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When It Rains It Pours

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Dan has to admit that he isn’t looking forward to coming home to an empty flat. But at least it’s only for the weekend. And it is Phil’s mum’s birthday. So it’s not that he won’t survive the weekend (believe it or not he’s actually a fully functioning adult who’s capable of breathing without his flatmate around), but he will have to face any odd squeaking noises alone. If the electricity bill is a little bit higher this month, Phil won’t make mention of it.

Dan shifts the shopping bags on his arm to unlock his apartment door, already considering what food he can dig out for dinner and whether or not Phil will have time to skype this evening. It would be worth having someone to talk to, even if the internet connection where Phil is at is terrible.

However, all thoughts fly out of Dan’s mind as he steps through the door and flicks on the light in the kitchen. The plastic sacks in his hand slip to the floor with a thud. The noise seems unusually loud in Dan’s ears.

There are four men standing in his flat, only feet away from him. Out of immediate instinct Dan reaches for his back pocket, knowing that he has to get to his phone, he barely has it in his hand before there’s a gun pointed at his face.  The man holding it is grinning, his smile is maniacal on his lips. Dan assumes he’s the leader from how he’s holding himself and from the stone cold resolve of his brown eyes.

He feels his stomach drop.

“What do you want?,”he chokes out, Dan’s voice is tight in his throat,”If you want money—take it—name an amount and—anything else in the flat, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, please.”

He hates himself for sounding so panicked, burglars are supposed to be Phil’s worst fear not his. Yet, for some reason he feels like the intruders aren’t there for money or valuables. Maybe it’s the way that the leader is regarding Dan, with hungry eyes. Or maybe Dan is paranoid.

“Just your phone, lovely,”the leader sneers, flicking his head towards one of the other men who steps forward and yanks the mobile out of Dan’s hand. His heartbeat thuds even harder in his chest, it’s painfully loud. The man holds Dan’s phone up between two fingers as he looks on with desperation.

“Can’t have you using this,”the man explains in slight singsong. He flings the phone at the floor before Dan’s noise of protest escapes his throat. He can’t help but flinch at the sound of the man stomping on the screen of the iphone, crunching the already shattered glass beneath his heel.  Any chance of calling for help is now in pieces on the kitchen floor and for some reason all Dan can think is that he’s glad that he didn’t leave the case on it. Otherwise that would’ve been destroyed too, who cares that it’s only a phone case, it means something to him.

“It would ruin all our fun,”the man continues, Dan notes that this one has a slight Northern tinge to his accent and that his smile has turned wicked. 

“Fun,”Dan echoes, he has no idea what that means, but it can’t be good for him. None of this can be good for him.

“Yeah baby,”the leader says with a sensuality in his tone that makes Dan’s skin crawl,”We’re going to have ourselves quite a time of it.”

“I don’t know what you mean--What is this about?”

“This is about you, Daniel. You, flaunting that lovely arse on the internet for all the world to see…and not offering us any.” The leaders makes a soft scolding noise,”You were just begging for attention, and we couldn’t deny you that any longer…no, we couldn’t…”

The first word that comes to his mind is stalker. But—no Dan’s had a few of those before, liberally speaking. People who searched out his address, people who tried to follow him around. All of those were silly teenagers, they were kids with too much time on their hands and no notion of privacy or consequences. This is something he’s never dreamed of, never considered. It’s a whole new level of insanity and there are four of them. And he’s alone. Now without a mobile, no way to get help. None of it sounds promising regarding his chances of survival.

“You have about ten minutes until my flatmate gets home,”he lies, trying to sound confident,”He’s supposed to be right behind me—.”

The leader shakes his head, laughing roughly,”Phil’s gone for the entire weekend, Daniel—but I guess you thought you’d bullshit us in order to protect yourself from what‘s rightfully coming to you. But we did our research. It’s not that hard really, all of it on the internet, documented by Philly and yourself for us to see.”

Dan can almost see Phil’s tweets about being on holiday with his family for the weekend in his head.

“Now finding out your address, that took a little bit more work. But it was worth it.”

“So—so you‘re going to kill me?” Of all of the ways Dan has considered he might die, this is not one he was expecting. 

“Oh no, not at all. At least, we’re not planning on it. Who knows though, we’re very flexible, aren’t we boys?” There are several grunts of agreement.

“No, we don’t plan on killing you lovely, we only want to play with you a bit. And you’ll be a good little boy for us—or who knows—I might accidentally pull this trigger.”

The threat in the man‘s voice makes the hairs at the back of Dan‘s neck prickle and his body shivers in fear. He can think of thousands of ways they could hurt him, hundreds of ways they could ‘play’ and each one makes Dan’s breathing more ragged than the next.

“You can start showing just how cooperative you are by getting on your knees for us, love.” The command takes Dan by surprise. Nevertheless, he regards the pistol pointed at him nervously and sinks slowly to his knees.

“Damn, you look good like that,“ the leader purrs and it fills every pore of Dan‘s body with icy dread. He refuses to believe that this is what they’re here for. It can‘t be.

“Oh but I should make introductions, shouldn’t I?,”he barks out with a mocking laugh,”You can call me Brad.” Brad is the shortest of the four, with thick brown curls. In any other situation, Dan might have thought of him as attractive.

“That’s…it isn’t your real name is it?”

“Of course it isn’t sweetheart,”Brad scoffs,”You look a lot smarter on camera.”

Dan doesn’t answer the jab, and Brad continues, pointing to a limber man with stringy black hair. The one who shattered Dan’s phone earlier. “This is Scott…he’s our local computer whiz. Figured out all the information we needed in record time.”

“And Cade“ Brad points to the largest of the group, he also looks to be the youngest. Tall, oozing brute strength, with a blonde head of hair and blue eyes. Dan notes the hue of his irises with a thick swallow…they remind him of Phil’s. And that’s the last person Dan should be thinking about right now.

“And of course, Sam.“ Sam looks almost as muscled as Cade. He’s slightly chubbier with a military cut and a twisted facial expression. The chilly look in his dark eyes gives Dan the impression that Sam would (and could) snap him in half without twitching an eye.

“We’re your guests for the weekend.”

Brad hands his gun to Scott and steps in front of where Dan is still kneeling. He reaches out one hand and rubs his thumb over Dan’s cheek. Even though the caress is absurdly soft, almost loving, Dan can’t help but flinch away. His breath spikes in his chest and he scrunches his eyes closed, because for some reason he can’t bear to look up the man whose callused hands are stroking his face. Any sense of control is slipping away faster than what Dan can cope with.

Brad chuckles darkly at his discomfort,”Are you afraid, Daniel?”

Of course he is, it should be fairly obvious. When a hand slaps him sharply across the jaw, Dan’s taken by surprise, his eyes snap open and he makes a small squeak of pain. His own hand is covering his reddened cheek bone before he realizes what’s happened.

“Answer me, bitch,”Brad growls.

“Yes, y-yes I’m afraid,”he stammers, not understanding the abrupt change of behavior.

“Awe,”Brad coos,”You shouldn’t worry—we’ll just have to get you relaxed.” Brad’s hands slide to his belt and he slowly undoes it. Next is the fly of his jeans, and when Brad pulls out his flaccid cock after what feels like an eternity later, Dan thinks that he’s going to puke. His eyes flash to the gun and he vaguely wonders if it really wouldn’t be that bad to get shot. The panic is really setting in now, thick and heavy in his jittery limbs.

This can‘t be happening. This can‘t be happening, he chants over and over in his head. And oh god, he wishes it were true. Brad wraps his hand around his length and pumps himself to half hardness, thrusting forward, clearly aiming for Dan’s lips. He yanks backwards.

“Don‘t do this to yourself, love,“ Brad chides Dan’s attempt at refusal,“Play nice. Cause I guarantee you that you won‘t like the alternative.”

But Dan refuses to budge and squeezes his lips and eyes firmly closed. If only he could will himself out of this situation with his mind.

“It’s either this I fuck your throat with the gun. You pick.”

His eyes snap open at the threat.

“How do you feel about mutilated vocal cords? I think you’d be a hot little mute personally, who needs to be able to talk.” Dan whimpers, tears welling up in his eyes and the shame over almost crying in front of them makes everything so much worse. The radio, his videos—he has to be able to talk. He doesn’t want a cold piece of metal choking him…but at the same time…he doesn’t want to give this maniac a blowjob either.

“Let‘s try this again”

This time, when the tip of Brad‘s cock pushes against his lips, Dan reluctantly parts them. And he already hates himself for it.

“Make it good now, honey, or maybe I’ll stick that pistol up your arse too.”

Dan shudders, he’s given a blowjob before. Not that he would admit it—in fact he doesn’t even think Phil knows about that—still, he’s rusty and he doesn’t want to be doing this in the first place. But he brings his tongue to the tip of Brad’s cock nevertheless. The taste on his tongue is bitter, and he can feel Brad’s eyes digging into the top of his head.

Eventually Dan accepts that he’ll have to actually put his mouth on the dick in front of him, and he slides his lips over the length, trying not to hyperventilate or vomit.

Brad moans loudly when Dan begins to suck and put some effort into his tongue movements, “You’re so good at this, I knew you’d be a cockslut from the moment I first watched you.”

Brad thrusts his hips and forces himself deeper into Dan‘s mouth. Dan chokes at the intrusion, he’s forced to suck air in through his nose. He’s just going through the motions now, already managing to zone out of the situation. The musky smell in his nostrils and the thundering in his chest are in much sharper focus than anything else.

And if he pretends that it’s anyone else—then maybe he can survive this. Dan tries to envision his sixth form muse, or one of the various guys he’s sucked off over the years. Yet, for some reason Dan’s mind goes straight to Phil. (And that’s so wrong he can’t even begin to berate his mind for thinking of it.) But if he fantasizes that this is Phil’s heavy cock in his mouth, then he can almost cope. At the very least he’ll stop tasting stomach acid. Yet, Phil wouldn’t thrust this roughly. And Phil’s hands would be softly intertwined in his hair not yanking viciously at his roots. Phil wouldn’t be slinging a variety of demeaning words at Dan, and when Brad uses both hands to hold onto Dan‘s head as he thrusts into his mouth violently, the illusion shatters.

Brad’s movements are fast and soon become erratic. Dan digs his fingernails into his palms when Brad comes with a moan, hands still holding his head in place so that Dan has no option but to swallow if he wants to keep breathing. Brad let’s his cock slip out of Dan’s lips and tucks himself back into his jeans. Dan is left gasping, he falls forward onto the heels of his hands. His stomach twists and he gags to the sound of laughter from the men around him.

He barely registers the feet in front of him until fingers tear roughly at his hair, yanking his head up and Dan is forced to stare into Sam’s glinting eyes. Without a word of warning, Sam shoves himself into Dan’s throat. Setting a sadistic pace that has Dan’s eyes watering and his knees throbbing from the constant pressure. He can picture the bruises forming already.

As soon as Sam finishes, Cade steps forward and Dan’s head swims. He struggles not to openly sob at the sight of Cade fisting the largest erection Dan’s ever laid eyes on. He wonders if it would be worse if he passed out. Right now. But then they could do whatever they want. Maybe the neighbors will have heard something and called for help. But Dan hasn’t yelled out—fearing it would lead to his skull being filled with lead, and the neighbors are so used to odd noises coming from the Howell-Lester flat that they probably wouldn’t care if he screamed bloody murder. Dan looks up and meets Cade’s malicious eyes.

They look like Phil’s, they look like Phil’s. It becomes a mantra in his head as Cade strokes Dan‘s lips with a thumb. He numbly let’s Cade’s cock press into his mouth. And when it hits the back of his throat Dan knows that he can’t take anymore.

“You’re really liking gagging on this, aren’t you?”Cade purrs from above, and he puts one hand at the back of Dan‘s head, his other grips his dick around the base and both hands push at the same time. “I’ll make you gag harder, love.”

Dan can feel his throat stretch around the tip of Chad‘s erection, can feel it down his throat and his body reacts to the chocking sensation without waiting for permission. Dan shakes violently, but Cade doesn‘t budge, he shoves harder. It hurts and Dan is sure now that he’s going to faint, but every time he starts to see nauseating yellow dots behind his scrunched eyelids Cade pulls out and Dan gasps for breath, gulping down air. It only lasts moments and the hands are back, pulling Dan back and pushing until his throat convulses. He builds a grueling rhythm, always going in way too deep and choking Dan. The sounds of Cade’s moans fill the kitchen and Dan hopes that it means this will be over soon. He can’t pretend that this is someone else, he can’t pretend that this is normal—not when it hurts. Not when he feels like his jaw is being bruised and like the ring of muscles in his throat should be bloody.

After about ten thrusts, tears start streaming down Dan’s cheeks, he can’t hold them back anymore. He sobs, which only causes him to choke harder. Dan’s never felt so helpless in his life, so used. A voice in his head reminds him that only he would be caught in a situation like this. Only he would manage to attract a pack of insane sex-thirsty stalkers. It’s all because of his older videos he’s sure. Or maybe he shouldn’t have made so many openly sexual jokes in collabs with Phil. Is this some sort of creepy jealously that was triggered by him ‘ironically’ flirting with his best friend? Dan doesn’t know, but either way he’s being used like a piece of a trash—and there’s no way for him to stop them. This is what I get for calling myself trash so often, he only cries harder at the thought, it’s pitiful. He’s pitiful.

“What a beautiful little cockslut, you look so nice gagging on it,“ Cade taunts, and Dan wants to protest but he can’t even breathe. Cade stills in his mouth, pulling out in time to come all over Dan’s face. Thick white fluid drips down his cheeks and forehead.

“Lick your lips for me dear, like a good whore.” Dan complies in a numb fashion, shuddering at the bitter taste.

When Scott steps forward Dan merely stares up at him dazedly, he lets the man press his mouth open with his fingers and use his mouth without a noise or without moving at all.

“Gorgeous,”he hears Scott say after the man has orgasmed, he keeps his eyes closed, feeling the come slowly trickle down his eyelids. It’s when Dan hears the scraping of a zipper closing once more that he keels over and gags, choking on the contents of his stomach as he vomits on the kitchen floor. It only makes his throat sting with more ferocity. In the corner of his eyesight he sees Brad, gun in hand. Dan is panting, finally able to catch his breath. His entire body aches and he’d given almost anything to stand up. Reaching for the hem of his shirt, he tries to wipe his face, but a voice cuts him off.

“Nuh-uh. Don’t do that, Daniel…you look really good just the way you are.” He drops his arm back down, wanting to cry again.

“Does Phil know how well you suck cock? Probably. I mean you have to be someone’s slut, don’t worry, we’re only borrowing you. Phil can’t have you all to himself, not when you’re that lovely on your knees.”

He tries to tell himself that they’re only provoking him, but the words still sting. They shouldn’t bring Phil into this, they can’t bring Phil into this. Dan can’t think about Phil out with his family on holiday while he…

Phil can never know. He can never ever know.  

“Don’t,”Dan growls, his voice hoarse and strained sounding even to his own ears. It hurts to talk, and the anxiety makes it hurt to breathe.

“I think we hit a nerve,”Sam chuckles. And Dan already regrets saying anything at all. He wants them to leave, they’ve had their fun, they’ve gotten what they wanted.

As if he read Dan’s mind, Scott speaks up from above him,”Now that we’ve gotten the tension out of the way, we can have some real fun. After all, we can take our time can’t we?”

“Yeah,”Brad winks, his smile widening,”We’ve got all weekend long.” The thought sends another shiver of panic through Dan’s body, and he gags acid again at the thought. All weekend long. His hope shrivels into nonexistence, the words buzzing in his ears. Two days suddenly seems like a very, very long time.

Chapter Text

Dan’s hovering somewhere between consciousness and sleep. Everything is indistinct, the details of the room in front of him are blurred and it spins every time he manages to drag his eyelids open and drop them back down again. The street noise of London outside is soupy and distorted to his ears. Pain coats Dan like a second skin, he can't pinpoint where it hurts because everything aches so much that he’s numb. He can’t feel anything.

The breath stings as it rushes in and out of his nostrils, and the room swirls again.

At first he doesn’t understand what’s different. There’s nothing touching him, he doesn’t think. Yet, something's different. And once he realizes that there’s a noise—a series of shouts actually—it takes even longer for Dan to register what the noise truly is.

It’s his name.

And it’s getting closer. He opens his heavy lidded eyes and watches a blurry form approach. It’s them. They’re back. He can feel his skin start to crawl and the once numb pain seems to sharpen. Dan flinches away. Or he tries to, but he can’t seem to bring his mouth to cry out or for his body to budge. He’s trapped, unable to move, or speak. He can’t get away, and the knowledge of that sends Dan into another fit of terror.

“Dan,”the muffled noise sounds again, and he struggles futilely, feeling a sharp sting of pain around his wrists due to his efforts.

Metal. Cutting into his wrists. A bag of ‘toys’. Handcuffs. That’s why his wrists are flung onto a sharper spectrum of pain, the skin there is raw and bloody from trying to get away. And there’s something in his mouth too, something hard and plastic that’s keeping him from talking. His jaw is sore and aching from being forced open at the uncomfortable angle. There’s saliva dripping down his chin—but Dan hardly notices it. There are so many other disgusting things on his bare form.

He can’t get away, he can’t run or hide or even beg, and one of them is back. He’s back.

“Dan, please…it’s me. I’m going to get help okay?”

His head spins, and he can hear soft footsteps approaching.

“Please, it’s me. It’s me, It’s Phil.”

Phil. Dan regards the shape in front of him carefully, feeling his limbs sag with exhausted relief. Lanky arms and legs, black hair, sharp boned face—Dan knows Phil. Yes, he knows Phil and as he studies the familiar shape of his friend he notices that Phil looks upset. Dan automatically tenses at this realization. Why does Phil’s expression look terrified, his face drained of color, his hand over his mouth like he’s going to puke any moment?

“It’s okay, Phil,”Dan says—or he tries to say—all that comes out is a groan. Phil is talking now, but the words are too fast for Dan to understand. He lets his eyes sink closed and listens to the noise. It’s nice…it’s almost normal. Phil’s on the phone, Dan realizes. He’s not sure why a tiny part of him cringes at that thought.

“Okay, Dan,”Phil says after what seems like forever, his voice is heavier than before when he was talking into his mobile, he’s speaking deliberately now, so that Dan can understand. “I’m just going to get this…,”Phil sucks in a sharp breath,”…this g-gag off of you. Okay, and then when the paramedics get here, they’ll get you the rest of the way free. I called 999, it’s going to be alright.”

Phil’s shaking hands reach towards Dan’s face, he can’t help that his breathing spikes. His eyes widen and Dan looks up at Phil like a frightened animal. Hands brush against the back of his head and his entire body flinches again. Suddenly the eyes he’s staring into seem all too recognizable.

Blue eyes, blue eyes, and they look like Phil’s. The fear seems to waft off of his skin in chunks.

Something comes free and the obstruction in Dan’s mouth falls away. He gulps in air through his cracked lips, letting it cool his throat. He looks up to see Phil with parted fingers over his mouth, crying silently. The black and fierce looking ball gag that was prying open Dan’s jaw has been flung to the carpet.

“Phil,”Dan groans, his voice cracking and barely audible.

Phil’s chest convulses with an attempt at a calming breath,”I’m here, Dan,”he steps closer again. Very slowly inching towards him. “I’m here now, and it’s going to be okay. You’re safe now. You’re safe—I promise.”

Dan manages a jerky nod.

“Just try to stay calm for me, and I swear we’ll get you out of all of this...okay, bear?”, Phil’s voice is raw, and he looks like he wants to touch Dan but is struggling not too.

Bear. The nickname rolls over Dan like a bucket of ice water, he gasps, curling in on himself.

“No,”he moans, unable to shout but his mind is screaming. Phil cannot be here. Phil can’t know. Phil is never supposed to see.

“Dan—Daniel—what’s wrong?”

Daniel. Daniel. Daniel. “Mmm, you’re such a good fuck Daniel, that’s right—keep crying bitch—it only makes you more delicious.”

Phil’s panicked words fade and bounce off of Dan’s eardrums. He’s suddenly very aware that they could come back. They could walk through the door any moment, and Phil’s here goddamnit! Phil probably didn’t even lock the door. He needs to lock the deadbolt and never let anyone in. Phil needs to leave before they come back and hurt him too.

A tentative touch on Dan’s elbow snaps him out of his hysteria and back to reality. “Sorry,”Phil says, and now that he has Dan’s attention he pulls his hand away as if burned. It’s because you’re dirty, he doesn’t want to touch you because he’s disgusted by you. And really—Dan can’t help but believe the tone in his head.

“Hey, hey, hey,”Phil murmurs,”You have to keeping breathing or you’re going to black out again. I can hear the sirens now, can’t you?” Dan strains and, yes, he can hear distant and soupy sounding sirens too. He’s so used to hearing sirens in London, he’s made fun of it countless times. “Get stabbed somewhere else, I’m filming!”

“So, just a little bit longer then.”

He can’t bring himself to reply. He’s so tired. They listen to the sirens grow closer, Dan’s fighting the dizziness that pours over him.  His mouth is so dry, and he’s still incredibly nauseous.

“Just stay awake for me, come on bear, you can sleep soon, but you need to stay awake.”

Dan’s never appreciated before how much he likes Phil’s voice, he could listen to it for forever.

Then there are heavy thumps from down below, and the sirens are incredibly loud. People pour into the room before Dan can comprehend where they came from. All of them are unfamiliar and they surround him. So many people are talking that he can't seem to get air. They're going to hurt him. He knows it. If he could get his tattered vocal chords to produce the noise, Dan would be screaming.

People right above him are mumbling out diagnoses’.  One of them places a hand on Phil’s shoulder.

“Sir you need to back away, we'll take care of this now.”

“No no,”comes Phil’s panicked reply,”You don't understand, you're scaring him.”

There are hands at Dan’s wrists, there are hands pressing at his neck and chest. He can't breathe. So many fingers, everything hurts. He’s barely lucid.

“Sir--,”the woman says again impatiently, pulling Phil away. But Phil shoves her off, staring straight into Dan’s eyes.

“It's okay Dan. You’re okay.” Phil’s face is starting to blur and he hears the flock of people around him panic. Well, they don’t panic as much as they jump into action with hurried words.

“Sir…,”a bright face right above him says, only to have Phil interrupt.

“Dan, his name is Dan.”

“Dan,” they correct,”Can you take deep inhalations for us?”

“Breathe bear,”Phil reinforces the idea. The person above him is telling him to stay awake again, and some other woman calls out about blood loss to Dan’s right.

It’s too late though, Dan can feel it. He knows that he’s going to pass out. After all, this won’t be the first time he’s blacked out in the last two and a half days. The loud voices distort first, and then Phil’s face is coated with spreading black dots.

Dan greets unconsciousness with open arms.

-

Parker has been a paramedic for seven years, to say she’s seen it all is an understatement. She’s lost people before—kids even. She’s seen bodies with the skin half scorched off, and car accident victims with their stomachs and intestines ripped apart so gruesomely that she knows they won’t survive the trip to the A and E.

She’s used to having to deal with the shell shocked bystanders. The sobbing parents who’s toddler is half-dead. The passenger who’s already suffering from survivor’s guilt. Yet, her stomach twisted the moment she walked into the location of this particular call. Years of seeing it all should’ve prepared her for situations like this, but she’ll never get used to seeing victims. Because there is a difference…there are accidents, natural and common disasters, there are drunk drivers and teenagers making bad decisions…but then there are the victims. The ones that have been hurt due to someone else’s malicious intent, they have no way to control what happens, but they’ll always think it’s their fault.

Parker squeezes her hand on the bystander’s shoulder a little harder, trying to be comforting. But—dear god—how do you comfort someone like this? The rest of the paramedics are carefully moving the patient onto a stretcher board so they can carry him out. The patient lost consciousness only minutes after they arrived. Even if they ignore the obvious signs of torture and sexual assault—he’s still suffering from dehydration, malnutrition, and blood loss. Possibly a concussion as well.

The paramedics lift the patient up, starting to carry him out of the room that is buzzing with police officers already. Parker grits her teeth, they better find the sick fucks that did this.

She’s fairly certain that the bystander isn’t going to jump in the way again, so she drops her arm and steps in to help once more.

They carry patient down three flights of stairs, Parker is right with them holding up the stretcher near the patient’s head. It’s hard for her not to study the man’s face, he’s young. His hair is bloody from blunt force trauma to the skull, it’s led them to fear of a possible concussion. The fact that the patient is unconscious makes that threat more dangerous. As well, his face has several smaller lacerations, his jaw multiple bruises (which are grotesquely finger shaped). Judging by this and the cracked lips, throat and vocal cord damage is a high possibility. It’s also impossible to ignore the other bodily substance besides blood that is all over the patient’s form. She also can’t ignore the other man that is following right behind them.

 Once out on the street Parker’s engrossed in the task of helping load the patient into the bus. To say that the street is a scene of controlled chaos is an understatement. It’s painted with red and blue lights, swarming with police and first responders. Not to mention curious passerby and neighbors that stop on the outskirts to take in the scene.

“Sir,”she turns to the man that somehow she got tasked with holding back from his…lover? Husband? Partner? They need to get the patient into emergency care, and if the concussion is more serious than they think—a legal partner may be necessary to sign off on some procedures.  “You’ll need to come with us to the hospital—,”she continues,”Any medical decisions on the behalf of your partner will be--.”

“He’s not,”the man says numbly, swaying slightly in the stance on the pavement,”We aren’t—not legally.”

Oh, just friends then. She’s a bit surprised to say the least.

“But—I have to stay with him,”the man says quickly, panic glinting in his eyes. “He—I.”

Some internal voice tells Parker that she’s looking at someone who’s suffering from shock. She considers briefly, because there’s no time to make a lengthy decision. It’s not protocol…but to hell with protocol. Parker knows what love looks like—and this man is going to want to go with his friend.

“You can ride with…Dan…to the hospital,”she offers, and judging by the look on this man’s face, she doesn’t think any of her superiors will question her decision. If she didn’t let him come, she’d probably have to deal with a scene. Parker glances to see if the rest of the crew is ready to go. They’re still securing the patient’s neck and head with care. If there is brain damage from the concussion, they don’t want him jostling around.

The man nods numbly and Parker offers him a hand into the cabin of the ambulance. He fades quickly to the side of the chaos as they buzz around the patient.

“We’re ready,”someone says after a moment. A tech pulls the door of the ambulance closed and sirens screech out once more.

It’s not until the patient has been rushed into Emergency care, and Parker’s technically off duty until the next call comes in, that the brunt of what she’s seen hits her. From the barely recognizable frightened form of a patient, to the man on scene who last Parker saw was sitting in a hospital waiting room, his entire body shivering violently. The rape victims are always the hardest.

This is definitely a call that will keep her from sleeping tonight.

-

He’s repeated this what feels like nine hundred times. To three different officers. There’s a stone faced salt and pepper haired officer, he’s the sergeant Phil thinks. And there’s a younger man—taking notes. And a female officer too, she’s the one who responds with gentle prompts to get Phil to keep talking.  Phil just wants to leave the station and get back to hospital. Last he heard Dan was still unconscious. He’s so sick of ‘going over his statement’. Nothing’s changed since the first time he recalled this.

He left to visit his family and go on a weekend holiday on Friday morning. He heard from Dan last sometime on Friday afternoon. After that—nothing. No texts, calls…nothing. He should’ve known. He should’ve noticed right then that something was wrong.

The last time he and Dan hadn’t communicated for more than a day had been sometime in 2012. Looking back on it now, it should’ve been so obvious that something was wrong. But Phil had been consumed by his family, and he’d thought that Dan knew that he was busy and hadn’t bothered to text him because of that.

He’d gotten back into London Sunday evening. It was maybe—seven o’clock when he’d arrived at the flat. It was still hard to believe that that was today. So much had happened so quickly. So much is happening so quickly. The moment he’d reached the door, the actual realization that something was wrong had struck Phil. The door was unlocked. It was London for godssake, he and Dan never left the door unlocked. The next fifteen minutes was a blur. The mess of their flat. Dan.

Each time Phil tries to recount finding Dan, his breath catches in his throat and he loses the ability to speak. He is reduced to answering pointed questions.

“Did you see anyone leaving the complex as you were entering that looked unfamiliar or suspicious?” “No, I—I think Dan had been alone for a while.”

“Can you describe what you saw as you entered the room?”
“He was h-handcuffed. To the bed frame. My…It was my bedframe.  He was in my room.”

“Did you move anything—touch anything?”
“Of course I did, I had to I couldn’t just--! Sorry, sorry…I—yeah—there was a gag and I took it off and that’s it. I called 999 right away. And I kept him calm…well I tried to…until help got there.”

“Did Mr. Howell say anything to you about who had assaulted him?”
“No. He—he could barely talk. He just…”

“He just what, Mr. Lester?”
“He just kept mumbling my name. I—don’t even think that he knew he was doing it. He was so—terrified. Of me. He was afraid of
me.”

“Do you have any idea who would want to hurt Mr. Howell, someone with a grudge or obsession with him?”
“No…I don’t know. It could be anyone…we—I mean—I don’t know about anyone he knew personally. I don’t know why anyone would ever—ever want to…to do that to him.”

It goes on and on, feeling more like an interrogation than a ‘statement’. Nothing about the story changes, no matter how many times Phil says it. Except that he’s slowly becoming more and more numb. It’s sort of like Phil’s in a dream, none of it seems real. He knows that Dan’s in the hospital. But everything that’s happened over the last four hours feels like a horrible nightmare. He wants to wake up.

Dan’s limp form and strangled groans seem to be permanently engraved behind Phil’s eyelids. He can’t wipe any of it off of his mind. Not Dan’s sobbing mum, hugging Phil in the hospital waiting room, her tears soaking into his jumper. They had told her that Dan was ‘assaulted’, and Phil’s glad for that—because he doesn’t think that the woman could handle the ‘R word’. Raped. Violently raped. He can’t erase the images of that from his mind either. The blood that was smeared across the sheets of his bed, the terrified look Dan gave him whenever Phil made any sort of movement…

This is the worst nightmare Phil has ever had—and he’d give anything in the universe to wake up.

Chapter Text

The process of regaining consciousness happens slowly. Dan doesn’t move for a very long time.

At first, all he can think is that every inch of his skin, every joint in his body, even his head, hurts. It’s shrouded by a dizzying amount of artificial numbness, but he can still feel the constant ache beneath where the sharp edge has been taken off.

As soon as his head clears a little, he realizes that he’s not in his own bed. And it’s not the couch or the floor either. He’s definitely on a mattress—and there are quiet noises too. A bit hard to pick up on. Machinery beeping, and people talking, walking past…but it’s all muffled.

Dan’s eyes feel like they’re pasted closed. He spends a long time mustering the effort to drag them open. And when he does it’s bright, painfully bright.  He stares ahead blankly and tries to make sense of what he’s seeing. It takes a disturbingly long amount of time for him to realize…he’s in a hospital. In a curtained off room—that’s empty. He looks down with a hiss of pain at the slight movement. He is wearing a light blue hospital gown, and it doesn’t feel like nearly enough clothing, there are blankets pulled over his legs. Frantically Dan looks to his wrists, but he isn’t bound in any way. Which is stupid—he’s in a hospital—why the hell would he be tied up? But still—he needs to be sure. Needs to know. There are, however, bandages and plasters multiple places on his arms. He flexes his stiff fingers. The slight raising and lowering of Dan’s chest, from his slow and shallow breathing, makes his back twinge with pain.

There’s a gross coppery flavor in Dan’s mouth, his tongue and gums are dry and filmed over. He’s thirsty…why is he so thirsty? Dan runs his tongue over his cracked lips, and his jaw throbs.

The familiar ache sends Dan’s mind reeling back to Friday, he jolts up—pain exploding across his back, his legs, his—god no not there—and Dan falls back to the mattress because of it—panting hard.

Friday. Choking, sputtering, swearing he was going to pass out before puking on the kitchen floor while they all laughed. He’d begged at first, when their hands first started crawling, touching every inch of his skin, their fingers purposefully rough. He’d yelled in pain the very first time—“You’re cute when you scream, lovely…” Later he’d just cried silently. There’d been more blood than Dan had thought there would be, it dripped down his thighs. He’d only wanted to sleep. Dear god, he was so tired, his eyelids heavy, everything hurting, he couldn’t stop crying…

Some sort of alarm begins to beep, set off by his climbing heart rate. It jolts Dan out of his mind, and it leaves him heaving for breath, his skin clammy. Now that he’s thought about it, every memory is pervading Dan’s mind, they slither beneath his skin. They’re contaminants. He wants to tear off his flesh with his fingernails. Or at lock his brain into silence again. The next thing he knows, the curtain is pulled aside and Dan feels his heartbeat thump loudly in his ears. But only a woman walks in, she looks slightly concerned. And she’s wearing scrubs that are a bright, garish fuchsia.  A nurse—Dan’s head completes. She’s older…fifty or so…with short grey hair and a watery smile. She’s about the least intimidating person that Dan can imagine.

“Good morning,”she chirps happily, looking at Dan without a hint of fragility. As if it were perfectly normal for him to be watching her movements with dilated pupils. Stepping over to Dan’s bedside, she’s shuts off the beeping noise with a few pushes to keys below a computer monitor.

And then she turns to Dan,”How’re you feeling?”

He doesn’t know what to say.

I’m feeling like I want to die, in his head, it sounds melodramatic. Even if it is true. Instead he manages to croak out,”Not great.”

Dan instantly regrets speaking at all, his voice is raw and tattered. It’s a terrible reminder, and he scrambles for a moment trying to shove back what his tone automatically reminds him of. But the nurse laughs, and maybe it’s fake---yet it makes Dan feel slightly better. Maybe she doesn’t notice his obvious jumpiness, or maybe she’s doing a wonderful job of hiding it. The fact that Dan doesn’t know this woman almost makes it easier, she’s simply a nurse, he’s a patient. The woman has no clue how Dan is supposed to be normally.

“That’s to be expected,”she says,”Now I’m Amelia—and I just need to ask you a few questions about how you’re feeling, and then the doctor will come and speak you…alright Daniel?”

He flinches. “D-dan, it’s Dan.” The gentle smile tightens somewhat on Amelia’s face, but she inclines her head.

“Dan,”she repeats his name with careful enunciation,”On a scale from one to ten, how would you rate the amount of pain you’re feeling right now?” 

It seems like a stupid question, Dan almost says a ten—as he thinks about it though, he’s definitely hurt worse.

It’s like fire, it hurts so bad he’s going to pass out. He can’t breathe, every inhalation hurts…it’s like being split in two…he can’t scream anymore…nothing comes out when he tries to scream…it won’t go away…this is just the beginning…it’s never going to get better…this isn’t supposed to be how this works…it’s not supposed to hurt this bad…

“A—an eight,”he spits, trying to hide the fact that’s he’s shaking. He clutches his hands tightly around the blankets to give him something to hold onto.

“Okay,”Amelia says slowly,”We can work to get that number down, but only if you feel like you can handle more medication in your system, the side effects can be disconcerting, I know.”

He shakes his head, not trusting himself to say much else,”’M fine.”

“Is there anything we can get you to make you more comfortable?”

“Water, please.” He’d just about kill for a glass of water.

She nods,”That’s a good idea. We’ll get you some, alright?”

When Dan’s quiet, Amelia presses on,“Do you have any questions for me?”

“Where am I?,”Dan blurts, realizing that he has no clue what hospital he’s in.

“St. Thomas’. And it’s Monday the nineteenth, at about ten o’clock.”

“Monday,”Dan repeats. It can’t be Monday. He considers what he remembers about time. There’s all of Friday—perfectly crystal fucking clear in Dan’s memory. And then there’s an odd blankness…Saturday. He’s not even sure what happened. And very—very blearily Dan remembers waking up to them gone. To being alone. To pain. And then there’s a chunk of missing time. After that—Phil.

“When was I admitted?”

“Sunday,”Amelia looks down at a chart on the computer monitor,”At seven forty-nine pm.”

He can’t help but shiver slightly, that’s a long time between Friday and waking up today. Dan doesn’t realize how long his silence has stretched until Amelia asks,”Any other questions for me?”

“No,”he whispers.

“Then,”Amelia’s voice sounds reluctant and Dan braces himself for whatever she’s about to say, it won’t be good and he can tell,”There are three other orders of business we need to discuss, Dan.”

“First, the doctor—Dr. Rosenthall, who’s been the physician in charge of your care since were admitted here, will be in here soon to talk about your injuries and what’s been done about them. She should be around in a few minutes. She’s also going to discuss how—if you consent to it, of course—a rape kit would go.”

Every muscle in Dan’s body tenses. A rape kit. He—he can’t--. Dan only has a rough idea of what a rape kit is, but he knows it involves collecting DNA. From his body, that belongs to them.

The nurse is still speaking,”…what that involves, what exactly we do with any samples that are taken, how we’ll do our best to make you comfortable, and how we protect your privacy.  Along with that, an officer from the Yard will be in to take your statement, but only once you’re up to it.”

The police, asking him about…

Dan doesn’t want to relive what he remembers to a random stranger, why can’t everyone just forget that this ever happened?

“I—I don’t—I can’t.”

“Dan, take some deep breaths for me.”

He sucks in large gasps of air, so deep they almost hurt. Amelia watches him patiently until Dan’s back to normal breathing patterns. He’s staring blankly ahead again, though. It’s too hard to try and voice what’s going through his head. And he can’t seem to get rid of the tension that’s coiled in his muscles.

“The last thing, Dan,”Amelia finally continues,”Is now that you’re awake, I know that your family—your parents that is—and your friend, will want to see you. Now whether or not you want to talk to them right now is up to you, but I can say that they are very worried about you—and they love you very much.”

“Do—do my parents know about--?” He looks down at the blankets that are pulled over him, face reddening.

“No, legally only you can choose to reveal the exact nature of your injuries to them, as your health records are your own. That being said—they of course know you were attacked in your own home, and that there is an open criminal investigation—should you choose to pursue it.”

At least his mum doesn’t know, he doesn’t want her ever to know. It would kill her, she’d never look at him the same way again. Then there’s Phil. Dan’s gut sinks. Phil knows.

When he doesn’t reply and several minutes pass, Amelia says solemnly. “I’ll let you think about it, Dr. Rosenthall will be in to see you shortly.”

He doesn’t speak the entire way through the doctor’s spiel about his injuries. She’s coldly clinical—but Dan’s grateful that his doctor isn’t a guy. Maybe, he realizes, that’s intentional.

He has a minor concussion, lacerations on his wrists, nine stitches in his back and a series of bandages there that will have to be carefully monitored even when he does go home because of the infection risk. He’d lost count of how many times the leather cut into his back. Apparently, it was a lot. It’s the first thing Dan recalls about Saturday and the memory courses through his brain on repeat for several minutes. Scott—he was the most vicious. He was the one who had gotten angry—pulled out his belt from it’s loops…

There are several second degree burns on his arms and stomach. The doctor doesn’t elaborate on how he might’ve gotten those and Dan blessedly doesn’t remember.

She tells him that he was admitted into the hospital quite dehydrated, but that the fluids they’ve been giving him via the IV line in his arm have helped that. There was also internal bleeding, and as the doctor puts it ‘some tearing’, it’s something they’ll examine carefully if he chooses to do the rape kit. When she starts to explain in more detail what ‘tearing’ might mean, he shakes his head violently and the physician presses her thin lips together for a long moment before moving on.

When the doctor point blank asks Dan if his attackers ‘used protection’ he shakes his head no. And so then there are meds he’ll have to take…an entire pill regimen to prevent any STIs…he’ll have to get a blood test done for HIV as well.

The only word Dan says the entire time is a whispered ‘yes’ whenever she explains that the voluntary rape kit can be done even if Dan doesn’t want to press charges.

“Even if the evidence gained from it isn’t utilized,”she explains,”I recommend you have the examination done for your own health, we’ll see what kind of internal damage we’re dealing with and what the healing process needs to be.”

He sits for thirty long seconds before finally responding that he’ll do it.

She informs him that they’ll send in a nurse to do the rape kit whenever he feels ready, but that he can see his family first if he’d like.

“That is, if you want to speak to them,”the doctor corrects.

Speaking to his parents, to Phil, is the last thing Dan wants to do. He internally battles what’s worse, having to face them, or having them think that something is even more wrong because he refuses to see them. Finally Dan rumbles out,”I’ll—I’ll talk to them.”  

Chapter Text

“What sick fucking bastards,”Denali growls, shaking his head reverently at the sight in front of him.

“Confident bastards,”Ross chimes in from behind, she’s leaning over a pile of discarded cigarette butts, her gloved hand motions towards the room around them,”They didn’t even bother to clean up this mess…I guess it’s some sort of statement they were trying to make.”

“I’d say they made it,”he frowns,”Jesus Christ.”

Ross straightens up, sighing and glaring at the soiled carpet and couch,”Good news is, that means fingerprints and DNA. Even if the rape kit doesn’t come out definitive, we’ve got semen and saliva. In goddamn abundance…”

She looks at a brightly covered book that’s displayed on a shelf in the room, studying the two smiling men on the front cover for a long moment.

“How long were they with this kid?”

Denali sighs, thinking back to the file he’s been amassing on this case,“Two and a half days. Or something close to that if you go by the word of the roommate.”

Ross’s mouth twists, she tears her eyes away. “Bludgering hell,”the detective curses.

“The vic’s in St. Thomas’s,”Denali tells her,”And I doubt he’ll want to be talking to us anytime soon.” And he can’t blame the kid, but it’s their job to get his account of things. They have to start forming a case, and with victims of this nature that’s never a pleasant experience. He doesn’t think they’ll have any problem proving lack of consent with this particular incident. There’s no denying that the assault occurred, and no doubt that it was nonconsensual, that only leaves identity. In other words, they have no idea who the hell the perpetrators are, and that’s where Denali and his team have to work on building a case. The witness statement will help with that, and if their suspects have any prerequisite indictable offences then their DNA will already be in the system.

“You got forensics under control in here, Leah?”

“Yeah,”Ross nods, her face back to her usual concentrated work expression once more.

Denali’s forehead twists in thought, he steps out of the room and into the hall.

Chances are however, that it won’t be as easy as a DNA test. The confidence of the perpetrators is evident when Denali walks through the apartment. The perps left their DNA everywhere, and unless you’re just goddamn stupid—which Denali reasons these two rapists couldn’t be in order to pull something like this off—or if you know that Scotland Yard has no records of your DNA on file, you don’t just fling damning evidence everywhere.

The confidence of the attack tells Denali something else, also. The perpetrators are certain that the victim won’t talk. They’re convinced that Howell won’t press charges, give accurate descriptions, or reveal their identities.

And as Denali sees it there are three possible reasons for that: either they’ve traumatized the kid to the point that he’s too unstable to talk, Howell knows the perpetrators personally (and therefore is afraid to reveal their identities), or they have something to hold over the victim’s head. It could be a combo of all three.

There are techs working in both of the bedrooms, but as Denali walks by he notices a younger man standing by a tripod in one corner of the room,“Blair,”Denali calls out,”What the hell are you staring at over there, aren’t you supposed to be collecting me DNA?” He motions his head towards the bloody green and blue duvet. This room isn’t the victim’s, it’s the flatmate’s—honestly Denali doesn’t understand that aspect of the crime either. Why choose not only to rape a victim in his flatmate’s room, but also to leave him on that bed—especially when the victim was assaulted in his own room as well? It’s an maddening conundrum.

“This is odd, though,”Blair says, the confusion evident in his tone.

Denali has to hold back his scoff,”What’s odd?”

“This camera.” As if that isn’t the stupidest comment Denali’s heard all week. Blair might be new to the division, but Denali really didn’t expect him to be this moronic.

“Wow, what a wonderful revelation,”he bites in sarcasm,”You’ll be captain of the entire department if you keep up that detective work. Of course there’s a bloody camera! We’re standing in the flat of two proper web celebrities.”

“They’re YouTubers,”the other tech in the room drawls, sounding bored.

“Oh is that the name for it now?,”he grumbles at Fazen. She’s not Denali’s favorite to work with, she used to work in homicide, but somehow got demoted—which means the woman’s generally bored by assault cases. “I like them better when they’re dead, it’s more interesting that way,”is how she once put it. And that brute honesty is probably why she ended up in this division anyway.

“My kid watches these two—the vic and his…flatmate or whatever.”

“No matter what their job title is,”Denali directs back to man examining the filming set up,”—a camera sitting on a tripod isn’t exactly a revelation, Blair.”

“It’s not the camera,”Blair continues, ignoring Denali completely,”It’s that—the SD card is missing.”

“Now that truly is a bloody mystery. Here’s an answer. They took the SD card out—this entire flat is a field of electronics and,”he pauses, running his eyes along the various knickknacks and house plants,”—plushies—it’s probably sitting in a drawer somewhere. And even if it’s not, it wouldn’t really matter, because a missing SD card isn’t going to help me find two vicious rapists.”

“Three,”Fazen corrects him in monotone.

“What?”

“I’d say there was at least three, if not more.” Fazen might be a prat, but she’s always nine steps ahead of the rest of them.

“Y’hear that Blair, three men raped a poor bastard and you’re sitting there staring a camera. Get your ass on with what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Blair grumbles something under breath but steps away from the tripod nonetheless. Shaking his head, Denali backs out of the room. There’s an annoying weight in his gut, reminding him that in a few hours he and Leah are going to have to interview the vic.

He’s not exactly looking forward to it.

-

“Are you Mr. Howell’s parents?”

Phil looks up at Dan’s last name to see a nurse standing in front of Mr. and Mrs. Howell, holding a clipboard. Dan’s parents stand up immediately, Mrs. Howell’s face paling. Phil can’t help it, he’s up right beside them, desperate to hear any news that this nurse has to say. They’ve been waiting all night, just to hear something. At one point Dan’s parents went home and slept, but Phil couldn’t bring himself to be pried off of his waiting room chair. It’s not like he could go to the flat, and a hotel sounded lonely. Besides, he’d been worried about leaving just in case Dan took a turn for a worse.

“Yes,”Mrs. Howell blurts, her fingers are clenched around her husband’s hand so tightly that her knuckles are turning white,”Yes, we are…is he okay? Is something wrong?”

All Phil can think is that Dan had a concussion—that’s what the paramedics in the ambulance had said, concussions could be bad. There could be brain damage, he could be in a coma, he might—

“Dan is awake,”the woman says bluntly,”He’s already spoken to the doctor about his injuries, and I think I can confidently say that he will make a full physical recovery.”

There’s an inaudible sigh of relief from Dan’s parents. Mrs. Howell sags slightly at the reprieve. Full physical recovery…the words bounce about in Phil’s brain. And he knows he should be relieved, happy even. But to him, it’s what the nurse doesn’t say that’s terrifying.  What about Dan’s psychological recovery, his emotional one? Phil doesn’t need to ask the nurse to fear what her answer might be.

There’s also a more selfish question that’s nagging in Phil’s head. What about him and Dan? What is that going to look like now? What if Dan’s terrified of him? What if Dan doesn’t want to ever see him again? What if Dan won’t believe Phil whenever he tells him that nothing has changed between them?

And Phil’s worse fear is that he’d be lying if he said nothing had changed, if he said he still saw Dan in the same way—because he doesn’t. Phil doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with Dan, that’s he’s tainted or some despicable viewpoint like that. What he can’t shove out of his head is that Dan’s injured. Dan was hurt—no, he was raped—because Phil wasn’t there to keep him safe. It’s always been an unspoken promise, Phil protects Dan. They stand up for each other. Always. The guilt at breaking that vow is riddling away at him. Phil can’t think of his best friend without remembering his fearful eyes and bruised skin.

He never called, he never texted. Phil should’ve known, goddamnit!

Mrs. Howell asking a question drags Phil out of his panic.

“Can we see him now?,”she probes, her tone implying that she won’t take no for an answer.

“Yes,”the nurse nods,”If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to his room.” She turns, clipboard held against her chest, but as Phil starts to follow Dan’s parents out of the room, the nurse turns back around.

“I’m sorry, Mr…?”

“Lester,”he supplies.

“But at this stage I think it’s only best for Dan’s family to--.”

The nurse is interrupted by Dan’s mum “Phil is family,”she says firmly, setting her jaw.

There’s a long moment as the nurse considers this. Honestly, Phil isn’t sure what’s worse. He desperately needs to see Dan. To hold onto him and make sure that he’s okay and alive and in one piece. Phil needs to hear his voice and try to determine how bad things are between them. At the same time, he’s terrified of seeing his best friend.  

“Okay,”the nurse sighs,”This way then.”

They walk through a door out of the waiting room and down a white and sterile hallway. Curtained off rooms and alcoves with desks and corridors blur past on both sides. Phil walks past chatting nurses and busied doctors, there are fellow visitors too, looking lost and shocked as they wander numbly down the halls. An old man in a hospital gown walks by with the support of a physical therapist, and Phil watches him with an odd transfixion. It’s very surreal, having everyone walk past as if the world is right and normal and perfectly fine. Even the stiff nurse acts like today is just an average day.

Or is Phil merely thinking too much? He really needs to sleep. In fact, he hasn’t even had coffee, which Dan would say that in that case it was a proper miracle that Phil hadn’t murdered anyone yet.

At least, that was something that Dan would’ve said.

“Here we are,”the nurse stops in front of a numbered and curtained off cubicle and glances down once at her clipboard. It looks just like every other room they’ve walked by.  Phil’s nerves spike in his chest. The lump is already forming in Phil’s throat. He needs to stop wanting to cry. Not when he’s around Dan, not when Dan will need Phil to be strong.

There’s a swishing noise as the nurse pulls back the curtain to let them in, Phil follows behind Dan’s parents, keeping his eyes on the floor because he’s suddenly terrified to look up.

The room is small, there’s only one bed and it’s surrounded by a foray of monitors and lightly beeping machines. A half empty plastic cup of water sits on a side table. And there’s a medicine bag dripping rhythmically.

“Daniel,”Dan’s mum practically yells, she nearly launches herself at the figure in the hospital bed, and Phil sees Dan’s frame tense at the contact. The long legs twitch beneath the dull hospital blankets. Dan makes a small noise of discomfort and his mum instantly pulls away.

“Hey,”Dan says hoarsely, and the sound of his voice makes Phil want to hug him for all of eternity. It’s not just worn out and cracked from use, it’s tight and frightened as well. It’s the same voice that moaned Phil’s name over and over without realizing it.

He really shouldn’t have come.

Dan’s mum frowns slightly at her son,”Sorry,”he says quickly, noticing her worried expression,”I’m still—stitches and stuff—it hurts.”

“Oh my god,”Mrs. Howell huffs,”I’m sorry, I should’ve realized.” She runs a gaze over Dan’s injuries. There’s a heavy silence as she takes in the hand shaped bruises around his throat and jaw. They’re thrown into much darker contrast now that Dan’s not covered in blood and is paler than even Phil is normally.

Dan presses his lips together, regarding his hands instead of meeting his mother’s eyes.

“We’re all just so glad you’re okay,”she looks to her husband who steps forward and grabs his wife’s hand. Leaving only Phil standing awkwardly beside the curtain. He’s inches away from the exit just in case he gets any sense that Dan wants him to leave.

The best Phil can say is that Dan looks better than the last time Phil saw him. His movements are jittery as he shifts in the bed to sit up further, gritting his teeth in pain. His eyes look like auburn pools of barely concealed panic. There are plasters and bandages dotting his skin, and the injuries that Phil can’t see right now, he fills in with his mind.

“How are you feeling,”Mr. Howell asks.

“O-okay,”Dan stutters out. He’s shivering away from where his mother’s hand is still resting on his arm, but she doesn’t seem to have noticed. Phil would also guess that Dan’s in a lot of pain—but for some reason isn’t increasing the drip of whatever drug they’ve given him.

“The doctor’s wouldn’t tell us your exact injuries,”Mrs. Howell says, and it sounds like an accusation.

“Yeah,”Dan murmurs, which isn’t the answer his mum is looking for. Phil knows that Dan’s parents aren’t very good at understanding him, even if they are loving—but still—it should be evident that Dan’s struggling not to look like he’s petrified. And he’s failing at it, in Phil’s perspective at least. After observing Dan in a whole range of emotional states over the years, looking at him now everything is screaming wrong wrong wrong at Phil. The tense shoulders, the shaking hands, the lack of eye contact, the rapid staccato breaths…

“J-just bruises and a couple of stitches, and I have an ostrich egg on my head.” The laugh that comes out of Dan’s throat as his own joke is forced and unnatural. But it seems to appease his mother somewhat.

“Who did this to you?”

“Dad,”Dan starts, he sounds exhausted now, and he probably is—all the doctors and nurses and health questions and tests…Phil doesn’t even know half of it, but he can imagine,”I—I don’t know. I’d never seen them before. Just some…people…stalkers…”

“Why would they beat you up?”

“’Don’t know.”

Dan’s mum jumps in,”You are going to give the police full descriptions aren’t you?”

“Yeah,”Dan mumbles.

“So they broke into the apartment, but they didn’t steal anything?”

“Mum, I’m really tired, please—I…”

She nods, understanding—which is good because Phil isn’t sure how much longer he could’ve watched them ignorantly interrogate Dan. “Sorry dear, we’re just worried about you is all.”

“I know, and ‘m fine.” As Dan says the word ‘fine’ his eyes flick up to where Phil’s standing, and he acknowledges Phil’s gaze for the first time. It’s like he’s saying I’m not fine, I’m not fine, I’m not fucking fine at all, fuck Phil, I’m not fine.

They’ve spent too much time around each other for Phil to not know exactly what that look means.

“Okay, is there anything we can get for you, at all?”

“Yeah,”Dan says, finally dropping eye contact with Phil,”Hospital food…is well…it’s utter shit. If you could—.” It’s painfully obvious that Dan is coming up with any excuse to get his family to leave.

“We can run out and get you something, as long as you’re sure you don’t want any company.”

“Phil’ll be here.” Both of Dan’s parents turn to look at him now, like they’d forgotten Phil is in the room. And he’s just as surprised as they are.

“Yes,”Mrs. Howell nods,”Okay.” She squeezes Dan’s forearm, apparently not noticing his obvious twitch of discomfort.

“We’ll see you in just a bit.”

“Bye,”Dan sighs, Mr. and Mrs. Howell brush past Phil and out of the curtain, pulling it closed again behind them. And then they’re alone.

Dan gasps in several breaths in quick succession. He’s trying to keep himself from hyperventilating, Phil realizes. After a few moments of sucking in air with his eyes clamped closed, Dan finally lets his death grip on the blankets loosen.

Brown eyes flutter open and Phil is suddenly reminded that he’s been too terrified to move this entire time.

“Hey,”Dan says wearily. Phil breaks from his trance and steps away from the curtain, moving purposefully to a chair at Dan’s bedside.

“Hi, Dan,”he sinks into the plastic seat, not sure what else to say.

After a long moment Dan mumbles,”You look like shit.”

“Mmm,”Phil hums, surprised that Dan even cares what he looks like. Phil isn’t the one in the hospital bed,”Yeah…

They lapse into silence for another indiscernible amount of time. Dan’s eyes are closed, but he’s not sleeping, he’s inhaling and exhaling in a manner that’s painfully loud. His fingers are shaking where they’re wrapped tightly around the blankets.

“Do I need to go find a nurse?,”Phil says quietly, not wanting to frighten Dan with abrupt words.

“Why would you do that?”

Phil glances apprehensively at the bruising around Dan’s neck,“You’re in pain.”

“I’m fine.”

“But—.”

“The morphine,”Dan chokes,”Or whatever…it makes everything blurry and I don’t like it.”

Phil thinks of the disoriented state he found Dan in and suddenly understands. “Okay, that—that makes sense.”

Phil’s never wanted to comfort Dan more in his life than in this moment. He chews the inside of his cheek…utterly lost. Because for the first time in his life, Phil has no idea how to comfort Dan. He doesn’t want to scare him, he doesn’t want to make Dan relive something.

And yet—he needs Dan to know that he isn’t alone.

There’ve been so many times where Phil hadn’t hesitated before wrapping his arms around Dan. Hugging him while he cried. Dragging him out of his dark thoughts with an arm around his shoulder and a cup of tea or a bag of sweets.

Phil’s always known exactly how to cheer Dan up, or talk him down. Until now. Now, he has no fucking clue what to do. The acknowledgement of that makes Phil’s chest ache.

“Dan,”he starts slowly, not sure what he’s doing,”Is it alright—if—if I hold your hand?”

Dan’s eyes snap open, and at first Phil is certain that he’s made a terrible decision.

If anything Dan sounds surprised, not terrified,”Y-yeah, that’s fine.”

Phil nods, and now that he has permission he reaches for Dan’s white knuckled fingers. Wrapping his own hand around Dan’s smaller—and much colder—left hand. Phil watches Dan’s face carefully, but he doesn’t flinch, or react at all, except to squeeze Phil’s fingers a little tighter.  

And this time the silence doesn’t seem nearly as heavy, Dan’s eyes close again. Phil let’s his mind buzz blank, listening only to the bleeping of Dan’s heart monitor.

“They want to do a r—….a—a  kit,”Dan says suddenly, it’s as if he’s decided to dive headfirst into the subject that is the elephant in the room. And even though he can’t complete the word, Phil gets it. They want to do a rape kit. It makes Phil slightly queasy to think about—the DNA of strangers—on Dan. Because of how they violated him. Which honestly, Phil has no idea how to rationalize that act. Rape. And Dan. The two words don’t correlate. Rape is something that happens to other people, to strangers, it’s a social justice issue. It’s a statistic.

Or that’s what it used to be.

To someone Dan is just another case to get the paperwork written up on, and another bag of evidence. But to Phil he’s a best friend—more than that—he’s Dan. He’s Phil’s entire life condensed into one person.

“I—I said I’d do one,”Dan continues,”The police want to talk to me too…have—have you already talked to them?”

“Yeah,”he sighs,”I had to give a statement.”

Dan shudders slightly,”What’d you say?”

“Just where I was, and when I got back—stuff like that.”

Dan nods, looking comforted.

“’M really tired, but—can’t sleep, I just…I want to get it over with.”

