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The Art of Progress

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FROM: support@youtube.com

TO: amazingphil@gmail.com

DATE: 17/9/2011

SUBJECT: PRIVATE VIDEO GLITCH

 

It has come to the attention of the support staff at YouTube that yesterday, September 17, private videos uploaded to several of our channels were given public status by an unfortunate system malfunction. Your channels, amazing phil and lessamazingphil, may have been affected. All videos should now have returned to their private status. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. If you have any questions, please contact our help center.

 

Thank you,

YouTube Support Staff

 


 

 

Phil woke up in tangled sheets, another heartbeat against his own. In the night, Dan had found his way across the mattress to Phil’s bare chest. His hair had curled in the night. Unable to resist, Phil tugged one of the locks.

Dan rustled against Phil. His eyes blinked their way open. Dan’s face was close enough to Phil that, even without his glasses, Phil could make out the familiar contours. They’d woken up like this most days for awhile so wouldn’t it be even stranger if Phil hadn't committed that sleepy-morning face to memory by now?

“Morning,” Dan yawned as he tugged up the bed covers, burrowing in even closer. “What time is it?”

“Not sure.” Phil reached over to his nightstand for his phone. As he checked the time, he noticed notifications for a few emails and made a mental note to check them after he’d gotten some coffee in his system. “It’s just after ten.” Phil sat his phone back down.

“That’s early for us,” Dan said groggily. “Gives us some extra time…”

“Extra time for what?”

Dan looked up at him with a raised eyebrow and a curled lip. It was a look Phil first saw two Decembers ago, when they’d stripped off all each other’s clothes and fumbled through fucking for the first time. He’d never forget how that felt. How pushing into Dan for the first time had felt like coming home when you hadn’t realized you’d never been there before. 

Phil knew he’d developed a romanticized mythology around their first time. Dan was quick to remind him that it had its flaws. Dan had come too soon, and Phil had trouble keeping the condom on with the nine gallons of lube Phil had thought he needed. By the time they were done, his room had smelled like latex and the inside of a prepackaged cherry pie, and they’d laughed more than they’d ‘writhed in pleasure’. It was by no means something out of a fairytale. So it was hard for Phil to reconcile the reality with the simple fact that it was, without question, the greatest moment of his life. 

“You know for what.” Dan nudged Phil’s nose with his own and kissed his lips. Deep and full. Not the usual morning peck before crawling out of bed to eat cereal and rewatch some episodes of Sherlock.

“Do I?” Phil mumbled back, kissing him again. “I think you might have to show me.”

And Dan did.

He stripped off what was left of their clothes until they were both just sticky skin and morning breath. Dan trailed kisses down his neck, nipping at his collarbones, and wrapping his hand around both their dicks. He moved his hand tight and slow in the practiced rhythm that worked so well for both of them.

“Want more,” Dan breathed against Phil’s mouth.

“Don’t you always?”

Dan gave him a small glare as he rolled off him and rummaged around in the bedside drawer. He drizzled lube on his own finger, slid them inside himself and kept his eyes on Phil. Phil loved to watch and Dan knew that. Dan took advantage of it.

Dan tilted his head back, lifted his ass, giving Phil a better view.

“You’re ridiculous,” Phil said, as squeezed his own dick, running his hand up and down. “Come be ridiculous over here.”

With a laugh, Dan rolled over and wiggled his way onto Phil’s lap. It took a few tries for Phil to get inside because Phil didn’t have his glasses on and couldn’t see and then they were laughing and when it happened, it happened almost by accident.

“We’re both living flops, you know that?” Dan managed through a groan as Phil bottomed out inside him.

Then, they were kissing and laughing with Dan riding Phil’s dick until Phil just couldn’t take it anymore and flipped Dan onto his back, where Phil could go as fast as he needed to, where he could kiss all his favorite spots on Dan’s neck and they could breathe into each other’s mouth when they came.

“We always make such a mess,” Dan said, shaking his head but grinning.

“I wonder what we could do with all that time we spend washing our sheets.” It had been months since they’d used a condom. Dan loved the feeling—and, if Phil were honest, he did too. It’s not like they had to worry about diseases. They weren’t sleeping with anyone else. 

Dan snorted as he fumbled for a tissue in his drawer. “Same thing as we did before. Fuck around on the internet.”

“True. This is definitely a better use of our time,” Phil said.

Phil leaned over and kissed Dan on the mouth as Dan tried to toss the tissue into the trash can and missed. 

“Anyone ever tell you you have morning breath,” Dan said.

Phil rolled his eyes. “You weren’t complaining five minutes ago.”

“True. You’ve got me there,” Dan said as he stood up. “But now I’m starved. I need immediate Crunchy Nut ingestion.”

Phil grimaced. It wasn’t his fault he’d gotten really hungry after Dan had fallen asleep last night. “Uh, about that…”

“You’ve got to be fucking kid…Phil, seriously?” Dan picked up a pillow and started hitting Phil with it.

Phil threw his arms up in a mock-attempt to protect himself. “Okay, okay. I’m sorry, Dan. I’ll never eat your cereal again.”

“Just get out of bed, you liar.” Dan put the pillow back on the bed, slipped on some underwear and walked to the door. He turned towards Phil who had yet to move. “You coming, baby?”

Phil sat up in bed. “Yeah, just give me a few. I’m gonna check my emails. I’ve got quite a few this morning.”

“Okay,” Dan said as he walked out of the room.

Phil slipped on his glasses, pulled on a pair of boxers and grabbed his laptop. He flipped it open, logged into his email account and opened the very first message:

SUBJECT: Private Video Glitch

Chapter Text

Dan poured himself a bowl of cereal—Phil’s Shreddies, since that’s all there was left—and ate quietly at the kitchen table. He’d left his phone in the bedroom and was much too hungry to go get it before he finished eating. It was nice sometimes to avoid the rush of information streaming in from online, to sit the way he imagined his grandparents doing—just sipping tea in the morning—the best kind of thoughtless.

When Dan finished, he stood up from the table and walked to the kitchen. He turned on the tap and rinsed his bowl under lukewarm water. Just as he finished, Phil finally joined him in the kitchen.

“What took you so long?” Dan said, turning towards Phil. “Did I wear you out so much you fell back to sleep?”

Phil didn’t reply. He just looked at Dan with an unreadable expression. Phil was never an open book, but at that moment, he seemed particularly inaccessible. 

“Uh, Phil? Is everything alright?”

Again, Phil stayed silent. Then, suddenly, as if he’d been paused and restarted, Phil lurched forward and wrapped Dan in a tight hug. 

Oof,” Dan stumbled back on impact.

“Love you,” Phil muttered, his words muffled against Dan’s shoulder.

“I love you too, you weirdo,” Dan said as he wormed away from Phil. “What’s gotten into you?”

Phil ran a hand through his hair, pushing his fringe away from his face. His glasses had slipped down his nose, and his expression, that had been unreadable, had given itself away, if only a little. He looked serious, he looked concerned.

“Sit down, Dan.” Phil’s voice was a quiet thing in a quiet house.

Dan blinked, anxiety prickling in his chest. “Why do I need to sit down?”

“Please, Dan. Just—Please.”

With a furrowed brow, Dan settled in a chair by the breakfast bar and looked up at Phil, feeling a little impatient. “I’m sitting.”

