, though, I was singing the refrain very softly, as I gazed at the sea over his shoulder. "Though these lips have made slips, it was never really serious. Who'd have thought I'd be brought to a state that's so delirious. I could cry salty tears. Where have I been all these years? Little wow, tell me now, how long has this been going on?"

"For as long as I can remember, Daphne," he whispered quietly. I stopped singing and hummed the next few bars very softly, practically to myself, recalling how, when I was just a little girl, my father once held me in his arms and spun me around the docks to the slow American jazz song he sang. A rare and precious moment.

I sighed in contentment. This is what I've wanted my whole life, really. "I've had a lovely night. A lovely day, as well." Day had been fun, come to think of it. We'd driven a ways before stopping at a Dairy Queen for lunch (my idea). I made him don the shorts, polo, and sweater vest, and we went in. I ordered him barbecue. He was a mess with it, too. Then, along the road, we came across signs for an isolated topiary garden. So once again we stopped and toured the amazing grounds. And talked. Talked for hours. Finally, we settled on dinner here. He'd been here before, apparently. So I put on my newly acquired Neiman Marcus formal, he his wedding tux, and in we went. And now here we were. Dancing on the beach, under the stars. I looked up at them.

"Yes, Daphne, today was remarkable. Tonight's been extraordinary."

I stopped our dance, then, and wove my left arm through his right, facing us both toward the ocean. Then, with my free hand, I pointed at the stars. "When I was a little girl, I used to wish on stars. Grammy Moon always said that with a little work and a little luck, any wish could come true. So I wished and wished and wished."

He never looked at the stars. He was watching me. "And what did ten-year old Daphne wish for from her back yard in Manchester?"

I smiled up at the stars. "She wished that someday she could come to America."

He smiled slightly but sounded a bit surprised. "Did she, now?"

I nodded deliberately. "Yes, she did. Because she knew that America would be wonderful. America was going to hold the answers to all her other wishes. Billy promised."

He nodded thoughtfully. "And has it? Answered your wishes, I mean?"

I paused. "It has."

"What else did little Daphne Moon wish for?"

"She wished that she would never, ever be lonely." I grinned and imitated myself in a high, childish voice. "I wish I never, ever had to be alone. But, please, I don't want to get married!"

His brow wrinkled. "Why not?"

I looked at him and shook my head as if he should have known all along. "Oh, little Daphne didn't think she'd need a piece of paper to prove she was in love and was loved." I lowered my voice, as if imparting a great secret. "She was a romantic at heart."

"Little Daphne was right."

"Did you ever wish on the stars?"

He bowed his head. "Sometimes. Before I convinced myself it was a practice I should outgrow since my wishes never seemed to come true. And Frasier embarrassed me terribly with his talk of my 'childish' habit."

I looked at him and smiled. "And what did little Niles Crane wish for?"

He closed his eyes and smiled. "A lot of times, he wished his brother would disappear."

I laughed. "I can imagine. I still wish that, about once a day."

"He wished that he'd grow up to be brave and charming and passionate. He secretly wanted to be some wonderfully gothic, romantic figure like Heathcliff, except without the cruelty. Or a beautifully selfless figure like Sydney Carton."

I squeezed his arm. "And what else?"

He sighed a bit mournfully. "Little Niles never wanted to be lonely, either. He was lonely a lot, apart from his brother."

"What else?"

"As he got older, he wished he could find his soul-mate. Little Niles believed in things like that." The last part was said in the same whisper I'd used.

We were quiet for a moment as he watched the stars and I watched him. "Does he still?"

He smiled at me. "Yes, he does." He paused. "Daphne, have I changed?"

I was surprised and looked at him quite curiously. "Whaddaya mean?"

We sat down together, side by side. He watched the water. I watched him. "I mean since you've known me. Am I different than I was then?"

I wasn't sure what he wanted to hear. But at this point, there was no way I wasn't going to simply be honest with him. "Yes."

He turned his head questioningly. "How so? In good ways?"

I smiled and laced my fingers through his. "Well. Let me see." I paused to ponder how to phrase it. "Little Niles' wish – about being Heathcliff and Sydney Carton?" He nodded, obviously intrigued. When he's quite intrigued, he cocks his head to the side, holds a sort of curious half-smile, and has an extra glimmer in his eye. "Well, from my point of view, at least, your wish has come true. You've become the most passionate and selfless man I've ever known."

He bowed his head and replied quite seriously, "Thank you, Daphne." Then he glanced up again. "What was I like then?"

I smiled again. "Would you really like to know?" He nodded. "You were much more pretentious. And horribly vain. Utterly unwilling to risk a chance. Less relaxed, always tense. Very distant." I smiled. "But I was quite fond of you nonetheless. You were charming in an unapproachable sort of way."

He nodded. "You think I've grown?"

I squeezed his arm. "Yes, I think you have. Not to say that you're a different person. You're not. You're the same Niles Crane you were seven years ago. But you're fuller, now. More complete." I smiled. "Or perhaps it's just that I've come to know you so well. I suspect I never truly knew you in the beginning. But maybe that's the difference. You've allowed me to know you."

He looked up at me and smiled. "You know, if I've changed, it's because of you. Your friendship and comfort and... simple presence." He looked down. "I'm happier now than I've ever been in my life."

I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hold him. "I'm glad." But on to happier topics. I wanted us to be carefree. This is the present, not the past. I smiled mischievously. "What would little Niles say to a midnight swim?"

He looked at me thoughtfully. "He would probably remind little Daphne that they didn't have swimsuits."