“Okay,”Phil’s slightly surprised, but he tries not to show it,”We—I can get the nurse.”

Dan murmurs an incompressible assent, and Phil reluctantly drops his grip on Dan’s fingers so he can stand up and step outside to find the nurse that brought them to Dan again. If Dan wants to get it over with, Phil’s going to make sure that happens.

At this point, he’d do anything Dan asked him too.

Chapter Text

Dan quickly learns that the rape kit isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s mortifying. The humiliation almost masks the amount of pain that Dan is in. He has to stand up, and that in and of itself is excruciating. It goes on for eternity. By the time it’s over Dan’s fingernails have dug red half-moons into the palms of his hands. And he can’t breathe, or move, or even think. God—he’s so tired. The air blisters his throat, his muscles shiver and shake under the strain of having to hold himself up.

“Mr. Howell,”the nurse is saying, and the words swim in Dan’s ears. She’s stripping the blue latex gloves off of her hands, tossing them away. She’s not just any nurse, she’s one especially authorized to collect evidence. Because that’s all this is supposedly…evidence collection. I’m just a crime scene, Dan realizes. There are plastic evidence bags containing swabs, nine separate samples lined up on the exam table.

“Would you like me to get anyone for you? Family?”

He takes a moment to register. Yes, in fact—the room is empty except for him and this nurse. He doesn’t remember her name. At this point there’ve been so many doctors and nurses in and out that he’s lost track of their names and faces. They’ve all been women though, which makes Dan wary. That means that they all know.

“I believe your…friend…was waiting outside for you,”the nurse keeps going, not fazed by Dan’s lack of response,”Would you like me to let him in?”

Friend. Phil. She must mean Phil.

“S-sure,”Dan slurs, not quite registering what he’s agreeing too. His head is spinning a thousand miles an hour. Like he has travel sickness, his body still rotating behind his eyelids.

“Okay then, why don’t we get you lying back down?”

Dan’s only so happy to comply. His throat is acid filled. The nausea rising in his gut. He really does need to lie down.

There’s a process of stumbling backwards against the hospital bed, and then trying to sit and swing his feet up without flinching. There’s the clenched teeth and hiss as Dan’s back presses against the mattress and he can feel the tug on his stitches. Nine of them, just like the row of evidence bags.

He lays there numbly as the nurse reattaches his sets of tubes and wires. Monitoring his heart, pumping pain killers into his blood stream. There’s a swish and then he’s alone again, which is almost more terrifying. The noises in Dan’s head become unbearably loud. Memories and sensations pulsing behind the floodgates in his mind, barely contained. The gentle beep of the heart monitor turns into an endless drone. The slight movement of earlier means that Dan is now fully aware of how much it all hurts.

“Tearing”…”Internal bleeding”…”Please, oh god, please please stop. Stop, please. I can’t—please. P—please”…

He flinches violently at the sudden and sharp noise of the curtain being pulled back. There are three long seconds of stillness before Dan’s mind clicks. It’s Phil. His stance reminds Dan of a deer about to get run over by a car. Eyes wide in the headlights, looking hesitant—like he wants to run and get a thousand miles away from where he is, but can’t bring himself to move. When Dan had told Phil that he looked like shit, he’d meant it. Phil’s hair is a nightmare, dark pouches curl under his glasses. And if Phil looks like hell warmed over, then Dan can’t imagine what he himself looks like.

He makes the executive decision to close his eyes once more. Quiet footsteps cross towards Dan, and then there’s the scraping of a chair. Phil’s breathing is at a normal pace and it gives Dan something to time his own inhalations to. A metronome of sorts.

Time passes, and it might be minutes or it might be hours, Dan can’t tell. All he knows it’s that it’s been a very long time since him and Phil have sat in the same room together in total silence while both of them were doing nothing. Typically they’d both be sitting in the lounge clicking away at keyboards, even then, casual banter is normal. And the silence isn’t cold, like it’s been at a few points in their relationship—or friendship—or whatever the hell it is. No, it’s like neither of them can think of anything to say.

Part of Dan wants to swear to Phil that he’s fine, that it’s all okay…but he really is too tired to lie.

The nurses float in and out a couple of times, asking about Dan’s pain, adjusting his medicine dosage, seeing if he wants anything to eat or drink. He accepts the water, but declines food.

Dan’s parents are back, but he asks one of the nurses to tell them that he’s sleeping. It’s an innocent enough lie. Dan can’t bear the thought of having to talk to them again. His father’s interrogative questions and his mum’s overwhelming concern are simply too much to handle.

But this time when the curtain swishes back, the nurse isn’t alone—it’s Amelia—and she’s leading two people behind her.

“Dan,”the nurse smiles sympathetically,”These are two officers from the Yard, they’d like to speak with you, if that’s okay?”

Dan’s gaze drifts from the soft edges of the nurse to the sharp and stony appearance of the police behind her. His eyes focus on the black uniforms and silver embellishments. One is a woman officer, she’s a good foot shorter than the older-looking man beside her.

“Yeah, yeah…that’s fine.”

“Good,”the nurse chirps,”I’ll leave you all to it then, if you need anything at all, just call for me.” Dan nods and the nurse ducks out behind the police.

“Mr. Howell,”the woman speaks up, stepping farther into the room with her companion following,”I’m Officer Ross, this is Sergeant Denali,”she motions towards the more menacing, salt and pepper haired man,”And we just need to ask you some questions.”

“Okay,”Dan replies slowly, trying to reconcile the professional tone of Officer Ross with the pity that’s evident in her eyes. She’s holding a clipboard and a sound recorder in one hand. With a thick gulp Dan notes the handcuffs holstered in the utility belt around her waist.

“Would you like for--,”she throws a glance at where Phil is sitting. He is looking hesitantly toward the exit, clearly uncomfortable. ”--Mr. Lester to leave?”

These must be the people who questioned Phil, Dan realizes. And he hesitates, remembering clutching at Phil’s hand, and how nice it is to not be alone. Even though he doesn’t want Phil to hear this. He doesn’t want anyone to hear this for that matter.

But Phil’s already seen it. And Dan is terrified of these two strangers in front of him. In a spurt of panic he decides that he can’t do this alone.

“No,”he chokes out,”He can stay. Please—I mean—can he stay?”

All three people in the room look surprised, even Sergeant Denali’s forehead wrinkles in confusion.

“Yes,”Ross replies, her eyes softening,”If it makes you more comfortable, of course.”

Dan nearly sighs with relief. He’s not sure why, but all of the sudden the prospect of having to be alone with people that he doesn’t know or trust is terrifying. Yes, they’re the police, and he shouldn’t be afraid…yet instinctively he wants to hide, to get away, to panic. He just can’t be alone with them, he can’t.

The two officers slide chairs closer to Dan and sit while he’s in his moment of half-terror, half-reprieve. They’re watching him closely. Denali with an air of curiosity and Ross dripping pity.

“Alright then,”Denali grunts out, speaking for the first time, and his tone makes Dan want to cringe,”Let’s get started.” He looks more normal than Dan expected a police officer to look, not menacing or gruff, but like the average forty-plus year old with two and a half kids and a couple of ex-wives. Officer Ross looks down, and Dan assumes that she’s turning on the recorder.

“I--,”he stutters, not sure how to explain that he doesn’t know what to say. What do they even want to know? Because most of it Dan doesn’t remember, or he doesn’t want to remember it…and the rest…he can’t. He just can’t…

“This would be a fun little thing to go viral, wouldn’t it sweetie?”

“Why don’t you start at the very beginning, Mr. Howell, just take your time,”the words jar Dan out of his head. Away from the hissing voice that sounds all too familiar.

What Ross wants is easier said than done. Especially since Dan can’t actually ‘take his time’, they’re all waiting and he wants it over with already. He takes a deep breath and tries to make himself numb to his own words. The beginning…

Dan looks at Phil for reassurance. Is it even right that he really wishes he could be holding Phil’s hand again? Is that wrong?

It’s very—very wrong, Dan decides. He clenches his hands in tighter on themselves again.

“Phil went to see his family,”he starts, because it’s the only logical place to begin,”On—on Friday. In the morning, I got up earlier to say goodbye actually. I never get up early, but that—that morning I did and…and I went shopping later, we were out of...,”he can’t quite remember why he went to Tesco’s actually,”…something,”Dan finishes lamely. He falls silent. Because everyone in the room knows what happens next.

He went home.

“This is about you, Daniel. You, flaunting that lovely arse on the internet for all the world to see…and not offering us any.”

“What time did you get back to your flat?”Denali asks.

“I don’t remember,”he blurts,”In the evening. I’m sorry—I don’t remember.”

“That’s alright,”Ross assures, and the tightness in Dan’s chest relaxes slightly,”Keep going.”

“I got back and—unlocked the door—but something felt wrong. And then I walked into the kitchen, to put away the groceries. But…”

“We’re going to have ourselves quite the time of it”…”Fuck, baby, you’re so tight.”…”Moan for me Daniel, moan like the slut you are…”

“But?”

“There were f-four men,”faces and hands and gruff voices flash in Dan’s mind,”In the kitchen.”

“Four,”Ross repeats and she and Denali share a significant look,”Can you describe them?”

It’s like slamming into a roadblock in Dan’s head. He can’t, he can’t, he can’t… The words are repeated over and over in a constant chant. It doesn’t help that his increasing heart rate is mapped out for everyone to see. He’s petrified of speaking and even more scared that they’ll all be mad if he doesn’t. It’s irrational to think that the police would ever hurt Dan if he couldn’t remember every detail, and yet, that’s exactly what he’s fearing. No matter what the logical side of his brain says, Dan still feels the emotion.

“They gave me names, but f-fake ones. There was B-Brad,”he almost can’t say the name, which is infurtiating,”I—He was the leader, he had a gun…then umm Scott, Cade, and Sam.”

“I don’t remember their faces very well,”he blurts before anyone can ask,”I’m sorry, I don’t—I don’t even remember Saturday. Anything that happened. Just—Fri-Friday and everything h-hurting and then waking up. On—on Sunday when Ph-phil was there and I’m sorry. I don’t know. I don’t--.”

“Dan,”Phil cuts in, he reaches for Dan’s shivering fingers and smooths them out with his own,”Breathe.” Dan gasps, grabbing Phil’s hand before it can be pulled away. It’s wrong, he really shouldn’t…its wrong…

“Tsk, tsk, Phil’s never even popped this cherry, what he’s missing out on…” “You should be glad that your roommate isn’t around, or maybe we’d have him use you too, I could get off on that…” “Do you not like that baby, bet you wish it was Phil doing this instead, don’t you?”

The echoed voices are replaced by a more solid one,“Did you know these men?”            

“No.”

Dan’s fairly certain that he’s going to end up snapping the bones in Phil’s hand if he doesn’t loosen his grip, but he just needs something to hold onto. “They—they weren’t familiar, I don’t think I knew them. Just—just stalkers. Creeps from the internet, that’d w-watched me. And--.” He can’t find the oxygen to continue. He’s only choking on the words.

“Okay,”Ross intercedes,”Why don’t we go through the men one at a time and have you describe them for us. Starting with the leader.”

Dan stares fixedly into the space in front of him, focusing on forgetting and remembering at the same time. He has to remember enough to satisfy the officers, but also forget all of the details that he can’t bring himself to ever say aloud. “Br-brad, that’s not really his name but…he was shorter and had curly hair…I think. I don’t know, I—he was maybe thirty, or late-twenties. That’s all I know. And Scott was the one who figured out where I—where we live. Computer guy or something…”

“…Figured out all the information we needed in record time.”

“Sam was—a…a sadist. He looked military almost, but was a bit—a bit overweight…”

“Cade he—he was the youngest, but the b-biggest. I mean strong—not—not like that. Well. Like that. But—he had blue eyes too…and…”

Eyes like Phil’s, Dan thinks, his stomach twisting. It’s getting harder and harder to stay coherent.

“So you walked in on them waiting for you in your kitchen,”Officer Ross repeats,”And then what happened?”

The obvious answer is tangible, but he can’t force himself to say it. So instead, Dan settles for,“They held a gun on me.”

“…maybe I’ll stick that pistol up your arse too.”

“A hand gun?”

“Yeah, a—a pistol. Like, a lot like the ones you carry sometimes, police I mean. Or-- or like you see in--in crime shows, that size.”

Ross nods that he should continue. “And then—they…they…”

“You’re really liking gagging on this, aren’t you?” “Ugh, such a good little cockslut..” “Lick your lips…”

“I was forced to umm, s-suck them off. Oral sex I mean. Well, not sex—cause…I didn’t exactly w-want to…to…,”the word Dan is looking for is rape, and it’s such a gross term. A term he can’t bring himself to accept. Raped. Rape victim. Violated. Ruined. Dirty. The synonyms pile in Dan’s head until he reaches the inevitable conclusion—slut.

“Then t-they dragged me out of the kitchen and I--.”

“Let’s get these clothes off of you babe…” “Now look at that beautiful arse…” “Spin around for us, put on a good little show…”

Everyone is looking at Dan, and the police officer’s and Phil’s eyes, they are digging into his skin.  “Is—isn’t it kinda obvious what, what they did?,”he breathlessly yells.

Three beats of silence, Phil’s sickened expression, and then Ross speaks,“You don’t have to describe in detail, but we do need to know Mr. Howell. Did they force you to participate in nonconsensual anal sex?”

He tries not the flinch at the coarse medical terminology, yet—there’s no other way to say it.

“Yes.”

“They raped you?”

“Y-yes.”

“And tortured you, beat you, et cetera.”

“Yes,”Dan’s voice is barely above a whisper at this point, it’s all that he can manage.

“And you didn’t know these men, never seen them before, never heard their voices before?”

“I didn’t know them, definitely hadn’t seen them. There was—was once when one of them. Scott, he almost sounded—like déjà vu or—or something. I’m not sure.” It’s something that Dan can’t quite express, because he can’t tell if he’s overthinking it. Reality and memory and delusion are all blurred. Is he remembering, or paranoid? , or just plain psychotic?

“Would you be able to pick these men out of a lineup, or if we showed your pictures, could you identify them?”

“I—I think so…”

“Do you know why they hurt you? Was it revenge, or anger?”

He shakes his head stiffly. “No, they said that…I f-flaunted too much on the internet and they had to…give me what—what was coming to me.”

You deserved this, you asked for it…you got off on it. Hell, you wanted it. This time it’s no one talking but himself. And the words feel thick and black and sickening. He can’t believe that. He wants to scream out that he didn’t want this, and he didn’t bring this on. And that any reaction his body might’ve had at any point wasn’t his fault. That was the truth, maybe…

“I know you agreed to have a rape kit done, and there is currently an open investigation, but if you choose so…we can drop the case. However, as long as the men who hurt you are on the streets, they will strike again. Acts this violent are not one time thing, they will be repeated. And judging by the level of sadism in this attack, it looks like a precursor to homicide.” Dan knows what Ross is getting at, him being elusive might get some other poor person killed. The thought only increases the black and heavy guilt that’s sinking in Dan’s gut.

“I—I’ll press charges if you find them, but I don’t…” He cuts off quickly.

“You don’t what, Mr. Howell?”

“You won’t find them,”he admits at last, dejectedly.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you can’t. You can’t, I’m not even supposed to—to…”

“Did they threaten you? Are they holding something over you?”

“I--,”he shudders, not able to continue talking.

“We can’t help you if you don’t talk to us Mr. Howell. But I can promise you, that you are safe now.”

Safe. At the word, Dan almost wants to laugh. It’s very ironic—the idea of him being safe. “No, I’m not. I’m not safe…It’s not s-safe.”

“If you tell us everything, we can protect you.”

“I don’t remember. I don’t. I’m s-sorry. I just—I’m tired.”

“Alright then,”Ross says with the air of a sigh,”We’ll let you rest for now, but I want to leave you my card, if you remember anything—or ever want to talk in more detail, you can call…” She pulls a white piece of index out of her pocket, placing it on Dan’s bedside table.

“’Kay,”he mumbles,”I—I will.”

Ross stands, pushing back her chair,“I’m going to go collect your kit from the nurse, if that’s alright, so we can run DNA?”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

“Okay,”she says to Dan, then turning to her partner,”Denali I’ll—“

“Meet you out there in just a minute, Leah.”

She nods and walks out, leaving the Sergeant behind. Once she’s gone, Denali looks at Dan again.

“Look,”he stands, his mouth twisting and his hands thrusted into his pockets,”You can always talk to us in more detail later. It’s hard right now. Focus on feeling better, okay kid?”

“O—okay.”

Denali looks like he’s trying to decide if he wants to say more, or if he wants to leave. Finally the officer says in his gravelly tone,“And whatever’s keeping you scared—it’s not worth it. Promise you that.”

The sentiment is unexpected, and Dan doesn’t believe it. He has no reason to believe it, because the police—they don’t understand. They don’t know, they can’t know…

“Have a good evening, Mr. Howell,”Denali frowns and turns away. Probably going to find Ross.

Dan sags backwards, more exhausted than ever before. But at least, for now, it’s over. And now, he just really really wants to sleep.

Chapter Text

It’s nearly two days later when Dan finally gets released from the hospital. He’s advised by the physician to seek counselling sessions within a few weeks, but Dan doesn’t respond to that suggestion. And even though Phil tries to talk him into going to a hotel, Dan’s insistent that they go home.

“We aren’t moving—because, because of this…we can’t,”Dan stutters whenever Phil brings it up. So he drops the topic. Phil’s not sure how they would explain it to Dan’s family anyways.

Then there’s the whole issue of what to tell the several million subscribers. Phil doesn’t want to pressure Dan into making any decision about disclosing anything. He decides to post a tweet explaining they’ll be on a short hiatus due to the fact that Dan’s ‘dealing with some health issues’. It seems like it’s been years since Phil’s even looked at anything online, and once he’s done with that gross cop-out of a tweet he decidedly avoids looking at his notifications.

At some point he and Dan will have to talk about what they’re going to do about YouTube, but now is not that time. Dan’s the first priority.

It’s about three in the afternoon when Dan and Phil arrive back at the flat. Dan’s slow climbing the stairs, he’s clearly in pain. Phil’s got his fingers laced with Dan’s, letting Dan lean on him.

The kitchen reeks of antiseptic, the entire flat has been scoured, the mattresses and duvets replaced in the bedrooms. Phil can’t imagine what the cleaning bill will be, but he’s determined not to let Dan see it.

-

It looks so normal. Besides the stinging scent of cleanser, and the over-neatness of everything, it almost looks like nothing ever happened. Dan takes in the kitchen with wide eyes. And slowly it washes over him that maybe he should’ve let Phil book a hotel. His stomach fills with lead as the images pour back of everything that happened in the space before him.

Yet, he can’t imagine leaving. Not here. This is the flat that he and Phil so effectively personalized. It’s more of a home to Dan than any place he’s ever lived in. He refuses to have that taken away because of them. It’s the only grain of defiance he can hold on to at this point. It’s his last thread of dignity. It’s home. And Dan’s already lost so much it feels like, that he can’t stand to lose that one last piece of normality.

Dan shoves aside the images of his past-self gagging on the floor, and tries to think of the other memories he’s created in this kitchen. Baking videos, failures at cooking, smacking Phil with a pillow for discovering him eating sweets out of the cupboard at midnight…All of them are pervaded by the sterile scent and the flashes of darker thoughts. The happy memories seem fake and shiny in contrast.

“Dan,”Phil says at last, looking at Dan’s frozen stance, his lips curling with concern.

“I’m fine,”he blurts, pulling away from Phil’s grip on his hand. Dan rubs his knuckles as if burned by the touch. “I just—I need to take a shower.” Now that they’re home it’s the first thing on Dan’s list of priorities.

“A shower?,”Phil asks blankly.

“Yeah, I really just need to take a shower.”

“You can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Think. Your stitches, and you’re still recovering from a concussion, I don’t think you should be standing up under hot water with no support. What if you slipped?”

“I’ll be fine,”Dan insists, suddenly angry. He doesn’t need to be treated like a china doll.

“Please—.”

“Phil, I’m taking a shower, you don’t rule my life for fucks sake!”

All of the air is sucked out of the room in aftermath of Dan’s shout. Phil’s stance shrivels back and for a moment the only sound is Dan’s heavy breathing.

Dan rushes away before Phil can respond, slamming the glass door to the kitchen in his flight. It shudders in the frame.

The bathroom is dark and empty, Dan flips on the light and carefully locks the door behind him. He strips off his clothes slowly. Unable to avoid wincing as he pulls the t shirt over his head. They’re actually his clothes, which is better than a hospital gown. In real pants and a shirt he felt a lot less exposed, less vulnerable. Phil had retrieved them for him. The thought makes the guilt stir in Dan’s chest, and the pained silence of the kitchen makes him cringe. He’s being such an overdramatic prick. Phil’s only trying to help.

“Are you gonna cry for us, Daniel?”

He yanks the socks off of his feet and kicks the ball of clothing aside. Stepping onto the damp tiles of the shower, he reaches for the faucet. The water spurts out of the shower head ice cold, Dan shivers when it strikes his skin. He turns it hot, as far as the handle will go, waiting for the blistering water to burn at the stitches in his back. Phil was right, it does hurt. The bruises and scratches and abrasions on his skin all ache at the contact.

Dan reaches for a bottle of soap and a bath sponge, lathering it thickly. Never before has he felt so desperate to be clean. He scrubs ferociously at his skin. Ignoring the burns and marks on his arms as carefully as he can and then moving on down his body.  He grates at his stomach and legs--lathering up the sponge with soap twice more and then scrubbing harder. The water and soap residue swirls down the drain at Dan’s feet, slightly tinged red from the wounds he’s managed to rip back open on his wrists.

There are hand-shaped bruises around his waist, marking his hip bones with sickly green and purple. No matter how hard Dan rubs at them, they refuse to disappear. If only he could rub them into oblivion. He has to feel clean, to get the disgusting layer of invisible grime off of his skin.

But he can’t. Time blurs and soon the bathroom is filled with steam and Dan’s used nearly an entire bottle of body wash. It’s Phil’s actually…and that makes his head whirl. He smells like Phil’s soap but he’s still disgustingly dirty. His skin is red and rubbed raw, wrists bleeding, and he’s probably pulled apart a few stitches judging from how bad it aches. Still…it didn’t work. He’s not clean and he’s never going to be uncontaminated.

Dan sinks to the floor of the shower, his knees buckling. Dry sobs shake his chest and he’s fed up with himself for crying again, but unable to stop. His body trembles and water beats down from above in a constant drone. Dan’s never going to feel unstained again, no matter how hard he tries the marks won’t go away. Yes, the bruises will fade, but there will still be scars. He studies a small round burn on his arm with a shudder and another wracking sob. Frustration bubbles in Dan’s throat, he needs to feel pure. He wants so terribly to feel normal that he’s tempted to scream.

He screams, which Sam finds amusing somehow. “Knew you‘d like that...“

Sam presses the glowing end of the cigarette against Dan’s arm once again and this time he manages to hold back his scream, merely whimpering around the gag that’s choking off his air. He’s so tired, drifting between unconsciousness and waking. Only the persistent pain is keeping him from sleeping.

“You sound so nice when you give up, lovely,”Sam cajoles, bringing a thick hand up to caress Dan’s cheek. The callused touch makes his stomach turn. Dan is hungry, starving actually, but at the same time he doesn’t think he could keep anything down.  But he would kill for water, or any liquid…his throat aches.

Dan watches with trepidation as Sam takes a long drag on his cigarette. He lazily flicks the butt at Dan, just to see him flinch away. Then Sam chuckles thickly at the reaction.

Dan’s so scared that it’s beyond description. He just wants to die. He wants to die. He wants to die. He pleads internally for his death, even though there’s no one to hear him.  

Dan clenches his teeth to muffle the sound of his crying, wishing that there was no one here to hear him.

But there is…

A soft knock on the door is a brutal reminder of that.  

“Dan?” Phil’s voice sounds through the wood and the pounding of water. The stream is starting to cool from the amount of time Dan’s been in here. The water temperature is a great excuse for why his extremities are tremoring.

He doesn’t answer, but Phil’s persistent. “Dan, are you okay?”

“Go away,”Dan yells, his voice sounds wet and thick from crying. He’s pitiful to his own ears. And he knows that shouting will only increase Phil’s worry. They rarely fight anymore.

“Dan-”

“Leave!” He screams it, unable to hold back another sob.

“Dan, I will,” Phil sighs,”I just need to know you aren’t hurt.”

“I’m fine, please, just go.”

Dan can practically hear Phil’s hesitation. But a few long moments later, it’s silent, and Dan knows that Phil’s gone.

He tells himself it’s better that way. It’s better that he be alone, better that Phil never see him like this.

-

Phil makes them tea, it’s the only thing he knows to do at this point. Something his mum always did when Phil or his brother were feeling down. Besides, he needs the familiar movements to try and distract him from worrying. Nevertheless, he can’t stop his head from reeling.

Honestly, he’s terrified. When was the last time that Dan had yelled at him like that? The answer is more unpleasant than the question. Last time Dan yelled like this, it had nearly ended them. It’d been cold and stiff for almost a year. Phil never wants that again…ever.

As Phil’s letting the mugs seep he hears the water down the hall shut off. It’s quiet now, too. Dan’s stopped crying. Which frankly, Phil can’t decide if that’s good or bad. He waits restlessly in the lounge, alternating between staring into space and trying to forget what this room looked like the last time he saw it.

Phil jolts in surprise when Dan’s form appears in the doorway. He’s wearing sweatpants and a jumper, his hair still a curly dark mat. Clutching the sleeves of his shirt to pull them down over his wrists doesn’t do much for Dan. The red blotches on his hands are obvious to Phil. Not to mention the rawness on his face and neck.

Oh god Dan, what did you do?

Dan crosses the room hesitantly, hovering on the balls of his feet.

“Sorry,”he murmurs, looking uncertainly at the couch. He looks like he wants to sit but doesn’t know how to act.

“It’s fine,”Phil says, and he means it. The last thing he wants is Dan thinking that he’s mad at him,”I promise.”

Dan chews his bottom lip, sinking slowly onto the sofa beside Phil and tensing in pain. The flinch sets off red flags in Phil’s mind. Something is very wrong…on top of all of the already wrong things. Phil’s gaze scrutinizes Dan’s countenance.

“Dan,”he blurts suddenly,”You’re bleeding.” A drip of red is trailing down Dan’s right hand, already soaked into the hem of his sleeve.

“Oh,”Dan breathes,”It’s—it’s fine.”

“No it’s not.” He moves to grab Dan’s arm, but stops immediately. Phil can’t be forceful, he has to remember that.

“Please, let me look at it.”

“Just the—the cuts on my wrists, they broke open.” Dan reluctantly pulls back his cuff, revealing the wound to Phil. It’s the first time he’s been able to fully examine the abrasions. They’re deep. Phil grits his teeth. He can only imagine how hard you would have to struggle and pull and yank to create wounds like that.

“What about your back? The stitches.”

“I—they’re fine.”

Phil frowns. Dan’s lying, and not even trying to hide it. “If you’ve pulled one out we’ll have to go to the A and E.”

“I haven’t.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Then can I look and make sure?”

He feels terrible for cornering Dan into it. It’s for Dan’s own good, though. If he’s not focused on self-care right now, then Phil will have to focus on it for him.

“Phil--.”

“Please,”he says exasperatedly.

“O—okay.”

Dan leans forward, lifting up the back of his shirt with mechanical movements. Phil tries not to let his reaction show on his face.

Jesus Christ, he curses, trying to look at the stitches and not the stripes of red and purple.

“Well they’re definitely inflamed,”he says finally,”From all of the soap…but still intact.”

Dan doesn’t respond, so Phil stands up. He has to do something to help. “I’ll go get some plasters for your wrists.” There’s a first aid kit somewhere in the bathroom for everyday mishaps, it should do.

A few minutes later, Phil is sitting beside Dan, their thighs pressed together, cradling Dan’s left wrist in one hand and applying plasters. If not for Dan’s blinking, Phil would think that he’d turned into a statue. Dan’s not even tapping at anything, which is off-putting. Dan always is moving, keeping time to a beat.

“When did you become a nurse?”Dan jests, finally speaking after Phil has moved on from one wrist to the other. He gives a forced attempt at a smile and Phil tries to play along.

“If I remember correctly every time you became horrifically ill you loved my bedside manner.”

“You’re too clumsy though, you’d drop the scalpel into the patient during surgery.”

“True,”Phil laughs, instantly regretting the noise. Is it even right to laugh at a time like this? He ducks his head, the giggle feeling heavy in his chest.

Chapter Text

He takes over an hour trying to decide the best place to sleep. By the end of the ordeal Dan feels like a moron, he can’t even step into Phil’s room without his throat constricting and his hands sweating. The whispered memories pound into his skull. His own bedroom isn’t much better, even if the signs of anything happening in there have been replaced with a bleach-y smell. With the kitchen and lounge out of the question, that leaves only the computer room. It’s the tiny untainted safe haven in the flat. As far as Dan’s knows they never even stepped foot in here.

Phil piles Dan under a mound of blankets and asks about nine hundred times if he needs anything else. Dan’s answers get progressively sharper each time. He hates this…he hates feeling like an invalid.

“You’re not my mum, Phil,”he growls at one point, starting to feel fed up. Despite how hard he tries, Dan can’t ignore the hurt expression that flashes across Phil’s face. Dan just needs to sleep. More than that he needs to wake up to everything being as it once was. He needs to wake up and discover that this was all some outrageous nightmare. Or that—at the very least—he’s the only one who knows about what happened. Not Phil, not the doctors, not the police…

“Goodnight,”Phil says at last, stepping towards the door to go to his room. He’d said earlier that he was fine with sleeping in there. Phil hadn’t simply stated that, he lied. It was evident in the guilt in his stance. Of course Phil doesn’t want to sleep in his room. They both know exactly why.

Dan doesn’t have the energy to argue, he wants Phil gone.

The moment the lights flick off however, there’s a sense of apprehension. He’s not safe, he’s not safe…

“This isn’t goodbye of course, it’s…until we meet again, Danny.”

Dan jolts up into a sitting position, ignoring the ripple of pain, “W-wait!”

Phil freezes in the door frame at Dan’s shout, he turns around, worried as ever.

“I--.”

“What’s wrong?” Phil asks nervously.

“Are you–can you…stay?,”Dan whispers the last word, feeling more and more stupid by the moment. “I’ll be fine either way—but, it’s…” He doesn’t know how to explain.

“You’re sure you want me to?” Phil asks him. “Do you need…space…or anything?”

“No!” Dan interjects hurriedly,“No, d--don’t leave me, please.” Someone needs to slap him, to smack him right across the face so he can shut up. Or at least yank the foot out of his mouth.

Pitiful. Bravo, you’re absolutely fucking pitiful.

“Bear,” Phil sighs the nickname, with a sad smile that’s so small it’s nearly imperceptible, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not leaving, okay? I promise.”

“Okay.” Dan mumbles, feeling ridiculous. He sinks back down and watches Phil’s form step back into the room. Phil’s weight divots the edge of the futon when he climbs into the blankets beside Dan.

It’s been a long time since they’ve slept in the same bed. It’s not like the times they shared a bed at Phil’s place in 2009, or the handful of times that a bungled hotel reservation forced them together. Just the thought of Phil beside him seems wrong. Not instinctively, but intellectually.

Phil shouldn’t be this close to him to someone that is so disgusting. It’ll only be a matter of time before Phil realizes what Dan is. How dirty and used and messed up he is…Eventually Phil will notice, and then he’ll leave. As he should.

There’s no doubt in Dan’s mind that this, Phil beside him, won’t last for much longer. His eyes begin to water, even though tears are unbidden. Yet, Dan was sure he didn’t have energy to cry anymore, that he was too exhausted. And here he is, trying to muffle his sobs so that Phil can’t hear. It’s futile, Dan’s best friend is only inches away.

“Dan?,”Phil asks, he sounds wide-awake. He’s not trying to sleep at all, apparently.

“I’m sorry,”he intones automatically.

In the dimness Dan sees Phil blink in confusion,”Sorry about what?”

Dan doesn’t answer. He’s sorry for everything that he’s dragged Phil into. Sorry for making Phil look at him funny. Sorry for hurting Phil. (He’s fucking up Phil’s life too.) Dan’s sorry that he’s a mess. And sorry that he’s gross now. He’s sorry that he didn’t fight back harder. Or get away. Or get himself killed. Or keep it a secret. Very deep in Dan’s mind he knows he’s being absurd…but…he’s sorry that he managed to get himself—.

Raped.

The word is revolting, even in Dan’s head. After a few minutes Phil sinks back down with a loud exhale.

It’s not long till Phil’s breath slows and Dan knows he’s asleep. Dan can’t bring himself to relax, he’s hyper attentive to every small noise. Suddenly wishing that the lights were on, so he could see if anything or anyone was there. And even though he’d checked seven times early this evening that the door was locked, he’s tempted to get up and check it again.

“I lied,”he says hollowly to Phil’s sleeping figure. Now that Dan knows Phil isn’t listening, it’s easier to talk.

“I said I didn’t remember their faces…well I lied.”

Dan’s eyelashes press against his cheeks and he shudders. “I remember every last detail. Christ, Phil…I remember everything.”

-

Phil wakes up to an empty bed. The blankets are cold and twisted around his ankles. Besides a distant siren from outside the window, it’s silent. And it takes Phil several moments to register why that’s wrong.  

Dan.

He practically launches himself out of bed, tripping over his own feet and nearly stumbling into the wall. A quick glance tells him that the room is empty. Phil scrambles for his phone to check the time. It’s six twenty am. Too early for Dan’s absence not to be unsettling. The soft light of dawn filters through the room, casting everything into washed out hues.

He has to find Dan.

Both bedrooms are empty. But when Phil walks into the bathroom, he nearly trips and falls on top of a dark haired figure.

Dan’s huddled on the floor, his arms holding his knees to his chest in a death grip. With his chin buried in his legs, Dan’s shivering. The reason for which definitely isn’t the temperature of the tile. His skin is ashen. Dan looks up with a start, his pupils constricted to pinpricks.

“Dan,”Phil breaths, simultaneously relieved at finding him and even more worried about the state he’s in. Phil sinks down beside Dan, brushing against his arm softly. It’s on purpose to get Dan’s attention.

“Nightmare,”Dan grunts in explanation. His skin is clammy to the touch, and his shirt soaked with sweat. There’s an accosting smell of stomach acid. Dan must’ve puked, Phil decides.

“Let’s…get you cleaned up?”

Dan nods and Phil stands, wrapping his arm around Dan’s back to support him beneath his shoulder blades and pulling him to his feet. Dan’s knees shudder under the weight of standing. He leans against the vanity.

Steeling himself for an adverse reaction, Phil asks,”Can I?” He motions at the hem of Dan’s shirt. Dan can’t exactly shower with clothing on.

“Yeah,”Dan’s cheeks burn red, and he refuses to meet eye-contact.

Phil’s as careful as he can be when he starts to lift Dan’s shirt, revealing a strip of bruised skin. Dan’s breath is too loud, and the cloth of the shirt rubbing on his back clearly hurts him. But, he doesn’t object or pull away. So Phil doesn’t stop. The shirt is flung to the floor.

Dan’s getting progressively more pale, he wavers against the countertop.

“You aren’t going to pass out on me, are you?”

“N-no,”Dan stutters in response, now fully leaning on Phil to keep himself upright. With a rapid succession of breaths, Dan reaches for the elastic of his pants, dragging them down. They fall around his ankles, leaving Dan in only his briefs.

Phil knows that Dan would love for him to leave, but he can’t…not when Dan is shaking too hard to stand. He considers reminding Dan that they’ve seen each other naked before. Then again, right now is probably the worst time to bring that up. Reliving the awkward moments in their relationship would only make this instance more uncomfortable.

Dan’s briefs join his pants on the floor. Phil can’t help but run his eyes over Dan’s naked skin. Not in that way, of course. No—he’s assessing the marks. Hand shaped bruises paint Dan’s hips, there are matching bruises on his thighs. Places where someone held him down, or held him in place. A flash of anger flames in Phil’s gut, he’s suddenly livid. How dare anyone hurt Dan like this? How dare they leave the shape of their revolting hands on Dan’s skin? How dare they hold him down and force him too—Phil sucks in a calming breath. He can’t be angry right now. It’ll make Dan more uncomfortable. What Phil needs to be is casual, normal, steady… He pushes all thoughts of revenge and murder and livid rage out of his head.

Phil helps Dan towards the shower.

“Why don’t you sit?”he suggests, worried about the greenish hue of Dan’s skin. If passes out while standing up, it could very well end in another concussion.

The fact that Dan doesn’t protest before sinking to sit down, or even respond is more terrifying than any of his other symptoms. A word pops into Phil’s head:

Disassociation.

-

The water runs down Dan’s skin in rivulets. It pools around Dan’s feet and he studies it numbly. Dan can’t stop shaking, he’s not cold, and he barely remembers the images of his nightmare. They aren’t distinct anymore, only the feeling of apprehension remains. Dan’s head and limbs feel like they’re filled with static. He can’t feel anything. Not the drumming water, or the pressure of his legs against the tile. Or even where his teeth are digging into the inside of his cheek, producing a coppery flavor in the back of Dan’s throat. And that weird sense of detachment makes it all the more terrifying.

He can’t even bring himself to tell Phil to leave. Phil’s kneeling behind him, too close in Dan’s opinion. He’s humming a slightly off-key tune that Dan doesn’t recognize. A warm soapy cloth presses against the back of Dan’s neck and he flinches. It doesn’t hurt necessarily, but every sensation feels sharp.

Starting at the nape of Dan’s neck, Phil rubs down between Dan’s shoulder blades with soft firm strokes. Wiping away the layer of sweat that’s coated Dan’s body. He winces when the cloth brushes over the stripes on his back.

Phil’s especially tender when rubbing around the bruising on Dan’s throat. And Phil’s lucky that Dan doesn’t react more harshly. He hates it when people touch his neck. For some reason Phil’s usually the exception to that rule. He loosens up nevertheless when Phil is done there.

By the time that Phil’s finished washing Dan’s right arm, he’s relaxed considerably. It feels nice, calming even. Instead of being humiliated by his lack of helpfulness on his part, Dan feels warm. The idea of Phil washing his chest should be awkward…but it’s really not. Either that or Dan is too tired to care. They live together, he tells himself, and this is simply an extension of that. He can’t help but smile at the thought that his 2012 self would call bullshit on that statement. It’s the second time Dan’s been in the shower in the past twenty-four hours, but there’s a stark contrast. This isn’t violent.

With all of the suds rinsed off of Dan’s skin, Phil turns his attention to a bottle of shampoo. With a hand on Dan’s chin, Phil leans him out of the spray of warm water. There’s a noise of a bottle being uncapped and then hands press against Dan’s scalp. For a brief instant all Dan can think of is rough fists yanking at the roots of his hair, pulling his head back to reveal the skin of his neck…being flung by the throat towards the wall, his skull snapping against the edge of the piano…reaching up to touch his head in a delirium of spinning pain and feeling the hot sticky sensation of blood on his fingers. He bites down harder on the inner flesh of his mouth.

The touch is very light as fingers massage Dan’s scalp, working up a mass of bubbles. Any moment Dan expects to feel pain. And every time that he doesn’t he starts to sag into the feeling. It’s so nice…and right and normal and it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt… That thought alone is enough to make Dan want to cry. In fact if he weren’t completely dehydrated from all of his earlier tears, he probably would. Phil presses his thumbs against Dan’s temples, making small concentric circles. It’s a steadying sensation in Dan’s whirl of thoughts. Phil cards his fingers through Dan’s curls once more before leaning him back into the cascading water.

Once rinsed, the process is repeated again with conditioner. Only then does Dan recognize the product’s scent—it’s Phil’s. That’s an oddly comforting piece of knowledge. The steam and relaxing touch is making Dan sleepy. His eyelids are heavy, his head too leaden to hold up easily. He watches with glassy eyes as Phil turns off the water and reaches for a towel.  

-

Dan’s hair is a stack of messy ringlet curls.

“You’ve got hobbit hair,”Phil points out in a mumble—and it’s the first time he’s actually spoken during all of this. Honestly, Dan looks nearly asleep and isn’t paying attention to his words.

That’s okay though. At least Dan’s stopped shaking. He helps Dan stand and step out of the shower. Phil hands Dan a towel to wrap around his waist. Dan needs clothes, but those are in his room…

“Wait here,”Phil says and Dan nods in return,”I’ll be right back.”

Ten minutes later Dan’s dressed in pajamas and he still hasn’t said a word to Phil. They end up in the lounge, not the computer room. The couch is bigger, and Dan’s essentially falling asleep standing. Exhaustion is the only explanation that Phil can think of for why Dan ends up literally curled up in his lap. Dan’s legs tucked beneath him in a cat-like position and his still-damp head resting against Phil’s chest. With a sleepy mumble that could be ‘goodnight’, Dan twists his hand around Phil’s.

It doesn’t take long at all for Dan’s breathing to flatten out.

Having a sleeping Dan on top of him is new. Phil runs his thumb over the knuckles of Dan’s hand and watches his chest rise and fall in a gentle cycle. He looks so small. Which is an absurd considering Dan’s a six foot three giant…but lying there he looks tiny to Phil.  

Dan sighs in his sleep, shifting his legs and curling back up slightly closer to Phil. The gesture makes Phil smile despite himself.

Chapter Text

The buzzing of his phone startles Phil. He watches the screen light up blankly for a long moment before picking up the mobile and accepting the call. There’s a heavy sinking feeling in Phil’s gut. He doesn’t have the initiative to participate in the conversation he’s about to have. What is he going to say? How’s he going to explain?

“Hey,”Phil tries to force some energy into his greeting. Not that it’ll work, his brother knows him too well.

“Phil,”a concerned voice says on the other side of the line,”What’s going on?”

“What do you mean, Martyn?,”he tries to be oblivious.

“I saw your tweet, about you and Dan taking a hiatus because of medical reasons—are you two alright? I haven’t heard from you. You didn’t answer my texts and mum hasn’t gotten anything from you since you left either.”

“Yeah—,”Phil sighs,”I’m sorry about that.”

“Sorry doesn’t explain why it happened.”

There’s a tense silence as Phil bites at the inside of his cheek. There has to be an excuse, or at least a way to gloss over the issue at hand. He doesn’t want to violate Dan’s privacy. And he doesn’t want his family to be worried. But—then again—they already are worried, apparently.

“Martyn,”he starts heavily,”Dan—Dan’s not well. I’ve been…in the hospital…and we just got out and back home—and the only reason I’m talking to you right now is because he’s asleep.” Or at least, Phil’s assuming Dan is asleep. Honestly, there’s no way for him to know what Dan is up to.

He glances out of the doorframe of his own room at the closed room across the hall. Earlier Dan had walked into his room and closed the door behind him—the room that he’d been refusing to go into—it’s been four hours now. And Dan still hasn’t come out. Hopefully he’s sleeping.

“Is it serious?”

Phil avoids the question. Because, yes, of course it is serious. If it wasn’t he wouldn’t have to bring up the topic that he’s about to.

“There’s something else that I really need to talk to you about, and I can’t make the announcement at the moment. I can’t. I—just there’s too much and Dan needs me and I don’t know if…”

“What is it, I can help out.”

“The tour. Tatinof. America…it can’t happen.”

“What?!,”Martyn asks incredulously and Phil flinches slightly at the loud response.

“We’ll have to suspend it—or cancel it or something…Dan he—he…”

“It’s that bad?”

Somehow his brother’s reverent and terrified tone is all it takes for Phil to break. His eyes water and Phil presses his lips together, suddenly everything seems very heavy. His shoulders sag.

Christ, Martyn…it’s really, really bad.”

Somehow Martyn remains calm,“Phil, what happened?”

“I can’t—.”

“I’m your brother, something’s wrong. You need to let me help you.”

“You can’t help me,”Phil says at last, trying desperately to compose himself. He needs his brother’s help, not his concern,”Not really. I just need someone to deal with all the business crap and you’re the one that does that for me and Dan so…can you just—handle the fans, the rumors, the deals and collabs, and all that stuff we had lined up? Please.”

“Of course. I—I’ll make some calls and keep you updated,”Martyn pauses as if considering,”What’ll you being doing?”

“Taking care of Dan.”

“He’s—he’s not dying is he?”

“No,”Phil says firmly. At least Dan isn’t dying. “Hell no. He’s not terminally ill or anything. Physically he’ll be recovered completely in a month or so…”

Physically,”Martyn repeats, his voice hollow.

“Fuck—I…”

“Phil—for the love of god, what’s happened?”

“There was a break in,”Phil admits,”While I was gone—on holiday with you and mum and dad.”

“Have you reported it to the police, what was taken?”

“Yeah, we did. And nothing—it wasn’t that type of break in.”

Even over the phone Phil can hear the horror in his brother’s voice,“That—that type?”

“They hurt him,”Phil says brokenly,”They hurt Dan. A—assaulted. And I found him and…there was so much blood…you don’t even—he—he won’t even look into my eyes now. I don’t know why. I’m so scared. Isn’t that incredibly selfish…I’m the one that’s scared that Dan is going to hate me or something now instead of being worried about him. That’s just wrong. F—I mean—goddammit, I’m being such a terrible friend.” All of the words pour out of Phil’s mouth before he realizes what he’s saying.

“Shut up,”Martyn cuts him off,”Phil, no just—listen. You’re not being a terrible friend. Dan and you are clearly both hurt by whatever happened and it sounds like you’re doing everything you can to be there for him. Yes, things are going to be different for a while, but it’ll be okay. You’re more than a friend to Dan, he’s not going to cast you away.”

Yes, Martyn’s words make sense. But Phil can’t believe them, he just can’t. “But—but what if I lose him?”

“This isn’t like before.” Somehow Martyn knows exactly what Phil is thinking of. The Pre-Dan best friend. The one that Phil did lose. “This time he’s not dead. You aren’t going to lose him.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t’ve—.”

“It sounds like you’ve had the week from hell, and it’s okay to let that out. You can’t always be Mr. Sunshine and Butterflies.”

“Okay,”Phil concedes numbly.

“Look,”Martyn sighs,”I’ll try to work out all the business stuff there is to deal with. That’s my job…not just in a professional sense, but also because we’re family—and all of us, we’re here for you and Dan. You just—worry about yourself.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’m going to let you go now, take care of Dan for me, yeah?”

Phil swallows thickly, unable to help glancing at the door to Dan’s room once again. “I will. Goodnight, Martyn.”

“’Night, Phil.”

-

A file falls with a thump onto the surface of Denali’s desk, startling him into looking up from his computer screen. Ross is gazing down at him. Her lips are chiseled into a thin line, and her arms are crossed over her chest. It’s a familiar stance, and it’s not good news in Denali’s experience.

“What’s this?,”he asks, reaching for yellow bi-fold and thumbing through the sheets inside.

“DNA results,”Ross sighs.

“Let me guess…inconclusive.”

He reads it on the print out of the results even as he says in aloud.

Leah nods,”The lab pulled five separate samples. One of those matches our vic. The other four aren’t in the system.”

“Of course they aren’t,”Denali grumbles. It’s not like he expected the case to pan out that easily, but still—he’d retained a smidgen of hope for this one. Until now. It’s starting to look like another for the cold pile. Unless the victim pops up with some new damning evidence.

“I guess the good news is that Howell isn’t lying about the number of perps,”Ross offers, but she doesn’t sound very optimistic about it.

“True,”he shifts the lab results out of the way and glances at the spread of typed up witness statements. There’s the roommate’s, the victim’s, a first responder paramedic’s, along with a doctor’s report of the injuries and a testimony of a neighbor who was fully unhelpful. The neighbor didn’t see anyone unusual and said that the noise from the flat was ‘quieter than they normally are’

“What about profiling?”Denali asks,”We got anything from Fazen on that, or am I just going to have to wait until the next victim pops up in the A and E.”

Ross isn’t pleased with his sarcasm, she shifts her arms tighter in response. “Profiling and testimony haven’t given us much,”she admits. “What I’m wondering is what causes four separate guys to single in on one target? And not just any target, a mark that they didn’t even kill or steal from?”

“An obsession,”he suggests,”A quartet of stalkers?”

Ross’s forehead creases with thought,“That seems too…simple.”

“Jealousy?”

“Jealousy aimed at whom?”,Leah repeats back.

“That’s the question of the week…maybe the roommate.” The roommate is the wildcard in all of this in Denali’s opinion. Somehow it’s not just about the victim. That added to the victim’s reluctance to talk gives him a bad feeling about this case.

Huh, well—Howell did say one of the unsubs was a sadist…but if the motive was just plain old psychopathy than why Howell?”

Ross has a point. Why? Why Howell? Why rape? Why those four perpetrators? If they knew why it’d be much easier to find out who…“If they all had slightly different motivations,”he suggests,”Then there has to be a connection. Something they all have in common besides the vic.”

“So if we find one, we find ‘em all.”

“Exactly,”he confirms,”Now—you just gotta locate one of the bastards. Good luck with that.”

-

The days blur. And Phil isn’t sure what he expected—but it isn’t this. Maybe he had thought that Dan would talk about it. That at some point they would address Dan’s feelings, what is going on in his head. Because that’s what he and Dan always do: they talk it out. He thought that it would only get better after the first day home. That slowly they would both cope and grow back to what they used to be.

Well, Phil was very, very wrong.

Dan doesn’t talk. And that’s the biggest change. The flat is deathly silent. At first, Dan can’t sleep, he stares at blank walls for hours at a time instead. Dan isn’t having panic attacks, he’s not crying—he’s a corpse. He responds to Phil’s questions with nods and mumbled words. He doesn’t meet Phil’s eyes. In fact, Dan never looks into Phil’s eyes and that strikes him as odd considering the absurd amount of eye contact they used to have. It’s what all the fans pointed out and gif-ed a thousand times over. He’s always been under the impression that Dan likes his eyes.

Phil has to coax Dan into getting up and moving around, practically begging him to eat and drink. And Dan has a myriad of excuses when it comes to avoiding food. “I’m not hungry…” “I just forgot…” “I’m too tired…”

Sometimes Phil doesn’t see Dan for hours and hours at a time, then suddenly he’ll show up and be attached to Phil’s hip. Even then—it’s quiet, Dan watches in silence as Phil cleans, or goes through the mail to pay bills, or cooks. He’s like a lingering ghost.

The only time the spell of silence breaks is at night. Phil finds Dan in a variety of places, typically curled on the floor like a cat, and sleeping fitfully. The doors to both of their bedrooms stay closed. Dan can’t stand to go into his room for reasons he knows, and Phil—the sight of what was once his own sanctuary makes him queasy. It’s stupid, and he needs to get over it considering he’s constantly hoping Dan will be able to move on.

When the nightmares make Dan’s eyelids twitch and he starts to cry out in his sleep, Phil always is careful to wake him up. But Dan never says anything about what he’s dreaming about, he typically curls back up (usually closer to Phil).

The hospital calls, and Dan won’t talk to the physician. So Phil does. He clings to the phone with his heart beating heavily in his chest as he waits to hear the test results. He can’t even comprehend what they’ll do if Dan’s sick.

Ten minutes later he steps into the lounge and says to an unmoving figure,”All the tests came back negative…”

There’s no response. Disappointment pangs in Phil’s chest, it’s the first good news in forever, he’d hoped Dan would at least say something. But Phil should be used to the quiet by now…

And even though Dan is probably physically closer than he’s ever been—the snuggling, the hand holding, the constant hovering at Phil’s side—Phil can’t help but feel like his best friend is a thousand miles away.

-

“Good afternoon, sir,” the woman says politely, looking up from behind the cash register. Her happy expression is pasted-on, but she’s still something to look at. He plops his basket of groceries on the counter with a gracious smile. This is an opportunity that has to be taken advantage of.

“Good afternoon to you too…,”he glances at the lady’s name tag,”…Marie.”

His eyes flicker from her cleavage--which is barely visible in the standard polo grocer’s uniform--to her face and back again. She’s pretty. An average kind of pretty, but passable nonetheless. University student age or younger, eighteen…maybe nineteen, with doe-like eyes and thin blonde hair. The hair’s in a messy ponytail, and her eyeliner’s crooked. She’s got nothing much resting on her shoulders, but Marie’s most redeeming quality is definitely her tits. Well-endowed women are worth it, and that’s why God invented paper bags. He swallows thickly and watches her reach for an item in the basket, swiping the boxed dinner across the scanner with a beep.

“It’s a beautiful day out, isn’t it?” Her voice has a nasal quality to it that’s slightly irritating, but it also displays her age. She’s definitely eighteen.

“It’s gorgeous out,”he agrees,”…but not nearly as gorgeous as you.” He winks at Marie, and watches the girl’s cheeks turn three shades of blotchy red. It spreads down her neck too, which is not attractive. Make that an extra-large paper bag if the bitch is gonna blush at all when they’re fucking.

“Oh,”she says, flustered, apparently she doesn’t get much traffic in the pick-up line area. He can see why, Jesus.

”That’s so sweet of you…but--.”

The inevitable ‘but’, it’s liable to drive him insane.

“Let me guess,”he sighs,”You have a boyfriend and don’t feel like ending it, even over someone as striking as me.”

Marie looks back up from where she’s placing a two-liter of soda into a plastic sack.

“No, umm, I don’t—have a boyfriend.”

Well, this is a plot twist that he’s enjoying. If he’s willing to stoop to this chick’s low level that is.

“Well then what’s holding you back, sweetheart?”

Marie’s cheek muscle twitches, she’s trying not to frown. The realization sends a wave of hatred through him. He hates the false ones. Two-faced, double-crossing bitches.

“I have a girlfriend, actually.”

“Oh,”he exhales. That’s unexpected…a lesbian…why are the gay ones always the ones with the nicest boobs?

“Yeah,”Marie confirms, pressing her cheap-lip-glossed lips together,”Your total’s forty-eight twenty.”

He swipes his credit card and collects his junk food groceries without another word to Marie The Lesbian With Nice Tits. And so he walks out of the store feeling in an even fouler mood than before. All he wanted was a good fuck, and now he’s not even going to get that. It’s been a week since he’s hooked up. Even longer since he got off really good. It was the peak of the high for him, but now that it’s over he’s horny and lonely again.

It’s all because of his new Number One.

After having so many encounters in his life, he’s starting numbering them. At this point he’s got it down to a top five. The five best ever. They’re on constant replay for shower wanking material.

At number five is Gio, a small, sharp-faced twink with the skin tone and coloring of a cherub. And he was about as un-angelic as a person could get. Gio liked it rough. Really rough. Bruises and scratches and sore vocal chords. Gio had introduced him to how satisfying that could be. Making someone hurt. Making them beg. Watching them give up. But Gio was just the first, and it had ended because the little angel from hell wasn’t enough. He wasn’t willing to go far enough.

Number four is Tina. She’s the most recent ex. And she was, and is, an absolute bitch. She threatened a restraining order for god-sakes. An outright pyscho. But she also had the best ass he’d ever laid eyes on. Even better than that, she was gorgeous when she cried. Looking back now, maybe he should’ve tried a little harder to keep her. But the broken wrist had been the last straw for the slut. She’d walked out, and cried the entire time. Weak.

Molli was number three, a contemptuous girl who he’d only had for one night. She was higher than a kite at the time, probably didn’t even remember any of it the next day. She was particularly good at giving head, which was why was she was so high on the list.

Number two’s Caleb, up until recently he’d been the number one. For one simple reason, Caleb fought back like no other. And he loved those ones. Because when they finally gives up it means something. When they fully give in it’s an accomplishment. With Caleb it happened three times in the two months that they dated. Three times Calen had been totally at his mercy. He was the boy's God—he controlled his fate, his pain, his pleasure, he ruled Caleb--and he wasn’t the benevolent type.

His mind drifts over to Number One. It’s a special place in his mind.  Sweetheart, he likes to call the boy in his head…by far the best fuck of his life.

He licks his lips and inhales harshly, trying to shove down his memories and fantasies for a bit longer. He saunters through the parking lot to his car. Having to turn the ignition four times before the piece of shit bothers to sputter to life. And that’s just the beginning of it, the London traffic is a nightmare. Every driver seems to think they can be a jackass and get away with it. The country’s clearly going to hell when assholes like this are allowed on the road.

When a forty year old woman pulls out in front of him, and then has the gall to slow down, he has to stop himself from flipping her off. A thousand furious phrases scream through his head.

Fuck her...fuck her...

Who even issues these people licenses?!

Half an hour later, he’s back in his shit-hole of a flat, craving some artery clogging junk food. He drops his grocery sacks on the counter, they land atop a pile of mail.

He still needs to go through that. But it’s all bills anyway, and his fucking rent payment. The landlord charges him an arm and a leg for this run down place, and the minimum wage job he works as a security guard doesn’t cut it. If they turn off his water again he’s going impale that fat-ass old fart of a landlord.

He digs through the sacks for a bag of crisps, and flops down on the sagging couch.

He’s got a twelve hour shift tonight, and he can’t even find the fucking remote.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god you absolute spork!,”Dan snorts in laughter, leaning backwards on Phil’s bed and trying not to look like an absolute idiot as he grins at Phil.

“Sporks are a very versatile piece of cutlery,”Phil chirps back. It’s a response that only Phil would think of, the little shit.

“Phil, everyone,”Dan motions towards the camera, speaking in his sarcastic presenting voice,”He’s very versatile.”

The moment the words leave Dan’s lips he realizes,”Ugh—god that sounds wrong,”he groans. And then he’s laughing again, he can’t help it. The giggles are contagious. And as hard as Dan might try, he can’t help but beam when they’re doing stuff like this.

Dropping out of his camera persona slightly, he turns to Phil,“If I don’t stop dying of laughter we’re never going to get this filmed.”

Phil looks at Dan with an oddly whimsical expression,”I like it when you die of laughter, it’s cute.”

“What?,”he snorts,”Cute. I am not cute.” He tries to seem slightly offended by the label, but feels his cheeks heating nonetheless. Phil calls him lots of embarrassing things, D-slice, Dan the Man, Danny Boy, just to name a few…

Phil shakes his head, leaning towards Dan. There’s not far to lean considering they’re already sitting right next to each other. For some reason Dan’s heartbeat ticks faster in his chest.