Phil took slow steps until he was standing right in front of Dan. He bit his lip, his cheeks even paler than usual. “I got an email this morning from YouTube. It seems they had a glitch yesterday and some people’s private videos were made public.”

Dan’s eyes narrowed. He never put videos on private first like some YouTubers would. When he was finished with a video, he uploaded it and posted it immediately. “Since when do you have private videos on AmazingPhil?”

“I don’t.”

“So…what’s the problem?”

Phil’s eyes shut, his whole body visibly tensing. His words came out terse through nearly shut teeth “I have a private video on lessamazingphil.”

It took a moment, but just a moment for Dan to realize what Phil was trying to tell him. “Oh my God.”

Phil took a step closer to him. “Dan I—”

“Holy shit.” Dan stood up and took a few steps away, his heart pounding, his mouth gone dry.

“I know.”

So this was it…everyone would know…or they already did. His head was spinning too fast for him to figure out how he felt. “So…I mean…what do we do now?” He needed something to do, needed to be able to visualize a path forward, but there was just nothing but darkness.

“The video is private again,” Phil said, ignoring Dan’s question. “There were just over a hundred views.”

Something about that number felt big, even if it wasn’t in the scheme of things, even if it wasn’t as big as it could have been. “A hundred people saw it?”

“I’m so sorry.” Phil frowned and Dan didn’t like it and didn’t understand it. This wasn’t Phil’s fault. It was an accident with as little divine reasoning as anything else in life. But it happened and it couldn’t unhappen. Maybe it could be nice, couldn’t it, he considered, if people knew, if they didn’t have to hide?

“Why are you apologizing?” Dan asked.

Phil ran a hand over his face and mumbled as he sat down, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Silence stretched out between them, long and empty. Dan didn’t like that they couldn’t find words to say to each other. Dan didn’t like Phil looking like this. Hurt and out of answers. He always had answers.

“Are there comments on the video?” Dan whispered, needing to say something, anything, to break the silence. 

“A few.” He sighed. “But I didn’t read them.”

Dan was waiting for Phil to light the way forward like he usually did when things went wrong, like he did when Dan would fight with his father, like he did when Dan wanted to drop out of university. But that light, it just wasn’t switching on, and Dan struggled around in the dark without it.

“So what do we say?” Dan said. “Should we make another video addressing it? Talk about it on twitter…how do we do this?” This. What was ‘this’? Come out? Fuck.

Phil looked up at Dan with another unsettling expression Dan couldn’t read, like flipping through a book in another language. That’s what other people were always like to Dan. But not Phil. 

“You want to tell people we’re in a relationship?” Phil let out a little laugh.

Dan tensed, fingers curling against his palms. Phil never laughed at him…“I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve seen the video. The cat might be a little bit out of the bag on that one.” He was tense now, his heart a live rabbit in his throat. Was it really that awful for Phil if people knew about them? About him? Those old dusty voices Dan had mostly silenced started creaking in the back of his mind again and, without Phil’s help, he wasn’t sure he could quiet them again.

“We can tell them something else. Tell them it was an accident.” Phil wasn’t making any sense. 

Dan threw his arms up. “An accident? So what, you just tripped and accidentally—!“

“Don’t shout at me, Dan.” Phil said weakly, his hand on his forehead. “We can tell them…we’ll tell them it was a prank.”

“You want to say it was a prank? Are you out of your fucking mind?” Who would believe that?

Phil shot up from his chair. “The reasons we chose not to tell them in the first place didn’t just go away with a goddamn server glitch!”

Before this moment, Dan could have counted on two fingers how many times he’d heard Phil shout. “Phil, come on…calm down.”

“Calm down? You want me to—” Phil let out a broken laugh. “You don’t know it, but you scare the hell out of me sometimes. You just, you scare the hell—you want to do this? I don’t think you have a clue, Dan, not a damn clue what’s about to happen.” Phil lowered his voice, just a little. 

“We sit together in front of a camera and tell the few thousand people who show up to listen. Some of them stop watching our stuff. Some of them love it. But everyone’s got an opinion and, oh boy, do they want to share it. Our audience doesn’t seem big, but you’ll be surprised at how fast news spreads, how far it gets. We have a plans, Dan, and I know you don’t actually want to spend the rest of your life in a law office, so what do we do when the novelty of this, of us, wears off? When we’re trying to get work and this is all we’re known for? Then, there go all your dreams and all my dreams. I’m holding this Youtube thing together with my bare hands. We’re barely hanging on, Dan. My dad bought the cereal you ate this morning.” Phil took a deep breath and ran a shaking hand through his hair. 

“Do you know how many countries there are where I’m legally allowed to marry you? Eleven. And this isn’t one of them. Do you know how many countries there are where you could get killed because of me? A shitload more than eleven. That’s to say nothing of the fact that you haven’t even told your parents about us, and you’d have to do it before that news comes from some anonymous file emailed to your mum’s account or a concerned phone call from the pastor of your grandma’s church. Are you prepared for that conversation? Because if you are, here’s the damn phone.” Phil picked up Dan’s cell and slammed it down on the breakfast bar.

Dan didn’t think he had breathed since Phil started to speak and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could stand on unstable legs. He didn’t want Phil to be right, but Phil was right…

“I’m sorry,” Dan said, looking down at his bare feet. “I didn’t mean…” Dan didn’t know what he didn’t mean.

Phil let out a shaky sigh and stepped forward, pulling Dan into him. He pressed a kiss to Dan’s head, shaking. “You scare the hell out of me.”

Telling the world about this, about them, had been a nice dream for the moment Dan had let himself have it, but that’s all it was—a dream.

 

Chapter Text

A Year Later

 

Dan shouldered through the bathroom door and headed down the narrow hallway of BBC Radio1. He’d had to piss and now he was now running late. If he didn’t get to the studio right away, “The Dan and Phil Show” was going to end up just “The Phil Show”.

Their producer, Victoria, popped out of one of the office doors—a serious expression beneath her loose blonde bun. “Dan… you’re here,” she said, sounding surprised, like he was just going to not show up to work. Running late and not showing up at all were two different things, he reminded himself. 

Dan glanced at her over his shoulder as he continued down the hall. “That’s fortunate for you seeing as I go on air in about two minutes and you’re the producer.”

She gave him a friendly glare as she stepped in front of him to push open the door to their studio and Dan followed her inside, where they were surrounded by microphones, wires, cameras and crew. 

“Before you go on, we need to discuss you toning down the whole gloom and doom, sky is falling, death is inevitable thing,” Victoria said.

Phil popped up from where he’d been crouched behind a computer at the radio desk. “Don’t worry. It’s just a shtick he does.”

“Yeah.” Dan slotted into place beside Phil easily—an automatic movement—rehearsed many times over since starting this job at the beginning of the year. “It’s a shtick I do.”

Victoria went to stand just behind the camera, looking unamused. “It doesn’t play well with older viewers.”

Dan started to ask, “Why—” 

“I would imagine it’s a more immediate concern for them,” Phil said, his brow furrowed.

Dan and Victoria both shot Phil annoyed looks, before returning their attention to each other.

“I meant why does it matter?” Dan asked. “Aren’t we here to attract younger viewers?”

Victoria fussed with some cords around the camera that had gotten dangerously tangled. “We still don’t want to alienate our prime audience and people who have fought in two world wars don’t appreciate musings on the meaninglessness of life from some posh kid from Wokingham.”