"I thought little Niles had become brave, charming, and passionate?" I was grinning wickedly by this time as I cocked my eyebrow. "Little Niles IS wearing boxers if he's that self-conscious, isn't he?"

He gasped indignantly as a joke, but I think it was partly to cover up his very real blush. "Little Niles is horrified that little Daphne knows so much about his intimate apparel!"

I smiled innocently. "And little Daphne has never been one to refuse a nice skinny-dip..."

He raised his eyebrow questioningly. "Does this mean that little Daphne no longer wants to take this so slowly?"

I considered that as I held his arm tightly. "This means that little Daphne finally knows how she feels."

He looked around conspiratorially. "Maybe we'll be arrested for indecent exposure. Now THAT would be something to put in the society column. Almost as bad as Frasier's run-in with the transvestite prostitute."

I laughed, pushed him away, jumped up, and ran farther down the beach, leaving him once again to catch me.

SECOND THOUGHTS ARE MURDER

He held me in the back of the Winnebago, my naked back pressed against his chest, his arms interlocked over my bare midriff. He was asleep and had been for some time. I could feel his breath, deep and even, on the back of my neck, as he unconsciously nuzzled my shoulder.

Too fast.

I had felt a bit uneasy all week, ever since the first time we made love, on the beach under the stars. I hadn't known why then, but, in the back of my mind, it was becoming clear now.

Too fast.

It's a commonly known fact that I've never been one to be modest in my sexual mores. I jump into relationships all the way bloody fast. With Niles, though, the feeling of the relationship was different entirely. We'd been devoted to each other, each in our own way, for seven bleedin' years. And after so much waiting, all of our recent actions seemed sudden and premature.

And why, really, did it have to move this fast at all? Why couldn't we wait a bit, be sure?

It was my own choice, of course. I can't complain. And I think I do love him desperately, but...

So fast.

I sat up in the cot and pulled my bathrobe on. I perched myself on the end of the bed and watched him.

For awhile, he searched for me with his hand. In his sleep, he was confused – hadn't there been a warm body beside him? He became restless and uncertain for several minutes, his blond hair falling over his eyes, before relaxing. And I watched him.

He looks very innocent in his sleep. Which is no lie, I suppose. He is innocent, as far as that goes. Even if he's not physically innocent (as his little jaunt with Kit has proven), he's emotionally innocent. Despite his failed marriage, he still believes in love. He still believes that love can conquer all, including circumstance.

Can it, though?

Because he loves me, does the fact that I'm Cinderella – a comparison I've heard Mister Crane use, in fact – to his Prince Charming not matter?

Of course it matters.

And what about love, anyway? Does our suddenly having a passionately physical relationship do something to prove our love? If anything, it proves that it was other than love. Because if our love was so pure and true, should be have needed to jump into this so fast?

Blimey, I'm confused.

Maybe I just need some time to bloody sort everything out.

I went to the front of the camper, sat in the driver's seat, and thought all night.

When he woke up the next morning, I told him I'd just awakened myself. I'm sure the bags under my eyes told the real story, but he wasn't about to say anything.

We drove back into Seattle a week older, wiser, and tanner. My uneasy feeling sat with me the whole way back. I usually listen to my feelings. I was trained to by Grammy Moon. They all poke fun at my psychic flashes, but I'm usually right. And right now, I still felt nervous.

He dropped me off at the Elliot Bay Towers with a kiss.

"Should I come by later?"

More uneasiness. "Um... no. I'll come by yours. You stay there."

He looked at me warily. "Are you all right? You've seemed a little... distant the whole way back."

I smiled with false cheer. "Oh, I'm fine. Just fine. A little tired."

He nodded, still looking suspicious. "Okay. So you'll drop by later?"

I nodded resolutely, jumped out of the Winnebago, suitcase with new clothes in one hand and wedding dress in the other, and jogged into the Towers.

"May I have your name?" our temporary doorman requested. Poor Morrie. If he'd been here, he would have greeted me with, "Well, hallo, Miss Daphne! Any visions to speak of today?"

"Daphne Moon," I responded. "I live in 1901." I felt like a stranger in my own bloody home.

He looked through a bleedin' stack of papers, nodded at me, and waved me on. I walked slowly through the grand downstairs of the apartment building until I arrived at the elevators. They were both at the top floor.

I pushed the button, leaned on it heavily, in fact, until the elevator opened its happy doors to greet me. I was so tired...

I stood in silence, taking deep breaths, listening to my heart beat, until the doors opened right in front of 1901. I took another deep breath, shook myself out of reverie, plastered a smile on my face, and walked in.

"Daphne!" He and Roz were sitting on the sofa watching tv. Mister Crane was snoring from his chair. I ignored them. I couldn't deal with it now. I felt full and empty at the same time.

I walked to my room, threw my things on the bed, stepped into the bathroom, and turned on the shower.

I didn't really want to take one, though.

I let it run, picked up the phone, and dialed the hotel where my mother just might still be staying.

"Hallo?"

I sighed. "Mum. You're still here."

"Yes, I am, Daphne Moon! Me and Stevie. Your Aunt Ida and the rest already went home, and Simon's decided to stay on for a while. Where in bloody hell have you been?"

I smiled sadly. "Oh, I've been about, Mum. When are you leaving for home?"

"Just tonight, Daphne Moon, but I would have appreciated spending a spot of time with my baby girl!"

I sighed. "I think you will yet, Mum. What's your flight number?"

She told me, and I wrote it down. I told her I'd meet her at the airport. Then I called the airline and booked my own flight.

I took a deep breath. Relief washed over me, and I knew I'd done right. I suddenly had a flash. My father working on the docks. Bending over his cages to see what he'd caught. My father. I needed to see him. I stepped in the shower and savored the heat on my back.

YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN

A week after they'd left, I was sitting on my couch beside Roz, watching the sappy tv show to which she's gotten me addicted. Dad had been watching it with us, but now he was fast asleep on that horrid chair of his, Eddie snoring in his lap.

That's when Daphne decided to make her appearance.

She walked in, looking tired and dirty but otherwise intact.

What can you expect after a week in the RDWRER?

She didn't say anything when she came in, just smiled stiffly on the way to her room.

Eddie awoke immediately and cocked his head curiously at her. When I overcame my own shock, I jumped up and walked after her. "Daphne?"

Roz yawned. "Too late, Frasier. I just heard the shower cut on. I'd want a shower after a week in that Winnebago, too."

I sat back down on the couch. "Well, goodness. What do you suppose happened? Why isn't Niles here?"

Roz rolled her eyes. "Nothing disastrous, I'm sure. Maybe he just has a thing about cleanliness, too."

I leaned forward. "Can I tell you something, Roz?" She nodded. Dad snored. "I'm nervous about this. Not just for them, either. For me. This will change things, Roz. Am I going to be able to cope with this?"

She leaned back in the sofa. "Well, I guess you're gonna have to, because it doesn't look like they're going anywhere anytime soon."

I shook my head. "I guess there was no stopping it. Things progress, period. That's as it should be." I was more or less talking to myself by now. "I told Dad a few days ago that I expected this." I glanced up at Roz pleadingly. "But I didn't. Not really."

She waved at me anxiously, staring at the tv. "Shh! This is a good part!"

I glared at her and stood indignantly. "Oh, a lot of help you prove to be! I try to express myself to you, and you just –"

"But, Frasier, this is the part when Suzanne reveals her feelings to Ted."

That got me. "Oh, really." I sat down and focused on the program, and Dad kept snoring. None of us noticed when Daphne snuck out behind us with a suitcase.


The knock on my door I expected.

What she said to me I hadn't.

I opened my door, clad in a dressing gown, and fixed her with a joyous smile.

She didn't look up. She was wringing her hands before her, and the floor had suddenly become very interesting.

Then, she lifted her head and looked into my eyes. "Niles, I'm leaving."

I was floored. "What?"

"I'm leaving for England tonight. With my mother and brother."

I still couldn't speak. "What?"

She shook her head and walked in around me. "Everything's just moving so fast. I need time to think. And I need for you to think, too. I feel like..." She had seated herself on the fainting couch, but I hadn't moved. I looked at her from the doorway. "I feel like the past week has been sort of surreal. And now we're jumping back into real life, and I don't know how we're going to cope with that."

I found my feet and walked over the her quickly, kneeling before her. "But this isn't coping, this is escaping. Don't do this, Daphne."

She shook her head again and placed her hand resolutely on my shoulder. "No, I'm not escaping. I just need to be with my family for a little while. I need to remember who I used to be. And I need to think. And there's no place better suited for thinking than the docks where my father works." She smiled sadly. "I need to see my father, the louse. I think I need to resolve a few things on that front." She took a deep breath. "But I won't be long. A few weeks, maybe. I'll be back before you know it. And by then, I'll know what to do. And everything will be straight. You'll have signed the papers, and Donny'll have his ring, and everything will be straight." She paused. "I need this, though."

I stood and nodded solemnly. "Whatever you think is best."

She gazed at me with those doe eyes. "I think this is best."

"Do you have time to stay? Even for a few minutes?"

She shook her head as she walked toward the door. "I'm afraid not."

I opened the door to let her leave, but she simply stood and looked at me for a bit. Then, she leaned forward and kissed me. A beautiful, simple, soft, nondemanding kiss.

She pulled back. "Goodbye Niles."

"Goodbye, Daphne."

It sounded frighteningly final.

That was the last time I heard from her for well over the three weeks she promised me.

HOMEWARD BOUND

I haven't been home many times since I moved to America.

I never realized how much I missed it until I stepped into the airport at Manchester.

Of course, I haven't even been to the airport all that often. But, even so, when you're in England, you know it. Nothing's quite so sterile anymore (as our airport will immediately demonstrate), and everything's more friendly. It's home.

Mum stepped off the plane after me. "Well, Daphne, how does it feel to be stepping off that plane with your old Mum?"

I just nodded. I'd never actually flown anywhere with her before (and now I hoped not to again – thank God I'd managed to sleep most of the way, although the connection in Newark was bloody murder), so the feeling was unfamiliar, but the feeling of being with Mum so close to home was familiar. Reminds me of when she used to take me to see Grammy Moon in Liverpool when I was just a tot. Mum would take me and Stephen, or sometimes just me, and we'd be so happy to see Grammy. But after awhile, it was time to go home again, and as much as I'd loved being away, I knew I needed to be home.

That was the familiar feeling.

My brother came out of the plane behind me and threw his arm around me. "So, Daph, is it good to be home?"

I wrapped my arms around him. "It's nice, Stevie." I leaned back from him to look into his face and tried to sound casual when I spoke. "What would you say if you and I, after we visit Dad, toured the country a bit? Just the two of us? And then maybe we could go south, and you could show me if London's changed a bit." Stephen lives in London now. He's the only one of them who doesn't work with our father.

My big brother smiled. "I'd have to call Victoria and tell her, but she wouldn't mind. She knows how excited I am that you're home."

I nodded, and we walked toward the baggage claim, my arm wrapped around his waist, his arm around my shoulders.

Home! It was incredible.