“Your laugh is adorable,”Phil says, and then he closes the distance between them. Lips press against Dan’s, just barely—softly—as if testing if it’s okay. He leans into the kiss, adding pressure.

Yes. This is okay. It’s perfect actually. Phil’s arms wrap around Dan’s neck, resting on his shoulders. Warm hands are carding through the back of Dan’s hair. And Phil deepens the kiss, their lips sliding together with more ferocity than before. Phil’s not testing the waters anymore, he’s not nervous—he’s almost animalistic about how he’s kissing.

The grip around Dan’s neck and head tightens, and suddenly it’s uncomfortable. Phil’s tongue is snaking between his lips and stuffing itself into Dan’s mouth. Their teeth clack together, Dan can barely reciprocate at this point because it’s becoming painful.

This is not how Phil is supposed to kiss.

It’s supposed to be soft and gentle and breathless with feelings, not suffocating due to the fact that Dan can’t manage to break away. He’s now having a hard time breathing from a sense of rising panic that's pitted in his stomach. This doesn’t feel like what Dan expected it to.

Teeth dig into Dan’s bottom lip and a copper flavor explodes across his tongue.

He yanks backwards away from Phil’s grip on his neck surprised at the unexpected pain. He needs air. Why would Phil do that? Why would Phil hurt him? Maybe it’s just pent-up emotion…

“Phil--,”he gasps.

“Shut up.” Is the snarled response, and Phil’s mouth collides with Dan’s so forcefully that he falls back against the mattress. His lips feel like they’re bruised, his shoulder blades dig against the bed.

Phil slides down to suck on Dan’s jaw and he squirms at the sensation.

“Phil,”Dan pants, he’s more scared than turned on,”Slow down—you’re—you’re hurting me.”

His fingers grapple on Phil’s chest, snagging the cloth of his t-shirt and trying to shove him away. To get the weight off, to let Dan breathe for a minute.

Phil completely ignores him, he nibbles at Dan’s earlobe and Dan tries to turn his head away. His neck contorted in an effort to avoid the onslaught. Phil’s elbow is digging into his sternum, holding him down, and it hurts.

When Phil tries to imbibe and suck at the skin on Dan’s neck, he snaps. Not the neck. He hates people touching his neck. Dan shoves with all of the force he can muster, managing to push Phil off of him long enough that he can writhe away. He scrambles backwards across the bed, desperate for space.

The sound Phil makes is similar to a growl, he launches himself at Dan.

Dan’s head cracks against the headboard and for a moment all he can see are bright pinpoints of light. Phil’s knees are on either side of his thighs, pinning his legs against the duvet, Phil’s arms are trapping Dan down by the wrists.

The position is extremely claustrophobic. He’s stuck between Phil and the bed and the headboard and there’s nowhere to go. Phil kisses him again, squarely on the mouth. It’s a possessive gesture.

One of the grips on Dan’s wrist is loosened and Dan panics when the hand slides underneath the hem of his shirt. The once comfortably warm fingers now seem to burn at Dan’s skin.

His mind starts chanting ‘no’ over and over. This can’t be happening.

“Please,”he whines against Phil’s lips,”Please—stop. I--.”

The hand that was sliding up Dan’s stomach pulls away, and he almost cries in relief.

He’s taken completely off guard when Phil slaps him viciously across the face, staining his cheek with a red handprint.

“Don’t you dare lie, you fucking slut,”Phil snarls. It doesn’t sound like Phil. Phil doesn’t say things like that. Phil doesn’t even curse most of the time. Phil doesn’t think he’s a slut…does he? He can’t.

This can’t be happening.

Tears sting Dan’s eyes as fingers fumble at his waistband and rip his jeans open. They’re shoved down, the fabric bunches around his thighs. He squirms desperately, but is now too afraid to say anything. The terror that fighting back harder might make it worse is paralyzing. Maybe Phil will stop. Maybe he won’t—

“You want this,”Phil says.

This can’t be happening.

Phil palms Dan through his briefs and he can’t help the sob that escapes his throat. It’s so wrong. He doesn’t want anyone touching him. It’s rough and uncaring. He wants it to stop.

“Ph—phil,”the words fall out of his mouth in broken succession,”Stop. Stop. Please, I don’t--.”

“This is what you’ve always wanted.”

Dan’s eyes are closed and he’s lost track of everything except for the fingers that running over his skin, over his chest, under his waistband. They’re crawling everywhere.

This can’t be happening.

“You’re a disgusting whore, bear,”the nickname is spat out mockingly, Dan’s chest heaves harder,”And you know it.”

“No—no. You—you’re not—you’re not supposed to be like this. No…Phil, stop. Please.” He can’t even speak. Shame is curling in Dan’s stomach because he’s reacting to this. He’s reacting to the all of the places those fingers are rubbing and pressing and violating. He and Phil can both see it.

“You enjoy this.”

Dan shakes his head violently, unable to speak because he’s crying so hard. It’s so stupid. His sobbing, his feeble attempts at pushing Phil off. He’s so weak. He can’t stop it…and he knows what’ll come next. What Phil will do next.

And it’ll hurt.

It’ll hurt.

It was never supposed to hurt.

If Dan ever did this with Phil it wasn’t supposed to be painful.

This can’t be happening.

“Dan.”

“You know you want it…”

This can’t be happening.

“Dan.”

“You’re practically begging for it…”

“Dan!”

This can’t be happening.

His eyes snap open to Phil’s face hanging above him. There are hands clamped around his shoulders, fingers digging into his skin. Holding him down. Holding him down to hurt him…

Dan scrambles off of the couch, landing on liquefied legs.

“Don’t touch me!”he bellows, his arm swinging reflexively and the next thing he knows he’s stumbling backwards, his knuckles aching. The feeling throbs in his hand, radiating up his arm. It’s the only thing sharp in the whirling blind noise of panic that is Dan’s mind. His back rams into the wall harshly. Dan sags against the surface, his head falling back. The noise of his rapid and shallow breaths fill the room. It’s not until he stares down at his shaking hands for a long moment that he realizes. Fuck.

His gaze turns to Phil—Phil who has one hand cupped over his left eye.

“Oh god…,”he breathes. He hurt Phil. He hurt Phil over some stupid dream…

“You’re a disgusting whore…”

The air seems to rip through his chest. Dan shakes his head mutely, feeling his limbs leaden.

It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream, it’s just a dream, Phil would never do that, Phil would never—

Somehow it’s so much worse than reality, the thought of Phil’s familiar hands crawling over his skin. Phil’s callused fingers violating him. Phil’s lips forming the cutting insults. Phil being the one who views him as a disgusting and usable object.

He shudders. It’s getting so hard to breathe. The atmosphere feels constricted around Dan, his lungs are tired. He must looks like he’s having a breakdown. Which—he is.

“Dan, it’s okay,”Phil steps forward, dropping his hand from his eye and offering a placating gesture,”It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m fine.”

The voice triggers a physical reaction from Dan. It’s the same voice that’s still ringing in his ears. The same one that degraded him, that wants to hurt him. He tries to flinch away, but realizes he’s trapped in the room with Phil. Trapped. No way out. A thousand voices in Dan’s head are screaming how unsafe he is. He has to get out, to get as far away from Phil as he can.

Oh god, what if Phil did that?

“Shut up,”he snarls suddenly. All he wants is for Phil to stop talking so he can fucking breathe for a moment. Phil instantly falls silent as Dan struggles not to hyperventilate.

Dan can’t bring himself to look away, he’s afraid to drop his guard. Just in case, just in case something happens.  He knows how he’s looking at Phil…he’s looking at him like Phil is a monster.

The dream Phil was a monster, and Dan knows he should trust this Phil—the real Phil—but he doesn’t. He can’t. There’s a red welt around Phil’s eye that’s definitely going to turn into a bruise. It’s already slightly puffy.

Dan can’t reconcile between the guilt of having hurt Phil and the instinctive fear that’s telling him he needs to do anything necessary to get away from him. It tears away at his head, turning his thoughts into a whirlwind.

Dan’s chest heaves, and time passes indefinitely.

Phil would never do that.

He forces himself to think it firmly. He has to believe that Phil would never do that to him. Hell, Phil would never even kiss him—Phil doesn’t like him like that…they aren’t like that. They’re friends…or something. They aren’t sexual for sure. The entire dream was some weird fantasy that twisted into a nightmare.

“Dan…”Phil says slowly, obviously trying to decide if it’s okay for him to speak now. Honestly, Dan’s not sure if it is.

“Yeah,”he replies in monotone, studying Phil’s hesitant stance.

“Do…do I need to leave?”

A moment that’s absurdly long goes by before Dan at last decides,”N-no,”he stutters out.  Phil would never do that. But even if he’s decided upon that fact he can’t erase the images from his head.

There’s silence once more.

At last Dan speaks up, he has to explain himself. To somehow justify why Phil’s going to have a black eye soon. He’s feeling more and more heavy with guilt as the feelings of terror start to wash away, replaced by reality. “I—I had a dream. A nightmare. And—you—you…”

“You don’t have to explain if you don’t want to.”

“Yes, yes I do. Fuck—I’m sorry. I—I hurt you. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’m barely hurt.”

“’Thought that—that you were going to--. In my dream you--.” His voice cracks and Dan feels like a wave of self-revulsion roll over him because he can’t even bring himself to say it.

-

He ignores three calls in a row before finally picking up the phone and answering.

“Hello?,”he grumbles into the speaker, trying to wipe the grease that’s on his fingers from the bowl of popcorn in his lap on the fabric of the couch. This isn’t the person he wants to talk to. In fact it’s the last person on the entire motherfucking planet that he wants to talk to. And the caller is interrupting his FIFA game.

“It’s about time you picked up.”

“Oh fucking hell, you only called me about nine million times,” he snarls back immediately. “The answers still no. Talk to Pete yourself if you wanna. But don’t you dare drag me into your mess, Ben, I’ve already got enough problems with that son of a bitch and his posh attitude.”

“He won’t answer my calls.”

“Then go fuck yourself Ben,”he snaps back,”I’m not your maid.”

“And I didn’t ask for this,”comes the protest. It makes him want to strangle the man to death. Squeeze that pretty neck until those big blue eyes bulged.

He laughs roughly,”Didn’t ask for this? You signed up for it by all means. I didn’t see you getting cold feet a month ago.”

“I—I…you and Pete and Rudy, you all broke the rules.”

“What rules,”he scoffs,”There are no fucking rules!”

“Beating him to near death was never part of the plan.”

“I didn’t see you having a problem with it when it was happening…”

“You really are sadistic, you know that?”, the man sneers at him.

“What does that make you…a nice little sociopath?”

There’s a pause,”Well I sure as hell didn’t ask for a video!”

“But you didn’t stop it either did you? This is your problem, take care of it.”

“Louis, please.”

“No.”

“Just tell him to make sure that I’m not in it.”

“We’re all in all of it, sweetheart.”

There’s a short huff of air from the other end of the line.“Don’t call me that,”Ben’s anger is evident in his tone,”Just make sure Pete does his job.”

“Of course Pete’ll do his job,” he hisses furiously into the phone,”All of our necks are on the line here, Benny-boy, not just yours. So take a fucking pill chill. Go study for your Uni finals or whatever freaks like you do.”

“Look...” Ben sighs with exasperation. “You know...I never thought that it would work out like this, I just wanted to fuck him. To fulfill some goddamn fantasy. And I played along, but this is getting out of hand. It all got out of hand.”

“Jesus Christ, it’s fine. You’re mad cause I scarred the whore up, aren’t you? We’ve all got our motivations, deal with it…and talk to Pete yourself. Or call Rudy…”

There’s a tense, uncomfortable pause.

“This better be as water tight as Rudy promised. I’m not going to jail over a miserable slut.”

“It is water tight, the kid’s not gonna talk. I’d lay money on it. Now are you going to go and leave me the fuck alone now, so I can watch the game or are you gonna continue to be a pestering twelve year old?”

“Damn you, Louis.”

Why does he always have to be the fucking mediator? They’re like a swarm of arguing school marms, Christ!

“You really want me to talk to that miserable twat on your behalf, you haven’t got the balls to phone him?”

“Louis--.”

“If you make me do this, you owe me one, you got it? Cause I doubt Pete is gonna give a flying fuck about your hissy fit.”

“Hissy fit,”Ben counters,”Like the one you’re throwing now?”

“Ya know what?! Fine, asshat! I’ll do your work for you cause you’re a lazy dickhead. I’ll call Pete and rat out your ass and then he can call you and put you in your goddamn place. Are you listening to me?!”

There’s a click as the call disconnects. He resists the urge to chuck the phone across the room. He can’t afford a new one. Instead he drops the phone into his lap and closes his eyes. If people don’t stop throwing temper tantrums, he’s going to end up killing them all. Burning them alive and watching their flesh melt off. Or at least easing a few bullets through their skulls.

And now he’s got to make another call.

The line picks up on the second ring.

“What’n fucks name do you want, Louis?”A voice answers sharply. Anger immediately bubbles deep down in his body, like boiling water.

“Good afternoon to you too, Petey.” His tone is toxic and there’s the sense that it’s only going to go downhill.

The man on the other side of the line growls,”I tol’ you not to call me that, remember…or are you too thick to r’member?”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you, whatdaya want, I’m busy.”

He scowls,”Busy with what…cause it seems like you’re slacking to me. Ben is having a goddamn crisis and you’re over there frolicking through a field of fucking daisies.”

“Busy with work,”the man hisses,”I actually have a life, y’know. A job. A career.”

“Yeah, yeah,”he grumbles,”You’re the next Mark fucking Zuckerberg.”

“Exactly. So…Piss. Off,”the last two words are yelled into the speaker and he’s forced to pull the phone away from his ear in order not to have his ear drums practically blown out.

There’s a beep as the caller hangs up.

Fucking rich-ass son of a bitch!” he yells at the top of his lungs at the phone. But the room is empty, and Pete certainly isn’t listening. He stares down at his feet, breathing heavily through his nose like an enraged bull, heart pounding madly in his chest. 

If there’s ever a moment when Pete’s existence doesn’t help him in any way, he won’t hesitate to beat the living shit out of the man.

It’s not like Pete couldn’t afford the hospital bills. And if Ben wants to have a crisis then it won’t be his fault when it all goes to shit, it’s not like he didn’t try to warn them.

They’re all thicker than dirt. And except for maybe Rudy, they don’t get it. They don’t understand this piece of shit that is his life. They don’t understand the effort he puts in without ever getting anything out. They don’t understand his need for someone to beat the utter crap out of. Repeatedly. And they especially don’t understand what Sweetheart means to him. What not having that time tainted by their drama means to him.

God—he needs a smoke. He reaches mindlessly for a pack of cigarettes on the coffee table and slides one between his rubbery lips. He lights up and inhales deeply, feeling the nicotine rush relax his jittery muscles.

The whole world is stupid and prejudiced and weak. Weak like Tina, or stupid and afraid of a little fun like Gia. All of them are the same. Pete, Rudy and Ben included.

Idiots. Assholes. Stupid fucking imbeciles. 

There’s one thing that always helps when he’s feeling pissed off. The images sneak slyly into his head, and he smiles. It’s the best way to relieve the tension in his shoulders besides hiring some internet slut. And he can’t afford one of those anyway.

With his eyes pressed closed he imagines him. The Number One. Constructing a better fantasy around reality. The boy’s got wide and frightened eyes, already brimming over with tears. His skin is a pale canvas to work with. His mouth so stuffed full with cock that he can’t even beg. Whether or not the boy is begging for more, or begging to die is left to the imagination.  

Fuck.

He shudders in pleasure.

Chapter Text

“Play something.” Phil says from where he’s lingering in the doorway to Dan’s room.

Even though he’d tried to make his presence known, Dan still startles at his voice. Even the softest noise seems abrupt in the silent air. It’s rare for Phil to find Dan in his room, with the familiar backdrop of knickknacks and black shapes. And Dan hasn’t bothered to turn on the lights so the walls and furniture all blur together in shadowed monotone.

Dan is sitting at the piano, he’s simply one more spectral silhouette in the room. He’s frozen in front of the piano he hasn’t played since they had it fixed—and more significantly—since it happened. Whenever Phil blinks he can almost see a red stain on the wood of the piano case, burning into the back of his eyelids.

There’s no response to his request, Dan’s fingers are unmoving over the worn keys. He’s bent over so that Phil can only see the side of his face, hair falling over his eyes.

“Please?,”Phil asks, stepping further into the room. His cautious footsteps are muffled by the carpet.

“I don’t want to,”Dan speaks at last, his gaze still cast down.

As an after though he adds,”And I don’t even know what to play for that matter.”

“Anything.”

Dan shakes his head mutely.

“Dan,”Phil sighs,”I don’t want to push you but--you’ve got to do something. We haven’t left the flat in days, you haven’t left in what seems like weeks. Please, play something just so I know you’re still alive in there.”

“I’m still breathing,”Dan intones bitterly,”Aren’t I?”

“Of course you are, but that’s not what I meant. And you know that.” Phil’s optimism is quickly sinking. But at least they’re talking, at least Dan isn’t completely quiet. In fact, it’s almost comforting that Dan seems more angry then scared or sad. Anger…is a good thing isn’t it? When compared to numbness and silence and glassy-eyed vacant gazes, Phil will definitely take antagonism.

He walks until he’s standing over the keys, watching Dan’s still hands. Wrists seem to jut out like spindles from the oversized sleeves of Dan’s shirt. It makes it painfully obvious that Dan’s lost weight.

Phil considers for a moment, pressing his lips together in thought.  “If you don’t play, then I will.”

The comment catches Dan’s attention. He looks up, staring at the bright pattern of Phil’s shirt instead of his eyes.

“You don’t know how,”he points out in a low tone.

“I don’t. You never took the time to teach me…”

“I couldn’t teach you,”Dan interrupts,”I’m not even that good myself. And what does it matter, I don’t want to play—alright?”

“Having heard you play, I can’t believe that. Of course you’re good at it, that’s why I love listening.”

“Phil…”

“Please. I love hearing you play. It’s one of my favorite things about you. The way you can just—remember. All of that music. It’s in your head and it comes out of your fingertips. I…please…”

Dan hesitates, taking slow breaths. For a moment Phil thinks that he’s said too much and somehow offended Dan. He should’ve just stayed quiet. But everything he said was true, Phil loves Dan’s musicality. He loves how Dan used to close his eyes when he played, and get so into the song that he didn’t notice Phil standing in the doorway to listen.

”Wh-which song?”

Phil’s eyes snap open in surprise.

“Whichever one you want to play.”

Dan’s fingers move slowly across the keys, it’s more muscle memory than music, and Dan’s expression is completely blank. But Phil has to relish in the small victories. At least Dan is playing, it can only get better from there.

Phil starts to relax into the sound of the music and the slightly stiff rendition of the classic melody.

Ten measures in to Moonlight Sonata, Dan stops suddenly. He yanks his hands back away from the piano as if touching hot coals. The effect is jarring on Phil, snapping him out of a pleased trance.

The lid to the instrument slams down with a jumble of discordant notes. Dan knocks over the bench in his haste to stand up.

“I told you,”he says sharply, glaring at the floor,”I don’t want to play.”

He brushes past Phil, leaving him alone in the poorly-lit room.

-

“Is there anything in particular you want to watch,”Phil asks expectantly and Dan can feel the desperation in Phil’s voice. He hasn’t said much today. He hasn’t said much in a few days. Or—well Dan’s really not sure how long. Days and hours and minutes and weeks…they all are the same.

He shakes his head no, for some reason feeling incredibly guilty. Dan should just suggest a show. It can’t be that hard. It shouldn’t be that hard.

“Okay, I’ll just—see what’s on in that case, or I can force you to watch one of my property shows.”

Phil aimlessly flips through the channels, watching the news for a few minutes, and then a silly sitcom, and some sort of documentary.

He pauses for a moment on a cooking show, and Dan watches with disinterest as a panel of judges critique a flamboyantly named dish.

“From an aesthetic standpoint, the dish is plated beautifully,”one of the judges states,”But it is just way under-seasoned, sweetheart.”

The blood freezes in Dan’s veins, his heart lurching. Shivers roll down his skin, turning Dan into a shaking mess. He feels his throat begin to close up, suddenly the ability to breath or think is being overwhelmed by voices—voices in his head.  “…Sweetheart…you deserve this…y’look so good wrapped around my cock, sweetheart…bitch, you’re liking this, aren‘t you…such nice lips…beautiful, beautiful whore…”

Over and over it repeats, droning louder.

There‘s a hand on his shoulder and Dan jumps, crying out with a dry scream. There’s no air in the room and he can feel the fingers running over his skin and he can hear Sam’s gut wrenching laugh.  

“Dan, you’re sitting in the lounge, with me. There’s no one here that’s trying to hurt you, they’re just memories.” Phil’s voice slices through the panic and the noise.

He opens his eyes reluctantly, gulping down air that suddenly is able to pass through his lungs again. For some reason he’s curled in on himself, his head buried in his knees and his arms clasped tightly around his calves. The only hand touching him is Phil’s. The firm yet gentle pressure of three fingertips resting on Dan’s shoulder.

All of this happened because of one word and none of it was real, Dan realizes with a start. Phil’s right—they are alone, and there is no one trying to hurt him.

“I‘m—I’m sorry,”he stammers,”I didn’t mean to—I’m so sorry.” He twists together his clammy and cold fingers nervously, feeling heavy dread pour over him. Guilt presses down on his chest, it’s irrational but there nonetheless. It’s a product of some side of Dan’s brain that is whispering just exactly what he is. Drama queen, attention whore, weak, overreacting…

“Bear, calm down, it’s alright. I’m not mad at you at all. This—this is just what happens.”

What Phil isn’t saying is obvious…”This is what happens with victims.” Dan blinks numbly, even though he feels like crying. He’s so tired of being like this. He’s so tired of being the victim.

“I‘m sorry,”he whispers again. He didn’t want to react like this—he didn’t ask to react like this. He has no control over any of his emotions anymore. And the lack of control reminds Dan of all the things he’s trying to forget.

He can’t control his head.

He can’t control his body.

He can’t control anything.

He squeezes his eyes shut, only now noticing that he’s no longer quaking. He’s not scared anymore—Dan feels stupid.

Chapter Text

Phil leans back in his chair, listening to the distorted conversation surrounding him. His family are seated around the table, all talking and smiling. It seems glossy and fake. Phil watches Martyn hand his mum a cup of tea and he sighs heavily. He’s incredibly tired for some reason, and the air around him is thick with apprehension. Something’s wrong, and Phil can't tell what it is.

“We’re so glad you could finally take some time off,”his mum says, with a sickly sweet smile. How she says it is malicious to his ears.

“It’s been a while,”Phil answers, but no one is listening. They’re all talking indistinctly again. Suddenly a loud vibrating noise cuts through the hum of conversation. Phil jerks upwards, clamoring to his feet and pulling his phone out of his pocket.

The world spins around him in a sickening blur of colors, and now Phil is holding his phone to his ear. The screams that are coming out of the speaker seem like they’re coming from right beside him. He looks desperately but there is only white emptiness.

The sounds of pain are too familiar. Phil can hear his heartbeat echoing in his ears.

“Dan!,”he shouts, beginning to run through the endless white shroud. It parts out of the way for him in sheets of fog.

“Dan, where are you?!” Phil stumbles through the door of the flat. There’s no noise, the house is quiet. Where is Dan, where is he?

When Phil enters the lounge, the air rushes out of his lungs.

“Dan,”he gasps.

The tall form swivels around and his brow furrows in confusion as he stares blankly at Phil.

“Are you okay, Dan, what’s going on?”

Dan seems to open his mouth to say something, but instead of a sarcastic comment coming out of his mouth a stream of blood drips across Dan’s lip. The crimson line runs slowly along Dan’s chin and down his pale neck.  

“Oh god,”Phil breathes, running to Dan’s side.

He doesn’t get there in time, Dan crumples to the ground right before Phil’s horrified gaze.

Phil drops to his knees, noting the red stain on the carpet that is soaking into the fabric of his jeans. One of Dan’s bloodied hands is clutching at his abdomen and his breathing is labored and watery.

It’s wrong, it’s all so wrong.

“Dan, no,”Phil cups Dan’s face in his hands,”You’re gonna be fine, you’re gonna be okay,”he says raggedly. Dan stares up at him with foggy brown eyes. Dark brown hair and pale skin are sharp contrasts to the growing red that seems to be everywhere. It’s everywhere. It’s on the walls, it’s on the ceiling, it’s painted across Dan’s skin.

Dan coughs, coating his lips with another layer of blood. “Nononono,”Phil chants, the panic is freezing up his movements. He doesn’t know what to do. “You can’t do this, stay with me. You’re—you have to be fine.”

Dan shakes his head jerkily, his eyes—dulled with exsanguinated veins—watch Phil sadly. It’s as if Dan knows that he’s dying. He probably does.

“’M scared, Phil,”he whispers weakly, so soft that Phil almost doesn’t hear it.

“It’s okay, I’m here, bear. It’s going to be okay.”

“S-so scared,”Dan’s eyes flutter, he blinks slowly. His warm brown eyes seem to dull, and Dan’s head lolls to one side. Phil hears it. He hears the last breath escape Dan’s body, it seems to float in the air in front of him and Phil just wants to snatch it and force it back into the lifeless body before him.

“Dan!,”he screams, something inside of him seems to be ripped apart by the shout. “No! You’re not supposed to--,” Phil grabs Dan’s form and pulls him to his chest, sobbing against Dan’s shirt. The blood on the fabric stains his face. Phil’s vision is blurred by tears and a single thought echoes in his head.

Dan is still warm.

Phil jerks up in bed, and in his panic he slips off of the mattress. For a split second he is in free fall and then there’s a resonating crack as Phil’s head collides with the wood of the dresser. His head throbs.  He pinches his eyes closed against the pain, but all that Phil can see are dead brown eyes and blood stained carpet. He gags violently, his eyes snapping back open.

Phil stares at the air in front of him for a long moment, trying to calm the rapid breaths that are flaring his nostrils and causing his chest to heave violently.

“It’s—it’s just a dream,”he mumbles to the empty room. Empty. Phil’s heart skips a beat and he scrambles to pull his legs beneath himself and get up.

Dan.

Where the fuck is Dan?

He climbs awkwardly to his feet. Dan’s probably just asleep in his own room or in the lounge. But Phil has to know, he needs to make sure.

He pads the few steps across his room and pulls open the door. The hallway is bathed in soft light, streaming through the glass door that leads the kitchen. Phil remembers turning off the lights in the kitchen.

Raw fear crawls over Phil’s skin, and this time it isn’t because of a dream.

He intrepidly walks closer and opens the door. Phil stumbles into the kitchen with bleary eyes and mussed hair. He squints against the bright light that stings his vision, feeling disoriented. It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust from the darkness of the hall, so that Phil can see the figure that’s leaning against the kitchen counter. It’s Dan, his face turned away from Phil’s gaze and he’s holding a pair of shoes with one hand.

“Dan?,”Phil asks, his voice is still gruff from sleep,”What’s going on—why are you…?”

“I’m going out,”Dan replies stiffly. He doesn’t look up, but begins to pull on his shoes over socked feet. It’s then that it clicks in Phil’s mind that Dan’s fully dressed. He’s even wearing a coat. When did that happen? What’s going on? Dan has barely wandered out of his room for days, and now he’s randomly leaving to go somewhere. Phil’s gut fills with apprehension.

“Right—right now?” Phil rubs his forehead vigorously, subconsciously trying to clear his thoughts and wake himself up completely.

“Yeah, I’m going for a walk.”

“It’s…,”Phil hesitates and glances towards the display on the oven, where the time is illuminated in glowing numerals”…three in the morning.”

“Don’t care, I—I need some fresh air.”

Phil blinks. He can’t decide if it’s good that Dan finally wants to leave the flat, or if he should stop him from going because of the ungodly time. “Okay…umm,”he settles for the middle ground,”One moment and I’ll grab my trainers and go with you.”

-

The street outside their complex is eerily quiet, for London at least. The only sounds are distant traffic and wailing police sirens. A sharp wind nips at Phil’s face and the dark sky is coated over with a blanket of clouds. It’s not the best night for a stroll. Dan walks beside Phil, his dark eyes darting over the shadows and corners of the street. He’s looking for anyone who might jump out, Phil realizes.

“It’s chilly tonight,”he says softly, breaking the silence between them,”I think it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, or at least that’s what the weatherman said.” The air feels like it could start raining now, it’s weighted down with humidity.

“Mmm,”Dan hums in response. At least he’s replying and not ignoring any words directed at him, that gives Phil a small sliver of comfort.

“Do you want to walk towards the park?,”he suggests, thinking of a small green area that’s a few blocks away from where they live. It will be nicer to walk there than to wander down the street.

Dan bites his bottom lip nervously and words from one of their Sim’s videos echo in Phil’s head.

“The park, at ten pm, are you sure he won’t get mugged.”

Suddenly Phil wishes that it wasn’t three am and he wasn’t in London. He’s never felt comfortable being out this early.

Dan’s voice breaks Phil out of his mind,“Sure.”

They turn down a side street that’s vaguely familiar to Phil. When he and Dan were jogging early this year they would walk down this road to get to the park. They both were terrible at getting fit, not that Dan needs it now. If anything it would do Dan good to gain a stone. 

“’M sorry I woke you up,”Dan mumbles, running his hand through his hair to get it out of his eyes.

“It’s fine, I wasn’t sleeping very well anyways.” For a moment all Phil can think of is his unsettling dream, and the images of it flash through his head. Blood. Dan. Death. It’s all still very vivid.

He tries to focus on the living, breathing, and very much alive Dan next to him instead. Unfortunately, the sight isn’t comforting. Dan’s steps are slightly robotic, and he’s no longer glancing around. Or focusing on anything, for that matter.

“Dan?,”Phil says gently. One thing he’s learned is that when Dan is somewhere else, it’s hard to bring him out of it without scaring him. Despite Phil’s cautious way of speaking, Dan still flinches. He stares at Phil with wide pupils.

“You—you were gone for a moment,”Phil explains.

“M just tired.”

He frowns,“We can go back if you want.”

“No—it’s fine, I’m not that kind of tired, Phil.”

“I know I said I wouldn’t bring it up,”Phil says slowly, before he loses the nerve,”But maybe…if you just had someone you could talk to…”

“I don’t want to talk to anyone,”Dan snaps, his voice is sharp, and his hands are clenched into fists at his sides,”I don’t need—I don’t need a shrink.”

“It would help.”

“No—no it wouldn’t,”Dan’s tone tightens,”I can’t.”

“Okay, it’s fine, I’m sorry I mentioned it.”

They’re silent until they reach the edge of the park, where a row of trees marks the change between cityscape and greenspace.

Phil glances up at the dark branches and the dark clouds that are above them.

“I was thinking, you probably need to get a new phone soon. It’d just be a good idea, since it’s been awhile and--.” And you used to be so attached to that thing, Phil finishes in his head. It’s unnerving to never see Dan doing the things that he used to. Maybe having a way contact to other people and the outside world, without having to physically see them would be better to start with. Dan’s always been more comfortable hiding behind a screen. If nothing else, getting a phone is a great excuse to get Dan outside again.

“Okay,”Dan agrees, to Phil’s surprise,”Maybe—maybe tomorrow, but not on the weekend, everything will be too crowded and I--.”

Phil nods reassuringly, “Tomorrow sounds good.”

-

“Phil Lester, you are in trouble!” Phil can’t help but pale at the sound of the shrill voice that rings out when he opens the door. He had expected a delivery or perhaps Dan’s parents, but certainly not—this.

“Louise!,”he gasps, trying to sound less surprised and more pleased to see her.  The blonde woman bounds the last few steps towards Phil and wraps her arms around him. She squeezes him fondly, her concern showing in how she’s hugging Phil. Louise has never been like this with him before. She must really be worried.

“What—what are you doing here?,”he asks, still taken completely off guard. How’s he going to explain to Louise what is wrong? Phil doesn’t want to lie to her, but he’ll have to, at the very least, omit the truth.

Louise reluctantly drops out of the hug, frowning at Phil.

“I’ve been worried sick about you!,”she declares,” You and Dan haven’t answered my texts in weeks. I thought someone might have stolen you away. And considering your tweets and everything I’ve seen online and heard through the YouTube gossip grape vine, I thought I’d better just come check up on you myself.”

“Phil—what’s—?,”Dan’s voice rings out from behind Phil, making him jump slightly. He hadn’t heard Dan’s footsteps approaching.

“There you are, Dan,”Louise says cheerfully,”I was wondering if you were around.” She steps past Phil and engulfs Dan in a hug. He immediately becomes rigid at the contact. Dan’s jaw stiffens and the fact that he doesn’t reciprocate finally clues Louise in to the fact that something is wrong.  A shadow of anxiety clouds over her countenance. She lets go rapidly, looking up to study Dan’s expression.

“Oh sorry, did—did I hurt you?”

“No,”Dan forces an obviously fake smile,”I’m fine Louise, do you…do you want to come in?”

Louise hesitates, glancing between him and Dan,“If I’m not intruding.”

“Of course you aren’t,”Phil chimes in brightly, hoping to break the tension. Louise follows them inside and to the kitchen. As they walk she tries to chat with Dan about the weather, but she only gets one word replies.

Phil walks towards the counter,“Do you want a cup of tea?,”he offers Louise, already reaching for the electric kettle.

“That’d be lovely, just with sugar please.”

Phil starts on tea for the three of them, and Dan and Louise both take seats at the kitchen table.

“So what’s been going on?,”Louise asks, to both him and Dan,”Are you feeling better? Enjoying your break at least?”

Dan’s watching the surface of the table instead of Louise, so Phil answers,“Not much has been happening, we’ve just been—.” What have they been doing? Phil doesn’t know what to say. He hesitates before finally choosing,”--hanging out.”

Much to Phil’s relief Louise doesn’t press him about the cop out of an answer. “It’s probably a good thing after Japan and the book and all of that,”she motions at the room around her to describe ‘all of that’.  “Are you still going to go to America one of these days?”

Phil glances at Dan subconsciously. “Maybe,”he answers noncommittally,”It depends, we’re still working some stuff out.”

“You really should, if not on tour then just to say hello.”

“Say hello?”

“There are a lot of people who are really worried about you two, and I don’t mean just the fans…I mean Tyler and Jenna and—we were all a bit terrified when you two dropped off the face of the planet.” Louise laughs nervously, tucking a curl behind her ear.

Phil has a horrifying premonition of Tyler Oakley showing up at their door. It’s not that Phil doesn’t like Tyler, because the bouncy American is a great person and he’s fun to be around, but—he doesn’t think that Dan would handle that meeting very well. Not without Tyler knowing what to not talk about and not do. Which—that is not a conversation Phil wants to have.

He swallows thickly,“Well—we’re still here.”

Phil walks to the table and places a mug on the surface, “And here you are Louise.”

“Thank you,”she picks up the cup of tea and takes a cautious sip,”You shouldn’t worry about it though.”

“About?”

“Taking some time off, your people understand. I mean—half of them think you’re planning a wedding or something.”

Phil suddenly has no idea what to say. Because what pops into his head is I wish. He wishes it were something as nice and fantastical—and purely fictional—as a wedding.

Louise’s smile dissipates,“I’m just teasing…you’re sure that you’re okay?”

Phil doesn’t answer the question, instead he asks,“How have you been?”

“Fine, I went to New York last week actually, speaking of America.”

“How was that?”

It’s another hour of awkward silences and Louise doing the majority of the talking until she at last says that she needs to be going.

“Bye, Lou,”Phil hugs her at the door. He can’t help but feel guilty about Louise leaving so soon,”It was good to see you.”

“Don’t lie to me, Phil,”she says heavily.

“Wh-what,”he stutters.

“Look, I know you—you weren’t comfortable with seeing me…and I don’t know what’s wrong but…,”Louise looks down and heaves a breath,”…Just—get better, alright. If you ever need anything, you’ve got my number.”

“Thank you,”Phil says because he doesn’t know what else to say.

“Take care of yourself,”Louise nods at him before turning away.

Phil closes the door once she’s out of sight.

Chapter Text

Dan should’ve known that he and Phil couldn’t stay like this forever. That they couldn’t stay in this equilibrium of uncomfortable quiet and purposeful subject changes. That eventually everything they were both holding in would explode. He should’ve known that Phil would get sick of his silence. That Phil would get sick of him.

He just isn’t ready for it to happen right now. But it is. All of the emotions and the issues that they’ve avoided discussing are spilling out. It’s turned into a standoff of sorts. With both of them frustrated and standing only a few feet apart.

“What are you so afraid of?,”Phil asks, he sounds like he’s in pain just from saying it. Phil looks worn, his eyes are tired and his shoulders sag.

The question makes Dan want to scream. He’s afraid of everything, can’t Phil understand that?! He’s afraid of absolutely fucking everything. He’s afraid of the shadows, and people, and living—and dying for that matter. He’s afraid of Phil leaving, but also afraid of Phil sticking around. He’s afraid of himself, and his own thoughts. He’s terrified of the past and of the future.

Dan grits his teeth and examines the carpet instead of saying anything. He’s so exhausted, and it’s making him irritable. How would he even explain his fears to Phil? It’s not like he could ever understand. Phil will never understand, so it’s not worth the effort of trying.

“Why are you doing this, Dan? I know you’re scared that they might come back or something, but that’s not going to happen, we’re safe. It’s like the detective asked, what are they holding over you? Why won’t you just--?” Phil cuts off his rant suddenly. His teeth snapping together, and his stance wavers. Phil wants to say more but is holding back, it’s obvious to Dan.

Dan doesn’t want to talk about this, he doesn’t want to. Though it’s starting to look like he doesn’t have a choice. Fuck. He doesn’t have an option, he has to say something. His mind scrambles for a way to take back control of the situation. And he somehow lands on the most dramatic route. If Phil wants to know then why not tell him? Why not tell him the things he doesn’t want to know as well? Then maybe Phil will get it, he’ll see how disgusting Dan is. How broken he is. Maybe Phil will finally shut the fuck up.

“Just what?,”Dan snaps venomously. He’s tired of the way Phil’s been dancing around him and being sickly sweet ever since it happened. No matter how incredibly fucked up it sounds, he wants Phil to be mad at him.

“Just talk to me!”Phil bellows, his voice cracking. Dan digs his teeth into his bottom lip and forces himself not to recoil from the noise. He has to show that he’s stronger, that he’s not a piece of breakable china that’s going to fall apart because of one shout.

It’s one yell. It shouldn’t matter, it shouldn’t. He can’t have a breakdown right now. Dan’s throat suddenly feels very dry.

Phil’s eyes drop to the ground, and his hands loosen at his sides,”I’m sorry—,”he says gently,”I didn’t mean to yell.”

Dan’s head spins, he’s fine. It’s Phil—it was one shout, he’s fine. Phil sighs quietly and looks back up. Dan can feel blue eyes burning into his skin. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, he chants internally.

“And honestly--,”there’s a firm finality to the way Phil is speaking, like he’s rehearsed this speech in his head before,”--I don’t care what they said, I don’t care what they did. And I don’t care about details or some shit like that. I don’t need to know any of those things, I don’t need to know what they look like, or who they are.  I couldn’t give a—a bloody fuck about them.”

The way Phil’s hisses the final word makes Dan shiver. So many ideas are running through his head that he doesn’t have any clue how to respond. He doesn’t trust himself to say anything, because he’s not sure what will come out. Surely it won’t be anything that Dan wants Phil to hear.

“But—I need to know what’s going through your head.”

No you don’t, Phil. You don’t need to know, you don’t want to know, Dan thinks bitterly.

-

“I’m losing you,”Phil admits, even though the words feel heavy in his mouth,”And I can’t—I can’t lose you. You’re just getting farther and farther away from me and I don’t even know what to do about it, and I don’t know what’s going through your mind, or what you’re thinking and so I don’t know how to—how to help you.” He can feel the liquid weighing on his eyelashes, and shit—Phil really doesn’t want to cry.  

“Phil—,”Dan exhales,”You…” Whatever thought Dan wants to express he gives up on, because he trails off and faintly shakes his head.

“Nothing you could ever say about how you’re feeling is going to change how I see you. I’m not going to leave, and I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not going to judge you.” Honestly, at this point it wouldn’t matter if Dan told Phil that he’d murdered someone. He wouldn’t even care as long as it meant Dan talking to him. Dan is…Dan, nothing he ever does or has had done to him is going to change that. Phil knows that now.

Against his will, Phil feels the tears drip down his cheeks. God, he hasn’t cried like this since—since well—that night. He’s being pathetic, he’s supposed to be strong and put together and supportive of Dan. And yet—he’s the one crying.

“But—I can’t. Christ, Dan, I can’t lose you. And I’m not ever going to leave because--.” Phil stops. The words sticking in his mouth. And—and what the hell was he about to say?!  No, no—now is not the time to think about that. Dan doesn’t need to hear that.

Because why, Phil? His mind taunts him. He firmly tells himself that he had no idea what was going through his head. Then again, would it really hurt to admit? Isn’t it obvious by now? Even if it’s in a weird plane that somehow transcends definition or label. He’s been here for seven years, he’s said it a thousand ways without ever saying it directly.

He takes a deep breath,“What I’m trying to say is, please—please talk to me, and if you can’t talk to me, then talk to anyone else, but you’ve got to stop keeping it all in your head, because you’re getting lost in there.”

Phil’s worried that someday Dan’s not going to be able to find his way out.

“I don’t need you to be okay, I don’t need you to be normal, whatever the hell that means, I only need you to talk to me.”

Silence falls between them. Dan’s refusing to look at Phil, moments tick by at an excruciating pace.

Dan’s adam’s apple bobs and he straightens his posture like he’s steeling himself for battle. “I wish you would leave,”he says darkly.

Phil feels like he’s been punched in the gut. “Wh-what?,”he breathes, his tone trembling.

Dan looks up, a stony resolve settling over his expression,“You deserve better--,”when he speaks this time it’s more confident,”—you shouldn’t have to be around me.”

Of course Phil doesn’t ‘deserve better’, because Dan’s the best that there is…he realized that a very long time ago. Now Phil is confused and a bit hurt if he’s being honest, he shakily asks,“What are you even saying? I want to be around you.”

“Why, why is it that you can’t see—that you can’t see what’s wrong with me?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just hurting, bear.”

Dan laughs. If it can be called that. The noise is painful and hostile, it’s nothing like Dan’s musical and genuine giggle. This sound stings to listen to.

“I’m disgusting,”Dan spits,”I’m a dirty, disgusting slut.”

“No, no…that’s not true.”

“How would you know?!,”Dan yells and Phil cringes. He’s made this worse, he shouldn’t have pushed it. Shit, what did he do?

“Dan you’re not a…”Phil trails off meekly.

“A slut, Phil,”Dan finishes for him,”You can’t even say it but it’s true!”

“No it’s--.”

Phil’s attempt to protest is cut off,“I g-got off on it,”Dan wavers slightly, looking like he’s going to fall over, or run, or puke. Phil physically feels his limbs go cold. And suddenly it clicks. Dan thinks that his body reacting means that he enjoyed it. Dan actually thinks that. A wave of nausea rolls over Phil.

”Don’t you get that,”Dan is still speaking,”I—I…” Dan’s chest is rising and falling rapidly as his words become huffs of flustered air.

Part of Phil wants to tell Dan to stop, to tell him that he doesn’t have to say this. Then again, this is what Phil asked for…he wanted to Dan to talk to him. It’s not Dan’s fault that what he’s saying makes Phil feel queasy.

“There was a point when the—the things that th-they did made me…” A dry sob tears out of Dan’s throat. His eyes are watering, but more than sad or scared—Dan looks angry.

“I didn’t want it,”Dan yells,”And I was screaming and in pain and crying, and I still—my body—I still--.”He shakes his head despondently.

Phil knows that he should probably say something, but his tongue feels too big for his mouth.

“Some disgusting part of me w-wanted it, liked it, I got off on it.” Dan swallows, and for the first time since it happened, he looks Phil directly in the eye. “You can’t tell me that that isn’t fucked up.” Watery brown irises dig into Phil, and—maybe it’s cliché to think that eyes lead to the soul—but all that Phil can see is hurt and a crazed kind of darkness. It terrifies him, but he can’t look away. Not when Dan is finally talking to him, finally looking at him.

“Oh Dan,”he breathes, trying to inject his words with all of the things that he wants Dan to feel,”That’s—that’s normal. It’s normal and it’s not your fault. Your body reacted to stimulation.” Shit, he sounds like a doctor again. “And that doesn’t mean you consented and for fucks sake it sure as hell doesn’t mean you enjoyed it.”

Dan merely shakes his head slowly. He doesn’t believe Phil, that much is obvious.

“I—I shouldn’t have reacted like that,”he chides himself,”It shouldn’t have happened, it’s so wrong.”

Before Phil can say anything else, Dan’s already talking again. The words are becoming more and more rapid. It’s like now that Dan has started talking, he can’t stop.

“I’d never even done that before,”Dan says so quickly that it all sounds like one word,”And it—it hurt so bad, and there was so much blood, and god—I thought that I was going to die because it would never end, and I was such an idiotic cunt, I wouldn’t stop fighting and it hurt and—that shouldn’t have been the way I did that the first time.”

As every word passes by it registers to Phil exactly what Dan is talking about. Living with Dan for so long has made Phil fairly knowledgeable on his sexual history. And for as long as they’ve been friends, there hasn’t been much of one. Sure, Dan—by his own admission—had done stuff in secondary and during his sixth form. It’s not something they expressly talk about, though…Phil had never bothered to ask. He’d sort of assumed that Dan never even considered…well…anal sex. And—how—how in god’s name was Phil supposed to respond?

“D-dan—,”he starts, and to his own relief, he doesn’t get to finish.

“And do you know why I never did that, hmm?,”Dan’s tone is suddenly icily sarcastic. Phil doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t want to know why Dan’s never tried it out with another guy. He doesn’t want t—“Because of you, Phil. Now isn’t that just fucking ironic.”

Phil stops breathing, his brain short circuits. The blood drains from his face, making him feel incredibly dizzy.

Dan doesn’t even pause absorb his revelation. “Now—now I can’t even think about kissing anyone without puking my intestines out. And—and I enjoyed it. And after a while I just laid there and took it…like a good little whore.”

“So yeah,”Dan shrugs his shoulders in a casual way that clashes harshly with the topic of conversation,”I wish—I wish they would have put a bullet in my skull in the first place. Is that what you wanted to hear, Phil? Cause—cause that’s what’s going through my head.”

You need to say something, a voice in Phil’s head hisses. He needs to speak, or move, or at least breathe.

“Fuck,”Dan mumbles under his breath,”Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Without warning, Dan turns on his heel and nearly runs out of the room. Phil snaps out of his spell, and steps after him,”Dan, wait!”

“I’m going out, Phil—fuck off,”Dan yells back, from half way across the flat already.

“Where—where are you going?” Phil shouts desperately, walking towards Dan’s voice.

“I’m serious—please—just leave me alone.”

Phil’s conflicted, but—all he can really do is let Dan go. There’s rustling noises from Dan’s room, and a few minutes later the door opens.

“Please be safe,”Phil implores as Dan brushes past him without responding.

Phil doesn’t follow, he only hears the door to the flat slam closed. Emptiness washes over Phil and he sinks to the ground. There’s so much to think about, so much to comprehend. But all Phil’s thoughts are like white noise.

“Because of you, Phil.”

Jesus Christ, what does that even mean? Anger burns in Phil’s gut, he’s incredibly pissed off all of the sudden. Not because of Dan’s confession of—of whatever that was. But because the bastards who hurt Dan so badly are still out there. And now Phil’s hurt Dan as well. He’s so stupid. He’s supposed to be helping Dan, not yelling at him. Not making Dan run away.

If Phil loses Dan it’ll be his fault. What is he even doing?!

He slams his fist against the floor and feels the bones in his hand smart at the impact.

“Fuck!,”Phil screams at the empty hallway.

Chapter Text

Dan’s thoughts won’t shut up. He digs his fingernails into his palms in an effort not to claw at his own skin. But it’s not helping, he still wants to tear off his own flesh. He can feel their hands. There’s no one touching him, but it feels like there is. It sounds ludicrous even when Dan acknowledges it in his mind. Maybe he’s going insane.

Christ, why can’t he just get over this, why can’t he just move on? He wishes he could erase the memories and start over. It would be so nice if he hit his head really hard, got a concussion, and woke up without knowing anything. Not what happened, not who he was…just a clean slate. He could start over.  Then again, if Dan developed amnesia, he’d forget Phil as well. Would that really a be bad thing? The sensible side of his head says that he doesn’t want a brain injury and he sure as hell doesn’t want to forget Phil, but Dan’s tired of being sensible.

Dan pulls his knees up to his chest and shivers. It’s chilly out and he’s definitely getting his favorite pair of jeans dirty by sitting on the ground, but Dan can’t bring himself to care. He wraps his arms tightly around his legs and rests his face on his knees. Even bundled up around himself like this, he doesn’t feel any warmer.

Honestly, Dan’s not even sure where he is. After leaving the flat he’d just started walking without purpose or direction. This is where he ended up, in a park somewhere. There’s a small pond that the moonlight is shimmering on the surface of, but the grass is brown and the benches Dan passed were covered in graffiti.

He just wants to sit by the water. It’s calming to watch the patterns of light reflected on the dark pond. Considering it’s London the sky is fairly clear tonight. The moon is a large sliver floating above him and through the haze Dan can even see a few stars poking out. It makes him think about what Phil would say if he saw them, he’d probably poke Dan in the shoulder say in his most adorable voice. “Hey, hey, hey…look at the stars.”

Or at least, that’s what Phil would’ve done in the past. He seems hesitant to touch Dan now, and it’s understandable considering how Dan reacts.

Dan chews the inside of his cheek. All of the sudden he feels very empty and very alone. He can still see Phil’s blank expression of shock from his words. He should never have said half of the things he did. And the horror on Phil’s face and Phil stuttering out Dan’s name echoes in his head. He replays the conversation over and over. But he can’t change what happened.

Phil was disgusted. Dan knows it now, he saw the reaction. Phil was angry and reviled. At him. By him.

Dan’s stomach twists, and a voice in his mind taunts that he should not have expected anything else.

-

It only takes a few minutes before Phil’s head clears. When he realizes how stupid he’s being he jolts out of his haze, rubbing angrily at his eyes to try and rid of the puffiness. Being angry isn’t helping anything, crying isn’t helping anything. Not to mention, both are exhausting. Phil stands slowly and considers his options. He doesn’t want to run after Dan, not yet. Dan wants space, and Phil needs to give him that. If he’s not back in thirty minutes, Phil decides, he’ll go find him.

Thirty minutes seems like eternity. Phil cleans the kitchen and then the lounge. He spends too long straightening the knickknacks on their bookshelf and looking at all of the pictures and trinkets. Dan looks so…happy…in all of them. They both look so happy. Until now he’s never realized how many memories are scattered around their flat. Now, everywhere Phil looks he sees Dan. Dan permeates every square centimeter of Phil’s existence.

Phil’s considering starting a load of laundry or tackling the dishes, when he glances at his phone clock and sees it’s been an hour since Dan left. Phil can’t stand it anymore.

He dials Dan’s number, clutching the phone to his ear apprehensively. The dial tone buzzes for what seems like eternity. It goes to voicemail. A computerized voice lists off Dan’s phone number, because the personalized voicemail hasn’t been set up yet, and then it tells him to leave a message.  

“Hey Dan,”Phil can’t help the worry that seeps into his voice,”It’s Phil—I was just calling to make sure you’re okay. It’s fine if you need some time away from the flat…and well, away from me. But please just—text me and let me know you’re alright. Or call me if you want to.”

Phil shakes his head, feeling silly,”I’m sorry, I’m only worried about you. Be safe, bear, please. Okay—bye.”

He hangs up with a sigh. Though calling Dan was supposed to relieve some of his worry, it’s only made it worse. Maybe Phil will start a load of laundry. Somehow he ends up in Dan’s room. It’s a bit of an accident, he’s only supposed to be there to gather dirty clothes.

The room is dark, Phil flicks on the colorful lamp by Dan’s bedside. Orange and yellow light casts patterns on the walls, the piano looms dark and menacing in one corner. Dan’s bed is an unmade mess of blankets, and dirty clothing is strewn across the floor. Phil presses his lips together, considering. He might as well clean Dan’s room too. Once everything is straightened, he ends up sitting on the floor, taking in the atmosphere that is profoundly Dan.

Phil’s spent a lot of time in this room. Sitting on Dan’s bed and listening to him play piano. Crammed in next to each other under a pile of blankets while they both work on their laptops. All of the times that Phil has helped Dan with a camera set up, or lighting, or been part of one of his videos.

Two more hours pass by.

Phil spot cleans the kitchen, and his own room as well. He compulsively checks his phone every couple of seconds. But there’s nothing from Dan. Now that he’s running out of things to do, Phil feels very stir crazy. He can’t stand it anymore. Dan is out there somewhere, alone, doing god knows what and there’s no way Phil’s going to be able to find him by himself. Somewhere around the three hour and fifteen minute mark, Phil breaks. He picks up his phone for the umpteenth time, but this instance he has different numbers in mind.

She picks up on the first ring,“Hello?”

“Hi, Louise,”Phil doesn’t even try to inject excitement into his tone, he’s so tired, he only wants to find Dan and have him back home safely,”It’s me…Phil.”

“Philly my Phil, what’s up?”

He rubs at his forehead and sighs into the phone,“I really—I really need your help.”

Instantly Louise’s tone changes, “Oh, okay, tell me what I can do…”

“Dan and I—we got in an argument. He left here almost three hours ago, and I tried calling him but I got his voicemail. And I need to find him, I’m grabbing shoes right now to go look for him, but I have no idea where he is and I really need to find him.” He must sound like a panicked, incoherent mess.

Louise hesitates,“You’re sure you can’t just wait for him to come back?”

“No, I can’t. It’s bad, Louise.”

As in I think he just admitted to not having any other relationships because of me, bad, Phil thinks, but luckily manages not to say aloud. And it wasn’t that Dan said it in a good context either. Not to mention Dan actively blaming himself for his anatomy.

“I can’t just leave him out there. I’m going to call Peej too and…and see if he’ll come as well.”

“Okay, well I have a few guests over tonight. I can get them to watch the baby for me and then I’ll be right over.”

“I’m so sorry, Louise, I didn’t want to tear you away from your guests and--.”

Phil’s interrupted before he can finish,”It’s fine, love. They won’t mind and Dan’s more important right now. Where will you be?”

Honestly, Phil’s not sure. “Just call me when you get near and I’ll tell you what street I’m on.”

“Alright, Phil. I’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah, you too. Thanks.”

There’s a click as Louise hangs up, and Phil searches for another number in his contacts. When he finds it, he hesitates for a moment. Does he really drag more people into this? Make more people suspicious? On the other hand, Phil has no idea where Dan is. He doesn’t know if it’s dangerous.

Dan’s safety outweighs everything else, in his mind at least.

Phil shifts nervously as the phone rings.

A familiar voice answers,“Hello, this is PJ.”

Chapter Text

Dan shifts the position of his legs, pulling them closer to himself. He’s so cold. He can’t even feel anything anymore. As he moves he hears something slip out of his pocket and hit the ground with a dull thump. He gropes for the object on the dew dampened ground, fingers threading through the thin grass. Finally Dan finds the smooth shape with the edge of his hand. He picks it back up, it takes him a moment too long to realize. It’s his phone.

He never put a case on it after getting this new one, so really Dan’s lucky that he hasn’t broken it by now. For an instant the shattered screen of his old iphone plays on his thoughts.

“Can’t have you using this…”

He shivers. After turning it over in his hands, Dan unlocks his mobile. The time tells him it’s way too late to be outside alone in London, but he’s too tired to be scared. Dan stares blankly at the notifications that are illuminating the screen. Eighteen missed calls. Ten text messages. All of them are from Phil. Dan must have his phone on silent.

His fingers hover tentatively over the screen, Dan can feel his heart throbbing in his chest. His mouth is too dry and his tongue feels swollen. He’s too scared to read the texts. What if Phil’s mad at him for running out like he did? What if Phil doesn’t want him to come back? What if…Dan doesn’t want to know, he doesn’t want to know if Phil hates him.

The phone starts lighting up in Dan’s hand, nearly giving him a heart attack.

Phil’s calling. He should let it ring, it’ll be easier that way. He should let Phil leave a voicemail, and not worry about talking. Then Dan wouldn’t have to hear how disappointed, or disgusted, or angry Phil is going to sound. He’s terrified of hearing Phil’s voice, because then he really might fracture into a million pieces. Dan should let it go to voicemail. Yet, for some reason he can’t bring himself to do it.

Even as Dan accepts the call, he already regrets it.

“Hello,”he mumbles, hating how dejected his tone sounds.

“Dan,”Phil says breathily,”—oh god—Dan, are you alright?”

He hesitates, chewing his bottom lip. “Yeah…I’m fine.” What is he supposed to say? Of course he really isn’t fine, but he’s alive—isn’t that good enough?

“Okay,”Phil takes a deep breath on the other side of the line,”Okay. Where are you?”

He glances at his surroundings, even though Dan already knows the answer to the question. “I—I don’t know. I’m in a park. Not that far away, I don’t think. There’s a pond and—and I don’t know where it is. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to apologize. Do you want to be left alone or--?”

Honestly, Dan doesn’t know what he wants. All he knows is that he’s tired of being cold. “I want to go home.”

“Okay,” Phil’s clearly relieved,”We’ll come get you. Just stay put.”

We? Surely Phil mean’s he’ll come. “Okay.”

Phil pauses, then asks timidly,“Can I stay on the line with you?”

Immediately, Dan’s mind screams no. He can’t hear any of it, he doesn’t want to. Whatever Phil thinks about him, and what happened earlier, he doesn’t want to discuss it.  “I really don’t want to talk right now, Phil,”Dan dismisses flatly.

“That’s—that’s fine. If I can’t find you, I might call again, though.”

“Okay.”