“Two world…” Dan squinted, then leaned over and mock-whispered to Phil. “Does she understand how aging works?” There was no one living who had fought in both world wars. They’d be in their hundreds.

Phil gave Victoria a studied look. “It’s inconclusive.”

Victoria raised an eyebrow, her lips in a straight and serious line. “Just reign it in.”

“Alright, alright.” Dan gave a forced but good-humored smile. “I’ll do my best not to alienate the centenarian crowd.”

“The sacrifices you make for me, Howell,” Victoria said with a smile as she stepped into her work station. She put on her own headphones then raised her hand to count down with her fingers. “On in five.”

After the count of five, Dan and Phil were live on the air, and whenever they were, it was like something would just take over them both. They played off each other perfectly. Whether it was adrenaline or the connection of having been with someone for so long, the moment they were live everything would just fall into this rhythm that worked for them. By the time they were closing out the show, Dan was buzzed, a hot wire of adrenaline. 

Victoria counted down one more time and they were off. Dan slipped off his headphones and Phil followed suit.

“Good show, guys,” Victoria said, taking off her own headphones. Some of the guys on the crew gave them a nod of agreement before starting to pack up and file out.

Phil was yawning, while Dan felt jittery, full of extra energy. 

One of the sound guys—a bald man in his late twenties called Jesse—walked up to Dan. “Some of us are going to get drinks. Me, Victoria, Dennis. Oh, and Ben too. You’re welcome to come.”

Dan and Phil answered at the same time.

“Thanks, but I’m beat,” Phil said.

“Sure, why not?” Dan said.

“Okay…” Jesse said. “Well, if you decide to come we’re heading down to Coleman’s Pub. It’s the just north of here, at the end of the block.” He gave Dan a light punch on the shoulder and walked away.

  Phil turned toward Dan with a concerned look, like Dan had just agreed to go naked skydiving. “Really?” Phil asked.

Dan shrugged. He was right at the start of his post radio-show buzz and the cool crew guys normally didn’t invite them out. Even if it was rare that Dan wanted to go out, it happened sometimes, if a certain number of factors worked out in his favor. This was one of those times.

“I can come with you,” Phil said cautiously. 

“You don’t have to. I know you’re always exhausted. Just go home and pass out. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Everyone else had left the room, so Phil’s voice softened. “You’re always so hyper after.” Dan knew Phil meant that in more than one way…and he was right.

Feeling a blush, Dan whispered, “You’re always so sleepy after.”

“See you at home, Dan,” Phil said, brushing their fingers as he passed by. They’d been together a couple years now and a small touch like that could still bring out a smile. 

 


 

 

It had just started to drizzle as Dan ducked under the swinging wooden sign reading “Coleman’s Pub.” A few drunk patrons blustered through the doorway, and Dan had to step out of the way to avoid being bowled over. He looked over his shoulder to complain to Phil about how rude people could be before realizing he was there alone. With a small sigh, he stepped out of the drizzle and into the dimly lit pub.

A bar sat at the back of the space and, sitting at one of the round tables dotted across the floor, Dan saw Victoria surrounded by the other guys from the crew. His chest tightened. Dan looked back toward the door. He hadn’t been spotted yet. He could leave and avoid the potentially awkward evening he’d agreed to on a whim. He could go home and just crawl under the covers beside Phil and—

“The grumpy one made it,” Ben’s deep voice interrupted Dan’s thought. Ben was broad-shouldered, with a long beard streaked grey, and arms as big around as Dan’s thighs. He was who they called on at the station if there was any large equipment to be moved.

Instinctively, Dan curled in on himself as he cautiously approached the table. “That’s what I’m known for?”

“That and your pants are really tight,” Dennis said, grinning with crooked teeth. He was spindly guy in his mid-thirties all covered in cheap-looking tattoos.

“The other one’s pants are tight too. It’s not the best way to tell them apart,” Ben said.

Something unsettled Dan about Phil being called ‘the other one’. If anyone was the other one, it was Dan.

“I invited him boys,” Jesse said. “Don’t give him too hard of a time.”

Dennis looked Dan up and down. “You know that’s bad for you—wearing tights pants—like for your…penile circulation.”  He tossed back a shot.

“Penile circulation?” Dan blinked, the room feeling particularly small. “Do you mean sperm count?” Great way to start this off. Talking about ejaculate. 

“No, I mean penile circulation,” Dennis said. “Look it up.”

“Each of you are miserable and I don’t know why I associate with any of you.” Victoria shook her head as she stood. “Sit your ass down, Howell, I’ll get you a beer.”

As Victoria walked off toward the bar, Dan took a slow seat at the table, his stomach twisted up in knots.

“Where’s the shorter but still awkwardly tall emo?” Ben asked as scratched at his beard. 

“At home sleeping probably,” Dan replied, a little louder than he probably needed to. He was never good at volume control, but he struggled with it even more when he was nervous. 

“Oh right, I forgot you’re roommates. I miss those days. Bachelor pad, ordering a shit load of pizza, bringing home a different girl every Friday,” Jesse said. 

Dennis tossed back another shot. The table was full of them and they were dwindling quickly. “Ah yes, the glorious 1940s.”

“Piss off, Dennis.” Jesse punched Dennis hard in the arm and turned back toward Dan. “So, kid, you single?”

That question always shot ice cold through his veins. He never had an answer. Not one that was safe or one that was the truth. He’d just have to talk around it. “Uh…” For some reason, nothing was coming to his mind. Great. 

“Say no more, mate.” Ben slapped his back. “You’ve got a whole pub full of sexy ladies. With our help you could take one home tonight.”

Victoria swept back up to the table holding Dan’s beer. “Don’t say sexy ladies, Ben, and Dan, let them help you only if your intention is to never have sex again.” She sat the beer in front of Dan and plonked down in the chair beside him.

“Thanks,” he said, feeling incredibly small and out of place, and wishing he’d gone home with Phil. To steady himself, he took a big drink. It tasted like bitter hops—not his favorite but it would do.

Victoria scanned the table, giving the men a stern look. “Seriously, stop scaring him or you’re all fired.”

After that, Victoria took control of the conversation in a way that led to everyone discussing which conspiracy theories people believed which lead to a conversation about the most likely of them to be abducted by aliens. Everyone agreed on Dennis, just to piss Dennis off. Dan finished his beer and found several shots of rum pushed in his direction. He took them, hoping they’d chase back his remaining nerves. 

In about an hour, he was buzzed enough to be laughing with everyone and trying to keep up as Ben was using card tricks to win drinks out of each of them. Dan had come across a how-to online and knew the trick, and that earned him some overwhelming slaps on the back and few more shots. This probably didn’t make him one of the guys, but it was like being given a guest pass into a club that was not meant for men like him.

Dan wasn’t sure how late it was when he stood up from the table and forgot why he stood up from the table. He didn’t want to look stupid so he wandered over to the bar and ordered a beer.

“What’re you drinking?” the bartender said as he wiped down the counter with a white rag.

“Beer,” Dan said loudly, bolstered by the confidence that comes from too much alcohol, as he leaned against the counter. “Whatever you’ve got on tap is fine.”

The barkeeper nodded. “Coming right up.”

Waiting, Dan tapped his fingers on the counter. His drummed rhythm was interrupted by a soft-spoken voice.

“Sorry to bother you, but are you Dan? From the radio?” she asked.

