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His name is Dan.

That's really all Phil knows.

His name is Dan and he's tall and he doesn’t care how badly Phil dances. He has nice hands and a nice mouth and he's touching Phil's dick right now and Dan, Dan, tall Dan with the nice hands, is his favorite person in the world right now.

(Phil might be a little drunk, but it's mostly from how turned on he is.)

*

Dan is loud when he comes, making someone in the stall beside them laugh hysterically. "You nutted, mate!" The man, who sounds far, far more drunk than Phil is, cackles.

"Fuck off," Dan shouts, loud in Phil's ear as Phil giggles, his face pressed against Dan's neck. Dan rubs a hand up and down Phil's back. Their jeans are still undone, dicks out and softening against each other.

Phil pulls back. The world is spinning and everything is happy. Dan's hair is wild, and he's smiling. He's got a dimple. Phil can still hear the music from the floor of the club outside.

Phil opens his mouth to ask Dan - to ask him what? For his number? To come home with him? On a date? He’s not sure the protocol.

But Dan's phone starts to ring and he fishes it out of the pocket of his skintight jeans, then squints at it and sighs. "Fuck, gotta go. Thanks, though. This was great."

*

Phil finds Bryony at the bar just where he left her twenty minutes before.

He asks the bartender for a glass of water. The bartender rolls his eyes, and Phil shrinks back.

"Phil, you dog," Bryony says, because she can take one look at him and just tell.

(Of course she can.)

"Shut up," Phil says.

He's not very eloquent at the best of times, particularly not so after he's just come his brains out.

"Where'd lover boy go, then?" She asks, peering around. "You two were glued to each other before."

Phil shrugs, face heating a little. "Dunno. Gone, I guess."

"One and done?" She gives him a sympathetic smile and pats his arms. "Nothing wrong with that. Come on - I've ordered us more shots."

*

The London streets are cold and quiet compared to the sweaty throbbing bustle of the club. It's early, not even midnight. Bryony's still there, but Phil had barely stuck it out half an hour after -

After Dan.

He isn't too far off from his flat, but he takes the long way 'round because he's not ready to disappear back into the quiet familiarity of his life.

He feels new, right now. He feels different. Not like himself.

He feels like someone who kisses boys because they're pretty, who lets himself be kissed back hard and felt up and pulled down a hall into a toilet.

But it'll fade. He'll step foot in his front door and blink his eyes and wonder who that person was. He'll wake up in the morning and find his every action from the night before a mystery.

He pulls his coat tighter around himself. Coffee, he thinks - he'll get a coffee, and he'll sit, and he’ll let himself be this version of himself for just a little longer.

*

A thought floats through Phil's head; his mum and how she says coincidences don't happen, that sometimes the world just needs something to be, whether you'd like to have a say in it or not.

Coincidence, he tells himself.

No, his heart pounds.

Because he's standing in front of the coffee shop half a block down from his flat and he's staring inside.

At Dan.

*

Dan's alone. He's at the counter, waiting on a drink.

He looks different than before. Younger, but not in a bad way. Just - vulnerable, maybe. His arms are wrapped around himself and he's tapping his foot and there's a spot on his face that's pink.

The girl behind the counter says something to him and he looks flustered.

Phil thinks about walking away, but coincidences don't exist and Dan tasted like sugar before. Maybe he'll taste like coffee now.

He pushes the door open.

*

Dan notices Phil just as he's reaching for his drink. His hand jerks sharply in surprise and coffee splashes out of his cup.

"Did you follow me?" Dan demands.

"No!" Phil asks, holding his hands up. "I swear. I live near here, I was just walking home."

The girl behind the counter glances over with a lazy kind of interest. Phil realizes after a moment that she's also waiting for him to order. He normally goes for something sweet but tonight he just says, "Large coffee, leave room for milk."

Dan makes a face. "Nothing in it?"

"Are you judging my coffee?" Phil asks. "I'll add sugar."

His drink doesn't take long for her to pour. He walks over to the little table where the milks and flavors and sugar packets are all lined up.

Dan follows him. "You really live near here?"

"Really," Phil says. His heart is still racing. "Do you?"

"No," Dan says. He's watching Phil stir in first one sugar, then a second. "I got a bit lost trying to find the train station, and I needed to charge my phone. She said I had to buy something."

Dan nods over to a table. His phone sits on it, charging cable leading from it to the wall.

"Can I sit?" Phil asks. "With you?"

"Thought you were going home," Dan says.

He sounds - wary.

"I'd rather have a coffee with you," Phil says.

There's silence. Dan's thinking about it, properly thinking.

Then he nods.

*

Dan doesn't make a lot of eye contact, and he spends half his time typing things into his phone.

He has nice fingers. Phil gets distracted by them. He gets distracted thinking how not quite an hour ago, those fingers were wrapped around his dick.

"So what do you-"

"No small talk." Dan sounds slightly pained. "I don't want to talk about uni. I don't have a job. I don’t have any hobbies. I spend a lot of time on the internet.”

“Oh. Me too.” Phil is thrown, but only momentarily. "So, do you like dogs?"

Dan's answer is immediate. "Who doesn't like dogs?"

"I saw this video of a poodle stuck under a house-" Phil opens the youtube app on his phone and goes to find the video.

*

He blinks and it's one in the morning and the coffee shop is closing and they've been talking for an hour.

"I can't believe she kicked us out," Dan says, shooting a glare at the door.

The door is unsympathetic, much like the girl behind it was.

"You could-" Phil hesitates. "I really do live just down that way, you could come in for a bit?"

Dan looks at him. "Is this a sex thing?"

"Do you want it to be a sex thing?" Phil asks, because he doesn't know what the right or wrong answer is, he just doesn't want to say goodbye.

"I don't know," Dan says. There's something peculiar about his voice, something distrusting but hopeful.

Phil holds a hand out. "Come home with me."

*

"I haven't slept in two days," Dan admits, sinking into Phil's sofa.

"Why?" Phil asks. He's poured them two drinks. When he sits down beside Dan, he crosses one leg under him and angles his body inward.

"Just can't." Dan tips his head back and stares up at the ceiling. "Thinking about things. Meaning of life."

"I think about whether or not I've left the oven on," Phil says. "And how mad the landlord would be."

"I think about whether or not anyone would care if I burned to death in the night." Dan's tone doesn't change. "Whether my existence on this planet has left a lasting impact on anyone. My mum would cry, but would it really change her life?"

"Dan," Phil says, because this makes him uneasy but he doesn't want to ignore it.

"Sorry." Dan laughs grimly. "Too much. That's how I am."

Phil reaches out and brushes Dan's hair off his forehead. He doesn't know why; it's just an impulse he fails to resist. "You've already left an impact on me."

"An orgasm is not lasting impact," Dan says.

"It is if it's a good enough orgasm," Phil says.

Dan catches Phil's hand with his own, brings it down and presses it to his cheek.

Dan does look very tired, Phil realizes. He looks tired and small even though he's not and Phil's chest goes tight with something strange that he hasn't felt in a very long time.

He leans in and kisses Dan.

*

They kiss -

Just kiss.

For ten minutes, fifteen, twenty.

They change position in small ways to accommodate for comfort, but they stay sitting upright, mouths opening and closing against each other, tongues wet and soft, hands stroking hair and cheeks and Phil just barely touches under Dan's shirt before moving back out and up again.

He feels drunk again even though his drink is almost untouched, the ice already melted. This is chaste compared to what they've already done, so why does Phil feel so cracked open and exposed?

"You should stay with me tonight," Phil says, when they finally part. Dan's lips are red and he can't stop looking at them. He leans in to kiss them again, a soft press mostly just against the bottom one. "I'll buy you breakfast in the morning. We won't make any small talk. You should stay. "

Forever, Phil thinks with a wild abandon. Because this feels predetermined, like he read it in his grandma's tea leaves, like a decision made by someone else. He's just seeing it through.

(Dan doesn't believe in coincidence. He'll say years on down the line, when Phil tells people how they met. It wasn't fate, it was a club hookup, it was a dead phone battery and a limited number of coffee shops in the area. It was life, throwing people together, and it just happened to get this one right, he'll say, with a mix of exasperation and that fondness that always lingers just beneath the surface.)

But here and now, Dan just yawns and says, "I'll stay."

Chapter Text

Waking beside Dan feels like falling from one dreamscape into another.

Dan looks human in the light of day, no longer bathed by the strobing colors of the club or the dim lamplight of the walk home, no longer cloaked in the strangeness of the hour. The sun is bright coming in the windows. There are circles under Dan's eyes like dark smudges. His lips are too chapped and he has a spot on his chin.

Phil wants to keep staring, like if he looks away it might prove unreal after all.

*

Dan sits with long legs folded underneath him and eats a day old croissant from the bakery bag on Phil's counter top. He's slathered it in jam, after announcing his distaste for the only flavor Phil actually has.

"Don't you have work or something?" Dan licks a smear of purple from his thumb. "I should probably be getting home."

"Where is home?" Phil asks.

"Wokingham. My parents place." He shrugs the careful shrug of someone pretending they're not bothered.

