There’s an impressive knot in Dan’s spine and he really wishes he hadn’t spent the night watching animal videos at his desk. By the time he tumbles out of his room and almost brains himself by missing a step on the stairs, Phil is already fully dressed and reclined lazily across the sofa in a way that, had it been Dan, might have looked slobbish and untidy but in this case, just appears comfortable and soft. In one hand is a mug of coffee, fresh, if the fog covering his glasses is anything to judge by, and in the other a worn copy of Frankenstein. It was a balancing act just a little on the side of worrying for someone as klutzy as Phil especially considering he was so deep in his novel that he hadn’t yet noticed Dan standing in the doorway.
“Nerd” Dan says, softly and Phil jolts in surprise, tipping the top layer of coffee into his jeans.
“Dan” He hisses in surprise, immediately batting at the denim and sloshing more coffee over his fingers, and then, “stop laughing you twat, I look like I’ve wet myself now”
“Kinky” Dan tells him and with a soft flick of the wrist, he sends a tiny swirl of magic over to dry the spilled liquid as though it had never been there at all. Phil squirms uncomfortably but Dan knows it isn’t judgement, so he flops inelegantly onto the sofa and lands half on Phil’s hip, just managing to float the coffee off into the air before it upends all over the hardwood.
“Thanks for that” Phil sighs, but it loses any heat the second his fingers wind their way into Dan’s curls to scratch absently at his scalp. Like a kitten, Dan keens, and Phil realises he’s let himself in for a morning of sleepy, whiny Dan. In a haze of warmth and comfort Dan almost forgets he’s floating a mug of hot coffee in the air and he carefully lowers it to the table, slipping a coaster beneath it when Phil ahem’s poignantly. In defiance, and rather than upset Phil by staining the coffee table, Dan flicks a ball of magic at Phil’s face. It feels, Dan knows, like being hit with cold air, or maybe a mist that soaks into your skin and chills you from the inside-out. Phil huffs out a “you’re the worst person in the world” with a gentle tilt that lets both of them know he never means it, and Dan mockingly traces a heart mid-air; a smoky, flickering pink trail of magic that leaves behind a burned-honey sort of smell.
Oh. Yes, about that. Dan is kind of a Mage.
Well, he is a Mage. It’s a whole thing, to be honest, and Phil is handling the knowledge fairly well considering he only realised the extent of Dan’s power a few weeks back.
It went something like this.
In the back of Dan’s closet, hanging just above the tiny altar filled with crystals and runic symbols, is an elegantly painted calendar he’d received as a gift when he was a teenager. Each year the dates and months would alter accordingly and sometimes, when Dan went searching for a specific fancy shirt, a little round light would wink at him from the darkness and he’d be reminded to actually give the sheet a onceover. Where humans had Saints’ Days and holidays, Mage folk held celebrations on the Solstices and Equinoxes, the change in season strengthening and pulling their power this way and that. There were other, minor celebrations too, most of which Dan would struggle to remember, as well as a few reminders Dan had scrawled on there himself.
Whatever magic force compelled his calendar was very, very stubborn and outright refused to let Dan use it as an actual, functioning date-keeper. To no avail he’d tried to add Phil’s birthday, tour dates, event dates,and book releases.But no, only notes the artifact itself deemed worthy appeared in a slightly altered version of Dan’s loopy handwriting – a fact that never ceased to offend him, honestly – and one of those was his personal day of purification. Not as drastic as it sounds, the day was something shared by all Mage-kind and occurred multiple times a year, every year, whenever an individual mage needed it. For Dan, it had to be done every six months.
As the tale goes, his ancestry had used up plenty of magic fighting “dark forces” and “unimaginable evils”, so much so that their genetics adapted accordingly and allowed future Mage to produce larger quantities of magical force. Unfortunately, in a modern society where such dark forces ceased to exist, someone had forgotten to pass on the genetic memo. Unused power had a tendency to build up in the depths of its reserves and if left un-cleansed, it could do a fair bit of damage. So twice a year, a responsible mage would perform a simple little cleansing spell to clear out the old, built up magic before it could cause any discomfort.
Well, okay. He didn’t forget, exactly, only he packed so last minute for their US tour that Phil actually came to help, and Dan had no time to delve into his box of tricks for his crystals. It wasn’t too much of a problem really, so long as he cleansed as soon as they got back from tour. Toward the end of the leg it had started to creep up on Dan like a quiet tremor, weighing down his shoulders and creeping along the back of his neck and it made Phil a little more frowny, wiggling his eyebrows in a way that indicated he’d noticed a change in Dan but wasn’t going to bring it up unless Dan was okay with it.
Dan had just mumbled something about a fever, and that was that.
When they finally got home, Dan was so drained that he slept for a week. At least, that’s what it felt like.
Today he had told himself upon finally waking, his body-clock finally ticking in working order, after breakfast.
It is no surprise that Dan didn’t make it to breakfast.
It was sleep lingering in the bend of Dan’s knees, the curve of his shoulders and the prickly warmth of his eyes. Everything slightly too warm, too fuzzy, too syrupy thick and slow. On the sofa, Phil was cross-legged with his laptop balanced between his knees, Star Wars pyjamas especially garish under the strip of white sunlight through the curtains. Sword Art Online had held his attention, even as Dan recognised one of the earlier episodes, and Dan found himself standing in the centre of the soft shaggy rug Phil insisted they have.
Having sensed Dan sloping into the room, the sound from the laptop ceased and Phil had asked, “Dan? Everything okay?”
Yes, Dan had wanted to say, but when he’d opened his mouth to speak, something screamed. It was him, he would later realise, as he tried desperately to suppress the implosion he could have easily avoided if he wasn’t such an idiot. Light came bursting forth from the palms of his hands, turbulent and raw, red and blinding. Phil was speaking but Dan couldn’t hear him, not as a few months’ worth of built-up magic forced itself from his body covering everything in the room and god, what a mess Dan would have to clean up later. As the rushing in his head began to falter all Dan could think was, Oh god, Phil must hate me. Phil must be terrified. I’ve ruined everything.
And then his hands felt the soft rug covering the hardwood and Dan knew he’d fallen, and Phil was beside him, voice wrecked, repeating Dan’s name again and again. It had been cold then, empty and raw and Dan had struggled against sleep, knowing somehow that he needed to get to Phil, needed to explain to Phil, but unconsciousness had taken him willing or otherwise, forcing him into rest.
For a little while, it went to shit.
Upon waking Dan had found himself pillowed against Phil’s thigh, Phil’s face floating in his vision, eyes red-rimmed and wide, tears clinging to the soft lashes there. Over and over he’d repeated Dan’s name, fingers firm in his hair, thanking gods neither of them believed in that Dan was alive, he was okay.
Then, Dan had remembered what had happened.
Then Phil started to ask questions.
Then Dan, master of handling difficult situations, had fled to his room and locked the door.
Something trembled, deep inside his chest and his fists clenched reflexively to stop the fear skittering at his fingertips. What if, after all this time, Phil had left? How was Dan going to explain that he kept a part of himself hidden for so many years, that he had the kind of power Phil linked with his favourite shows and books, that he held something which shouldn’t exist, not in Phil’s eyes?
He had started to really panic, anxiety pulling at his tummy and curling tight and fast around his lungs, tears falling hot onto clammy cheeks until the door had banged open, Phil silhouetted by light, arms piled to the brim with books and bits of paper and he made an aborted noise of panic, dropping everything to the ground and murmuring, voice gentle, “oh, Dan”
Slow and careful he moved toward Dan, kneeling a few respectful inches away but letting his cold fingers cup the soft edges of Dan’s face. Dan didn’t understand, why was Phil being so kind? After everything, he still wiped away Dan’s tears with the pad of his thumb, still spoke in a slow, soothing voice, still let Dan press the flat of his palm against the centre of Phil’s chest, feel his steady heartbeat beneath the soft fabric of his jumper.
Eventually hiccupping breaths subsided and Dan dropped his hand, tipping his head back to look at the cracks in the ceiling. Phil lay a hand on Dan’s forearm and said, voice soft “I know you’re a mage, Dan”
It didn’t feel like he thought it would.
Cross-legged, Phil reached for one of the papers he had brought and ploughed on, typical Phil, ever determined in the face of uncertainty. “I…did some research. I’m sorry if that’s invasive, but you can’t just explode and not expect me to be concerned, you know? I don’t know why you didn’t tell me, Dan, but that’s your choice and I want you to know I’m not upset. If that’s why you’re worried. We don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want to, but it doesn’t change the way I…the way I see you. You’re still Dan, just…slightly cooler?”
On an exhale, Dan had braved, “you don’t hate me, then?”
Phil had frowned, a proper frown, a serious one. “Be quiet. First of all you’re my favourite person, you know that. Secondly, no and thirdly, respectfully, this is the coolest thing in the world, Dan”
It was, exactly, how Dan had imagined Phil would react. Relief washed right over him in waves, easing the tension in his shoulders, softening the clench of his hands and Dan had huffed out a soft laugh. “Shut up. I did want to tell you, I promise”
“I did. I knew you’d think it was cool,” Dan paused, then corrected himself, voice dropped into a heavy northern accent reminiscent of young-Phil, “you’d think it was ace”
Phil had shoved him in the arm, mumbling “sod off, you’re the worst,” and everything was fine, everything was okay.
“Honesty time, though. The only reason I kept it quiet was because – well, my family upholds very outdated traditions and prejudices that meant at eighteen, I was only allowed to be friends with you on the condition that I hid the mage part of me. By the time I was far enough away from my family’s influence to want to tell you, I couldn’t find the words to explain I’d been lying to you for years”
“Don’t think of it as lying” Phil corrected softly. “I’m not mad, Dan”
“I know” Dan told him, and he meant it. The suffocating smog of his anxiety had finally cleared enough that reasonably, he understood that Phil really didn’t hate him, nor did he hold it against him. Dan had frowned, then, less severe than before, “did I destroy the living room?”
“A little bit?” Dan winced, “but I cleared it up. It’s fine. Are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Fine. Are you okay, your hand-”
And then there’d been a whole other situation as Phil, panicky and skittish in the face of injury had laid eyes on the deep, raw scorch mark in Dan’s palm and turned positively green, stammering aborted sentences and questions until Dan had wiggled the fingers of his good hand, letting a stream of soft peachy-orange wash away the pain and seamlessly stitch the skin back together.
So Dan is a Mage, and things are most definitely different, but he thinks they’re making it work. Mostly. Reflexively, Dan runs a finger over his palm, slightly scarred from a bumpy, hiccupping repair job but fixed nonetheless.
“You smell like lavender” Phil hums, nosing just slightly at the crown of Dan’s head as he follows the tormented monologue of Frankenstein’s monster.
“Spell” Dan replies distractedly, trying valiantly not to fall asleep curled against Phil. They had things to do, and a lazy sofa day was definitely not on the cards. Phil had even gotten dressed especially, black jeans and a soft lilac tee that must be new, Dan doesn’t remember seeing it before now, and definitely suits Phil’s soft complexion wonderfully. “Trying to get rid of pimples so I don’t look deathly when we film later”
A soft sigh, and then Phil folds down the corner of his page - he knows Dan hates it, will never let Phil borrow any of his books after the Clash of Kings incident of 2013 - and bops Dan on the head with the closed novel. “You always look nice, be quiet” he says; “I thought you were above using magic for cosmetic purposes, anyway”
“Ugh” is Dan’s very eloquent response: “I am, but it’s not like I’m re-sculpting my entire face. Just making a few blotches go away. I’m vain, Phil. There’s no denying it”
Affronted, Phil sits up very suddenly and Dan’s head slams into his hipbone. “Don’t you dare change that little red patch on your cheek. Not only do I think it’s lovely, the fans will be in mourning. Usernames will be rendered useless, dedicational gifsets will become memorial posts, protests will start on the streets-”
“Oh, my god” Dan covers his face, “I’m leaving the blemish. Which is now very visible, because I’m blushing, so thanks for that, mate”
“Any time” Phil retorts smugly, “my evil plan has worked”
“Nerd” Dan says again, poking him in the thigh, tilting his head just slightly to glance up at Phil. He’s looking back. “Ugh,” Dan says.