Dan turned to see a girl with brown pixie cut, wearing a floral dress and boots, and said, “Um, yeah, yep that’s me.”

“I listen to your show…watch it online sometimes too. It’s good.”

Dan never quite knew how to take compliments so he funneled some of his nervousness into rubbing at his neck. “Thanks. You don’t find me too…depressing. On the show, I mean.”

The girl let out a gentle laugh. “No. Of course not. Our generation just instinctively understands the fleeting, pointlessness of existence, I think. Don’t worry. You're relatable.”

Dan snorted. “If I buy you a drink, will you go over there and tell my boss that?” He pointed a thumb toward Victoria, who was telling some story that had Ben in a fit of full-throated laughter. 

The bartender sat the beer in front of Dan. He eyed it but didn’t take a drink. His head was spinning and he was about at his limit.

The girl glanced over at Victoria, and then back at Dan with a small smile. She stepped closer, keeping her voice low. “I would, but then I’d have to be over there, when I could be over here…with you.”

Dan’s eyes widened a little. Oh shit. This girl was hitting on him. It had been so long since he’d needed to pay attention, he didn’t notice anymore.

A girl with long black hair crashed into the girl that had been talking to Dan, wrapping an arm around her. “Oh my God, Maisie, what are you doing?” the girl hissed.

Claire.”

“Shh…” The black-haired girl, Claire, hissed, holding up her phone in front of Maisie’s face. “I’m doing you a favor. He’s fucking the other one,” she whispered those last four words, then giggled.

Dan blinked, confused. What does she mean…she can’t mean…

“I’m uh—” Maisie managed before Claire latched onto her wrist and dragged her away.

Jesse slung an arm over Dan’s shoulder. Dan jumped, startled. His mind was muddled with rum shots and thoughts of the exchange that had just happened in front of him. He didn’t have the capacity at the moment to make sense of it. 

“You’ll get the next one, mate,” Jesse said, then pointed a girl sat alone by the window. “How about that one? She looks moody—and she’s got a lip ring. That must be your type.”

Little did Jesse know that the girl by the window wasn’t Dan’s type at all. Dan’s type was smart and kind, creative and bright. Dan’s type was Phil—-and no one else knew that—except, maybe, for some reason, Dan thought through an alcohol clouded mind, that black-haired girl with the phone.

Chapter Text

Making videos had become second nature to Phil. Everything from setting up the camera and the lighting, to planning content, to performing, to editing and uploading, came naturally to him now. He didn't struggle with it the way he saw Dan struggle. It was a job for Phil--a good job he excelled at--but his content wasn't where he looked, where he went to, when he was trying to answer questions about who he was and why he mattered. When Phil had these insecurities, he went to who he was in relation to other people. He was a son, a brother, a friend and a boyfriend. If he was doing those right, then anything else was just icing on an already delicious cake.

That evening, he'd gone home without Dan and had the house to himself. This was usually only true when Dan went to visit his family, so the flat was weirdly quiet. He heated up some leftovers, edited some footage, sketched out an idea for a new video and took a shower. Normally, after a radio show, they’d shower together. Sometimes if they were completely exhausted, they'd just stand under the spray--not really touching but comforted by the other person's presence. Other times, they’d wash each other, kiss and skim hands over wet skin and come in each other’s mouths or hands. So this shower felt particularly lonely, and left room for Phil to think.

Should he have gone with Dan? Sometimes Dan had panic attacks that he couldn't find his way back from alone and Phil had to help. He knew how devastated Dan would be if he had a panic attack in front of his co-workers or if tomorrow he thought he said something stupid or embarrassing. It would be near impossible to drag Dan back into that studio. Phil should have gone with him…

He planned on waiting up for Dan to come home, but hours and hours passed and he hadn't come back. Phil didn't want to seem overprotective, but Dan knew Phil was a worrier when it came to things like this. He wouldn't be that annoyed. So Phil sent Dan a message.

Just wanted to say I love you before I went to bed. So,  I love you.

Dan didn't text back, so Phil just crawled into bed, his head swimming with a million scenarios of how Dan could have been killed or seriously injured while having a couple drinks. He itched to text Dan again, to call him until he answered. But he knew this worry was his to carry. He didn't need to put it on Dan. It had been a struggle ever since he decided as a kid, for some inexplicable reason, that when his parents went out, they weren't coming back. Eighteen years of coming back should have made it better. It hadn’t.

Phil was still wide awake and staring at the ceiling when he heard Dan stumble in through the door. In the dim light coming in through thin curtains, Phil watched Dan strip off his t-shirt, jeans and pants and fall into bed naked beside him. Dan usually slept naked.

Phil looked over at Dan, relieved he was here and safe. “You're home.”

“You're awake. You didn't have to wait up for me,” Dan’s voice was muddled against the pillow.

Phil debated on a white lie, but it was late, he was tired, and maybe a little unfairly irritated. “You know me.”

Dan’s face fell. “Oh shit, Phil. I'm sorry. You could have texted me.”

“I did, Dan.”

“Really? I didn't see it. I'm sorry.”

“It's fine,” Phil said because it was. Dan could go out and not check in with Phil. That was perfectly acceptable and any issue Phil had with it was his own shit he needed to work through.

There was a moment of silence and steady breathing before Dan whispered, “Do you think we come across as…”

“As what?” Phil asked.

Dan hesitated, shifting on top of the covers. “Gay…for eachother?”

“We’re not gay,” Phil answered easily. They weren't gay. Gender wasn't a factor for either of them in terms of who they were attracted to or who they could fall in love with.

Dan sounded nervous. “I know I just meant--”

“Did the crew guys say something? Dan, if they--”

“No, no. They were actually pretty cool.”

As much as he respected what the crew did at work, he was leery of them. They were like the boys who shoved cigarettes into his hand as a kid, just with beards and bank accounts. He was glad to hear they hadn't been a problem for Dan.

“Then what's bringing this on?” Phil asked.

“Nothing,” Dan’s voice lightened. “It doesn't matter.” He wiggled under the covers and then scooted close to Phil. “Want my spot.”

Dan’s ‘spot’ was the soft space between Phil’s chest and arm. Phil adjusted so Dan could lay his head there. Phil pressed a kiss to his hair.

“You smell like rum,” Phil muttered. “It's like I'm in bed with a pirate.”

“That's a role play we haven't tried yet,” Dan said sleepily.

Phil laughed, but he’d been missing Dan all night. And he was still so completely affected by Dan’s naked body pressed up against him. “Arr matey, you want me to shiver your timber? Jolly your roger?

“You're ruining pirates, Phil.”

Phil reached over with his free hand and stroked Dan’s soft cock with his knuckles. “So you're telling me that you wouldn't hoist the black sail and board my ship?”

Dan hissed, his body tensing in a way Phil recognized as arousal. “Is my dick the black sail and yours the ship?”

Phil tilted Dan’s head and bit at his earlobe, sucking on the stud. God, that always turned Phil on.

“Would you rather discuss metaphors or have sex?” He breathed in Dan’s ear.

Dan rolled over on top of Phil and kissed him hard. He smiled and it was perfect. “Metaphors definitely.”

In the dark, Dan undressed Phil and they turned to wordless kisses, roaming tongues, lost hands. Phil coaxed Dan to turn around, so he could rim Dan with long licks and wet kisses, while Dan sucked his cock in the way that made Phil’s entire body light up. Dan came from Phil’s tongue and Phil came in Dan’s mouth, and it was a picture of a hundred other nights just like it.