Phil knows vaguely where Wokingham is. "Near Reading?"

"Cesspool that it is, yeah." Dan finishes his last bite of croissant and stares at the plate in front of him like it might contain some indication of what to do next. "What about you? Not from London, with that accent."

He adopts a northern drawl for the last few words.

Phil laughs. "Not from London," he agrees. "Manchester, or near enough."

"You must be doing okay to live here." Dan looks around, the floor to ceiling bookshelves jammed with movies and box sets and video games, littered with pictures in unmatched frames.

"Must be," Phil says, with a smile that probably doesn't look as empty as it feels. No point in bothering with the truth, that doesn't impress anyone.

*

They don't talk about the night before.

They don't talk about fucking around in a club.

They don't talk about the coffee and the night and the quiet laughter as they walked home.

Instead Dan stands with his hand in his pocket, eyes cast towards the door. "I should," he says, and leaves it there.

"Yeah," Phil says, and wishes he knew the right thing to say.

*

It takes him four hours to notice the phone number Dan left on a napkin in the kitchen.

*

"Should I call him?" Phil asks.

Bryony's sat across from him at their favorite sushi place.

"You fucking idiot, of course you should." She fails to adequately capture a piece in her chopsticks, rolls her eyes at it, then picks it up between her fingertips. "You haven't had a date in ages. I couldn't believe you pulled last night."

"I think he pulled me," Phil admits, wanting to give credit where credit is due. "I liked it, though. I like him, I think."

Bryony pokes his arm with one of the chopsticks she's given up using. "Call him."

*

Phil does call.

Dan doesn't answer.

But Dan does text. He texts to say he doesn't like phone calls, and Phil replies back that's fine, and then sends him a picture of a corgi, because animals are always a crutch to be leaned upon during times of awkwardness.

They text for three hours, an off and on conversation that gradually slides to more on that off when Phil says he's rewatching Death Note and Dan, it turns out, has opinions on many of the characters. There's a soothing rhythm to it: Phil giving one brief thought, opinion, observation. Dan responding with a string of texts, ranging from emojis to paragraphs that could almost count as proper essays.

With every message that comes in, the odd little feeling of anticipation in Phil's stomach winds itself into something bigger and scarier.

*

Phil's on his way home from another meeting he's sure won't turn into anything really when his phone rings.

"Dan?" He asks, voice a question because they're texting daily now but Dan still maintains he hates phone calls.

"I'm at the tube station," Dan says, no fucking around about it. "I was planning on going out again, but I feel like shit. Do you want to hang out? Get dinner? Something cheap, I'm skint."

"Sure," Phil says. It makes no sense but standing there he feels like the moment is whirling around him, so fast he can hardly keep up. "Yeah. I'd love to."

"Are you home? I can be there in twenty minutes. Or should we get food first? I don't know much about the area, I usually end up spending all my money on drunks and just not eating - were you going out tonight? If you were that's - you can just tell me fuck off, you can-"

"Dan." Phil cuts off the increasingly frantic flow of words. "I'm always hungry. Do you like pizza?"

He thinks maybe he can hear a gasp from Dan, something in the back of his throat. But when Dan speaks his voice sounds fine. "Pizza's good."

*

Phil went to the circus once with his grandparents.

His brother liked the music best, followed with fascination the way it rose and fell with the dramatics of the act in front of them. Phil liked the animals. He remembers staring in awe at the elephants and the tigers in their cage, the bear who rode a bicycle.

But there were parts he didn't like. The man juggling balls of fire, the woman who swallowed a sword, and the tightrope walker - the tightrope walker whose legs wobbled and whose face was pale. There was no net under him, and all Phil could think was if this man fell - he'd splatter everywhere, for all to see. Phil had been young enough to cry into his mother's shoulder, and afterwards she took him down to the center circle where the circus performers milled around and asked if they could meet the tightrope walker.

It was supposed to be comforting. Phil was supposed to see this man was safe and sound and no harm had come to anyone. But all Phil remembers is staring into that man's face and seeing the sweat rolling into his beard and the exhaustion behind his eyes, the bone-deep weariness that came from stepping foot on that thin rope day after day.

That's what he thinks when he looks at Dan right now, unnaturally quiet sitting on Phil's sofa with circles under his eyes. Last week he didn't stop fidgeting, moving constantly. Tonight there's nothing.

Dan looks like someone who has no net under him.

*

Phil moves on autopilot, but if he stopped to think he'd realize he's mostly just doing what his mum would do. Pretend everything's alright with a cheery smile and serve up some food.

He orders pizza and pulls out crisps and a packet of biscuits half emptied and makes Dan a drink and checks three times if he wouldn't rather have soda than Ribena and only stops when there's really nothing left in his flat suitable to offer up.

"You're making it weird," Dan finally says. "It is weird, but you're calling attention to it."

"What's weird?" Phil asks, because feigned oblivion is an art he's perfected.

Dan just stares at him, then shakes his head. "Whatever. Let's watch this movie. Or fuck. Are we going to fuck?"

The word has a snap to it coming out of Dan's mouth, and that kills the mood more than anything else could for Phil.

He puts the movie on.

*

Dan falls asleep forty minutes in. He sleeps on the sofa that night.

Chapter Text

Dan stays the weekend.

It's easy like this. He's easy, slotting himself into Phil's life like he's confident about owning the space that he's in.

Which is strange, Phil thinks, because in the same moment he sits wearing one of Phil's hoodies nicked from a drawer and commandeers the video game controller he still looks at Phil like he's halfway afraid Phil's going to toss him out.

*

They've finished off an entire pizza and played so many rounds of Mario Kart that Phil's fingers are numb. It's exactly what Phil would have done on a Saturday in by himself, and yet still the best Saturday he's had in a while.

Dan gets up and takes the empty pizza box into the kitchen. When he comes back he takes the controller from Phil's hand and straddles Phil's lap.

"Hi," Phil says helplessly, hands hovering with the faintest of touches against Dan's hips.

"Hi," Dan says, and his mouth is on Phil's and it's so easy to fall into this.

*

Dan sucks cock like someone who definitely knows what he's doing. He works his mouth on Phil and one finger (but only one) spit-slick into Phil's ass and he lets Phil move without complaining, pulling off neatly for Phil to come onto himself. He helps see it through his his hand, making an appreciative sound.

"I hope you're clean," Dan says, wiping saliva from his mouth with the back of one hand. "I am. Get tested pretty regularly."

"Oh. Yeah," Phil says, panting still. He has one arm flung over his eyes, enjoying the darkness because he doesn't have to look at his own awkward naked body and his own dick still softening against his hip. "I am."

He doesn't offer how long it's been since he's been tested. To be honest he doesn't really know, but he hasn't had sex since then. But Dan doesn't really need the details of that, either.

"C'mere," Phil says, regaining enough mental function to remember Dan's still hard.

He doesn't have to ask twice.

*

They lie awake at three in the morning.

Phil's wearing pants, because he felt obligated to put something on when he walked to the kitchen to fetch them snacks.

Dan is naked and unashamed, Phil's laptop on his belly until he squeals about how hot it is and pulls one of the flatter pillows up to rest across both of them with the laptop in the middle.

"Your knee is too knobby," Dan says, nudging Phil's leg with his own.

Tiredness thrums through Phil, making his brain work slow and syrupy. He only pouts back.

"Shut up," Dan says fondly, leaning in and kisses Phil - a casual kiss, a rarity. There's something about this, being in bed entangled all together that brings things down to the simplest equation. For Phil, and for Dan too, Phil thinks.

*

Dan sleeps until late afternoon, and when he wakes up he gets dressed and ready to leave without saying much at all.

"It's been real," he says, awkwardness etched into every syllable. The tentative comfort of the day before is gone. He looks like he wants to bolt.

"I'll see you next weekend?" Phil asks, trying not to be too forward, trying not to hope too much.

Dan's cheek twitches a bit, like there's the faintest hint of something too small to be a smile but still subtly pleased, though all he actually does is shrug. "Maybe. I'll text you, though."

They don't kiss goodbye, but Dan texts him as soon as he's on the train and picks up conversation like there hasn't been a pause.

*

"So when do I get to meet the new boyfriend?" Bryony asks. They're out to lunch. It's midweek and he had to take the train twenty minutes to meet her near where she works, but what else has Phil got to do?

"He's not my boyfriend," Phil says, because - he's not, right? He can't be. Phil's not even convinced Dan's real half the time. "We're just - friends."

"Fine, then when do I get to meet your 'friend' who you fuck and also have been spending every weekend with?" She takes a long sip of her mimosa. It feels pointed somehow.

"It's not every weekend," Phil says. "Just this one. And part of the one before."

"Which is every weekend since you met him. And he's texted you, what, five times now? Just since we've been sat here?" She looks at Phil's phone. As if on cue, it lights up again. "So, I want to meet him."

He hasn't asked, but he already has the feeling Dan won't exactly want to meet any of Phil's friends. "I'll ask," he says anyway.

"So find out," Bryony asks. "And let me know. Now, tell me how the sex is."