“Shower” Phil insists, eyes soft but brows stern. “I’ll make you eggs, but we have to get started on this video so we can have it edited by tomorrow”
True to his word, Phil is scrambling some eggs in a small pan when Dan tumbles into the kitchen wearing soft sweats and toweling his hair. Unfortunately, all of the recommended spells on Magefeed to “Dry Your Hair in Seconds!” did nothing but make his hair stiff and dried out, so vigorously toweling until it fell into a curly disheveled aesthetic was the only way forwards. On the radio, Ed Sheeran sings about love and Phil hums along softly, hips popping every now and then. He turns to face Dan and his eyes catch on a water droplet clinging to the dip of his bare collarbone. “No shirt for today’s video, Mr Fire? We’re taking this whole let the fans in a little more thing further than I expected, I see?”
“Piss off” is Dan’s eloquent response, punctuated with a painful sounding whip of his wet towel in the air. Phil stills.
“You wouldn’t dare”
Their eyes meet, like the opening sequence of an anime fight. Phil narrows his eyes. Dan tightens his hold on the towel. All at once Dan lunges and Phil shrieks, wielding his wooden spoon in defense. Bits of egg sputter across the room as he waves it around like a sword and Dan catches him in the thigh with a sharp hit, causing Phil to fall dramatically to the ground, wailing as he clutches his chest. Laughing maniacally, Dan hovers a socked foot over Phil’s chest and holds a fist out to the ceiling, declaring “and the powerful Mage defeats the puny human once and for all!” shaking his hand for emphasis. Phil giggles and tickles Dan’s ankle, almost sending him toppling.
“Would you like your eggs burned, oh powerful Mage?” Phil asks, flicking Dan in the leg, and Dan reluctantly relinquishes his position of power to free Phil.
As he chases the last few scraps of breakfast around his plate with a fork, Dan muses that nothing has changed since that day last month. It had been his main fear; the thing that froze him up at night, catapulted his heart into a frenzy. The idea that Phil might hate him, or worse, fear him. If anything, Dan suspects they might be closer than before. Somehow, there had always been something of a barrier between them. A secret that Phil didn’t know but could feel, the last part of the wall he’d wormed his way through, the last piece of the puzzle. Sometimes he’d caught Phil looking at him when he thought Dan couldn’t see, brows furrowed, as though he saw something but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Telling him everything was an Oh, an Of course, and now it felt like Phil could look at Dan and really see him, all of him, for the first time. It was wonderful.
Everything about the Mage world was utterly fascinating in Phil’s eyes; the most mundane of spells, the little spark of rose pink in Dan’s eye that lingered a few hours after a crystal-based incantation, the vials of dried leaves that were really just bases but to Phil held the secrets of the universe. Phil would never outright ask, though, no matter how many times Dan assured him it was perfectly fine. Since doing all of his research he was, unfathomably, very respectful of Dan’s privacy in terms of being a Mage and so very unwilling to pry. “It’s just-” he’d reasoned, “it feels a lot like when you tell someone you’re not straight, and they ask all these invasive questions, and they don’t get it because they’re not gay, so you just have to either smile and nod or be confrontational. And you’re not confrontational, Dan, so I didn’t want to make you smile and nod”
Even though Dan had practically begged Phil to ask whatever he wanted his friend was reluctant, and so Dan would be performing a spell and feel Phil watching earnestly, until Dan would just begin speaking aloud.
“Sage. It has cleansing properties and when mixed with Scleranthus, which has healing properties, it makes for a nice remedy for sticky common colds”
Making little potions to sell on MageBuyer under a pseudonym was another way Dan made a little money, and most customers were humans in search of natural remedies. How Phil hadn’t noticed Dan running a small business was beyond him, honestly.
Phil knowing was wonderful, relieving, cathartic, freeing.
Only, this secret, steeped in fear and worry had been a shield, something for Dan to hold tight to his chest and protect him from those feelings of adoration he’d discovered when he first met Phil. Because the thing is, Dan is sort of, a little bit, potentially in love with Phil.
And he hates that, it makes him feel wobbly inside. Can you really be in love if there’s no love to be in? Phil doesn’t love him back like that, not anymore, not after five years of good, solid, comfortable platonic friendship. Maybe he did once, when they first met, when their Skype calls skated the line of risqué and their banter was flirty and suggestive, never a promise but an open suggestion. When Dan first boarded the train to Manchester, telling his parents he was checking out the University instead of admitting he was meeting a stranger from the internet, he had butterflies like you read about in romance novels. When they’d hugged, Phil’s sweet cologne scrambling his brain, Phil’s warm arms firm around his slight waist, his hair soft where Dan’s arms linked behind his head, maybe then, Phil had felt something. When they spent the day exchanging gentle touches, heavy looks, soft words. When they shared a bed because Phil’s dad couldn’t find the inflation for the air bed, when Phil had nudged up behind Dan and curled an arm around his waist, had pressed a kiss to the point of his jaw when he thought Dan was sleeping. Whispering “I’m glad I met you”, not knowing that Dan’s heart was doing somersaults.
But then Dan ruined it. Derailed it, even.
Eighteen, naive and head over heels, Dan had forgotten to shield himself when he spoke to his parents. Animatedly talking about Phil, Phil from Manchester, Phil who made YouTube videos and thought Dan could too, Phil who was so kind and supportive and who felt like he’d been around Dan’s whole life. Phil, the human. Of course his mother added it all up; Dan always had worn his emotions on his face. She’d slammed her hand down, interrupting him mid-sentence with a furious red spark. Called in his father, shared a few terse looks and then laid into him proper, calling him a disgrace to their lineage, an idiot, a traitor. Threatening to marry him off to a local Mage his age, until Dan pleaded with them, promised he and Phil were just good friends, that it was just the fresh new sensation of having a best friend.
That night he cried himself to sleep and in the morning he texted Phil; ’can’t wait to visit again ^^ I’m glad we’re friends, even if you are a huge nerd’ and then, more painfully, biting his lip red raw he’d put ’mums setting me up with someone her work friend knows :/ I’m too awkward for dates, what do?’
And he’d screamed and fired magic into the wall over and over, and Phil, lovely, wonderful Phil hadn’t said anything, hadn’t been upset or angry, had just said ’Oh! Just be yourself, I’m sure she’ll like you :D ps I’m glad we’re friends too, I’ve never had a best friend before’
Of course he was lucky he got to have Phil, his friendship and support, his stupid habits and his tactility but sometimes, late at night, Dan would wonder what if. Would touch timid fingertips to the point of his jaw and try in vain to recall the sensation he’d felt there so long ago. As he got older and grew into himself, learned more about the world and his own views and opinions, he realised his parents couldn’t technically stop him from doing anything anymore but the weight of parental prejudice was a hard one to shrug off at any age. In the back of his mind, he would always hear his father ranting about bloodlines and lineage, see the devastated fury in his mother’s eyes.
Now though, Phil knows he’s a Mage. The one thing Dan had, the thing he held close to his chest as a reason why he could be just that little bit distant from Phil, could stop himself falling completely, it was gone. A spark had wiggled its way into his heart, now, a fleck of hope, a maybe.
It was stupid.
Not after all these years, not after this. Not now.
Soft fingertips brush the delicate underside of his wrist where it rests on the table and Phil is there, taking Dan’s plate and fixing him with a warm look, never asking but offering. Dan shakes his head, once, slightly and Phil shuffles over to wipe clean the last of the plates.
Pulling free from the depths of his mind is like swimming in a deep, dark pool, no real idea which way is up, nothing to do but struggle and kick until slowly, slowly, his eyes return, seeing the scattered toast crumbs at his placemat, the smear of butter on his own thumb. Then his ears, no longer buzzing, find the whoosh of water from the sink, the clink of plates settling into the draining board.
As he takes himself over to help Phil, his hands aborting halfway to the towel and his head resting in the curve of Phil’s shoulder instead, Phil hums; “You’re back?”
“Mmmh” is Dan’s rather articulate response. Luckily, Phil is used to Dan zoning out and over thinking by now. It’s kind of the same as Phil cooping himself up in his room to edit and re-edit things that were already fine, mind whirring even when his hand stilled at the mouse. “Do you have anything in mind for today’s game?”
Phil grins. “Yes. You’re gonna love it”
Later, they’re sprawled out on the rug in the lounge. Phil’s ankle is balanced on the round of Dan’s knee and he’s staring up at the high ceiling, eyes crossing and un-crossing as he looks up at the two sticky stars they’d managed to land up there via jumping before Dan wondered if the landlord would be mad, and they were too uncoordinated to peel them off. “Dan?”
“Could I….could you show me something?”
Between the palms of his hands Dan has been bouncing a ball of magic back and forth, changing the shape and glow and texture as he goes. He flicks it high up to the ceiling and hums when it illuminates the whole room in a rosy pink hue before rolling his neck to face Phil, cheek flat to the hardwood. The profile of Phil’s face is blanketed in the soft glow and he’s beautiful, Dan realizes, not for the first time and certainly not for the last; the kind of person who, lying like this in the lovely light of dusk, could easily be made of ivory and rosebuds, blossom and silk. Nothing Dan could conjure would be as beautiful as his vision of Phil but his fingertips buzzed with impatient energy and he swept his hand up in a curving arc, wisps of black creeping up the walls and settling like a cloud above their heads, darker and darker, joined by whorls of dark blue and grey, overlapping one another until the white cracked ceiling was all but gone. With a whoosh of breath he unleashed the rest of it, the sputters of green and blue and white, curving arcs that blended into washes of colour, Phil’s favourites, spilling into sparkling white stars and distant suns, the intricacy of it flowing all around the room, Dan’s perfectionism serving him well.
Beside him, Phil gasps, and Dan brings it lower, surrounding them wholly and completely. In awe Phil pulls himself upward, sits cross-legged and tips his head back, mouth forming a soft wow as he takes it all in and it is such a cliché but all Dan can see is Phil, soft white skin glowing in the glittery night sky, adam’s apple bobbing where his throat is stretched up, knees bumping Dan’s as they mirror one another. “Incredible” Phil manages eventually, eyes shining. Then, “you’re amazing, Dan”. It’s stupid but Dan flushes, dropping his hands to his lap as the last star slides into place, fingers still twitching as the threads of live magic wind their way back to his veins.
“So are you” he says quietly and he doesn’t think Phil quite hears it but their eyes meet, slowly, and there’s something, something that isn’t usually there, something they don’t always wear around one another. Earnest and raw and hopeful and Dan blinks, surprised, shaking his head and pulling the plug in a tizzy. Still captured, Phil shakes his head softly.
“Dinner?” Dan asks, a low rumble in his stomach at the thought of food.
“Sure” Phil agrees, “but actually order pizza, this time. I could taste your magic all over the last one, it was weird”
Dan gives him an incredulous look. “You can’t taste magic, Phil”
“You can’t” Phil insists, and then immediately whacks Dan in the chest with a sofa cushion and it settles, whatever the odd mood was, vanishes into the air as though the magic had carried it away. Dan only wishes magic could fix this particular problem, and instead of dwelling on it he slopes off to find his phone, missing the way Phil watches him as he leaves.