They fell asleep together, like every night before, blissfully unaware of the flood of notifications and messages now filling their silent phones.

Chapter Text

“Dan, Dan! Wake up!”

Dan’s eyes shot open at the sound of Phil’s voice.

“Hmm...what? What’s going on?” Dan said groggily as he sat up in bed. His head was pounding from drinking the night before.

Phil shoved his phone in Dan’s face. “Look.”

It was Phil, a few years ago, in a video he’d made Dan...

“It’s five in the morning. Why are you showing me that?” Dan pushed the phone away, still a little out of it.

Phil’s ears were bright red like they were when he was angry. “Because, Dan, it’s everywhere.”

“What?” he spat.

“Someone’s leaked it.”

Dan’s eyes widened. “You’re serious?”

“Look at your phone.”

Dan got out of bed and pulled his phone from the pocket of his jeans from last night. There wasn't much battery left, but there were countless messages all about the same thing. “Oh.”

“That’s all you have to say? Oh?”

He shrugged, feeling numb. “We’ve already said it was a prank, right? We just do that again.”

“You think it’s that simple?”

“It was before.”

Phil shook his head. “It’s not like before. We have to get it down. Now. People know our names this time. This isn’t any of their business and--”

“This is ridiculous. Whoever posted it, just needs to get a fucking life. You can do what you want, but I’m not going to give my aneurysm over the actions of some girl who probably has our faces sellotaped to her wall.”

“You can look down your nose at whoever leaked it all you want but it doesn’t matter. We need to get it down before it spreads any further, before people we don’t want to see it, see it.”

“Who--”

Phil threw up his arms. “I don’t know. Like your parents--like your precious radio show.”

“Fine.” Dan put up his hands “We’ll get it down. We’ll get it all down.”

And they did--or at least they were in the process of trying when Phil’s phone rang.

“Who is it?” Dan asked.

Phil showed the caller ID. It was Victoria.

“Answer it,” Dan said, his stomach twisting. They couldn’t just avoid her forever, and maybe it wasn’t even about that.

Phil put the phone up to his ear. “Hello Victoria.” After a few moments, Phil said. “We can be there in about an hour.”

Fucking fantastic.

 

“Shut the door and sit down.” Victoria was stood behind her desk, scowling. She pointed to the two chairs in front of her.

Phil stiffened in the doorway. “Victoria--”

Just sit your asses down .”

Dan glanced at Phil, who gave him a small nod. They said nothing but took their seats beside each other.

Victoria sat down across from them and let out a long sigh. “It's my day off tomorrow, you know that?” Her voice was strained. “I had plans. This guy I've been seeing bought a new hot tub. I have this expensive bottle of Pinot Grigio I’ve been saving, and was going to drink it, in a hot tub with a guy who’s got abs like you wouldn't believe.”

“What does this have to do with--” Phil started and she cut him off.

“Abs like you wouldn't believe, Lester .” Her eyes were intense. Her voice too. Dan felt himself shrink down as she kept talking.

Then, I come into work this morning and sit down at my desk and I've got over a dozen messages, and at least twice that amount of emails.”

Dan felt nauseated. He knew what was coming, but knowing didn't help the loud buzzing in his head or the overpowering fear and dread.

“Judging by the looks on your faces,” she continued. “I don't think I need to tell you what they were regarding.”

No. She was right. She didn’t. They both knew.

Phil rubbed a hand over his face. “Look---”

“It was a prank,” Dan blurted, shocking himself. Had that been the right thing to do? He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure of anything.

“Oh.” Victoria’s expression stayed flat.

Dan shifted uncomfortably on the chair. Words wobbled and fell out of his mouth. “Yeah, we uploaded it privately and then decided not to go through with the joke, but YouTube glitched last year and unprivated the video.”

Victoria’s eyes widened, her mouth falling open. “I'm sorry. Last year?”

Oh shit. Dan’s mouth was dry, his throat constricting. “It wasn't a big deal. We took it down, told people it was a prank and that was that.”

With a steady voice, Phil added, “I've already contacted the people spreading it now and asked them to take it down. And I've filed copyright complaints as well with those who've posted the video.”

“You what?” Victoria laughed and shook her head. She let out a breath and looked directly at both of them. “Okay, listen.” There was authority in her voice. ”This is what you're going to do. If someone asks a question, you laugh about it. About how ridiculous it is. Play it up. Upload it to your channel. Hell, put ads on it.”

Dan curled his hands into tight fists, feeling dizzy. These words felt wrong. They couldn't just--Dan glanced to Phil to find security in him--but he looked pale and lost, ears red, as Victoria continued on,

“You want everyone to see it. You want everyone to know how little you care, how little it matters. Mock it. Mock the whole idea. Turn it into a joke .”

“It's not a goddamn joke!” Phil’s voice cracked, and Dan felt the floor fall out from under him.

What had Phil just done?

A moment of silence passed, then Victoria said softly, “Yeah. No shit.” She ran a hand over her mouth. “We sat right here--right in this room--and I asked you. I said ‘is there anything you need me to know?’ And you both looked me in the eye--”

“Would you have hired us if we told you?” Phil sat forward, leveling a serious stare.

Dan didn't know what to do. He was just listening, his head spinning. Things were different now. He had a career and a life of his own. He had to think before he acted. He had to think because, for once, he wasn't sure Phil was.

“Are you really so naive as to think you'd be the first?” Victoria leaned forward too, looking nearly as tense as Phil.

“Our private life is none of your business. It’s not anyone’s business,” Phli said.

Dan could see it. It had already happened, and there was no stopping it now. When Phil looked at Victoria, he saw an adversary.

“I'm trying to do my job. I'm trying to protect you,” she said.

“We don't need you to protect us,” Phil spat.

“Stop acting like a child,” Victoria shot back.

“Okay.” Phil bolted to his feet. “I'm done with this conversation.”

Unsure what else to do, Dan slowly stood to go with him.

“Phil…” Victoria’s voice softened, but Dan knew Phil. There wasn't any fixing this now.

“I said I'm done.” Phil walked out the door without looking back.

Dan was set follow Phil, but when he got to the door, he couldn't move. Phil wasn't thinking. He was feeling, just like Dan had been a year ago. It was Dan’s turn to set his feelings aside and think like Phil had done for him then.

He shut the door and turned back to Victoria. “How bad is it?”

She stood from her chair and walked around to the front of her desk. “Do you want me to answer that as a friend or as someone with ten years of experience in mass media and public relations?”

Dan took a step toward her. He needed to know.  “How bad is it?”

She pulled on the collar of her sweater, revealing a brown line across her collarbone. “Did I ever tell you where I got this scar? I was eighteen. Just got my first job. Coffee grunt at the local oldies station. It had snowed the night before I was supposed to work, and I had a really early shift so the roads weren't plowed yet. I'd never driven in the snow, but this was my first job and I wasn't going to fuck it up. So I put on snow boots and got into my shitty hatchback. All was well until I took a left turn onto a major road just a little too fast on bald tires. I started to spin to the right and instinct took over, I turned the wheel left. Of course, you're supposed to turn into a spinout not against it. So I spun out even more, across the road into oncoming traffic.” She shut her eyes, shuddering as if she were remembering, maybe even reliving what had happened. “A moving van going sixty five kilometers an hour plowed into the passenger side. My car flipped three times before landing upside down. I was lucky to be alive, and had anyone been sat beside me, they’d have been killed on impact.”