*

He texts Dan that night to ask if he'd be interested in coming over when Phil has a game night.

Dan surprises him by calling. He never calls.

"How many people?" He asks, getting right to the point.

"Five," Phil says. "You'd make five."

"That's not too many," Dan says. "And it's Thursday?"

"You can stay over after," Phil offers, as though he's just being nice and like he hasn't spent all week wistfully thinking of how empty his flat is when he's all alone in it now.

"I have plans Sunday," Dan says. "But yeah. I can stay until then. How often do you do this?"

"Twice a month," Phil says. It used to be more often, but his friends have all developed this annoying habit of getting jobs and lives that don't include him.

"So the last time was..."

"The night before we met."

"Oh. Good. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't, um. Cramping your style."

"No," Phil says. Then he says it again, to make sure Dan gets what he's not sure how to actually express with better words. "No. You're not."

*

He lies in bed alone again, staring up at the ceiling.

He wants to sleep but his mind is racing. He's so bad at turning it off lately. He's got too many hours in the day and nowhere to put all these thoughts.

His mum thinks he should come home for a visit.

His dad thinks he should just come home.

He's not ready yet. That's what he told them both.

He just needs a bit more time.

He's got things in the works. (He doesn't.) He's had a few calls back. (He hasn't.) He's planning his next move. (He's not.) London is where he needs to be! (Is it?)

He rolls over, groaning into his pillow, before sitting up and reaching for his laptop. No point in dwelling; he'll just find something to watch instead.

Chapter Text

Dan shows up three hours before everyone else, two bottles of rum shoved in his backpack. He awkwardly hands them over to Phil. "I wasn't sure what you drink. But I'll just take them back with me if no one else likes it."

It's a cheap brand, but Phil isn't exactly discerning. "I like it," Phil says. "I still need to shower, can you entertain yourself?"

"Brought my laptop this time," Dan says. "Just give me your wifi password and you can leave me here all night."

*

Dan's not on his laptop when Phil comes back out. He's not even in the lounge anymore. Phil follows the noise as he dries his hair with a towel, letting his feet take him into the kitchen where he finds Dan in front of a sink full of soapy water.

"What are you doing?" Phil asks, blunt out of surprise.

"This place is a tip, mate." Dan looks over his shoulder. "You really have guests over like this?"

"I was going to clean," Phil says defensively.

Dan just snorts. "Right."

Phil throws his towel at Dan. It hits Dan in the back of the neck. Dan turns around, looks down at it, then looks at Phil. It's a look Phil recognizes well. His mother used to send it his way a lot.

He bends down and fetches the towel, sticking his tongue out at Dan when he straightens back up.

Dan just smirks.

*

"Chris can't make it," Bryony says, as she walks in. "He just texted. Ooh, you're a young one, aren't you?"

The last bit is directly at Dan as she walks up to him and sizes him up. He stares right back, seemingly unafraid of being judged. "I'm twenty," he says. "Not that young."

She pats him on the cheek. Dan shrinks back slightly. "Sure it's not."

She turns to Phil and winks, not subtle at all.

Phil turns to Wirrow, who seems resigned to let Bryony do her normal posturing. Can't stop a force of nature, he always says, a mixture of exhausted and infatuated.

Phil never really understood what he meant, but with Dan around he's starting to maybe suspect.

*

"You actually play games on a games night," Dan asks when Phil pulls out Catan and starts to set it up. "Board games."

"Is that - okay?" Phil asks. He hadn't thought to elaborate.

"I fucking love board games," Dan says, surprisingly passionate. "No one else I know likes to play them."

"Well," Bryony says. "We do. And we're pretty fucking cutthroat about it, so I hope you brought your big boy pants."

"What if I'm not wearing any pants?" He asks.

"Ew," she says. "Stop, I don't need to know that."

"Phil might." Dan smirks and kicks his foot under the table.

Bryony cackles, partly at Dan and partly at how red Phil's face goes.

*

The game stretches an hour and a half, distraction creeping in towards the end as their drinks empty. When it's over Phil suggests a movie instead of another round.

He loves these night like this. He thrums with contentment at people he likes gathered in a place, doing things he enjoys. He can get out of his own mind in a way he's helpless to do left by himself so much of the rest of the time.

And tonight -

Tonight Dan's here, too.

He finds himself not very sad at all that Chris canceled, because there's just enough room on one end of the sofa for Bryony and Wirrow to sit close together and just enough room on the other for Dan to slump beside Phil. It's just their shoulders touching, but every time Dan laughs at a line of dialogue or jumps in surprise or excitement at an action sequence the movements resonate through Phil.

*

Bryony helps him refresh the drinks.

"He's kind of a dick," she says. It's not necessarily an insult, coming from her. But it's not really a compliment, either. "Is he staying this weekend again?"

Phil half-shrugs. She waits. He finally says, "Yeah, I think so."

She's got something else to say. Phil can play the waiting game, too. "Be careful taking in strays," she eventually says, adding a couple of cherries to her drink. "They might look all cute and pathetic, but you don't know when they'll bite."

"He's not a stray," Phil says, voice sharper than it usually gets with her, with anyone. "He's a person. And I like him."

"But do you know him?" She asks. "Do you even know anything about him?"

Phil does, he wants to argue. He knows Dan sleeps on his stomach and how he takes his coffee and what his favorite car in Mario Kart is. He knows how Dan looks when he's coming and that he's got a dimple and he knows that sometimes Dan is slightly cruel to himself and tries to make it sound like a joke. He knows Dan's phone never rings while they're together.

But he doesn't know what Dan does with the time he's not here. He doesn't know if Dan is actually in uni or not, or where he lives during the week, or where he'd be on the weekend if not for Phil.

"I know enough," Phil says.

*

When they walk back into the lounge, Dan and Wirrow are sat closer together with their heads bowed in a deep and quiet conversation.

"I know he's pretty, but you're not allowed to leave me for him," Bryony announces, sitting on Wirrow's lap.

He rolls his eyes. "Yes, m'lady."

"Now that's what I like." She hands him a drink and looks at Dan.

"He's not my type," Dan says. He leans back into Phil, who is surprised but far from minds. It's so easy to slide his arm around Dan, rest his chin on Dan's shoulder.

He likes how solid Dan feels against him. He likes this a lot. "Good," he whispers in Dan's ear just to feel Dan shiver.

*

It's half one by the time they leave.

Wirrow hugs Dan goodbye, and Phil wonders what they talked about while he and Bryony were tending to the drinks. Dan looks soft in the eyes and a little grateful, saying he'll text Wirrow soon.

"What's that about?" Phil can't help but ask once the door closes.

Dan shrugs. "He's nice," and his voice is dismissive enough that Phil doesn't ask again. "They both are, even if I think she hates you."

"She hates everyone," Phil says. "Don't worry."

"But it was fun." Dan leans back against the door. "You have nice friends."

Phil can't help how big his smile is. (He tries. He just can't help it.) "I'm glad you like them. You can meet Chris next time."

"Next time..." Dan repeats, not a yes or a no.

The moment holds so long Phil starts to feel uneasy, so he reaches for Dan's hands and tugs him in closer. His voice goes lower and he can see the physical shift in Dan in turn, the way Dan's eyes flicker down to his lips. "There's some of your rum left. Want another drink?" Phil asks.

Dan draws in a breath and shakes his head. "Not really," he murmurs, as he closes in on the unspoken promise of a kiss.

*

Sometimes bed feels like the only place he's brave anymore. But he feels untouchable right now, swimming in the aftermath of a physical affirmation that this is real - at least in this moment.

It looks his tongue as much as everything else. He's been talking for a while, talking about the kinds of games they play and some of his other friends that come play with them sometimes. He's rambled through stories about his best friend Ian who comes down from Manchester every couple of months and his old best friend who moved to Iceland but visited once for a month.

Dan just listens to it all with sleepy eyes, smiling and laughing, occasionally calling Phil an idiot. There's space between them, but that feels okay right now too.

"Bryony works for the BBC," Phil says. "She started making videos on her own and her cv was so impressive they just hired her based off what she put on the internet. Wirrow's an artist. I don't - to be honest, I don't know what he really does every day, but he makes some really fantastic things."

"Yeah, he gave me his card. I'll have to look at his website later." Dan says, fighting a yawn. "What about you? What do you even do?"

He asks so casually, but Phil feels that sense of closing up inside he always gets whens someone asks him that. Suddenly he doesn't feel so brave after all.

"Considering my options," Phil says.

Dan laughs. "That sounds like code for you don't have fucking idea what you're doing."

"Never," Phil admits with a laugh more bitter than he means it to be.

Dan's leg drapes over his. It's the only point of contact between them. "Me either," he says, quietly.

*
Saturday night comes too fast. They order in Chinese and watch half a season of a tv show neither of them has ever seen.

Dan's wearing one of Phil's hoodies again. Phil doesn't want to point it out. He likes the sight too much to risk spooking Dan into taking it off. He likes how he can walk up behind Dan and circle his arms around to slide them into the front pocket.

"You're busy tomorrow?" Phil asks. "You're sure? You can't stay?"

He's trying not to pout. Is it even about Dan?