In the morning Dan finds his mouth creating excuses before his brain steps in to remind him that he can be honest, which results in a chunk of mumbled nonsense that leaves a pre-coffee Phil blinking in confusion. As Dan gathers his thoughts, Phil tries to pour his coffee without actually turning his body and it seems instinctive of Dan to send a cool, swirl of blue magic to curve around the kettle handle and steady the wobbly flow of scalding water. Phil seems torn between looking indignant and impressed, but it gives Dan the opening he needs to finally blurt out a coherent sentence;
“Come with me”
Well. Sort of coherent.
Phil takes a sip of his coffee, “Come again?”
“Sorry. I’m going to the apothecary. I need some more ingredients, and I wondered if you wanted to come”
Something bashful tints his cheeks a rosy pink and he can’t pinpoint why, but purely scientific logic dictates that it’s the glowing smile shaping Phil’s mouth and the barely-lidded joy in his eyes. “Really? I mean, yeah, Dan! Oh…I won’t cramp your, uhm…mage style? Will I?”
“You cramp my style regardless, Phil” and Phil elbows him in the hip, causing a brief nudge-war until Phil almost spills coffee on his bare feet.
“You’re the worst person in the world”
This is called over Phil’s shoulder, broken in two by a laugh, as he wanders off in search of some clothing that isn’t Sesame Street pajama pants and a black shirt that, upon consideration, looks like it belongs to Dan.
A little jolt of trepidation kicks Dan’s chest into motion when Phil calls out a question about the ingredients they’re going for. Immersing Phil so completely in something like this is concerning only in that he’s never done it before, and his parents aren’t the only Mage with a prejudice against humans. The last thing Dan wants is for Phil to get hurt for something he barely understands, but explaining that to Phil would unravel a whole thread of conversations about his family that Dan is nowhere near ready to have. Phil knows that Dan’s parents are difficult at best, and that’s as far as they delve into that locked box.
Eventually Phil appears, looking Typically-Phil in a polka-dot shirt and white vans, and the tip of Dan’s tongue almost lets slip that he looks lovely. Instead, he pulls a worn blue crystal and a small cloth bag from his pocket, raises an eyebrow in Phil’s direction.
“I’m going to ask you something” Dan says, voice firm, “and I don’t want you to scream”
Phil nods solemnly.
“Would you like to experience portal travel?”
“What? Dan! There’s no way - you can do that? You can seriously do that? How far? Could you have portalled us to Australia? Did we take a twenty-three-hour flight for no reason? Dan, oh my god, this is-” he pauses, looking Dan in the eye, and clears his throat, “this is perfectly reasonable and I am calm”
Dan rolls his eyes. Phil giggles.
“Alright” Dan crouches to the kitchen floor, pokes at the tiles experimentally with the pad of his finger, and pulls a thick red chalk from the pouch. “Portal travel is…finicky. Only incredibly powerful mage can do that kind of long-distance; really, only a handful. This isn’t an anime where Average Boy is Incredibly Powerful and Doesn’t Know It. I can travel from one end of London to the other comfortably, but any further is pushing it. That’s because I’m out of practice, though. Once, my father portalled up to Scotland and it gave me the impression that I could probably do the same. I was nineteen at the time, miserable at home and I really wanted to see you. Um…” Phil makes a gentle, surprised sound and Dan determinedly loops an archaic symbol into the chalk circle, “anyway. I waited until my parents left, drew a chalk circle on my bedroom floor and pinged myself to Manchester. Or, I would’ve, but…my body took me as far as Camberley and then launched me back into my room so hard I blacked out for two days”
“Oh” Phil says, “is that when you vanished on me and said you were in the hospital?”
Dan nods, and Phil continues, “did I ever tell you I nearly jumped on a train to come and see you? Yeah, I ran to the station like some sort of idiot and there were no trains to Reading until the next day, then I realised I had pennies in my bank account and almost asked my mum for help, but by the time I walked back you were Skype calling me to say you were home and already bored of bedrest”
It almost does not surprise Dan that he’s blinking back tears. Softly, he says “you’re my favourite person, do you know that?” and Phil says “you’re my favourite person too, Dan” which is, honestly, the closest they’ll ever come to telling one another that they love each other. It’s something that felt chalky in Dan’s mouth, when he’d tried it, when they were tipsy and tired and too honest. It felt wrong because it felt like lying, telling Phil that he loved him, the implication being platonic while the truth was something else. So instead they had “you’re my favourite” and “I trust you” and “be careful”.
Straightening his shoulders, Dan peers down at the chalk and ignores Phil’s eyes on his back. With a wave of his hand the runic symbols begin to glow softly, a sign that he’s actually drawn it correctly for once. As he stands, Phil grips his wrist suddenly. His eyes are washed over with concern when he tugs Dan to face him, and he worries gently at his lip. “This isn’t going to hurt you, is it?”
“Of course not, Phil. It’s been six years since then. I spent six months after the incident doing weekly training sessions with my father and I use it at least once a fortnight to pick up ingredients. I have taken another person with me before, and it shouldn’t hurt you so long as you keep a hold of me. Also, close your eyes and don’t open them til I tell you. I don’t want it to make you motion sick”
“Right” Phil steps back, pushing his hands into his jeans pockets. His wrist juts out in the odd way that indicates nerves and Dan smiles, soft, rubbing circles into the crystal with the pad of his thumb.
“Only if you’re sure” he offers, stepping across the threshold into the marked space. Instantly the heady thrum of power tingles in his veins, pushes deep inside his bones and makes the tiny hairs on his arms stand on end. It takes Phil a moment but he takes the proffered hand, stepping over into Dan’s space with a gasp. The sheer power of it blows at his hair like a blustering wind and the blue light illuminates his eyes, wide and wondering as they follow Dan’s movements. Dan positions them so that they are toe to toe, hands linked, crystal wedged in between his left palm and Phil’s right. “Close your eyes” Dan instructs, “just think of me”.
Focusing in on the memories of the little shop, he creates an image in his mind of the heavy oak counter where Louise usually spends her day chittering to customers, the towering shelves filled with everything from old tomes to modern classics. The heavy, elegant red curtain splitting off an ordinary bookstore and an apothecary, row upon row of glass jars and curved vials. With a firm whoosh the floor vanishes from beneath their feet and reappears just as fast, only Dan had forgotten two crucial things. One, they were moving at quite some speed, and two, Phil Lester is the clumsiest man on planet earth. Lurching forwards, Phil bumps Dan’s knees with enough force to send him toppling backward, Phil following suit, and the two of them fall hard into a heap of limbs and suffering.
After a few moments of silence, Phil asks “so…do I open my eyes now?” and there’s something so genuine about it that Dan dissolves into a fit of laughter, Phil following uncertainly, and after a few moments a head peers around the dividing drapery.
“Daniel Howell, I ought to throw something at you” says Louise, the owner of Lou’s Books and a long-time friend. “Stop canoodling on my floor, this is a serious establishment”
Phil, embarrassed in the face of someone he doesn’t know, and now taking in the scenery having opened his eyes, shuffles backwards and stands a measured step away from Dan. Dusting off his jeans, Dan pulls Louise into a warm hug. “Wasn’t a serious establishment when you and Zoe had one too many faerie liquors and hired a stripper though, was it?”
She smacks him in the arm. “That was after hours, and we don’t talk about it. Now, where the hell have you been, you elusive creature? I missed your handsome face”
In short, Dan explains the incident with the cleansing and fully expects the stern talking-to Louise gives him shortly thereafter. Phil migrates closer, alternating between nodding along with Louise’s parenting and giggling at Dan’s expense. Eventually, her careful eyes land on the hand Phil has tucked against Dan’s side, and she peers between the gesture and Dan, mouth curving into a smile. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Phil” she says, holding out a hand. “I’m Louise, since this one is useless at introductions. I’ve heard lots about you, over the years”
“I wish I could say the same, but I’m new to all of this” he gestures around the room, where the Mage section of the business is glaringly apparent.
“You poor thing, you must have been scared witless when this bloody nightmare-boy exploded in your living room”
“Er, just a bit. It’s alright, I suppose, because at least now I can make sure it doesn’t happen again”
“I like this one” Louise tells Dan, and then she leads them over to a cabinet which looks, for lack of a better descriptor, like someone took a huge tree trunk and gave it functional doors. A puff of mint-green smoke appears at the snap of Louise’s finger and with a softly murmured charm, the doors swing open. Carved wooden boxes of all different shapes and sizes line the shelves, one for each of Louise’s regular customers. After his first dozen or so visits, Dan remembers her gleefully handing him a lump of wood and roping him into a three-hour long craft session that ended with a somewhat functional container – one he’s certain Louise tweaked after he left – and a new friend.
Nudging Phil in the hip, Dan murmurs “bet you can’t guess which one is mine”
Phil surveys his options; a rounded, lilac-painted case with shimmery stars pasted onto the lid; a garishly-yellow prism with no clear opening; an all white box covered from corner to corner in runic symbols. Then, in the lower corner of the cabinet, Phil’s eyes catch on a dark, black box, speckled with blues and greens and soft whites just like the galaxies Dan had once conjured in their front room. The lid is definitely thicker on one side than the other, the overall shape a wonky rectangle, and Phil huffs out a small laugh as he lifts the box from its place.
There’s something in the way Louise considers Phil just then, head tilted, mouth tipped into a smile, and it makes Dan blush from head to toe. Clearing his throat, Dan takes the box from Phil’s hands and flips back the lid. “I don’t need the crystals, today”
“That’s good, actually. The delivery is running late and Tyler took the last few charm crystals last week”
Every ingredient Dan has ever used sits comfortably in the little box, larger internally than it first appears, along with a little paper slip for requests. How Louise maintains this level of organization is beyond Dan, really, seeing as though he can barely keep his own altar stocked up and tidied. In the other part of the shop someone dings the bell by the cashier and Louise vanishes behind the curtain, leaving Dan to rifle through little mesh bags and glass jars.
“So” Phil says, voice stretched, “I can’t decide if I’m impressed by that box, or if I feel a bit sick”
Glancing up from beneath his lashes, Dan sees Phil’s worried expression and chuckles softly. “Want to stick your hand in? Even I freaked the fuck out, first time my mum showed me a box like this”
Phil considers this, and shakes his head. “I’ll pass”. As Dan hums and deliberates and tries to remember what he needs to buy – really, he needs to follow Phil’s example and write a shopping list next time – he can sense Phil observing his movements. After a few moments, Phil starts three different sentences and then gives up with a sigh.
“This” Dan says, holding up a vial, “is dried heuchera. It corresponds with the moon, alchemically speaking, and I mostly use it with moonstone or darker crystals when I’m working with emotions, or the subconscious. If I mix it with purslane and mugwort – I know, typical witch – and use a calamas base, it works as an emotional healer. So, preventing bad dreams, keeping traumatic memories at bay”
It’s obvious by the wonder in Phil’s eyes and the way he tips forwards onto his toes that he’s enraptured. “So..” he begins, a little tentative, “that only works when you add your magic, right?”
“Yeah! You could hypothetically mix all of this up for me, but it wouldn’t do anything until I send my magic into it, through a crystal or an incantation”
He breathes out a little “wow” and Dan can tell that he means it, feels something warm tug at his heart when Phil moves close to peer into the box, resting his chin on Dan’s shoulder. “What’s the silvery stuff?”