“Call me if you need anything,”Phil says hurriedly,”I’ll see you soon and—be safe please. Okay, bye, Dan.”

He doesn’t say goodbye before hanging up.

-

The sound of feet crunching on grass stirs Dan out of his stupor. The noise seems absurdly loud compared to what his thoughts, the noise might as well be a gun shot. Dan’s instantly on alert, his heart pounds in his throat. An irrational part of Dan is saying that there’s someone near him, someone that will try to hurt him. The paranoia is overwhelming.

“…yeah,” he hears a voice come from out of the darkness behind him, getting slowly closer, ”Phil, I get it, I’m looking. I mean…it is a park…”

A silhouette of a figure appears in the dimness. ”Holy shit, I found him. I’ll call you right back.” There’s a gentle beep as the person ends their phone call and lowers the mobile to shove it in their pocket. The familiar voice and the words make sense, and Dan knows he should calm down…but it’s easier thought than done.

“P—PJ?,”Dan asks tentatively, not believing his eyes and ears. After all, why would a friend he hasn’t seen in what feels like eternity stumble across him in a small park in the middle of the night by coincidence? It doesn’t add up.

“Yeah,”PJ steps closer, and Dan can see his face now,”Hey Dan, it’s me.”

PJ smiles brightly,”Fancy meeting you here.”

“Yeah,”Dan replies numbly.

PJ frowns, considering Dan with worried eyes before sinking down to sit on the grass beside him. Automatically, Dan leans away. PJ’s too close, yes, he’s two feet away, but he’s still too close. Dan sucks in a deep breath, and tries to calm his flurried thoughts. He’s overreacting.

There’s a heavy moment of silence before PJ clears his throat and says gently,“Phil’s on the way, I’m gonna hang out with you here, if that’s okay.”

Dan gets the distinct feeling that he doesn’t have a choice whether PJ stay with him or not. Anger flashes through his thoughts at that realization. He sighs quietly, staring at the water to avoid looking at PJ.

“Why are you here?,”Dan growls.

“Phil called. He and Louise and me were worried about you.”

Dan has to force himself to not physically shudder. Phil called PJ. Phil told him. He can picture the conversation that they must’ve had in his head.

“I need your help Peej, my psycho roommate realized he’s a whore and ran away…”

Maybe Phil wouldn’t say exactly that, but still, Dan can’t believe that two more people have been dragged into this. That two more people know. And now they’ll start looking at him like he’s sure Phil does. They’ll see him as a slut, or worse, a victim.

“Why?”Dan snaps,”I’m not a fucking three year old, Peej. I can leave Phil’s sight without having a mental breakdown.”

And you thought you could survive a weekend without him too, but look how that went, a voice in Dan’s head taunts.

PJ frowns, but his tone stays calm,“I know that. I’m only here because when one of my friends disappears in the middle of the night and no one knows where they are, I’m going to go find them. I think you’d do the same for me.”

Well, shit. Dan can’t exactly argue with that. If the situations were reversed, of course he would go after PJ, they’ve been friends for forever it seems like.

“Yeah,”he admits,”I would.”

“Then you get why me and Louise are here.”

“Yeah.”

PJ exhales softly and shifts his legs underneath him,“Look, I get you and Phil…aren’t on the best terms at the moment…so if you want to crash at my or Louise’s place tonight, you’re welcome to.”

“I’d rather just go home,”is Dan’s icy reply.

“Okay.”

“Dan—this might be stupid question, considering everything that’s happening right now, but—are you okay? I don’t mean in a casual way, I mean are you really okay?,” PJ barely pauses before he adds,”And you don’t have to lie to me.”

Dan grits his teeth. He doesn’t need anymore ‘conversations’ tonight. “I’m fine.”

“I’m not that stupid, y’know.”

Something inside of Dan cracks. He had to force the words out, and they feel heavy on his lips.

“I want everything to be normal again,”he admits flatly,”I want it to be like before.”

Dan knows it’s stupid. Time travel doesn’t exist, and he can’t pretend that everything is the same. He’s been trying that for months and he still feels just as empty and hurt as the first day.

Dan’s expecting to hear the ‘you can’t change the past’ speech, but instead PJ asks, “You remember when you and Phil were fighting in 2012?”

The question is like a slap to the face. Great, now they can talk about all the times in his life when Dan’s been an asshole.

“How could I forget,”he grumbles bitterly.

“Well, Phil and I talked a lot that year. About you. And once he said almost the same thing to me. He said he wanted to go back to before the whole mess had started, when you were younger and stupider and happier.”

PJ watches Dan with sad eyes,“I told him to give it up. You two would never be the same as you were before, you couldn’t go back. And that was okay.”

“What I’m saying is, stop wishing for before, Dan. You don’t have to be who you were before….before whatever it is that happened, happened. You’ll never be that version of yourself again. He doesn’t exist anymore. Let the old Dan die—and just be you. Things aren’t going to be the same, but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever be happy again.”

The words are almost too much for him to understand. Dan feels slightly dizzy, “Ph—Phil didn’t tell you what happened?”

PJ’s facial expression twists with confusion. “No, he only said you two got into an argument, he didn’t say what about.”

“Oh,”Dan breathes, guilt spreading through his veins, thick and heavy.

“I—I thought that--,”Dan can’t finish his sentence.

“Phil’s been worried sick about you,”PJ says,”I couldn’t get him to calm down. He cares about you a lot.”

“There you two are!,”a high pitched voice rings out, and Dan and PJ both whip around. A slightly disheveled blonde smiles back at the two of them.

“H—hi, Louise,”Dan stutters. His gaze falls to who is standing behind Louise. He avoids making eye contact.

“Hey love, it’s a bit brisk out tonight,”Louise lifts her fingers to her mouth and blows air between them, rubbing her hands over each other,”Christ. I can’t feel my fingers.”

“Me either,”Dan comments.

“Whatever happened to spring,”Louise asks, waving her arms frustration,”Bloody British weather, I’m considering moving to Florida at this rate.”

PJ smiles,”That’s a bit extreme.”

“Desperate times, desperate measures.”

-

Louise and PJ make silly jokes and lighthearted conversation the entire way back to the flat. Dan trails behind them by a few steps, staring fixedly at the ground to avoid acknowledging Phil.  And Phil—well he’s even quieter than Dan—as unusual as that is.  Maybe Phil really does despise him. Dan can’t tell what’s behind Phil’s silence. Is it anger, disgust? Is Phil just pretending he doesn’t exist now, or is he trying to give Dan space?

“We turn here, right Phil?,”PJ asks when they come to an empty intersection.  They’ve been taking side streets and alleyways so far, but this street actually looks like somewhere Dan remembers walking on his way out of the house.

“Yeah,”Phil nods, speaking up for the first time. His voice is gruff and quiet. He doesn’t sound upset, though. Phil seems tired. ”And then the flat’s just a few blocks down.”

“Good,”Louise says firmly, wrapping her arms around her torso,”Cause I swear to god if I don’t get warm soon…”

“We know, Louise,”PJ teases,”You’ll die.”

He receives a glare for his comment. “No, I won’t die,”Louise counters primly,”I’ll simply have to kill you.”

PJ laughs and Dan gives a tiny huff of amusement. Considering the circumstances, Louise and PJ seem so…normal. He expected them to be judgmental or suspicious. Instead, they’re acting like this is a planned outing.

Dan’s not sure how much more time passes walking through the streets of London. PJ’s and Louise’s words and the minutes all blur together.

Eventually the cityscape starts to look more familiar. After reaching their complex and climbing the several flights of stairs, Phil lets them into the flat. They file into the kitchen quietly.

“I’ll get the light,”Phil flicks on the switch and the room is flooded with brightness.

Even though Dan’s squinting from the light he can see what’s wrong with the kitchen. Every surface is spotless. The sink is empty because all of the dishes are done.

There’s a moment of hesitant silence before Phil starts for the cupboards, saying hurriedly,”I’ll make us some hot drinks, if—.”

“No, no, no,”Louise interrupts, she gives Phil a scolding look and steps past him, cutting him off from reaching his destination.”I’ll make them, you two have got to be freezing, go find some blankets and sit down. PJ can help me.”

PJ mocks a bow,”Your loyal assistant, at your service, madam.”

Phil frowns, “Lou--.”

“Shut it,” her tone shifts from commanding to congenial,”Do you want coffee then, Phil?”

“I—sure. Yes, thank you.”

Louise turns to him, smiling kindly,“And I’m guessing you want a hot chocolate, Dan?”

“Yeah,”he answers numbly,”thanks.”

“Okay then.”

“The mugs are--.”

“I bloody well know where the mugs are, now shoo.”

-

Phil can’t stand the quiet anymore, it’s driving him from sanity. He glances nervously at Dan, who’s sitting on the sofa beside him. Dan has his feet tucked up underneath him and a blanket pulled around his shoulders. Phil’s eyes drift lower, Dan’s hands are still shaking. It could just be the cold, Phil hopes it’s the cold.

“I think we were just kicked out of our own kitchen,”he muses, keeping his voice as soft as possible so he doesn’t make Dan flinch.

Without looking Phil’s way, or even moving Dan replies,“It’s a coup d'état .”

Phil can hear the gentle sound of Louise and PJ talking in the kitchen. They’re probably speaking about him and Dan. Does he even want to know what his friends think of them? Probably not.

But the fact that PJ and Louise are talking means that he and Dan have a bit to themselves. There’s so much that Phil needs to say.

“Dan—I’m—I’m so sorry,”he starts,”I shouldn’t have pushed you, and I’m really sorry if I hurt you. I--.”

“It’s fine.”

“No it’s not,”Phil shakes his head. Yes, he’s relieved beyond words to have Dan back somewhere safe, but Phil doesn’t really have him back does he? Phil should’ve said all of this before Dan ran out. ”I messed up. I messed up so badly.”

Dan’s teeth dig into the side of his cheek. His hands squeeze the fabric of the blanket.

“So…so you’re not mad at me, then?”

Mad? How could he even be mad? There’s no reason for Phil to be. No, he was worried out of his mind, but never angry. “Why would I be mad at you? No, of course I’m not.”

“When I was talking you…you looked so horrified and sick and for Christ’s sake you should be mad at me.”

“I was horrified,”Phil admits, because it’s true. “I am still.”

Dan’s breathing stutters and Phil quickly adds,“But not at you, not by you.”

He takes a shuddering breath of his own. “Yes, thinking about that, it makes me sick. And not because of you, but cause—cause.” Suddenly, Phil unable to be articulate. He closes his eyes and tries again. Why is this so hard? Why is it so hard to just talk?

Phil’s eyes snap back open. “Seeing you be hurt like that. And knowing that they’re still out there, and that I couldn’t do anything to--. It makes me nauseous, Dan. Not you. Them. Hell, it makes me murderous,”he runs a hand through his hair out of habit,”I—. And seeing you hurt, it’s painful. And I don’t want to fix you, I only want you to know that we care. PJ and Louise and me—we aren’t leaving. I’ve never been more scared in my entire life then when I found you that night, and when you ran out tonight—I thought it was going to be history repeating itself…”

Phil grits his teeth, he’s not making any sense.

“Shit, what am I saying?”

Phil takes one, two, three long breaths. He’s about to speak again when Dan cuts him off.

“I wasn’t lying,”Dan says flatly,”What I said earlier…” His face twists like he’s in pain. “About—about—it being y-your fault that I hadn’t…,”Dan’s words fall away.

“I’m sorry,”he blurts. “It’s true and I’m so sorry.”

“You shouldn’t be sorry. There’s nothing to be sorry for, you were—being honest. And I appreciate that. I’m glad you were honest with me.”

Even if the truth hurts, and god—it hurts a shit ton—but at least it’s honesty instead of omission.

“I—I don’t even know what to f-feel anymore.” Dan voice matches his tear glazed eyes. “Feeling things—it makes me—it makes me think of th-them. And what they s-said.”

“Phil,”Dan’s head falls forward into his hands, his shoulders shiver violently. ”I feel so gross.

Phil presses his lips together firmly to try and keep himself calm. “I will never see you as gross,”he vows,”Ever.”

“You’ll still see a victim, though. That’s wh-what I am to everyone. A v-victim or a whore.”

“No. No, not at all. Dan, you’re not a victim. You’re…you’re Dan. In seven years you’ve been a lot of labels, but you’ve always been you, and that doesn’t change now. You’re not a victim, you’re my best friend and more than that.”

“While it may feel like it, the last thing you are is alone.”

“Then why can’t I hold it together?,”Dan asks, he sounds angry,”Why am—why am I like this?”

Phil pauses, he doesn’t know the answer to that, really. It’s because Dan’s hurting, and he has to go through all of these emotions to eventually feel better. But why is it too much? “Maybe,”he says at last,” It’s because you’re trying to hold it together by yourself.”

“I want to be able to look into your eyes without f-feeling sick. I want to go outside without feeling paranoid. I want to be o-okay. That’s all.”

“All of those things will happen.”

Dan shakes his head, staring fixedly at the wall,“N-no. Not when they’re still w-waiting to come back.”

“They aren’t going to come back. I won’t let that happen. The police will find them.”

“So what? Even if they do, can I r-really go to trial? I’d rather die,”Dan’s one hundred percent serious, Phil can hear it in his voice. And it terrifies him. “I’d rather be dead than have everyone know what--.”

“Hey,”Phil tries to draw Dan out of what he’s thinking about,”Hey. If the police do catch them, we’ll work through that when it happens, okay?”

“’Kay,”Dan mumbles.

“And I said we, because I meant it. Not just me and you, but a whole army of people who will support you unconditionally. Who love you.” He glances towards the hall way,”Two of them are making a disaster of our kitchen right now.”

 “We’re going to be okay, Dan,” Phil promises quietly,“We’re going to be just fine, you’ll see.”

-

Denali glares up at the irritating specter that is lingering above his desk. Can he not get three seconds of time to work without someone interrupting him?! Someday he might just snap and murder Blair himself. If he doesn’t kill Fazen first. Then again, homicide isn’t Denali’s division.

“What the hell do you want, Blair?,”he growls, without looking up from his computer screen. So maybe he shouldn’t be so hard on the kid, but he’s already having a shit day.

Blair crosses his arms over his chest and smirks. He looks pleased with himself, which is always a bad sign. It means that Blair knows something that Denali doesn’t.

“Remember the Howell case?”

He thinks back. Howell…Howell…Oh yes, how could he forget that one? It’s one of those cases that’s full of graphic images. They stick in your head for life, no matter how hard you work at scrubbing them out. Denali would never let Blair know that, however. He’s supposed to be the sergeant that’s seen it all and is no longer effected.

“Howell…,”he runs the name over his tongue,”The rape case from a couple months ago? It’s somewhere in my stack of unsolved files, why?”

Blair frowns, his early sense of smugness fading,“Well you might want to dig it out—we’ve got a lead.”

Chapter Text

Leah Ross’s head is buzzing a thousand miles a minute by the time they tell Denali. He’s the second to last one to find out about it. She was the first. The freeze frame that’s displayed on television screen in front of her is the centre of attention. At this moment there’s nothing particularly sinister about it, but Ross is still hesitant to look. She doesn’t want to know what comes next. Yet still, her pupils remain glued to the image. A heaviness settles on her shoulders and apprehension is pitted in her gut.

“Bloody hell,” Denali breathily mutters. He’s just heard the news and he looks more excited than horrified. Maybe the reality of what they are looking at hasn’t settled in yet or maybe, he doesn’t care, which is a surprise to Leah. She’s always thought of her partner as the type of person who’s informed enough to give a shit. Of course, she sees terrible things forty hours a week, fifty-two weeks of the year. After all of that time, Leah supposes that people like her are supposed to stop caring, to stop being jarred by what they encounter. Some do. But the good cops, in Ross’s opinion at least, they take every case personally. 

Denali crosses his arms over his chest and studies the freeze frame. It’s a picture of an empty room. The image is hauntingly familiar. It’s not been very long since Leah was standing in that room. When she was physically there it was a very different sight. Her gaze runs over the blue and green bedspread and the cupboard covered in miniature figurines and souvenirs. In her mind Leah can picture the same space, but as she had seen it before.

She blinks harshly and forces herself to refocus on the present.

Denali has already noticed the most important thing about this lead. The most jarring detail is the nearly transparent 'play' symbol that’s superimposed on the middle of the image.

It’s a video. A long video at that matter.

“Where did you find this?” Denali asks.

"That’s the thing," Blair quips, his dark eyes flashing with excitement, "We didn’t."

"What do you mean?"

Blair stares at Denali like he’s an idiot. He runs his tongue over his lips and continues. "Someone tipped us off about it, anonymously. It was on a darknet site, we would’ve never found it otherwise."

Part of Leah wishes they never had found it. Is she being selfish? Maybe. But surely the victim would never have wanted anyone to see this.

There’s a long moment of silence as Leah’s partner considers. His forehead wrinkles and several different emotions flash across Denali’s countenance. It’s relieving that one of those feelings is clearly disgust. Good, then he isn’t an arse.

"…interesting," Denali concludes at last. He takes a step closer and studies the screen.

"Very," Blair agrees, "But we also have to consider that we’re dealing with a victim who has a very large…," he searches for a word and then settles on, "…fanbase. It’s possible that someone who recognises him stumbled across this."

Denali snorts, giving Blair an incredulous look. "You think a fan of a lighthearted comedy duo was searching through illegal porn videos?"

"It’s a lot more possible than you think."

Denali sighs softly, rubbing his forehead with a callused hand. "I don’t even want to know."

"The other more…optimistic, or sadistic…depending on how you look it...theory is that the perpetrators tipped us off about this."

Denali nods. "In that case it would change our profiling. Fazen would have a field day. Have you watched this through, seen if you can get facial ID?"

Leah hasn’t seen the video yet, but the IT crew watched it right away. If she’s being honest, she doesn’t want to see it. She’d like to be able to sleep tonight, and if the crime scene that she saw is any indicator, this video is likely to be nightmare inducing.

"The faces are blurred out. Professionally. One of our perps knows his way around a computer. But--," Blair continues, sounding disappointed, "--we already knew that, the victim told us about that. Which makes this video worthless."

"Wrong," Denali says sharply, "We still have their voices, and body types. Not to mention interaction between the perps, it could tell us a lot."

Blair’s annoyance at having his conclusion shot down registers on his face, and he opens his mouth to protest but doesn’t have time to argue about it before Denali orders, "Get Fazen in here, and then let’s go through it."

It takes ten more minutes to get the indifferent female officer in the room and up to date on all of the details.

"I want us to scour every millisecond of film to see if there’s even the smallest mistake," Denali tells her, "This isn’t some gritty security cam at a corner store, it’s a high quality camera and that means that there could possibly be details that could help us find out who these bastards are."

Fazen nods curtly, her eyes drifting over to the screen. "I guess we know now why our victim didn’t want to talk. Still, it was a pretty stupid decision on his part."

Leah locks her jaw in a grimace, and she’s about to say something reproaching when her partner beats her to it.

Denali’s tone is casually venomous, "If you were famous I don’t think you’d want video of you being gang-raped circulating on the internet either, Fazen."

"Well, it’s still on the internet, isn’t it? Staying quiet didn’t do him much good, did it?"

"It’s on an extremely private site, with mostly foreign traffic. It’s hardly viral, and I’m sure that’s what they threatened."

"Is there any way the IT team can take this video down?," Leah asks, speaking up for the first time.

"No," Denali says heavily, "We don’t even have access to the site anymore. Besides I don’t think IT would accept the proposal, this isn’t very high priority in their eyes."

Not very high priority? Maybe not to them, but to Howell it certainly would be a top priority. Ross shakes her head softly.

"It fucking should be," she mutters under her breath, still loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

-

The normal façade of the video only lasts for a fraction of a second.

"’Kay," a man calls out from behind the view of the camera, "Got it running." Muffled noises come from off screen. Sounds of heaving breathing and gruffly whispering voices. The figure that was behind the camera steps out to face the frame. His face is a block of pixelated colours. A blur. Unrecognisable. It contrasts sharply with the clear quality of the video.

Blair was right, this is well done.

"Hello internet," the man distorted man says, his voice sounds like a cruel smirk, "Got something special for ya’ today."

"What are y--?" The panicked tone that Ross recognises is abruptly broken off. There’s a thwap as fists presumably meet flesh.

"Shut up,bitch."

The ‘bitch’ is dragged roughly into frame by another hidden face. But this man’s shape is larger, he’s more muscular. A menacing body type and way of moving. He seems like the kind of man that Leah wouldn’t want to walk past on the street after dark.

Terrorised, wide, brown eyes make contact with the camera. It’s like he’s staring at her. Right through the lens and screen of the computer. Ross examines random details about the victim instead of gazing back. There are several bruises on his face, not to mention his cheeks and lips are already coated in drying bodily fluid.

There are handcuffs secured around the victim’s wrists, as well. The skin cutting metal kind, police grade. But buying a pair like that only costs forty-some quid on Amazon.

"Please—no—turn the camera off, you--." He’s shoved down face first into the mattress before he can plead anymore. The rest of the sentence is muffled. A thick hand is clamped around the victim’s skull.

"What," the larger man taunts, "You’ve never dreamed of starring in a porno, sweetheart?"

He’s yanked back up by his hair so that they can leer at him.

"N-no."

"Well," someone off screen says, "Either way, today’s your lucky day."

A fourth man adds, "Why don’t you take off your clothes for the camera, love?" With a final shove, the grip on the victim loosens and he’s suddenly left to struggle to sit up straight with bound hands. He pushes himself up on bony elbows and weakened wrists.

The victim is shaking, that’s half of his mobility problem. He’s shivering so violently he can barely move without jolting, his chest rising and falling at an alarming rate.

Leah is suddenly aware of how fucking young he is, how scared, how small. Despite having met him in the flesh, and knowing that the victim is actually gigantically tall, right now…he looks tiny. Her stomach twists.

They let him struggle and humiliate him for what seems like eternity. Until the victim’s cheeks and neck are stained blotchy red and his eyes are trailing towards a black shape on the nightstand beside him. He looks at it like he’s worried it’s going to strike out and bite him.

"Oh come on," the same voice that suggested the victim remove his clothes says at last, "It’s not supposed to take that long. Cade—he looks like he could use some help."

It’s the only man that they haven’t seen on camera yet. Not the one that seems to give out the orders, or the most menacing one, or the one with the northern accent. This one is fit and limber looking. Taller than the others, with smooth looking hands. Leah would swear that this man couldn’t be day older than twenty. Young hands rip apart the victim’s shirt, they tear off his clothing.

"Mmm," the one of them hums, "You're so pretty. Stand up and circle around for us."

Cade—or whatever the youngest man’s name actually is—half-forces, half-helps the victim to his feet. He almost falls over at first and then he complies despite his unsteady legs. Howell turns in three slow circles, his eyelids clenching closed almost immediately.

"Gorgeous."

"Fucking delicious."

Leah knows what’s coming next instinctively. But she still flinches when Howell is forced back onto the mattress and one of the men crawls on top of him.

Molestation, her mind provides clinically as she watches various sets of hands alternate between feeling the victim up and harming him. They hit him, kiss and bite him, yank his hair, and the most brutal of the four wraps his hands around the victim’s neck and squeezes until Howell is gasping for air. Insults fly and Leah doesn’t keep track of which of the men is saying what.

Howell kicks and pleads and pulls away. He fights and gets himself hurt even worse because of it. It’s all futile, no matter who the victim was, or how strong he was, there are four of them. The victim doesn’t stand a chance, he’s restrained. There’s also the dark shape lying on the artistically blurred nightstand, which Leah has by now realised is a gun. 

Besides, being the sadists that they are, the perpetrators seem to enjoy the fight.

The one that Ross is assuming is the leader, goes first. Howell screams.

"Fuck, baby, you feel so damn good," the man groans and he forces himself in the rest of the way vigorously.

The noises that are tearing out of Howell’s throat range between chanted variations of ‘no’ and piercing cries of pain.

"That’s right, bitch, scream. It won’t change a thing. In fact it makes it better."

Leah closes her eyes, battling a wave of nausea. Yellow dots swim across the underside of her eyelids. Cases aren’t supposed to affect her like this. They never affect her like this.

But usually Ross isn’t watching them, she isn’t hearing the assault happen. Hearing it is nearly as bad as seeing it. Howell is sobbing raggedly. Flesh is slapping against flesh obscenely.

Daniel—no—the victim…Leah has to stay impartial about this. She can’t let herself get attached. What would happen to her career if she let every testimony or piece of evidence make her sick? This is the job that she’s been set on having for many years and has fought so hard to get.

In a way, though, it’s always been personal. Maybe that’s why the sound of Howell crying seems to dig into her brain. It brings back a lot of memories.

She had been nineteen at the time, in Uni for a career she didn’t want. Business management, it was terribly dull, and Leah was barely passing her classes. Mainly because she ended up spending more time being irresponsible than doing revision. And that’s where she was, at a party.

Either Leah had had too much to drink, or someone had spiked her cocktail. She’d been mostly passed out when it had happened. She couldn’t swear that she had even said no, because honestly, Leah didn’t remember most of it. She’d dropped out of school a few months later.

It was the self-defense courses that Ross decided to take that made her consider law enforcement. She had been so paranoid and learning how to fight back had helped her feel safer. What better way to always feel in control, to always feel safe, than to train? She focused all of her energy on the idea of stopping ‘bad guys’ so she could ignore what had happened. Leah started academy that same year.

She never told her family what happened or why she suddenly changed her career.

It wasn’t until a while later that Leah had realised what division she wanted to be in. And this time is one that she never will forget. Even if it was eight years ago, it still is burned into her memory.

Her little sister was barely seventeen. And Ross can still hear her sobbing over the phone saying that her boyfriend hadn’t listened to her. ‘I said no, I promise I said no…’

Her little sister’s rapist never saw a second of jail time.

So once again, Leah had changed her vision of what she wanted to do in the future.

"Y’know if your eyes are closed," a sharp voice cuts into Leah’s thoughts, "You can’t really be analysing the evidence."

Ross’s eyes snap open and she glares at the officer who’s standing next to her, looking smug.

"I was thinking," she says defensively.

Fazen hums skeptically, "Mmhmm."

"I think I know how to do my job."

Leah turns her gaze back to the screen and tries to keep her expressions stoic. It’s nearly impossible to do.

Howell eventually gives up. He stops moving, stops begging. At this point, the youngest of the four is pounding into the victim. The others stand on the edge of the frame and make disgusting comments. Once or twice they step closer and do something to Howell.

The hands loosen their hold around the victim’s bruised hips and the man pulls out of him clumsily before ejaculating onto his buttocks and back.

The video cuts to black.

Leah takes a deep breath, swallowing against her dry throat. She glances around at the others in the room. Denali’s forehead is twisted into concerned lines. He’s deep in thought. Blair’s face is a washed-out pale colour, and his pupils are dilated. He’s not been around as long as the rest of them and is probably feeling shell shocked right about now. Fazen, on the other hand, looks annoyed.

And Leah—well—she isn’t sure how she feels. She’s glad that the video is over. Relief and a deep rooted anger are the only things that register in Ross’s mind.

"So," Fazen says, crossing her arms and looking around at all of them, "What do we do now, have the victim watch this back and see if it brings back some important memories?"

Leah blinks, not believing her ears. "Important memories?" she repeats incredulously. Fazen really must be insane.

"Yeah, like their names. Their real names. Or their faces. Anything really."

Ross grits her teeth. "He told us. They gave fake names."

"’s probably bullshit." Even though Fazen’s face remains professional, Leah can hear her eye roll.

"And you really think watching this back on camera, would help." She spits. "As if he doesn’t have every memory in perfect detail already. I'm pretty sure he'd rather not relive that experience either, Fazen."

"Jesus," Fazen breathes, holding her hands up in mock surrender, "Calm down, Ross. I was only making a jest."

"Well it wasn’t funny."

"What’s gotten into her? Denali, tell your partner to calm the hell down."

Leah is Denali’s partner, not his lapdog. If she wasn’t pissed off before, she is now.

"Fuck you, Fazen."

"Leah--," Denali cuts in, his tone a poor attempt at being condescending.

"No," Leah says, interrupting, "I don’t want to hear it. We’re going to discuss how we are going to proceed and Fazen is going to keep her shitty attempts at humour to herself."

Chapter Text

He opens his eyes slowly, disoriented. The face above Dan clears and he sees Sam looming over him, a malicious grin present on his face.

“There’s our sleeping beauty,“ he purrs. “Passed out for a bit, didn’t you?”

Passed out is an understatement.

He wants to reach for his throat, where pain is radiating towards his lungs, but Dan’s hands are cuffed behind his back. All he remembers is choking, hands wrapped around his neck as he was pounded into over and over and over and…

He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t get air. Everything hurt.

“Have a good little nap?”

Dan shivers in response, the air is scorching his lungs. It’s some sort of sick game. Him choking and coughing, sputtering for air as he was wracked by Sam’s thrusts. At first there’d only been dots spotting Dan’s vision, and eventually they spread across his field of sight. Until—darkness. And now…

A hand grabs Dan’s hair, yanking him up and Dan hisses in pain. The world spins and he’s thrown to the carpet, his bare knees burning.

A foot collides with Dan’s ribs and he can’t help the tears it brings to his eyes. His head throbs.

-

Ross has had a migraine ever since the forty minutes of discussion that followed that goddamn video. She rubs her temple absentmindedly, glaring at the papers on the desk in front of her until her eyes blur.

It’s past three o’clock, if Leah doesn’t make this call soon she’ll be late getting home. Not that there’s much to come home too. Christ, she doesn’t want to do this, even though, she did offer to. It was better if she did it than if who Denali had originally assigned the task to did. There’s no way in hell that Leah is letting Fazen interact with the victim or his friend. Not after her revolting comments today, or her indifferent attitude in general.

Leah reads the phone number on the case file one last time before picking up the phone receiver. The dial tone buzzes against her ear.

In the long run, she knows that this is the best thing to do. It’s her hunch, after all. Howell had originally mentioned that one of the perp’s voices was vaguely familiar, but that he couldn’t place it. If Howell couldn’t tell who it was, there’s one other person who might be able to give Leah some insight. And finding out how at least one of the perpetrators is connected to Howell could mean all the difference in finding the rest of them.

This is the right thing to do, Ross reassures herself. She punches in the number reluctantly.

The line picks up almost immediately,”Hello.”

“Good afternoon,”she says cordially,”Is this Mr. Lester?”

“Yes, it is.”

“I’m Officer Ross with Scotland Yard.”

-

The realisation hits Phil as soon as he hangs up. His perfect composure that he maintained for the entire phone call falls away. The phone slips from Phil’s fingers onto his bed and he sinks to the carpeted floor. There’s a large thump as Phil’s fist collides with the floor. He uncurls his clenched fingers, grasping at the carpet. Fingertips dig into the ground until it hurts.

It’s not that Phil didn’t expect something like this. No, he’s had his suspicions.

Now that all of his fears are confirmed as reality, it’s even worse than he originally thought. It all makes sense. This is why Dan can’t move on, this is why he’s still scared. It’s why he’s stayed so quiet about everything that happened.

How can this be real? None of it seems real. Phil’s breathing feels hollow and fake. His brain seems numb. Maybe he’s dissociating. Or perhaps it’s the shock.

In the past there have been times where things that Phil didn’t want the public to see were leaked. He’s experienced a tiny smidgen of that terror. The fear of having everyone see your secrets, or mistakes, or humiliation. Even so, he can’t imagine how Dan will feel. At least it’s not viral, but still, if someone found it…

What would happen if all of their subscribers and fans saw that video? If all of their peers and friends saw it? Phil would never get Dan back, he’d lose him forever.

His head spins.

“Phil?,” a voice rings out from the hallway. Phil stiffens. He will have to tell Dan now, someone has to tell him. The police woman—Officer Ross—offered to call Dan, but Phil didn’t want him to find out like that. He has to tell Dan, like he said he would.

“Phil, are you okay? I heard a thump and--.”

Dan’s voice breaks off as he steps through the doorway and sees Phil. The colour drains from Dan’s face.

“Fuck. What’s wrong, what’s wrong?”

Dan makes it to Phil’s side. He kneels, his forehead wrinkled with concern.

“Wh—“

Phil jerks away from the hand that Dan is trying to rest on his arm. He stands so quickly that the blood rushes to his head and makes him feel sick.

“Sorry…I—I have to go.”

Dan straightens upwards, his eyes are round and confused. “Go—g-go where?”

For a long moment, Phil hesitates. He doesn’t know how to say this gently.

“To the police station. The police—they found something, and they think that I might be able to help.”

With those few words, Dan has already filled in the blanks. He blanches, wavering where he stands.

“Don’t…it’s not—it’s not public—don’t worry.”

Don’t worry, what an idiotic thing to say, Phil, his mind mocks. Dan’s chest is heaving, his face is completely blank of emotion. Hair falls over Dan’s eyes as his head hangs forward limply.

“It was on a…a private site….that’s what they said, and they only found it because of a tip…no one knows about it.”

Dan takes a quaking breath.

“You can’t go,”he says resolutely.

“D--,”Phil starts, wanting to explain why he has to, but he’s quickly cut off.

“No, you can’t see it,”Dan is louder this time,”Please, please—fuck, Phil. T-tell them you can’t come.”

“But what if it--?”

“No!,”Dan yells.

Phil feels like he’s being torn in two. He has to do this. It’s for Dan’s own good.

Phil sets his stance, his tongue is heavy in his mouth. “I have to.”

Dan snaps. His head jerks up, and fire-filled eyes glare at Phil.

“I said no!,”he screams. “It’s m-my fucking rape,” he hisses through gritted teeth,”I get to decide who gets to f-fucking see it.”

“I don’t have a choice,” Phil pleads.

“Yes, you do. P-please.”

“It won’t change anything, but if I recognise any of them it—.”

Phil can’t remember the last time he’s seen Dan look this angry. His fists are clenched at his sides. Honestly, Phil barely even recognises him. He doesn’t understand the reaction that is twisted across Dan’s countenance.

“You sound like you w-want to see it,” Dan hisses. Phil’s stomach drops to his toes. No, no, that can’t be what Dan thinks. He would never ever--

“No,”he says, protesting frantically,”Of course n--.”

“That’s what it is, you want to s-see it. You sick fucking p-pervert.”

Some piece of Phil breaks. “Dan--.”

“Get out, go. I don’t g-give a fuck. Go!”

“D--.”

“Have f-fun.”

“Please,”he sounds desperate even to his own ears,”Don’t be like this.”

“Leave,”Dan repeats,”And why don’t you t-take a bottle of l-lube with you?!”

-

Phil leaves.

He walks away.

He doesn’t listen.

It’s the only fact that Dan is aware of at this point. It’s all he can think of, all he can focus on. He glances over the tastefully cluttered dresser. Dan has experienced a lot of emotions lately: pain, disgust, self-loathing, fear…but now all that he feels is rage. Pure, unbridled anger at everything that has happened. At Phil. At his surroundings. Even, at his rapists.

They did this to him.

They ruined him.

And Phil didn’t even listen to his protests.

Everything in this room is mocking Dan, the neatly made bed, the clean carpet, even the cute little Dan and Phil's cacti plushies that are sitting in Phil’s window sill.

Dan clenches his fists, seething.

He’s not cute anymore, and he’s probably never going to make videos again anyways. His career is over. His life is over, and yet everything looks perfectly alright.

The world is still moving.

It feels like no one cares that he’s falling apart. The world doesn’t fucking care.

A noise rips out of Dan’s throat and he swings at the dresser, knocking figures and books and even a pair of Phil’s glasses off onto the floor.

“What the hell am I doing?,” Dan mumbles under his breath, staring at his shaking fingertips. Does he care that he’s messing up Phil’s room?

No. No, he doesn’t.

The lamp crashes against the wall, because there used to be a pistol sitting next to it.

The duvet and the sheets are ripped off the mattress. There aren’t any stains except for in Dan’s mind.

His fists connect with the wall over and over and over again, until Dan’s knuckles are bruised and bleeding. Even then he can’t stop. Everything hurts and nothing matters. Nothing fucking matters.

-

Phil doesn’t watch the entire thing. He only sees a few choice clips where Officer Ross seems to think their personalities leak through. He sees enough. More than enough.

And Ross is right—he does recognise one of the voices, just barely. Phil swears he’s heard that man’s voice before and it terrifies him. He knows this person, somehow. He’s met them. What is even more frightening is that Phil can’t tell where he knows it from. He can’t picture who it is, or why he might know it.

However, what Phil does know, is that he’s going to be sick. If he doesn’t do something he’s going to vomit right there and then on the white linoleum floors of the police station debriefing room.

Once Phil has excused himself frantically and is alone in the sterile public restroom, he clutches the edge of a white pedestal sink and gags up bile for what seems like hours.

Chapter Text

He hasn’t been this pissed off in a very long time. He can feel the rage pummeling in his chest, it’s beating red behind his eyes and thick in his veins. But surely it’s a misunderstanding, there’s no way that his girl--his Number Four--would do something this stupid. Facebook was wrong, that bloody post was a practical joke. That’s the only explanation. Still, it’s an idiotic joke and by now Tina should’ve learned not to lie. Liars and vixens got their little arses beat bloody.

He’s only here to give her what she deserves.

“You stupid bitch!,” he bellows, snagging Tina’s arm before she can flinch away. That’s another thing that she should’ve learned by now: what he wants, he gets…and there is no running away. No matter what court paperwork she files or where she moves to or what social media she blocks him on, he’ll always be able to find her. He grips her wrists with enough ferocity to snap the bird-like bones. The soft flesh is bruising under his fingers and it’s a marvellous feeling.

Tina whimpers pathetically. Ugh fuck, he’s missed that pitiful sound.

Dragging her closer to him, he slams his mouth over hers. Tina wriggles against his lips, trying to break off the kiss.

It’s amusing, the way she tries to pretend like she doesn’t like it. Of course Tina likes it, that’s why she dated him. That’s why she still loves him. She can pretend to leave and pull away all she damn wants, but it won’t change a thing. Tina has always been his play toy, and she always will be. 

“Please, Louis, just leave me alone,” Tina begs once he’s let her out of the greedy kiss,”P-please.”

This isn’t sexy, this isn’t hot at all. If he wanted pleading and tears he would go fuck his Number One again. Besides, in his head he’d planned this out a whole different way.

Tina is supposed to blush scarlet when he kisses her, she supposed to lean into his lips. And then once they pull out of their breathless embrace, she’s supposed to whisper quietly into his ear,”Fuck me till I bleed, Daddy.”

This is not how it’s supposed to go. His blood pounds in his ears.

“Shut up,” he snarls, slapping her roughly with his free hand.

“I don’t want to hear it from you,” he says, his hot breath on Tina’s pale face, ”I don’t want to hear it.  You think you’re better than me?! Is that what it is?”

She’s forgotten her place is all. That’s what it is. All of that time away from him has made the local dog think itself a human.

Tina shakes her head. She’s crying now, which has always been the thing he loved most about her.  “No, no, that’s--.”

Crying but still lying, this is not the way he wants it to go. He’ll just have to remind her of where she sits on the food chain.

“You’re not better than me, you would be lucky to have me back. You want me back. Tell me you want me back!”

“I t-told you,”Tina struggles to twist her hand in his grasp so that he can see the glitter of silver on her ring finger,”I’m engaged now. I--.”

Engaged. To someone else. Some fag probably. Someone who won’t treat her the way she deserves to be treated.  It’s outrageous, it’s infuriating.

He wants her to stop talking. She needs to be quiet. Tina needs to shut up, because he refuses to hear this bull shit.

His hands slide off of her wrists and he snatches for her frail little neck. It’s much tanner than his Number One’s was. It’s a lot more delicate.

It’s already bruising.

Yes, she needs to be quiet. But she’s still making noise. Choking and coughing and sputtering, struggling to get loose. It’s just like old times.

“Who would marry you,”he says and her fingernails tear desperately at his fingers. She’s trying to pry them off. She’s being loud.

“Piece of shit.”

“P-p-please,”she croaks out. Too loud. Too fucking loud.

“Cunt.”

Her hands fall back down to her sides, and her body grows more limp. Tina is getting quieter as well. Good. Soon she’ll be silent. Her tear glazed eyes meet with his. Their pupils are wide, the scleras are blood shot. And the brown of her irises—they’re a shade too light to take him back to the best night of his life.

“Disgusting.”

She shivers violently. Moving is noise, in his mind it’s loud.

“Shut the fuck up!,”he screams at her, wrenching his hands back.

Finally, Tina listens. He lets go of her and she crumples to the ground like a tossed away rag doll. Her head hangs at an awkward angle, looking just slightly off. She’s a little chinaware bird with her neck snapped in half.

The tear stained eyes have turned to cold glass.

-

Henry pants against Ben’s skin, feeling dizzy. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of their make out session, or maybe it’s the four shots of vodka that Ben gave him. He’s not really sure how he got talked into that. Henry doesn’t even like booze. He hates the unsteady and uncontrolled sensation they give him. Yet, here he is, feeling two different types of intoxicated.

Ben’s hands are carding through his short curls, yanking at the roots. It’s too rough for Henry’s taste. Everything Ben does has a sharp edge of pain to it. Their kisses leave Henry’s lips bruised. But, Christ, it doesn’t matter if Ben’s a bit too rough, because he’s so goddamn beautiful. One giant piece of muscle and natural tan and blue eyes.

And then there’s his cock. Which Henry’s not saying he’s a size queen…but in the two weeks they’ve been sort-of-dating he’s had some of the hottest times of his entire life.  Okay, so Henry’s only ever been with one other person, and he’s not actually had anal sex yet, but still.

He just wants to wait a little bit longer, get to know Ben better before losing his virginity to him. If he’s being honest, Ben scares him just the tiniest bit. It’s the odd times that he snaps, or goes a little too far, or says something off.

Strong hands are pushing Henry’s head back down to Ben’s waistline.

“Ben, I—I need to breathe for a minute.” This is all new, and little bit too fast. Henry will be fine, he only needs a moment.

“Come on, babe,”Ben says, and Henry gets the feeling that he doesn’t really have a choice. With a shivering breath, he complies and spreads his lips around Ben’s cock.

He wants to take his time, work his way slowly down the shaft, because it’s bigger than what Henry could ever be used to or ready for. Until he can get used to the girth, he only sucks the tip of Ben’s cock. He bobs his head and uses his tongue, managing to coax a few noises out of Ben’s throat.

Just when Henry is starting to feel like he’s in control, the heavy hand that is resting on his head clamps down around his skull. Ben holds Henry’s head in place and thrusts his hips forward.

He flinches violently as Ben’s cock is forced to the back of his throat. Shit, shit, shit, Henry can’t breathe, shit. He chokes down on the penis and Ben moans loudly. With another thrust, the rest of Ben’s shaft is slides between Henry’s lips. He can feel his throat throb, he can feel it down his neck. It hurts.

It hurts so bad. Henry’s eyes are watering, his throat feels like it could rip. The lack of oxygen adds to his vertigo. His nostrils flare as he frantically tries to get enough air.

Ben is pounding into him, face fucking him. God, it hurts. The pain is edged numb by alcohol but it’s still there.

“Ugh, fuck—Danny,”Ben groans. This time when Henry cringes, it’s not out of discomfort. Dan?! Who the hell is Dan?

He doesn’t get a chance to say anything, because the next thing Henry knows, Ben is coming deep in his throat.

It takes what seems like eternity before Ben’s cock is soft in Henry’s mouth and he finally pulls out. Ben collapses forward, gasping. His throat is on fire and his eyes sting as well.

“So pretty,”Ben murmurs, running his finger over Henry’s come coated lips.

“Who’s Dan?,”he asks, his voice is hoarse and worn sounding.

Ben stiffens, he looks like a criminal that’s been caught in the act. Fear stabs at Henry’s chest, surely Ben can’t be cheating. Not already. It’s only been two weeks, how can Ben already be bored of him? What did he do wrong? Is it his reluctance to go all the way?

“My--,”Ben hesitates,”—my ex, I’m sorry, it’s just habit.”

“No, no, don’t worry about it, Ben. I get it.” Henry misses his ex too. They dated all through secondary and sixth form. But when they had decided to go to different universities, Ben had made the decision that parting ways would be the best thing. Long distance relationships are nearly impossible.

“Was Dan that good?” He means to sound like he’s teasing, but Henry’s curious. And he’s the tiniest bit jealous.

Ben smiles, kissing him on the forehead. “Not as good as you, babe. Never as good,”he says,”But—you do look a bit alike.”

“Is that right?”

“Mmm, yes. Brown eyes, long legs, a lovely arse.” Ben pinches his butt cheek to emphasize the point and Henry squirms. He’s getting the distinct feeling that Ben is trying to change the subject.

“Why’d you break up?”

Ben’s playful demeanor instantly disappears.

“That’s really none of your business, is it?,”he snaps.

“Yeah, it’s not,” Henry says, backtracking. He hopes Ben won’t slap him because that happened once before and it hurt,”Sorry.”

Ben’s facial expressions shift again. “You’re fine, boo. Now kiss me with those nasty little lips of yours.”

-

His hands leave bloody smears on the pages, but Dan can’t bring himself to care.

Dan had fully intended to destroy it when he had first picked it up off of Phil’s bookshelf. After all, it’s a terrible reminder of everything that used to be. But now that’s he holding the book in his hands, Dan can’t rip out the pages, he just can’t. This book is…sort of like a child. It’s partly Dan’s creation.

Just like he can’t talk himself into deleting his channel, he can’t convince himself to destroy this. Instead, he opens it.

Dan stares blankly at the blue and red text and turns page after page. He pauses at every picture of him and Phil. They’re so happy. It oozes through the photos and makes Dan’s stomach turn. If only things could’ve stayed like this.

“Phil and Dan, in Japan,”he mumbles the title to himself, skipping over the words and looking straight to pictures.

Japan had been…a dream come true. The country was so beautiful. And travelling with Phil there…

Their subscribers had joked that the trip was their honeymoon. It wasn’t, of course, but in Japan there were no eyes on them, there was no public image to keep up with, and he and Phil had been swept up by the romanticism of it all.

So if they had held hands a few times on the trip, it had only been so they wouldn’t get separated in the crowded streets or markets. Or it was to drag the other up the umpteenth step towards the top of a mountain.

Dan drops the book, he tosses it away from himself like it’s burning his skin. It hits the ground with a thud. He buries his head in his aching hands.

What is Phil going to think when he gets back and sees this?

Dan answers his own question, he’ll think that I’m insane. Honestly, Dan feels insane. Somewhere along the way he lost his mind as well as his innocence. Someday soon Phil is going to realize how crazy he is. And he’ll be terrified. If Dan scares himself with his thoughts and actions, he can’t imagine how Phil must feel.

That’s only if Phil even comes back. Does Dan really want him to?

No, no, he doesn’t want to have to face Phil.

Not after what he’s just done. Not after the words he said. Not after Phil didn’t even listen to him. Especially now that Phil has seen it.

Dan’s chest tightens. Phil has seen him being humiliated and destroyed and violated by now. Maybe he’s even still watching it happen.

How can he ever face Phil again, knowing that Phil has heard the things they said to him? And he’ll have heard the things Dan replied with.

The crying, the screaming, the begging, the acceptance of it. The way he just…complied…listened to them. Phil will be revolted. Besides, it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out. Dan can’t hide in the shadows forever. There are no secrets anymore. Louise and PJ are already suspicious. Subscribers and peers already probably have their theories. Any day they could decide to leak the video to a much larger audience.

Suddenly, Dan is exhausted. He’s so tired of all of this, so tired of everything. He’s sick of hurting, and sick of feeling disgusting.

A weird resolve settles over Dan. It’s almost…peaceful. He knows exactly what he’s going to do and since he’s already insane anyways, it won’t matter. This is as clear as Dan’s head has been in a long time. It makes the most sense.

He’s tired.

This is the only logical conclusion. The only ending.

He straightens and with a shaky breath glances around Phil’s room. It’s a mess, oh well. Dan doesn’t bother to grab his phone on his way out of the flat.

He starts up the stairs.

Chapter Text

Adrenaline is pounding through Dan’s veins. It’s intoxicating. He shuffles on the pavement, swaying forward and back. His toes curl over the concrete edge. A single step forward is all it would take.

He can hear the sound of evening traffic below him, the cars blur past under his gaze. The breeze whips against his ears. It’s so far down, but Dan isn’t even scared. He doesn’t feel anything but the pounding of his heart and the rush that is building under his skin. He probably should feel afraid, but instead he’s numb. Should he feel sad? Should he at least feel something?

It seems too simple. After all of the up and downs and experiences of Dan’s life, this is the most anticlimactic of endings.

A single step. One step and he’ll never have to feel anything again. He’ll finally just sleep. Dan doesn’t really believe in an afterlife. He doesn’t know what will happen. Maybe he’ll be reincarnated as a tree or some shit, but at the very least it will all be over. Dan will no longer exist and he’ll no longer have to hurt.

Maybe he’s being overdramatic, taking the drastic way out. But Dan can’t even imagine a future universe where he is okay.

He can imagine a future where he’s dead.

He’s multiple stories high on the complex roof, tilting over the precipice. And now Dan is begging for his death to come. He’s so tired.

All of the weeks of existing have worn him down. They’ve brought him to this. It’s the voices in his head that will never be silent and the memories he can’t erase. It’s everything that has happened, and everything that he is.

The flow of traffic that Dan can hear below won’t know what’s hit them.

One last step.

He isn’t sane anymore. He isn’t even alive anymore. His family will be disappointed, but they’ll get over it. Dan’s friends are consumed in their lives and they won’t notice that he’s gone once a few months pass. They’ll go back to their conventions and videos and projects. His memory will fade away from those places as well. Fans will leave. Friends will forget.

Phil...Phil will move on. He’ll do great things. Phil will fall in love with someone and get married. In ten years he’ll be a happy father with a house in the countryside.

And Dan will be nothing. That’s what he wants. Everyone will forget him, that’s what he needs to happen.

“Right now you’re fighting, sweetheart, but don’t worry soon you’ll want to die.”

Bile burns the back of Dan’s throat at the memory. The words echo in his head. They were right.

Three days, four men, and a lifetime worth of nightmares, is apparently all it took to break him. To utterly destroy him. To bring him to this.

The old Dan was gone—the Dan that had cried and fought and held onto the glimmer of hope that all of it would be a dream—that Dan is useless now. Now he doesn’t care about surviving and he doesn’t want to be saved.

He swallows thickly against his dry throat. The idea that his story has played out exactly the way they said it would makes him sick. He really is weak, just like they told him.

Maybe they’re right about everything. He doesn’t care if they are. Sure, he is a slut. Sure, he does deserve it. Hell, maybe he even loved it. He doesn’t give a fuck because it won’t change a thing about where he is right now.

Perhaps the new Dan is heartless as well, because he doesn’t give a damn about the collateral damage.

The collateral damage that is otherwise known as Phil. He should care, he should fucking feel something. He should be guilty.

The wind snakes around Dan’s arms and he leans towards the brink. His weight is off center now, pulling him forward, yanking him off balance.

For a brief second he wonders what the fuck he is doing. Does he really want to do this? Yes. And there’s no one there to stop him. He curls his hands into strained fists, his fingernails cut into his palms.

He should’ve thought to leave a note, but it’s too late now. Instead Dan tilts his chin up towards the reddening sky. He speaks to the sunset that is swirling across the horizon, a backdrop to the silhouetted skyline of London. It’s so beautiful, it’s like the city is putting on a show for him to say goodbye.

“I’m sorry,”he says to nothingness and nobody,”I’m so sorry.”

For a moment Dan can’t think of anything else to say. Should he list his regrets? Does he need to explain? At last Dan finds words again and sucks in a shallow breath. Here he is again, talking to himself. It’s a perpetual bad habit of his.

“Ph-Phil,” he forces the word out of his throat,”I’m sorry.”

Dan glances down at his feet, wavering with unbalance. He locks his knees together to still them.

“One step,”he mumbles to himself. It’s that easy.

“I know that this isn’t what you want, Phil. I know that—I know I’m going to hurt you. But—it’s…it’s…”

Dan runs a hand through his hair, pushing it out of his face. The front pieces of his fringe are starting to curl. They’d better straighten it for the funeral, he thinks wryly. With another sweeping glance at the horizon, he feels the realisation setting in. He’s going to be dead any second.

“I’m just so fucking tired,” he says, and Dan wants to scream the words but his voice is a shivering mess. The certainty of his actions are starting to become cemented in his mind. He’s really doing this, isn’t he?

With a final inhale and a dry throat, Dan lets his eyelids drift closed.

-

He expects there to be nothing, but instead there is pain. Everything is pain. It ripples through his legs, up his spine. It tears through him with every arduous breath.

His eyelids scrape open and Dan can see a blurry view of the street. Above that he can glimpse a tiny rectangle of sky. People are yelling, cars honking. The noise rushes to his head and adds to the pain. The thumping of his brain against his skull. He can feel his heart beat in every inch of his existence. It’s still there, he’s still alive.

Dan struggles to try and move. He twists in an attempt to pull himself to his feet but something inside of him pulls sharply, sending him dizzyingly back to his knees. His mouth fills with blood. It’s coppery and hot and pungent. It coats his lips and drips down his chin. He coughs and red sprays across the back of his hands. Dan’s fingers shake of their own accord, smearing the tiny puddles that stain the pavement.

He’s dying. 

Movement is happening all around Dan, and he tries to follow the patterns but his eyes can’t focus. He turns his head towards the sound of footsteps. There are people running towards him, kneeling beside him. They’re speaking but he can’t make out the individual words. Dan tries to say something to them, to say anything. But in his attempts he collapses onto his side. The broken ribs in Dan’s chest scrape together, his breaths tear out of his body.

Does he regret it? He doesn’t know. He can’t think. His mind is as blurry as the sky above him. It’s so pretty. Such a pretty sunset. But the colors are fading, it all is fading. Everything turns from pain to cold. The cold seeps into everything that Dan can feel until it is all that exists. And then it folds into darkness.

Chapter Text

It’s the worst sense of déjà vu. Phil feels the same icy dread filling his stomach. Shock and panic fight for dominance in his head. What does he do? What is he going to do?

The panic is saying that he needs to move. Now. He has to find Dan.

The shock, on the other hand, has Phil frozen in place. A different scene is playing through his mind.

Dan is naked. He’s covered in blood. He’s—beyond description. The room smells like sex and vomit. It makes Phil gag. Dan’s shaking. He’s scared, he looks more terrified than Phil has ever seen him look in all of the time that he’s known him. Dan moans, a small broken noise. God, there’s so much blood…

There’s blood.

On the wall. On the carpet. Phil steps slowly over to the only untouched part of his room. Compared to the rest of the mess it’s a shrine of untouched items.

His bookshelf.

Phil stares at it for a long moment. There’s something wrong about it. Something is missing.

Oh, Phil realizes with a jolt, and he looks down to find the missing book. Their book.

Bloody fingerprints coat the glossy cover.

The sight throws Phil into action. He has to figure out what’s going on, and fast. Even if his mind is a swarming mess, he needs to focus and he needs to think.

Dan isn’t here but his phone is, obviously Dan didn’t think he’d need to contact anyone wherever he went. Even when Dan ran out after the huge argument they’d had, he’d bothered to take a way to communicate.

If he was going for a walk, he’d take his phone.

If Dan was going to PJ’s or Louise’s or his parents’, he’d take his phone.

So where the hell would Dan go that he—

No. It can’t—Dan can’t…Phil’s head short circuits. The only word he can think of is ‘no’, chanted over and over in his mind.

And now Phil is running through a much more horrific inventory in his mind. Dan has no way to illegally purchase a weapon. There are knives in the kitchen and razors in the bathroom, but obviously Dan is neither of those places. Neither of them possess any potentially lethal prescriptions. There’s aspirin and naproxen and some cold medication in a cabinet under the sink…but those might not be fatal and they’d take too long.

Dan knows that he’ll be back soon. Dan would want it to be quick so that Phil couldn’t stop him.

What if I’m already too late? Phil shoves that thought away, he can’t be too late. He can’t be. It’s not an option. Dan dying is not an option.

And right as Phil is starting devise wild theories about where Dan is, the answer slaps him across the face.

The roof.

-

“Dan!”

His eyes snap open and Dan’s muscles freeze. The scene in his head is still sticking to the back of his eyelids. He hopes it doesn’t hurt that much, he hopes that it’s prettier than his idealization. He has to do it. This is his final chance. Only one step, he has to do it. Now, now, now or it will be too late.

If he listens to Phil, he’ll lose his nerve.

The crimson sunset spins.

“Dan,” Phil says from behind him, his voice constricted with fear, “Please don’t do this, please. I’m begging you, p-please.”

Dan doesn’t answer. He wonders how long it took Phil to figure it out. Or did Phil automatically know that he was a suicidal head case and a fucking wimp. Phil must’ve known that he’d pick the easiest way, the near instant way.

God, he’s such a coward.

“I know this isn’t what you really want. It doesn’t have to come to this.”

Then what else am I supposed to do?! he wants to scream, but the words stick in Dan’s throat and he remains silent. The wind seems abnormally loud now. It whips about Dan’s t-shirt, cold against his emaciated stomach.

“Please,” Phil says, and Dan can see him moving closer in his peripheral vision, “Just step back. I don’t want you to slip and—”

And die, Dan completes in his mind. Phil is getting closer; this is his last chance. Christ, he wishes Phil didn’t have to see it. For an instant he envisions the bloody pavement and the sirens once more. It was painful in his imagination and that’s what he wants. It’s probably what he deserves. 

Who gives a damn if it hurts? Or if Phil sees? At least then it will all be over.

“I’m sorry,” he says, his mind made up and his voice filled with resolve, “I’m so sorry, Phil.”

One step. Dan’s left foot dangles over the edge. He’s so close.

“No,” Phil gasps, “Don’t do this to me. Don’t do this to yourself, I love you so much,”

Dan sucks in a deep breath, his right knee is trembling. It’s a bit too late for love confessions.

“God, Dan, I love you so damn much. Please, don’t jump,”

Phil’s speaking is white noise. It’s like the breeze or the rumble of traffic. All Dan has to do is fall away from one and into the other.

