As she stood in front of Niles' door, Daphne found it hard to ease her nervousness. It was still extremely early and he was bound to be upset. But it was the only way. Besides, she was worried about him.
Taking a deep breath, she rang the doorbell, only too aware of her rapidly beating heart. After several agonizing seconds of silence, she heard the sound of footfalls and then the unlocking of the door.
Instead of annoyance she was greeted with a smile, but she couldn't hide the guilt she felt when she noticed that he was wearing his silk robe and pajamas. And, despite his tired appearance, he looked so handsome. It would definitely explain the tiny flip of her heart.
"Hello, Dr. Crane."
His expression was one of pure panic.
"Is something wrong? What time is it?"
She sighed deeply. She should have known that he'd be worried. What was she thinking?
"I'm sorry I frightened you. I know it's early but I was worried about you."
He blushed deeply, his grin similar to that of a little boy.
She reached for his hand and smiled. "Of course I was! You were so upset last night and your brother... Well... I don't even want to think about him right now."
He quickly ushered her inside, helped her remove her coat and then closed the door behind them.
"What happened? Did Frasier say something to hurt you?"
Frasier's harsh words came back threatening to bring her to tears once more, but it was the soothing tone of Niles' voice that warmed her heart. He was always thinking of her.
"No... Your brother didn't hurt me." It was what he said about you that hurt me. She added silently. "I'm just... I'm sorry that he got so angry with you last night."
"It was my fault, Daphne. I disgraced myself. I... abandoned my guest and ruined my chances of ever-."
"Hush." She said putting her fingers on his lips to silence him. She tried not to think about how surprisingly soft they felt. And she pushed the thoughts that followed from her mind.
"Dr. Crane, no matter what your brother said, you did nothing wrong. You're hurting and I want to help you."
He smiled and hugged her. "Thank you, Daphne. I can't tell you how much your kindness means to me."
"Well..." Daphne said after several seconds in his arms. "Since I came over and disturbed your sleep, the least I can do is make you breakfast."
"Oh Daphne, you don't have to go to all that trouble."
Daphne smiled as Niles followed her across the living room.
"It's no trouble at all, really. I'm happy to-."
As soon as she pushed the swinging kitchen door open, she stopped in her tracks, her hand on her chest.
Niles appeared beside her, staring into the kitchen.
Slowly she turned to him, embarrassed by the tears in her eyes, which seemed to have increased in frequency since the party of the previous evening. Praying he hadn't seen, she quickly brushed them away. And then without thinking, she touched his cheek, shivering slightly at the softness of his skin.
"Oh, Dr. Crane, why didn't you tell me?"
He stared at her in confusion. "Tell you..."
She walked into the kitchen toward the island where, just as it had the night before, the little bird lay covered by a towel.
"Oh..." Niles said, as though finally understanding.
"You're still hurting, aren't you?"
He sighed deeply, but said nothing.
"I'm so sorry, Dr. Crane."
"It's all right, Daphne. It is a bit preposterous for a man of my intelligence to be mourning a bird! Why, who in their right mind would-."
"You look tired, Dr. Crane. I imagine that you didn't get much sleep last night; or any at all for that matter. I know I didn't."
His eyebrows rose in concern and his hand went to her forearm.
"Oh Daphne, I'm sorry. Why couldn't you sleep?"
The words were out before she even realized that she'd said them:
"I couldn't stop thinkin' about you."