As Donny led Mel to the dance floor, a companionable feeling fell over Niles and Daphne. They no longer had to keep up polite "small talk" for the sake of others. Niles spoke of Daphne's impending wedding, and they smiled as they talked over the tiniest details.
It was a relief for Daphne to be able to talk to someone who understood that the wedding was about what she and Donny wanted, and not what everyone else wanted. Niles complimented everything from that had been chosen, from the garden where the ceremony would be held to what food would be served at the reception.
Everyone had had something to criticize about the wedding. Everyone, that was, except Niles, the only one of those closest to her who didn't feel the need to weigh in on what she and Donny had planned. Niles was still her constant companion and support.
Poor timing and missed opportunities had destroyed their chances for something more, but Niles and Daphne were still best friends. Despite the shifts in their lives, nothing had changed that. Surely that was enough.
And then Niles asked five fateful words.
"Do you want to dance?"
As Niles took Daphne's hand and gently led her to the dance floor, she had a flashback to a night over four years in the past. It came to her in fragments—an elegant red dress, a sparkling ballroom, an orchestra and beautiful music. A tango in the arms of a sweet, shy psychiatrist…and a confession.
"Daphne, I adore you!"
Daphne had been so preoccupied up in putting on a show to snub Maris' vapid friends and show them Niles wasn't the pitiful, ever lonely man they thought he was that she'd dismissed the revelation.
Or, some little voice in the back of her mind piped up, as it had since Frasier's accidental reveal, had she suspected all along but put it all up to her imagination, not daring to think herself worthy of the sophisticated Niles Crane?
Was I so insistent on convincing myself nothing could happen between us that I managed to fool myself for seven years? It wasn't just what had happened at the Snow Ball; there were so many other moments she had ignored…
"It's been a long time since we danced," Niles' words brought her out of her thoughts.
"Yes, it has…" she heard her voice crack a little and hoped Niles didn't notice. If I hadn't kept lying to myself, maybe Niles and I…
As the music went on, Niles and Daphne melted deeper and deeper into each other's arms, as close as when they'd done the tango. But this time, it felt different for Daphne. Realizing she'd given her heart to Niles (even if he'd never know) changed that. It made her want more, it made her wish they were dancing as lovers instead of friends, but that possibility had slipped through her fingers.
But for now, it was just the two of them, holding each other close. Even if Niles only saw her as a friend now, she would take this last, close moment with him before she was married.
Let time freeze, Daphne begged the universe. Make this last longer. I'm not ready to let go yet. I want to dance with Dr. Crane…Niles…as long as possible. To pretend Donny and Mel don't exist. Because, right now, it's just us and I don't want to it to stop…
"This is one of those times you don't want to end," Daphne whispered, more to herself, as she pressed her cheek against his.
Then, like the clock chiming midnight, the spell was broken. Donny cut in, bringing Daphne back to him, and Mel joined Niles.
Daphne dared one last, wistful look at him, but turned quickly away before Donny got suspicious, just missing the look of complete longing and regret that Niles gave her.
The mood changed when Mel and Donny went to dance and left Niles and Daphne at the bar. It felt like old times, just the two of them and the easy friendship they had developed. Niles forgot about Donny and even about Mel, even when the conversation turned to Daphne's wedding. Niles was sure it would be a beautiful wedding, and he told her so. And she would be even more beautiful, even if it wasn't with him…
The sense of loss Niles had tried to repress by marrying Mel started to resurface. To his relief, Daphne unwittingly created the diversion he needed.
"I love this song," she said wistfully.
"Well, where are my manners?" Niles said. He rose and offered his hand to her. "Do you want to dance?"
"Of course," she said willingly, and they went to the dance floor.
The moment he took Daphne into his arms, memories nearly five years old came back to him. He didn't remember the splendidly decorated ballroom, the other people (except for Maris' horrid friends), or even the orchestra that played the music he loved. All he remembered was Daphne, stunning and beautiful in that red dress, her brown eyes full of life as she coaxed him into a tango—and a kiss—that he would never forget.
Oh, and the little matter of that accidental confession.
"Daphne, I adore you!"
And then the dismissal of his heartfelt words. Of course, it hadn't been Daphne's fault and he knew she didn't laugh away his words to hurt him; he'd had his guard down and ended up blurting it out in the middle of the tango as Maris' set looked jealously on. Of course, she would think he was putting on a show, too. Hadn't his own father warned him about this very thing?
"It's been a long time since we danced," he commented, to distract himself from the feelings of that night.
"Yes, it has…"
The music continued, and Niles pulled Daphne closer still. He fell silent, fearing this moment would be shattered if he said any more. Instead, he closed his eyes and focused on the closeness of her and the intoxicating scent of her. Feelings Niles had long tried to deny still existed began to rise to the surface again, but he no longer tried to stop them. For now, Mel and Donny ceased to exist and it was just Niles and Daphne, back when he'd still had a chance…
Please don't let this end. As long as Daphne is in my arms like this, I can pretend she could be mine. Let me have my fantasy a little longer. Let time freeze.
"This is one of those times you don't want to end," Daphne broke into his pleading to whatever powers would be.
The minute the words left her lips, Donny cut in and Mel returned to Niles' side.
If he hadn't been so preoccupied with wanting his dance with Daphne to last forever, he might have read something from Daphne's parting words. But Donny was leading her away, and Niles took Mel into his arms, though it didn't feel quite right.
"Darling," he managed to say.
He took one last look of agonizing longing at Daphne, but she was focused on Donny. He hadn't seen her cast him the very same look just a moment before.
Let time freeze…
A/N: The title and general mood is inspired by the manga of the same name by Matsuri Hino.