“If you—if you die. I don’t know how I’ll…I won’t be able to move on,” Phil’s voice cracks, he’s crying, “I can’t—I can’t watch you die.”

Dan freezes. The air is hallow in his lungs. His head spins. Suddenly Dan’s vision blurs, and the sunset is turned out of focus. The tears that trace trails down his cheeks are cold against his skin. The tears piss him off. Dan shouldn’t have to explain himself. This isn’t about Phil. It won’t be Phil’s fault if he dies.

He shouldn’t have to justify this. It’s his life. It’s his death. He gets to choose it.

“I can’t do this anymore,” he yells over the wind, “I can’t!”

Dan’s chest heaves.

“What I’m doing isn’t living,” he turns his head to where Phil is now only standing inches behind him, “Look at me Phil!”

Phil’s adam’s apple bobs.

“I said look at me! Do I look alive to you?”

Blood shot blue eyes meet Dan’s gaze. The hateful words are on Dan’s lips before he can stop them.

“I don’t give a—I don’t give a fuck if it hurts you. I’m a selfish bastard and I’ll do anything—anything to stop hurting.”

Pain flashes across Phil’s facial features. Does he believe Dan? Does he actually think Dan doesn’t care? It’s both a truth and a lie. Dan does care about harming Phil, but he refuses to admit it. If he pretends that he holds no regard for Phil’s feelings then he doesn’t have to consider them. The second half of his statement is completely true. He will do anything.

He says in a much smaller voice, “I want everything to stop.”

The wind blows Phil’s hair into his eyes and he shakes it away. Phil’s hands are shaking at his sides, reaching hesitantly towards Dan. Apparently Phil subconsciously wants to grab hold of Dan and pull him back.

“Right now, "Phil says, “If—if you jump…you’ll probably die. You’re ready for that, you know that you’ll die…I know you know that and that’s the whole reason you want to fall. But—what I’m trying to say is…”

Phil’s eyes water as his words trail off. Trying to collect himself, he swallows thickly.

“There have been maybe three times in my life where I thought to myself ‘I could die right now, and I would be totally content’. I—I don’t mean in a suicidal way. I mean the first day we spent together in Manchester, I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt and a few weeks later I realized I had found my best friend. And it’s like falling in love, finding your best friend. And that first day I thought, god, I could die happy.”

The confession falls numb on Dan’s ears. He can remember that day perfectly. Who would have thought that shamelessly flirting with an internet idol would even lead to them meeting in real life? Much less…all of this. That day in Manchester had been blissfully happy for Dan as well. It seems fake now, looking back on it. The idea of it is too glossy and happy and hallow.

“And when we were in Japan and everything was wonderful,” Phil continues, "I started thinking, shit, I’m falling all over again and it’s more this time. And again I thought, I could die happy right now.”

Dan grits his teeth. He doesn’t want to hear this. He doesn’t care about what could’ve happened if they’d stayed on the trajectory that Japan had set them on. If everything had gone to plan, hell, they’d be in America right now. Maybe they would even still be holding hands.

But they’re not in America. It’s very much the London skyline that is a burning reflection on Dan’s eyes. And he’s about to die. Phil isn’t holding his hand; Phil is begging him to live.

Dan prefers the alternate reality.

“When we were travelling around the UK for tatinof, on the very last night of performances, standing on stage next to you looking at all of the people we made happy, looking at the community and the world that we made. That night, I could’ve died happy.”

The community that Dan will never be able to face again. The world that he can never be a part of now. He can’t even imagine what the comment sections will look like.

In his mind there are two options.

The depressed comments that will show up everywhere if he dies. ‘Watching this I can’t stop crying…Dan was so happy here…’

Or the disgusting ones that will flood his channel and social media once the video goes public. ‘So this is what that cockslut does when he’s not getting his ass hammered...’

He won’t live to see either.

“What I mean is,” Phil says, drawing Dan’s attention back to him, "If you die right now…you’ll die miserable. Please, please, give yourself a chance to die happy.”

It’s an interesting idea. The only problem with Phil’s speech is that Dan doesn’t care about happiness. He’s so far beyond wanting to be his old self.

“What if I’m never happy again?” he asks.

“It won’t be that way. I promise.”

For a long second Dan pauses and considers how to explain to Phil that he’s wrong. Or more importantly that Dan isn’t patient enough. He doesn’t want to have to live long enough to be happy.

At last it all slides into place in Dan’s head. Everything solidifies. “I don’t believe you.” he says firmly.

His knees are suddenly weak; they tremble beneath him like jelly. Is he scared? Excited?

Dan doesn’t really jump, he stumbles. His heart catches in his chest, choking him with how hard it surges. Panic heaves around Dan.

He feels himself start to fall.

This is it.

This is it.

And just as Dan feel his momentum going forwards, the movement is violently reversed. Dan thought that things like this were supposed to happen in slow motion, but instead everything is a blur. He crashes backwards.

There’s a cracking noise behind him. He feels the impact clattering in his teeth. Dan’s elbow slams into something soft. It’s only now that he feels the arms encircling his waist. He’s staring up at the fading sky, warmth and bones and flesh beneath him.

Then time catches up with itself and everything is slammed back into its normal speed.

Dan’s thoughts take a moment longer to level with what has happened.

He was falling forwards, falling off, when Phil grabbed him. Pulled him backwards. Dan’s on top of him now. Phil’s head just smashed against the concrete. The noise it made, the speed of their collision, it all adds up in Dan’s mind. Phil’s just suffered cranial trauma, he’s…he’s probably dead. He’s dead and it’s entirely Dan’s fault.

Dan rolls off of Phil, staggering to his knees. He can barely bring himself to look. What if there’s blood, what if the back of Phil’s skull is caved in? With trepidation Dan opens his eyes.

For some reason even when he notes that Phil is breathing, he doesn’t feel any less scared. Phil writhes slightly on the concrete, scrambling to get his hands to support him. With his eyes pinched closed tightly against the pain, Phil sits up slowly.

Dan is shaking his head, moving backwards without thinking about why. His throat is swollen closed.

I almost killed Phil, I almost killed Phil, I almost killed Phil, his mind repeats over and over. Even if they hadn’t fallen backwards, and Dan hadn’t landed on top of Phil, he might’ve dragged Phil over the edge with him.

Phil could’ve died.

Because of him.

Something inside of Dan snaps, it’s like a glass wall being violently shattered apart. The shards explode around Dan and slice at his skin. Suddenly, he’s crying so hard that it hurts. Dan hands are cupped over his mouth and snot and tears drip down the back of Dan’s knuckles. It’s the ugliest he’s ever cried. Every sob feels raw.

“Dan?” Phil asks. He groans slightly as he stands up, gritting his teeth and feeling the back of his head with a cautious hand.

“Hey,” Phil’s voice is soft and when a hand touches Dan’s shoulder he doesn’t flinch. Maybe it’s because he knows what Phil’s hands feel like. They are soft and gentle and careful. Besides, he’s crying too hard to care about anything that’s touching him right now.

Phil’s alright, but it doesn’t matter. Dan could’ve killed him.

“Bear…” Phil mumbles, wrapping his other arm around Dan’s waist, "It’s okay.”

Dan sags into the hug, sobbing into Phil’s shoulder. He’s not even sure why he’s crying, why he’s breaking down now. But he can’t stop, and he can barely even think.

Phil doesn’t say anything else, he simply holds Dan.

Dan’s not sure how long they stay like that. He cries over the fact that he’s still alive, and that he might’ve just died. He cries over Japan and that first day in Manchester and how far he and Phil have come.

He cries over how much everything hurts.

He cries because he’s broken and he doesn’t know how to fix himself.

He cries over the video, and those three days, and how disgusting he feels.

After a while there are no tears left and Dan is dryly hiccupping into the damp cloth of Phil’s t shirt. When he finally manages to collect himself enough, Dan clears his throat.

“I’m sorry,” he says raggedly.

“You…you don’t have to apologize, it’s okay.”

How can Phil even say that this is okay? Is anything okay right now?

“But you have to talk to me, Dan. We can’t do this anymore, holding it all in until we both burst, we have to—we have to talk to each other, because I can’t cope alone and you can’t either.”

Dan’s abruptly exhausted, his head and limbs feel too heavy.

“Wh—what if everyone sees it?” he asks, his voice cracking.

“We’ll work through it.”

Dan shakes his head. This is not the career ending type of blow that they can just ‘work through’.

“Dan…no one who actually cares about you will see you as any different if they see it. I—I think a lot more people would support you than what you think.”

It doesn’t matter if they support him, Dan doesn’t want them to know in the first place.

“I don’t want to exist anymore.”

“I know. And you’re so brave for existing as long as you have.”

“Brave?,”Dan scoffs,”Really, Phil?”

Has anything he’s done since it happened been brave? Not telling everything to the police. Lying to his parents. Avoiding Phil. Hiding from his friends. Abandoning his career and his channel. Nearly jumping off of a roof because it was the easiest way out. Dan is anything but brave. He’s weak.

“It takes courage to exist.”

The words feel like a punch to Dan’s gut. Because they’re his own words, his own advice from an earlier time.

Have the courage to exist.”

“Do whatever you have to do to be happy.”

“Take a deep breath in and say to yourself, I can do this.”

It’s then that he realizes that Phil is touching him. Phil is hugging him. He came back even after seeing…that.

“You’re—hugging me.”

“I’m sorry,” Phil’s arms loosen and he starts to move away, but Dan keeps him where he is, "Am I h--.”

“No,” he interrupts, ”No, not at all.” It’s fine. I…. thought you were afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Of touching me, of being near me. I thought that I either scared you or grossed you out. I mean sometimes I can’t stand to have anyone close but mostly even if I jump a bit it’s not because…”

The issue with existence is that Dan doesn’t feel very courageous. But he’s also not brave enough to die, so If Dan is going to exist then things have to be different, things have to change.

“I don’t like being treated like glass. Like…a victim. I—I want us to do the things that we used to. I want us to be us.”

“Okay,”he looks like he wants to say more, and after a second of think, he does,”And you aren’t a victim, Dan. You didn’t sit back and let something happen to you without a care about it…you survived it. You’ve fought every second to stay alive and yeah—you got tired and tonight happened. But you’re still here, and still existing. You’re the bravest person I have ever known.”

“I don’t feel very brave,”Dan chokes, he wants to cry again,”And—right now I want to die, b-but I can’t and...”

“Thank you,” Phil says, a breath of relief rushing out of his lungs.

“I’m cold,” Dan replies awkwardly because he doesn’t know what else to do, and it’s true, "Can we get off this damn roof?”

“Yeah,” Phil nods, rather reluctantly letting his arms around Dan drop, ”Yeah, we can.”

Before Phil’s hands can fall all of the way to his sides, Dan catches his hand. He wraps his fingers around Phil’s. So it’s not Japan, and he’s not in a hospital bed, but right now Dan really needs something to hold on to.

He needs Phil to hold on to.

They leave the last tinge of purple on the quickly blackening sky behind them.

Chapter Text


Phil wakes up with a splitting headache. The pain radiates through his skull, its tendril fingers scraping behind Phil’s eyes. Nausea pits in his stomach, and he can hear his pulse in his ears. God, he’s going to puke.


Abruptly, his eyes snap open and Phil blinks against the orange dots that are crawling across his vision; The room is pitch black.


He sits up and is immediately disoriented by his surroundings. The dark shapes around him are not ones that belong in Phil’s room. It takes him a moment to remember that he isn’t in his room for a reason.


Dan. The roof. The conversation that they’d had. Afterwards they had both pretty much collapsed into bed. So no, Phil isn’t in his own bed. Instead, he’s staring at the dimly lit walls of Dan’s room. 


Vertigo churns in his stomach. The sheets are hot against Phil’s skin, sticking to his clammy legs.


Last night seems surreal. Honestly, Phil isn’t sure how all of it happened. How did he manage to stop Dan from falling? Was it just luck that he was able to pull him back? Or was it adrenaline? Those few seconds are indistinct in Phil’s mind, and yet they could’ve changed everything. Phil can’t help to consider what would’ve happened if he hadn’t been able to pull Dan backwards and stop him from plummeting.


He could’ve watched Dan die last night.


He could be sitting in a hospital right now watching a heart monitor and praying for Dan to wake up.


He could be sitting in a police station.


He could be trying to comfort Dan’s crying mum and planning a funeral.


But instead, Phil is here. In Dan’s room. With a migraine that’s making him sick.
He reaches a hand gingerly to back of his skull, curious as to how bad the damage is. Last night he’d been too tired, too filled with nerves, too filled with adrenaline and relief to really feel the pain. Now, all of that emotion has worn off. When his fingers ghost over the lump Phi can’t help but wince. His headache spikes, and for a moment Phil’s mind is spinning in pain. When he manages to catch his breath and still his shaking fingers, Phil peels back the duvet that is on top of him.


It doesn’t matter that it hurts, it was worth it. Only a few feet away from him, Dan is asleep under a mound of blankets. The back of his head is the only thing that Phil can see. A few strands of the brown hair are beginning to curl.
For once, Dan actually looks like he’s sleeping soundly.


Waking up beside a sleeping and very-much-alive Dan makes everything that happened last night worth it. Dan is still here.


Phil watches Dan’s chest rise and fall for a few long moments. While it’s comforting beyond description to know that Dan is okay, it also gives Phil a bit of a crisis.


He can now see what he almost lost. What would he have done? Phil can’t even fathom how his world would’ve looked without Dan in it.


All of these existential ideas aren’t helping Phil’s headache or his stomach.
Trying to be as quiet as possible, he shifts his weight to the edge of the bed and swings his feet onto the floor.
A glowing light stings Phil’s eyes as he reaches for his phone on Dan’s dresser and turns it on. He blinks at the lock screen; it’s four in the morning. He locks the phone again and sets it back down, letting his eyes readjust to the lack of illumination.


Once he can see well enough to not trip over Dan’s furniture, Phil makes his way out of the room and down the hall.
He only barely avoids running into the glass door that leads to the bathroom. Phil fumbles for the light switch.
He squints against the brightness to study himself in the mirror. Phil’s eyes are puffy from crying earlier, red still tinges his scleras. Hair sticks out in all directions and creases from the pillow have made marks across Phil’s cheek.
Phil reaches down the hem of his t-shirt and tenderly lifts it. He has to turn his back to the mirror and look over his shoulder before he can accurately see the line of bruised skin that is blotched down one side of his back.


He grits his teeth and goes back to the real problem right now, his migraine. He opens up the medicine cabinet and digs clumsily through the bottles. Surely a few naproxen will help, right?


Finding the bottle that he is looking for, Phil unscrews the cap with shivering fingers and shakes out two of the blue pills into his palm. After a moment of hesitation he adds a third. Yes, it’s not the recommended dosage, but Phil really could care less right now.


He brings his mouth to his lips and tilts his head back. The pills seem to stick in the back of Phil’s throat as he swallows them dry. He can’t be bothered to put away all of the medicine cupboard items that are piled on the vanity.


Dizziness is still making Phil feel disoriented so he sits on the closed toilet seat and cups his face in his hands. Elbows dig into his knees and Phil breathes slowly, hoping that the queasiness will pass.


And yet, despite how sick he feels right now, Phil could care less about his headache or the bruises. All that matters is that Dan is asleep in his room right now instead of lying in a morgue.
-
Dan was expecting that he might wake up the day after his suicide attempt and see the world in a whole new light. But that’s not how it is. He had thought that being close to death might’ve changed something, in fiction it does. After someone almost dies, they have this huge crisis over whether they’ve lived their life to the fullest, and they start doing things differently because now they cherish every moment. That’s how It’s supposed to be, isn’t it?


Instead, Dan is swallowed by a concoction of intense emotions. And none of them are a new sense of purpose, or a fresh perspective on life, or even relief.
The negative feelings swirl in Dan’s mind and rack at his thoughts.


Regret. He regrets that he’s not dead, that he didn’t go through with it. He regrets being here. Yet, somehow at the same time Dan regrets everything that happened yesterday. He wishes none of it had occurred. If only he could turn back time and not be so fucking stupid, or at least go through with what he had set out to do.


Guilt. Dan’s guilty because he can tell that Phil’s in pain, no matter how hard he tries to hide it. Phil winces at loud noises, and walks gingerly so he doesn’t brush into anything. And he looks at Dan with fear behind his smile. Now Phil has another thing to be paranoid about. He’s guilty because he almost took his life from Phil. Guilty because he almost took Phil’s life.


Failure. Dan couldn’t even die correctly. It wasn’t supposed to be that hard, and yet, here he is. He can’t seem to live, but he can’t kill himself either. And the realization that he’s not brave enough to die, or brave enough to exist leaves him in a state of instability. How does he move forward? What is Dan supposed to do now? He can’t keep living like this, but he doesn’t know how to change either.
So, no…nothing is different. He spends half of the day hiding in his room and listening to Phil move around the house. He can’t seem to bring himself to eat or even move, because the only thing Dan can think about is the video.


He needs something, anything, to distract him. For once, he actually wishes he had a video to edit or a gazillion tweets that he could respond to. Hell, he wouldn’t even mind filming right now if it would get his mind off of the present.
But Dan can’t do any of those things. Tweeting after having disappeared from the internet for months, wouldn’t be a good idea. Plus, most of his at-mentions are probably asking if he’s okay, when he’s coming back, or when he and Phil are going to go to America. He can’t answer those questions.


He can’t film either. No. Just no. The thought of it makes Dan’s mouth go dry and makes him feel even worse.
The last time he was in front of a camera…


In the end, it’s Phil who gives Dan a distraction. He, rather cautiously, walks into Dan’s room and asks if he wants to order in pizza. Dan forces himself to reply verbally, even though his stomach can’t handle any food right now. He even sits on the couch with Phil and watches a stupid property show.


And for a brief second of time, Dan almost forgets how miserable he is.
-
It happens slowly. So gradually in fact that Phil barely notices at first. The first few days after Dan’s suicide attempt, nothing changes. If anything, Dan is worse because of what happened on the rooftop. And while Dan mostly keeps to himself and takes an excessive number of showers, Phil slowly starts the process of cleaning up his room. He throws out all of the broken figurines and damaged pictures.


When he picks up their book off of the floor, Phil can’t help but pause. He sits with his knees crisscrossed on the floor and flips slowly through the pages. He smiles at Dan’s silly dialogue and runs his thumb over the cutest pictures. Christ, they were such dorks. He can tell that Dan spent the longest on the Japan pages because of the bloody smears across some of the words. Phil cleans them off with the hem of his sleeve.
By the third night, Phil's sleeping in his own bed again. Alone.


It's another five days before Dan even starts talking with more than one word answers. He doesn't follow Phil around the house, like he used to, but he does help Phil make dinner without any persuasion on Phil’s part. And instead of retreating back to his room after they're done eating, Dan suggests that they watch Buffy episodes since Phil owns the box set. Somehow, they end up cuddling. That is until Dan complains about his arm falling asleep.


Phil teases him, and Dan genuinely smiles. For the rest of the evening Phil feels warm inside. Dan’s smile always has done that to him.


The bruise on Phil’s side fades, turning through every shade of purple, blue, and yellow.


They finish rewatching Buffy.


Three months pass.


Phil doesn't bring up their ever dwindling bank accounts to Dan. He just grits his teeth and reluctantly pays the bills, knowing that they'll either have to tap into some of their savings or start working again if the rent is going to stay paid. But Phil can't bring himself to talk Dan into filming. He doesn't want to push it, not when Dan is...doing better. Maybe?


Dan smiles at Phil's jokes. He goes out with Phil for groceries and to run errands. And yes, there are still a lot of times when Dan disappears and is clouded by memories and fears. It's an up and down rollercoaster, but they're getting somewhere. At least now when Dan’s not doing well, he’ll admit it. And sometimes he even laughs.


Phil can't ruin that.


So he doesn't suggest that they visit family or friends, and he doesn't show Dan the bank statements. Because honestly Phil can't tell if Dan's actually doing better mentally or if Dan's faking it so that he doesn't worry. He still seems like a shadow. Too quiet, too dark, too skinny. It would be a lie if Phil said that he still isn't worried about leaving Dan alone and coming home to find him dead.
They don't hear anything else from Officer Ross or from the police. Maybe the private posting of the video was just to scare them. Maybe nothing else bad will happen. That is what Phil is desperately hoping. Maybe things will keep getting better.


Maybe this is finally over.

 

Chapter Text

Leah Ross takes a gulp of her coffee and flashes a thin smile at the man across from her, before setting the cup back onto the table she's sitting at. The coffee shop is moderately busy for a Saturday morning. People flow in and out, placing orders and some gathering at tables to work on laptops or have conversations, filling the cozy room with a light buzz of voices.

The shop is very familiar to Leah, it’s where she spent the first three years of her career grabbing coffee every morning after an all-night patrol.

It’s still her old partner’s favorite place to get caffeine. Mitch has changed over the years, added a few pounds, some facial hair, and a family life. His taste for shitty, cheap coffee however, has remained the same. As for Leah, she’s not sure if she’s as different now as Mitch is. She’s still working late nights and accumulating vacation time that she’ll never use.

And she’s still surviving on caffeine and determination alone.

But it’s good to catch up with old friends, and that’s why Ross is here.  So far, they’ve both dodged around anything important, and instead, discussed the weather. It’s hot for the time of the year, and in typical London style, everyone has been complaining about it. Leah and her old friend included.

Mitch smiles beneath his scruffy moustache, “So tell me,” he says, shifting the topic, “Any holiday plans at all?”

Because of the five times she’s postponed this coffee date, Mitch seems to be under the impression that Leah is working herself to death. Luckily, she actually does have some time off marked down to get away. So she won’t have to hear the lecture about working too hard. Not today at least.

Maybe Mitch will get the opportunity next time around.

She nods, “I'm going to see my sister next weekend.” Phone calls and texts aren’t quite enough, and it’s been entirely too long since Ross has seen her family. This little trip has been in Ross’s plans for months now, but not until the summer. A surprise event has pushed it forward to next week.

"Oh really,” Mitch says questioningly, “How is she?” The last time Leah mentioned her sister to Mitch, it probably wasn’t in the best of context. Leah isn’t one to discuss her personal life unless it’s obviously bothering her or effecting her work. This time, however, there’s better news.

"She's good,” Leah says, remembering her sister’s hysterically excited voice over the phone a few days ago, “Really good, actually. Just got engaged on Wednesday."

"Really,” Mitch sounds surprised, “That's great. Give her my congratulations."

"I definitely will."

"Is this a new man, or the same one she was with when you working the graveyard shift with me?"

"Same one. They've been together for,” Ross pauses to think back, “...six years now...they're so in love it’s nauseating.” Honestly, it gets a bit irritating sometimes, how grossly soppy they are. It wasn’t always like this. Leah can remember all of the times that her sister had called her, upset and wanting to end it. For the first three years or so it seemed that Leah’s sister was determined not to get to close to her now fiancée. She hadn’t trusted him yet, but not long after they became inseparable. After that, her sister finally started therapy; she became happy again, herself—but better—again.

So yes, they were annoying sometimes, but at least they’re happy.

"Good for her,” Mitch says, drawing Leah out of her reminiscence.

He barely misses a beat before asking, “And what about you?"

Leah blinks, pretending not to understand the question.

“Me?” she repeats.

"Yeah, Lee, when are you gonna settle down and start a family?”

The bluntness of the question takes Ross off guard. She hesitates. It’s not like no one ever criticizes Leah about her family life, she hears it from her mum every Christmas. And from her sister.

She refuses to hear it from Mitch of all people.

"You know that I'm not really the settling down type."

Leah’s not lonely. She doesn’t have time for a relationship. She doesn’t have the energy to invest into someone, because she needs to focus all of that energy on her work or she’ll burn out. And the last thing Ross wants to have a serious relationship that falls apart like she’s seen happen to so many people.

Her sister might be the exception, but Denali and Mitch and her parents certainly are not.

“Alright,” Mitch says, brushing off her excuse, “But anyone in your life then? Any recent dates?”

Leah shakes her head amusedly, “If I didn't know better, I'd say like you sound like you're worried about me.”

“Of course I'm not. I’m asking ‘cause I need to know if there's anyone I should run background checks on.”

"Oh shut up,” she teases, before adding on a more serious note, “And no, there's not, so you don't even have to worry about it.”

It’s time to get the conversation off of her love life.

“How are Linda and the kids?” Ross asks.

“They're good. Linda's still working for the Crown Prosecutor’s Office. The kids...are growing up way too fast. You should come visit sometime and see 'em, you wouldn't even recognize Zoë.”

“I might have to do that.” Ross says, even though she knows she never will. It’s nothing against Mitch or his family, but realistically she just knows. Plus, she’s not comfortable with Mitch’s new girlfriend, she had liked his ex, Carly, a lot better.

“Good, Linda would love to see you too.” Leah doubts that but she doesn’t argue.

“Ya know,” Mitch continues, “If you ever want to come join me in being a homicide detective...”

Ross doesn’t let him finish, “It's not really my thing, Mitch.”

“Yeah, but I could use less brainless twats in the department.”

Leah breathes a laugh and is about to respond when he interrupts.

“And we get some interesting ones. You might've seen it on the news, actually, the case I'm working right now. Body washed up out of the Thames, absolute mess of a corpse. Been in there for months. Some tourists found it. Nice way to say welcome to London. Anyways, it's a female 20 something, strangled to death. It was all over the headlines, high profile type thing ‘cause we don't know who she is yet. It's always exciting."

Ross frowns. She has heard about this case. “Sounds more upsetting than exciting to me.”

“I'm not going to convince you, am I?”

“No,” she says bluntly, “You won't.”       

-

Phil is sitting in his room sorting through a mass of emails when he hears it. The noise catches him off guard. He looks up from an email sent to him by a BBC Radio One producer; all thoughts of how to answer when they’ll resume hosting the Internet Takeover show fall to the back of Phil’s mind. He still doesn’t know what to say or how to explain, but that doesn’t matter anymore.

He doesn't believe it. He doesn’t believe his ears.

Drawn like a moth to a flame, Phil slides his Macbook off of his lap and stands up. He walks out of his room and down the hall towards the noise.

Dan is in the shower. Phil already knew that. He reaches the bathroom door and stops.

He listens.

Dan is singing.

The notes are slightly distorted by the door and falling water, but they’re still there.

Phil sags against the clouded glass door and slowly sinks to sit against it. He leans his head back against the smooth surface and absorbs the sound.

It's something that Phil hadn't even noticed he'd been missing until now. He’d noticed Dan not talking as much, but he’d overlooked the lack of singing. All at once Phil's eyes are watering, and he can't help but cry.

Dan is singing.

It's been so, so long since Phil’s heard that noise. And to think he used to jokingly complain about Dan's Celine Dion impressions in the shower. In reality, Dan's voice is gorgeous. Yes, he may not be the next X Factor, but he has a smooth Tenor voice and better range than what he'll admit to. Dan had really enjoyed all of the singing in their UK tour stage show as well.

When the water shuts off a few minutes later and Dan falls silent, Phil is disappointed. Something in his chest seems to ache.

It was such a normal thing for Dan to do. Nothing had been very normal as of late. He could listen to it for hours.

“Phil, are you alright?” Dan asks him a few minutes later when he walks out of the bathroom to find Phil standing statue-like in the hall.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Phil replies dazedly, and he turns and walks back into his room without another word.

Chapter Text

"I want to film something today."

The words take Phil completely by surprise. He looks up from stirring the clouds of creamer into his morning coffee to stare at Dan.

He’s barely through the doorway of the kitchen, with his eyes still bleary from sleep and a grimace of fortitude written across his face.

It takes a millisecond longer for Phil’s mouth to catch up with his mind.

“…okay,”he says slowly. Dozens of questions are racing through Phil’s head. Did he somehow pressure Dan into doing this? Are they ready for this? Does filming a video actually mean uploading it?

Rather than any of those questions, he asks,“For your channel or--?”

“No, a gaming video. Cause I don’t--,”Dan cuts himself off mid-sentence. Even so, Phil still understands what Dan was going to say.

He doesn’t want to film alone.

“—I was thinking we could play Undertale.”

Without even considering it, Phil agrees.

“Sounds good to me,”he says, turning back to his coffee, but now with swirling thoughts.

-

They take their time setting up the equipment. Dan messes around with the angle of the box lights for a good ten minutes longer than he needs to. And even though he knows that he’s being ridiculously picky about something that no one will even notice, Dan still can’t admit to himself that he’s procrastinating.

An odd tension is building in Dan’s chest. He wants to get this over with, but at the same time he doesn’t want to do it all.

At any second he expects Phil to offer him the opportunity to back out.

But he doesn’t.

Once again Dan second guesses if he’s doing this because he wants to or if he’s doing it to make Phil feel better.

Dan hasn’t been this nervous about filming since his very first video. Suddenly he’s questioning everything. Does the shirt he’s wearing make his weight loss apparent? Is it odd to wear a jumper in mid-June? Will people find that suspicious? He just doesn’t want anyone to glimpse the revolting ring of scars around his wrists. He wishes he had some makeup concealer to cover up the now seemingly permanent dark lines under his eyes.

And then there’s all the details about how they sit.

Instinctively, Dan wants to be close to Phil right now. He’s nervous and his new habit is to hide behind, or close to Phil whenever he feels this apprehensive.

Will the subscribers notice that? Or is it safer if Dan stays far away? But they might notice that as well.

He can’t remember what his normal demeanor is supposed to be.

Phil definitely isn’t oblivious to Dan’s panic.

“You look great,”he says when he notices Dan obsessively fixing his hair. Dan drops his hand like it’s been burned and starts twiddling with the hem of his jumper instead.

When everything is in place, Dan makes the mistake of glancing at the camera lens. He catches his own reflection in the glass and blanches.

His hands twist tightly around each other as he struggles to keep his breathing under control. This was such a stupid idea. What was he thinking, Dan can’t do this. He can’t film. He hates cameras, he hates all of the lights. He hates the idea of videos and of everyone looking at him.

All of those eyes. All of those people.

Dan squirms, feeling queasy.

He can’t do this. It’s too much, he can’t do it.

No, Dan forces himself to think through his growing hysteria. He grits his teeth. I have to do this.

If he makes himself remember that this is his dream job, his favorite thing to do, that this makes him happy, then maybe he can get through it.

After all, right here, next to Phil and surrounded by lights, in front of a mic and camera used to be where Dan was most comfortable. This used to be his platform, his place to let out his thoughts. To make fun of himself. Even to cheer himself up.

And their office, this for a while was the place that he felt safest.

They never touched this room. Nothing bad ever happened here. It’s trying to seep into this room, and Dan can’t let it. He can’t.

This is a choice that he gets to make.

“Dan,”Phil asks softly,”Are you sure you’re okay with this?”

Dan lets out a shaky breath. Anger is burning in his lungs. He’s furious because they’ve made him terrified of something that used to make him happy.

He wonders if they ever expected him to make it to this point, to actually sit down to film ever again. When he thinks about it like that, Dan knows he has to make this video.

It’s a way of fighting back.

“Yeah, I’m fine,”he says firmly, trying to convince himself more than trying to convince Phil.

At first, Dan can’t really think of what to say. He lets Phil do most of the talking while he plays the game.

Undertale actually is really cute and the music is calming. He rolls his eyes at the puns in Phil’s commentary and forces small smiles at the appropriate time.

When Phil suggests to the camera that it’s a good stopping point in the game, Dan is taken by surprise. It doesn’t seem like they’ve been filming for that long, but maybe they have.

The outro is mostly Phil again, but Dan does manage a smile when he waves goodbye to the camera.

And just like that—it’s over. The feeling is surreal, not happy necessarily, but strange.

He can’t really believe it.

Dan made a video again.

He’s proud and terrified all at the same time. Right as Dan is about to stand up to start putting away the equipment, Phil hugs him. It’s a soft sort of hug, with loose arms wrapped around Dan’s waist. Even though Phil doesn’t say a word Dan still gets the message.

Phil never thought that this would happen either.

-

Even the idea of having to watch the footage back makes Dan uncomfortable. It’s not nearly as bad of a feeling as the camera gave him, but he still can’t bring himself to do it. Dan doesn’t want to see how abnormal he is. He doesn’t want to hear his awkward statements, or count the amount of times that he doesn’t laugh when he would’ve in an earlier time.

He doesn’t want to watch their new video and then have it in his mind to compare to the old. It won’t be like the other videos on their gaming channel already, Dan knows that.

He leaves all of the editing to Phil.

-

The new Undertale video goes up on a Friday evening.

Dan and Phil spend the entire night pretending that nothing has changed. Phil turns off his phone, because he doesn’t want to hear from anyone, or see anything. Maybe it’s stupid, but he’s scared. Dan doesn’t even mention their new video, he argues with Phil over what they should eat for dinner and complains about the socks that Phil left on the coffee table.

 -

When the notification pops up on Louise’s phone, she cries. It takes her ten minutes to collect herself enough so that she can even watch the video. And less than a minute in, she’s already tearing up again. Louise doesn’t know if it’s a good idea or not to call Phil. She wants to. She wants to hug them both and congratulate them both and tell them how happy and proud she is.

But maybe it’s a better idea to not make a big deal out of this. Louise knows that all of their fans will. With trembling fingers, Louise reads through the comments section.

Most of the people are freaking out because of the unexpected update to the Let’s Play. A completely unannounced return to filming has jarred all of them, just as it did Louise. And there doesn’t seem to be much hate. But still, some of the comments make Louise uncomfortable.

“Why does Dan seem so sad in this?”

“Idk I’m happy to see a new vid but they both seem rlly weird tho and I hope Dan actually is doing better”

“I wonder what was wrong with them, ya know? Like why just disappear off of the face of the fucking earth and then come back randomly without explaining either”

“Does anyone else feel like Dan’s lost weight or is that just me”

Louise puts down her mobile with a sigh, she can’t stand to read anymore. The joy of earlier has been replaced with a looming sense of apprehension. And Louise isn’t even really sure why, but she’s scared for Dan and Phil all of the sudden.

Maybe it’s because she doesn’t know how to answer any of those questions either.

Instead of feeling relieved, Louise feels horribly left in the dark.

Chapter Text

Breath rattles in Henry’s chest. His head is pounding, a constant reminder of the half bottle of vodka he had drank last night. And to think he’d promised his mum that he wouldn’t turn into an alcoholic. He also promised her he’d stay safe. Right now, Henry sure doesn’t feel safe. The cramped bathroom of his flat is dark, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn on the light when his head is hurting this much.

Any minute now he knows that Ben will wake up and wonder where he is. Then how will he justify what he’s doing right now?

“Sorry Ben, I’m hiding from you.” Yeah, like that excuse would go over well.

Oh god, Henry regrets everything. He wants to forget everything.

Last night, especially. Alcohol is supposed to help with that, but apparently it didn’t. A whimsy thought hits him, he’d really like a drink right about now. Hangover be damned.

“Fuck,” Henry whispers, dragging his hands through his greasy hair and dropping his face into his palms. His hands are clammy and Henry can feel the liquid sloshing around in his stomach. It’s making him feel incredibly sick.

Why did he have to drink so much? Why is he still like this? Why is he turning into the average drunken first-year Uni student?

What—what even happened? Even as Henry asks himself that question, he already knows the answer. He can feel the answer in the ache in his limbs. His shoulders are overstretched. His thighs and arse throb. And Henry’s eyes are dry and puffy. Henry had cried all the way through his climax.

It was after that when he drank the vodka.

But the memory of crying sends his mind reeling, and Henry struggles to swallow back a gag.

This isn’t the first time he and Ben have fucked. The first time—Henry’s very first time ever—had been perfect. Ben had taken everything so slow, and been surprisingly gentle. It had all felt a bit unreal, like a fairytale. True love or some shit.

After that first time, they’d had quite a lot of sex. It was a good thing.

It’s a part of a healthy relationship, right? But Ben isn’t the soft lovemaking type. Maybe he didn’t think that Henry was being serious last night. That would make sense. That would justify everything.

Yes, Henry decides, it was only a tiny misunderstanding and he’s over-reacting. Last night he over-reacted too. He trusts Ben, doesn’t he? They love each other and so there has to be trust. He got a bit scared when he should’ve been unquestioning.

If that’s the case, then Henry can’t rationalize why he’s still so scared. And he can’t explain why there’s this gnawing feeling telling him that something is wrong. That he should be terrified. That he needs to get the hell out of here and never, ever come back. 

Henry doesn’t want to understand; he doesn’t want to think about it. It will ruin his fairytale.

He lifts his head from his chin with a new resolve. Henry will fix this. At this point, he is desperate to rewrite what happened, so that’s what he’ll do. Last night will become part of his romantic delusion if he makes it.

There are two better stories that he has written in his head. In one, Henry is in love. He’s so in love that nothing that happened matters, and everything was perfect. In this story, he doesn’t cry. He doesn’t protest. He loves it. Henry likes this story best. It’s the easiest to swallow.

This is the script that Henry chooses to follow.

He will let himself forget. He’ll compartmentalize and convince himself of a nonreality.

So Henry makes coffee to help his hangover. He takes a shower and puts on clean clothes. Later that day he strips the sheets off the bed and washes them with a quarter jug of bleach.

And when Henry kisses Ben good morning he tells him that he loves him.

But if he’s being honest with himself, there’s a second narrative. One where Henry is a better victim. He screams, he fights. He leaves Ben and never sees him again. He goes to the police.

This story is the real fable.

Because Henry makes coffee. And he tells Ben that he loves him.

He isn’t even late for his nine am accounting class.

-

Curiosity gets the best of Dan. He can’t help it. He has to know what’s going on. He has to know what people are saying, what they think about him.

It’s been so long since Dan’s logged into his Tumblr account that he hesitates before remembering the password. The first two times he types it in, Dan’s hands are so jittery that he gets it wrong.

This is a terrible idea.

He knows it is, but Phil is already asleep. It’s two in the morning and there is no one there to stop him. Dan ignores his notes and his dashboard and goes straight to his tag, typing danisnotonfire into the search bar. Earlier Phil had had told him that #WelcomeBackDanAndPhil was trending on Twitter, he wonders if Tumblr is as much of a shit storm.

With a nervous breath, Dan reluctantly hits enter.

It’s not as bad as he expects.

The first few things make him smile, there’s fanart welcoming them back to YouTube. And there’s a few happy waffling text-posts about their new video. And of course the screen-cap edits and gifs are everywhere.

It all looks so…normal. Dan is starting to think that there hasn’t been any drama until he scrolls far enough to reach the first post that makes his breathing stall.

Despite knowing that he doesn’t want to read this, Dan’s eyes are already skimming over the words.

It’s an argument. Discourse over what’s wrong with him. A popular blog is saying that it’s a matter of his privacy and they should all leave it alone. But other people are pointing out all of the changes.

Then there are pictures. Before and after. Showing his weight loss. Showing the difference in his smiles. Dan has laughed at people finding pictures of him and Phil where a bruise is showing and calling it a hickey. That was funny because it wasn’t true. That was from Phil elbowing me in the neck when I was trying to help him with dishes, Dan would think and he would laugh about it and move on.

This is…this is different.

This is people diagnosing him.

Apparently at one point during the video when Dan had leaned over to give Phil the keyboard for a fight they could see a scar on the base of Dan’s neck. Of course, only he has seen the whole thing, only he and Phil know that it runs all the down his back. Only they know how it got there. He can’t imagine what people would think if they ever saw his entire back, as revolting as it is. They have no clue, but still there is wild speculation.

Maybe he had spinal surgery, maybe he was in a traffic accident. Maybe he got mono or a staph infection.

Some people even think that he and Phil broke up. And that’s why he’s like this.

The more and more theories that he reads about himself, the more Dan stops feeling.

His fingers turn numb. His chest aches. The words blur as Dan tries to read them.

Suddenly, even the compliments seem malicious.

“Dan is so pretty I hate him”

“…pretty boy..”

 “Don’t you look pretty like this…”

Every insinuation about him and Phil, every vaguely sexual comment, every picture of him, it now all reminds him of them. Of their words. He links it all together in his mind.

A realization hits Dan; he’s doing this to himself. He shouldn’t have ever looked at his tag in the first place. Was he trying to trigger himself? Trying to make himself miserable? Dan slams the lid of his computer closed and breathes out a long breath.

Familiar dark thoughts are racing through Dan’s brain faster than he can control them. All of the sudden, he wants to die. He knows that he’s too exhausted to actually kill himself, but still that feeling is there. It weighs him down, heavy and constant.

Dan doesn’t know how to explain to Phil. To clarify that it’s always there. It pervades everything. How can he move on, or be happy again, or even live when he constantly feels heavy? He’s trapped. Taunted by memories, terrified of the future, and too exhausted to exist in the present. He shoves his laptop away from himself and shakes his head.

Posting a video was supposed to make Phil feel better, it was supposed to appease the fans, but Dan didn’t think about what it would do to him.

He didn’t ever imagine it would make him feel like this. Now he’s a liar. He’s lied to all of his subscribers and friends by pretending to be perfectly okay when he’s not. And they all know he’s lying. They don’t believe it for a second.

A wave of guilt washes over Dan. They all actually think that he had a genuine reason to stop filming. That he was having surgery or dying from cancer or some shit. But no—Dan is weak. He’s scared. That’s why he put off his career, his life. People are going to get tired of waiting for him to feel better.

Phil—Phil gets so happy whenever Dan does anything like he used to. Whether it's filming, or singing in the shower, or doing his own laundry. Dan’s seen Phil’s expression. He knows. Phil’s sick of waiting on him too. Not to mention their sponsors or their employers. There’s only so long that Dan can play the injury card or an even shorter amount of time that he can play the mental health card.

“Just fucking get over yourself,” he mumbles to no one. “You’re fine. Get over it.”

If thousands and thousands of people go through this and are fine, then why is Dan still like this? Why can’t he recover? If Dan had still been in Uni he would’ve had to go back to class as soon as he got out of the hospital. If he had a normal job, he would’ve had to go back after only a few weeks. Dan can’t even imagine what he would do if he had children. Other people do that. Other people compartmentalize and move on and are fine.

But not Dan, apparently.

He can’t even stand reading compliments about his appearance posted by teenagers on a blogging website.

No one else gets why he can’t simply recover.

Dan is isolated in his thoughts and by his experiences. He’s alone.

He is so incredibly alone.

 

Chapter Text

There’s only so long that Phil can spend ignoring his responsibilities. That amount of time ends up being about twenty-four hours.

It's the day after all of the responses to their video start pouring in, and unlike the night before, now Phil has to answer them.

He spends all morning on the phone with Martyn, then his mum, and finally Dan’s parents. Martyn wants to know if this means they can reschedule the America Tour, which of course Phil says no to. Travelling is the last thing that would be good for either of them right now. Not to mention being seen in public or having to interact with their subscribers would be very impossible.

Phil at one point, shoves his phone into Dan’s hands despite protests to make him say hi to his mother. She’s worried. Besides, Dan is going to have to talk to his parents sometime, even if it is just small talk about the weather and the family dog.

The Radio 1 producers call as well; BBC wants to do a special ‘welcome back Internet Takeover’ show with them soon. Phil doesn’t know how to respond. He glances at Dan, who is in the process of making Phil a cup of coffee (his third that morning), and tries to weigh his words. Phil doesn’t want to say no, because he wants to talk it over with Dan. But he also has a feeling that Dan won’t want to do it. For obvious reasons. So Phil tells them he’ll have to check his and Dan’s itinerary for the next few months and get back to them.

He gets texts from Louise, PJ, Hazel…pretty much every friend of Phil’s that happens to have his phone number. And dozens of YouTubers have tweeted him and Dan, congratulating them and welcoming them back.

All of the positivity is nice, but it makes Phil worry.

Everyone who is happy to see them posting videos again is also assuming that it’s permanent. Now that he and Dan have uploaded it’s expected that regular updates will ensue. People will expect them to go to VidCon and start doing the radio show again, even go on tour. Other YouTubers, Dan and Phil’s friends, are going to want to collaborate with them now, invite them to events, visit.

All of the opportunities and obligations that he and Dan used to juggle were taxing enough back then. Before everything seemed to go to shit. It always left the both of them exhausted after they travelled or took on a huge commitment, like the book.

The last few months despite doing nothing from a career standpoint, Phil has still been absolutely drained. Adding their old life into the mix seems like a recipe for disaster. If Dan couldn’t stand Louise hugging him a while back, how will he react to fans? And their friends--even the casual ones--will be curious, they’ll ask questions. Dan couldn’t even tell his family, how are they going to explain everything that’s happened?

Posting this one video has already hurt Dan. He says he’s fine when Phil asks but it is obviously a lie. Dan has a pasted on smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. And whenever he doesn’t think that Phil is looking, the sadness slips through. But Dan doesn’t acknowledge it, Phil decides it’s best not to point it out, though.

Dan tells Phil to agree to doing the radio show next month. Phil realizes that Dan is forcing himself to do things he can’t handle.

It doesn’t have to be like this, they could slow everything down and give Dan time to adjust. But this also seems like Dan’s new coping technique. Pretending that everything is fine when it’s not. And doing things to somehow prove that lets Dan get away with his own ruse.

Dan’s decided to throw some glitter on his issues and pretend that everything’s okay. And Phil lets him.

It’s all going too fast, but neither of them try to slow it down.

By noon Phil has a migraine. And that night for the first time in two weeks he wakes up to hear Dan screaming in his sleep.

-

“In top stories this evening, the House of Commons has…”

“So,” Dan starts, speaking over the 6 o’clock news that Phil is watching. He’s spent a lot of time the last three days digging through the files on his computer for video ideas. Most of his notes were a couple words typed out at three am that he can’t even remember the meaning behind anymore. A few on his list are well thought out, but none of them inspire Dan. So for DINOF, he has nothing. He doesn’t want to talk about his opinions or interests and give a waffle-y inspirational ending. None of those things seem to matter anymore. Not to mention, Dan still doesn’t like the idea of being in front of a camera alone. And he can’t have Phil watching him film his videos, because that’s always made him blush like an idiot.

A few times in the past, Dan had actually caught Phil sitting outside his door listening to him film. Maybe Phil will have something that he wants to do for his channel. Then Dan could help, like he always had, and that would keep him occupied as well.

He needs to keep making videos. He needs something to do, a distraction. Anything to keep him from panicking. Dan’s problem is that he has too much time to think, and not enough time to completely wear himself out. If he works himself to death, then he won’t have to think, right?

For probably the first time in his life the last thing that Dan wants to do is procrastinate.

He finally, after a long pause, continues his notion. “I was thinking that we could film some more Sims 4 next. Because I wasn’t sure which of the games we had talked about you wanted to start right now, and I thought it would be easy and--,” Dan is rambling and he knows it.

Luckily Phil cuts him off, “Okay,” he nods, not taking his eyes off of the scrolling news banner. It’s odd of Phil to only give one word answers, but since he’s in an agreeing mood instead of a skeptical one Dan keeps going.

“And after the radio show next month, we should probably start posting to our individual channels again.” Surely he’ll have thought of an idea by that time. Even if it is only a stupid challenge video or something.

“Yeah,” Phil mumbles. A one single word answer is wrong, but a second one makes the words that Dan was going to say stick in his throat. Something bad has happened, really bad. Either that or Dan’s managed to piss Phil off without realizing it.

“Phil,” Dan asks apprehensively, “What’s wrong?”

The answer isn’t what Dan expects.

“Headache,” Phil murmurs. He blinks slowly, shaking his head slightly before looking back at the television screen.

“Did you take something?”

“Yeah,” Phil says, “It’s fine, it’ll go away soon. It always does.”

It always does, the words make Dan’s skin turn to ice. Phil had never complained of headaches so frequently until after he hit his head on the rooftop. The realization is terrifying. Is Phil still suffering the side effects of a mild concussion now weeks later? Is that normal? Maybe he should insist that Phil go to a clinic and get checked out.

This is Dan’s fault.

He did this.

He studies Phil’s tensed expression and suddenly wants to hide. He feels like a criminal. Dan had thought that his time of hurting Phil was over. That now by moving forward and doing things with YouTube he would be helping Phil instead of hindering him again.

But it doesn’t matter. There are still consequences to all of the stupid shit that Dan’s done and in this case Phil is the one who has to suffer through them. It doesn’t matter how many things Dan does now that are ‘normal’, he can’t fix what he’s already ruined.

Dan falls silent, not able to think of any way to respond. Besides his voice is just one more noise to inflame Phil’s headache.

“The body that was found washed up along the Thames last Friday has been identified by police as twenty-three-year-old Tina Nordhoff,” the woman on the news is saying, but Dan isn’t paying much attention to her words.

What if Phil has chronic migraines now? What if they develop into something more serious?

“…coroners found evidence of foul play and the case has been ruled a homicide. While the investigation is still open, police say that they do have several suspects in questioning.”

They could be caused by more than the initial injury, Dan decides. All of the stress Phil’s been under lately…the stress of dealing with their finances, with their careers, and mostly with him…could definitely be a factor.

“…Ms. Nordhoff was a student at the University of Westminster and had recently become engaged. She was known by her friends and family to have a vibrant and beautiful personality…”

The droning words are white noise now, barely registering. Dan is replaying Phil’s recent behavior in his mind.

What else can cause headaches? Depression and lack of sleep. Both of which, if Phil is struggling with them, are Dan’s fault.

“…if you have any information regarding her death, her family asks that you contact Scotland Yard immediately…”

The sinking feeling in Dan’s gut tells him what he’s already realized. He watches Phil’s eyelashes rise and fall and suddenly wants to cry.

All of this is his fault.

-

Dan chews his bottom lip, he’s so intent on his phone screen that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing until Dan tastes blood. The familiar flavor spreads across his pallet, jolting Dan into making a decision.

He rings the number. The droning dial tone fills Dan with apprehension with every repetition. Already, he regrets his decision.

“Hello, this is L--.”

“Hey Louise,” he interrupts, before he loses the nerve and hangs up altogether, “It’s Dan.”

“Dan,” Louise repeats his name, her voice brightening, “Oh my god, how are you?”

“Good,” he replies stiffly, trying to make the words sound natural, “I’m good.” deep down Dan knows it doesn’t matter what he says, Louise knows he’s not good.

“Glad to hear that. Christ, it’s been a while since we’ve talked. Congratulations by the way.”

“Congratulations?” Dan questions, confused, “What for?”

“Your and Phil’s new video. It was very cute. I’m telling you, you two need to do more voice acting, you’re very good at being all the characters.”

Dan feels his face heat up; he had forgotten that people he actually knew might watch that video. He can’t imagine what they must think of it.

“Yeah,” Dan says noncommittally, his mind is still stuck on trying to work out what Louise thinks of him by the tone of her voice, “Maybe we will. How have you been, Lou?”

“Me? Oh well, you know, it’s the same old routine. Nothing new with me. Darcy’s doing well. We’re both busy, busy.”

“I’m sorry to bother you,” he says quickly.

“You’re never a bother, love. I’ve been wanting to talk to you anyways.”

“Good, cause umm…that’s actually why I called.”

“Oh?”

“I wondered if you’d want to meet Phil and me for dinner sometime.”

Evidently, Louise is surprised, because there’s a gaping silence. Dan rushes to fill it.

“We could do just do Zizzi’s, your favorite,” the words slur out of his mouth. He’s not sure why he’s trying to convince Louise, considering the last thing he wants is for her to actually agree.

In Dan’s mind, however, this is the next logical step in his ‘recovery’. This is what should be normal. He needs to reconnect with pushed aside friends, talk to people, socialize, seem normal. Not to mention, Phil needs to see other people as well.

He’s only grown more and more despondent and stressed and paranoid, and it’s getting to the point that Dan can’t bring himself to even look at Phil, because he knows that it’s his fault. He caused this. He’s made Phil be like this.

Yet, by avoiding his collateral damage he only hurts Phil more. He makes him worry more. This is about more than making himself normal again, this is about helping Phil.

“That’d be great,” Louise agrees.

She continues on to ask about dates and times. And once everything is arranged, Louise hangs up with an overly optimistic sounding, “See you soon!”

Dan drops his phone onto his bed and wrings his hands together, forcing himself to breathe a shuddering breath.

 

Chapter Text

At first, dinner with Louise is fine. Dan manages not to flinch away from her hug, Phil seems happy, and Louise fills up all of the lapses in conversation. They order drinks and Dan downs his almost immediately, probably too quickly if he’s being honest.

The realization hits Dan  that he hasn’t had alcohol since before it happened, and now he feels silly. Half way through his second beer his head is starting to feel a bit floaty. He should’ve upended a bottle of vodka a long time ago. Then he could be blissfully detached.

The rational side of Dan’s brain, as well as Phil’s occasional concerned and annoyingly parent-like frowns, reminds him of the truth. Dan hates being drunk. He hates hangovers. And the last thing he needs is an addictive habit on top of all of his other shit.

But for tonight—Dan can make a small exception. He won’t make himself black out drunk. (It’s not like Louise and Phil would let him anyways.) But he is going to nurse his paranoia with a few beers.

Everything goes alright until it doesn’t.

Dan’s reaching for his drink when he bumps Phil with his elbow and the long beige knit of his sleeve slips back.

No one else would notice, no one but Louise. Any time he does anything awkward she always notices. Dan looks at the ring of scars around his wrist. His head whirls. Is it apprehension or alcohol or both?

Dan’s heart thumps in his chest and his hand freezes in midair. All conversation and noise at the table ceases. Even their surroundings fall silent. So perhaps it’s all in Dan’s head. Maybe everything is just as loud as before, but in his mind everyone is looking at him. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows.

He watches Louise’s throat bob as she swallows thickly. Her eyes are still locked on his wrists and he can see her thinking. She’s trying to decide what to do, what to say.

He could tell her; he could explain right now.

 It’s Louise, he rationalizes, she wouldn’t care, she wouldn’t treat him any differently since she already knows that there’s something wrong. She already looks at him like Phil does, so knowing why wouldn’t hurt anything, would it? This would just be an explanation and he wouldn’t even have to go into detail.

And then, he could stop faking. He could nervously glance at all of the faces in the restaurant to make sure that they aren’t there to hurt him without seeming slightly insane. He could do it. He could tell her.

Dan’s throat seems like it’s swollen closed. He wants so badly to say it. To admit what happened and just get it out. But at the same time he can’t make himself speak. Does saying it aloud somehow make it more real? Is it somehow like admitting guilt?

“Louise, there’s something I need to tell you,” he rehearses in his mind.

No, no that’s too ominous.

“Louise, look, I should’ve told you earlier…”

He feels guilty even thinking that. He should’ve told her earlier. He still hasn’t told his family. He’s hiding from everybody because he’s a coward.

“The reason why we’ve been inactive from YouTube until now, the reason why I’m like this, why Phil’s like this--.” Fuck. And that makes it seem like he’s accusing Phil of something. But Phil is different. Phil’s hurt. Phil’s struggling because of him.

“-- the reason I have scars like this is…”

Even in his head Dan has a hard time coming up with the words.

“I was raped.”

He cringes. No, no…he can’t say that. Dan loathes that word. Mainly, because now that’s he’s looking for it, he sees it everywhere. It’s on the news, it’s in his favorite TV shows. It’s in song lyrics. It’s everywhere, but no one fucking talks about it. He doesn’t want to say that word, not because it isn’t the truth, but because it labels him as something to be ignored. Something that people avert their eyes from because they don’t want to see it. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He’s over thinking this.

What word is he supposed to use then? Sexually assaulted?  That’s not any better.

The crisis that is bombarding Dan reaches its pinnacle. Do it, do it, he says to himself.

I was raped.

I was raped.

I was raped.

The words never leave Dan’s lips. They stick to his tongue and tangle up in knots. There’s so much he wants to say. Instead he forces a smile and yanks his hand back to his chest, pulling his sleeves down over his wrists.

The world hits play again. Noise of the bustling restaurant flows into Dan’s ears and Phil says something to Louise that makes her giggle. Dan takes another bite of pasta that suddenly tastes like sand.

They all continue on as if nothing ever happened.

-

There isn’t even a greeting when he picks up the phone. Instead, he is met with screeching anger. It’s not like he should expect anything else.

“What the fuck were you thinking, you idiot?! You motherfucking twat!” Pete screams through the speakers, making him pull the phone away from his ear to avoid hearing damage. That stupid twat of a nerd is going to make him go deaf.

“What are you on about Petey?”he snarls. He doesn’t have time for this. This is his weekend off for fucks sake.

“What—what am I on about?!”Pete stutters, sounding exasperated “You’re a suspect in a murder. A shitting murder!”

He winces at the sudden increase in volume.

“Oh calm your tits,” he says in a casual drawl, “Everything is under control.”

“Under control? You sound like Brad, who for some reason just now told me that you’re under investigation for a homicide.”

He grits his teeth. Under investigation. The words send a flash of terror through him. No, he’s not scared. Of course he’s not fucking scared. There’s no way they’ll be able to take him to trial. There’s no way in hell that he’s going to go to jail. Everything’s fine. Pete’s just over reacting, cause he’s a sissy.

“You jus’ wait,” Pete grumbles, “When they start plastering your face all over the telly we’re all going to be implicated.”

He freezes, slightly in shock. And then what Pete just said washes over him and he’s almost tempted to laugh.

“Wait a minute, you’re worried about Howell?” He doesn’t need to hear an answer to know that he’s right. Oh the irony. “Aren’t you the one who was so fucking eager to put our voices all over the internet?”

“That’s different,” Pete snaps. And now he knows he’s hit a weak spot.

“Oh it’s different,” he repeats mockingly, “I’m so fucking sick of your shit, Pete. You and Brad and Ben, you all need to leave me the fuck alone before I--.”

“Before you what?” Pete interrupts, “Murder us?”

That’s actually not a bad idea. He’d love to just—make them shut the fuck up. Make them stop judging him. Make them all see him for what he really is. Strong. In control. Better than them. He doesn’t say anything because he can’t deny that’s he’s considered it.

“Did you really kill that girl?,” Pete asks, his voice is weirdly hollow. He’s scared.

The observation gives him a burst of satisfaction. Good, that wimp should be scared.

“It’s none of your business as long as I stay out of prison,” he says icily, and then adds, “And there’s no way in hell I’m going to prison.”