A BROTHER'S LOVE

We had realized fairly quickly that Daphne had gone. That sleazy tv show Roz forces me to watch had gone off, and she went to check on Daphne.

The first thing we did was to call Niles. He picked up the phone on the first ring. "Daphne?"

I sighed. So this was how it was going to be. "No, Niles, this is your brother."

He sighed. "Oh."

I brought the phone to the couch and sat down. "She came in earlier, but now she's gone. I'm assuming she's not with you, then."

Niles paused a bit too long, and when he spoke again, he sounded confused. "You mean she didn't tell you?"

I was quickly becoming irritated. "Tell me what, Niles? That you two have decided to take a jaunt to Japan, now?"

"No, Frasier. Just forget it. She wanted me to tell you that she's going away for awhile. She won't be home for a few weeks."

He said it very matter-of-factly, but it shocked me nonetheless. "What? Niles, would you like to talk to me?"

He sighed. "Not right now. Let me wait to hear from her first."

I nodded. "All right, Niles. Whenever you're ready, though, I'm here for you, little brother."

His voice was solemn. "Thank you, Frasier. I know you are."

DAD AND THE DOCKS

I walked out onto the dock and gazed at the water. It was dusk, and it was quickly becoming chilly.

I spotted him immediately. "Hallo, Dad."

He looked up at me, his wet, dark hair flopping in his eyes, and he watched me carefully, questioningly. "Daphne."

My relationship with my father is a complicated one. The Crane boys have heard some of my stories, and, to be honest, I'm sure they've scared them and caused them to wonder about my childhood. But I really don't think my relationship with Dad is very unusual. After all, the Crane brothers never grew up close to Mister Crane. My situation is not much different.

My father has always been very close to my oldest brothers. Stephen, especially. He was so proud of them. I don't think he really knew how to be a father to a daughter, though. As a result, he treated me like my brothers but at the same time – differently. They got his unconditional love and respect, and I got to wait on them all, more or less. But I've told that story to the Cranes already. What it all boils down to is that my father never really knew how to treat a daughter. He didn't know how to act around me or what to expect, and so we never became close. At all.

Now, over twenty years after leaving home and over ten years after coming to America, I regret that we never had much of anything, but I don't resent it. It was just how it was. I don't think the Cranes understand that, sometimes, when I tell them the odder stories of my family and laugh about them. They're not tragic. They're not crazy. It's just how it was.

I walked over to him cautiously and hugged him even more cautiously. He squeezed me back securely. He smelled like salt and sweat and home. "I've missed you," I whispered. It was the truth. Regardless of whether we were close or not, a girl misses her papa. I looked at him intently. "Dance with me, Dad. For old times' sake. Do you remember the time we danced on the dock when I was a wee thing?" I took his left hand in my right and held his right arm with my left. I rested my head on his shoulder and sighed. Home.

He held me tightly as we danced before the sunset. "I'm sorry I didn't make it to the wedding, Daph. You know I wanted to."

I leaned back, looked at his worn face, and smiled. "You'll be able to come when it really happens. When I do it the right way, you'll be there." I hoped that was true.

He nodded. "Of course I will be. Your mum told me what happened. That you decided you couldn't marry that Donny bloke and left the wedding with your boss's brother."

I nodded. "Are you ashamed of me?"

He smiled at me, and it was wonderful. "No, Daph. I'm proud of you. You, love, had the guts to follow your heart. Like those heroines in all the books you read as a tot." I smiled. I needed this. I needed him to remember who I was and know who I am now.

I sighed and laid my head back on his shoulder. "He's such a good man, Dad. But can I be with him?"

He put his arm around me and led me to the end of the dock, where we sat. He looked down at me curiously. "Why couldn't you?"

I shook my head defiantly. "I WORK for him, Dad. That can't be right. It's so confusing."

He sighed. "Your mum was a very well-off woman when we married, Daphne. I was a poor boy who worked on the docks. I'm not the one you should ask about things such as that." He gazed at me. "I'm not very good at this, love, but I'll try to help." He paused. "Do you love him, Daphne?"

I bowed my head and looked at my reflection in the water. "Yes, Dad, I do. I know I do. But is that what matters?"

"Does he love you, Daphne?"

I nodded, still not looking at him. I was nervous and ashamed and scared to hear what he'd say. I felt ten years old all over again, when I believed resolutely that my daddy was right, regardless of what he did. "He says he does. He divorced his wife to be with me. He says he's loved me for seven years, since we first met."

"Do you believe him?"

I nodded again, my eyes filling with tears. "Yes."

"Then what's wrong, love? You, my Daphne, more than anyone else in the world, deserve to be happy. Please be happy."

I wanted to cry. My father wants me to be happy. I nodded at him, stood, and dusted myself off. "So, Dad, could you use a little help out here? Clearing up your gear?" A job only my brothers had been able to help him with when we were young.

He smiled. "Daphne, I would be delighted to spend as much time as I can possibly get with my baby girl." He paused. "I think it's about time we got to know each other, don't you?"

So it was settled. We spent the rest of the evening talking about his life and my life and all our lost time. The next morning, Stephen and I headed out. I tried not to think about the Cranes for the next couple weeks as I enjoyed my favorite brother's company.

A LITTLE REPRESSED ANGER IS ONLY HEALTHY

I sighed and glanced at Frasier. "On line two, we have Zelda. She's been hurt repeatedly by her boyfriend, but something is making her go back."

He smiled, almost bitter-like. "Good afternoon, Zelda. I'm listening."

"Well, Doctor Crane, it's been going on for a long time. He'll do something terrible and hurtful, but I forgive him every time. See, I always hope that things will get better. But they don't, Doctor Crane. They just don't."