Dan lifts out a vial, asking “this?”. Phil nods. “It’s a rubidium tincture. This is actually part of the, um, the cleansing”
Phil makes a disgruntled noise and taps Dan’s side in a chastising manner. It seems only fair, all things considered, and then Phil softens as he asks “what does that entail, exactly?”
Carefully, Phil takes the bottle from Dan’s hand to tip it left and right, admiring the flow of the liquid as his other hand steadies itself on Dan’s hip. His chin is still propped over Dan’s shoulder but he’s transfixed with the tincture, enough that he doesn’t notice the way Dan flushes to the tips of his ears. Something about Phil, the genuine interest he has in the most mundane parts of Dan’s mage-life, it makes him want to never stop explaining the healing properties of specific moon plants, the correct day of the week or time of day to get the most out of a spell, the handful of spells in Dan’s personal arsenal that are his comfort spells, his favourites. Something about having opened the door to this part of himself makes him never want to close it; makes him want to drag Phil bodily through it and show him every corner, every nook.
“I’ll tell you” Dan says, bringing himself out of the reverie, “only because I know you’ll ask Louise for a printed, step-by-step guideline before we leave regardless”
Phil giggles, but he doesn’t deny it. Louise has probably already typed one up, anyway.
“Okay, so it’s a three step process” Dan begins, “there’s a potion part, followed by a crystal and then finally an expulsion of the excesses with a charm – though, it’s a steady expulsion. Gradual. Not-”
“-Not an explosion that scorches the hardwood and scares Phil half to death” Phil surmises. Dan sighs. “I’m kidding, go on”
“Alright, so” Dan starts again, but then the curtain is pushed to one side and a voice that isn’t Louise’s booms into the small space.
“Daniel? Daniel Howell?”
Phil hops back, almost dropping the tincture he’d still been fiddling with, and Dan spins on his heel to face the intruding voice. It belongs to the sneering, harsh face of Mrs Dena – an older lady who, to Dan’s knowledge, still maintains bi-monthly coffee dates with his mother on some pretense friendship, when really it’s because Dan’s family were higher-mage and some people would do anything for the association. Unfortunately, Dan’s mother was too fond of collecting a web of mage friends to notice or care that she was being used for her status and the gossip.
Gossip which is practically writing itself, if the look in her eyes is anything to go by.
“Hello, Mrs Dena” Dan greets, slipping uneasily into his Important Voice, “how are you?”
“Quite well, Daniel, quite well. You haven’t been home in a while”
It reads like an accusation and beside him, Phil bristles. “Well, you know, work keeps me busy, Mrs Dena. I’ll have to visit soon, that’s for sure”
She scrutinizes him for a few moments, likely searching for anything she can report back to her gossiping friends – once, Dan had received a letter from his mother that wondered why he’d done something so human as pierce his ears. Dan truly despaired – and then finally, her gaze settles on Phil. Dan’s heart jumps into his throat and he has the unfounded urge to stand bodily in front of Phil, to shield him from her sight.
“I don’t believe we’ve met” she says toward Phil, eyes flitting between their faces, “what family do you come from?”
Phil gives Dan a questioning look and they have a minute eyebrow conversation, Dan eventually sighing and putting a hand on Phil’s back to gesture him into the conversation, “This is Phil. Phil Lester. He’s not…Mage”
Her eyes widen, almost comically. “You’re human?”
Phil shifts, like he can’t quite decide whether to be offended or not. Mrs Dena frowns in a way that paints her expression sour. Dan is very close to just telling her to sod off, but he considers the sheer amount of letters he’ll receive from his mother once she gets word that he, the son of a descendent of one of the twenty Great Mage, had the nerve to be rude to an old busybody in the local shop and thinks better of it. Through gritted teeth, Dan answers “Surely my mother has mentioned my roommate, Phil, in conversation before now?”
Mrs Dena looks smug, like she might take off any minute and call an emergency book club with her nosy friends. “Well, certainly, but she never mentioned that he was a human”
Phil asks, in a uniquely Phil manner, somewhere between innocent and pointedly intentional, “is there a reason you keep saying that like it’s a swear word?” and Dan barely masks his amusement. She looks affronted, that Phil would dare say such a thing, and Dan can’t decide if he wants to kiss Phil for it or usher him away from the potential conflict.
Going with the latter, Dan puts in, “it was lovely to see you, as ever, but we really must get going now” and nearly falls through the curtain, just remembering to send his box back and mask his ingredients to look like a stack of books.
Louise, in the middle of a back-and-forth with a customer who is certain he’s being overcharged, shoots Dan an alarmed look. Phil seems restless as they wait, vaguely frowny and then he asks, in a tone that very much implies he will march angrily back in there, if Dan got everything he needed. In lieu of an answer, Dan nods toward the desk, where an extra jar appears just as Louise bids goodbye to the customer. “Dan” she says, taking the stack from his arms, “I’m so sorry, I was trying to get rid of this customer but-”
“Louise, it’s fine, honestly. I’m used to the nosy old lady brigade, I can’t avoid them forever”
As she rings him up and tosses out a few snipes in the direction of the plush curtain, Phil shifts on his feet and a myriad of questions make themselves known in the tapping of his fingers and the lip pulled in between his teeth. As they bid goodbye to Louise, Dan rests a hand on Phil’s arm and assures him that they’ll talk when they get home, and this seems to settle him enough that he begins a Marvel versus DC debate as they walk back to the flat.
Later, Dan is in the process of turning their dining table into a spell-bench when Phil appears with a cup of coffee and a second mug filled with fluffy marshmallows and cream. “Ugh, you’re my favourite” Dan moans into his hot chocolate, catching a marshmallow with his tongue. He sets the mug a careful distance away from his mortar and continues to grind plants together, noting that Phil takes a pointed seat at the table to his left.
“You can ask me” Dan says, though he still isn’t sure if Phil is worried or upset, or both. Fucking Mrs Dena. Carefully, Phil takes a sip of his coffee and then sets his mug down. It’s one Dan got him a few years ago for his birthday, a paint-your-own thing which Phil covered in cartoon cacti and dogs and a large, wonky totoro. There’s a chip in the top, but Dan was too fond of it to throw it out, so Phil runs the pad of his finger over the indent as he mulls over his words.
Eventually, he settles on “there’s more to this mage thing than I thought, yeah?”
Dan hums. “We have a history, a complex one. We have stupid, hush hush societies and prejudices. My family…”
In his hand, the pestle stills and Dan sighs, dropping his head a little. Beside him, Phil feels like he might be tempted to assure Dan that it’s fine, that he doesn’t have to, so Dan bolsters on.
“My family are Higher-mage. Mage don’t have our own countries, so we don’t have any kind of monarchy, and we never have. Instead, we had a war, which produced…martyrs, if you will. Humans and Mage mingled freely and openly before the war. Humans relied on our magic to heal them, help them, encourage crop growth, ward off illness. Then something changed. From what we know, a few humans got a little disgruntled about a plague that had spread that wasn’t able to be cured by mage magic. We can’t fix everything, often we can only fix symptoms and help recovery, but I think one or two mage had been capitalizing and selling people things anyway, knowing they weren’t going to work. So a few people got disgruntled, and more people died, and then it was a hysteria thing. Suddenly mage were being accused left, right and centre of lulling humans into a false sense of security and then killing them off. Our homes were ransacked, ingredients destroyed, and it created a harsh divide. The mage made separate home outside of their villages and things were stagnant, for a while. It was just known that mage and humans didn’t interact, until a few villagers discovered a widowed man had fallen in love with a mage woman, Annalia. In a fit of rage, they killed her. That sparked the Great War”
Phil is completely awed, Dan can tell. History has always been a secret interest of his, and his fingers twitch around his coffee mug, almost like he wants to take notes. It makes Dan smile, a little fond, before his own fingers find the pestle again and he resumes both his spell and his story. “In the Mage army, there were twenty generals who led the whole show. Which is to say, they were the most powerful people around at that time. After the war was over, from what I can understand, a mutual agreement to leave one another alone was made, and those twenty Mage became gods in the eyes of everyone else. It’s stupid, but ever since, the descendants of those families have been held in higher esteem than everyone else. It’s the only real hierarchical system we have”
“Oh” Phil says, eyes widening in understanding.
Dan grimaces. “Yes. I’m a descendant. So, I’m ‘Higher-Mage’. I hate it, though. It feels like by using that title, we’re taking credit for something we never even did. Something that shouldn’t even have happened. Anyway, that’s why I didn’t tell Mrs Dena to fuck off. Or turn her into a toad. I have to set a good example, apparently”
Phil sips his coffee contemplatively.
“You can’t….actually turn people into toads, can you?”
Dan stares at him for a few moments. Phil asks, “Well, can you?” and Dan throws a clump of sage at him.
“No, you spoon. Anyway, there’s your brief introduction to Mage History 101. That’s why my family are kind of difficult; somehow, a false title means they feel like they have to be stupidly prejudiced toward humans in ‘honour’ of my great great whatever grandfather”
Which is why Dan never told Phil how he felt. Why he never told Phil he was a mage in the first place. Though, Mrs Dena has probably released a neighbourhood bulletin by now with a point by point description of today’s events. Somewhere, Dan’s parents will receive the news that Phil knows about Mage, about Dan being a Mage. This is definitely not a chain of events Dan would like to think about unfolding, and he glances warily at Phil.
“Thank you for telling me” Phil says, misunderstanding the look. And then, “I have a question. Not about that, though”
“Hit me” Dan says, “don’t do that”
Phil laughs behind his hands and then sets his mug down determinedly, mouth pursed in concentration. “Earlier, I saw that your friend Louise had runes. I, er, read about those. When you almost died-”
“Phil. I didn’t almost die. I wouldn’t have died”
“I thought you were regenerating”
“You know, like Doctor Who”
“I’m not a Time Lord, Phil, I’m a Mage”
“I know that now” Phil huffs, and Dan can’t help but give him a soppy sort-of smile. “Anyway. I was wondering if…do you have them, too?”
Dan does, in fact, have runes.
All Mage are born with specific runic patterns that determine what their strengths and weaknesses will be, both in person and in magic. A large, looping symbol rests on the side of Dan’s neck, curving from the underside of his left ear to the point of his collarbone and it represents Healing. Medicine is his strength and all of his other runes support that in some way, add to it. Of course, Dan hasn’t had them on display since he met Phil.
At first, it was the necessity of the pretense that he was human, nothing unusual, nothing out of sorts. Once he started YouTube properly it was even more difficult; how could he be open on there about his heritage without telling Phil? How could he tell Phil without his feelings rolling out too, without Phil feeling like he’s been lied to. And what if his parents found out? So Dan kept them hidden, masked with the one crystal he never forgot to take with him. Dark black and roughened, fastened to a delicate chain just long enough to keep the stone out of sight beneath his clothing. Honestly, ever since this whole thing came about with Phil, Dan hadn’t even thought to take the necklace off.
“You don’t have to answer” Phil says softly.
“I do” Dan replies, “have runes, that is. Would you like to see them?”
“Only if you want me to” and God, how did Dan manage to find the most wonderful, patient, understanding person on this planet and also coerce him into best-friendship?
Slowly, Dan pulls the necklace from beneath his shirt and over his head, setting it on the corner of the table between them. It seems poignant, somehow, heavy in the air, like it means something. It surges through his fingertips like a current, travelling up along his arms so that the tiny hairs there stand on end, tickling the curves of his shoulders and the dip in his spine. A gasp, and Phil shoots to his feet, eyes wide and round, both fixed eagerly on the smooth line of Dan’s neck.