Pete’s voice is slow, filled with a sort of reverence, “You sick fuck.”

The insult digs at him. Sick. They always call him that. Insane, sick, fucked up. No, no, no. He isn’t sick, they’re all just ignorant pigs.

“So I’m the sick one now,” the menace seeps into his voice. The feeling that he gets when he hits someone, that he felt when he choked the life out of his ex-slut, it’s there now. He wants to hurt, but more than that he wants to regain control. He needs to have the upper hand again. “At least I have guts. I don’t hide behind a computer screen, lurking for years and years until someone with balls enough does shit for me. If I want something, I take it.”

“That’s because you’re a fuckin’ idiot,” Pete yells, “And now you’re stupidity is messing up my plan and my life.”

Pete’s let something slip in his anger. Bad mistake on his part. This is what he likes, when he can use someone else’s fears against them. 

“And it’s your plan now? You’ve been keeping Brad out of the loop haven’t you.”

“Brad’s jus’ as bad as you. He needs me,” Pete hisses, “I’m the brain of this whole operation. But you’re just a piece of meat, you’re disposable. So if you end up doing time, I won’t give a fuck. As long as you don’t drag the rest of us down with you.”

Pete’s deflecting now, not answering the question. That pisses him off.

“What’s your endgame?”

“I don’t have one.”

He doesn’t believe it for a second. “You’re lying.”

Pete doesn’t respond.

“Answer the question,” he jeers.

“And what was it you said earlier, about being a murderer? Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s none of your fuckin’ business!”

 

Chapter Text

Up next on BBC Radio One, they’re back, climbing out of the screen and into your ears. It’s the Internet Takeover show with Dan and Phil! But for now we’ve got Mariam here, ready to give you updates on traffic and weather. Mariam?”

The studio doesn’t look much different. It’s still the same room and the same people.

The art that they had posted behind them is still there. Of course the equipment and atmosphere haven’t changed. But something is decidedly not the same.

And since it’s not Nick Grimshaw, or the studio, or even the content of the show, Phil decides that it has to be them.

He and Dan are what have changed.

They are not the same people who walked out of these doors months ago. Last time Phil was in here, he was under the assumption that he’d be back the next month. He was still planning a tour in America.  And now, because of the changes in their lives the entire place seems off.

Phil, himself, can’t help but feel off.

Phil’s smile is glued on. He knows it’s important to Dan that they do more than make it through today’s show. This is supposed to be a display of normality. Proof that they can handle their old lives and personas.

Judging by the amount of time in the last week that Phil has heard Dan rehearsing his various segments and responses, Dan is beyond nervous.

He hasn’t spoken more than three words to Phil yet this morning. His fingers are dancing over the knobs of sound equipment that he’s already triple checked. The nervously tapped rhythm that Dan is providing keeps on distracting Phil from doing what he needs to.

If he ignores Dan’s ticks and giveaways, Phil can almost believe the façade. Dan does smile at all of the studio staff, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. He does shake hands with the producers and walk confidently down the hall, but both of those displays of self-assurance dissolve as soon as other people stop looking.

He’s faking his way through the day so far. Perhaps, that’s what Phil is supposed to do as well. 

“Ready to start sound checks?” A tech asks, startling Phil. Dan isn’t taken off guard, so perhaps Phil’s the one who’s truly anxious about today. Or he’s the only one who’s thinking too much.

“Yeah, yeah sure.” he agrees hurriedly, looking to Dan for confirmation. “That’d be great, we’re on in what--? Ten minutes?”

“Yeah, umm,” the tech glances down at his wrist watch, “Nine minutes and thirty-eight seconds actually.”

“Great.” Phil lies, “Let’s get a move on.”

They go through the typical procedures, testing out the music, the sound effects, and their personal microphones and headphones.

“Test, one, two,” Phil says carefully into the high-tech black mic in front of him, he can feel his palms starting to sweat. The time till they’re going to be listened to by thousands is ticking away. Why did Dan want to do this? Why on earth are they doing this?

“I can’t hear you,” Dan says. Phil forces down his anxiety with a thick swallow and tries speaking louder. But Dan just shakes his head.

“Still nothing.”

“What?” the tech asks, noticing that Dan’s looking frustrated.

“I can’t hear Phil. In my headset, I mean. I could hear myself and not Phil.”

The tech frowns “Here,” he says, stepping back behind the pane of glass, “Let me get a look at it.”

Dan moves back out of the way to let the man fuss around with various cords and buttons. A few seconds pass before the tech frowns and seems to give up on whatever cord he’s messing with.

“Try it now,” he says, straightening back up.

Phil speaks again, but nothing changes.

Dan frowns, “No,'still can’t hear it.”

The tech listens as well, the lines in his forehead deepening.

“I’ll get someone from tech support up here,” he says after a long moment.

Phil chews the inside of his lip. He should’ve taken something for his headache this morning, because it’s already getting worse. What are the odds that this show of all shows they would have equipment troubles? Why today? As if they needed anything else stressful added on top of it all.

He shifts nervously from foot to foot. There’s a heavy feeling growing in Phil’s gut. A feeling that today is already off to a bad start, and some part of him is whispering, or perhaps threatening, that it’s all just going to get worse.

-

Dan must be hallucinating.

That’s the only possible explanation because this cannot be real. It’s his imagination. Dan’s just seeing things. It’s all going to be okay because this is in his head. This is the result of too much stress, and not enough sleep, and nerves. Nothing more.

“Alright,” the apparition talks, and the voice pours ice cold over Dan’s skin. It freezes everything, his movements, his thoughts, his words. He knows that voice. He’d know it anywhere. No, no, it’s too perfect, too real.

“What seems to the issue?”

The figure is looking at him. And there’s nothing blurry about his face. It’s all in crystal sharp high definition. Every detail of the face is there. In fact, he’s even wearing different clothes. Dan’s head couldn’t make up a different outfit, could it?

“Well?” he repeats; his voice is starting to edge with impatience. Dan’s heard that tone. He knows what it means. Suddenly he wants to run, or at least to collapse and curl up into a ball to try to protect himself from what’s coming.

Annoyance means Dan’s done something wrong. That means it’s going to hurt. Everything will hurt.

“Dan?” Phil says his name with confusion.

Oh. Oh no. Phil doesn’t know. Phil doesn’t recognize the man, but the way he’s talking means it isn’t in Dan’s mind.

Phil can see him too. He’s actually there.

He’s actually here.

He’s always been here. Waiting. Watching.

Dan can’t breathe or move, much less speak.

But Phil speaks for him, “Umm, Dan can’t hear me in his headset.”

Phil. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Phil’s right here with him and that means that Phil is in danger too. And the more curious Phil gets, the more concerned he becomes, the more he’ll be putting himself in danger.

“Yeah,” the syllable forces its way out of Dan’s throat despite every fiber of him screaming to keep quiet, “It’s…it’s not c-coming through.”

“Oh, alright. Let’s take a lookie, shall we?” The grin that spreads across the man’s face is menacing. He’s way too happy. Dan takes a step back. The urge to run away is pulsing in his chest. This is his chance. He can leave under the pretense of getting out of the way.

But that will also mean leaving Phil…

Dan doesn’t get the opportunity to have to make that choice.

“No, wait,” the man cuts in, he cuts in and Dan freezes in his tracks. Why is he listening? He doesn’t have to, he can do whatever he wants, but yet he’s still taking orders like there’s a gun being held to his temple.

“Mr. Howell,” the man says, and the way that the name is uttered makes Dan feel nauseous. It’s a jab, an insult. A way of teasing him with the whimsical idea that he’s actually the one in control right now.  “You can stay right here; I’ll need ya’ to put these on for me.”

The man is holding the headset, but when Dan reaches out to take it and put it on, it’s not passed over. Instead, he reaches up and places the earphones gently over Dan’s ears. Familiar fingers brush the hair out of Dan’s eyes in a sickeningly sweet way.

It’s exactly like before, the man has done this same action at a different time and of course he’s doing it now to bring back the memory.

Those hands. Brushing across his forehead. Pretending to care.

“Look up at me, baby. I want to see your face when I’m fucking you.”

“There we go,” he says, stepping around to face Dan’s ear. He’s so close. So close that Dan can smell him. He can taste the aftershave that was branded onto his skin for days. He feels the body heat and the breath that smells like coffee and peppermint and all of it is suffocating him.

“Now let’s see,” the man says loud enough for Phil to still hear, but under his breath he whispers. He whispers something only for Dan to hear. 

“Hey, sweetheart.”

Dan wants to gag, but he can’t. He wants to cry, but he can’t. He wants to scream or run or flinch, but some part of Dan is switched off and he can’t react.

The man’s words slither into Dan’s ears. “I bet ya’ missed me loads, hmm?”

Dan knows he’s supposed to answer. He doesn’t. It’s not defiance, its inability.

“I certainly missed you.”

There’s a small click as the man adjusts something on Dan’s headset. “There,” he speaks loud enough for Phil to hear once more, “Easy fix. Try it now.”

Phil is talking, and yes…it works. Just because Dan can’t comprehend the noise that is flowing through doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

“Can you hear, sweet’eart?”

Sweetheart, sweetheart, sweetheart… The word sinks into Dan’s skin. He would rather be called anything else.

“I—Yes. It’s great.”

“What do you say now?” The man asks, and Phil must think that he’s being playful. That’s not the case. It’s a threat. It’s question that has been asked before.

What do you say now when someone gives you what you deserve? What do you say, Daniel? Be a good boy, now. Don’t make me have to hurt you.

“Th-thank you,” Dan stutters out the proper response.

The man smiles. “You’re welcome.”

“And thank you...,” Phil pauses waiting for a name. Phil looks relieved. He’s happy that the headset is fixed. He hasn’t realized yet.

“Pete,” the man fills in. And this time he doesn’t hesitate. He isn’t lying.

That’s his true name. Not Scott—Pete.

Does it make any difference, does his name change anything that he did?

Not in Dan’s mind. He can forget a name, but he can’t forget words or feelings.

“Thanks, Pete. You’re a life saver.”

The man—Pete—turns around, and gives one glance back at Dan. In a split second it’s over, and by the time Dan realizes what he just saw Pete’s already looking back the other way.

He winked.

He looked at Dan…and winked.

Dan can taste the stomach acid in the back of his throat. It means that he knows. Pete knows that he’s won. He knows that Dan is trapped like a butterfly held down with pins and that he’ll stay exactly where he is, in the situation he is in.

It’s more than a wink.

It’s Pete showing that he’s won. Because Dan didn’t say anything. And he still won’t. He let him walk away.

“Yeah, Pete,” the tech says, his voice already starting to fade from Dan’s ears, being replaced by white noise, “You’re a miracle worker, now are you two ready to…”

Dan doesn’t hear the rest of the sentence. He’s already walking away. Not meeting Phil’s eyes, not looking to see if Pete is following. Pushing through people whose faces blur. All of the walls and ceiling run together and create a dripping mess until Dan’s not sure where he’s at or if he’s even still conscious.

He’s breathing so hard, but his lungs won’t fill. And Dan’s going to pass out. He can feel it.

“Dan! Dan!” Phil is yelling. And a hand grips Dan’s shoulder and swings him around. Now he’s staring right into Phil’s disgusting blue eyes. Another wave of nausea collapses over him. Phil’s face is painted with confusion. His lips are moving but all Dan hears is buzzing. There are so many people. Talking to him. Walking by. Trying to reason with him.

Or maybe they all are accusing him, judging him. Some of the faces he recognizes, they are people he works with. And they all know and they all hate him.

He can’t fucking breathe.

“Move,” Phil says, and the word breaks through to Dan. He’s talking to everyone else. Hands are wrapping around Dan’s arms and they make his skin crawl.

But it’s Phil. It’s Phil pulling him through a doorway and into silence. Silence and concrete floors and closed in walls and a cheap industrial grade light.

A pile of mops crash to the ground as Dan clatters against the wall. He’s fingernails dig at the plaster in an attempt to hold himself up.

The sound of the handles hitting the floor is as loud as a gunshot in Dan’s ears. He cups his hands over the sides of his head, he doesn’t want to hear anything. He can still hear him talking. Can still feel his slimy voice on his skin.

It’s like those days are happening all over again.

-

Dan is rocking back and forth in frantic rhythm, his hands clamped over his ears. No matter what Phil says, Dan doesn’t seem to hear.

He’s lost. Stuck in his own nightmare world, and Phil can’t seem to push through. Panic is starting to take over, and Phil knows he needs to stay calm but he can’t.

Either Dan is having a breakdown from the stress, or something set him off. Both are equally likely, but he needs to know. He needs to know what’s wrong and if Dan’s going to be okay. Phil needs to know if they are still going to try to do this whole radio thing.

Someone bangs on the door to the small supply cabinet that they’re in. One of the technicians, or maybe the producer. Who knows. All that Phil knows is that right now he can’t deal with them too.

“Give us a minute.” he shouts at the door. And blessedly the knocking stops.

Okay, one problem down. Now back to Dan.

“Dan,” he repeats for the name for the umpteenth time, “What’s wrong, what’s going on?”

There’s no acknowledgment that Phil’s even spoken at all. Somehow Phil has to get Dan to see him. He places a palm on Dan’s arm and from the instant reaction he feels guilty for doing it.

But hey, at least now Dan is looking at him.

“Bear, talk to me.”

Dan’s entire body shudders, it’s as if he’s having a physical aversion to his own thoughts.

Come on Dan, just say something, Phil pleads internally. He’s very conscious of all of the people outside who are waiting on them. Of the tiny amount of time they have left before they’re supposed to be on air.

“It’s him,” Dan breathes, his voice is frail and terrified, “It’s him.”

The words mean nothing to Phil. He blinks blankly at Dan.

“Who? What’re you talking about?”

“Y-you’ve got to believe me.”

“I do,” Phil says, and he can’t help the exasperation that leaks into his voice. Why is Dan doing this now? Everything was going alright. Phil can’t handle this right now, he can’t. “I promise, just tell me what’s happening.”

“I’m not insane,” Dan pleads. To Phil that almost feels like an insult, because he’s sitting in front of Dan realizing with every passing second that Dan really isn’t sane.  “I promise I’m not going insane. He was there, it was him.”

All of Dan’s words slur together, and he’s still not making any sense. Wait? Is Phil actually believing that? Is he actually upset with Dan right now?

Even his own thoughts are a mess.

“Hey,” Phil says in as comforting of a tone as he can manage, “Hey, slow down. It’s okay, I know you’re perfectly sane. But who are you talking about?”

“Scott. The tech guy, they called him Pete. It was him. His voice. He w-winked. His face, his stupid f-fucking hands.”

The reality of what Dan is saying slams into Phil’s gut. The people outside the door, the radio show, it’s all obliterated from Phil’s mind. Suddenly the entirely world is reduced to this supply closet, and Dan, and the thing that is still somewhere outside that door.

Phil’s still in shock. “You think that—that the man who was just fixing—…is…is one of them?”

By the look on Dan’s face he already knows the answer. All of the air rushes out of Phil’s lungs, he feels like he’s been punched in the gut. He can’t consider it. He can’t believe that one of those monsters stood right next to Dan, spoke to him, touched him, all while Phil was right there. And he didn’t even notice, because he was too occupied with worrying about a fucking radio show.

God, he’s such an idiot. More significantly, this time his idiocy put Dan in danger.

“I don’t…think…I know. It’s him. I know, I’d know it anywhere. It’s him. That’s why he was familiar. That’s why--.” Dan’s gulping breaths between each word, his eyes are glassed over with panic. Phil’s snapped into survival mode. There’s a solution to all of this, he simply has to stay calm and think.

“Dan,” Phil says gently, and this time he doesn’t have to fake his compassion, “You need to breathe.”

“I c-can’t.” Dan stutters, his fingernails are scraping against the floor with such force that Phil’s worried he’s going to rip them off.

“Yes you can, you’re going to be okay. He can’t hurt you here. Not with all of us here, you’re safe. It’s alright, you’re safe.”

Not only are they safe in this room, but they’re also safe as long as they’re in public. Dan can’t be hurt as long as Phil and a dozen other people are around him, protecting him even if they don’t know it.

“No,” Dan says vehemently, shaking his head and starting to pendulum back and forth once more, “No, no, no, no…”

“I’m going to call the police now,” Phil says over Dan’s chanted words. He’s about to reach for the phone in his back pocket, but Phil never makes it that far.

“No!” Dan yells, true terror lighting up his features. The shout is so loud that it startles Phil, he stumbles backwards and narrowly avoids tripping over the handle of a fallen mop.

“Dan, what—”

“You can’t,” Dan interrupts, “No. You can’t.”

Phil doesn’t understand. This is their chance. They know one of the bastards’ names now. They know where he works. This is the chance that they have to catch him and possibly the others.

“Why not?”

“I won’t press charges,” Dan says, and there’s not even a waver in his voice. His words are concrete and they pound out of his mouth and land at Phil’s feet.

There’s so much fury coursing through Phil, not at Dan, but at Pete or Scott or whatever the hell his name is. At all of them. He can’t stand it; he can’t let them walk away without any consequences for hurting Dan.

Dan deserves justice and they deserve what’s coming to them.

“Bear…”

“Stop calling me that!” Dan snaps, his eyes flashing.

“We have to call the police, it’s the only option.”

“And it’s my choice!” Dan all but shouts, his fingers clenching into white-knuckled fists.  And then much softer Dan continues, “H-he winked. He winked at me, he knows I won’t do it.”

“Then prove him wrong,” Phil pleads.

“I can’t. Th-the video. And a trial. Think about it, think about what they’d do if…” Dan’s eyes seem to cloud over as he trails off into his own imagination.

He takes a ragged breath.

“I can’t,” Dan repeats, “I can’t.”

Phil’s at an impasse. He can’t force Dan to do anything. He can’t make Dan press charges or testify. He can’t even make Dan better. In fact, Phil’s not sure what would be best. Yes, he wants justice, or revenge, or retribution…something. But also will it really help Dan? Will it give Dan closure? Or is there such a thing? Phil feels lost.

“Then what are you going to do?” he asks.

“I-I don’t know. He’s probably already gone anyways.”

This is the one solution that Phil can’t accept. He refuses to walk away, to pretend like things are okay. Something has to change. Dan can’t spend his entire life living in fear.

“Please,” he starts, because at this point Phil practically is begging “Let me call Detective Ross, we don’t have to arrest anyone or press any charges or anything. All I want to do is talk about it and what’s going on, with her.” Phil feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. Damn. Now they’re calling him as well. Surely his screaming that they needed a moment should’ve been enough. He ignores it and continues. “You—you have options Dan. You can just file the forced entry charges, the…assault…doesn’t even have to go to court. You—you could just get a restraining order, th—.”

“Wh-what’s that noise?” Dan asks frantically, it’s like he’s not even listening anymore. What the hell is Dan on about?

“Phil,” he says again, his eyes widening hands starting to shake violently, “What’s that noise?!”

“It’s my phone buzzing, it--.”

“See who it is,” Dan orders.

“D--.”

“Pl-please,” tears are filling Dan’s eyes and that in and of itself is enough to convince Phil to do anything.

“Okay,” he agrees rather clumsily, “Umm.” Phil reaches into his pocket and digs out the ringing phone.  “It’s fine it’s just Louise.”

Just Louise, he says, but Dan seems to take those words as a death sentence.

“No, no, no, no, this can’t be happening…no.”

“What do you mean,” Phil can’t help to feel scared as well. There’s something that Dan knows that he doesn’t.

“It’s Louise,” he rationalizes, “She probably wants to wish us luck for the Radio Show.”

“Sh-she would call after. Unless--.” Dan cuts off, his face paling. If Phil had thought that Dan looked ill before, he was wrong. Now Dan looks emaciated.

“Unless what?” he probes, his stomach starting to churn uncomfortably.

“Dan?”

There’s no response.

“Dan!”

“An-answer it,” Dan says in monotone.

“I--.”

“Answer!”

The forcefulness of Dan’s voice convinces him; he accepts the call.

“H-hey Louise,” Phil desperately tries to sound normal, but he’s incredibly shaky. There’s only so much he can do to hide it. “What’s going on?”

“Are you two alright?” Louise blurts, her voice is thick with tears. The sinking feeling is only growing heavier, it’s like there’s a physical weight on Phil’s chest.

“Is Dan okay?”

“Yeah,” he says, with a look down at Dan’s shaking hands and ashen skin, “We’re…fine. What’s wrong?”

There’s a pause and for a moment Phil wonders if his connection is bad. That must be it. He is in closet after all.

“Hello? You still there?” Almost immediately, her voice comes through the line.

“Ph—phil. I--.” Louise breaks off, and it certainly has nothing to do with reception.

“Why—why didn’t you--?”

Why didn’t Phil what? Why can’t Louise just speak to him? The weight is suffocating now, pushing down so hard that Phil’s sternum and ribs ache.

“It’s everywhere,” she says, her voice filled with horror, “Oh dear god.”

Deep down, Phil knows.

He knows what she means, what she’s talking about.

But he can’t accept it. He refuses to.

“Are you two safe?” Louise asks, “Is Dan safe?”

Oh god, this is happening.

This is actually happening.

“I’m—yeah we—we are.”

“Okay,” Louise takes a deep breath, “Okay. Are you still at the studio?”

“Yes.”

“H-have you called the police?”

“No, they already know about…”

They’ve already seen it. Hell, Phil’s already seen it. That’s more people than should’ve ever been allowed to view that video.

And now…

Now…

“And D-Dan, he…” Didn’t want to, that’s supposed to be the rest of Phil’s sentence. But she doesn’t need to know that. None of the details are even important anymore.

He’s tired of talking. Dan and him have to figure out what they’re going to do.

“Louise, I need to go.”

“Tell me what to do, Phil,” Louise implores, “Tell me how I can help.”

“You can’t,” Phil says, so resolutely that it’s almost cruel. “I have to go.”

“Please stay safe, please.”

Phil’s barely even listening. “Yeah, ‘kay. Bye.”

He hangs up and drops the phone to the ground. It’s buzzing again. Notifications overloading it to point that Phil can’t even be bothered. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He doesn’t even want to talk to Dan.

The pain in his head spikes and Phil keels over. His heartbeat pounds in his ears, and the short rapid breaths that Phil’s struggling to take don’t seem to do anything. The heaviness that is pressing down on his chest is overwhelming. He can’t fight it to be able to draw air. His hands are numb weights that hang at his sides.

He feels like he’s dying.

Maybe he is dying.

-

The notification is totally unexpected. Dan and Phil have their radio show this evening, why would they be uploading? Dan didn’t mention having filmed a video for his channel last time they talked.

And…then there’s the title. Or lack thereof. X isn’t usually something that Dan would name his videos. But Louise doesn’t think about any of those things. She just hits play.

Immediately, Louise knows something is wrong. There’s no one in front of the camera. Is this…unedited? There’s no background music. And when someone finally speaks, it’s not Dan. In fact, this isn’t even in Dan’s room, that’s Phil’s bedspread that’s in focus.

What happens next makes Louise’s blood turn to ice. She only watches about a second more of with Dan being in the shot, before her eyes are filling with water.

What is this? What is even happening?

Wait a minute. The scars. On Dan’s wrists. Is this?

Louise’s brain can’t even seem to formulate complete thoughts. She’s still in a dazed shock, and for some reason—she’s still watching.

Why in God’s name, is she still watching this? There are four. Four. And Dan is—he’s so terrified. She wants to reach through the screen and help him but she can’t.

When they…Christ, Louise can’t even comprehend the word. When Dan starts screaming, she can’t take it anymore.

Shivering fingers cover her mouth and Louise has to force herself to dial the number. Luckily it’s on her recent calls list.

They’re at the studio right now. Do they know? Do they know that everyone will see this; that everyone already has?

Yes, yes, they do and there’s nothing that Louise can do to help. She can’t stop this from happening, she can’t change what’s already been done.  All she knows is that Phil sounded awful.

When Louise refreshes the page the video is gone, but it’s everywhere else already. There must be other places to find it because people are talking about it nonstop. Just a quick glance at her Twitter and Tumblr tell her that.

But whether or not the video is still up, or even what people are saying about it doesn’t matter to Louise. There are much more pressing things to worry about.

What if they aren’t safe? What if Dan’s not safe?

-

Dan had thought that it would be like hell. He had thought he would feel something. But instead all of it is blurry.

Phil’s curled on the ground with his head in his hands, hyperventilating. That seems like a more proper response. Yet Dan—he’s only numb.

The only other sound besides the people walking by outside and Phil’s labored breathing is the sound of Phil’s phone buzzing like wild.

So many people.

Who all know.

Who all have seen it, and Dan can’t bring himself to care. So what? So what? He can’t remember what he should be feeling. He can’t remember why he should care.

For some reason Dan feels oddly free. This the worst thing he could imagine happening, and now it’s happened and there’s nothing he can do to change it.

He powerless. But at the same time, so are they.

A chunk of fear is missing now. It’s replaced with the understanding that, well, it’s not like things can get any worse. There’s nothing more they can do to him now that they haven’t already done.

Dan laughs.

It’s a crazy, illogical, and frankly maniacal laugh considering the circumstances. But still, it’s hilarious.

It’s so fucking funny. Because it’s over. It’s over now. They can’t hurt him anymore. Yes, they can kill him, and Dan’s fairly okay with that idea.

They can rape him again, but it’s not like he hasn’t been through that before.

They can humiliate him in front of other people, and they’ve already done that to the largest degree.

So, it’s over now. There’s nothing more that they can do. In trying to hurt Dan, all they did was free him. Free him to do whatever the hell he wants.

Phil can’t see it that way, judging by his reaction. But Dan can. His life is fucking trash now anyways. And since his world and future is going down the drain, he might as well take a few more with him.

He staggers to his feet, trying to keep his shaky knees supporting him. He ends up clutching a shelf full of cleaning supplies with one hand to balance himself.

Dan literally has to step over Phil, but he makes it to the door. With quivering fingers, he turns the knob and pushes the door open.

A group of faces look up at him from their phones. They know. He sees all sorts of emotions. Pity. Fear. Sadness. Disgust. Second hand guilt. Awkwardness.

This is how everyone will see him now.

They look at him like he’s a ghost. It doesn’t matter though. It really doesn’t matter.

“Phil needs help,” he says simply, surprised at how hollow yet stable he sounds.

“And I—,” he gives a cursory glance back at Phil’s mobile, which is still lighting up wildly,”—need to borrow a phone.”

 

Chapter Text

Parker gets the call at 8:46pm. 

It’s going to be a messy one. Multiple gunshot wounds. An on-the-run and possibly still active shooter. 

There are blaring sirens and the streets of the city blur by. A rush of apprehension fills Parker’s gut. On this scene she doesn’t know what she will find. 

After what feels like an eternity later, they get there. 

It’s a hazy and graffiti-stained part of London. A dingy apartment building, with greyed windows and discarded beer bottles lining the alleyway. And it’s lit up like a Christmas tree. Red and blue lights glow on the aged plaster of the building. Police officers are swarming around the area like ants. 

Parker and two other paramedics are working this one. She catches the story in bits and pieces. A shouting detective, a gasped word of a patient. Two police officers were here to arrest a murder suspect on a warrant. He—the murder suspect—pulled out a gun. 

Long story short, now there’s a cop gasping for breath with a bullet lodged in his stomach. 

“M-mitch,” the man murmurs, he’s delirious at this point. “Where’s? Is he okay? Do you--?”

“Mitch is fine,” Parker lies. This man doesn’t need any more trauma, he’s already bleeding out. “I need you to hold still for me, okay?” 

She can’t help but glance at the blanket that is covering a shape on the pavement. Blood is seeping out from underneath it. 

-

She shouldn’t still be here. Leah should’ve taken Denali’s advice and just gone home.

“You can’t do anything here, Ross. Go home. Grieve. Get some sleep. This isn’t your case. And it’s not your job to—.”

She had snapped back at him with something terrible. Something Ross barely even remembers. Only bits and pieces of her reply come back to her.

“—he wasn’t only a partner—”

“—he was my friend—”

“—whenever you’re murdered in cold blood I’ll be sure to take the day off—”

Denali had simply sighed and left her be. Which is what he normally does. One of these days he’s going to get sick of her temper tantrums. He’s right of course. She can’t do anything. She should’ve gone home. 

Leah stares at the file in front of her until her eyes begin to blur. This information isn’t even supposed to be in her possession. She’d guilt-tripped Blair into looking it up for her. All in all, Blair’s a good kid. Stupid and easily manipulated, but still good.

The longer Leah looks at the face, the more it seems familiar. Vaguely, barely familiar. And that’s probably why she’s still here, still scrutinizing the face of the man who shot her friend. Either that or she’s desperate not to feel useless. And Ross doesn’t want to consider that option. 

It’s why he looks familiar that puzzles Leah. His face is forgettable enough. Dark eyes. Ragged military cut brown hair. His face is rounded slightly, he has some build to him, some fat. But there’s also muscle visible in his neck and the tops of his shoulders.

None of those things are what stand out to Leah. Yes, it’s only the picture from his driver’s license and Ross can’t see his full form, but there’s something about the way the man holds himself. It sets off uneasiness in her brain, because she knows this man. She does. 

Ross sighs, massaging her temples. Christ, she should’ve gone home. 

“Louis VanMeter,” she mumbles the name. It’s the umpteenth time that Leah’s rolled that name over her lips.

Something about it seems off, she would’ve expected a different name. Something simpler. 

But Ross can’t put her finger on it. It could all be in her head. A desperate way of coping with grief, that’s what Fazen would say anyway. 

The phone on her desk starts ringing and nearly scares Ross to death. Her startled movement knocks over a cup of pens and they scatter across her desk and roll onto the floor. She shakes her head to bring herself out of thoughts of disdain towards Fazen and picks up the receiver.

“Ross here,” she says gruffly. It’s not until this moment that Leah had realized how desperate she is to be left alone. 

“Hey Ross,” the voice of the evening receptionist responds, “We’ve got a man up here at the front desk, he says he wants to see you. Looks a bit…” the woman hesitates as she searches for the right word, “…odd. Says his name is Daniel Howell.”

“Oh,” Ross exhales. That’s not a name she expected to hear. Especially after… “Of course. Let him come back.”

“To your desk?”

“Yeah, sure.” Ross glances around at the rest of the room. Most of the other cubicles are abandoned anyway. Everyone is either at home, out on a patrol shift, or working a case. 

“Okay, will do.”

“Thanks.” She sets the phone receiver back in its place and leans over to start collecting pens off of the floor. 

She’s managed to get her desk back in order by the time Howell appears. And it’s almost as if he comes out of nowhere, because Ross doesn’t hear him coming. She only notices him by the time he’s there. 

And the receptionist was right. He does look…odd. Not in physical appearance, necessarily. Howell looks more like a picture with the color saturation reduced in that sense, his clothes hang off of him. His skin is weirdly grey. 

But none of those things are what scare Leah. What frightens her are his eyes. Howell’s pupils glint with something that is reminiscent of insanity. 

“Hi, M—” she’s going to say Mr. Howell, but at the last second remember and corrects herself, “Dan, how are you?”

He gives a half shrug as a response. 

“Have a seat.” she offers and Howell complies, pulling out a chair and sinking into it. He still hasn’t made eye contact with her.

“I need to talk to you,” he says to his lap.

“Okay? On the record or…?”

“Yes, on the record.” Dan looks up and gives her a forced and somewhat maniacal smile. 

That surprises Leah. “Okay,” she says slowly.

“I didn’t lie,” he starts, “I didn’t lie about anything that I told you before. I just—I couldn’t…not when…”

He trails off, twisting his hands together in his lap. 

“But,” Dan continues, “that doesn’t matter now, does it? I’m assuming you heard.”

Leah nods, “Yes.”

Regrettably, Fazen had told her.

“Not to say I told you so, but…” Fazen had said, looking disgustingly pleased with herself, “It didn’t do him any good to cover everything up.”

“He didn’t cover anything up,” she had replied with gritted teeth. 

“How do you know that? Hell, he could’ve posted the thing himself.”

Leah hadn’t believed what she was hearing, “What?”

“Well it was on his channel; he could’ve posted it to get more attention.”

“What the hell,” she had spat, “That’s not how it works, Fazen. When something like that happens, that’s not what’s running through your head.” Once again Leah’s temper had gotten ahead of her and she had said too much. 

“And how would you know?” Fazen snorted. And then she had realized. It took a long moment of silence before all of the self-righteousness had melted off of Fazen’s face. She had looked conflicted, as if trying to decide if she should apologize or not. “Oh, I—I didn’t know. I thought…”

Fazen thought a lot of things, and most of them were incorrect. 

“That’s an assumption you should never make.” 

After that, Leah had walked away. It was a conversation that she didn’t want to continue. 

“Yeah,” Dan says, drawing Ross back into the present, “So you heard and so did everyone else. But, umm…”

It takes a few breaths for Howell to gather the courage to say whatever it is that he wants to say. “I—I know one of their names now. I know his real name, and where he works.”

He hurries to add onto that fact before Ross can say anything, “And—no—I didn’t know before. I didn’t lie.”

“I know you didn’t,” Leah reassures him. 

“His—his name is Pete, he works in tech support at BBC Radio 1. He--” Whatever other detail Howell was going to add he decides not to. 

Ross thinks for a few seconds; she doesn’t want to make any assumptions regarding what Howell’s intentions are with telling her this. 

“What do you want me to do with that information?” she asks. 

Dan’s jaw tightens, “I want you to arrest him,” he says, “I want him to rot in jail. I don’t want to ever see him again. I want him to never be able to t-touch—” Howell breaks off, he squeezes his eyes closed as if in pain. 

“I want them all to rot in prison.” he repeats. 

“Okay,” Ross nods “And you’re sure, Dan?” She can’t bring herself to be optimistic today. She shouldn’t even be talking to him like this in the first place. But, to hell with it all, today is too terrible to worry about façades. 

“This—this won’t be easy,” she says. 

“I’ll have to find a prosecutor, won’t I?” Dan asks, but it’s more like he’s talking to himself than to Leah, “It’s funny. That’s what I studied in University…Law.” Leah nods.

“Are you alone?” Leah asks, “Did you come here alone?”

For a brief second the stiff, slightly crazy, way of speaking and behaving slips away. And what Ross sees isn’t pretty. For only a moment, Dan looks like he’s going to break. “Phil…didn’t want to come.”

“Do you need a ride back to your house?”

“No,” Dan says quickly, “No, I’m fine. Are you okay?” The question takes Ross off guard. Then again, she can’t exactly look great. She’s been crying almost nonstop for the past few hours. So surely, she must seem like a mess. 

She considers lying, but it doesn’t seem fair. 

“No, not really.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It has nothing to do with you, don’t worry about it.”

Ross immediately regrets being so severe. 

“Is there anything else you want to tell me?” she asks, trying to force Mitch out of her mind and think about Howell. The last thing she wants to do is break his trust now that she has it. 

“Anything you need to know I guess,” he shrugs, and then lets out a heartbreaking fragment of a laugh, “It’s not like I don’t remember it all.”

That comment makes something in Ross’s chest ache. Christ, this kid just needs a break. “I don’t need the details, Dan. What you told us is fine.”

He nods silently. Howell chews his bottom lip, conflicting emotions are playing across his face. 

“Does—” he starts, his voice sounds very tentative, “Does it still count if—I mean—if say I...my body…if it—does it still count as rape?”

Leah tastes bile in the back of her throat. She saw Dan afterwards, she saw the injuries and the crime scene itself. What in god’s name did they say and do to Howell to convince him that he actually wanted this? 

She quite honestly doesn’t want to consider that. 

“Did you want it to happen?”

“No.”

“Then it was rape.”

Dan doesn’t respond. 

“Is there anything else you need from me?”

“What’s wrong, with you I mean, you just seem…”

Leah stiffens. “A friend died today.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks,” she says, without really meaning it, “I’ll get over it.”

“No, no you won’t,” Dan says, sounding surprisingly firm, “People don’t get over things, it doesn’t happen like that.”

“I know.”

“What happened to your friend?”

“He was shot, by this man,” she moves her arms off where she’s been resting on top of the file and reveals the picture she’d been studying earlier. Leah probably should’ve put away the file before talking to Howell, but it’s not like he won’t hear about it. “I ‘spose you’ll see it on the news soon enough.”

Howell stares at the picture with wide eyes. Something is wrong. Finally, Dan opens his mouth. His cracked lips are quivering.

“That’s Sam.” he says softly. 

-

He takes a taxi home from work instead of the tube. Public transport makes Pete feel ill. All of those people, crammed into a single space, getting their disgusting selves all over the seats, the walls. Besides, today he deserves a cab. 

He deserves a few minutes alone to consider everything he’s done today and what it all means. 

Pete tells the cabbie his address and then settles back to consider. It’s rush hour, so the traffic is terrible and it gives him plenty of time to think.

Perhaps he should be worried or even vaguely concerned about the consequences of his actions today. But Pete isn’t, not at all. He knows Daniel. In fact, Pete knows him better than anyone else. He’s studied him, he’s touched him, he’s watched him. 

Pete’s been obsessed for a very long time. He’s seen Dan in all sorts of habitats. Whether Dan knew he was there or not. So, he knows that even if Dan is brave now, it won’t go anywhere. 

The second he walks into a courtroom and sees them he’ll do the exact same thing he did today. He’ll fall mute, he’ll stop moving, and then—he’ll comply. 

He has nothing to worry about. By the time the cab stops in front of his complex in Kensington and Pete has paid him the fare plus a tip, he’s feeling extremely smug with himself. 

The feeling doesn’t last long. He finds his door unlocked, which only can mean one thing. 

The figure is waiting for him just inside the door. 

 “Rudy, what in God’s bloody name are you—?” Pete doesn’t get to finish his sentence because a fist slams into his jaw and suddenly he’s clutching at his face as the pain resonates through his skull. 

“Are you fuckin’ stupid?!” Rudy shouts. Another blow hits Pete in the stomach and he keels over, gasping for breath. 

“This was not that plan,” Rudy growls, “This was not what was supposed to happen. You stupid, stupid fucking bastard.”

“Jesus—,” he says, speaking through the blood that has filled his mouth, “Rudy--.”

“You idiot. You fucking prick!”

“I’m the prick?” Pete’s words slur together slightly, but he doesn’t care. He can’t believe this. This is ridiculous, not to mention infuriating. 

“Shut your mouth.” Rudy snaps, his brown curls are falling in front of anger-filled eyes, “I don’t want to hear it from you, sweetheart.

That’s a line that Rudy is not allowed to cross. There’s no fucking way that Pete is going to let this son of a bitch treat him like he’s a fucking slut. 

“No,” he says through a clenched jaw, “No, don’t you even dare. I don’t care if you don’t want to listen. I don’t care if you bash my fuckin’ face in but you’re going to listen.”

Pete straightens up, forcing himself not to groan. He wipes his bloody hand on his slacks. 

“I did the right thing,” Pete continues, “And by right, I mean I did what I wanted to do. You may be the leader in Howell’s eyes, but I’m not one of your toys. I found you. I found you Dan. I showed him to you. I found you two other sick bastards who wanted in.” 

Doesn’t Rudy realize that he did this? Pete did all of this. He’s the mastermind, the organizer, he’s the one who makes the ultimate decisions. This isn’t about who’s holding the gun anymore. This is about who’s smarter. 

“And when I told you not to trust Louis,” the second that Pete says the name Rudy looks ready to strike again, “What did ya’ do? You gave him a fucking gun. Like some sort of ‘welcome to the psycho club’ gift. Now look at him, he’s a pain in the fucking arse. He murdered somebody. You’re lucky he didn’t use that gun and tie it back to you.”

Pete finishes his rant and looks meets Rudy’s gaze. 

 “I am the one in charge here, Rudy.”

“That wasn’t what agreed on.”

“This—” he motions at the blood that is dripping down his lip, “—wasn’t what we agreed on. Besides, what fucking plan?! You don’t have one. I do.”

“Helluva plan,” Rudy says, “Don’t you see, we were supposed to use this. This was our leverage. Do you know how many good fucks we could’ve gotten out of the kid and his little fag friend with that video to hold over their heads? Do you--?”

Pete cuts him off, “Is that all this is about to you? The sex. Hire a fucking hooker. Save yourself the goddamn trouble. Besides, I don’t think you’d get all that many more orgy sessions if you let your little dog near him again.”

“Louis isn’t a dog.” Rudy’s voice is dangerously firm. 

“He’s a homicidal maniac,” Pete says, feeling exasperated, “I never wanted to talk to him again, as you’ll remember. But, no…now he’s your wayward pet. And I’d be careful, Rudy, your mutt bloody bites.”

Pete knows he’s won because Rudy changes the subject. 

“You’d better hope that your plan doesn’t fuck everything up, coz I don’t think you’d last very long in prison, Pete.”

The threat doesn’t even bother him. It’s laughable even. 

“It won’t. I have my ways.”

“That laptop of yours isn’t magic.”

Pete fills like grinning, despite it all. They have no clue, do they? “No, I didn’t mean that.”

“What did you mean?”

He shrugs nonchalantly. “Leverage.”

“Ha! You’ve got another video or some shit, I don’t think that’ll matter very much now that the first one’s out. It’d just be a sequel.”

Pete almost rolls his eyes, “I’m not that basic.”

“Then what--?”

“Why don’t you leave now, sweetheart?” he interrupts, and the pure power of getting to humiliate Rudy the way he is courses through Pete’s veins. 

“Why don’t you remember who’s bleeding right now?”

“Oooo,” Pete coos mockingly, “Violence. So scary. I’m fuckin’ shaking in my trainers. Let’s remember who can leave untraceable anonymous tips, alright.”

Fear flashes across Rudy’s features. 

“You wouldn’t fucking dare,” he hisses, “I’d tell them your name too.”

Pete simply smiles. 

“My baby already knows my name, my face, my employer. I don’t give a rat’s ass. It won’t go anywhere. For me at least. But, then again, I’m not wanted for grand larceny and domestic violence in the United States, am I?”

In a battle of wits, Rudy is clearly unarmed. Pete, he can do whatever he wants, and no one—not even Rudy—can get in his way now. 

“Fuck you.”

“And likewise,” he says with a smile, “Now, get out.”

 

Chapter Text

Dan doesn’t sleep that entire night. He can’t. But he doesn’t think or feel either. Instead, Dan sits there. Perched on the edge of his mattress with his legs folded underneath him. He watches the wall. 

The shadows play across the painted surface. All they do is remind Dan that he’s alone. 

It’s silent. Though Dan purposefully leaves his door open, Phil doesn’t come in. Phil hasn’t even talked to him since he got back from the police station. Which is abnormal to say the least, but everything about Phil’s behavior today has been off. 

Part of Dan knows he should be worried, the other half of him knows he should be upset that Phil is avoiding him. But neither of those emotions really register.

Dan’s alone. 

And it doesn’t matter.

Sometime around five in the morning, he finally drifts off. It’s more like slipping into a trance. Dan doesn’t have any nightmares, but when he wakes up a few hours later he somehow feels even more exhausted. 

It’s probably around noon, yet to him it still feels like the middle of the night. 

God, Dan is so drained. At the same time, however, he really doesn’t want to sleep anymore. He stumbles off of his bed and towards the door, managing to catch of glimpse of himself in the mirror.

His eyes are bloodshot and droopy. Red indentations mark one side of his face from where it pressed into his arm. Dan never did bother to change into sleep clothes last night. 

Crossing the hall in a few quick steps, he knocks on Phil’s door. 

“Come in.” is the muffled response. 

The first thing Dan notices is Phil. He’s stood beside his dresser, a frown carved into his face. The second thing Dan notices is the luggage case that’s half filled on the floor. 

“What—what’s going on?”

Phil glances down at the suitcase and then back up to Dan. 

“Look,” he starts, “It’s not a huge deal. I’m—I won’t be gone for very long.”

“Gone,” Dan repeats the word and he still doesn’t understand it. 

He and Phil haven’t even had a chance to talk yet. Dan still hasn’t told Phil about the conversation he had with Detective Ross. 

Phil can’t be—gone. 

 “I can’t—” Phil says brokenly, “—I can’t do this anymore. I’m so sorry. I—I have to…”

I can’t do this anymore…

That’s not what Phil is trying to really say. 

I can’t deal with you anymore…

“I called Martyn.” Phil looks down at his feet, his whole mannerism screams that he’s guilty. 

“I’m going to go stay with him for a week.”

Dan understands, he gets it. But for some reason the only thing that comes out of his mouth is shock. “You…you—what?”

He’s leaving you, some part of Dan’s brain whispers. 

“I have to get out of this flat. It’s driving me insane…you—you saw. I had a panic attack, Dan. A panic attack. I haven’t had one since—since. Martyn thinks it’s for the best.”

“I—”

“We both need time to cope,” Phil’s words are logical, but he acts like he’s pleading. With Dan or with himself? Who knows. “To—to let this all pass over.”

Finally, Dan finds his voice. 

“Pass over?” he asks incredulously, “Ph-phil this isn’t a prank gone wrong, this is…”

“I know.” There is so much hurt condensed into those two little words. “That’s why I think you should call your mum. And go stay with your family for a while.”

He can’t even imagine what his family would say, how they would treat him. Dan knows he’ll have to talk to his mother soon, but the conversation he has planned out is a nonchalant one. 

“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry. It’s not a big deal. It happens all the time, mum.”

Dan won’t be able to keep up that charade in person. 

“N-no. I…”

“Look, Dan,” Phil says with a sigh, “You can’t hide forever. In fact, there’s nothing to hide anymore. I’m not going to leave you here alone. You either stay with your family or stay with Louise.”

Phil sounds like he’s talking to a petulant child. Which Dan certainly isn’t a child, and he doesn’t need coddling. 

“I don’t need a nanny.” he says stiffly. 

“How would I know that? You—you sure don’t seem very mentally stable to me.”

Is Dan mentally stable? No, he’s not. He isn’t stupid, he can tell. Nevertheless, Dan is not going to admit it. 

“I’m fine, Phil.”

Surprisingly enough, Phil doesn’t argue. Instead he asks flatly, “Do you really want to stay here alone?”

Dan’s train of thought freezes. 

Phil’s going away for a few days. To see his family. Dan will have the flat all to himself. 

The situation is all too familiar. 

On one hand, Dan isn’t sure if he cares about anything bad happening to him. But on the other, he’s still terrified. In the end, fear wins. 

“I’ll call Louise,” he concedes. 

“Thank you.”

This feels like the only chance Dan has to say something. To talk about what comes next. 

“They—” he starts, trying to decide if he wants to tell Phil everything, about Sam. Or Louis, technically. About how his rapist is still out there, hiding from the police somewhere in London. He’s killed two people now. And he’s dangerous. Does Phil need to know that? Does Phil need to worry? Or what about Pete, Dan is almost certain that they won’t find him easily either. He’s smart, he’s thought of every outcome most likely. And the other two…who’s names Dan doesn’t know. Where are they?

“—once the police…there will be a trial and everything.” His sentence somehow manages to lack everything that Dan wants to say. All he knows is that he can’t stand to be alone. He can’t stand to have to face them alone. Even with people backing him, Dan’s honestly not sure that he can do it. 

“I’m not going to leave you alone for that,” Phil says, and Dan isn’t sure he believes him “I promise. I—I need some time away.”

“Away from me,” he corrects. 

“Yes.”

In that case, there’s nothing else to say. Phil’s tired of him. He’s dragged Phil down and now Phil wants out. Dan knew this would happen. 

He knew it would happen so it shouldn’t hurt, right? 

“I understand.” He says those words and they mean nothing, and Dan feels nothing. 

“I’m not myself anymore. I’m a mess. I have to—”

Dan interrupts, “You’re fine, you don’t have to explain yourself. You can just go.”

“O-okay.”

-

Phil looks like he wants to hug Dan before he leaves, but he doesn’t. Phil tightens his grip on the handle of his luggage and gives Dan a long look. 

“I’ll text you when I get there,” he says finally. 

Dan nods and then Phil leaves.

The door clicks closed behind him and all at once the silence seems loud. Dan stares at the door handle for a moment longer, before turning and trudging back up the stairs. 

Now Dan notices. He sees it. All of the things that he never saw before because he was so focused on himself, he notices now. The pieces of Phil that are missing, the things that made Phil so vibrant that now have faded. 

He wanders through every room of the empty house and takes it all in. He takes in how broken Phil is as well. 

The stickers are peeling off of the back of Phil’s laptop, and he never bothered to fix them or replace them. 

Fall is approaching and normally Phil would give day by day countdowns to Halloween, but he hasn’t. 

All of the houseplants are dead. Even the cacti are a sad shade of brown. 

Dan stands in the hallway and touches the dead leaves of one of the plants that Phil had once treasured. And he finally feels something again. It’s sharp, it pierces through the numbness that is coating his mind. It hurts so bad that Dan feels crushed under the weight of it.

Finally, the truth is sinking in. 

Phil’s gone too. 

Dan gathers all of the pots and lines them up on the kitchen counter. They all have names, but Dan can’t remember which is which. 

He knows that they’re dead and that it won’t do anything, but he waters them anyways. He can’t help but stare at them desperately once he’s done it. It’s as if Dan expects something magical to happen. But he knows it won’t.

 

Chapter Text

-

All is red. 

-

“Hey Dan,” Martyn asks, his voice through the phone sounds casual, “Have you heard from Phil?”

At first he doesn’t process the question because he’s listening to the tone. Dan had thought that Martyn would treat him differently. That he would seem nervous, or try to say something comforting, or at the very least—be awkward.  His mother had been near hysterical. Dan had spent almost an hour talking her out of coming up to London to see him. 

“I’m fine, mum. It’s not that big of a deal, it happens all the time.” 

And those words had made him feel empty. Is it that big of a deal? Is this really only a casual crisis? He probably shouldn’t have lied but the last thing Dan wants is his family showing up on his doorstep. 

But Martyn isn’t like that. He doesn’t seem awkward or overly-careful or emotional. And he should be. Unless…unless he already knew. Betrayal pangs in Dan’s chest, Phil must’ve told him. 

“No,” Dan says, “He told me he would text me when he got there.” But he could just be avoiding talking to me, Dan thinks, but he decides not to say it aloud. 

“Oh, okay. Maybe his bus got delayed.” 

“And he probably forgot to charge his phone,” Dan offers, “He does that a lot.” And Phil had been in a hurry to get out the door, to get away from him. 

Dan scolds himself internally for being so melodramatic. He’s not mad at Phil, not really. He understands now more than ever. Phil isn’t a knight in shining armor, he isn’t a superhero. He’s human and he breaks. For a while Dan had forgotten that, but now he gets it. He gets that Phil had to leave, and he’ll understand if he never comes back. 

“You’re right. Well, hopefully I’ll hear from him soon. I’ll say hello for you.”

“Okay.” He can’t help but sound stiff.

“Have a good afternoon, Dan.”

“Yeah,” he mumbles, “You too.”

“Bye.”

-

It’s on the floor in large smears. It’s sprayed across the walls. 

A grotesque painting. 

-

Dan stares at his phone. There are a dozen questions that part of his mind is asking. Queries about how and who and what. They’re all drowned out by an overwhelming fear. It’s not the panic that Dan’s experienced before. It’s the not the frozen terror. 

It’s deeper. Rooting in Dan’s chest and twisting around his gut. Tightening, tightening. 

He doesn’t feel denial or shock necessarily—just fear. 

Dan’s eyes fix on the screen; the image is burning into his mind. 

It’s a picture. Phil. 

And an address. 

-

Then there’s the sources of the crimson stains. Their eyes remind Dan of fish, dead and unblinking. 

He feels the air gushing down his throat and being gasped back out again. Why is everything so quiet? 

-

His heart freezes in his chest, but Dan already knows what he’s going to do. It’s an unconscious decision, one he doesn’t have to deliberate on. 

For a split second though, Dan does pause. His fingers hovering over the phone screen. This is what he has to think about. 

What to do, what to do? He’s deciding what happens to Phil and him and he knows it. 

Get them killed or get them raped, get them killed or get them raped. 

Come on Dan, choose, choose, choose, choose. Do you want to die or not? Choose. 

With shivering fingers Dan does it. He forwards the text, only waiting long enough for the message to show up as delivered before throwing his phone on the counter and running towards the door. 

He hears the phone bleep right before he leaves the flat. For an instant, Dan’s guilty. Potentially, he’s just scared Louise to death. 

-

The world is hushed, or maybe it’s the ringing in Dan’s ears. 

-

This is the most intense headache Phil’s ever had. His brain seems to be throbbing, pounding over and over and over into his skull. Bruising itself. His head is on self destruct and it hurts so terribly that he wants to scream. 

But the thought of noise. 

Of making noise. 

Only increases the pounding behind his eyes. 

Phil has no conscious thoughts, he has no feeling or memory or sight. His hands are cradled around his skull, fingernails digging into his hair. If only he could bury them in farther, all the way to his brain and rip it out. 

Why does it hurt so bad? What did he do?

He feels like he should remember but Phil doesn't want to. 

There’s noise. He can feel the noise. Yelling. Arguing. Words following the rhythm of his anguish. 

The voices aren’t familiar really, they’re inconsequential. The words are just noise and noise hurts. 

-

Fish eyes, fish eyes. So many fish eyes. Oh god. 

And Dan can feel it. 

He feels the blood on his face. And it’s still warm. 

-

It’s not that far away. 

But it still seems like eternity. 

The cabbie knows he’s on edge, Dan can feel the man look at him every few seconds, curiosity in his eyes. 

It’s not all that far. 

But every second is a year.

-

There’s a loud thunking noise as the pistol drops from Dan’s hands. It lands beside his feet and scatters a few inches across the blood-wet tile. 

-

The yelling stops. 

It halters without a finish, hanging precariously on the edge. Phil can feel now. He can feel that he’s on the ground. He can feel that he’s not safe. And most importantly, he can feel that he’s awake, alive, maybe even aware.

“Told you. I fucking told you,” one voice says, and it sounds like a declaration of victory. 

“This still wasn’t a good idea,” another replies, grumbling, “You idiot, you idiot!”

“I still don’t see you leaving though, do I?”

And then the voices fade slightly, echoing as they walk away from Phil. It’s too much effort to try to listen to what’s happening. 

More talking. 

Jeering. 

And then, a voice that rings through the haze of Phil’s mind like a gunshot. 

“Where’s Phil?”

A laugh. Harsh and cruel. 

“Where is he?!”

-

Where he touched the gun seems burned into his palms. He can still feel the impression of the  skin warmed metal. 

-

“I see someone grew out of their training real fast.”

Dan can’t care. 

He can’t feel. 

There’s only that deeper, stronger fear and it pours over any panic of what he’s seeing right now. Of what he’s experiencing.

Fifteen minutes. That’s about the average isn’t it? 

Fifteen minutes and he’ll be dead anyways. And maybe Phil will be too. But he’s saving him. He’s saving Phil from a worse fate. 

He only has to wait 900 more seconds. 

-

Still warm, still warm. 

But not for much longer. 

He—he can’t believe…he can’t believe it. 

Dan’s never watched someone die before. 

-

“Oh god,” Dan’s voice hums next to him, quiet. Not shaking, but still scared. 

“Oh god,” he says again. And even though Dan’s softer than the arguing Phil still hears him louder. 

Cold fingers press against his face. 

Phil blinks, realizing that he needs to say something. At the very least, he needs to sit up. 

“I’m fine,” he says, but the words slur together. 

-

He’s never killed someone before

-

Phil is in pain and Dan can tell. The back of his hair is slick with blood. Dan’s not even sure that Phil knows where he’s at. 

They’re yelling. 

All four of them, arguing and spitting insults at each other. But the details get lost in the chaos. 

Three of them aren’t supposed to be here. Three got called in just like him. 

“Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil,” he repeats the name because it’s the only word that Dan can get to roll off of his tongue. 

There are other things he wants to say. 

“Phil, they’re going to hurt me.”

“Phil, I can’t go through this again.”

“Phil, I know I should be scared but all I feel is anger.”

“Phil, we’re going to die.”

“Phil, I’m going to get you killed.”

“Is that—?” Phil asks, his pupils expanding across the blue of his eyes. 

“Is—?”

Dan can’t respond, but his lack of words is enough. Phil jolts up, clambering back to sit up and swaying at the jarring motion. 

“No,” Phil murmurs. 

-

He pulled the trigger. Without even making the conscious decision to, he pulled the trigger. 

Without ever having held a gun in his life, he pulled the trigger. 

-

Just a few steps away are the men that Phil wants to destroy. He wants to shatter the bones in their slimy hands, he wants to them to disintegrate into ash and dust before his eyes. 

Just a few steps away. 

And Dan isn’t silent and frozen, he isn’t trembling and crying. He isn’t anything. 

Dan’s movements are ones of finality. His brown eyes are cool with resolve. 

He seems calculated, programmed. 

“How did you…end up here?” he asks. 

“They told me.”

“Why?” Phil asks and the word feels like a sob, “Why would you come? You shouldn’t have. Why, Dan, why, why, why.”

“I didn’t have a choice.”

“Yes,” Phil hisses, “Yes, you did. You shouldn’t be here, they can’t hurt you again, they can’t.”

“They won’t.” Dan replies, his gaze is hard. 

-

He hears Phil talking behind him. 

A mumbled curse word and that’s it. 

Does Phil realize what’s happened?

-

“What if he called the police?!,”one of them screams, Dan thinks that it’s Pete,”What are you going to do then?!”

“He didn’t.”

“You don’t know that,” comes the frustrated reply, “I don’t want any part of this, I’m done. I’m done.”

Pete throws up his hands, starting to turn away. 

“No,” Sam—wait it’s actually Louis—says firmly, but he isn’t listened to. Anger flashes across his face and in one swift motion the whole dynamic changes. 

“No, you’re not going anywhere,” he says, and this time he can’t be ignored. This time Pete freezes, a look of shock on his face. 

They’re all staring at it. Him and Phil included.

The gun. 

“Louis,” Pete sputters, “What the fuck are you doing? Put that away.”

The gun isn’t held steady, it’s waved wildly. “No, no! I’m tired of all of you pretending that I’m not smart. I’m smarter than you, I am. This was your idea in the first place wasn’t it, Pete? The other one. He was your leverage. And I’m using him now.”