Frasier leaned his chin on his hand. "Why don't you give me an example, Zelda?"

"Well, Doctor Crane. Last week was our year anniversary. We had a trip planned together, but, a couple days before the trip, he told me he wasn't sure about us, that he needed to think about our relationship. He does that all the time. He never changes his mind or anything, but it hurts me that he's still not sure. And sometimes, when we're out in public, he'll flirt with women he meets. It hurts that he'd do it so much. I just don't know why. It's like he doesn't even understand how much he hurts me."

I could see the situation with Niles going through his head. I knew he was going to bring it up. He always does. "Zelda, my brother finds himself confronted with a very similar situation. He's been in love with a woman for a very long time. She's always casually rebuffed his advances, never understanding how much it hurt him. Once, while at a social occasion, he proclaimed to her that he adored her. She returned the sentiment and more. Once seated, though, she complimented him on his acting, thinking he was trying to prove something to his friends. That can be forgiven. She had no way of knowing he was telling the truth. But recently, he finally told her everything. He cut all ties to be with her, and she did the same. She told him she loved him. Now, a week later, she's run off to England to 'think things over,' and she still doesn't understand. This woman has the power to hurt him more than anyone else in his life, and she does so without thought.

"Zelda, I've seen how he hurts. I have to clean up the mess when she's done. My advice to you, Zelda? Leave it. It's not worth it. Get out while you can. You can find someone who treasures you, who has no doubts. Why stay with someone who constantly makes you feel unworthy and unloved? Release yourself from that grip, Zelda, and you'll be free."

God. He really is angry. I didn't see it before now.

I guess we all are, pretty much, though. Frasier's angry for Niles' sake. Mel, who I've, weirdly enough, talked to a few times this week, is angry for his sake. I'm angry for Donny's sake. Martin – well, Martin's sort of miffed for his own sake. He really needed Daphne to talk to, I guess. God knows he has enough trouble talking to his own sons.

But the weirdest part is that Niles and Donny, the two who have every right to be angry, who're really, ya know, hurting in all of this – they aren't angry. They just say that they understand and all that. But I see how poor, pathetic Niles sits by Frasier's phone, night after night, expecting a call. And Donny – Donny's still mourning losing the girl.

God, I wish I had that much power over men.

I don't know. I haven't talked to her.

Not that I should have or anything. Daphne and I, a lot, are sort of like common enemies of the same opponent or something. We were the two women on the Crane homefront, so we sort of stuck together. But we're not really what I would call close friends. Yeah, we shop together. We gossip. We have a good time. But honestly, I would never tell her my deep, dark secrets. I would never tell her the things I tell Frasier. And she would never tell me the things she tells –

Tells who?

I sometimes wonder who she tells those things to. I still don't know.

All in all, I think I have more reason to feel sorry for Daphne than to be angry at her.

Frasier still doesn't understand that.

"Well, Doctor Crane," Zelda was saying. "If you're sure."

"Zelda, I know that if my brother had given this up years ago, he would be a much healthier, happier person today. Just do it, Zelda. Take a step. Forge your own path. Don't put up with someone who takes you for granted."

"All right, Doctor Crane, I won't."

She hung up, and I made my standard "wrap-up" motion to Frasier. "All right, Seattle, it looks like that's all the time we have today. This is Doctor Frasier Crane, wishing you a good afternoon and good mental health."

I watched Frasier grimace and lean back in his seat, rubbing his face, and I wondered how the whole situation would turn out.

A BROTHER'S LOVE, PART II

About two weeks later, Stevie and I sat together on the chalk cliffs on the southern coast early in the morning – watching the sun rise. "Once the fog lifts a bit, we'll just be able to see France." Stevie pointed across the straight.

I elbowed him. "I haven't forgotten everything, Stevie."

He shook his head lazily. He was sitting beside me, black hair wet from the recent downpour we'd been caught in, knees pulled up toward his chest slightly. "I don't know, Daphne. Seems like you've been avoiding your problems these past weeks. And as much as I want to be with my baby sister, and as happy as I am that she made her peace with our dad, I also want her to deal with this."

I sighed and put my equally wet head down on his shoulder. My soaked clothes were clinging to me in a way that drove me crazy. "I'm so jealous of you sometimes, Stevie."

I could feel his face turn toward me. "Why?"

"You're married to someone you love. You have two simply gorgeous children. You're happy with your job."

"You'll have all of that, Daph. In fact, you already have part of it. And aren't you the same little romantic girl who believed in true love?"

I shook my head against him. "I just don't know anymore, Stevie. Dad says I should just concentrate on being happy. But what would make me happy? Let's face it, Stevie, I'm thirty-six and not getting younger. How much longer do I really have to bide my time? And my job... I love my job. But I feel that as long as I work for him, I can never be with him."

Stevie shook his head again. "You know, I've never understood that about you, Daph. If you love him, why does it matter?"

I sighed. Of course he didn't understand. He and his wife were perfect for each other in every way. "It just does. I feel... strange about it."

"But if being with him is right, then why should it matter?"

"But IS being with him right?"

"You had a smashing week with him, correct?" I nodded. "And you've missed him these two weeks. Don't lie." I nodded again. "Call him. Tell yourself that you're going to force yourself to make a decision while you're on the phone with him. And then do it. Do whatever feels right, right then." I glanced up at him, surprised. Call him, now? "Now."

I looked out toward the straight and suddenly grew excited. The fog was clearing. "Look, Stevie! France."

He looked toward me slyly. "The little sister I used to know would call that a sign."

