As We Move On

DISCLAIMER: I own nothing.

A/N: This is something different. It wrote itself more or less while I was listening to a song. Hopefully it's readable. Please do review (even if you hate it). Heavy AU after "SB, SB".

Day one after the world has ended. Niles Crane's world, anyway. He sits up in his bed with the blinds still shut. He doesn't want to see the sun. He doesn't want to see anything, or anyone. Except for her. It's always been her and from now on, he remembers bitterly, it's never going to be her again. Niles gets up and his legs hurt. The pain has taken over his whole body. Has taken him hostage. He doesn't mind. He knows the pain will end eventually; isn't that what he tells his patients? That as we move on wounds heal, but you have to let yourself work through it? Right now, he can't imagine it. He can't even hear his own words. Any words. There's nothing left within him. Only dark emptiness.

He won't say her name again. Won't even think it. It's only she from now on, no more Daphne. His mind outsmarts him. Her name hurts him like a stab wound. Like a bullet through his stomach. Pain doesn't live in the heart, it sits in the stomach. He thinks he remembers the pain. It's similar to when he lost his mother. Profound loss. But she's not dead. Daphne – again, again, his mind laughs at him – is not dead. Right now, he thinks as he checks the time, she is on her honeymoon. Somewhere out there she is happy without him; loved by someone who is not him. Here, in his darkness, it is only Niles. His demise. His loss. Only his. Always only his, because he's been a coward for too long. And when finally... when she finally found out, it was too late.

Niles tears open the blinds. He will go to work and try to forget. Her.

Day Two After. This time Niles doesn't get up. The blinds are closed. His eyes are open... he thinks. Niles doesn't want to go on. Not like this, not at all. Last night he is sure he dreamed of her. And him. Donny. The name tastes like poison. If it were, he thinks, he'd die. Right here, right now. But he doesn't. The pain doesn't kill him. As much as it hurts thinking about them, he doesn't die. He thinks of her, because he can't help it. The world goes on, he realizes sadly. Niles closes his eyes and doesn't fall asleep. The darkness, however, swallows him. It feels nice. It feels nicer than anything else.

Niles doesn't get up this day. He stays in bed and doesn't tell anyone. A little bit he hopes it rains wherever they are. He prays that it does.

On day three Frasier comes over. He lets himself in and it's him who opens the blinds. 'This has got to stop, Niles. Get up.' He doesn't. He feels weak. These are typical signs of depression, he tells Frasier mentally in what sounds like his own voice. In the end, he doesn't say anything out loud. Frasier is angry, or he is worried. Maybe he is both. He never understood his feelings for D- for her. Always called them stupid, lust, a crush, something that would pass. If it's going to go away, why hasn't it already after seven years? It's been seven years, Niles realizes. Seven. Some marriages don't even last that long. For a moment he wonders if this is all worth it, if he has a right to feel like this. Anger seeps up, challenges his apathy. Then he thinks of her smile and suddenly he hears the words she said, feels the kiss she gave him. 'I do love you, but...'. With him, it seems, there is always a 'but'. You're married, but your wife is a freak who doesn't love you. You're a great psychiatrist, but your brother is famous. Niles feels it deep within him. This is his depression. No but. He is in love with a beautiful woman... but she is married to someone else. Pain wins over anger, again, and anguish is all he feels when Frasier gently reminds him he needs to eat something. 'Maybe,' Niles finds the courage to say, 'maybe I do, but...' and that's all he manages.

The next days are the same. They pass by and Niles loses count. His father comes over and doesn't know how to deal with him. Niles watches Frasier with a handful of mail in his hand that he seems to be hiding from him; probably his divorce papers. He doesn't care. He overhears them talking about Mel and something within him changes. Does he miss Mel? He wonders. He could have made a life with her. Unlike Daphne (that painful, horrid name, he thinks closing his eyes and waiting for the pain to pass), Niles chose to leave Mel. He told her. Well, he told her he couldn't be with her. 'Why?' she asked. 'I'm in love with another woman', he didn't answer. 'It's too soon. I'm not the spontaneous man who married you. I can't be him.' She didn't understand. She slapped him and he felt no pain. Nothing she did had an impact on him. When she left, he didn't feel it. Even now, he doesn't conceive her absence, or does he? Niles wonders. One more day, he tells himself.

One more day before he starts going on with his life.

Three days later Niles finally gets up and his legs almost feel too weak. Frasier comes to pick him up. His smile is too nice for the way Niles has been acting. He wants to scream at him to tell him to snap out of it again, but he doesn't. He drives them over to his own apartment and as soon as Niles steps into the familiar apartment where he's spent so many moments with her, he feels the pressure of it all. It tries to trip him, but Frasier and Martin are by his side.

"She called." Martin tells him. Niles sits down on the couch. He remembers her being here. With him, without him. This is her home, or has been for so long.

"How-how is she?" His voice hasn't been in use for a few days and it feels thick, it feels hoarse. It simply hurts.

"Fine... she asked... she wanted to know if she still has a job."

"What did you tell her?" Niles wants to know. He doesn't want to know – but he needs to.

"I told her – it's up to you."

"Me." Niles clarifies and Martin nods. He knows his father loves Daphne almost as if she were his daughter. Inside of him there is only pain; like cancer it spreads through him slowly and deadly. This is her home, it flashes brightly before his eyes. None of this is her fault. Seven years he's been pining and seven years he'd been too scared to do anything, to tell her. To stop her from leaving like she has.

"If she wants to. I won't... I won't stand in the way."

"Are you sure, Niles?" The support from his family lifts him up. Never has he felt such solidarity. They love him. Tears spring to his eyes when he grasps the whole momentousness of the situation.

"I'm sure. It may take a while, but if she thinks she can come back... then I want her to."

Both Martin and Frasier hug him. It's the first day of Niles' Crane new life. The world, he knows, will forever spin on. Senselessly, and he might never feel carefree again. They might never laugh together again. He hasn't just lost a chance with Daphne, he has lost a friend. Maybe even his best friend.

As the world moves on, so will they.

In a couple of days, he will see her again. She will wear another man's ring and his name. The pain nudges him as if to remind him to break down right here, right now. He doesn't. He swallows it as best as he can.

"I'm proud of you, son." Martin tells him quietly.

"Sherry, Niles?" Frasier asks and there is the smallest of smiles on his lips. Things change, but then again they don't. Niles finds it within himself to return the smile, as amiss as it feels.

"Certainly, Frasier."