“Louis— ” Brad starts, though Dan knows that’s not his name. 

“Shut up! Shut the hell up!”

The three of them oblige. 

“I’m better than you, I’m better than all of you. I’m not your child, Rudy. I’m not an idiot, Scott. And Ben—you’re just a fucked up kid. All of you are stupid. None of you get it, you stupid, stupid cunts.”

“Jesus, calm down.”

Even Dan can see that ‘calm down’ isn’t the correct thing to say. Louis stiffens. 

“No. No.”

“You’re not a genius,” Pete spits, “You’re having a mental breakdown because you’re fucking insane.” 

“Shut up!” The yell is punctuated by a gun shot. Two more follow. 

Pete falls to the floor like a puppet with his strings cut. 

“F—fucking.” The original leader’s eyes are wide. “Louis. Fuck. You—.”

“I don’t want to hear it from you either, Rudy. ” Louis hisses, glaring down at the lump of a body on the floor. 

“I’m not stupid!” he screams. 

Dan flinches at the loud noise. 

He can’t tear his eyes off of the blood that is blossoming on the fabric of Rudy’s shirt. 

“I’m not fucking stupid!”

“Please—please, d-don’t!”

Louis doesn’t listen. He grins. 

The bullet tears through the youngest one’s stomach. He gasps as he crumples to his knees. 

“You’re.” 

Another gunshot punctuates the word.

“So.”

There’s a gut wrenching scream, the last pieces of life tearing their way out of a throat. 

“Fucking.”

This time the corpse just spasms on the ground from the force of the shot. 

“Weak.”

-

Does Phil know what he’s done? 

Does it even matter?

-

“No!” Phil yells, true terror played across his features. 

“Shut up, fag.” The butt of the pistol slams into Phil’s skull and it’s the worst sound in the world. 

Dan can see, he can see how bad it hurts. 

Surely it’s been almost fifteen minutes, surely they’re close. 

Dan just has to keep Louis away from Phil for a little bit longer. 

Just a couple more minutes, a few more seconds. 

“It’s fine, Phil,” he says through gritted teeth. The words mean something entirely different. And he thinks that all three of them know that. 

He’s not reassuring Phil, Dan’s making a statement. 

“Don’t you fucking touch him, don’t you dare touch him.”

Louis is still grinning, but now he looks truly happy. He’s feeding off of his own power, on a sort of high. 

Dan’s job is to feed it further. 

Only a few more seconds. 

It’ll all be over. 

Just a few more. 

-

He wonders what made him do it. How he did it. 

Should you have to think about killing someone? If you’ve never done it before shouldn’t you at least hesitate?

-

Phil physically gags, he can’t watch. 

He can’t watch as Dan practically flings himself at…at the most disgusting creature on the face of the planet. 

Dan’s lips move with a mechanical ferocity. He’s not thinking or feeling, he’s going through the motions.

Phil tears his eyes away, nausea building in the back of his throat. There’s whack as Louis slaps Dan’s ass. 

A slobbery gasp. 

“Goddamn whore,” are the roughly panted words. 

-

Dan didn’t hesitate. 

-

One hand is gripping Dan’s hip, digging into the skin and squeezing. It keeps him pulled flush against Louis. 

There’s only one other sensation that Dan’s focused on. It’s the hard metal of the gun that’s gripped in the hand of Louis’. The hand that’s wrapped around to the small of his back

He can feel the pistol. 

He can feel Louis’ grip on the weapon. 

And Dan can feel Phil. His presence, his disgust. He has to tell himself that he doesn’t care. 

Cigarette smoke, garlic, and cheap tequila are all that Dan tastes. 

No, no. He can’t focus on that. 

Dan grinds himself against Louis and he feels it. 

The solution he hadn’t thought of before. 

The way out. 

The way to keep Phil alive.

Louis’ hold on the gun loosens slightly. 

Before he was only trying to make it through, to keep Phil from having to go through hell. Now it’s different, now it’s survival mode. Dan can and will do anything. There’s no fear, no self regard, no pain or mortification. 

Only a mantra in Dan’s head. 

Do whatever you have to do. 

Live, live, live. 

It’s a contradiction to everything that Dan thought he wanted, but he doesn’t take the time to explore that thought process. 

He fakes a moan. 

Louis smiles against his lips, pulling away to speak. “You love this don’t you, you want it.”

“Yes.” Dan says. 

Hands are roaming over Dan’s chest. And the gun is too.

Something inside of Dan tells him he has to do it now. This is his chance. 

He says something. Something disgusting, something sexual. Something that gives Louis power. 

And then he grabs. 

For a lifeline. 

For anything that feels like metal. 

There’s a brief second of resistance and then the tug goes away and it’s in his hands. 

The gun that hurt him. 

That was held against his head while he cried. 

The power against him. 

It’s in Dan’s hands now. 

He scrambles to grip his palms around the handle. 

Clumsily, his finger slides over the trigger. 

Louis is holding him close, still gripping Dan tight to him. His mouth and face are twisted as he screams angry expletives that bounce off of Dan’s ears. His face is only inches away. So close that Dan can feel his heated breath. 

Dan stares into Louis’ eyes. 

And the world explodes. 

-

Three bodies Dan can look at. They are carnage of war, they are justified losses, they mean nothing to him. 

He has to force himself to rest his eyes on the one remaining. 

There’s a pool of blood surrounding the mutilated skull. Chunks of flesh are missing, his face is turned to stare right at Dan. 

He can see where the bullet entered the man’s face and ripped out the other side, taking blood and brain and bone with it. 

Incomprehensible: that’s the only word for the sight that’s burning into Dan’s mind. 

He looks down at his hands. Coated in red, shaking, they don’t seem like his own. 

These are the hands that pulled a trigger. These are the fingers that created the mess of gore that coats the ground. 

Dan’s hands are covered in red and he doesn’t feel like the color will ever wash out. 

-

Chapter Text

For a while there is only silence. The very air around Dan seems dead. He’s trapped in an odd sort of bubble, one where he is dazed and yet ultra-aware at the same time. The walls and floor and noises are blurry all around him. Somewhere surely people are existing, there are dogs barking and cars honking. None of those things seem real. Some things, in contrast however, are sharp. Dan can practically hear himself blink. He can feel the sticky warmth on his face and arms. 

Behind him, in a place that Dan’s afraid to look there is Phil. Phil’s heartbeat is audible, or maybe it’s his own. 

He can hear the air working its way in and out of his chest as well. The whole world revolves around Dan’s view of his red palms. 

Terror is crawling inch by inch up his spine, settling itself into his very bones. But Dan doesn’t move. He is trapped by his own will. Unable to make a noise, unable to do anything besides exist. 

He’s held captive by corpses. Oh the irony. 

Dan’s gaze drops to the ground. 

One, two, three, four. 

Counting them off is a reminder, a way of ensuring that they’re all truly there. All truly dead. 

 

One. 

His blue eyes, so reminiscent of Phil’s are cold. The light behind them is snuffed out and all that remains in the hue is ice. 

It’s easy to remember what they used to look like. How it felt when that icy glare was digging into his own dilated pupils. A hand clamped in his hair, tilting his head back roughly. Thrust after thrust. Dan’s throat had felt like it was bleeding. Spit had dripped down his chin. 

He can’t help but squirm at the memory. He can feel its frigid temperature. 

Now that monster is slain. His blue eyes unfocused, dulled. Dead. 

A trail of crimson is running down the man’s chin from where he choked on his own blood. 

 

Two. 

His curls are hanging over his face, pressed against a clammy cheek that’s already turning stiff. 

The rose of color that had bled through his shirt has now spread into a pool on the floor. In the sheen of blood Dan can see a reflection of the yellowed ceiling. 

The man’s lips are slightly purple, waxy looking. The same lips that told Dan he was better off dead. The lips that called him a disgusting fuckhole and a good boy all in the same breath. 

The lips that threatened him. 

They won’t be moving anymore. 

 

Three. 

This wound was seemingly a perfect shot. Almost instant death. Probably less painful than the others, and that doesn’t seem fair. It was a death of anger and revenge. He had considered himself smarter, above the rest. 

His words were ones of mock affection and his obsession less carnal, less evil, but somehow even more revolting. He genuinely wanted affection, admiration.  

Unmoving hands that were originally clenched into angry fists have fallen flat. Their weight sinks them into the dampened carpet. 

Those fingers were on Dan’s skin. They were all over him. Inside him. Curling, pressing, thrusting, grabbing, digging into Dan’s flesh like daggers. They sliced through him. 

Now they’re cold. 

 

Four. 

Dan automatically tenses. A small strangled noise escapes his throat and Dan thinks that it’s supposed to be a scream. He gulps in air and forces himself to look. 

He has to accept what he’s done. 

His own words, ones that he said only minutes or maybe seconds earlier ring in his head. They were words that gave the living version of the body in front of him power. Words that ultimately helped Dan take control. 

Helped him kill. 

Now, however, they make his skin crawl. They make shame bubble in his cheeks. 

This is the man who killed two people, and three men who Dan cannot bring himself to consider as human. This is the man who assisted in destroying him as well. 

This is the man Dan killed. 

He can hear the sirens in the distance. Maybe they’re coming for him, or maybe to help someone else. Something else. Maybe this moment will never end and Dan will stand like this forever. Covered in blood, listening to sirens, barely breathing: it’s all too familiar. He wants Phil to tell him that it’s all going to be okay. He wants anyone to remind him that this will all be over soon.

All nightmare’s end, even the real ones. 

-

It’s a goddamn mess. 

It still is even by the time Ross gets there. Chaos. Utter chaos. No one is sure if it’s safe. Who’s alive and who’s dead, or who’s armed. 

All around is protocoled turmoil. But she’d take it over a night of paperwork any day. 

Immediately Leah runs into conflict. An officer is speaking to a blonde woman a few feet away from the line of police cars and ambulances that has formed in front of the bleak housing unit. 

The woman looks to be on the verge of frantic, tears are openly running down her face. Her hands flailing around her tense torso, accentuating the fear in her words. Needless to say the officer isn’t handling her very well. 

“Ma’am I need you to stay back until we clear the scene,” he huffs, his voice brimming with annoyance. With one hand held out, he’s ready to hold her back if it’s needed. The officer looks more like he’s facing an armed intruder than fending off a terrified woman. 

“Are they okay?” she asks, her face twisting with sadness and terror. Flashing lights throw the woman’s features into shadowed grotesque. 

“Please, I need you to wait—”

“Just tell me if they’re alright!” she all but screams this time, her voice breaking and the police officer reacts viscerally. 

Before the man can open his mouth or do something incredibly stupid, Ross steps in. Placing herself between the frantic civilian and the even more high-strung cop. 

“Excuse me, officer. Ma’am.” She eases herself to face the woman, and then turns to the officer behind her. “I’ve got this, alright.”

He hesitates for a moment. Frowning. Nonetheless, after a breath and a bout of logic, he steps away. 

Leah looks back to the woman, studying her face. She has a messy ponytail of curls, which is half falling into her face. It frames her contorted forehead. Makeup has formed blurry pools under her eyes from the tears.

“Hello, Ms…?”

“Pentland,” the woman says, her neck and cheeks are starting to blotch red, maybe from crying, maybe from embarrassment, “Louise Pentland.”

“…Ms. Pentland,” Leah repeats, “I’m Detective Ross. I’m assuming you have friends involved in this.”

“Dan—I mean Daniel Howell—” 

Ross nods encouragingly to keep her talking. 

“—he texted me an address and a—a picture and I called 999 and came as fast as I could. But—but no one will tell me if…” She trails off, her eyes starting to glisten again. 

“I’ll tell you what,” Ross says, trying to sound positive, “Ms. Pentland—Louise. I’m about to go inside now, and I will personally make sure your friends are safe and let you know as soon as I can.”

Pentland nods. “O—okay.”

“For now, why don’t you wait over there.”

Ross’s words aren’t acknowledged. Instead the woman’s glassy eyes are intensely fixed on the structure behind them. Ross follows her gaze and stares at the nondescript building front for a long moment. 

“Are—are they?” Ms. Pentland starts, she doesn’t have to finish for Leah to understand. 

“I’m sure they’re fine.”

The only response is a small choked down sob. 

“We need you to stay out of the way so we can do our job, Ms. Pentland. They’re going to be okay.”

Her eyes drop from the structure and meet Leah’s for the first time. “I—I understand.”

-

There are several things that Ross notices simultaneously as soon as she steps foot into the room. 

The first two are blatantly obvious. 

Who wouldn’t notice the four bodies that are lying on the floor? One of their faces is very familiar. When she lays eyes on the features her eyes have traced for hours, she feels her jaw tighten. For this man Leah has no remorse, no slight sadness for how he ended. The other three seem more like strangers that Ross has run into a second time. Leah knows they are the same people, the people she saw in the video. She can tell. And of course the situation speaks volumes to who they are. 

Four dead men. Two living ones. In this case she has to admit that the universe did well. The right people are in the right places. Ross can’t help but feeling a lightening sense of relief that it’s not the other way around. 

The second glaring detail is the crowd of paramedics, first responders, and police that are circling around a figure who Ross can’t see. Their gentle voices echo in the empty room. 

“Sir, can you open your eyes for me?” one asks, smooth and authoritative. 

A piece of what one of the police officers is saying reverberates above the rest of the soft discussion, “—definitely concussed—.” 

They are determining if it’s safe to transport him or not. A backboard stretcher is laying on the ground to the side of the group. Its sterilized appearance is a garish antithesis to the tan and red of the room. 

Leah runs her eyes around the backdrop, searching for the last piece of the puzzle. 

And she finds him. Almost blending in with the carpet, tan and crimson. He’s not moving, he’s a mantelpiece more than anything else. Howell’s gaze is focused on his hands. The way he’s looking at them, he must have every line and furrow memorized by now. Since no one else seems to be paying him attention, Leah decides she needs too. The kid is covered in blood, and Ross can already gather what happened.  

Standing in close proximity to someone who suffers a gruesome wound, that’s what causes the blood she sees on Howell. 

It’s not until he looks up at her that Leah realizes. 

Their eyes meet and Ross knows. She’s seen that look, she understands. 

He’s killed someone for the first time.

Firing at close range. She’s not surprised he pulled the trigger. 

And without words Leah can guess which one. With Howell looking at the body every few milliseconds it’s not a feat of detective work. 

“Will Phil be alright?” Howell asks blankly. 

Leah chews the inside of her cheek, looking over to where the paramedics are loading Lester onto the stretcher. With him taken care of police officers have turned to the corpses. Someone is picking up the gun with gloved hands and placing it in an evidence bag. Ross is glad that they’re leaving Dan to her. 

“Yes, he will be,” she says with all of the confidence she can muster.

“He was going to hurt Phil.” It sounds like a plea. Howell needs to know that what he did was justified, was okay. 

“H-he hurt Phil.” 

Emotion surges in Leah’s chest and she has to choke it back down. Be professional, she reminds herself. 

“You did the right thing.”

The words tangibly wash over Howell. His eyes float closed and open again as he wavers from head to toe.

“Is Phil going to be alright?”

“Yes, he’ll be perfectly fine.” 

They continue like this. 

Ross coaxes through of the room. Away from the bodies.

Down the hall. Out the door. 

She sits with him as the paramedics check him over. 

Stays there while he leans against the trunk of a police car, sagging in trying to hold up his own weight. Howell won’t answer any questions about what happened. He only asks the same query, over and over. Every few minutes.  

“Will Phil be okay?” 

“Yes…”

One step towards the door.

“Will Phil be okay?” 

“Yes…”

One pace down the hall. 

“Will he be okay?” 

“Yes…”

While the paramedic wipes the blood off of his face and hands. 

“Are you sure Phil will be okay?” 

“Yes…”

Chapter Text

-

There’s nothing in front of Phil except for a door. It’s solitary and nondescript, with white-painted lining and a silver knob. 

He watches himself stare at the entrance, studying the blankness around it with careful eyes. Even before Phil begins to move he knows what will be behind the wooden barrier. 

A confident hand reaches out and wraps around the handle. It’s cold to the touch. Phil shivers.  

His bedroom opens up before him, with all of its familiarities. The bedspread, the walls, the clutter on his nightstand. This is the bedroom that Phil always considered to be his favorite space, it’s not the one he knows now. This version is more peaceful, more in order. 

For a while he soaks it in, walking around and palming the various objects, running his fingertips over the smooth surfaces of his furniture and across the textured walls. 

Then it’s time to leave, Phil can feel it. He knows it. With a final glance, he turns towards the open doorway and steps through. 

The carpet beneath his feet thins, yellows slightly as it keeps him standing. This room is more cramped, but the bedspread is still the same. Besides the walls, and different decorations, the skyline is what really stands out as distinct. 

Phil looks out at the buildings who’s silhouettes he has memorized. Manchester. Phil’s not sure he misses it all that much. This time he knows to leave before he even has seen everything. 

Back though the doorway and his Uni dorm room greets him. Small and cramped. There are piles of homework and soiled clothes. His bed is unmade and covered in various textbooks and food containers. 

The light is yellowed, but not in a sunny way—in an artificial way. The walls are made of cinder block, whispered conversation breathing through the wood. A Muse poster has been sticky-tacked above Phil’s desk. 

Phil can remember sitting at his desk, nervous biting his lip while trying to decide on a way to start a conversation with a total stranger. He had glanced up at the poster and decided what to say, typing hurriedly so he wouldn’t change his mind. 

“So, you like Muse?”

It wasn’t that Phil hadn’t talked to random people over the internet before but this…this was different. 

Phil’s eyes trace the faded poster for a few more seconds, and then he turns away. There’s nothing else he needs to see. 

When Phil walks through the door this time, he feels a breath of air leave his chest. This room…doesn’t even exist anymore the way he sees it in front of him. 

Phil’s parents sold his childhood house. But the room seems as real as ever. This is where he grew up, god, there are so many memories. Almost everything in the space Phil’s looking at has a story attached to it. His childhood shenanigans with Martyn, all of the ‘movies’ he made, the things he had fallen in love with that would stick with him for years to come. 

Even so, the room doesn’t seem to fit anymore. Something about standing here makes Phil feel empty. Or more feel like something is missing. 

What is missing? 

What is missing? 

Phil steps towards the door once more. He has to find what’s missing. Stepping over the threshold, his heart begins to speed up. The room is a blur, beige ceiling and beige walls drip together into one backdrop. In the center of the space is Dan, his eyes are closed. Eyelashes rest gently against his cheeks, his hands are at his sides. At peace, at rest. 

“Dan,” Phil says, stepping towards him. There’s no sign that Phil’s words are heard. He reaches out, stretching long fingers towards the soft skin of Dan’s cheek. 

Right before Phil can touch him, Dan’s eyes jolt open. 

They send Phil staggering backwards. 

Dead. 

Dead eyes. 

The irises are milky, flat. Dan’s pupils stare into nowhere, see nothing. 

Phil can’t even react because Dan dissolves before his gaze. Collapsing to the ground. Dissolving into a cloud of grey dust. 

“No,” Phil whispers, backing away from where Dan was.  

He spins around, searching for the door but it’s dissolved into the beige canvas. 

Phil blinks. 

A gun is being pointed at his face, it is centimeters away from Phil. He stares down its barrel. Black and sleek and menacing. Phil’s heart has pounded its way out of his chest. It’s in the air around him. It is pulsing in the beige walls. 

The room is alive. 

“Please,” he whimpers, he pleads with whoever is holding the gun. 

There’s a click and the trigger is pulled. 

The bullet freezes. It sits right in front of Phil’s vision. Still. He is also captured in time. Preserved in the moment like an insect in amber. 

“Phil,” Dan’s voice says from behind Phil. Dan’s standing there. Behind him, body warmth spilling over Phil. 

“Phil.” Dan’s arms wrap around him from behind, and even though Phil can’t see him he knows Dan is there. He can feel him. 

Dan’s breath huffs on the back of Phil’s scalp, ruffling his hair. Then Phil realizes, he knows why the other rooms were empty. Hollow. 

All they were was houses, not home. Never home. 

Dan is home. 

Dan is what made all of those places alive. His childhood room was before he met home, university was where he first talked to him, Manchester where he moved in with him, London where they started a whole new life together. 

Home.  

Phil let’s Dan’s warmth encompass him, wrap around him and hold him safe. 

He watches as the bullet hits his face and he shatters like a china doll. Shards of glass rain to the ground. The porcelain thumps against the carpet. 

-

Phil wakes with a gasp. It quickly flattens into a huffed breath of pain from the jolt of trying to move. He’s incredibly dizzy. There’s a pressure on his chest, the spinning is pinning him down. 

Maybe its from the dream. Or what Phil thinks was a dream. 

But maybe that’s just the cool sensation that is coursing through his veins. It seems to be anesthetizing Phil, making his head blurry and his skin numb. Perhaps he really is made of glass. 

Phil stares at the paneled ceiling without seeing. He knows he’s somewhere different, but he doesn’t really care where. At least the surface is white instead of beige. Somewhere beneath everything, there’s a dull ache. It spreads over the side of his head. A blanket of muted pain. 

He looks at what’s directly above him—the white ceiling, the fluorescent lights—until his vision turns bleary. And then Phil let’s his eyelids fall close again. 

This time it’s a dreamless sleep. 

They finally get it all out of him. It takes hours, but eventually the words numbly pour out of Dan’s mouth and he recounts what happened. 

He says it all without hesitation, or emotion. Or even—it seems like—without breathing. Airlessly he tells how Phil left, supposedly going to Martyn’s, how after a while he got a call from Phil’s brother, asking where he was. 

Dan explains the text he got, if they get his phone or Louise’s they can even see it for themselves. 

They all seem surprised that he decided to go, which doesn't make any sense. At least he told Louise, before leaving. So that she would call the police, call them. Dan leaves out why he wanted them to show up, the end he thought that it would bring to everything. 

He tells them about Phil, it’s then that Dan’s voice cracks. Phil in pain. Phil bleeding. Phil not safe. He shakes those memories away and moves on. There was an argument. Sam—Louis—he killed three of them. 

And then Dan had realized what he had to do to keep Phil safe. To keep Phil from being…

The farther Dan gets, the more he realizes this doesn’t feel like a statement, it feels like an admission of guilt. 

He says that he kissed Louis. And that’s a confession. 

He says that he killed Louis. And that’s a confession. 

The words drip out of Dan’s mouth and he doesn’t censor them. There’s no reason to. He has nothing to hide.  It doesn’t matter what they do to him, if he ends up going to prison, any of it. None of it matters. 

He repeats the words he said to Louis, the way he didn’t flinch before killing him. How his blood had been all over Dan. 

At the end, the detectives thank him. There are three, Ross included. The other two are different. Ross had said they were from a ‘different division’ or something like that. Dan doesn’t remember their names. Honestly, he doesn’t care. 

They thank him. 

Which is possibly the most confusing thing they could do. What did Dan do to deserve thanks? Oh well. It doesn’t matter. 

They thank him and Ross tells him that he did the right thing. Made the right decision in killing Louis. She calls it self defense. 

Was it? Did he? Dan doesn’t know, he really doesn’t. Is there anything right about killing someone? 

Was Louis—Sam—that monster truly someone?

Sam killed people, Dan reminds himself internally desperate for justification. 

But a voice reminds him, yeah, well, apparently you do too. 

And after that Dan stops thinking about it because he doesn’t like the way it makes him feel. Dirty. Guilty. Evil. 

Dan forces it deeper inside and simply stops thinking at all. 

He sees Louise. 

She looks like she wants to hug him, but she doesn’t. Instead she hovers nervously a few feet away from him and asks over and over if he’s alright. Dan can’t tell. He doesn’t feel bad; he doesn’t feel alright either. 

She asks about Phil. Dan tells her he doesn’t know. He wants to know, but he hasn't heard anything. 

“Ross said he’d be alright.” he tells Louise. Because it’s the only thing he knows. 

Dan sees his family. They talk to him. They say a lot of words and none of them make sense to Dan. He doesn’t understand at all. 

His mum cries. That’s when Dan starts to feel uncomfortable. Why is she crying? What did he do? He apologizes. 

Over and over Dan says that he’s sorry. It only makes her cry harder. Her tears are jarring to Dan. They’re wrong. He can’t stand them. 

“Please, please stop crying. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he frowns. He begs. In the end, Dan’s mum leaves the room. 

He wants to know about Phil, but he doesn’t know how to ask, or who to ask. 

Eventually Dan ends up in a bed. Where he’s supposed to ‘get some rest’. 

All Dan thinks about is Phil. 

And blood. 

And the fact that he can’t really think. 

His sleep is light. Listless. He floats between waking and unconsciousness watching images flash across the back of his eyelids. 

It’s all red. 

Chapter Text

-

It takes two days before they both really wake up. It’s not an abrupt thing, but more like slowly drifting back into awareness.

Dan is white noise. He is misty existence and lack of feeling. He floats through the motions with robotic accuracy. There is no emotion, no tears. And if Dan feels anything it is tucked deeply away. A second hand hurt, or at least a faint one. 

Sometimes he feels like he could reach into himself and snatch that tendril of emotion and yank to the top. To where he could feel it. To where it would pour out of him, dark and thick and nasty. And maybe—he thinks—that would be a good thing. If only he could rip himself open and let everything spill out.

Dan stays with his family for the first while after. Simply because he doesn’t know where else to go and he’s not given a choice. They mostly leave him alone. His mum can’t seem to stand looking at him. So he sits behind closed doors when he’s not in Phil’s hospital room. He wonders if this was how Phil felt when waiting for him to come back to reality. 

Now their positions are reversed. 

Now Phil is the one in the bed, the cause of worry. The unpredictable one, because no one knows what to expect when he comes to. 

Phil seems all right. Tired, definitely. Everyone with more knowledge than Dan says that he’s okay. 

Phil gets released from the hospital two days after the whole ordeal, with scheduled follow up appointments and several prescription bottles. The doctors say he has to give himself a chance to heal, no stress, no strenuous activity. 

If Dan is nothing, no feelings, no pain, then Phil is everything. 

He feels out of control. Wrapped in hurt and confusion. Both of those things are not only side effects of his physical injury but manifested emotions that seem to be hacking away at everything he knows about himself. Phil is the optimist, he is funny, he lives brightly—and yes, that persona has been wearing away for a while. But now, it is gone. Phil can’t be optimistic anymore, he can’t be supportive or strong anymore. He can only be. Hallow existence is all Phil can give because things inside of him are tearing him apart. 

Somehow both of them end up with Phil’s family, in his parent’s small and cozy home. Dan’s always felt closer with them than with his own parents anyway. Mrs. Lester is what Dan’s always called ‘everyone’s mum’. It doesn’t matter who you are, the second you enter her life she accepts you as her own. 

Then again, that trait seems to carry across the entire Lester family. 

Everything about the Lester household is soft. The decor, the people, even the outside world seems a bit smoother around the edges. 

Dan and Phil are two harsh blemishes on the place they inhabit. Perhaps, that contrast is what begins to bring them back to reality. 

It seeps in like icy water through fabric, chilling them slowly. 

Dan’s thoughts are slashed apart with flashes of blood, screams, and skin. Bullets fly from a gun he holds, fingers grip his wrists, spit slides down Dan’s chin. He screams. They scream. He begs. They beg. But none of it reaches the surface. He can’t react to the things that he feels all he knows is that they’re there and they’re real and he wants to force them away until he doesn’t have to listen anymore. Damn, he can’t stand it. He can’t stand to listen to it anymore, he wants silence. He will make himself hear and feel and be only silence.

Phil crumbles. He cries, he hides from the people he loves—his family—because he doesn’t want to have to explain. It’s all so stupid. Phil shouldn’t even be this upset. He’s all right, Dan’s all right. They’re all dead. So why is he like this? What is wrong with him? If anything, Dan should be the one who can’t stand to do anything without bursting into tears. Yet, Dan is the opposite. He is stone, which isolates Phil all the more. Phil’s really quite bad at obscuring things, he doesn’t lie very well. So he refuses to let others watch what he cannot suppress. 

Dan hides behind his skin; Phil hides behind doors. 

-

There’s no way. He doesn’t believe it. Henry refuses to accept anything that he’s hearing. Ben— Ben can’t be dead. 

He can’t be. 

Henry was just with him yesterday, kissing him, holding him, telling him to have a good day of class with sleepy mumbles. 

Ben is not allowed to die. 

It’s not an option. When someone was tangible only hours ago, existing, filling space they are not allowed to disappear. Non-existence is not something Henry can comprehend. Now he understands why people are religious, even his mum’s strict church-going makes sense. She gives up some time and money, a healthy relationship with her son, and she doesn’t have to face what is prodding inside of him right now. A fictional life in a floaty nice place, hanging out with priests or being reborn as a tree—any of that is better than acknowledging non-existence. 

Ben is gone. He is gone. Everything that was alive about him, everything that he was has disappeared into nothingness and Henry is the only one who cares. It feels like the person who his entire life revolved around was only imaginary. A figment. 

And there’s no way that Ben would ever do that to someone; that’s the other thing Henry can’t believe. They must have it all wrong. The police must be mistaken. Yes, Ben’s rough sometimes, but he would never hurt someone like that. He would never be involved in…

Henry probably shouldn’t know but he saw him, the man who did this. He saw him at the police station. Looking guilty. Because he is guilty. 

Dan. Dan. Dan. 

That’s what his name is and it’s not like that was hard to find out. The man’s face is plastered over blogs and t-shirts, he’s some sort of celebrity. 

Fuck this Dan. An ex, isn’t that what Ben had called him? Well, Dan must’ve been angry at losing Ben and overreacted and caused all of this. Dan lied and cheated and coerced, and now Ben’s dead. 

It’s all this is Dan’s fault, Henry is sure. The grief and anger swirl together in his head until he feels dizzy. Without Ben, there’s no one for him to reach out to, no one to talk to. Though he’s flooded with emotions, Henry can’t seem to cry. He hates that, he hates that some part of him is weirdly numb about the news—indifferent. 

People comfort him. His family calls and gives their grief and offers to drive all of the way from Wales to come makes sure he’s all right. Henry doesn’t want them to come. They will flaunt it in his face that this is some sort of punishment for loving who he loved. 

His family aren’t the only ones to ask him if he’s okay. Friends do, friends he hasn’t talked to in months. People he forgot about. Even though they know Henry’s been effected by a tragedy, he can tell that’s not why they treat him the way they do. All of them have a look or deeper pity in their eyes. They know. They know about why Ben’s dead. Or at least they’ve heard rumours. 

They all assume that Ben was a monster. 

He hates it. 

He hates to see people judging Ben and him. 

The night before Ben’s funeral, Henry stands in the dingy dorm room toilet and stares at himself in a chipped mirror. 

He’s never been through anything like this before. 

Never lost anyone he loved. 

And, a tiny part of Henry whispers, that he’s never lost anyone he hated either. No, he doesn’t hate Ben, does he? Not really. He embeds his teeth into his tongue to keep his lips from quivering. He will not be weak. He will not. Blood fills Henry’s mouth as he struggles to keep calm, sucking in deep breaths through his nostrils. 

He finally manages to fall numb again, spitting red into the sink and walking away. 

The funeral is uncomfortable at best. 

Henry doesn’t cry, he blinks against the bright sun and stares without seeing at the casket being lowered into the ground before him. Ben’s parents are there, they cry. He hugs them both because it seems like the right thing to do. This is the first time Henry’s even met them, they seem nice. They seem shocked and angry and sad just like he is. 

Ben doesn’t look real, he’s a wax figure version of himself surrounded by nauseatingly perfumed flowers that try to soften the chilled affair. It all is an echo of reality. Fake, fake, fake. 

Henry’s never been so relieved to have something over. 

The anger has dissolved now, replaced with the overwhelming realisation of what he’s lost. Without Ben, Henry has no idea where he’s going, what he’s doing. Ben was all that he had. Ben was everything. 

Ben is gone. 

When he gets back to his dorm room, he stands in the small space between his bunk and where Ben used to sleep and breathes. With a shivering hand, Henry reaches down and pulls up his right sleeve. Under the edge of the suit jacket is a large blue and purple splotch of color. Henry stares at the bruise for a long time. He thinks about a lot of things. About his failing grades in Chemistry, his family’s concern for him and how long he’s been ignoring it. About the things that Ben did, how entwined he was into Henry’s life. 

It’s like half of Henry is missing now. Like losing a limb. 

And—indeed—Henry does feel lighter as well. Less held down. He is free and terrified of being so.  

But part of him, some tiny voice, the one that he’s been ignoring for quite a while now, is growing louder. 

It tells him he’s glad Ben’s gone. 

-

Five days drag by. Phil and Dan do nothing, it’s Mrs. Lester who finally breaks up the monotony. 

She lures Phil in with coffee, having him sit at the kitchen table with a steaming cup in front of him. 

Phil’s awkward in front of his mother, he’s not sure how to act anymore. So he sits with her in silence and sips on a mug. His coffee is not quite sweet enough, Dan makes it better. For a few minutes she makes small talk, commenting on the weather and the activities of the neighbours while Phil traces his fingernails over the marred wood of the old round table. 

“Well,” his mum says after a bit, with a sense of purpose in her tone, “I think Dan might like a cuppa, don’t you?”

For a long moment Phil doesn’t respond. He hasn’t really spoken to Dan since…

“Yeah, I—I suppose so,” he stammers at last. Not that his mum was waiting for his approval, she’s already halfway out of her seat, leaving her cup of tea behind. 

“I’ll be right back.”

She traipses up the narrow stairway to the guest room at the top of the landing. Phil’s been sleeping in the lounge, which Mrs. Lester prefers because it makes it easier to keep an eye on him at night. Which is the most concerning time. Dan, on the other hand, she figures is better off left well alone. At least for a while. 

The knock on Dan’s door is gentle, but not hesitant. 

“Daniel,” Phil’s mum’s voice asks, slightly muffled by the wood, “Can I come in?”

“Of—of course,” he says hastily. It’s not like Dan can deny her entry to a room in her own house, even if he doesn’t feel like uncomfortable conversation. The knob is already turning and Mrs Lester’s small form fills the entryway. She has a soft and determined smile painted across her face. 

“I just wanted to come see if you’d like a warm drink. I was about to make a hot chocolate and thought it’d be rude not to offer.”

And Dan thinks it’d be rude not to accept. It’s just a hot chocolate how bad can it be? 

“Umm, sure. That—sounds great. Thank you.”

After his fumbled agreement, Dan falls silent again. He stands up and numbly following Mrs Lester to the kitchen. Phil’s already seated at the table, regarding his coffee cup like it holds the answers to the world’s problems. 

“Have a seat, dear,” Mrs Lester tells him. Dan pulls out the chair next to the one Phil’s mum vacated, her mug still waiting. He sits and stares off at nothing to avoid looking at Phil. Dan isn’t sure why they’ve gone cold like this. Maybe it’s that they’re both trying to cope. Maybe it’s what Dan did, because he killed someone. Or because of what he said to save them. 

Maybe Phil can’t stand to look at him, Dan knows he can’t bring himself to look at Phil. He feels like if he did, he would break. Something would break. But what is left to break? That Dan doesn’t know the answer to. 

Dan jolts out of his thoughts at Mrs. Lester’s voice. 

“Here you are,” she’s holding out a steaming mug. 

Dan takes it from her hands, the hot porcelain stinging his fingertips. There’s a loud scrape as Mrs. Lester pulls out her chair and sits back down. 

For a moment they are all quiet, waiting for someone else to speak up. 

Phil’s mother finally does,” Martyn called this morning. He and Cornelia are planning to stop by tomorrow for dinner.”

Dan nods in acknowledgement and takes a hasty swallow of his drink. It burns the back of his throat. 

“You know what, I’m going to need a few things from the store to be able to cook tomorrow. I’d better run and pick up those ingredients before it gets any later.” 

Both Dan and Phil shift in discomfort as Mrs. Lester gulps the dregs of her tea and stands. 

“Besides,” she hums,”I think you boys need some time to talk.”

She pats Phil’s hand gently and then turns away. 

Chapter Text

-

It takes a little while for Mrs Lester to gather up her keys and purse. But when she leaves, at last, silence falls thickly over the room. It hangs in the space around Dan, ringing in his ears. 

He slides his cold fingers over his mug, waiting for Phil to say something. After all, Phil’s usually the one to initiate conversation, to ask, or to say something to lighten the mood. As the moments tick away, Dan starts to realise that things have changed. Phil has changed. Maybe now they’re both equally as awful at talking, at feeling, at coping.

“I’m so sorry,” the words spill out of Dan’s mouth in a rushed whisper. 

Phil’s eyes remain downcast. 

“We were—it was…” whatever Dan was going to say catches in his throat. For once he wants to be able to convey what he’s trying to say coherently. To have Phil understand. 

“This is not how…I…” 

“It’s okay, Dan,”Phil mumbles.

“No, it’s…no.” He shakes his head, trying to force out the words that are sticking to the roof of his mouth. A few times Dan opens his lips only to close them again. 

“How’s your head?”

It’s not what Dan wants to ask, but it’s a start. At least it’s something.

“It’s alright,” Phil says breathily, “Kinda hurts sometimes. I’ll be fine.”

“Phil,” the words blur out of Dan’s mouth all at once,“I-have-to-ask-you-something.”

Now Dan has to figure out how to phrase this. 

“They—they didn’t…before I got there, they didn’t…you’re not?”

“No, no,” Phil says quickly,”They…just my head. I’m okay.”

The air rushes out of Dan’s lungs. He hadn’t realised how much tension was surrounding that question. 

“I had to…I couldn’t let them. That’s why I—”

Dan sucks in a deep breath, before he spits out, ”You can’t become me.” He studies the air in front of him intensely, trying to stay focused. 

“I understand if you…are disgusted by what—but I couldn’t let you…”

“Oh, Dan,” Phil’s voice breaks slightly over Dan’s name, he looks up. Phil’s eyes are pooling with tears. 

“I’m not—disgusted. I—I was so scared, I thought we were both going to die. And—and you. You did…nothing you did was disgusting.” 

Water is forming trails down Phil’s cheeks, and Dan’s fingernails are biting into the porcelain of his mug. 

“Thank you, God thank you so much. I—you. Dan. You’re the only reason I…that we’re not. Thank you. Thank you.”

Dan can’t quite comprehend why Phil is thanking him. 

In his mind his skin is fracturing, crumbling into dust against the barrage of emotions that are shoved into the crevices of his brain.For a second he grasps the wisps of pain with his hands but feels his fingertips splinter and crumble. No, he can’t feel that he refuses to feel that. Dan forces it back beneath his rupturing skin. The sensation is one of swallowing fire.

“What,” he chokes out, “—what are we going to do?” 

Phil shakes his head,”I don’t know. I—don’t know. I can’t stay like this.”

“Yeah,” Dan hums. His heartbeat is sinking to his toes. This conversation feels familiar, after all, it was only a few days ago that Phil was leaving. Saying goodbye.

“I thought that—running away from you would fix me, but. I think I was running away from myself. And I can’t do that anymore, but I don’t know how to fix me.”

Phil looks up, meeting Dan’s eyes,”I don’t know how to fix us.”

“Christ,” Phil wipes furiously at his face,”I can’t stop crying. I’m sorry. Christ.”

Honestly, Dan wishes he could cry. But some part of him refuses to snap. 

“’S okay.”

Phil inhales a shuddery breath, “We—we need help.”

“I know,” he whispers.

-

Dan feels like he’s drowning. He’s drowning, and Phil’s hand is the only thing that’s keeping him from drifting away. In fact, he’s gripping Phil’s fingers so tightly that Dan’s a bit worried he might snap the bones. He might even be bruising his hands, but that doesn’t bother him.

Why is he so scared of this? Why is this so…impossible?

He doesn’t even know this woman. So he shouldn’t care what she thinks of him. The psychologist introduces herself by her first name. Tamara. She’s certainly not physically intimidating. Middle aged, short stature, a light way of speaking. The room they’re in is somewhere between blurred lines of clinical and comfortable. The clock on the wall behind Tamara’s head is decal-ed with a silhouette of a cat playing with a ball of yarn.

But her smile is a bit too bright, and Dan hates the way she looks at him. It’s as if she can see everything, straight into him. There’s no aspect of opaqueness. All of his thoughts are laid out on a platter for her to examine. 

“Well, I admit,” Tamara says as she sits down across from them, a few feet too close in Dan’s opinion,”I’m not used to doing couples’ sessions.”

Dan looks at Phil to see if he’s going to correct her. Phil doesn’t. 

“So,” she says after a moment of nonresponse, “Phil, Dan. Why are you here?”

Dan has to refrain from laughing bitterly. Isn’t why they’re here rather obvious? It’s not as if Dan accidentally stumbled his way into a psychologist’s office. It seems like she expects an answer, however, so finally, Dan takes the initiative. 

“I killed someone,” he says flatly, and then motions towards Phil, “And he watched.”

It seems a good a place to start as any. 

It’s not till after three more sessions that the R-word even gets said. Mostly, the psychologist wades through their inconsistent stories. She asks questions that bounce them around from Phil leaving to Dan pulling the trigger, but never before. Never the rather obvious elephant in the room. Never how they got into that situation in the first place. 

When it is said, it’s not in a great moment. They’re discussing that night. Again.

“And why did you pull the trigger?” she asks.

The words immediately roll off of his lips,“To protect us.”

“Protect both of you?”

Dan bites his lip before answering this time. “To defend Phil.”

“Protect him from what?”

“Them.”

“Why did he need protection from them?”

“Because—” he says exasperatedly, “—because they might’ve killed—they had a gun.”

“Okay, but you said you expected to die in the first place. So how were you protecting Phil?”

“He wasn’t safe.”

“What wasn’t he safe from?”

“From—from becoming me.”

“Becoming you? What’s wrong with becoming you?”

“I’m—I’m…a fucking mess?”

“Why are you a mess, isn’t Phil a mess as well? He’s here too. Why are you a mess?”

“Because I was—I was raped.” Dan spits the last word. He doesn’t…he usually never says that word. And now he hates the aftermath of saying it. 

“And,” her voice is softer now, and that’s perhaps even more uncomfortable, “That means that something’s wrong with you?”

“Yes, y-yes it does.”

“No, it does not. There is nothing wrong with you. Something happened to you. There’s a difference.”

After that, Dan spends another segment of time alone with Tamara. He doesn’t like being alone with her, but he can’t stand for Phil to hear everything that spills out of him in that room. Some of it isn’t made for anyone who cares about Dan. 

It’s mostly broken pieces. Shatters of a bigger story. One that he doesn’t know how to articulate. And Tamara says a lot of things. She gives him words to cling onto. Because they make sense and he has to trust that she’s right. 

But he isn’t sure how to ever believe them. 

Eventually, he gets a nice term for it. A phrase for everything that’s wrong with him. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When he tells Tamara that he thought PTSD was something that happened to soldiers, she informs him that he’s fought a lot of battles of his own. 

-

It is a tempest of a month. As the calendar shifts from October to November, Phil gets sick of losing the time. Of watching it blur by.

On the 2nd Phil has a nightmare. He dreams of Dan calling his name, but Phil is stuck. Unable to move his limbs to find the source of the desperate cry. He wakes up drenched in cold sweat and out of breath and ends up walking up to Dan’s room. He finds Dan just as awake as him, staring into space as if the empty air could solve everything. Phil perches on the end of Dan’s bed with his knees pulled to his chin, his arms wrapped around his ankles. For a long while, they sit and listen to each other breathe. That’s good enough. 

The 5th entails the two of them getting asked to help his mum with baking, even though it’s not clear why they’re doing it. The kitchen fills with warmth and aromas. Dan gets flour all over his jeans. It reminds Phil of their old baking videos. When Phil jokingly suggests they have a baking rave, Dan actually giggles. 

It's short lived. The laughter and warmth die away all too quickly. All Phil can comprehend about the 6th is that it is bad. It feels like everything is wrong again on that day. Dan is trapped in some sort of trance. He spends a long time in the shower. He doesn’t talk much, and when he does it is empty words to fill space frantically. Later that night, Phil finds Dan sitting in the stairwell with a bottle of vodka, shaking uncontrollably. 

Martyn and Cornelia go with them to a museum on the 10th. The number of people is overwhelming. Phil mostly feels out of breath, a bit dizzy. Like he’s floating and floundering in midair at the same time. When Dan’s fingers touch his, it makes Phil jump. He wasn’t expecting to—
Nevertheless, he wraps his clammy fingers around Dan’s shaking ones. They make it through the rest of the day. But it’s more draining than fun. 

All of the therapy days are hard. Phil knows it’s supposed to be good. But it dredges up a lot of things he’d rather not talk or think about. And Dan always turns particularly sombre after talking to Tamara. Sometimes he wonders if it’s helping or hurting. 

It all is a bit like a roller coaster. Up and down throughout days and hours and even minutes. There’s just no way to predict anything. 

The 21st is a wonderful day. Not because of anything they do in particular. Yet, Phil doesn’t think about sad things until he gets to the end of the day and realises that he hasn’t thought about it for an entire twelve hours. He’s surprised that it was even possible. But it happened. It can happen. 

On the 23rd, Martyn comes over, and the three of them sit at the kitchen table with gratuitously refilled cups of coffee and search through pictures of flats up for rent. It’s the next logical step. A logical, terrifying step. They can’t go back to their flat. Not anymore. The whole ordeal makes Phil feel dizzy, anxious.

It’s on the 29th that Dan finally cries. He breaks a bowl while helping Phil with the dishes. It slips through Dan’s fingers and shatters on the ground, and Dan seems to break with it. He cries. Big ugly sobs. And Phil knows it has nothing to do with a broken dish. Dan’s finally feeling something. 

The month starts filmy, like there is a veil of depression hanging over it all. It ends that way as well. Phil’s alright with that. Because sometimes the fog clears a bit and he gets a taste of what he wants. 

Of okay-ness.

Of what he wants forever to be like. 

Chapter Text

-

Phil likes that chapter. In fact, he loves it a lot. But it’s time to turn the page, even if he doesn’t want to. 

Phil looks around at the lounge, which is half in boxes and reminds himself, this is just a house. A flat that he’s lived in and called home for years, yes. Nonetheless, it’s not the antique piano, or the unusually large bedrooms, or the obnoxious and immovable wicker bed frame that have made the flat home for so long. 

It’s the memories. 

Memories of excitement trembling through him when they had first moved in, dragging load after load of boxes and cheap furniture up the flights of stairs. Phil had been puffing and out of breath, his chest heaving and his limbs filled with nervous energy. It’d been terrifying, leaving everything that he knew to move to London. A bigger city, with more opportunities.  He and Dan didn’t know what to expect at the time; they knew that they were at the beginning of something. On the precipice of the unimaginable, whether it be good or disastrous. 

It had turned out to be more insane that Phil could have ever predicted.

Over the years, the empty shelves and spaces in their home filled up. The old piano fell in and out of tune. The carpet stained, the paint scratched, and the walls dented. The majority of that due to Phil’s propensity to run into or trip over things. 

They had imprinted themselves onto this space, so seeing the rooms emptied looks wrong. 

Phil runs his gaze over the blank walls, and for a moment his eyes cloud with tears. They sting. He blinks vigorously to avoid crying. This is stupid, incredibly stupid.  

It’s just a house, a flat. Moving out shouldn’t be so upsetting. Especially considering all of the terrible memories that reside here as well. It should feel refreshing to leave it all behind. Exciting, like leaving Manchester had been.  Except, when he had left Manchester it’d been to pursue a crazy dream. There had been a future in front of Phil that was mysterious, but certainly hopeful.

This isn’t the same. They’re leaving for very different reasons. And this time, Phil’s not so confident that their future is bright.

Phil remembers the dream he had in the hospital. The dream about all of the places and people and things he has found a home in over the years. Habitually, he turns in the direction of the kitchen, where he can hear the sounds of dishware clinking as Dan packs the cupboards. 

Dan is singing quietly; his voice is barely audible, quiet enough that Phil can’t even make out the tune. Phil chews on the inside of his cheek.

It’s not this flat, is it? It’s the memories that make it home. 

It is Dan that makes it home. 

So, why does it feel like Phil is leaving Dan behind? 

Or maybe…maybe it’s that last time Phil knew that even though the future was unknown, Dan would be a part of it. Now, he’s scared that Dan won’t be part of his future, that home will somehow slip out of his fingers.

Dan’s no longer a constant, but an unknown. 

-

What hurts most is watching Phil throw away his houseplants, dumping their dry remnants out into the bin and stacking the pots up inside of each other. A leaning tower of dusty clay. Phil doesn’t seem to hesitate at all, but every time a clump of packed dirt and dry leaves lands in the bin with a thump, Dan has to struggle not to flinch. Maybe it’s Phil’s lack of reaction that bothers him the most. How can Phil give up on his plants and toss them away so easily, without fanfare or goodbye?

This is Phil. 

Phil who held a funeral for a late pet shrimp. 

Phil who carefully named every one of his succulents and cacti. 

Phil who raised and cherished hamsters. And who had once admitted to Dan, while rather tipsy, that he had cried over nature documentaries before. 

Phil is soft and caring and fucking sentimental about the silliest things. 

Dan bites his lip. He just wants Phil to be happy again. He wants Phil to be Phil again. The stack of clay pots seems more like a funeral pyre now. 

-

The new flat isn’t all that far away really. The bedrooms are slightly smaller; it’s two stories lower than the old flat, which Dan appreciates. Even though he could probably use the exercise from more flights of stairs. Phil’s room has lots of windows and sunlight, so does the lounge. On the downside, Phil’s room is painted a garish dark red-ish orange. The colour of rust. It doesn’t fit Phil at all.

Martyn and Cornelia and PJ and Louise all come to help them with boxes and the smaller furniture. Movers get the heavy stuff. Of course, some things are too heavy and bulky to be moved. That’s how those things ended up in their possession in the first place. Phil’s happy to kiss his wicker bed frame behind. The thing was hideous admittedly.

But Dan almost cries over his piano. He didn’t realise how much he loved that monstrous beast of an instrument until he was faced with not having in around. Then again, it’s not like he plays much anymore. Maybe a new piano will convince him actually to practice again.

Moving is normally exhausting, but this time especially, Dan feels…lost. Most of the rooms in the old flat make him ill if he thinks about their history for too long. So he shouldn't miss them. But also, Dan knows that he’s going to miss this home exceedingly. 

There were times when he was happy here. Leaving it…

Leaving it feels like losing, giving up. 

That’s not what it is, Dan tells himself, it’s turning over a new leaf. Not giving up, but starting over.

Still, when everyone else is making a final trip with boxes to the new flat, Dan makes an excuse to stay behind.

He sits on his piano bench with his hands hovering over the keys. When Dan had moved in the keys were already yellowed and worn smooth, but he’d swear that his fingertips had rubbed off another microlayer of porcelain. It’d been hell keeping this thing in tune.

Dan takes a shaky breath.

He plays his goodbye. Tears streaming down his face the entire time. It doesn’t matter that Dan can’t see the keys. His fingers know their way around.

-

“Oh, Dan,” Phil says without looking up as Dan steps into the room,”there you are. Have we unpacked scissors yet?”

Dan presses his lips together, trying to remember, “I’m…not sure, Louise might have a pair, why?” He eyes the burnt orange walls and shifts his grip on the object he’s holding behind his back. It’s a surprise. For Phil. And it’s probably stupid, but Dan doesn’t care. It’s important to him, and hopefully, it’ll be significant to Phil as well.

“I’ll ask her,” Phil says dismissively, continuing to stare lamentedly at a cardboard box. Then Phil seems to realise something,”There should be a pair somewhere in the kitchen boxes I think, I might go look, I can’t get this box open,” he explains, "And I believe it is the one I put my phone charger in.”

“Phil,”Dan says, unable to avoid the hint of annoyance in his tone and the smirk his lips are forming. Now it’s just a game of how long Phil will remain oblivious.

“Or maybe it wasn’t this one, did I put it in one of the suitcases instead?”

“Phil,” Dan repeats exasperatedly

Phil finally snaps out of it and turns to look at him. “Sorry, yeah. I…,”Phil’s gaze falls from Dan’s smile to his hidden hands,”…did you need help with something?”

“No, no. Not at all. But, I have something for you.” He cocks his head towards his concealed hands.

“What? ” Phil blinks, looking confused. 

“It’s a housewarming gift,” he clarifies.

“We haven’t unpacked the dishes yet, now is hardly the time for…”

“Shhh,” he says, and miraculously, Phil stops talking,”just close your eyes.”

“Dan.”

“Close your eyes,” he insists, stepping precariously over several boxes and around a suitcase that’s extruding its contents (clothes, plushies, books, and…what the hell even is that?) across the floor. Phil sighs pointedly and lets his eyelids flutter closed.

“Okay, now hold out your hands.”

Phil complies without protest this time.  Dan’s suddenly nervous. This is a stupid idea, what is he thinking? After a long moment of hesitation, Dan carefully sets the base of the object onto Phil’s palms. It’s fairly sizable, and awkward to hold, so Dan wraps Phil’s fingers around it with his own to make sure it doesn't topple over onto the floor.

“Wh—,”Phil breathes, opening snapping open his eyes. 

“For you.”

Phil’s eyes widen as he stares at the potted plant in his hands. It’s bright green leaves are spilling over the edges of the ceramic pot.

“Oh my god, Dan. When did you—?”

“I had Louise pick it up for me,” he says softly, staring at the floor pointedly. This is stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

“It’s beautiful. I—.” Phil breaks off.

“You couldn’t leave all of your houseplants behind, and I figured if you hated it you wouldn’t have to keep it for long anyways considering how quickly you kill them, so…”

“I…thank you. I…”

The fact that Phil doesn’t respond to his jab proves that he likes it. Knowing that makes Dan feel near ecstatic.

“Well?”

“Well, what?” Phil asks.

“Aren’t you going to name it?” he suggests with a smile.

“Right,”Phil nods,”Of course. It wouldn’t be right if it didn’t have a name.”

“And it can’t be Susan 3,” Dan teases, and Phil gives him a defiant look.

“Okay, how about…Charlotte.”

“Mmm, no. It’s too reminiscent of dying spiders.” 

“Phyllis?”

“Too similar to Phil.”

“Winston?”

“I mean, at least that’s slightly historical. And very British of you.”

“So Winston it is?”

“Winston it is.”

-

Chapter Text

-

Dan ends up feeling off. His breath is shallow in his chest as if he can’t quite fill his lungs all of the way. But it isn’t entirely physical. There’s something else too, a sensation, a feeling that can’t quite be put to syllables. It’s a bit like missing a step on a staircase. A jolt of being off kilter. Except the sensation lasts, and it’s intense. And it won’t go away. Dan swallows thickly, trying to focus on the music that he’s listening to. But the words have turned to meaningless noise. 

Frank Ocean’s album has dissolved away. The beat of the song seems to be anxious, not calming. It wasn’t long ago that Dan had felt okay. What is wrong? What is even wrong? 

Dan’s head is spinning. He's numb, numb, numb. It lays over top of his skin. He grinds his fingernails into his forearm, digging at the skin. That’s when it hits Dan. 

He wants to hurt. And it’s…more than that. 

Dan wants to be hurt. 

Dan needs someone to hurt him, to use him. He wants…he deserves…to feel terrible. At least it will be feeling something, right?

And to feel anything but empty. Anything but numb sounds like a miracle right about now. 

The scars on Dan’s wrists seem to be begging to be torn back open. 

He wants…

No, Dan needs…

Reluctantly, Dan releases his grip on his arm, pulling away his hand to stare at the four deep, purple half moons that are left behind. There’s no way he can even rationalise to himself what he’s feeling. 

Nothing sounds more disgusting to Dan than letting someone touch him, than hands groping, crawling over his skin. Lips and limbs trapping him down. Pain and humiliation turning his skin pink. Sex is the most violating and triggering and abhorrent thing that Dan can possibly think of. His jaw tightens, and Dan has to force himself to push the images out of his head. 

Touch, intimacy, sex. Even the thought of it brings all of those memories back. 

That’s what Dan wants. To be reminded. Of how revolting he is. How disgusting. 

Just a toy. A slave. A piece of meat. Only exists to be used. 

And he has been used. Used so much that he is broken, undesirable, repugnant. 

He is nothing. Nothing more than this, nothing more than the way he feels, nothing more than what they did to him, nothing more than a fun time. Nothing, nothing. In a daze, Dan slides the headphones off of his ears, and they fall onto his bed with a thud. The music cuts off, but the white noise doesn’t stop. 

He makes his way out of his room and into the shadowed hall. Dark shapes creep up the wall like ghostly black vines. Dan’s own shadow, warped out of shape, curls across the pale paint. Boxes, some still sealed with packing tape, some with their contents spilling out, litter the walkway.

For a moment Dan pauses. This house still doesn’t feel right to him. It’s too echoey, too empty. He’s not sure that he belongs here. 

The door to Phil’s room is open, and the bedside lamp lit. The golden light spills out of the doorway and onto Dan’s feet.

“Oh, hey,” Phil says, looking up as Dan walks in. He closes the novel that was open on his lap and smiles weakly at Dan. 

Phil’s already in his bedclothes, sitting with his back against the headboard. His socks have red pandas on them, and his glasses are slightly crooked on his nose. Endearing is the first word that pops into Dan’s mind. Not intimidating, but endearing. It disrupts his line of thought for only an instant because Phil’s so dissimilar to the fantasy that is playing out in his mind. 

“Hi,” Dan mumbles, approaching and sitting on the edge of the bed. He tucks his feet under him and scoots until he’s right next to Phil, their shoulders touching. Phil watches him all the while, his thumb moving habitually over the cover of his novel where’s he’s holding his spot with one hand. 

Dan stares at Phil’s long pale fingers, with calluses from writing, but no other signs of wear. No roughness to them. He can’t picture those hands hurting him. 

This is wrong. 

It’s all wrong. 

What is he doing?

Leaning into Phil, Dan finds his free hand and sides his fingers into it. The physical touch almost makes him recoil. But this is what Dan wants; this is what he wants. He reminds himself that he deserves to feel like this, that it’s supposed to feel like this. 