I smiled and nodded, and we made our way back to our hotel. I dried off, changed, and looked at the clock. 5:45 in the morning. It would be 9:45 at night in Seattle. I picked up the phone and dialed.

RAGIN' CRANE

The next couple weeks progressed as usual with two major differences: Niles and Daphne. Daphne was still in England, apparently – that much I'd gotten out of Niles, although none of us had heard from her. It had been hell here without her. Teach me to appreciate her presence at the very least, if not her behavior. I did the laundry every morning, I walked Eddie, I went to work, I came home, I cooked dinner, I helped Dad with the exercises he couldn't do by himself, and I started it all over the next morning.

It was killing me.

Niles... Well, Niles had become more or less a constant presence at the Elliot Bay Towers during the evenings. He spent all day at work, buried himself beneath it, in fact. He was suddenly in the midst of about ten different articles on everything from dissociative disorder to his new "break-through" in dream interpretation. After he met with his patients, he came to my apartment with his little laptop and typed away until nightfall. When asked if he wanted dinner, he'd mumble, "Not hungry," under his breath. When asked why he couldn't work at the Montana, he wouldn't say anything.

Then, when night fell, he would close his laptop, pull his tie off, undo the top couple buttons of his dress shirt, and seat himself in front of the grand piano without so much as a word to any of us. Then he would bang out what sounded like the complete Gershwin songbook.

Mind you, I have nothing against Gershwin. Nothing at all.

But I must've heard "You Can't Take That Away From Me" and "But Not For Me" about a hundred times a piece now. And "How Long Has This Been Going On" has shown up more than those two combined.

Right now, he was lumbering his way through a sorrowful rendition of "But Not For Me." At least he didn't sing.

Finally, Dad, who was trying to watch football, Ballantine in hand, got fed up. He rolled his eyes, stood up out of his chair, patted Eddie, who had buried his face in my couch cushions, on the head, walked over to the piano, and knocked the arm out from under the lid. It fell with a CRACK!, causing me to grimace at the damage I was sure had ensued but also causing Niles' playing to be abruptly muffled.

"Thank God!" Dad mumbled. "Should have done that days ago!"

Niles shook his head. "Well, it's obvious I'm not wanted here. I can take a hint. I'll leave." Dad must know something I don't. His little... loud... hint had done what two weeks of my more subtle ones had failed to do.

I shook my head at my brother. "Niles, you've been hammering away at Gershwin for two weeks now. You don't even know how to play Gershwin! The songs didn't become recognizable until a few days ago!" I walked up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Perhaps it would be better therapy – for you and for us – if you would simply talk about this. I know you're upset about Daphne. I gather you still haven't heard from her. We're here to listen, Niles."

To be honest, I was angry at Daphne. Very angry. She always seems to do this, knowingly or unknowingly. She'll give him so much hope and then dash it. He eventually told me what had happened at the Snow Ball. She wondered why I barely said a word to her for weeks. Now was worse, though. Now I couldn't blame her behavior on her ignorance of the situation. She had run, and my brother was hurting.

And, in the process, hurting us with that frightful Gershwin.

He sighed, but just when I thought he might say something, the phone rang.

All four of us – Eddie included, of course – turned to stare at it as if it were a foreign object. Finally, I snapped to my senses and walked over to it. "Hello?"

"Doctor Crane?" Her voice was far away and tinny, but, by God, there she was.

"Daphne!" I glanced at Niles. He looked worried and thrilled and terrified at the same time. And suddenly, I couldn't get mad at her. Not in front of him. When she came back, though... "We've all been worried sick!"

She laughed slightly. "No need, no need. I'm in Dover with my brother. I wanted to tell you all I'm fine. But I'm not sure when I'll be home."

My forehead wrinkled. "What? But Niles told us three weeks."

He jumped up, a horrified look on his face. I suppose that at least before, he had thought he only had another week without her. Now, it was indefinite.

"I thought it would be three weeks. But I'm discovering how much I needed to be here. I hope you don't mind, but I just don't know."

I shook my head. "No, Daphne, of course we don't mind. Stay as long as you'd like." Niles gestured to me. "Daphne, Niles is here. I think he'd like to speak to you."

There was a pause. "Yes, I'd like to speak to him, too."

"All right. Have a lovely time, Daphne," I finished stiffly.

"Yes. Goodbye, Doctor Crane."

I handed the phone to Niles, and he carried it over to the couch and sat down, bowing his head over his knees, free hand buried in his hair. His conversation was hushed, but I could hear him still. "Daphne. You didn't call... No, I understand... That's wonderful, love. I'm happy for you... I've missed you, too... Yes, I've been thinking as well..." Here, he smiled and didn't speak for several minutes, but as he listened, his smile grew and his head lowered. My brother the bashful. Finally, he continued. "I'm so happy to hear it. So when will you be back?" He listened carefully and frowned a bit but nodded. "No, that's fine. I know that you needed this... I can't wait to see you... I love you." Fantastic. Thrilling. After one week with her, my brother has been transformed into a puddle of sentimentality. An utterly forgiving puddle. Damn him, but why couldn't he be indignant? Angry about how he was treated?

As my father would say (and probably, in fact, was), Aw, Jeez...

Niles hung up the phone, smiled at us all, picked up his things, and left, closing the door softly behind him, almost as though it would break.

I had to find some way to stop him from going back to her.

I had to, for his sake.

ALL EYES ON SEATTLE

We took a coach into London that same morning, just an hour after my call, where I did a spot of shopping and picked out a simply smashing pair of shoes at Shelley's, a fabulous skirt at Selfridges, and a fabulous trenchcoat at Topshop. For all its Neiman Marcuses and Armanis and Versacis and Guccis, you can't buy clothes like these in America. I lunched with Stevie, Victoria, and their little boys, Bryan and Stephen, but by early afternoon, I was packed and on my way to the airport.