Then, “I always knew there was more to your neck thing than you let on”
“Oh my god, fuck off. It’s a healing sigil. That’s my specialty, if you were wondering”
They lapse into silence again as Phil takes it all in. Like this, he can see the rune on Dan’s neck. Can see the pattern snaking from beneath his sleeve to run along the line of his right pinky finger, the sharp, angled marks criss-crossing on his bare foot. All of them a gentle pink, dusty rose, flushing a little brighter the more Phil stares. The moment feels important. Almost too slowly, Dan finds the hem of his top with shaking fingers, and Phil’s gaze tracks the movement. A shift, and he’s pulling the material up, slipping it over his head until he’s standing there, chest bare, shirt dangling from his fingertips by his side. A winding, floral pattern stretches from his right shoulder, twists around his arm and meets the flicker that had been visible on his little finger. There are three or four dotted up his left arm, several littering his torso. Something flits over Phil’s face, something Dan doesn’t recognize.
He wishes he could see what it is that’s running through Phil’s mind, but then Phil reaches out. It feels instinctual, like pushing your palm flat against a windowpane to watch the sunset throw washes of peachy pink across the sky, like feeling the surface of a statue to identify the bumps and contours under your fingers. Phil has always understood things better with tactility and Dan, it seems, is no exception. His hand lands just above Dan’s hipbone, fingers splayed to brush the edges of the sigil there and Dan stutters out a sort of hitching gasp, lip tight between his teeth as Phil curiously traces the lower, curving arcs of the rune.
“And this one?” Phil asks, enraptured now, unaware that Dan is boiling over, barely containing the anxious itch to blurt out his feelings, to try and touch Phil the same way.
“That, ah, that one. That’s. Humility. It helps with the, with the healing”
The movement of Phil’s mouth catches his eye, soft, pink lips forming a gentle wow, hand hitching up a little higher to explore a more detailed symbol, spanning the width of Dan’s ribcage. In the curve of Phil’s mouth and the slant of his brows Dan catches curiosity, wonder, deep thought. Something is going back and forth in Phil’s mind and he says, voice soft and low, “Dan. You’re really beautiful”
Beneath Phil’s fingertips, the runes glow a flushed pink. Dan’s voice falters once, twice until he manages to choke out something resembling a thank you, eyes tracking the bend of Phil’s neck where his head tilts curiously. Slowly, his eyes shift higher up Dan’s torso, rune by rune until he’s back to studying the swirling pattern beneath his jaw, finally coming to rest at the point of his cheekbone and the tiny sigil there. Their eyes meet and something shifts, settling heavy and low in the air.
“Ah” Phil says, “I should-” he hesitates, lifting his hand to rest on the curve of Dan’s shoulder, instead, fingertips warm and careful. In that moment Dan feels his heart stutter, breath caught in the hitch of his lungs. Phil ducks his head, says “I should go film,” and presses a gentle kiss to arc of Dan’s cheek as he leaves.
It isn’t the first time. Memories drift in and out of his mind, a handful of moments that got a little too close to the brink of something, paused in their movement by a kiss on the cheek. Both of them a little fuzzy and wine-drunk after dinner with friends, talking about the future under the assumption they’d be together, Dan staring at the red curve of Phil’s mouth for a beat too long. Sleepy and half-delirious at three in the morning on the tour bus, Dan stretched out like a cat at the foot of the bed Phil had claimed, Phil rambling on about how important Dan will always be to him, Dan yawning out I know, me too, I love you.
And always, when the silence was too heavy, when the eye contact meant too much, Phil would make his excuses and depart with a gentle kiss to Dan’s cheek. It is, Dan thinks, a way to let Dan know that the heaviness and the feeling isn’t one-sided, but that they should leave it alone. It had never occurred to Dan before now to mull it over. He and Phil just were and they did and they always would, complicated feelings on Dan’s part or no.
As the afternoon shifts over into the evening the spell he’d been working on continues to fizzle and fold in Dan’s fingers, his energy bouncing around too much to be honed down into a single focused channel. It doesn’t seem that he’s alone as in the distance, other than the odd bump or shift, Phil remains silent in a way that indicates he can’t straighten his thoughts out either. It hasn’t ever really felt like this, before. Like something solid, something they can’t shake off with an hour brooding in their respective rooms. Eventually he abandons the half-charged ingredients on the dining table and slopes off to bed, uneasy and unsettled.
In the morning, sunlight drips soft and warm over the exposed skin of Dan’s arms, slipping up and over his face until it rouses him, eyes squinting open in affront. Distantly he can hear Phil chattering animatedly, no doubt filming the video he’d put off yesterday and of course, the ever-present drilling drifting in from across the road.
With a gentle murmured chant he sweeps his hand and envelops the entirety of the apartment in a soundless bubble, dropping his hand to his face in exasperation as he realizes just how many years he’s been needlessly dealing with the constant shrill noise, not realizing the solution was quite literally at his fingertips.
“Dan?” Phil calls, followed by the gentle pad, pad, pad of his socked feet on the carpeted corridor as he approaches Dan’s room, “did you do something?”
Phil’s eyes catch the long, dark chain pooled in the dip of Dan’s collarbone from where it had shifted with sleep and something coy flits over his expression before he schools it, eyes meeting Dan’s as he leans against the doorframe. Dan hums. “Flexed my mass protection muscles and stuck our apartment inside a soundless bubble”
“Oh my god” Phil moans, slamming his head against the doorframe in exasperation.
“I know-” Dan says,
“-It’s been four years-”
Phil makes a face. “This is gonna be a running theme, isn’t it?”
“Probably” Dan shrugs. After a moment’s deliberation Phil sighs and walks back out into the hallway, which unsettles Dan for a second until he hears the distinctive bubbling growl of the kettle and a small smile creeps onto his face. Sure enough, Phil returns a few moments later with a hot cup of coffee and a stack of envelopes. “Ugh, not mail time”
Phil slides the coffee over and gives Dan a half-shrug, dropping the pile unceremoniously in his lap. “We have to be responsible adult humans for five minutes and then we can play Mario Kart in our pyjamas for two hours”
“Four, and you have a deal” Dan counters, but he shuffles around until Phil can wiggle in beside him, arm pressed warm against Dan’s. “Alright, what have we got?”
“Bills” Phil says, tearing the first envelope and wiggling an electricity statement in Dan’s face, “that’s crept up. It’s because you keep leaving the hallway lights on overnight”
“Er, no, hang on, its because you keep plugging in that air-conditioning monster every time it gets remotely tepid”
“Tepid” Phil repeats.
“Tepid” Dan confirms. “It doesn’t even sound like a word now. Tepid. Anyway, it isn’t like we can’t afford the hallway light and the air con. Next?”
“Spam” Phil answers, already discarding the next one, “more spam. Oh, my bank statement. I swear I ticked the paperless box on the website”
“Wasting trees, Phil” Dan chastises, glancing over, and his whole body freezes up. Without reading the fancy, hand-drawn address label, Dan knows. From the thick, embossed envelope, in his opinion used out of sheer pretentiousness, and the telltale image of his family’s sigil pressed into the wax seal. “Oh”
“What?” Phil asks, scanning the envelope for any sign of insult, “this is from your mum, isn’t it?”
As Dan closes his fingers around the proffered mail, Phil seems to recall Dan’s story from the previous night and the encounter in the shop, and his expression indicates that he’s somehow put two and two together. Two handwritten pages fall out into Dan’s lap, along with a photograph of his dog, which is honestly the only reason he opens these letters most of the time. Phil coos over that in particular whilst Dan scans over the information; updates on families Dan has no desire to remember, a short passage on his father’s promotion, mention of an upcoming christening for one cousin or another. It would seem, from an outside perspective, that Dan’s family lived thousands of miles away. Really, it was an hour’s drive or a quick portal trip, except his parents hated the bustling, human city of London and Dan hated his stuffy, elderly-mage-filled hometown.
Relief is just contemplating seeping in when Dan hits the last paragraph, and he grips the page so tight it almost tears.
Beatrice mentioned seeing you and your human friend in the apothecary, which I’m sure has travelled around the village by now and In any case, Anne has a daughter around your age, she’s lovely and a talented healer and finally, dreadfully, It’s been too long since we’ve seen you properly, Daniel, and your father fears you might be getting a tad wayward. I know you’re an adult now but we want what’s best for you, of course. As such, we’ve decided to pop by and stay with you for a day or two, see how you’re getting on.
Angry tears well in the back of his eyes; Phil pries his fingers from the letter, curling their hands together, using his other to tip Dan’s chin toward him. “Talk to me?”
“My parents are coming here” and he doesn’t have to explain it, the long and painful reasons why he doesn’t want that. That he wants to protect Phil from their prejudices and the more sour parts of his world, that he doesn’t have the guts to tell them he doesn’t want anything but Phil, doesn’t have the guts to tell Phil. It doesn’t matter, and he doesn’t ask, just pulls Dan close to his chest and squeezes his hand and waits for the wave of frustration and sadness to pass.
It does, eventually. Dan wipes his eyes and tells Phil that he’s sorry, Phil kisses his forehead and reminds him that he doesn’t have to be.
“Come on” Phil says, voice gentle. “We’ll figure out what to do later”
They don’t, figure out what to do later. What they do is sprawl all over each other in Dan’s bed, Phil’s legs slung over Dan’s lap, whilst Dan reads out tweets from their followers and Phil rates them out of ten. (“Five tweets out of tweet for creativity” Phil says.
“Out of tweet? Creativity? They called me a rat”
“Yeah” Phil replies, “it’s a creative insult. I’m a fan”)
Eventually the strange, grimy feeling of being in a bed too long creeps up on them and their solution, naturally, is to transition from lounging in the bed to lounging on the sofa, swapping phones for Wii U controllers and soft jibes for full on insults.
“Watch out, lads, Philly’s found his groove and he’s on the move” Phil sing-songs, ploughing his virtual car through an item box gleefully.
“No no no, shit, fuck off with your blue shells, Phil” is Dan’s eloquent retort, elbow jamming firmly into Phil’s hip in a dirty attempt to throw him off course. It might have worked had Phil not been anticipating such a move, five years of versing Dan in video games giving him reflexes that no physical exercise ever could, and as such he dips away across the sofa and kicks at Dan with a socked foot, nearly knocking the controller from his hands. “Also, please don’t ever say that again. Fuck-stop cheating”
“You started it” Phil fires back, aggressively flicking the analogue stick and with a carefully thrown shell he knocks Dan off course, nearly jumping out of his seat in celebration as Dan swears bloody murder from beside him. By the time his character catches up Phil has crossed the finish line, punching his fists in the air in elation whilst Dan whines about foul play and whacks Phil in the side with a cushion. “Oi, don’t think I won’t fight you”
“Bring it mate” Dan taunts, hands forming a weird ‘gang’ pose that has Phil giggling enough to distract him, meaning Dan’s sudden onslaught of aggressive tickling catches him off guard. He shouts in triumph, fingers digging into Phil’s ribs as Phil squeaks indignantly, wiggling back toward the arm of the sofa to protect himself. Through his laughter, Dan points out “Bad move, Philly” and Phil realizes that he’s cornered himself, no room to squirm over the edge (in a move that would no doubt sprain a muscle) as Dan pins him down with a knee to the thigh, fingers creeping up beneath his arms in a merciless attack.
“I concede!” Phil gasps out between giggles, “I yield! I yield!”