Phil’s gaze is contemplating Dan’s face,”Is—is everything okay bear?” 

“Yeah. I’m fine,” Dan says, and he finds that he can’t meet Phil’s eyes. That seems wrong. Not when he’s using Phil to get what he wants, defiling him. Not when he’s so disgusting. So… 

Dan moves even closer to Phil and tries to ignore the confusion that is wrinkling Phil’s forehead. The place where Phil’s hand is connected to his feels like pins and needles. Or static, skin turning into pixels. He grinds his jaw.

“I love you,” Dan’s voice is quiet because the words sit in his chest like a lie. 

Right now, perhaps it is a lie. 

“Love you too.” Phil turns to look at Dan when he speaks, his blue eyes kind. Too kind. It threatens to shatter everything Dan is trying to create. The trepidation is finally overridden by that disgusting sensation telling him that he has to do something, feel something, feel terrible, be used. Dan closes the gap between them. His lips press forcefully against Phil’s. 

As he’s taken by surprise, Phil’s grip on Dan’s hand shudders. The book falls from his hand. But Dan doesn’t give him much time to react, and it’s only a moment before Phil sinks into Dan, almost out of instinct, reciprocating. But it’s soft and gentle, and so…Phil…that it makes guilt churn in Dan’s stomach. 

Something thick and black pours over Dan’s limbs and into his chest. 

He deepens the kiss, his movements suddenly aggressive. Lips and heat and tongues swirl together. It’s overwhelming, and Dan is drowning in it. And he can’t bring himself to touch Phil, but Phil’s fingers are carding through his hair. He wishes Phil would tighten his grip. Make it hurt. Yank him closer by his hair, or order him to…

For a moment Dan’s lips slip from Phil’s, and he gasps for air. Apparently, he was holding his breath. 

“Dan, I…this isn’t—”

Phil is cut off, because Dan is kissing him again, desperately. But it’s not enough. Dan still feels…empty. Perhaps even emptier than before. He knows Phil won’t hurt him. That’s…rather the problem. 

A force presses against Dan’s chest, pushing him away. It takes him off guard, and he sways slightly, clamping his eyelids closed. Air stings as it fills Dan’s lungs. 

“Dan, stop,”Phil says raggedly.

The fear in his voice makes Dan’s shoulders sag. Oh god. 

“Please,” he whispers, suddenly terrified. 

Please what? Because half of Dan is begging, please hurt me. But what he was going to say was please don’t hurt me. What is he supposed to feel? 

He curls back, recoiling from Phil. Because Phil’s going to be mad, he’s going to be mad. Oh god. Oh god. 

A whimper escapes Dan’s throat. He’s messed everything up. Nausea is pouring over him, his lips and where Phil’s hands touched seems to burn. Tracks of fire across his skin. Dan is disgusting. He shouldn’t even be touching Phil. Gross. Dirty. Wrong.

“I—,” he chokes out. Dan scrambles off of Phil’s bed, his knees crumbling slightly when he tries to stand. 

“I—I’m sorry.” 

He glances from the floor up to Phil’s confusion. It’s only for an instant that Dan can bear to look at that. He’s being the predator here, he’s being wrong. 

“Please d—don’t—.”

Dan shakes his head, unable to formulate words because his mind is spinning too quickly. He has to escape, everything is screaming for him to escape. Get out. 

“Dan, no, please. Don't go,”Phil says, starting to move to stand. 

“It’s okay. It’s—.”

Dan backs away, frantic. His shoulder blades scraping into the door frame finally stops him. 

“I—,” he stutters and then turns, darting through the entryway and down the darkened hall instead of into the safety of his room. 

He hears Phil call out for him from behind him somewhere, but he doesn’t slow down.

When Dan reaches the bathroom, he slams the door behind him. Flipping the lock before staggering over to the sink, he wretches and bile stings his throat.

The shadows, reflected in the mirror, seem to edge closer to Dan. Trapping him in, making him choke on muted black. 

-

Strangely, Phil doesn’t say anything about it the next morning. Dan anticipates outright anger or prying questions, or at the very least uncomfortable distance between them. But instead, Phil sets about making them coffee. He succeeds only after digging through various boxes for half an hour to find the necessary mugs, hot water kettle, and instant mix. Somehow, though all of those objects had been fairly proximal in location, they’d ended up in separate boxes. 

“Aha,” Phil exclaims when he finds the last thing he needs,”Finally.” Phil pulls a canister of instant coffee out of a box and grins, his hair slightly mussed. 

They sit cross-legged on the grey tile floor of their new kitchen. The dining chairs are in the lounge for some reason. Dan leans against the island, his back pressing into ridges of cool wood. It’s mostly silent, but not in an awkward way. 

Dan’s nervous, having to shift and fiddle even more than usual, tapping his finger against the hot porcelain of his cup over and over. He feels incriminated. 

“So,”Phil says at last, after taking a thick swig of saccharine coffee,”I was thinking, once we get all caffeinated up, we could tackle this kitchen. Cause I don’t think I can live off of take out and pizza forever, so the sooner we have plates, the better.”

“Sounds good,” Dan nods, keeping his eyes fixed on the floor. 

“Of course, I don’t want to unpack too much. And if we’re going to paint a lot of the walls we can’t really hang anything yet.”

“Yes, I…,” Dan takes a quick breath, reminding himself that if Phil were going to bring it up, he would’ve by now. He continues in the closest he can muster to casual,”What colour are you thinking for your room?” 

“I haven’t decided yet. Maybe, a very light green? Almost white?”

“Mmm,” Dan hums,”That’d be nice. I think I’ll just go for white.”

“Not black?” Phil says, and his eyes smile. “Not matching your soul?”

“I’m rebranding,” he deadpans,”New house, new me.”

“Is that going to apply to your wardrobe. Because I look forward to seeing—.”

“No,” Dan cuts in,”No, it won’t. I can only rebrand so much.”

“Whatever you say,”Phil shrugs,”But personally, I think you look good in white.”

Dan flushes and looks down at his lap. Phil’s wrong of course, he doesn’t look right—muchless good—in anything anymore. Nonetheless, he would give almost anything to feel this light for forever. It’s one stupid compliment…Jesus Christ, he is so dumb. 

When Dan’s done being an idiot, and Phil has consumed the cream and sugar concoction he claims is coffee, they start opening boxes. How they ended up accumulating so much shit, and why they moved all of it, Dan has no idea. Do he and Phil need so many mugs? This kitchen is slightly bigger than their old one, which is a godsend since their cups seem to be asexually reproducing. 

The pantry is excessively large as well, more so than the kitchen. 

“Good for hiding skeletons,”Phil comments. 

Phil’s cheery for some reason, or…maybe he’s trying to make Dan feel better, he can’t tell. Intentional or not, it works. 

By mid-afternoon the kitchen is mostly organised, the boxes emptied, and Dan’s exhausted. He can blame the fatigue for anything he says, right? 

“Hey Phil,” Dan starts, as he shifts a more aesthetically pleasing bowl to the front of the cupboard, ”a—about last night. I…”

Dan hesitates, feeling abruptly heavy,“I just. Got in this…weird state, and I—. I never should’ve. I’ve made a…”

“I’ve made a terrible mistake, and I hope you forgive me,” Dan says in one breath. 

“It’s okay,” Phil says, his tone soft,”It wasn’t your fault. And, I forgive you.”

“Okay,” he whispers. 

Chapter Text

Phil leaves their new flat three days a week. No exceptions. Even before they’d moved, his schedule had been the same. It’s consistent, but also monotonous. On Monday, he has his personal therapy session. After a few weeks with Tamara, Dan had been comfortable enough to agree to each of them having a session alone with her every week. There are some things that Dan can’t say in front of him. Which makes sense: frankly, there are a lot of things Phil doesn’t feel like he can say in front of Dan. Like about how lost he is. He’s not even the victim of a terrible trauma. He shouldn’t be so sad. He shouldn’t be like this. 

So Phil needs that separate time, to try and understand what’s wrong with him without hurting Dan. It’s only an hour with Tamara. For his appointment, Phil goes alone.

They both go on Wednesday. 

On Friday, Dan has his appointment. Phil always goes with him to the office. They take a cab, not public transportation, never the Underground or buses. Once Dan is safely inside with Tamara, Phil goes grocery shopping. 

He can’t talk Dan into going with him anymore. At first it’d worked; they could go shopping, to museums and parks, even to see Martyn and Cornelia. Now, Dan won’t go into public. 

He just won’t. 

And it’s understandable. 

Phil can promise to keep Dan safe from four slain monsters. He can protect him from the figures who haunt his nightmares, but not from millions of eyes. Millions of people who might recognize Dan. Who might know. 

It used to happen all the time. They would run into people who were fans, selfies and awkward interactions would ensue. Back then, it had been a very different kind of uncomfortable. Sometimes it had been a minor inconvenience, but mostly they’d loved it. Phil was more comfortable than Dan with fans, it had always been that way. Dan was awkward at meet ups and not quite sure how to deal with physical contact. He was anxious about, yet skilled at performing in front of crowds, but he was patently shit at mingling with them. Dan was the type of person that did better with one-on-one, deep conversations than with large groups of chattering people. 

Of course, now he had new reasons to be afraid. Most of the fear wasn’t of them anymore. Not of terrible men, but of uncomfortable teenagers. 

Now Dan won’t go shopping with him. All it took was one incident. 

They’d been at a coffee shop, on the way back from their Wednesday appointment only a week after moving into the new flat. Dan was a bit subdued already, talking to Tamara usually left him like that. Thoughtful, quiet, lost in his own head. 

They decided to stay in and sit at a cozy table to enjoy their coffee. It was a bit chilly out, lightly drizzling. Typical early December weather in London, and perfect coffee shop weather in Phil’s opinion. 

It only took a few minutes of feeling strangely uncomfortable for Phil to notice that a girl two tables over was looking at them. They’d both become a lot more situationally aware, it came with the paranoia territory. 

Her eyes flicked away as soon as Phil acknowledged her. It wasn’t completely unusual. People who recognized them in the past and were nervous typically tried to hide their stares. The girl glanced back. She was older, probably a Uni student, and judging by the books spread across her table, studying for midterm exams. She turned back and this time Phil caught her gaze, smiling softly. They were nothing to be afraid of. He and Dan weren’t gods, they were youtubers for christ’s sake. Dan had also noticed the girl and was staring uncomfortably at his macchiato, stirring it mechanically. Apprehensive brown eyes danced over the back of Dan’s head. 

That’s when Dan made the mistake of turning to see what on earth Phil was staring at. The student froze, her mouth pressing into a thin line. Her expression was some combination of pain and sickness and pity. Dan paled. His throat bobbed as he choked back the emotion that was playing across his face. He stared downward fiercely in an attempt to hide the tears that were sliding down his cheeks. One dripped off of his chin and landed on the table. 

A few moments later, Dan pushed back his chair with a loud scrape and practically ran out of the shop, leaving Phil to try and catch up with him. 

“Dan,” he’d called out, standing abruptly. He passed the student on his way toward the door. Her eyes had turned glassy. 

They both learned something from that incident. 

Dan decided, as he later explained in their session together the following week, that he revolted everyone. 

Phil discovered that what they had once loved was now their downfall. 

Dan was recognizable for entirely the wrong reasons now. 

So Dan won’t go with him on errands. Now, even Phil finds it…

People don’t want to say ‘hi’ anymore. They just stare. They look at Phil with this terrible expression on their faces. And when he tries to acknowledge the stares of these random strangers, who at one time probably would’ve been dying to take a picture with him or meet him or hug him, they quickly glance away. 

And he’s not even Dan. He’s…why do they look at him like that? 

Of course he knows why. And it’s selfish to wish otherwise. Nonetheless, sometimes Phil just wishes people would ––

Would what? Not associate him with Dan? 

Wow, real supportive friend there, Phil, he corrects his own thoughts. Of course he doesn’t really want people to disassociate the two of them. Not really. But sometimes, maybe even just once, Phil wishes he could be treated like AmazingPhil again. Wishes that he could be a role model and public figure and successful entertainer again. Wishes that he could be more than an unapproachable object of pity. 

So, he understands—perfectly—why Dan won’t go anywhere public. Why Dan hides from everyone. He barely tolerates Louise or PJ or Phil’s family, much less his own; Phil shouldn’t hope for more. 

He does though. He hates himself for it, but he wants more. Phil wants his life back. He wants his career back.

He wants him back. 

It was what gave him purpose. Making others happy, making millions happy, gave Phil a reason to wake up every morning. It let him channel and express his creativity. 

Now all of those people, the ones he used to inspire and captivate. Those people are too afraid to even meet his gaze. 

-

Dan stares at the plaster ceiling. The splotched pattern, dimly lit by the city light outside his window, is cast into grey-scale relief. This pattern is slightly different from the one in Dan’s old bedroom, a bit more subtle. No cracks split the molding or plaster in this new flat either. Frankly, their old home had looked a bit like it could crumble to pieces at any second. 

Dan runs his eyes over the expanse of white above his head, feeling the image burn into his eyes. He has this odd, sinking feeling nestled somewhere in his chest. He can feel tension seeping into his hands, tensing his legs, making it harder to swallow. 

Something is wrong. Something is out of place. Something is off-kilter. 

Dan sucks in a deep breath, or tries to, but his lungs seem to have decided not to fully inflate. Squeezing his eyes closed, Dan wills himself to calm down. 

He’s fine. Why the hell is he like this? What the fuck is wrong with him?

Come on, Dan, he begs himself, not tonight. You don’t need to tonight. Please not tonight. 

He’s so tired. The exhaustion is pulling Dan’s eyelids down, coaxing him to keep them closed. His body is begging him to just rest. Close his eyes, relax his mind, drift off…

Rest. 

Dan grits his teeth, grinding them together until his jaw starts to ache. He’s fine. He’s fine. He doesn’t need to tonight. It’s been such a long day. He spent the entire time unpacking boxes and trying to organize his new living spaces. 

Just go to bed, he pleads.

He can’t. He can’t just sit there. Dan rolls over, staring at the blank wall of his room instead. He can’t not do it, because Dan can feel it. It’s as if someone’s watching him, or someone’s there. It’s as if Dan’s mind is playing the frenetic strings score that builds to jump scares in video games and horror films, except there is no climax. No ghosts appear, no zombies pop out, no conveniently timed crows disturb the stagnant air with their flapping wings and croaking shrieks. There is only the building pressure on Dan’s chest.

Something bad could happen. 

No. Something bad will happen. Unless Dan makes sure. 

He has to make sure. 

Dan taps a nervous rhythm against his thigh with his fingertips. Is there someone in his room? There’s no one…right? The pace of his tapping increases. Finally, something within him snaps. If he sits here any longer, he’ll go insane. Sitting up with a jolt, Dan pushes himself to his feet. 

Bare toes clenching into the carpet, Dan spins in a tortuous three-hundred-sixty degrees. He can physically feel that the flat is unsecured, that he isn’t safe. He has to check every shadowy corner, starting with this room.

This is the first step in Dan’s routine. There are fourteen in total. Fourteen things that he has to do before bed. Otherwise, he can’t sleep, can’t rest, can’t even stand to keep his eyes closed. Ever since they moved, he’s done his routine every night. It’s a really bad habit and Dan knows that, but he doesn’t know how else to make sure that everything stays out.

It’s as if throughout the day, the opening of doors and windows, and even just moments of minimal supervision of certain areas of the house, lets something in. Some terrible pollution, some person, some monster, some evil may have drifted or snuck in to a place that Dan needs to be safe. His room has to be safe. This flat, this building, has to be safe. If it isn’t, then he will never sleep. He will never relax.

He pulls up on the sashes of the windows in his room. They don’t budge. Good. Just for good measure, Dan reaches up and presses on the lock of each window as well, ensuring that it’s fully engaged. They live on an upper floor. Of course no one is going to come through the window. 

Part of Dan knows that this is all so goddamn stupid and illogical. But that voice is promptly overridden by the internal cacophony of panic and paranoia. 

The hall is quiet. The light in Phil’s room is already wicked out, so he must be asleep. Or maybe he’s awake and staring at the ceiling like Dan was. He knows that Phil doesn’t exactly sleep peacefully anymore. 

At least he doesn’t have to scour the house every night for a burglar or the boogie monster or Slenderman or some shit, Dan jabs. God, he really is a bit crazy. 

He works his way sequentially through the silent flat, systematically testing every door and window along the way. The lounge, the office, the kitchen, even the tiny rectangular window in the bathroom. The only room Dan can’t check is Phil’s. Which he doesn’t like thinking about. It makes him feel a bit dizzy, makes him light-headed and spinny.

Phil is safe, he tells himself firmly. 

He’s doing all of this to make sure that Phil is safe too. 

The front door is doubly latched, both the lock and the deadbolt are turned. Still, it’s the most likely way in; it’s how they got into the old flat. Dan jiggles the knob and presses on the latches three separate times. 

Dan’s halfway back to his room when a floorboard creaks. He freezes, glancing frantically around the room, wide-eyed. Is there someone there? Maybe the building is just settling. Maybe it’s nothing. 

Or maybe one of the lingering shadows is a person. 

He waits for an indefinite number of moments, feeling his chest rise and fall with his quick, shallow breaths. Finally, he concludes that it’s just a shadow. It’s always just a shadow. But for some reason, the fact that he’s never found anything or anyone doesn’t make Dan feel any better. It’s never enough to make him not check again the next night. 

Dan used to love nighttime. He was the ultimate night owl. Now, if he’s honest, he always feels much worse after dark. Things—people—can hide in the blackness. Every shadow crawls with hands and faces. 

He turns around, retracing his steps. 

Just one more time. He needs to do it just one more time, needs to be absolutely sure. And so Dan ends with the front door a second time. Now his routine is complete, it took fifteen steps this time. He just hopes that his footsteps didn’t wake or frighten Phil. 

When Dan returns to his room and carefully closes the door behind him, the feeling of weight on his shoulders and chest is more exhaustion than paranoia. He settles back onto his bed, tucking his knees up against his chest, and waits. For sleep to come, for his brain to shut up. For anything.

Dan can tell that tonight is going to be bad. That he’s not going to get much sleep, and that whatever rest he does get will be riddled with blurry memories and fractured nightmares. Something in the house thumps and Dan flinches. 

“It’s just Phil,” he mumbles to himself, “It’s just Phil, no one will hurt you, it’s just Phil, it’s not them, it’s just Phil…”

Chapter Text

-

Dan doesn’t drag himself out of bed until sometime after ten o’ clock. His brain feels clouded and too heavy. God, what he wouldn’t give for just one night, just eight hours, of good sleep. Quiet sleep. Peaceful, safe, boring-as-fuck sleep. But apparently, that’s impossible. He presses his eyelids tightly closed, trying to force the blurry images of his nightmares far into the back corners of his brain. Sometimes when he wakes up, it’s as if he’s just visited another, more horrific reality, but other times they’re just images. Disjointed scenes strung together by a feeling of dread and nausea. 

He wanders toward the hall bathroom, turning on the tap and splashing cold water on his face. Dan scrubs his eyelids and chin with the towel that is hanging up and then heads off to find Phil, and maybe coffee. But mostly Phil. 

Dan just wants an excuse to get last night out of his mind. He needs a distraction.

Phil is at the kitchen table with his laptop out, and the surface area is covered in what appears to be paperwork, or maybe bills? He’s not sure. 

“‘Morning.” Dan mumbles, heading toward the cupboard to pour himself a bowl of cereal. Phil murmurs a greeting in response. 

A few minutes later, Dan pulls out a chair and sets his bowl and spoon on the table in front of himself before sitting down.

“So,” Phil starts, looking up at him,”First order of business. Orange.”

“O-orange?,” Dan repeats, perplexed, before mumbling to himself,“What the f—.”

“I used to think, “Phil says, cutting off Dan’s musing,“That orange was a rather nice colour. I mean, candy corn, sunsets, fluffy kittens. Lots of things can come in very lovely shades of orange. But I just can’t stand it anymore.”

The confusion must be apparent on Dan’s face because Phil sits forward and continues. 

“Dan,” Phil says, closing his laptop, and looking up at him seriously, “My walls are so hideous. They’re properly hideous. It’s like someone’s shoved burnt pumpkin pie into my pupils.”

Dan snorts at Phil’s comment, nearly choking mid-swallow on his spoonful of milk. He takes a moment to cough, his eyes watering. 

“That sounds…uncomfortable,” Dan says, holding back another cough,”—and rude.”

“Rude is the perfect word. The walls in my room are rude.” 

“So?” Dan sets his spoon in his bowl with a clink, and looks up,”Your point is…?”

“What I am getting at is: something needs to change. Sooner rather than later.”

“Okay fine,” Dan says,”So have you got it all sorted out then?”

Phil shakes his head.”Well no, not really. I was thinking blue. Or maybe green…I want it to be bright. But not too bright, because I don’t want it to be juvenile. I want it to be classy, calm, but also fun and inv—” 

“No,” Dan interrupts,“Not the colour. I mean, have you found someone to do it?”

“To paint?”Phil asks blankly. 

“Mhmm,” Dan hums in response. Though honestly, he’s not relishing the idea of a group of strangers, probably burly men, traipsing through the house. Through what’s supposed to be his one island of safety. 

“Umm, no.” The way Phil’s face shifts makes it seem as though he’s somehow been caught redhanded, “I don't want to hire anyone. I was thinking…that…we could do it ourselves.”

Phil.” Dan drops his hands in exasperation and they thud against the surface of the table. He stares at Phil pointedly. This is an absolutely terrible idea. Surely Phil has to realize that. 

“What?” Phil asks defensively. 

“Have you ever painted a wall in your entire life?”

“No,” Phil admits. ”Have you?”

“No,” Dan replies firmly, ”and that’s exactly my point. We’re not handy or artistic; we have no idea what we’re doing.”

“I have an A-Level in art,” Phil declares, and Dan can’t help but groan. Oh yes, like Phil’s A-Level art class definitely taught him how to paint a wall or do any sort of home improvement project. 

“So,” Phil continues, realizing that his argument is failing,”We’ll figure it out.”

“You can’t even draw.”

“It’s not like I’m going to paint a mural. It’s all one colour. What can go wrong?”

“Oh I’m sure we’ll find out,” Dan grumbles.

“Don’t be such a pessimist. Maybe it’s my secret undiscovered talent!”

“Maybe,” Dan responds skeptically, pushing his chair back and walking toward the sink with his now empty cereal bowl. 

They fall silent for a moment. Dan can practically hear Phil’s hesitation behind him at the table. He rinses the last dregs of milk out of his bowl, delaying turning around because he has a feeling Phil is about to confront him. 

Here it comes, Dan thinks, preparing himself for the inevitable. Phil’s going to ask him to go out. He knows it. He can feel it coming. 

“Will you pick out paint chips with me?,” Phil asks at last. His voice is quiet, imploring. 

Dan stares at the glass and greytile of the backsplash in front of him, studying the grout. “Phil—I…”

“Pleeeeease? It’s a DIY store, I’ve been in one maybe once. I don't know how to find anything.”

It’s a pretty weak excuse on Phil’s part. 

“And I’ll know how to find things?,” he asks skeptically, wiping his hands on the towel that’s hanging from the stove and finally turning around to face Phil again. 

“Yes, you’ve worked in one. I need you to show me around, or I’ll probably get lost in the plumbing aisle.”

For a moment Dan can envision it in his head, Phil wandering past endless pallets of PVC pipes, looking utterly bewildered and alone. Dan forces down a smile. How bad can it be? Who even frequents DIY stores, surely not his past audience, right? 

“If anyone could get lost in a DIY store, it’d be you,” he admits. ”You and your excellent orienteering skills.”

“Exactly!”

“Alright.” Dan swallows, feeling the dread that’s been in his gut all morning swell,”I…I guess I can help you pick out your stupid paint.”

-

The DIY Store on a Tuesday afternoon is ghostly empty. Other than a few employees lurking around in their work aprons, the aisles are vast, echoey expanses of concrete and shelves stacked with all manner of home improvement supplies. The whole store smells vaguely of pine, glue, and paint. 

Dan feels like he and Phil are incredibly out of place. He glances around them incessantly as he follows Phil blindly to the paint center. (So much for him being the navigator.) Phil is still musing about the qualities he wants in his future paint color, and Dan hums in absentminded agreement, too busy keeping watch to actuallylisten.

Next to the mixing center is a backlit display filled with a rainbow of paint chips. Giving Phil so many options is probably dangerous.

Dan stands numbly in front of the display as Phil walks from one side to the other, pulling out a variety of colours and then putting them all back. 

“I don’t know,” Phil is saying,”I just can’t quite envision it on the wall, it’s hard to see in my head, you know?”

Dan looks to the left and right. No one. There’s no one. He inhales deeply through his nose, forcing his arms down to his sides and his shoulders to drop from their tensed position. Dan doesn’t have to be on high alert right now, there’s no one around. He’s fine. He’s fine

He swallows with difficulty and finally tunes into what Phil is saying. 

“What do you think? Is it too bright?”

“No,” Dan says, forcing adoring exasperation into his voice to mask the panic he is struggling to suppress, “You cannot paint it lime green.” Christ, that’s such an ugly colour, perhaps Phil asked his opinion just to get his attention. 

“But I like it,” Phil whines. 

“Phil, that’s hideous and you know it.”

Phil slides the palette of bright greens and yellows back into place with exaggerated dejection, running his eyes over the expanse of the display. 

“Well then,” Phil says,”what colour do you like? And don’t you dare—“

“I like these.” Dan motions to the greys and blacks, smirking slightly. 

“So on brand of you,” Phil mutters, rolling his eyes. 

“I’m teeeeasing.” He drags out the word to emphasize his point. “But really, I think you should go for something lighter. You’re going to have to look at this colour every day, you don't want it to be something that will literally burn your eyes.”

“I don’t know,” Phil frowns, ”This is kind of overwhelming.” 

“Here,” Dan says as an idea comes to him. ”You close your eyes, I’ll read off names, and you tell me when one snags your imagination.” 

“I think you’d be good at naming paint colours, Dan,” Phil muses, closing his eyes. 

It’s a very random comment. “I’m not sure if that’s meant to be a compliment or not, but thank you.” 

He steps toward the display and pulls out a card of three blue hues, reading out their names in succession. About ten paint chips later, Phil stops him. 

“That one,” he says. ”Moonbeam.” Phil opens his eyes and peers around Dan’s shoulder to examine the color. 

“It’s perfect,” Phil says quietly, almost intimately. The colour is very light, white with just a hint of blue and grey. It’s pretty.  

“Moonbeam it is then,” Dan says, looking at Phil fondly. 

They have to call an attendant to the counter to have the paint mixed. He’s a teenager, rather reminiscent of Dan’s horrific DIY store employee years. Dan wonders what embarrassing stories this boy has. Whatever they are, they’re probably not as bad as his. Despite the utter lack of threat that the employee poses, Dan can’t stand that there’s someone there paying attention to him, even if that attention is begrudging. He remains silent while Phil gives directions regarding the supplies they need, running his fingernails back and forth over the inside of his palms. 

-

They drag the furniture away from the walls and drape it in cloth painter’s tarps. It makes the room look rather ghostly, a layer of dust and cobwebs the only thing missing. Even though Phil insists that he’s not going to be that messy, Dan still takes the initiative to tape off the trim, door frames, and window sills, as well as the rim around the ceiling, with the papery blue painter’s tape they purchased. 

Better safe than sorry, right?

The next day Dan actually gets up at a reasonable time, and after a quick breakfast, they set to work on the real job: actually painting.

“So Phil,” Dan asks, examining the thin paint brush he’s holding, ”how steady is your hand?” He spent enough time last night reading up on the topic to know that there are two parts to this procedure. Covering the walls with rolled on paint, and painting all of the edges and tight spots with a brush. And judging by the stubborn garishness of this orange, it’s going to take multiple coats to cover. 

“Umm,” Phil replies, shrugging slightly, ”I’d say…not very steady. At all. I’m kind of lacking in the coordination department.”

“Oh, so that’s why I’ve always kicked your ass in video games.”

“Shut up, what I lack in coordination I make up for in skill.”

“Mmm,” Dan makes a skeptical noise. ”Well in that case. You’d better take this—,” Dan picks the pole with paint roller attached to it up off the floor and hands it to Phil, “—and I’ll do the edges.”

“Got it,” Phil says, but he doesn’t make any move to begin. 

“And I don’t want to knock over the paint can, right?”

“Jesus, this was such a terrible idea,” Dan groans. 

“I haven’t done anything wrong, yet!”

“That yet wasn’t very reassuring Phil. Just—don’t get any paint on the ceiling or the trim. Or the carpet and furniture. It is all covered up, so unless you perform some majestic feat and manage to flick paint in just the right spot, you should be okay.” 

“I’ll be careful.”

“I’ve made this room Phil-proof, so hopefully it’ll be fine.” 

Phil gives Dan a disgruntled glare. 

By nine pm, they’re both exhausted, but the room is finished. Dan really should’ve thought to cover himself in tape. He swears he has moonlight blue dappled all over himself. It just had better fucking not be in his hair. 

“Well,” he says, looking over to Phil and stepping into the center of the room, near the fabric-covered collection of furniture, ”what do you think?”

Phil steps back next to him. 

“I love it.”

“Me too.”

Phil looks over at him, his eyes locking with Dan’s. Dan’s gaze shifts away to the dollop of blue  paint on the tip of Phil’s nose. He steps closer, swiping the paint off with the side of one of his only not-paint-coated fingers. 

“You have paint on your nose, you fucking adorable mess,” Dan says softly, unable to suppress a smile. 

Phil doesn’t respond, just presses his lips together into a slightly tilted line, and then relaxes his mouth again.

They just look at each other. And the moment hangs in the air like it’s waiting for something. Like they’re waiting for something. 

“Well,” Dan says, clearing his throat and averting his eyes to stare at the floor. ”Should we go change?”

“Yeah.” Phil still sounds dazed. ”Yeah, we should.”

-

Chapter Text

The next day, they take down the tape and tarps and move Phil’s furniture back against the walls. Everything is pretty much back to normal, but that moment from yesterday lingers in Phil’s mind. 

There was something there. Something between them, for just a moment. And it felt like a sliver of before. It felt…like Japan. Like the realization they had both had that they were facing the world together. Phil knows that there is something there, something scary and untouchable. 

He feels guilty for even thinking about it. It’s a topic he doesn’t dare to consider, even in the privacy of his own head. Phil sits in his bed that evening with a book resting in his lap,staring blankly at the shadows cast across the pages by the light of his reading lamp, and he thinks about that moment.

He can remember how it had felt weeks ago when Dan was touching him, kissing him. Of course, that had been completely wrong, it hadn’t really been Dan. It had been self destructive Dan, using Phil as a means to vent, to cope. But still. What if it had been different? What if they could really be physically close? Phil isn’t even sure that he wants anything that— extreme. It’s the idea of physical contact that he can’t shake. He and Dan had always been touchy, but after everything that had happened, they just weren’t anymore. Not really. 

This is so wrong for him to even be thinking about 

Phil can imagine that moment yesterday ending differently. He can imagine words that before, he’d held back slipping from his lips and really meaning something. He can picture the scene in his head. And it’s wrong. So, so wrong. 

Phil wants Dan to be close, physically close. He supposes that in the past, their casual, affectionate contact had been enough because Phil had felt more fulfilled. He had friendships, he had passions. 

Phil chews on his lip, studying the pristine blue of his newly painted walls. And suddenly, he’s trying not to tear up. 

The realization has finally hit him. 

Phil is lonely. 

He is so beyond what the word lonely can convey. 

And maybe, just maybe, if yesterday had ended differently, he would feel just a little less alone right now. 

Staring back down at his book, he watches the sentences swirl. Phil wants to be loved, and he wants Dan to love him. Because now more than ever, it seems like it’s just them. Like only the two of them can really understand. Because they’re the only ones who’ve been around through all of this. And if Phil thought he’d gone through everything with Dan before, and that had practically shaped them into one entity, then it’s even more true now. 

-

“You’re not as bright today,” Dan says from across the room. Dan’s eyes feel heavy, as if they’re pressing against Phil’s chest. Normally he does okay at concealing any negative emotions, but today, Phil is just too weighed down. Too tired. Too depressed. 

“Oh,” he says, sounding more despondent that surprised,”No, no. I’m okay. Don’t worry.”

Phil is heavy. Not sad, necessarily, or numb. Most of the time, he can drift through the day and manage to accomplish things and seem alright. He even has moments of genuine happiness. But inevitably, he returns to this. The weight comes back, and he ends up like he is today. Heavy. He sinks so far that he starts to blur into everything he touches. He is transparent, soluble. 

“Phil?” Concern leaks into the way Dan says his name. “Please come here.”

He ignores Dan. 

“Just, come sit down and talk to me.”

Phil hesitates. Honestly, he really wants to talk about this. He’s been wanting to get all of this out for a long time. It’s not that therapy doesn’t help, but talking to Dan is different. It used to be so helpful, having Dan there to listen, to know how he was feeling. It’s different talking to your best friend than it is talking to a counselor. Having someone that he cares about, and who he knows cares about him, know, and maybe even start to understand, is invaluable. 

But out of habit Phil says, “Dan, I’m fine.”

“You’re not bright today.” Dan repeats. 

“What does that mean?” Phil asks. 

“You tell me.” Dan motions with his head to the couch beside him. He’s waiting for Phil to join him. 

Phil considers what to do for a long moment. Maybe if he tells Dan, he’ll feel less hopeless, less alone. Though he’ll probably feel more guilty as well. He walks over to the sofa and sinks down slowly. 

“I—I’ll be okay.” Phil does’t sound very confident, even to his own ears. He starts to fuss with the hem of one of the sofa cushions. 

“Okay,” Dan says, leaning toward him slightly and trying to look Phil in the eye, ”but, I still want you to talk to me. About how you feel. Tell me.”

“Dan, you don't have to do this.” Phil already feels like a burden, and he hasn’t even said anything yet. Even though he knows this is genuine concern on Dan’s part, it doesn’t feel like it. This whole scenario feels like an obligation to Phil. ‘Oh yes, time to take care of Phil and let him talk about his feelings so he’ll act normal again.’ It feels akin to a necessary evil, like changing a light bulb or doing the dishes. He feels like an obligation. “You don't have to take care of me,” he mutters.

“Maybe I just want to check in on my best friend,” Dan replies, hurt edging into his voice. Then he mumbles as an afterthought, ”You never would’ve been so offended by this before.”

“Before was different.” Phil can’t help but be defensive, because it’s true. Before was different. He doesn’t have any right to complain anymore, not compared to Dan at least. It’s changed how it’s acceptable for him to act. He doesn’t need or deserve to be the fucking center of attention. 

“How so?”

The question surprises Phil. And he doesn’t quite know how to articulate exactly what’s changed without— Well, without sounding like an absolute ass. 

“You,” Dan stares at his lap,”—you think cause I’m the one who… You think that means that I’m the only person who is allowed to be sad.”

Well, as horrible as it sounds, Dan isn’t exactly wrong. 

“I promise it’s okay. Just, spill your guts. No judgement.”

Phil still doesn’t quite believe it. “You promise you won’t feel guilty? Cause really, it’s not at all you're fault that I’m like this, I—.”

“I promise,” Dan interjects. 

Phil isn’t even sure how to start, so he begins with Dan’s own words. “I guess like you said, I—I’m not as bright today. I mean you know this, I’m… Tamara says I’m depressed.”

“Mhm.” Dan’s waiting for him to continue. Phil shifts uncomfortably. 

“I guess I just. I feel like I don't exist. Like I’m barely here. Immaterial, almost. I’m not sad, I’m just— missing.”

The last word catches in his throat, replacing Phil’s lack of feeling with a slap of sadness. 

“And I—” He can feel his eyes filling with tears. Goddamn it. ”I’m so tired of it. It’s exhausting.”

“I know,” Dan whispers.

“How did I used to exist and just be happy? All the time! How did I even do that? I can’t remember what that’s like. Happy is too much work. Feeling is too much work.”

Phil studies the lounge, trying to avoid Dan and find a distraction. His eyes settle on the greenery in the corner. He needs to water Winston, a few of his leaves have wilted and are starting to turn brown at their tips.  

“What makes you happy, Phil?,” Dan asks quietly. “What is it that you miss?”

God, this is so wrong, it makes him feel so selfish. 

“I miss our old life. I don't just mean you. I miss…”

Phil trails off because honestly, he's not sure what it is exactly that he misses. He just knows that his mind is a swirling eddy of anger and sadness, and Phil is sinking into the mire. 

“Everything is so unfair,” he says darkly, his voice thick with emotion, a feeling Phil can really only describe as rage. “We never deserved this, Dan. You never deserved this, I never deserved this. What the hell did we do to make this happen? We worked so hard, we were so…” 

They had been so happy. So successful. They were good people. They did things the right way. What power in the universe had decided that this was the proper path for them to have to walk down? Phil had always been an optimist, always believed that everything was for the best. Or at the very least, that there was joy and opportunity to be found in everything. But this? This is just incomprehensible. It’s so unfair, and it makes him fucking angry. 

“It’s not fair! It's not fair that all of that was taken away like it was. I— I want to be solid again. I want you to be…” Noticing the volume of and frustration in his tone, Phil trails off. 

“Sorry,” he says, the self-consciousness flooding back. Everything he said was so stupid and selfish.  

“I’m… I’m just sad today,” he finishes.  At least it’s an explanation, even if it’s insufficient. 

“It’s okay Phil, really it’s okay.” 

Like hell it is, Phil wants to say. But he doesn’t. 

“Please,” Dan whispers, ”can I hold your hand?”

The sentence snaps Phil back in time. It pulls him out of their new lounge, miles away, and suddenly he is in that curtained off hospital room again, scrutinizing Dan’s ashen face to try and figure out if anything is ever going to be okay ever again. The incessant beeping of the heart monitor and the thumping of Phil’s own heartbeat are throbbing in his ears. Dan is clutching Phil’s fingers like they’re the only grip he has as he dangles over a precipitous drop. Even then, when Phil had had no idea what was coming next, he hadn’t realized it would be this hard. Even when he had walked in on Dan that day, he didn’t have any idea how fucking difficult everything would be. 

Phil breaks. He sobs against Dan’s shoulder, his breathing ragged and gasping. 

“I’m lonely,” Phil stammers between shuddering breaths. With his face in Dan’s shirt he can smell and feel Dan’s presence, even with his eyes squeezed shut. “And I think I’m a pessimist now.”

Dan has his arms wrapped around Phil now, holding him close. 

“And I’m just. I—I’m so… so— angry.”

-

They develop a sort of code. A system of phrases to alert each other to the other’s state on any given day. 

Life is really fucking weird when the world seems to revolve around trauma. It’s so precarious, and unpredictability is exhausting. 

Because some days, the whole world is not condensed to a bubble of those three days. Sometimes Dan can exist outside of that nightmare of blood and bad memories, and he can be almost normal. He can be sarcastic, he can smile, he can be casually close with Phil. But every morning is like waking up and tossing a coin. Hell, every moment is a roller coaster of ‘when will I not be okay next?’. 

Phil’s life is a bit more monotonous. Too steady, perhaps. The same monochrome, grey existence, punctuated only by the occasional darker spell. 

Some mornings Phil never seems to really wake up. 

Some mornings Dan wakes up with bile in the back of his throat and the frenetic urge to writhe out of his own skin. On those days, it feels like it’s only been moments since it all happened. It feels like they're right there, their hot breath on the back of his neck, their bodies pressing up against him, slowly suffocating him. It feels like the entire world is watching him be violated and hurt. 

“Is it a no-touching-day?” Phil will ask, and Dan will just nod, unable to even articulate how terrified and used and horrible he’s feeling. A no-touching day means that Phil stays five feet away from Dan at all times. He moves slowly and purposely, never making any loud noises and never going out of sight. Because all of those things terrify Dan. They make him struggle to decide if he wants to plead for Phil to come closer, or make him go far, far away. On those days, Dan is gone, replaced with a frightened, smaller, more damaged version of himself. A Dan that just wants to hide from everyone and everything. 

No-touching Dan will give and do anything to feel and be safe. It’s such a confusing state of being. Dan so wants to be comforted, but is terrified of having anyone near him. Proximity increases the probability of being hurt.

There are days of intrusive thoughts and dark impulses, there are days of numb, there are days of crying. But the no-touching days, those are the worst. 

In all of the days in between, the house slowly fills in, piece by piece. A new decorative item here, a piece of wall art there. Dan spends time online looking at inspiration, and then ordering things or sending Phil after them. He keeps his room very minimalist. Sharp lines and white walls to complement the deep brown planks of the hardwood floor. The lounge is cozier, but that’s more Phil’s doing than his. 

Dan leaves one side of his room, one wall, completely empty. It’s for something special, something he really wants, but he doesn’t feel ready for that yet. 

-

“Why do you think you feel empty?,” Tamara asks as she shifts in her chair, purposely leaning toward Phil. He feels uncomfortable because he knows that his response is going to be something she’s going to have an answer for, and it might not be an answer he wants to hear. Do more things, get involved again, etc. And it… just doesn’t work like that. It’s not that easy for Phil to force himself back into his old lifestyle, he can’t do it. 

“I..I’m not sure,” Phil responds slowly, staring blankly at his hands. ”I guess I, I feel like I don’t have a purpose anymore.” 

It’s true, his life seems practically meaningless at this point. 

“Anymore?,” she questions. ”So you did used to have a purpose then. What do you think happened to that purpose?” 

Phil doesn’t know how to answer that. It seems like it…went away. Or maybe like it was taken away. 

“Before all of this I knew what I was doing. Where I was going. The things that I did, and the people I was with…” He trails off and shifts uneasily in his chair, picking at a loose thread on his jeans. He’s not saying what he wants to say, and he’s not articulating it correctly either. 

“It was my dream,” he starts again, ”I was living it. Now I don’t have a purpose.”

“So your dream was always YouTube then?”

“No,” he says, a bit confused, because of course that’s not true, YouTube barely existed when he first started out, it had never been meant to amount to anything. “Not YouTube. Film.” 

Tamara leans back in her chair and recrosses her legs. “Sounds like your dream failed to me.”

Phil is slightly taken aback and his gaze refocuses, snapping back to his therapist. ”N-no, it, it didn’t.”

“Have you ever directed any blockbuster films?” She asks pointedly. 

It’s a question that she already knows the answer to. “No.”

“But you were still living your dream?” Tamara tilts her head and looks at him, and even though he has dropped his gaze again, Phil can feel himself being scrutinized.

“Yes of course, it was wonderful.” It hadn’t been directing movies, or acting in them, or working as part of the camera crew. On YouTube, Phil got to be all of those things: director, writer, actor, and editor. He had full control over the final product, and maybe that’s why he enjoyed it so much. 

“But it wasn’t what you had envisioned for yourself, or the career you thought you wanted, was it? Film didn’t happen, but YouTube did. And both are things that you love.”

“I… love a lot of forms of creativity,” Phil says slowly, trying to find the right words to express the thoughts that have been churning in his mind for days. ”And I miss… I miss, doing the things that I love. Without them… I… I’m like this…”

Without them he is lost and disconnected. It feels as though by not being creative, he has been robbed of his creativity. Like it’s a muscle that’s atrophied, wasted away, and now, Phil is scared he’ll never gain all of that strength back. Maybe he’ll never get all of himself back. 

“And what’s stopping you?” Tamara’s voice breaks through his spiralling thoughts and Phil looks up from where his fingers have been drumming a tumultuous staccato on his knees.

He hesitates. “Stopping me?”

“Yes,” Tamara nods, and her eyes on Phil feel probing, almost like a challenge. “What’s stopping you from doing those things?”

“I—I can’t. So much has happened, I don’t think I could get a—“ Phil stops and bites the inside of his lip in distress. “It’s not like I can start uploading videos again.”

God, that would not go over well. He can’t reenter that audience. Even if Phil had Dan’s permission and blessing, he still wouldn’t feel comfortable. He’s not ever going to feel comfortable with that again. 

Tamara makes a noise of acknowledgement, somewhere between a hum and an exhale. “Maybe YouTube is something you feel like you can’t return to, but if your dream was never YouTube specifically, and it doesn’t seem like it was, then there are other ways to fulfill those passions. Otherwise, it would’ve been all you ever wanted, don't you think?”

“Yeah,” Phil admits quietly, ”I guess so.” 

Tamara uncrosses her legs to lean forward and speak earnestly. “You’re incredibly creative, Phil. You have an amazing artistic mind and a sense of determination that has gotten you through so much adversity in the past. Why should this time be any different?”

“It is different.” It's a mumbled response, and Phil can't bring himself to make eye contact.

“Why? Who decided that this should stop you from ever pursuing your passions again? Did Parliament mandate it? Did your family say so? Did your friends? Is it an ethical violation?”

Phil presses his lips together. “No,” he says at last. 

“This situation is something that has happened to Dan, but also to you. It’s not a crime that either of you have committed. You don’t need to punish yourself for it. Yes, it might hinder you from being able to do some things, but it’s only capable of preventing you from reaching your goals and fulfillment and happiness if you decide that it is.  You decide what stops you, what is too much to work through, what has to be different.”

He closes his eyes. “I… I want to be me again,” Phil mumbles in a voice even he can barely hear. He’s almost afraid to say it aloud. 

“Then find the things that make you feel like you, and do them.” 

Phil opens his eyes again and sits very still for a long moment before looking up to meet his therapist's gaze. “Will— will that really help?” Tamara makes it sound so easy. Surely it can’t be nearly that simple. 

She holds his gaze as she responds, “I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not going to cure your depression. It’s not going to give Dan a sense of self worth again, or wipe away the memories. But this is your life Phil, and if you want to live it, you’re allowed to.”

Chapter Text

Dan doesn’t wake up with it. Or if he does, he doesn’t notice at least. But the feeling grows as the day goes along and he starts to feel more and more off kilter. Like he’s trying to hold on to something, or perhaps to hold himself back from something. It invades his thoughts, interrupting him over and over. Incessant. Repetitive. He wonders if this is what it feels like to be truly crazy. Dan just wants it to shut up. 

Over and over he tells himself, no,  he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t. Shut up, please shut the fuck up. 

“Are you okay?,” Phil asks, because Dan has failed to answer him again. He…keeps getting distracted. Pulled away from reality by flashes of images and words and scenarios. 

Blink. Skin. 

Blink. Moans. 

Blink. Blood.

“Yeah,” he says, his words sounding vacant,”I’m fine. I—I think that’s a great idea.” 

“I really won’t gone for that much longer,”Phil says, the worry leaking into his voice,”I’m sure it’ll only be about an hour extra.”

“Really,” Dan pushes excitement into his voice,”I think it’s wonderful. Like you told me, it’s important for you to do things that make you happy. And I think coffee with Hazel will be great, you’ll get to just be silly and have fun and catch up.”

“That’s the idea,”Phil says with a slight smile. 

“Well, tell her I said hi, okay?”

“You’re sure you’re fine?”

“Yes,” Dan pauses for a moment, he knows that he needs to try and explain his unusual behavior,”I’m feeling a bit—odd—today, but really it’s okay.”

“Okay,”Phil says hesitantly. 

When Phil leaves for his errands and coffee date, the brunt of what Dan’s feeling hits him. He wants physical contact. No, he wants sexual contact. It sounds so wonderful and enticing because it sounds so fucking terrible. It’s a similar sensation to standing at the top of a building and feeling an erratic urge to jump. L'appel du vide. It’d be terrible, it’d end painfully and brutally, but it’s still incredibly alluring. Sex has the same type of appeal. 

And for some reason, Dan can’t picture sexual contact as love making or any variation thereof. It is not soft nor loving nor an expression of commitment, hell—for the most part it isn’t even pleasurable in his perception. All he can reconcile with sex is pain. Suffering. Humiliation. Degradation. 

It has to hurt. He wants to have sex and he want to hate it the entire time. Jesus Christ, that’s disgusting. He’s disgusting. A voice in Dan’s head tells him that he’s craving rape, that he’s missing them. Missing what they did to him, how they made him feel, getting to be the sub-human entity that they crafted him into. It confirms that they were right all along, even if he didn’t like it, he needed it. He needs it. 

Dan lays on his side across his bed, taking measured breaths. His thoughts are the kind that make his breath go funny, his muscles tighten. They feel like rubber bands stretched to the near snapping point. His shoulders are tense, pulled in and up towards his neck. It’s like his whole body wants to coil in on itself. Dan’s head swims. It’s amazing how just thinking can make him physically feel so horrible, can make him tangibly react like this. Dan wishes they were here, and Christ, that’s something he’s never supposed to think or feel. 

Dan’s thoughts revolt him. He closes his eyes to push down the queasy feeling in his stomach, and to try to oppress the underlying cause of that ill feeling as well.

His libido didn’t just magically disappear because something traumatic happened. Cause, fuck, Dan’s…he’s practically horny. It would’ve been better if he had been touch and sex repulsed for the rest of his life. He wishes he was, it would be better than this. Better than missing what he hates and being so confused by that because of his fucking body. Because of what he now associates with sexual and physical contact. 

Dan swallows at the lump in his throat. 

Maybe, maybe if he just gets himself off. It’ll go away. This desperation, this feeling, will subside. He’s sexually frustrated, just like in the past. After all, Dan’s gone for a long time without a steady sexual partner and this is how he’s kept his sanity all along. It sounds lonely, maybe cause it is, but it’s really not that bad. 

The point is that it’ll work now. All this feeling is, he tries to reassure himself, is his usual sexual frustration. It’s just expressing itself in this weird way because of what’s happened and how long he’s been ignoring and rejecting its existence. 

Dan sits up slightly, reaching to the nightstand for his laptop. This is procedure. It’s normal. Dan will follow his typical routine, he’ll get off, and then he’ll feel better.

He will feel better, he repeats over the frantic garbled thoughts in his head. It will help, so why the hell is his heart pounding in his chest like he’s about to step into busy traffic? Why can he hear the blood in his ears? Why does his mouth taste like cotton, astringent and puffy? 

Dan opens and unlocks his laptop, numbly pulling up a porn site. His computer autofills the rest of the url after only a few letters. As the site loads, Dan’s eyes are bombarded with exposed skin. He tries not to feel sick as the grotesque display of genitalia and fornication swirls in his vision. 

Nope, nope, nope, his head yells. God, there are so…so many body parts. Fuck, so many penises. It’s okay, it’s okay, Dan tells himself. He’ll pick something really straight and really tame and it will be fine and then he can forget this ever happened. Dan scrolls through the main page. Surely there’s got to be something that’s vanilla, that’s not in any way demeaning or—. 

Dan freezes, his mouse hovering over a video thumbnail which flashes through a few scenes from the clip.

His eyes close involuntarily and the images burn against his eyelids in negative. Flesh. Men. Violent thrusts. Or maybe he’s just perceiving them as violent. 

Against his better judgement—hell, against all of his judgement—Dan clicks. 

Honestly, the video is pretty standard. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with it, or even anything mildly questionable. There’s a somewhat older and larger man on top of a younger, more slight one. Both of them are unrealistically good-looking. The noises and exchange of dialogue are a bit feigned. Too dramatic at times, too monotone at others. 

Not that it matters, because Dan isn’t really listening, he’s watching. Watching skin slap against skin, chests heave and fall, mouths curl open in expressions of euphoria, or perhaps just overwhelming sensation. And Dan’s mind writes a very different soundtrack. It feels like his head is fogging over, his skin perhaps even being coated in numbness.  

And then. It’s over. The video ends. 

One thing leads to another, one video leads to another. Dan definitely isn’t following routine at this point, cause he’s not watching videos to get off. He’s just clicking from one gay porn scene to another, letting them sear into his eyes and skin. They are images to fill his mind with, to force feed himself until he feels something. Whether that be horror or pleasure or revulsion doesn’t really matter. He wanders through what the tame side has to offer, but this, this isn’t what he really wants to see. 

The search terms make him want to flinch away as he types them. But still, his fingertips press the keys, his head forms the ideas, and his body holds him in place as he watches video after video. 

Rough. 

He gets to hear the slap of hands against skin.

BDSM. 

He gets to hear the words of submission garbled by leather and plastic. 

Handcuffs. 

He gets to hear the noise of metal scraping across wood, and sounds it evokes when it grates across skin. 

Gun-play. 

He gets to hear the sound of Chromium-Molybdenum Alloy Steel clacking against teeth. 

Forced.

He gets to hear the pleading. 

Dan’s watching even though he really doesn't want to. But he just can’t look away. Is this how people felt watching him? Were they trapped by their own morbid curiosity, their own horror, the resurfacing of some horrible desire to tear up their own past and bring it back to the front of their memory? 

He unzips his jeans with shaking hands. Fuck, the blood isn’t just pounding in his head anymore. Fuck, he hates himself so much for this. Fuck, he wants to cry or scream or…

Dan slides his hand under the waist band of his jeans, gasping involuntarily as he starts to stroke himself. 

A man in the video he’s watching groans. It’s a guttural noise of pleasure, pleasure from using someone else's body. 

Dan closes his eyes, squeezing them shut against the tears that are starting to build up. He only listens to the insults that someone is hurling, suddenly unable to watch. They don't have quite the right voice, but the words are fine. They fit well enough. There really isn’t an insult that isn’t apt at this point, he might as well just accept that. 

Some force takes over Dan and suddenly all he can think about is getting off, ending this. He handles himself roughly, without care. This isn’t like his old routine either, this is more desperate, more violent, more dispassionate to himself and his own comfort. And that’s how Dan wants it. Because fuck his comfort. He is fucking pathetic. He is jerking off to his own fucking trauma. Surely there is nothing lower or more disgusting or more incriminating than this. If he’s going to behave like a sex object, then that’s how he should be treated and how he should treat himself. 

“It’s not about what I want,” Dan mumbles to himself, his voice strangled and breathy. 

His words only reinforce what he’s listening to. Somehow it’s freeing, just to say it. To admit it. To feel the dark realization pore over him, coat him like a layer of thick tar. Mark him for what he is. 

“I don’t matter. I’m a fucking whore.” 

He can feel the pressure building, and somehow the realization that he’s actually going to orgasm from this makes it all worse. 

“I—I turned out,” Dan swallows, gasping over his own words,”To be exactly, what they said I was.”

This doesn’t follow his routine either. It’s not the loud gasps and curses and lip biting kind of finish. It’s shuddery, fractured. It’s as if his body is shattering. The breath sticks in his throat over and over again. The pressure feels like too much. And it doesn’t even feel nice, in fact it almost hurts. When it is over, Dan falls limp, his chest heaving. There’s a liquid of familiar consistency on his hands, but Dan can’t be bothered to clean up. He can’t even move. He lays on his back and stares at the ceiling, trying and failing to catch his breath. It’s as if someone has punched him in the chest and simultaneously decided to cut a slit in his stomach. They have dug their hands into his gut and tied knots with his intestines. Even his body is disgusted by him, it’s trying to curl away from him, rip itself from the inside of his flesh and get as far away from the contaminated layer of his being that is his skin. 

Dan scuttles to a sitting position, retrieving and then wiping his hands on a tissue. Christ he doesn’t even want to look at it. And he hates the way it feels touching him. Now he smells like it too, and nothing is worse, nothing is worse. For a split second Dan swears he can feel it on his face, he rubs the back of his hand roughly across forehead and down one side of his face. Nothing there. At least, right now there isn’t. He—he could change that. Maybe he will. 

Dan stumbles to his feet, pulling up his boxers and re-clasping his jeans with tremoring fingers. He cinches the extra fabric of his waistband in with his fingers, staring at it. Its funny, cause despite the annoying shape of his ass, which makes keeping jeans up quite difficult, Dan doesn’t wear belts anymore. All of his are in a box that he never unpacked once they moved. Dan drops the fold, pulling his shirt down over his jeans. He’s supposed to get to pretend that nothing happened now. 

Christ, he’s supposed to feel some sense of relief. He doesn’t. Instead, Dan feels a bit…crazed. 

“It’s a bad idea,”Dan muses to himself, shoving down what’s running through his head right now. In his mind, he’s already planning it out. It can’t be that hard to make happen, right? 

The kitchen feels too sterile when Dan enters it. It’s not the ideal space for his mood, considering what’s running through his mind right now. He could bring someone here. No, no. Fuck no. Not only is that just a terrible idea, but also there’s the Phil factor. No one in the house, he can’t do people in the house, that’s too far. As Dan debates the details with himself, as he starts glancing through the cupboards. Phil doesn’t keep much alcohol around anymore, ever since Dan’s vodka incident, but he knows that there has to be something somewhere. The thing is, he’s too sober to not be scared at the moment. He needs to be fucking stupid, and that means consuming some liquid courage. 

Dan heads for the pantry, standing on tiptoe to reach the top shelf and feeling around blindly. His fingers press against cold, dusty glass. Jackpot. He pulls down the square bottle and examines it. It’s whiskey. 

“What the fuck,”Dan mumbles. He doesn’t even like whiskey, hell neither of them do. Why do they even have this? It must’ve been a gift at some point, he decides. Hell, he’s pretty sure that this isn’t even good whiskey. It’s not like Dan would know the difference, but still. He heads into the kitchen, setting the bottle on the counter a bit too harshly, the noise almost makes him jump. Yikes, he’s on edge. It only takes Dan a moment to get the bottle open, and for a second he considers getting out a glass. But he doesn't exactly need one, does he?

“I’m saving a dish,” he says to himself acerbically, taking a large gulp from the full bottle. It stings his throat. Dan fucking hates whiskey. 

He carries the bottle back to his room with him, gathering his laptop off of the bed and sitting at his desk. How hard can this be? It’s almost like a challenge in a way, a test of his own sex appeal. Or perhaps of his own desperation.

How hard will it be to get someone to fuck him? Dan doesn’t exactly want vanilla sex, however, so surely that’ll make it slightly more difficult. A few google searches tell him which apps to download and next thing he knows Dan is creating a profile for himself on some more fucked up version of Tinder. 

He keeps the pictures minimal, he specifies what he wants, in not so nice of terms. The only thing that Dan hesitates about is his name. Does he really want this person knowing his name? He could just put Dan. Is that too risky? In the end he just puts James, no last name or initial. The less this person knows, the better.