I had to go home.

Home? Since when did I consider Seattle HOME?

I suppose for some time now.

"Goodbye, Stevie," I said as I prepared myself to board the plane at Gatwick International Airport two weeks after arriving in Manchester.

"G'bye, Daph, love. I'll miss you," he replied as he engulfed me in the most monstrous bear-hug of my life. "You're doing the right thing," he whispered in my ear. I nodded. I knew I was. "But you remember, if he ever treats you wrong, you call your brother, and I'll show him how to treat my little sister."

I shook my head. "This coming from the little boy who used to love to wrestle me on the docks and lock me in closets."

He grinned. "Aw, Daph. Goodbye, baby."

I waved at my brother and his happy family and boarded my airplane. Time to go home.

OFFICE VISIT

My insomnia had just left when Frasier stepped into my office at five thirty the day after Daphne called.

I glanced up from my desk. "Frasier. Is that show of yours over? I must've forgotten to catch it. Again."

He rolled his eyes at me, paced my office a bit, and then threw himself onto my couch. "Why, Niles? Why?" He thrashed his arms about melodramatically as he asked. Frasier worked up is even worse than Frasier normally.

I sighed and leaned back in my chair, tapping my pen against my desk. "Why, what, Frasier?"

He jumped up and walked over to my desk, slamming his palms down on the soft mahogany, leaning over me in a pose that would once have intimidated me. "Why are you forgiving her for what she's done to you?"

Oh, Lord. Not this. "She hasn't done anything to me, Frasier. She needed time to think. And she needed some time with her family. Which was just as well, because I needed some time, too. She's thought and come to a decision, now. What's so wrong?"

He rolled his eyes and began his pacing again, arms still flying. "What's wrong? What's wrong? For seven long years, you've been in pain because of her. I can forgive that because she didn't know. But now this. You've been hurting for two long weeks, Niles, and she still gives you no assurance that she's coming back in the near future. Can't you see that this is leading nowhere positive? Do you really need something that gives you more pain than pleasure?"

I shook my head in frustration and stood abruptly, imitating his previous posture. "You have no clue what I've been going through, Frasier. You have no idea how happy she makes me. You have no idea how glorious our week together was. You have no way of judging what makes me happy and what does not." I paused. "And while we're on the subject, Frasier, who was it who prevented me from telling her for seven years? And you can't blame your own actions on ignorance, because I've always made it very clear to you how I felt. Months ago, I asked you if you thought it might be possible that Daphne felt more for me than just friendship. You didn't even pause to think about it before you responded, Frasier. Do you know how much pain THAT would have saved me?"

His face crumpled and he sat on my couch. "But, Niles, she hurts you so much..."

"YOU hurt me so much, brother. Here's a case of the pot calling the kettle black."

He sighed. "Just think about it, Niles. Think about it." He paused and looked up imploringly. "And Niles... I'm sorry if my actions have hurt you. I truly am." His face lifted a bit. "How about some dinner?"

YOU GONNA EAT THAT?

I sighed as I watched my brother pick through his salad. You know he's in a sort when he orders a salad instead of his usual filet mignon at dinner.

"Niles, what exactly does she do for you?"

He glanced up from his prodding. "She makes me feel alive. That week... that week was phenomenal, Frasier."

I shook my head. "So she makes you feel younger or alive or something. She's not the only one who can do that, Niles. We might not have liked Mel much, but she was good for you."

He nodded. "She was good for me. But she wasn't what I wanted."

"We can't always have what we want, Niles."

He sighed and looked down at his salad again. "I signed the divorce papers this morning."

I watched him carefully. "And you regret that?"

He looked up at me. "Honestly?" I nodded. "I just hope I wasn't hasty. I have faith that she's coming back. But what if... she doesn't?"

I shook my head. "No. You couldn't have gone back to Mel after what has transpired regardless. It was too late for that, Niles."

He looked at me pleadingly. "I'm a twice-divorced man, Frasier. Twice-divorced."

My face took on a wry expression. And is that so terrible? "So am I, Niles."

"Yes, but – Frasier, what does that say about me? What kind of track record is that?"

I sighed. Not very good, I suppose. But I wouldn't tell him that any more than I wanted to be told that. "It's fine, Niles. You held on to your marriage with Maris as long as was humanly possible. It simply couldn't go on any longer. And Mel... That was –"

Niles shook his head. "It wasn't a mistake, Frasier. At least it wouldn't have been if Daphne had just..." He faded out, then looked up at me, again desperate. "Is she really coming back, Frasier?"

I shook my head. If only I knew what went through Daphne Moon's head day after day, life would be simpler. "I don't know, Niles." I glanced down at his barely touched salad. "How about if we go? I can have Roz meet us at the Montana, and the three of us can make an evening of it."

He nodded weakly. "That sounds fine."

DAPHNE VS. FRASIER

It may have been ten when my plane arrived in Seattle, but it felt like six in the morning.

Ah, right. That's because, on my clock, it WAS six in the morning.

I yawned as I stepped out of my taxi cab and into the semi-dark street in front of the Montana. The building itself looked so warm and inviting, and I made my way inside, my single suitcase in hand. I gave my name to the doorman and took the elevator to the blue foyer that served as Niles' front alcove.

Oh, bloody hell. I should have called first.

I shook my head, dismissing such thoughts. And knocked.

Niles didn't answer the door. It was Frasier.