Eventually Dan stills his hands, laughter overtaking him as he drops his head to rest on Phil’s shoulder, giggles spilling out into his shirt. Then, as an afterthought, he sends a trickle of magic to tickle the dip in Phil’s foot and Phil nearly screams, reflexively jamming his knee up and socking Dan in the tummy so hard that he rolls off of the sofa and lies on his back on the carpet, still laughing quietly. “That was a prime example of using your powers for evil” Phil complains, leaning over the edge of the sofa to peer down at Dan.
“Worth it” Dan replies, fully expecting the cushion to the face. “Okay, okay, I’m gonna pull an ab muscle from laughing so hard, fuck”
There’s something about Phil just then, looking down at Dan with his hair askew, his cheeks flushed pink from laughter and his mouth curved into a soft smile. It makes Dan’s heart do a somersault in his chest, makes his fingers itch to brush back Phil’s fringe and learn the gentle warmth of his blush, feel the press of Phil’s smile against his own. It startles him a little and he sits up, almost headbutting Phil in the process. “We should go edit the gaming video”
“We?” Phil raises an eyebrow, grinning, “it’s your turn”
In the end Phil winds up sprawled across Dan’s bed with a sharing bag of pretzels, refusing to share them with Dan but shouting out little suggestions as Dan tweaks and crops and pastes little comments above their heads in comic sans. About an hour in he falls asleep, one hand still in the pretzel bag and his face pillowed against the crook of his elbow, so Dan naturally snaps a quick photo and steals the rest of the crisps before meandering off into the lounge with his laptop.
It doesn’t take long for the anxiety to seep in.
Glancing around the room, Dan picks up on little things that need tidying, cleaning, putting away. It isn’t that he and Phil lived in squalor; they were fairly organized when it came to keeping their apartment clean and tidy, even if they did have days where clothes would stay on the bedroom floor or Phil’s socks would remain on the corner of the coffee table. But looking at their home through the gaze of his parents, Dan overthought the cluttered mantelpiece, the haphazardly folded blanket over the chair arm, the shoes sitting by the bookshelf. In fact, now that Dan really took the time to look things over, there was a glaringly obvious flaw he’d been missing. These past few weeks, the relief of not having to hide his powers from Phil meant he’d gotten a little lax in the magic department. Phil’s unbridled curiosity meant that Dan began moving more and more things out of his room and into the rest of the house, such as the tiny crystal altar he’d assembled on the mantle, the stack of spell books on the bookshelf beside Phil’s science fiction, the entire dining table which had been repurposed as a spell bench.
Should he move them?
A niggling thought in the back of his mind suggests that he push everything back into the depths of his dresser, the back of his closet, the chest beneath his bed. Without really thinking about it he finds himself by the window, unsticking the moon-phase chart from the wall and surveying it. This, at least, could pass for an inconspicuous nerdy poster. Softly, Phil’s voice asks, “making some more moonwater?” and Dan startles, the chart slipping from his fingers. “Hey, what is it? Is this about your parents?”
Delicate tendrils of magic wind their way from his fingertips to snatch around the edges of the card, bringing the chart slowly back up into Dan’s grasp and with a determined thump he tacks it back onto the wall, leaving his hand there, palm flat. Phil knows, is the thing. Phil asks Dan about spells like it’s second nature to him, now, like he’s known for five years instead of five weeks.
And his parents, they know that Phil knows. That Dan showed Phil around the apothecary, introduced him to Louise, let him help with ingredients. What would be the point, then, in tucking all of this away? Acting as though nothing has changed, as though Phil seeing a bloody moon-phase chart was inherently wrong. Now, Phil is standing a few inches away, toying with the fingers of the hand Dan doesn’t have pressed to the wall. “Dan?” he asks, uncertain, and without much thought Dan turns and folds himself into Phil’s chest.
It wasn’t unusual for them to hug, honestly. They were tactile people, always had been, but the brief tension in Phil’s shoulders is enough of a reminder that Dan hasn’t always been able to accept comfort when he’s upset, let alone initiate it. Gently, Phil winds his arms around Dan’s slightly taller frame and murmurs something about the smell of cloves, no doubt clinging to Dan’s skin after the quick cleansing spell he whipped up earlier.
“I hate constantly worrying about what my parents think of me” Dan says finally, “I hate that I want to not care about their prejudiced opinions, but I do, and it makes me angry with myself”
Holding him a little tighter, Phil hums. “No matter how much we believe in our own morals and the ability to make our own decisions, a part of us always seeks approval. Especially with parents, Dan. My parents have always been open-minded and wonderfully loving, but coming out was weird. I remember being so sure of my own identity and who I was, but the second I thought about telling them I was filled with fear, like I was disappointing them somehow. It contradicted everything I thought I knew about myself. The thing is, whether your parents are supportive or not, one day you’ll come to a place where you can comfortably separate yourself from their opinions and judgements. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You’re okay”
“That was deep” and Phil laughs, warming Dan’s heart and easing his tension a little. “Thanks, though”
“Any time” Phil says, and his fingers trace a soft pattern in the fabric of Dan’s jumper. After a few moments, Dan realizes he’s drawing a smiley face and he has to push his own smile into the folds of Phil’s shirt, overwhelmed suddenly by how much Phil means to him.
Mr and Mrs Howell finally make their appearance on a gentle Sunday, when the last dregs of the morning are washing over into a peaceful afternoon and Phil is sitting on the kitchen counter, bickering with Dan about their gaming channel.
“It’s fun!” Phil complains, kicking his pyjama-clad legs a little and jostling Dan in the process, “you can’t tell me it isn’t a thing now. Everyone loves it”
Filching the coffee mug from Phil’s hands, Dan makes a face. “Everyone except me”
“Only because I always win” Phil insists, and Dan scowls up at him from where he stands between Phil’s knees. They’d been having this argument on-and-off for months now, ever since what Dan refers to as The Great Mario Kart Betrayal of 2015 and what Phil simply refers to as Justice. Stealing his mug back, Phil raises a brow; your move.
“All or nothing is overused” Dan complains, not for the first time and likely not for the last, “it undermines all of my incredible, record-breaking hard work because you only call it when I win. Which is always”
“At the end of the day” Phil starts, waiting patiently as Dan nicks the coffee again and dutifully hands it back, “you’re just mad because I beat you at Mario Kart. Fair and square. The board doesn’t lie”
“The board-” Dan starts to protest, faltering when a quiet rumble fills the room, clinking the plates on the draining board together and bumping a Tupperware box onto the floor and then with a crackling pop and a red flash, Dan’s parents appear neatly in the centre of their kitchen. At the sound of the portal Phil had jolted, meaning Dan is occupied with floating a mug and a puddle of spilled coffee that was inches from Phil’s lap over to the sink, and so Phil is the first to speak.
Gently, he jostles Dan to one side and jumps down from the countertop, pushing a hand through sleep-ruffled hair. “Hello! We didn’t realise you’d be here so early, it’s good to see you again!”
“It is after twelve” Dan’s mum chides, in the playful sort of voice that means she’s serious but trying to put on a good face. “But we should have called, sorry about that”
Phil nudges Dan discreetly in the hip as they pass, because Dan is yet to speak, and Dan startles harder than Phil had. “Sorry, not quite awake yet” and he pulls his mother in for an uncomfortable hug, settling for a handshake from his father. “Let me show you to your room”
The guest room was, of course, the small gaming office with a fold-out futon but as Dan’s parents lived in a giant country house, he couldn’t bring himself to have them sleep there. Instead he’d given up his own room and would suffer the consequences of three broken slats and the window that never quite shuts. Distantly the shower screeches to life and Dan remembers that Phil is here, that he isn’t alone this time, that he isn’t nineteen and about to be bundled into a portal and confined to his old bedroom. “I’ve emptied out the top two drawers, so I’ll let you sort out your things” and without waiting for a response, Dan ambles back out into the hallway.
He feels like a stranger.
When Phil’s parents had come to stay earlier in the year it had been warm smiles and inside jokes and the smell of cinnamon cookies as his mum made herself quickly at home in the kitchen. It had been Phil’s dad asking Dan a question about football and laughing at the shock on his face for ten minutes, clapping him on the shoulder and saying “I know, by now, that neither of you have ever seen a game of football in your lives” and Phil butting in to describe the time his brother took them to see Manchester United and Phil hadn’t a clue what was going on the whole time, only that he was cold and the stadium had sold out of hot dogs. It had been Phil’s parents eager to be shown around London, insisting they buy everyone dinner, getting ridiculously excited when they passed the YouTube headquarters. It was easy, and it was nice, and Dan would envy Phil for having such amazing parents if not for the fact that Phil’s family considered Dan one of their own, by now.
Phil appears in the bathroom doorway, fully dressed but with his wet hair sticking up every which way, and before Dan can hurry off into a shower of his own he’s pulled into a damp hug, nose filled with the scent of Phil’s odd honey-scented shower lotion. “It’s gonna be fine” Phil assures him, pulling back to look Dan in the eye. “I’ve been told I’m really charming”
And he isn’t wrong, either, since it takes him five minutes of Dan showering to have Mr and Mrs Howell agreeing to go out to coffee. Considering the circumstances of their visit Dan can’t even begin to imagine how he managed it, or how well a casual family outing will go down in the first place, but it has to be better than awkwardly sipping instant coffee in the front room until someone finally addresses the proverbial elephant.
Unfortunately, even fancy coffee doesn’t make conversation any less exhausting. Awkward small talk, uncomfortable pauses, Phil’s incessant need to plough through anxiety by reciting everything on the menu to Dan in a funny, lilting voice (which, to be fair, makes Dan giggle every time, but his parents are severely less amused). Even when his parents do make efforts to talk to Phil, Dan quietly thinks the silence was preferable.
“So, Phil. How’s work?”
“Work, er, yep? Good? Fun. Best job in the world”
“What do you do?” Mr Howell asks, and Dan chokes on a sip of iced lemonade. Phil shoots him an alarmed look. Dan’s father seems to sense none of the incredible tension as he gestures his head toward Phil, waiting for a response.
“I’m, um. In the same profession as Dan. We work together. Collaboratively”
Mr Howell hums. The small talk portion of the conversation essentially is comprised of questions his family should already know about Phil, after this many years, questions Phil’s mum asked the very first time Dan stayed at Phil’s house in Manchester and woke up before Phil, braving the path to the bathroom only to be intercepted by Mrs Lester who insisted he join her for coffee and toast. Eager to avoid any more of it, Dan tries to swiftly steer the conversation elsewhere.
“Mum, Dad, you remember Louise?”
His mother brightens. “Louise! Of course, of course, she’s wonderful, isn’t she dear? Still running the little shop, I presume?”
Out of the corner of his eye Dan sees Phil fiddling with his mug of chai tea, tipping the glass alarmingly only to sigh in relief when Dan catches it with a flicker of magic. Mrs Howell coughs, as Phil mouths a sheepish thank you. “Well” Dan continues, “I need to drop into the apothecary and pick up an order. We can swing by on the way home, if that’s okay with you”
“Oh” his mother fiddles with her napkin, “well, couldn’t you do that another time?”
and Dan doesn’t miss the way her eyes flicker to Phil. Beneath the table, his fist clenches, and Phil taps his knuckles with gentle fingertips.
“I need to pick it up before she hands it out to someone else” Dan explains, “she was all out the last time I dropped in”
“Well, I’m sure if you ask, she’ll hold onto it for you” Mr Howell contributes, “besides, I’m sure Phil won’t want to be dragged along”
Entirely innocently, Phil chirps up with “Oh, it’s no bother! I love the apothecary, and Louise is great at telling me how to keep Dan in line”
Mrs Howell blanches, and says nothing.