(It's just so quiet now, all those other hours, and the quiet makes that feeling inside his chest just want to claw it's way out in some untidy pathetic fashion, like tears on his pillow or phone calls to his mum.)

"Yeah," Dan says. "Got stuff to do. Sorry."

He says it very, very casually but he's holding himself with tension.

"Stuff?" Phil asks. He's willing to pry. Just a little.

(Bryony's words echo in his mind. Does he even know Dan? Why can't he know Dan?)

Dan glances at him warily. "Don't laugh."

Phil raises one hand solemnly. "You have my word."

"My Grandma wants me around for tea."

Phil grins. He can't help it. "You're having tea with your gran?"

"I told you not to laugh!" Dan shoves at him. "My Grandma's badass, anyway."

Phil settles back down. "I'm sure she is."

*

Dan pins him down in bed that night, whispers hot that he wants to be fucked. Whispers all the dirty things that Phil isn't even sure he's turned on by, but Dan's naked and straddling him and Dan's fingers are greedy and his mouth is desperate and his eyes stay closed. Phil can barely put string two thoughts together buried inside Dan but he does manage to wonder what Dan's thinking of and what kinds of images are dancing behind his close eyelids.

"Dan," he says, voice rough and demanding. "Dan, look at me."

Dan whines like the sound is being ripped right out of him as he opens his eyes and looks right down at Phil.

"Dan," Phil says again, because he wants Dan here and now. He can't stand the idea that Dan is feeling him and thinking of anyone else, and maybe -

Maybe that means something. And maybe Phil just needs to not think about what it means.

(But not right now, and onto the pile of things he's steadfastly ignoring it goes.)

*

Dan's gone when Phil wakes up in the morning. There's a note on the XBOX controller that reads, Had to take the early train. Nicked your hoodie, you can have it back next weekend.

Phil takes the note off of the controller, but leaves it sitting on the table just in view.

Chapter Text

On Tuesday, Phil thinks it's Thursday and calls his mum in the middle of her book group.

On Wednesday, Phil decides to go for a walk and ends up following a pigeon to the park and watching it fly up just long enough to shit on a woman's handbag.

On Wednesday night, Phil stays up too late texting with Dan.

He sleeps most of Thursday away. Later in the day he finds three missed calls from his dad. He rings back and the call is long. His dad calls, mostly, while Phil is quiet and listens.

When he hangs up the phone, he goes back to bed. He's not sleepy but the world is less big and scary with his duvet pulled up over his head.

*

Dan shows up agitated. His eyes look wild and he won't stop moving.

He makes it ten minutes into an episode of a show they started the weekend before and suddenly stands. "Come on. We should go out."

"What?" Phil asks, baffled.

"Get dressed." Dan waves a hand impatiently. "We should go out. To like, a club or something."

Phil's in his pajamas, hasn't actually found a compelling reason to change out of them today. "But I"m comfortable."

"I want a drink," Dan says.

"I can make you a drink."

Dan's shoulders are tense. Everything about him is tense. "Phil, please."

Phil wonders what'll happen if he says no. Will Dan go alone?

He stands up. "Give me a few minutes to put clothes on."

*

"I hate clubs," Phil says, still sulking.

He doesn't want to be here. He wants to be back home. Home was nice, and it had Dan.

But Dan didn't want to be there. Dan wanted to be here.

"You can't hate them that much," Dan says, paying both their way in. "We met at one."

"I was only there because Bryony forced me," Phil says.

"Well." Dan doesn't look at him. "I guess now I'm forcing you."

*

They get drinks. There's too much syrup and not enough alcohol in Phil's. Normally he likes a bit of sweetness, but this is cloying.

Dan knocks his back quickly then grabs Phil's arm. "I want to dance."

Phil hates dancing.

He hates dancing, and he hates clubs, but he's here and he doesn't want Dan to dance with anyone else.

"Okay-" He says, voice lost to the noise of the people and the music.

*

He and Dan danced before, the night they met.

Before, Dan laughed at how badly Phil danced but he still pressed his body up against Phil's and groped Phil's ass and kissed him first.

Now Dan isn't laughing. He looks like he's in pain, like he's trying to find something in the beat but can't quite get there.

Phil sinks his hands into Dan's back pockets and hauls him in close. He can't dance and he's pretty shit at putting the moves on people but he must get something right because Dan's eyes open and he lets out a frustrated little whine and crushes their mouths together.

It's a desperate kiss, wet and open mouthed and all tongue. Phil isn't sure if he enjoys it or not so he tries to gentle it. Dan lets him, slumping against Phil with a shudder. Phil moves his hands up, wraps his arms all around Dan until they're hugging more than dancing, moving still but mostly to the jostling of the crowd around them.

Dan's arms are around him then, high up with his face buried in Phil's neck, clinging.

"Shh," Phil says, even though he doesn't think Dan can hear him.

*

They dance through three more songs and when the DJ starts to talk Dan admits defeat. "We can leave, if you want. Go back to yours."

Phil takes Dan's hand. "Or we could get a coffee."

He sees the briefest flash of Dan's dimple as Dan half-smiles. "I see what you're doing."

"Yeah?" Phil grins back. "I'm smooth, right?"

Dan leans in and kisses his cheek. "I'm sorry I'm such shit company."

"Dan," Phil chastises. "You're not."

"I kind of am," Dan says. He leans into Phil as they walk.

Something gave, on the dancefloor. Something shifted. Maybe just for tonight, but that's alright.

*

There's a guy working at the coffee shop this time. Phil recognizes him, asks him how he's doing and if his dog's leg ever got better.

"You're in here a lot, aren't you?" Dan asks, giving Phil a look.

"What?" Phil asks. "I like coffee. And I get lonely."

(It's not really a joke.)

They sit at the same table in the corner, along the wall. "My brother's a DJ," Phil says. Maybe it's out of nowhere, but he's thinking of the club and how the music was too loud and the times he's been out with Martyn to gigs.

"You have a brother?" Dan asks. He sips the coffee he let Phil buy for him.

"Older," Phil says. "He's got some kind of boring job during the day but he's also a DJ. It's really cool, he's got fans and everything."

"I have a brother," Dan says, a sudden and unexpected contribution. "He's younger, though. And kind of a shithead. Like most younger brothers are."

Phil laughs. "My brother would agree."

*

It's been a while since Phil's felt like he was really good at something, but this, he thinks - unwinding Dan down slowly.

He could be good at it.

By the time the hour's out Dan is laughing more easily, head dipped down as he listens to Phil talk about something he and Ian did the summer before they both went off to uni.

"Manchester was never the same since," Phil finishes. "Or at least, that one streetlight wasn't."

"I almost went to Manchester for uni," Dan says, out of nowhere. "Probably should have. Maybe then I'd-"

He stops abruptly, looking down and shaking his head.

Phil wants to ask.

He wants so badly to ask.

But he doesn't, because navigating his way around the ever-changing paths of Dan seems to only work on basis of instinct. Dan's still here, with him. He's not off dancing with someone else, sleeping with someone else. Phil's gotten it right so far. He won't second guess his gut.

*

They walk back to Phil's flat together, arms bumping as they walk.

"God," Dan says suddenly. "That club was shit, wasn't it?"

"I really do hate clubs," Phil says. "So I've got a biased opinion."

"I do too," Dan admits. "I got in the habit of coming into London on the weekends just to like, hook up, you know? Because at least then I was doing something. Feeling... something."

"And you don't need to do that to feel something anymore?" Phil asks.

It's dangerously close to a very real question.

Dan looks at him and shrugs. "Guess not." He pauses. "I mean, you're pretty shit at Mario Kart and that makes me want to punch things but that still counts as feeling."

"Hey!" Phil says. "That's not true, I do not suck."

"You totally suck." Dan grins and elbows him, voice dropping lower. "But at least you're good at that."

"Not what I meant," Phil says. He looks around like he's afraid someone can hear them while Dan laughs at him.

*

Phil makes them a frozen pizza while Dan steals some of his pajamas. He stands in the kitchen and listens to the sounds one room over, Dan muttering to himself.

He thinks of that old camera he used to play around with. He wishes he had it now. He's not sure how he would but he'd like to keep this moment forever, to capture it in time. He wants the sound of Dan in the background, making himself comfortable. He wants the strange twilight aura around the fringes, he wants the sensation of teetering on the brink of something and still having hope that it might be fantastic. He wants to revisit this hope in perpetuity, just in case...

Well. Just in case.

*

The lights are off and they're in bed, only sleep between them and morning.

It'll be daylight in just a few hours. He feels quiet on the inside and tired on the outside. He's about to do something stupid.

"You know how much I like you, right?" Phil asks. "I like you a lot."

Dan shuffles closer and nods. "Yeah. I know. Thank you for coming out with me tonight."

His voice sounds very small.

Maybe it wasn't so stupid after all.

Phil puts his hand against the top of Dan's head and strokes his fingers against Dan's scalp. Dan sighs and moves slightly into the touch.

"You're welcome," Phil says, softly.

Chapter Text

"Can you tell me why my boyfriend appears to have taken joint custody of your stray?" Bryony asks.