Dan blinked, not entirely sure what she was trying to say, but he was maybe stood at the brink of understanding. “What does this have to do with...”

Victoria took a step closer and looked him directly in the eye. “You want to know how bad it is? You're spinning into oncoming traffic, Dan. You're the one at the wheel and Phil--Phil’s riding shotgun.”

Dan swallowed, or tried to with his throat closing up. His legs felt weak underneath him. It was Phil’s face and Phil’s words out there, not his, and for Phil’s sake, Dan had to keep on standing.

“What do I do?” he asked.

Victoria laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “You turn into the spinout.”

Chapter Text

Phil didn’t even realize he was walking until he was stood outside about two blocks away from the radio station. He looked behind him, then over his shoulder, expecting Dan to be there, but Dan hadn’t followed Phil, had he? And Phil had known this and kept going anyway.

There were people all around, and grey buildings towering over all the people, and an even grayer sky looking over all of that. Everything seemed loud—the cars rumbling down the street, the chatter of passersby, the thoughts pinging around in his head. He knew where he was. Phil knew his way around this part of London, but he might get a little lost if he went too far south.

Phil shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat and started walking south. Maybe he wanted to get lost. Maybe he needed to.

Just last night, everything had been fine. Dan was in his arms and in his bed, and now he didn’t even know where Dan was. Back at the station with Victoria? Trying to find him? Phil’s phone was on silent and he had no intention of checking to see if Dan was texting or calling, though Phil was more afraid that he wasn’t, that he was mad enough not to care. Still, Phil wasn’t ready to face what other messages could be on that phone. From his brother, from Louise, from Charlie—people who knew—but it wasn’t about knowing. It wasn’t about being outed. It was about something private, something meant for no one but Dan, being devoured by all these other people.

That was what no one understood or at least no one seemed to care about. Phil had been robbed. It was theft, plain and simple, and the fact that Victoria expected him to roll over and—no—he wasn’t going to thank the people who stole from him. Phil didn’t care how it looked.

It was the principle of the thing,

Phil let out a sigh as a group of kids rushed in front of him, chasing a ball. He’d somehow wandered into a park without realizing. It felt cooler here, under the shade of yellowing leaves. He walked off the path and into the grass, focusing on the give of the soil as he stepped. 

He could feel his face burning, his heart beating against his ribs. He was making himself angrier and angrier—at everyone—maybe even a little at Dan, for not understanding, for, unfairly maybe, not feeling the same. But they hadn’t even talked, to be honest. Phil wasn’t sure how Dan truly felt, and maybe he was ascribing intentions and emotions that weren’t there.

Phil’s head was spinning as he collapsed down onto a metal bench. He needed to talk to someone. He wasn’t ready to talk to Dan, but he still needed support, love and guidance. There was only one other place he could go to for that.

Phil pulled out his phone. There were no missed messages—at least not from Dan. He looked up his mum in his contacts and pushed call. After a few rings, he heard her familiar, comforting voice.

“Hello, child,” she said cheerily.

Phil smiled, just a little. “Hey, Mum. How are you?”

“Good, good. Just doing a little shopping. Your father broke my casserole dish last night.”

“Did he ruin dinner?” Phil tried to sound chipper, but he knew he was failing.

“No. Thankfully, we’d already eaten…Phil, sweetie, you sound a little off. Are you okay?”

Phil sniffed, suddenly noticing a tear that had streamed down his face. He wiped it away with the back of his hand. “Yeah, uh…no, Mum. I’m really, really not.”

Her voice raised up a few octaves. “What happened? Are you hurt? Is Dan?”

Define hurt. “No, no. Nothing like that.”

There was a long pause before she said, “Did you and Dan have a fight?”

Define fight. “No…I mean, not really.” He took a deep breath. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Okay, I’m listening.”

Phil wasn’t sure exactly what he said and he knew how he phrased it wasn’t very articulate, but it was the truth as he could understand it.

“Oh, sweetie. I’m so, so sorry.”

He pressed his forehead to his palm. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. Not really. There’s no solution that doesn’t hurt.”

Phil’s mum sighed. “Sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes you just have to pick the thing that hurts the least.”

“But what if it’s different, mum. The thing that hurts me the least—and the thing that hurts Dan the least.”

“I don’t know. You’re my baby and I want to protect you, but I also know how much you love that boy, how much you want to protect him.”

Phil thought about it for a moment, about what mattered to him, about why fear felt like a living thing inside him. What was he so scared of? “I want…I want to protect us. Even if it hurts.”

“Then, that’s what you do, okay? I love you and I’m here for you, your dad is too. No matter what. You know that, right?”

Phil drew in an unsteady breath and shut his eyes. “I know. I love you too. I need to go talk to Dan.”

“Goodbye, child,” she said softly.

“Bye, mum.”

Phil hung up the phone and stuck it back in his pocket. He had gone further than where he knew from memory, so he looked up walking directions on his phone and headed home to Dan.

 

Phil’s heart was beating fast again when he walked through the front door. He hung his keys on the hook and shut the door behind him.

“Dan? Dan, you home?”

There was no response so Phil grew even more nervous. Had Dan not come home? Maybe he just didn’t care about this at all and had gone out drinking with those guys again? Or worse, maybe he did care and had gone out drinking with those guys again.

But when Phil walked into the living room and found Dan sat on the sofa, he was overcome with a different worry. Dan was just sitting there. He wasn’t on his phone or laptop and he wasn’t watching the television. He was just sat there staring at the wall—silent.

“Dan?” Phil said, timidly.

Dan looked at him. “Where were you?”

“I’m sorry. I just needed to go for a walk.”

“You left without me.”

“I know.” Phil sighed as he sat down beside Dan. “You could have followed me.”

“I know.”

A long moment of silence stretched between them. Phil kept thinking of things to say, but the words would fizzle out as soon as he tried to get them out of his mouth.

Dan’s face fell into his hands as let out a broken gasp. Phil looked over at him, watching his shoulders shake. Dan was crying and the sight of it felt like a fist to Phil’s chest. 

Phil wanted to get angry, to muster up another round of rage for the people who had barreled into their life like it was any of their business, who’d made Dan cry, but he was too sad to be angry.

He laid a hand on Dan’s back and felt him shake beneath his fingers. Tears prickled at Phil’s eyes and he was crying too, truly crying for the first time, about what had happened. Even last year, they’d shouted at each other and come together, then they’d dealt with it and never spoke about it. 

Dan curled onto him pressing his face against Phil’s lap and Phil curled his fingers into Dan’s hair and let his tears drip and stain Dan’s shirt. Phil had no idea what this meant for them, for their future—these tears neither one of them could stop. 

Chapter Text

Dan stared at his phone as it rang on the desk, unsure of whether or not he should answer it. It was his grandma calling and there was a possibility, however slight, that she had seen the video. He could just say it was a prank. He would just say it was a prank, but it would hurt. It would hurt like fucking hell if he had to. Steeling himself, Dan answered the phone, ”Hi, grandma.”

“Hey, bear,” she sounded chipper. “How are you doing? You eating enough?” She asked the questions she always asked, those essential grandma questions that normally made him feel comfortable, but today just set him even more on edge.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Dan lied, leaning back in his chair. “Just busy.”