Dinner, Phil tells Dan as they bound up the stairs ahead of Dan’s parents that afternoon, will be much better. “I was even thinking” he starts to say, before his shoe catches on the very last step and he flails inelegantly, calling out just as Dan flings a whirl of magic out to wind around his waist, curving up under his ribs to set him straight back on his feet. Phil whirls around, brows slanted, mouth formed into a pout. “I had it”
“Sure you did” Dan retaliates, chucking a ball of magic at Phil’s face. Without even flinching, Phil makes a half-aborted move to flip him off before noticing the relatively unimpressed faces of Mr and Mrs Howell on the step just behind Dan. They carry on into the apartment in silence, Phil’s thought forgotten.
A large, glaring post-it with a faded image of Kirito taunts him from the refrigerator door, Phil’s loopy handwriting outlining a specific list of ingredients that they’d completely forgotten to buy; so much for winning over his parents with fancy cuisine. Following the same train of thought, Phil reaches across to the cupboard above Dan’s head and retrieves a jar of Bolognese sauce, wiggling it at Dan questioningly. It would have to do.
“We need to get some more actual food when we next go shopping” Phil complains after a little while, eyeing the pre-cooked bag of mixed vegetables warily. Where Dan was content to eat anything that fell under the descriptor of food, Phil was picky about ‘healthy food’ and ‘real vegetables’.
“We? It’s your turn”
Phil makes a face. “You never get the groceries. Why do I always have to get the groceries?”
“You were the one who answered the door to the asda man in your underwear because you were hungover” Dan reminds him, gesturing accusatorily with the wooden spoon. Bolognese sauce splatters onto the cupboards behind Phil’s head and it earns Dan a disapproving frown, “and you’re the one who’s too embarrassed to order home delivery now”
Phil, unable to form a solid protest to this, simply pouts and turns back to his packaged vegetables.
Whatever conversation Dan’s parents are having in the other room drifts in every now and then, nothing particularly decipherable and Dan tries to focus on stirring spaghetti into the saucepan, and on the pieces of stories Phil is relaying in a gentle attempt to make Dan feel calmer. It’s the waiting, Dan can’t stand. All of them can play pretend that this is nothing but a standard family visit but Dan knows his parents, how much it pains them to leave their village and he knows that eventually, the conversation they came here to have will make itself known.
It could have been over breakfast, during their walk around town, over lunch, between their conversations at the apothecary. It could happen over dinner, before bed, in the morning. Dan just doesn’t know and he feels so drained, keeping all of this anxiety and anger at bay until he has reason to let it consume him; he’s exhausted. Phil can tell, keeps shooting him these worried looks and brushing nonchalant fingers over Dan’s skin whenever they pass by, quietly letting him know that it’ll be okay.
If not for Phil’s face when he returns from setting the table, Dan would would have said he’s been fairly unruffled the whole time his parents have been around. Considering how nervous he was the first time he met Dan’s parents, and this is before he knew they were magic-wielding bigots, Dan is surprised by how collected and supportive Phil has been. Until now, that is.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost…?”
Phil falters in the doorway, a stack of Dan’s spellbooks balanced in his hands and for a moment he seems to consider this. “Ghosts aren’t….are they?”
“What? No. At least, if they are, they’re nothing to do with Mage. I promise you haven’t unlocked the secret to all supernatural life, Phil. I’m 98% certain vampires are strictly myth”
Dan splutters his way through the start of a sentence, settling on a rather exasperated “Phil” before continuing with his previous train of thought; “What’s the matter, anyway?”
“Oh!” Phil shifts the books so that he’s holding them under the crook of his arm, propped up by his hip, and he frowns. “I was clearing the table – you’re a very messy mage, Dan – and your parents kind of…”
He winces, tossing around a few phrases in his head. “Told me off? Said they’d move your things, and that I shouldn’t interfere with things I don’t understand” as he says this, he attempts sarcastic finger quotes and jostles the books, almost dropping one on his foot.
An undignified noise escapes Dan and he manages to splatter sauce up the splashback as he shoves the wooden spoon back into the pan, making to march into the front room when Phil catches him by the arm and yanks him back into the kitchen. “Dan, hey. Leave it”
“They can’t just-”
“I told them” Phil interrupts, voice gentle but firm, “that this was my house, and you are very specific about your things and that I thought it best I transferred everything into the other room”
Dan considers this.
“As long as you’re okay” he concedes eventually. Phil insists that he is, but it doesn’t make dinner any more comfortable. Not when his parents are trying steadfastly to only broach topics relating to the upcoming solstice celebration and how Mrs Bhala’s daughter just married into a higher family, which is lovely because she’s such a nice girl, Dan, and her sister is wonderful; when they’re speaking in clipped tones when Phil asks a friendly question, only intensifying the bubbling anger Dan already feels for just how rude they’re being to Phil, and perhaps that’s why it’s so different this time. Dan has had no issue letting his parents walk all over him, but Phil is the sweetest person Dan knows, and the last thing he’s prepared to do is watch Phil be mistreated.
“We’re going to turn in early, Daniel” his mother says, as she’s helping Dan with the washing up. “Your father has a meeting early tomorrow afternoon and so we’ll be up early, to spend a little more time with you before we leave”
Dan hums, and his mother rests a soapy hand on his forearm. “We miss you at home, Daniel”
“I’m an adult, now” he reminds her, making a mental note to add washing up liquid to the shopping list, “I have a busy career, I have Phil. You know I’d visit more if I didn’t feel like every conversation was an interrogation”
“It’s because we care” she says, not for the first time. They finish up in silence until she turns to leave, bracing a hand on the doorway as she looks sadly at her son, “we do care” she repeats, before she turns in for the night.
At least, Dan thinks, they’re leaving in the morning.
No doubt he’ll spend a night sleeplessly troubled over the inevitable Phil conversation, only to wake up groggy and exhausted and completely unprepared to defend himself. Maybe that’s for the best, he thinks, body contorted awkwardly around the shelves in the one storage cupboard they have, searching for the spare quilt. Maybe he should just let them talk at him without argument. They’ll leave, and he won’t see them in person for another half a year, and none of it will even matter.
“What are you looking for?” Phil asks from somewhere behind, startling Dan enough that he whacks his head on the shelf above him.
Wriggling himself out of the tight space, he explains his quest for a spare blanket and Phil makes a face. “Dan, I’m obviously not going to let you sleep on the dodgy futon. You’ll wake up with a – with a wooden slat impaled in your spine! I mean, you’re not a vampire, so it probably won’t kill you? But it won’t be a good look, in any case”
In the scattered light from cracked doors and covered windows, Phil is soft, face gentle and careful, eyes earnest and genuine. It makes Dan falter; it wouldn’t be the first time he shared a bed with Phil, obviously. Hotel mix-ups, late-night movie marathons fading into unintentional sleepovers, staying over at the other’s house during the early, long-distance years of their friendship. It isn’t something that Dan wants to make a huge deal about, really, but he can’t help the flutter in his chest at the thought.
After a slight pause, he shrugs; “if you don’t mind me stealing all the covers, sure”
Laying under the thick duvet, surrounded by the soft, sleepy scent of Phil as Phil putters around in his glasses, looking for his spare contact solution because he’d inevitably misplaced his current bottle, Dan feels a swell of fondness overtake him. “Try your nightstand, you spoon”
Sure enough that’s exactly where Phil finds it, poking his tongue out at Dan before padding off to use it. It probably seems strange but Dan really loves Phil’s room; a cluster of colourful knick-knacks and merchandise, plants scattered across any available surface, socks discarded on the floor. It’s all very Phil, and it makes Dan feel warm. Sometimes, when Phil leaves to visit his family or join them on holiday, Dan finds himself sitting cross-legged on the bed in here while he’s editing, just to feel a little less alone.
As Phil switches off the lights and climbs in beside Dan, he almost thinks he could forget the stress of today. Phil stretches into a comfortable position, nudging Dan’s calf with his foot and laying a hand comfortably in the space between their bodies. “Night, Dan”
Dan loves him.
In the morning, a clatter from the hallway wakes Dan a frustrating fifteen minutes before his alarm is due to go off. Phil has typically rolled over onto Dan’s pillow in the night, head smushed into Dan’s shoulder and it’s kind of cute, if he’s being honest with himself, which seems to be a running theme these days. In the distance he hears the familiar tones of his mother’s voice and it sends a jolt of trepidation through him, so that he flinches physically and jostles Phil enough to have him grumbling his way out of sleep. “Oh, shush, you morning dragon”
“Mmmhphf” is the eloquent response.
The more Dan stares up at the cracks in the ceiling and considers the possible outcomes of today’s conversation, listening to the chatter of his parents and the continuing stream of grumpy-sleep noises from Phil, the more he wishes he could open up a portal and disappear into the void.
“So” Phil says, face shoved into his own pillow now, “I think I’ll get the groceries this morning”
Dan props himself up on one elbow to stare incredulously at Phil, “you’re abandoning me?”
“- It’s just! I think you need to talk to them on your own, you know? I’ll only be a text message away but I think – I think it might be good for you, you know? Also, they kind of scare me a little. I’m just saying”
He wants to tell Phil that he’s wrong, but he can’t, and so Phil rolls himself out of the bed and scouts his floor for a good pair of jeans while Dan considers doing the mature, adult thing of sulking in Phil’s bed until his parents decide to leave. Eventually Phil prods him into movement and they leave the bedroom together, Phil giving Dan a few weirdly intense looks as they make their way toward the front room, Dan pausing in the doorway.
“Don’t forget doritos” Dan reminds Phil, who makes a face.
“I thought we were doing a health thing”
“Salsa dip is made of tomatoes, which are objectively healthy”
“Oh” Phil folds his arms, “I’m getting salsa dip, too?”
As he turns to leave, Phil lets his fingertips brush gently against Dan’s forearm as a silent sign of support and Dan flushes pink despite himself.
The door closes softly behind Phil. All of the tension from the last few days settles heavily in the new quiet and from his position by the door Dan can almost feel the careful gaze of his parents. As he turns, he’s reminded of the time his parents were called into his school when he was a teenager, after the first and only fight he’s ever been in. With a cursory frown the headteacher had opened the door and behind it Mr and Mrs Howell sat, side by side, backs straight, frowns mirrored. It was a very unique sensation of dread, the sudden impact of the feeling that he was going to be in big, big trouble.
On the sofa, Mrs Howell clasps her hands in her lap as Dan folds his defensively over his chest.
“You may as well come out with it”
“Daniel, there’s no need to be so defensive. We just want to make sure you’re okay. You never visit any more, and-”
“-And I live with a human” Dan finishes, raising a pointed eyebrow when it takes his mother a second to recover.
“It isn’t that you live with him” his mother continues, ruffled but nonetheless determined to plough on, “it’s that you- you should know better than to have told him about our world, to have taken him into the apothecary multiple times as though he had any business being there at all – and goodness knows where else you’ve taken him, what else he’s seen”
It hurts more than Dan had expected; more than he recalls this kind of lecture ever stinging before and she hasn’t even started yet, not really. It isn’t like he doesn’t know why. Staring rather determinedly at the wall behind her head, gnawing his lip like his mouth will run off without his permission. Fists clenching reflexively in the space between his arms and his ribs. “Stop talking about him like that”
“Like what? Daniel-”
“-like he doesn’t matter. Like he’s a – a piece of dirt on your shoe, like you’re so much better than him because you were born with the privilege of magic. Like he’s a child who isn’t allowed to see those parts of my life. It’s bullshit”
“Don’t use that language” his father interjects, finally speaking up. “Your mother and I think it might do you good to…to come and stay with us for a little while”
“What on earth” Dan says, losing the little patience he had, “would make you think that?”