"What?" Phil asks, a fork full of pasta halfway to his mouth. He shoves it in anyway, then wipes with his fingers at the dribble of tomato sauce that escapes.

"You are a disgusting man beast," Bryony says, handing him a napkin. "He couldn't talk to me for an hour last night because he was playing amateur therapist to your boytoy."

"Oh." Phil is perplexed. "I didn't actually know that."

"Still working on that whole communication thing?" Bryony ask. "Don't worry, I understand. Sometimes words are hard."

"You did like him, right?" Phil asks, finding it suddenly a very important question.

"I don't know," Bryony answers. "He was alright enough, I guess, but I'd rather trust him than like him."

"I trust him," Phil says.

"Yes, but you trust everyone," she points out. "I've somehow ended up in this unfortunate life circumstance where I'm surrounded by nothing but bleeding hearts and people who fall for the slightest little sob story."

She sighs dramatically.

Phil laughs. "I think it says more about you than us, though. You secretly want to be nice."

"Lies and slander, Lester." She points her fork at him. "Lies and slander."

*

"So you and Wirrow talk?" Phil asks. He's walking back from lunch, and he wanted someone to talk to. Dan answers now when Phil rings him, usually.

Dan didn't this time, but he called back two minutes later sounding slightly out of breath.

(If Phil weren't walking down a sidewalk occasionally passing other people by he might ask with a certain intonation exactly what Dan had been doing to make him sound like he was exerting himself.)

"Is that not allowed?" Dan asks. he sounds like he's bristling already.

Phil revises tactics. "I'm glad," he says. "I just didn't know."

"He's nice," Dan says. "We - yeah. We talk."

Phil brushes off the strange little niggling in his stomach, the idea that maybe Dan really does talk to Wirrow. He can't really blame Dan. Wirrow's quite easy to talk to. Phil himself has spent many long nights pouring his heart out to a soul that lacks judgement. There's something about Wirrow that just inspires it, makes you want to tell him your story. "He's good to talk to."

"You could invite them over," Dan says, seeming cautious. "Some weekend. I'd be okay with that."

Dan's doing that more often lately, just casually assuming Phil's time. Phil doesn't mind at all. It's nice to have someone want to be around him enough to make those assumptions.

He'll just think about that instead of anything else, he decides. "Alright, I will."

*

It's a Wednesday, creeping up on one in the afternoon. He's surprised to see Dan's number pop up on the call display of his phone.

"Are you hungry?" Dan asks.

"What?" Phil has cobwebs in his mind, still half asleep.

"Are you hungry? Lets get lunch, I'm fucking starved. I'm about fifteen minutes away if the fucking train isn't late." Dan's talking quickly, like he's just downed an entire coffee. "Are you asleep? You lazy twat, get up."

"I'm up, I'm up!" Phil says, rubbing the heel of his hand against an eye. "I'm up."

"Good. Now get dressed. I'll text you a place," Dan says, and hangs up.

*

You can't laugh, Dan texts.

Phil almost trips over nothing as he answers. Why do you always think I'm going to laugh at you?

Societal conditioning, Dan responds. Just don't.

Phil looks up -

And laughs.

It's not a mean laugh, he'd argue. It's just a surprised laugh, because Dan is wearing a suit that fits a bit too loosely on his frame and a tie and his hair is brushed more neatly than Phil's ever seen it before.

"I fucking hate you," Dan says, crossing his arms.

"Oh my god, what- what?" Phil circles around him. Dan turns in time, keeping Phil from getting the full view.

"I had a work thing," Dan says. "I didn't know I'd be so close to you."

"You-" Phil starts to say, and then stops, because maybe you work? isn't really the best question to ask.

"I, um. Come on, lets sit down. I really am hungry. And I'm fucking off work for the rest of the day, I'll tell them I got fucking lost or something." He's talking fast again, high and nervous.

"Yeah," Phil says, just to stop the flow of words. "Let's sit down and eat."

*

He makes it through four bites of his pad thai before he asks. "Dan, what do you do, exactly? You said you didn't even have a job when we met."

Dan's fingers tap against the table. "I didn't. I just started this last week. It's so fucking boring, though, Phil. You don't even want to hear about it."

"I do, though." Phil reaches out and lays his hand over Dan's. Dan stares down at it.

"Maybe I don't want to talk about it," Dan says. "It's nice, just - having you apart from the rest of my pitiful existence."

"Okay." The word is pulled slowly from Phil's mouth, reluctance obvious. "If you really don't-"

"I really don't." Dan says.

For once, the silence between them stretches awkwardly.

*

He gets a series of texts later that takes up two full screens of his phone.

I dropped out of uni. Mum keeps thinking I'm going back but I don't know if I will. Did almost two years of law at Leeds and one day I just couldn't be fucked to get up and go to one more seminar. I was shit at it anyway, guess it doesn't matter.

Now I'm back living with my mum and dad. Mum says if I'm staying there I need to be doing something so she found me this job with a solicitor in Wokingham. All I do is file things and run errands. I don't know why I'm doing this. But I don't know what else to do. I don't know why I'm telling you either. Now you'll just know what a loser I am and that you're wasting your time.

I still don't want to talk about it.

Phil stares at the messages for a very long time before he texts back, I bought more of that cereal you said you liked, so you won't starve if you wake up before me on Saturday.

*

Dan shows up later than normal on Friday.

Phil's got dinner made.

"Didn't even know you could cook," Dan says. He's sat with his legs pulled up against his body, arms wrapped around them.

"A few things," Phil says. "I spent more time in the kitchen with my mum growing up than I did out in the garden with my dad or Martyn."

"I spent most of my time with my Grandma," Dan says.

"The Grandma you had tea with that Sunday?" Phil spoons sauce onto chicken. It's not quite the color it was meant to be, but he thinks it tastes alright.

"Yeah, that one. My other one's dead." Dan takes the plate Phil hands him. "This looks good."

"Wait until you taste it to be too kind," Phil says.

"I just think it's cute that you want to play happy homes," Dan says.

He's teasing but Phil isn't sure how to laugh back.

Dan's amused express fades. "Fuck, I'm an idiot, aren't I?" He looks down at the plate and pushes his fork through the rice. "The one person in this entire fucking world that wants to do something nice for me and I just-"

"Dan." Phil shakes his head. "Don't, don't do that."

"Don't do what?" Dan's voice raises slightly. "Why even pretend-"

"What do you think my life is like?" Phil asks, and something about his voice must be different because Dan stops dead in his tracks. "Why do you think I'd judge you? At least you've got a job, you know. I don't. I finished uni and I didn't know what to do with my life so I just went back and got more degrees, and now I'm - I don't know what I'm doing, Dan. My parents let me come to London and they're paying all of my bills and I'm just not doing anything. Because I'm scared, and I think about getting a job and going into an office every single day and I just-"

Dan laughs. It's an actual laugh, not a mean one. "Yeah, Phil. Me, too."

"But you're doing it," Phil says. "You are, and that's something. Don't act like it isn't. You're doing more than I am."

Phil's voice breaks a little toward the end.

"Let's eat," Dan says.

*

They watch Requiem for a Dream with the lights turned off and a blanket pulled over them. Dan rests his head on Phil's shoulder doesn't say much as Phil tries to crawl out from under the stormcloud hanging over his head.

"My Mum and Dad want me to move back to Manchester," Phil says. "They said they'll let me have my own flat there, and I can work for Dad until I figure out what I want to do."

"You're leaving?" Dan asks.

"I don't want to," Phil says.

Dan curls in closer, practically on Phil's lap.

*

In bed Dan shuffles them around, tucks himself behind Phil and cuddles into him from behind. He's barely stopped touching Phil all night.

With their bodies arranged this way, Phil can't see Dan, but right now that's okay. He wouldn't want Dan to see the way he has to blink very quickly to avoid tears when Dan whispers, "I hope you know how much I like you."

Chapter Text

The train platform is big and noisy and familiar. Phil's been through this station more times than he can count in his life. It used to feel like coming home. Now it just feels like another place that leaves him feeling like he doesn't quite fit into his own skin.

He loves his home, is the thing. He loves his parents and he loves the bedroom that he grew up in. He loves waving to his neighbors when he goes to the shops and he loves revisiting all those places he went so many times as a boy.

But he is not who he was a year ago, two years ago, three and he does think he can fit himself back into the shape of the Phil in those memories.

*

His mum has four different kinds of cakes baked, the little ones he likes.

"Your brother's in soon," she says, sat across from him while he eats. "And your Dad's got the Risk out."

Phil groans. "I'm horrible at that game!"

"We can do one you pick tomorrow night," she says, patting his arm.

"I'm going out with Ian tomorrow night," Phil reminds her. "Haven't seen him since Christmas."

"He's welcome here, but he'd best already know that," she says.

"I think he's got something planned for us already," Phil says. He spares his mother the details; heaven forbid her twenty-five year old son admit he's going out to drink.

*

It's strange to lay in his old bed and talk to Dan on the phone.

He says as much to Dan, who just laughs. "You mean exactly what I'm doing? At least you're only there two days and then you get to go back to your own place."

