Author's Note:Many thanks to Andrea (iloveromance) who wrote a story called "Heartstrings" (which itself was a sequel to my own "Heart Troubles"), which helped inspire this story idea. It turned out to be quite a bit longer than I ever thought, but I don't think anyone will mind!
"Oh, hello, Dr. Crane!" Daphne said as she opened the door, nearly crashing into him. "I was just on me way out for a walk, since someone would rather sit here and watch a bloody Seahawks game than get some exercise!" She glared at Mr. Crane, who sat his beloved chair, staring at the TV and completely ignoring her.
"Is it baseball season already?" Niles asked. He didn't notice the smile Daphne managed to hide. "Would you like some company?"
"All right," Daphne said, closing the door behind her. "I couldn't sit there with your father for another minute! His precious Seahawks are losing at the moment, which was making him rather unpleasant." She rolled her eyes, unable to understand the obsession some men had with American football.
"Well, maybe the Seahawks can make some more baskets before the game ends," Niles said. This time he didn't miss Daphne's smile. It made him dizzy for a moment. Just then, the elevator arrived, and Niles put his arm out to hold the door open.
"Thank you," Daphne said as she stepped in. "So where would you like to go?"
"Anywhere you'd like," Niles immediately replied as he followed her into the elevator.
Daphne thought for a moment. "We could take a stroll through the park. A bit of fresh air and sunshine would do us both some good, don't you think?"
Niles nodded, barely able to concentrate on her words. He was far too captivated by her beautiful brown eyes to listen closely. A moment later, they reached the lobby of Elliot Bay Towers, and stepped off.
Daphne turned to Niles, grinned at him, and slipped her hand into his. Niles gasped at her touch. Luckily, Daphne was already setting off toward the park, and did not notice.
They were walking at a rather brisk pace, and they arrived at the park within minutes. For once, Seattle was enjoying a day of bright sunshine, and many residents were apparently taking advantage of it by visiting the park. Daphne stood there for a moment, taking it all in. "Just being out here makes you feel alive, doesn't it?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," Niles replied, still holding on to her hand and gently stroking it with his thumb.
Suddenly, Daphne let out a gasp of surprise. Niles had to turn his attention away from admirng her beauty to see what she was looking at. A sign nearby read, "Nature trail – this way." An arrow below pointed to a path lined with trees.
Daphne turned to Niles, her eyes dancing with excitement. "Let's go there!"
Niles nodded, knowing he would have agreed to anything she wanted to do, as long as he could be in her company.
Soon they were standing at the start of the path. Daphne looked all around them, obviously awed by their surroundings. "Look at this place! It's hard to believe we're still in the middle of the city!"
Niles swallowed hard, suddenly realizing he was not dressed for hiking. He was wearing a new suit along with his usual expensive Italian shoes. "Daphne, I don't know about this," he said hesitantly.
Daphne squeezed his hand. "This will be fun, I promise! Come on!" she eagerly began to walk farther down the path. When she looked back and saw that Niles wasn't following her, she beckoned. "Come on, Dr. Crane!"
Reluctantly, Niles followed, being careful not to step on anything that might ruin his precious shoes. When he caught up to Daphne, she once again slipped her hand into his, causing Niles to grab a nearby branch in order to keep his balance as a wave of dizziness came over him.
"Are you all right?" Daphne asked, noticing how pale he suddenly seemed.
"Um...yes. Just lost my footing there for a moment," Niles said, hoping he wouldn't have a nosebleed. Daphne gave his hand a reassuring squeeze, then led him farther down the path.
They turned a corner, and were surrounded by various types of plants and bushes. The sight was unlike anything Niles had ever seen before. Daphne gasped in amazement at the colors around them. "Dr. Crane! Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"
"Yes," Niles said immediately, unable to take his eyes off her.
Daphne did not notice the way Dr. Crane was looking at her, as she was still taking in the plants surrounding them. She looked at a bush a bit farther down the path, rushing over to get a closer look. Niles immediately followed her. He crouched down beside her. Daphne turned to him. "Did you ever see something that was so beautiful you could hardly believe it was real, even though you were looking right at it?"
"Yes," Niles said, once again looking straight into her eyes.
Daphne leaned forward, taking in the smell of the flowers.
Niles felt his heart race. Suddenly, he had an idea. He reached for one of the branches of the bush. Very gently, he broke it, so that the end with the flower was in his hand. He turned toward Daphne. "Here," he said, holding it out to her.
Daphne blushed. "Oh, Dr. Crane," she said.
For once in his life, Niles did not think for a second about what he was doing. He placed the flower in her hand, and gently leaned over, kissing her soft cheek. The kiss only lasted for a second, but it was the most exhilerating moment of his life.
"I really don't know what to say," Daphne said as he drew back.
Still feeling bolder than usual, Niles took her hand in his. "Daphne, you are quite right to be amazed at this place. These trees and flowers are incredibly beautiful. But none of them compares to what I'm looking at right now."
Daphne gasped as she slowly grasped what he was saying. As she looked into Dr. Crane's eyes, she noticed for the first time that they were a shade of blue she'd never seen before. She wondered how she hadn't realized it sooner. All at once, she leaned forward, gently kissing him on the lips. As she drew back, she found it difficult to breathe. But once she took a breath, she realized what she'd done. "I'm sorry, that was terribly forward of me. You probably think I've lost me head, kissing you like that!"
"Actually, I enjoyed it," Niles said. "I've been wanting to do that since the very first time I saw you."
Daphne smiled as she leaned forward once again. When their lips met, it surpassed that first kiss a million times over.
Niles looked into Daphne's eyes, hardly able to believe this was happening. His head spun as he realized he's just kissed the woman he loved twice. "I know I just gave you a single flower, but if I could, I'd give you this entire forest. Since I can't do that, I'll give you the next best thing: my heart. For as long as you want it."
Daphne's eyes welled up at his words. She hardly knew what to say. So, instead, she leaned forward kissing him longer and more deeply than before. When she finally drew back, she realized she'd made a very important decision. As long as she lived, there was no one else she'd rather kiss.