Niles and Daphne shared the ice cream cone. He found himself enjoying the simple experience of just being in her presence. Before long, the cone was gone, leaving the two without an activity to distract them from each other. For a moment, he watched her in silence, captivated as always by her beauty. He liked the way she held his hand as they walked. Gradually he realized there was something he needed to say to her. "I'm glad you decided to stay."

Daphne smiled. "So am I. I know if I left, I'd miss your father and your brother terribly. I'd probably miss you most of all!" She laughed, hoping he wouldn't see just how much the thought of leaving hurt.

Niles felt his heart warm at her words. "Thank you. That means a lot to me." He paused, once again struggling to put his feelings into words. "But...what happens if Dad ever really does get better? Or when he..." Niles looked at the ground, unable to finish the thought.

Immediately, Daphne took him in her arms, holding him tightly and rubbing his back as though he were a hurting child. "In that case, I wouldn't leave unless you and your brother felt you no longer needed me." She kissed his cheek, hoping it would show him how much she cared.

Niles reluctantly pulled himself out of the embrace. He reached out, gently caressing her cheek. "I'll always need you," he whispered. He couldn't imagine not seeing the person who was not simply the woman he loved, but also his closest friend.

"I know," Daphne replied with a smile.

Suddenly, Niles understood. She wasn't ready to accept his hasty marriage proposal. Not yet, anyway. But at least she wasn't going anywhere. As long as he had her by his side, he could face anything. No matter what the future held. He kissed her then, knowing that this might be their first real, romantic kiss, but it would certainly not be the last.

The End