"Yeah," Phil says, and leaves it at that because he can't combat the bitterness in Dan's voice and he's afraid if he tries he'll end up saying something ridiculous that doesn't help at all.

"I'm surprised you're in," Phil says. It's cautious phrasing for a question he's been trying not to ask all week. "I thought you might make plans. Might, ah."

"Might what?" Dan's voice is very blank.

"Go out," Phil says.

"Go pull, you mean?" Dan asks. "You've ruined the club scene for me, I think. Don't really want to go to all that effort anymore."

"Should I apologize?" Phil asks.

"Yes, Phil. You should absolutely apologize that I no longer spend what meager amount of money I have on overpriced drinks and have random hookups in filthy toilets just to briefly escape the oppressive monotony of daily existence. I'm so sad to actually be spending time with someone who doesn't make me want to off myself just from being around them for more than an hour."

"There's nothing wrong with random hookups," Phil says. "If you were actually enjoying them."

"I'm glad we've established that you don't slut shame." Dan sounds far too amused. "But I thought it might be the second part you took something away from."

"I did," Phil says. "I - I like being around you, too, Dan."

Phil's not really sure what he's doing. He's never had a person tell him things like Dan tells him things. But doesn't want Dan to stop. He wants to hear this, he wants to hear everything. The good and the bad and all that stuff in-between. He's just - not sure what to say back.

So he stares up at the ceiling and he's quiet and so is Dan.

(There's still a Buffy poster staring back down at him. One day his parents will decide to redo this room and turn it into something respectable. He'll be sad to see Sarah go when that day comes.)

"You should go to sleep," Dan says. Dan probably won't. He doesn't seem to sleep well at all, and spends most of his days now texting Phil about how tired he is and how many naps could he get away with during work without getting fired.

"Dan," Phil says. He's suddenly desperately not to hang up the phone. "Let's keep talking, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Dan says. "I can tell you what my idiot brother did today..."

Phil relaxes back into his pillow and listens to Dan's story.

*

"Can't wait til you're back, mate," Ian says. "We'll tear it up every weekend!"

Two pubs into the crawl and he's drunk already. Phil's nursed one at each place, leaving the last one not even finished. He already feels sad and heavy inside. He doesn't want to add a hangover to it.

He's going back to London tomorrow, but his parents want to have a Talk before he goes.

"I think I want to stay in London," Phil says.

Ian gives him a disappointed frown. "What's London got that we haven't."

"Um." Phil knocks back his pint, finding some bravado in the gesture even if it's false. "Met someone, actually."

Ian looks properly shocked. "No you fucking didn't! And you didn't tell me?"

"It's new," Phil says.

"But still, you've got a - boyfriend?" The sentence tilts into a question word the end.

Phil half-shrugs. "Don't really know what he is yet."

Ian's confused. "So you're not even dating, but you're staying in the city for him?"

"It's - complicated," Phil says.

"If you say so." Ian is still frowning. Phil's discomfort with the conversation grows in leaps and bounds. "Just don't want to see you make bad decisions because you're getting some fantastic ass. Been down that road, you know."

Phil's stomach suddenly feels like lead. It's not that at all, he wants to say. It's just that Dan's given him some new perspective on what's been missing from his life. It's just - Dan's smile, and Dan's laugh, and Dan sleepy in the mornings in his bed, and having someone to talk to at the end of the day.

He just can't find the words.

*

It's not as though he moved to the city to find anyone. He's never had a boyfriend before, not one that really counted. He wasn't closed off to the idea but it wasn't factored in.

London itself was the dream. After university, after the suffocation of his childhood home - London became the dream. London felt like a gateway to what he was supposed to have, that thing he couldn't quite wrap his mind around yet somehow still knew he needed to have.

But he never really had a plan beyond that, beyond - London. It was supposed to just work out. And it did, for a bit; a few odd jobs here and there using his post-production degree. Enough money for him to appease his parents, to appease himself.

But his parents realized after a few months what Phil didn't want to admit to himself or anyone else: it wasn't enough. It was never going to be enough, without their help to pay his bills.

He can't think of how to say that he's absolutely sure he was meant for something different than this. Dan's not the answer. Companionship can't fix the practicalities. But Dan gives him a reason to try and make it work.

It was so easy for Martyn and it's not easy for Phil and they don't understand. Phil doesn't really understand, either, but he's not sure how to tell his dad exactly what's so terrifying about living a life that's exactly like the one his dad has already lived, exactly like what his brother does as well.

*

The words don't magically come with Ian and they don't come overnight, either. The next day sat at his family's dining table with his parents across from him all that really happens is that he tests their patience and they test his.

It would be easier if he could just be angry at them, like Dan is. But Phil understands exactly how kind his parents are being to him. He understands how lucky he is. He knows that they want to be supportive and they want to give him every chance, but he's pushing the limits.

He's only got a month left on his lease. They'll let him see that through, but that's all he gets.

His mum frowns at him a lot and waits until his dad has left, leaning in and saying in her soft mum voice, "What is it, hen? What's changed? Just last month you thought Manchester might not be so bad."

"I just-" Met someone, Phil thinks. But he remembers how that went with Ian and decides not now, not yet. "I'm just not ready to come home."

She sighs and pats his hand like she always does when she doesn't know what to say to him.

*

"There's another opening, you know," Bryony says. They're at their weekly lunch, or as she calls it: Phil's weekly reintroduction into society. He hasn't told her about the conversations with his parents, or any of the things Dan has told him. "You'd be someone's production bitch, but it's a start. Not the worst start, even."

Every time her company has an opening, she says the same thing. She always says it so casually, like she thinks that it's going to upset him or scare him off if she sounds too overbearing about it. Maybe he can't blame her for that; it's been a topic he's steadfastly avoided for the past five months.

She's been patient with him. So many people have. Maybe this is where he needs to find the compromise. He can't have everything he wants in life, so maybe he just needs to stop turning away opportunity in favor of hope.

"Okay," Phil says, jarring himself out of his own thoughts tearing his eyes away from the spot just over her shoulder he'd been absently staring at. "Send me a link to the application."

Chapter Text

He kisses Dan in the open front doorway of his flat.

Dan's not expecting it. He takes a half step back before a full step forward, kissing back.

It's a different kind of kiss. Phil's aware of it. He's trying not to feel embarrassed. They've really only kissed during sex, as a prelude to something.

This is not leading anywhere. This is Phil, who hasn't seen Dan in two weeks, who has spent the last week staring at his phone waiting for a call that hasn't come and going out of his mind, whose only tether to sanity has been his friends and - Dan.

"Hi," Dan says, licking wet chapped lips.

"Hi," Phil says back, and feels himself fighting not to smile.

*

"I'm staying until Monday," Dan says. He's slouched on the sofa in his favorite spot, laptop open in front of him. "If you want me gone you'll have to boot me out yourself. And not with words, I mean you'll have to move me bodily."

"I'm not fit enough to carry you," Phil says. "I guess you can stay."

"You're fit," Dan says, then gives him a second look. "Ish."

"Hey!" Phil says. "I resent that."

"You resemble it," Dan smirks.

"I could be fit."

"You could," Dan agrees.

"If I tried."

"If you tried," Dan agrees, and this time Phil is aware he's being mocked.

He pouts. "You want me to be fit, don't you. You want to be sleeping with someone that has rippling eighteen pack abs that do crunches all by themselves. Someone who can support his entire weight on his pinky finger."

"Actually, I think pasty and out of breath from three staircases kind of does it for me," Dan says, scooting in close. "And if you were fit you could kick me out, which is what I really don't want."

"Because you're staying until Monday," Phil says, impossibly pleased.

It must come through in his voice, because Dan seems to relax. "You're okay with it, though?"

"I'll have to reschedule the parade of other guys I have coming through, but I can manage it," Phil says.

"I mean... you don't have to reschedule them..." Dan is outright grinning now. "I'm not opposed."

There's something almost giddy about the moment. It's no mystery to Phil exactly how much he's missed Dan but Dan, Phil thinks, just might have missed him too.

*

There are a lot of things they don't talk about.

Dan doesn't mention his job. He doesn't talk about hating it. He doesn't talk about the decisions he's put off making for the moment. He doesn't talk about what must be difficult conversations with his mum and dad.

Phil doesn't mention what happens when the end of the month comes, if he hasn't found proper work. He doesn't mention the application he's put in with Bryony's company. He doesn't mention the five other applications he's put in, or the emails he's sent out to his old professors asking if they've got any contacts in London.

They don't talk about the fact that Dan's got a toothbrush he leaves at Phil's flat or the way his favorite cereal lives in Phil's pantry and the fact that he's comfortable enough to order takeaway while Phil's in the shower and he knows what Phil will want.

But there's a lot they do talk about, like Phil's obsession with green envelopes and how Dan spent summers with his grandma growing up. They compare scars and trade stories and watch some of Phil's old uni films and they walk to get coffee just before the shop closes, taking it with them back to drink as they watch a movie together on his sofa.