“I’m sure you are now you’re a big radio star. I just think you and your friend are getting so good at it.”

Hearing his grandma call Phil a friend made Dan tense. Of course, Phil was his friend. Of course, that’s how Dan referred to him, but for some reason, today it felt more like a lie than an issue of semantics. 

“Thanks, grandma,” he eventually managed.

“You should have him down to the house sometime. He seems real sweet.”

“He is,” Dan said, like a reflex, and almost immediately moved to correct himself. “I mean, he’s cool. You know, he’s a nice guy—and a good roommate.”

“I’m glad you found a good friend. I know how you always had trouble with that…”

Grandma.” Dan shut his eyes. Before Phil, his grandma had been the only person he was able to about real things. Today, he didn’t want to talk about real things. He didn’t really want to talk about anything.

“Oh, hush. You were always just too good of a boy, so much heart, too much talent, and those other kids didn’t know how to handle it.”

“Thanks,” he muttered. “I don’t know if that’s true, but—“

“It’s true. I was just bragging about you to the ladies at my Bible study last week. I know they get sick of hearing about you, but I just can’t help it. Who can blame me?”

“I can. That’s embarrassing.” Dan curled his free hand into a fist just to feel the pressure. He wasn’t anything to brag about—certainly not to ladies at Bible Study.

“Oh it’s a grandmum’s prerogative to embarrass her grandson. You can’t take away the one thing I have in my frail old age.”

“You’re not that old.”

She paused for a moment, then said, “I’m older than you think…I’d love to talk to you more, bear, but I’m running late for the church potluck. Just wanted to check in.”

“Okay, grandma. I’m sorry,” he said absent-mindedly. “I’ll call you soon.”

“What are you sorry for?” she asked.

Dan shook his head and sighed. “I don’t know. Just tired. Love you.”

“Love you too, Daniel.” She hung up.

He stayed there, staring down at his lock screen. It was a picture of him and Phil. It was just a selfie they’d taken together once, something with genuine smiles. Nothing incriminating. He bristled at his own thoughts, at the word incriminating, as if anything about how he felt for Phil could be considered criminal.

Then he remembered what Phil had said last year—do you know how many countries there are where you could be killed because of me?—there were places where to this day, what he and Phil had was considered criminal. It was simply a random roll of the proverbial dice that had landed them here, where it was relatively safe. Relatively. 

Even here, there were still politicians and the people who punched their names on ballots, still pervasive lies in church pamphlets, still angry boys with slurs on their tongues, still network executives concerned about corporate sponsors concerned about all those other people. So an angry mob got to draw the line between Dan and Phil and how much they’d be allowed to exist.

And there was nothing Dan could do about it but hold that line and hope it didn’t strangle them both.

With a deep breath, Dan stood and pocketed his phone. He walked from his room into the kitchen. Phil was stood over the stove, his hair pushed back a little off his forehead and he was flipping something in a skillet on the stove that smelled like pancakes. The warmth Dan normally felt when he caught Phil being domestic was still there and yet, somehow, it felt almost dangerous.

“Are you making breakfast?” Dan asked.

“Is it breakfast if it’s noon?”

Dan couldn’t help the small smile curling onto his face as he walked closer. “It is in the Dan and Phil house.”

“Then, yes. I’m making breakfast.”

Dan leaned against the counter near the stove and, after Phil flipped a pancake, he gave Dan a peck on the lips.

“Did I hear you on the phone?” Phil asked. 

“Yeah, my grandma called.”

Phil tensed, his expression serious. “What did she have to say?”

Dan shrugged. “Normal stuff.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah. She thinks you’re sweet. She wants to meet you.”

Phil wrapped his arms around Dan’s neck. “Well, I am sweet. Can you blame her?”

“I think your pancake’s burning.”

“Oh, shi—“ Phil pulled away from Dan and returned to his skillet.

After a few moments, Dan asked, “We have our first radio show since…well, since…will you be okay to go?” 

Phil hadn’t spoken to Victoria since their fight, even though Dan knew she’d reached out to him. Dan had texted Victoria a few times, hoping it would give him the courage to do more about the video besides the cursory it’s old, it’s a prank line, besides Phil quietly having the videos taken down. He hadn’t found that courage yet.

“It’s my job, Dan,” Phil finally said after he slid a pancake onto a plate.

“Is the only reason you’re going because you’re contractually obligated?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m only going because, as you said, I’m ‘contractually obligated’.” Phil swallowed, his gaze focusing on Dan. “Are you?”

“Honestly.”

“Yeah?”

“No.”

“Okay.” Phil smiled at him, a little sadly. “You can have the first pancake.” He held out a plate to Dan and Dan took it. He was thankful that whatever else was true, he still had this. Phil making him pancakes and letting him have the first one. 

 


 

Their radio show went fine. It wasn’t the best one or the worst one. Dan did, however, feel more tense than any other time, besides maybe the first. He had been so concerned about what he said, so concerned about the way in which he orbited around Phil, worried their gravitational pull might appear as strong as it actually was.

He took his headphones off and faintly heard Victoria say “Good show” like she always did and then she was out the door and Phil was out a different door. This left Dan to briefly organize the radio desk. He was putting the headphones in their designated spot when he heard a familiar voice.

“So which one of you is the girl?”

“What?” Dan turned toward the voice, too stunned to say anything else and saw Dennis leaning against the wall, smirking.

“Which one of you is the girl? My money’s on Lester.”

Dan’s mouth just kind of fell open. Had he heard that right? This was work not high school—and yet, that’s where he was—standing on the schoolyard fielding insults, not at the radio station, not at his own fucking radio show.

Dennis punched him in the arm. “I’m just fucking with you, man.”

Ben walked up with an extension cord slung around his arm. “Dennis, why are you such a piece of shit?” He turned his attention to Dan. “Don’t worry about him. We know you’re not gay.”

The way Ben phrased that—like it was all fine—fine because Dan wasn’t gay, like maybe it wouldn’t be if it wasn’t—Dan was starting to feel lightheaded.

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” Dan finally managed.

“We’re going out for drinks again, tonight. You should come,” Ben said.

“I’m not sure…”

“Oh come on, Howell.” Ben grinned. “We still need to get you a girl.”

Dennis slung an arm over Dan’s shoulder, and Dan felt queasy. “Come on. We’re not taking no for answer.”

Ben grinned. “Yeah, you’re one of us now.”

No, was all he could think, no I’m not. But, for some reason, all Dan could manage was a weak, “Okay.” 

It had been years since Dan had said an okay like that—since high school, since before Phil. 

 


 

 Dan hadn’t had anything to drink that night. They were pushing shots in his direction and he was managing to get them shoved back into rougher hands without anyone picking up on the fact that they were getting shit-faced and he was perfectly sober.

Victoria wasn’t there tonight, and honestly, he didn’t trust a buzzed Dan to not say something he shouldn’t say.

“What about that one?” Jesse said, adjusting his ball cap. “The girl with the tan legs.”

“Not really into the orange spray tanned thing,” Dan muttered.

“Her,” Ben said, and pointed across the room to a ginger-haired girl in torn jeans and green t-shirt. She was pretty in the way that would matter to someone who wasn’t in love. “She’s been looking this way and we all know it’s not at Dennis

“Or any of our old asses,” added Jesse.

“She could be looking at me.” Dennis tossed back a shot. 