His father bristles. “You’re losing touch with your heritage. Spending too much time around humans, becoming more and more like one every day. You have power, power like they never can. You should be at home in the village, where you belong, not…cavorting around with this friend of yours like you don’t carry one of the most important names in our history on your shoulders”
“So what if I’m becoming like Phil?” Dan argues, “that’s a hell of a lot better than being like you. Phil is the kindest, sweetest person I’ve ever known and he’s never once made me feel like I’m not good enough, which is less than I can say for any mage in our village. My home is here, with Phil”
Dan has said too much, he knows. The look in his mother’s eye is the same look she wore that fateful day back in 2009, hours after Dan had made the return journey from Manchester and mistakenly poured his heart out through subtext. This whole conversation is like history repeating itself, except this time Dan isn’t young and naïve. “There is something going on between the two of you. Isn’t there?”
“This has gone on for long enough now” his mother puts in, voice strained, “rumours flying around the village about you and your human friend, you’re so selfish, Daniel! Putting this kind of tarnish on our family name, and the way you behave with him – we’ve seen you! Sleeping in his bed, for crying out loud! You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”
It’s the way she twists it, turns it, spits the word love like it’s something vile and disgusting because Phil is human, puts all of this shame on his shoulders as though he hasn’t been sacrificing his own wants and needs since day one, all in the sake of their family name. Wrenching his hand from beneath his arm Dan fires an angry, dark ball of power toward the floorboards out of reflex, no doubt scorching the wood there yet again. It silences his mother, who had continued on with her speech despite it falling on deaf ears.
“So what if I am?” Dan asks, finally, voice choked, eyes damp. Behind him, the front door clicks, but Dan doesn’t notice. “So what, if I’m in love with him? Is that what you want me to say? I’m in love with Phil. Of course I am. And I’d have told him in a heartbeat if I thought he was interested, if it wasn’t for – for years of living under your stupid prejudices and your outdated opinions, and I – I don’t give a shit about our family name, or your gossiping neighbours, or the fucking war my great-whatever-grandfather fought in. And you can stop pretending that you care about my well-being when we all know you only care about me being recognised as your son and how that affects the attendance of your monthly fucking ball. I don’t care anymore. I’m not letting you control my life anymore”
And he’s crying, now, which is fucking great, and his parents are wide-eyed and flushed with shame, and there’s a gentle hand resting on his upper arm that – wait, that shouldn’t be there, and he turns and there’s Phil, eyes round with concern, mouth open on a word – his name. “….Dan doesn’t want you here” Phil is saying, his jaw set, “and frankly neither do I. I think it’s time for you to go”
White noise floods his head and only Phil’s fingers gripping his arm keep him from vanishing, as his parents move stiffly down the hall to grab their things, as they make parting statements that Dan couldn’t remember if he tried, as the familiar crackle of a portal opening pours in from the kitchen and the apartment is finally doused with silence. Phil doesn’t immediately make any move to comfort Dan, which would be unusual if not for the fact that he probably just heard Dan confess his undying love, or whatever it was that poured out of him.
“I forgot my wallet” Phil says, voice soft.
Of course he did. Of course Phil Lester went to the shops without actually taking his wallet, and Dan laughs, and he laughs until he’s crying all over again and Phil twitches like he doesn’t know whether he should touch him or not. “I’m sorry”
“-no, I can’t do this now, I’m sorry Phil” and Dan does what he does best, naturally, stumbling past a dumbfounded Phil to lock himself up in his room, crying into his folded arms until he’s too dehydrated to keep going, slumping himself back against his bed, watching the door as though it holds whatever answer he’s looking for. In a fit of despair he fires a relatively harmless ball of magic toward the door and it rattles in its frame, doing nothing to assuage the sadness clawing at Dan’s heart.
There’s a soft sound, and then Phil says “you probably shouldn’t do that”
Then, “I’ve been in love with you for years, if that’s why you’re hiding”
Something in his voice is soft, vulnerable even. The words don’t register straight away, the sound of his own heart pounding in his chest being the only thing Dan can concretely focus on, and then it does register and somehow it isn’t a shock, isn’t a bombshell or a disaster. It just is, and of course it is, and of course he has. Still, a little shaken, Dan asks “Yeah?”
“Yes, Dan. Thought you weren’t interested, but it turns out you were just trying to hide your superpowers from me”
“They’re not- you know this, Phil” and he hears Phil giggle, of all things, delicate and intentional.
“Are we just gonna keep talking through the door?” he asks then, “In the movies, this is the bit where the protagonist kisses the love interest. I think you’re the protagonist, though, since you’re all mopey and I’m at your door like Mr Darcy, except it isn’t raining, but that’s a technicality so I think realistically I’m the love interest-”
Bewildered, Dan waves a hand and sends the door gliding into place against the wall. It reveals Phil, cross-legged, close enough that his knees must have been touching it, hands folded sweetly in his lap. He’s still talking, and Dan loves him, and he’s an idiot but Dan loves him, so Dan scoots forwards until their knees are touching and watches as Phil slowly trails off into silence. “I’m going to kiss you”
“Alright” Phil says, and he does. It’s awkward, because they have to lean up on their knees and i’ts clumsy but it’s them and it couldn’t be more perfect. Dan breaks into giggles, letting his head fall into the dip between Phil’s shoulder and neck. “Was that weird?”
“A little bit”
Dan lifts his head, and Phil looks mildly concerned. “Obviously good weird, you nutter”
“I was just checking!” Phil exclaims, defensive but he’s laughing.
“You’re an idiot” Dan tells him, “why do I love you? You’re such an idiot”
Eyes shining, Phil shoves him in the arm and grins. “You do love me though”
“I do” and Dan leans in to kiss him again, once, twice, “I really do”
A Few Weeks Later
When Dan wakes, he wakes to the sound of something heavy clattering to the ground and a still-warm space beside him in the bed. After a few silent seconds, a soft ouch drifts in through the cracked door and Dan pushes his smile into Phil’s pillow. In the weeks following their confessions, they’d been disgustingly inseparable. More so than usual, and Dan would hate it if it was anyone else but Phil. Phil hasn’t slept a night in his own bed since the night Dan’s parents left; the two of them had slept curled around one another, whispering sweet nothings until they passed out. Waking up without Phil feels almost foreign, now, but the sound of him undoubtedly injuring himself in the kitchen makes Dan feel warm in a way that he finally understands. In the air, he forms a soft pink ball of magic and sends it floating off down the hallway. A few moments later, Phil appears in the doorway with the ball perched on his shoulder, a tendril of magic curved up and around his neck. “Morning, love”
Dan makes a vague whining sound, pushing his blushing face into the pillow. “G’morning. You destroyed the kitchen?”
“No,” Phil holds out his hand and the magic rolls gently along his arm and into his palm. “Well, I might have dented the frying pan because I dropped it trying to make pancakes”
At some point during the night Phil’s hair had been pushed up into a messy quiff and it makes his face look different, a little more angled and Dan wants to run his fingers through it – smiles warmly at the realization that he can, now. “Well, if breakfast is cancelled, can you please get back into bed? I’m cold and I miss you”
“Clingy” Phil murmurs, pushing off of the door frame and smiling when Dan pouts. His feet are cold when he nudges them up against Dan’s calves but his head is a welcome presence where it rests on Dan’s chest, fingers sneaking up below the hem of his shirt, Dan’s own hand resting in the dip of Phil’s back.
His other hand is making arcing circles above their heads, now, pretty pink threads trickling from his fingertips and meeting as clouds of nebulae in the air.
“You know,” and Dan can feel the movement of Phil’s mouth where the collar of his shirt meets his skin, “when you showed me this before, in the living room, it was the first time I thought you might actually like…like me?”
Dan makes a face.
“Did you just say like like?”
“Shut up. You’re the worst”
Dissolving into quiet laughter stalls the movement of his hand just briefly and Dan tilts his head to press a chaste kiss to Phil’s forehead. “Sorry. But really though, did you not twig before then?”
“Uh, no” Dan rolls his eyes, “I mean, like, as close as we are its really hard to read you like that. I mean, when we first met, I thought maybe…y’know? But then you seemed to pull back and I never wanted to push you”
With a flick of the wrist Dan finishes the work he’s been doing on the ceiling, a night sky descending on them like the real thing, surrounding everything except them and Phil’s bed.
“It was so hard” Dan says, eyes fixed on a point in the sky, “hardest thing I had to do. It was when I got back from visiting you the first time and I guess I wore my emotions on my face when I was talking to my mum. She was furious and so I had to convince her I just saw you as a friend. Had to convince myself, after that”
“I’m sorry” Phil says, and he reaches over to take Dan’s fingers between his own, “I wish I’d known”
“Doesn’t matter now” Dan shrugs, turning his head to find Phil already watching him curiously. “We got there, in the end”
“We did” and it’s Phil who shifts first, tipping his chin just slightly, free hand coming to rest against Dan’s sternum, fingers splayed. Their mouths meet, soft, slow, and it still feels like a miracle. Dan brings a hand up to feel the sharp curve of Phil’s jaw and lets out a gentle laugh when Phil nips at his lower lip.
“Keep it in your pants, Lester”
“I’m not doing anything!” Phil protests, mouth opened on an indignant ‘O’, and Dan believes him even less when he shifts to put a knee either side of Dan’s hips, a hand either side of his head.
“Mhm, sure” he leans up to brush a kiss just below Phil’s chin, “looks like it”
Sunlight drifts across the pillows and catches on the soft curve of Dan’s cheekbone, highlighting a smattering of freckles that glow a soft pink when Phil dutifully dips his head to kiss at them. Everything slows for a moment; the brush of Dan’s fingertips against the short hairs at the back of Phil’s head, the press of Phil’s mouth against his cheek, the corner of his jaw, finally the pleased twist of his mouth. Phil cups Dan’s face and kisses him so deeply it makes him dizzy, parting Dan’s mouth with his tongue and only pulling back, heavy-lidded and swollen-mouthed, when his pinky finger snags the chain of Dan’s necklace. “Hey, can I take this off?”
He tugs gently at the black chain and Dan covers Phil’s hand with his own, mouth curving into a smile, “if you want”
It takes a few moments for the familiar sensation to course up through Dan’s body and he can see it in Phil’s face when his runes become visible again. “Wow”
“You’ve seen them before” Dan reminds him, embarrassed, but Phil is already running his fingers along a sigil on Dan’s bicep and delighting as it glows beneath his touch.
“So pretty” he murmurs, pushing at the bottom of Dan’s pajama shirt to trace the one that had snagged his attention before, the day he’d called Dan beautiful and broken down the last little wall between them. “I love you, Dan”
“You only love me for my body” Dan tells him, watching Phil poke and prod at the glowing pattern on his tummy. Phil pulls a face, leaning up to land a wet kiss on Dan’s forehead; “Gross”
“You’re gross” Phil tells him, “and you know I love you for much more than your body. I like your magic, too”
“Fuck off” and Dan shoves at his shoulder, jostling Phil off of his lap and into a whiny heap on the sheets beside him. They lay quietly for a few moments, Phil breathing deeply, Dan fidgeting his fingers to curve one of the constellations floating in the air into a heart-shape. Phil notices, if his smile is anything to go by. “I love you too” Dan tells him, then. “I’m glad you love me”
“Always have” Phil says, turning his head to kiss the tiny, curving pattern resting on Dan’s cheekbone, “always will”