Maybe these lazy days shut out from the world won't fix any of their problems, but Phil can't imagine ever wishing it to be anything different.

*

"It's my birthday tomorrow," Dan says, midday on Sunday.

Phil almost drops the game controller. His kart skids off the track. "What?"

"That's why I'm skiving off work," he says.

"How old-"

"Twenty-one," Dan says. "You know, I always wanted to spend my twenty-first in Vegas, because in the states that's the age that means something, right? Get pissed off my tits and watch some naked people dance and gamble or whatever you do in Vegas."

"Vegas sounds dirty," Phil says. He's trying to right his game but his mind really isn't in it. "I wish you'd told me sooner."

Dan half-shrugs. "I'm telling you now."

*

"Come on, get dressed," Phil says, prodding Dan. He sits on the edge of the bed, hand on Dan's arm.

Dan rolls over and tries to pull the duvet over his head. "'s too early."

"It's almost one," Phil says. Dan is cute, he's too fucking cute, and Phil is going to give him a good day.

Dan just groans. "You kept me up too late."

"What if I promise to never do it again?" Phil teases, trying not to linger too hard on memories of what kept them up lest he be tempted to recreate the distractions.

"You wouldn't be so cruel to a man on his birthday." Dan dramatically rolls over, flinging his arms over his head.

Phil just - he can't help it. There's a growing warmth in the pit of his stomach, fizzing upward toward his heart in that amorphous emotion-borne way.

He straddles Dan and leans down to kiss him.

It's another one of those kisses that exists just to be a kiss. Dan's smiling when Phil pulls away. "I knew you were going to plan something."

"It's not much," Phil says. "We're meeting Bryony and Wirrow at the cinema."

"You'll buy me popcorn?" Dan asks.

"I'll buy you popcorn," Phil says.

"You're nice." Dan leans up for another kiss, close mouthed and lips slotting against Phil's bottom one. "Too nice for me."

"No," Phil says, and then sinks back and yanks the duvet off of Dan. "I'm not. Now get up!"

*

A cinema date turns into dinner and dinner turns into ice cream after and ice cream after turns into going back to Phil's flat to open a bottle of wine Wirrow buys, because he says it's only right to celebrate a birthday with something good.

"I hate wine," Dan says, but he lets Wirrow buy it and he drinks it even though he makes a face the first few mouthfuls that go down.

"When do you need to leave?" Phil asks, in a quiet moment when Wirrow and Bryony are distracted.

Dan shrugs. "I think I'll wait til morning and get a train. If you can put up with me for one more night?"

He's almost certain Dan missing more work isn't the best idea, but he's greedy and he doesn't want to send Dan away so he just tells Dan of course he can stay.

*

The hour is late, the wine glasses are empty, and Phil's been listening to Bryony and Dan heatedly argue for the last ten minutes.

Wirrow's sat back with one arm around Bryony, smiling patiently.

"Sorry, no. It's shit." Dan says, steadfastly refusing to hear Bryony's arguments in defense of her current favorite mindless reality show indulgence. "If I want to rot my brain away with something that has superficial appeal and no substance I'll listen to One Direction or whatever pop factory is polluting the airwaves."

"Your boyfriend's a pretentious twat," Bryony says to Phil.

"No he's not," Phil says, and then he realizes what he's said, what Bryony's said. He doesn't for a moment think she wasn't completely aware of the trap she was setting.

He's actually afraid to look at Dan, so he stares straight head like a deer caught in the headlights. Is this the moment he's found out? Is this when Dan realizes what sorts of ideas Phil's got about them, and sets him straight? He wouldn't in front of Bryony and Wirrow, would he?

"Phil watches it too," Bryony says, not missing a beat.

Dan's hand slides into his. "Yeah, but I'm sleeping with him, so I can overlook it."

Phil manages to speak around the lump of apprehension in his throat. "Good to hear."

*

"I don't have you a present," Phil says.

They're naked together.

He's addicted to this closeness.

"Don't need a present," Dan says. He's pressed as close as he can get without being on top of Phil. "Today was really nice. I like your friends a lot, Phil."

"I think they're your friends too, now," Phil says. He's playing with Dan's hair, enjoying the curl it takes on after Dan's gotten sweaty and rumpled against the sheets the way he's just been. "I like them being your friends as well."

"Wirrow's been really nice to me," Dan says. "We've been talking for a few weeks. He's helped me sort a lot of things out about my life. Or at least, start."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Dan says, and he doesn't volunteer anything else. "I just want to not feel so fucked up."

"I don't think you're fucked up," Phil says. "But even if you were, I'd still like you."

"Shut the fuck up." Dan's voice feels slightly thick, and he doesn't sound like he means that at all. "I hate you, you're too nice."

Phil doesn't hate Dan at all. The thought has already begun to burrow itself inside his head, just how much he doesn't hate Dan. But he's barely ready to think it, much less say it to Dan.

So instead he says, "Happy birthday." and reaches over to shut the light off.

Chapter Text

On Thursday Phil puts on his best suit and stands in front of the mirror and stares at his reflection.

The dread inside him has given away to some kind of grudging acceptance, and underneath that still is some kind of determination to see this through.

*

He calls Dan after, not on his way home but once he's back in his flat.

"I just left a job interview," he says.

He hadn't mentioned it to Dan. It felt too much like jinxing it. But now it's over and the world hasn't ended and he wants to tell someone. He wants to tell Dan.

"How was it?" Dan asks.

"Terrifying," Phil says. "I almost knocked over a glass of water and I think I called someone's baby ugly without meaning to."

"You are a mess," Dan says, not without fondness.

"I don't know if they liked me. But I can do what they want, so." He kicks his shiny black shoes off. There's a scuff mark on the side, and he's only worn them twice.

"Look at you, being all qualified. I wouldn't know what that's like." Dan's voice holds his normal level of bitterness, but it still makes a pang in Phil's chest.

"You'll find something," Phil says. It's a platitude, but it's also not, because right now Phil is coasting on a small measure of success and confident he can build on it. He's confident Dan can, too. Because Dan's brilliant. So he says so. "You're brilliant, Dan. People are going to see that."

"I'm lazy," Dan says. "Even ASDA fired me."

"ASDA is stupid," Phil informs him. He takes the suit jacket off, letting it drop to the floor and staring at it before sighing and leaning down to pick it up. If he's lucky he'll have more interviews, and he doesn't want to have to call his mum and ask what you're supposed to do for a wrinkly suit jacket. "You just need the right kind of job."

"The right kind of job for a uni dropout who doesn't do well on a strict schedule and has no verbal filter. Yeah, they'll be storming the castle just to get to me," Dan says. "Anyway. This is about you being a functioning member of society."

"Dan," Phil says.

"Hey, I have an idea." Dan says. He's talking faster now, like he does when he wants to move on from a topic. "I'm gonna come see you. We can celebrate."

"You've got work," Phil protests. "Don't you?"

"Fuck work," Dan says. That's frequently his attitude whether he's actually at work or not.

"Dan!"

Dan's voice drops. "Fuck me. Please."

"Dan..."

"I've been on break for twenty minutes. He's got nothing for me to do today. I've just been playing games on my phone for two hours before you rang. I could probably leave and he wouldn't notice," Dan says. "I'm walking away right now."

Dan hangs up the phone once he's on the train.

Phil wants to be upset with him, but he can't really. Dan is already the person he always wants to see.

*

Even if he gets the job, he won't be paid enough to cover the rent on the flat he lives in now.

It's a nice flat. His mum picked it out. It's got two bedrooms even though Phil only needs one, because she thought it might be nice for him to have friends over. It's got a balcony he rarely goes out on, because he bought two plants and they died and he hasn't thrown them out and it makes him sad to go out and see them there all brittle and brown.

He walks from room to room staring. It's not very tidy, it never is unless Dan's around. There aren't many pictures on the wall, just one collage in his bedroom of all his uni and older school friends.

It's small and it's his and he likes it. But if things need to change, if he needs to say goodbye to something, he'd rather it be this flat than this city. He's ready to start compromising.

*

Dan shows up with nothing but his backpack. "I didn't want to go home first in case my brother was there and told mum. I'm sure she'll find out anyway, I'll probably be let go like next week."

"Dan," Phil says. "You can't do that."

"Yes I can." Dan brushes past him, grabbing Phil's hand as he goes. "Come on, I owe you a congratulatory blowjob or something, right?"

"I didn't get the job. I only went on the interview," Phil says, laughing.

Dan looks over his shoulder. "Are you going to turn down the blowjob?"

Phil grabs Dan by the waist and pulls him back, kissing his neck in that spot that makes Dan shiver. "What if I want to give you one?"

Dan shrugs, leaning back into Phil. "Whatever you want, you're the one we're celebrating."

*

They fuck, and then they nap for two hours, and when Phil wakes up Dan tells him they have dinner plans with Bryony and Wirrow.

"Good," Phil says. "I don't have any food in the house."

"You're such a fucking fail." Dan rolls his eyes, reaching out to smooth back Phil's bedhead. "We can go do the shop tomorrow morning. After you buy me coffee."

Phil's face is buried in his pillow so Dan can't see him smiling.