Roz was behind him on the fainting couch. "Daphne!" she whispered in surprise.

Niles was nowhere to be seen.

At first he looked shocked.

Then he looked confused.

Then he looked very, very angry.

He stepped forward, practically pushing me out into the hall. When he spoke, his voice was a harsh, angry whisper. "Daphne! You decide now to show up?" He pointed toward Niles' bedroom, where I assumed Niles must've been asleep. "Do you even care what you've put him through over the past two weeks? No, I guess you don't." He turned away, but I wasn't about to let that be the end of it. I followed him inside and stood as tall as I could when I responded.

I managed to contain my temper. Barely. Not my elaborate gestures. I threw my hands in the air dramatically. "And do you care what I've been through? Three weeks ago, I left my fiance at the altar because of what YOU told your brother the night before my wedding. And you might not feel too sorry for me about that..." I pointed at Roz angrily. "Especially you, Roz. For your own bloody selfish reasons. But I did hurt. And I sure as bloody hell was scared. And a week later, I was just as scared. I needed to be home. I needed be with my brother. I needed to see my father. I hadn't seen him in years. Haven't you ever just needed to know that your father was proud of you?" I glanced snidely at Frasier. I could feel a few tears in my eyes. "No, I guess you don't care, do you, Doctor Crane? Well, I do. I needed to be with my family. To make sure they didn't blame me. To make sure I knew damn well what I was doing. And now I know. Now I know that I was right. And if you're upset, I'm sorry, Doctor Crane. But it's not really your place to be upset at all, is it? It's your brother's."

He was glancing at me in astonishment. Roz was gaping at me. Doctor Crane and I had our little tiffs every now and then, but I can't remember our last fight. Before I could think more about it, though, I shoved past him and toward Niles' bedroom.


Frasier gaped at me.

I must've mirrored his expression.

"God. I've never seen her that angry." I sat down on the couch weakly. It made me a little nauseous to know that part of her anger had been aimed at me. I can't stand it when people are mad at me (although it's worth it to have Frasier mad if I can get a good jab in every now and then), but it's even worse when it's a friend. I felt guilty all over for my thoughts about Donny.

He wasn't right for me, anyway. Or maybe he would be right for me if the timing was good. But right now, I'm not prepared to commit to a relationship. Which, in retrospect, was the reason I broke it off to begin with.

And, well, if nothing does come along when I'm ready, Frasier and I do have that pact. Although I don't think we ever decided if it was a contract for murder or marriage. You've gotta love the man.

But Donny – he had nothing to do with it anymore.

I still felt guilty, though.

I don't think Daph's ever been mad at me before.

Frasier slumped down beside me. "You obviously don't remember last month when she caused that four-car pileup." Oh, yeah. "God, Roz, I feel terrible. I should just mind my own business. I guess I never really thought that she could be hurting." He sighed and buried his head in his hands. "Some psychiatrist, huh?"

I put my arm around his shoulders and rubbed his back. "It's okay, Frasier. I mean, she wasn't exactly the victim in this. But I guess she wasn't really the cause, either. She won't be mad long, Frasier. She's tired, and she wanted to see Niles."

He nodded. "But now I feel guilty. I'm been trying to convince Niles all week to... forget her."

Now, I was surprised. I tried to cover it. "Well, I'm sure you were unsuccessful. Don't worry, Frasier. How about coffee? I know you didn't have much of a dinner earlier with Niles."

He nodded. "Sounds nice." Together, we stood and made our way to Niles' front door. In the quiet of the front room, I could hear hushed whispers coming from the back of the apartment.

I sighed and opened the door.

HOMECOMING or THE PRODIGAL... HMMM...

I awakened to a hand combing through my hair. "Mmmhhph." I made a muffled little tired noise and tried my best to doze again.

"Hallo, love."

Oh my God. I quickly opened my eyes and sat up.

There she was.

I remembered why I loved her, then, and why I wouldn't mind going to the ends of the earth for her.

"Daphne. Oh my God."

She smiled at me. "Good to see you, too."

I must've been glowing. "I didn't know you were coming home so soon."

She nodded a bit self-consciously. "After I talked to you, I knew I was ready to." She looked down at me. "Scoot over."

I did as I was bid, and she sat down beside me. I wrapped my arms around her, and we sat there for several minutes in silence.

"I'm glad you're ready."

She nodded into my shoulder. "Me, too."

We slept, then, in each others' arms until morning. We'd have plenty of time for talk later. A whole lifetime.

COFFEE AND SYMPATHY

I watched Roz over coffee at Cafe Nervosa. "Do you think what they have is right, Roz?"

She looked at me like I'd gone out of my mind. "I think what they have is perfect. And even if I might have been mad because of Donny, and you might have been mad because of Niles, I know she was right in everything she did. She DID need time, Frasier. Daphne's a very rational person." She grinned. "Other than the little psychic thing."

I smiled. "We decided when she first came to find it charming. It's like an especially unique party trick."

Roz raised as eyebrow at me and rested her chin on her folded hands. "I wonder if I'll ever have anything that good."

I smiled at her fondly. Oh, how I do love her sometimes. "Of course you will, honey. You'll have exactly what you want. You just have to know where to look."

Her eyebrow raised even higher in that skeptical look she has. "Oh, really, Frasier?"

"Really, Roz."

She smiled at me, took my hand, and squeezed it. "Maybe it's really hiding in plain sight. We just aren't looking because it's right there in front of us."

Slowly, very slowly, we both looked around slowly, scouring every square foot of Cafe Nervosa, until finally, our gazes came back to each other.

She grinned at me.

"Nah."