It's just a really good day.

*

And then it gets better.

"What if I moved to London?" Dan asks.

He's sitting with his legs over the back of the sofa and his head near the floor. It looks horribly uncomfortable to Phil, but he likes the way Dan's shirt has dropped enough to show his tummy off.

"You should move to London," Phil immediately says. "That's a good idea."

"Wirrow thinks it is, too," Dan says. "Told me if I can't find anywhere else to stay I could just be a hobo on his sofa. He thinks being back in the house with my mum and dad is making me feel more like a teenager and less like an adult, and it's 'detrimental to my mental health.'"

"He does say things like that," Phil says.

"He also tells me I need to exercise." Dan makes a disgusted noise. "I told him I get plenty of exercise in bed."

"Did you really?" Phil asks.

Dan grins. "I did. But he said unless you've got really impressive staying power it probably still wasn't the kind of extensive cardio I need."

"I feel like that's an insult," Phil muses. "My staying power is just fine. Isn't it?"

"I don't have any complains," Dan says. "But. Yeah. So. You think you'd mind me being around more?"

Phil thinks about it. He thinks of Dan close, but still a few train stops away. He thinks of Dan living with Wirrow, of Dan and Wirrow having late night chats. Of Dan not needing - not wanting - to spend his weekends with Phil anymore.

He thinks of midday naps with Dan and Dan going with him to shop and the way Dan's laundry is already sometimes mixed in with his, the way Phil's own clothes tend to disappear and reappear conveniently timed with Dan's stays.

"You could-" Phil starts.

"I could what?" Dan asks.

"I mean." Phil says. "I could use a roommate."

"A roommate?" Dan repeats again. "Were you going to put out an ad?"

"Well." Phil swallows. He feels almost like this is a trip. "No, I wasn't. But."

"Then you must not need a roommate that badly."

"I was just going to move into a smaller flat," Phil admits. "To save money."

"I can get a job," Dan says. "I can help pay."

"You can have your own room," Phil says. "If you really want it."

"Do you want me to have my own room?" Dan asks. His voice is neutral in that way that Phil understands now means bad.

"Not really," Phil says. "But you could. I just don't want you to think you can't."

"Okay." Dan's face is red from being upside down. Probably. "I've never lived with someone I've been fucking before."

"What about." And oh - Phil is feeling very brave. "What about someone you're dating?"

Dan smiles that kind of smile that comes before he can stop it. Phil loves those smiles. "Aw, are you asking me to be your boyfriend? Finally?"

"Finally?" Phil mocks. "You could have asked, you know. Please sit like a normal person. I don't want to have this conversation with your ankles."

He seems to turn his bones half-liquid to somehow get himself upright on the sofa without actually falling or getting up. His hair is wild and his eyes are bright and his dimple pops proudly on one cheek. "Yeah, Phil. I'll be your boyfriend."

"Good," Phil says, and kisses him.

*

"Are we fooling ourselves?" Dan asks, voice quiet.

It's night. Dan talks a lot all the time but he says more at night, when the room is dark and they're in bed together.

"What do you mean?" Phil asks.

"We're both broke, Phil. And we don't know what we're doing. Is this a mistake?"

Phil turns over and reaches for Dan. Dan goes into his arms, their limbs bumping awkwardly until they settle themselves. "It's not a mistake," he says. "It was supposed to happen, I think."

"What do you mean?" Dan asks.

"You know, we met each other. Twice." Phil says expectantly.

"Yeah?"

"I think if you meet someone twice in the same day that means something," Phil tries to explain. "Like, we were supposed to be in those places together."

"Fate really wanted us to give each other handjobs in a toilet stall while someone pissed beside us?" Dan sounds like he is absolutely not buying it.

Phil's a little embarrassed, but also he doesn't care. Dan might be blunt in his honesty but he doesn't often actually judge Phil. "I just think we were supposed to meet. The universe wanted it."

"You're so stupid," Dan says fondly. "The universe doesn't want anything but to return us to the dust that we came from. Nothing is ever supposed to happen. It just does. Things happen and usually they're shit. But - this wasn't. I'm glad this happened."

"Whatever the reason," Phil says. "I'm glad, too."

Chapter Text

Phil tells his mum about Dan and his new job in one go, because he's not sure how else to do it.

She's quiet for a very long time afterward but when she finds her words they're twice as warm, as if to make up for the lapse. "He'll be a saint to put up with you," she says, sweetly teasing. "Ask him what sort of cakes he likes, so I can have them when you bring him around. You're bringing him around, aren't you, dear?"

He repeats the conversation back later to Dan, who rolls his eyes and says, "She'll hate me when she meets me."

(She doesn't.)

*

Phil meets Dan's mum the day Dan moves in.

She's a nice lady, tall and fit and friendly even if she regards him cautiously.

"It's good that Dan didn't need a bed," she says. "Would have been a fucking sight trying to get that up all of those stairs. I don't see how you'll stand sleeping with him with the strange hours he keeps, though."

Phil is caught unaware by the casual admission. He looks at Dan, bewildered.

"Oh," Dan says. "Yeah, I told her you were my boyfriend. Hope that's okay."

"Yeah," Phil says, and he walks behind them as they cart their boxes up and up and up the narrow staircase.

"Anyway, Phil stays up just as late as me, it'll be fine," Dan says, in a put upon voice. His mum just rolls her eyes. She looks just like him when she does it.

Phil stays a step behind, listening to them bicker comfortably while lost in his own thoughts. He needs a moment to comprehend the suddenly undeniable truth that this is his life and Dan is his person and that's something that doesn't just live in his own head.

*

Dan leaves the lights on when he goes to bed and he sometimes tries to sneak cheese into the flat and he screams too loudly when he's playing video games and some days he doesn't really want to talk to Phil at all.

But living with Dan is still the best thing that Phil's ever known.

*

"Is it supposed to be this easy?" Dan asks him once.

They're two hours deep into a video game, passing the controller back and forth.

"Is it? Easy?" Phil asks, not sure what Dan means.

"Everything else is hard," Dan says. "But like, you and me. This feels easy compared to everything else."

"What's hard?" Phil asks.

"Being together, I guess," Dan says. "Nothing's ever easy in my brain. Nothing ever works out for me. I guess I don't really understand how this did."

Phil thinks about it so long he's finished the level before he answers. "I don't think it's as easy as you think. I just think work doesn't feel like work when you like doing it. And the other stuff that we have to do and don't really want to do just feels more like work because it's not as nice to do."

"That made no sense." Dan rests his head on Phil's shoulder. "But somehow I get it anyway."

*

"What did I tell you about adopting strays?" Bryony says, half drunk and leaning on Phil. "You feed them once and they never go away."

"Your fault," Phil says, giving her an impulsive half-hug. It's his birthday, he's allowed.

"Personal bubble," she screeches, laughing.

"I'll keep hugging you until you admit you like Dan." It's not the most mature retort, but Phil is not the most sober. "It's your fault, anyway. You wanted me to get out and have a but of fun."

"Trust you to turn a 'bit of fun' into a relationship, though." She rolls her eyes, as though she isn't guilty of the same crime.

"Well, I had fun," Phil says. "And I'm still having fun."

Dan and Wirrow are back at the little booth they've snared. Dan's laughing loudly at something.

"Hi," Phil says, sliding back into the booth with a drink for each of them.

Dan leans against him. "Was just telling Wirrow about getting a second strike against me at work today."

"Dan!" Bryony gives him an exasperated look. "You just started a month ago!"

He's doing part time hours at a music shop. It's his second job since moving to London. He hates the people that come in and how hawkish the manager is about the till and he hates seeing people pass by his personal favorite albums in favor of absolute crap. But he's doing it, he's getting up every day he's scheduled and maybe it won't last forever but Dan's getting his feet underneath him again, and that's fine enough for Phil.

"If people didn't have such shit taste in music, I'd be fine," Dan says, defending himself.

"Brat," Bryony says, launching into a familiar rant.

*

Phil's own job is too long hours and people shouting at him and some days the walls do feel claustrophobic and some nights he does lay at wake thinking that he's supposed to be something more.

But it's also a feeling of triumph when he gets something very right and it's meeting new people and making friends and - and the best part -

It's coming home at the end of the day to Dan. It's being able to go out to the cinema together just because they want to and staying up too late playing video games and having enough coins to throw together and plan a trip somewhere nicer later in the year. Maybe they'll go, and maybe they won't, but planning a step ahead keeps them walking forward.

*

Phil stumbles and almost trips twice on the way back from the bathroom. His head is cloudy and he drank too much and he just wants to sleep for a year.

Dan's already in bed. He whines incoherently when he hears Phil and says, "Hurry up. 's cold."

The heating in this flat is shit. It's too old and drafty. Maybe in a year or two they'll be able to get something nicer. For now, it's extra blankets and cuddling in close.

Phil slides under the duvet and presses his toes against Dan's shin just to hear that shriek. He giggles and scoots his body along the space between them until he finds Dan, pressing a sloppy kiss to his cheek. "Found you."

"Yeah," Dan says, amused. "Like it was really so hard."