“Not in your life. You’re piss ugly,” Jesse slurred. 

“Your sister didn’t think so,” Dennis spat back.

“Seeing as I don’t have a sister and you never get laid that sounds about right.”

Dennis flipped Jesse off, then shot a wicked glare at Dan. “Go over there.”

“And do what?” Dan felt his voice crack a little.

“Get her number.”

There was a brief moment where Dan thought Ben or Jesse would defend him again. They didn’t.

“Yeah, you can do it. Don’t be shy,” Ben said as Jesse nodded along in agreement.

“Nah, lads,” Dennis said. “He won’t do it. He’s chicken. Scared shitless of vagina. You a virgin, Howell? And sucking Lester’s dick doesn’t count.”

Ben punched Dennis hard in the arm. “Shut up you drunk fuck.” He looked back at Dan. “Don’t listen to him. You’ve got this.”

“I really…I don’t think.”

Jesse leaned over and snatched his wallet from him. 

“What’re you—give that back,” Dan said. “What’re you doing?”

“Sorry, Howell. This is called tough love. The baby bird has to get pushed out of the nest at some point. You can have it back when you get that ginger girl’s phone number.”

Dan’s hands curled into his fists. “You fucking kidding me?” he nearly shouted.

“Kid’s got some spunk. Now, direct that over there and go get her, tiger,” Jesse said.

Dan had half a mind to punch Jesse in the face, but there was no way that ended with him anywhere but an emergency room. Slowly, he stood from the table and crossed the crowded bar. He sat down at the small table with her.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Dan.”

“Hey…” she looked up from her beer at him.

“I need to ask you a favor.”

She pursed her lips. “If this is some gross pick up line, I swear to God I will drop kick you.”

“It’s not—at all—I promise.”

Her narrowed eyes betrayed her skepticism. “Ok, go on…”

“These guys I’m with,”—he nodded toward them— “well they’re assholes—“

She briefly glanced at them. “Why are you with them if they’re assholes?”

“It really comes down to bad decision making.”

“You need to work on that.”

“Almost certainly, but that’s not…I mean that’s not the point. They took my wallet.”

Her brow furrowed. “And you want me to help you get it back? I know this conversation began with a drop kick threat, but I’m really all bluster. I’ve taken one self defense class, but I don’t think it was proper preparation.”

“I’m not…I’m not asking you to join me in a bar fight.”

She gave him a small smile. “That’s a relief.”

“They said, they’d give me back my wallet if I got your phone number.”

She sighed. “So this was a pick up line?”

“Look, you can write down the phone number to Tesco if you want, and you can say your name is Penelope Rutabaga. I just want to get my wallet and go home.”

She grabbed a bar napkin and pulled a pen out of her purse. She pushed it across the table to Dan, but didn’t lift her fingers so he could take it. “It’s my real number, in case you were wondering.”

“Uh, thanks,” Dan said and tugged the napkin from underneath her hand. As he started to walk away, her voice stopped him.

“Hey, Dan.”

“Yeah?”

“Get better friends.”

He had better friends. These assholes were not his friends. 

Dan stormed over to the crew guys and waved the number in Jesse’s face. “You happy now?” Dan asked through his teeth.

Jesse’s eyes widened as he handed the wallet back to Dan. “You don’t seem to be,” he sounded legitimately surprised. Like in the end, he thought Dan really would be grateful he’d been pushed out of his comfort zone and gotten a number from a pretty girl.

And why wouldn’t Jesse think that? He had every reason to think that.

“I just don’t appreciate being jerked around.” At that, Dan reached into his wallet, pulled out enough cash to cover their tabs and tip and laid it on the table.

“But you didn’t even drink anything,” Ben said. Dan was surprised they’d noticed.

Dan shoved the wallet and the phone number into his jeans. “Don’t worry. I can afford it.”

With that, he walked the fuck out of there without looking back. 

It took the slow receding of adrenaline and the cool night air for Dan to realize what he’d just done—made a power play with those guys. Showing off that he had more money than they did. It had been kind of a prick move—and he was sure that Dennis deserved it—but maybe not Jesse and Ben. Maybe not, but maybe…how could he know when he couldn’t be sure of their intentions? 

It didn’t matter. What was done was done, and he wasn’t going to feel sorry for the people who’d spent all night pushing him around.

Dan called a cab, and it drove him home.

When he got inside, his first instinct was to take off all his clothes and crawl in bed beside Phil. Forget the rest of the world existed, but as he stood there outside Phil’s door, he just couldn’t push it open. 

Not yet, anyhow. There was something he had to do first.

Dan walked to his room, sat down on the bed and opened his laptop. 

Chapter Text

Phil walked in from Dan’s room, holding a bar napkin between his clenched fingers. He wasn’t sure what this was or why it was in Dan’s pocket, but he knew he had to ask.

“Dan…who’s Erin?” Phil called out from the living room.

Dan came in from the kitchen with a puzzled look on his face. “Who’s who?”

Phil looked down at the napkin in his hand and tried to read the slightly smudged ink. “Erin, um, Collins, I think.”

“I have no idea. Why?” He absolutely sounded like he had no idea who Erin Collins was. 

“I was collecting the laundry and cleaning out your pockets and I found—“ Phil held up the napkin.

Dan’s face fell and paled a little. Phil hadn’t been worried at all about what he’d found, but now he felt uneasy. What happened the last night when Dan had gone out with those men from work? Why hadn’t he so much as mentioned it all day?

“Oh shit, Phil. It’s not what it looks like,” Dan said.

Phil kept his voice even. “I didn’t think it was, but I have to admit I’m curious.”

“It’s really nothing.”

“You got a girl’s phone number on a bar napkin. There’s at least a mildly interesting story in there.”

Dan ran a hand through his hair as he walked over to stand in front of Phil. “You know how I went out with the crew guys last night?”

“I recall.”

“Yeah, well,” Dan shuffled his feet. “They were just being…lads…or whatever and they were joking around and took my wallet. Made me get a girl’s number to get it back.”

Phil’s face grew hot. This was exactly the kind of thing he’d been concerned about. Dan getting pushed around like he was back in school and resorting to some of the self-preservation behaviors that had just hurt him in the long run.

“I knew you shouldn’t be hanging out with those guys,” Phil muttered.Dan rolled his eyes. “Thanks, mum.”

“Dan.” Phil raised an eyebrow and shot Dan a glare he hoped said take me seriously.

Dan rubbed the bridge of his nose, his lips turned into frown. “I can take care of myself.”

“I know, but I can still be pissed off that a bunch of assholes bullied my boyfriend into hitting on a girl at a bar.” Phil could feel his ears getting red—he hated when they did that. His brother used to always point it out just to embarrass him. He was glad that, even though he knew Dan noticed, Dan never bothered him about it. 

“They don’t know I’m your boyfriend, and I didn’t hit on her.”

Phil blinked. “You’re defending them?”

“No. No, Jesus, no.” Dan sighed and hung his head. He looked so sad that it deflated the rising anger in Phil’s chest. 

“They’re shitheads," Dan added. “Mostly…it’s complicated. What isn’t these days?”

Phil didn’t want to talk about crew guys or girl’s numbers on bar napkins. He didn't want to talk much at all. He just wanted to get the frown off Dan’s face.

“I know one thing that isn’t complicated.” Phil tucked his fingers under Dan’s chin and pulled their gazes together. Phil backed Dan a few feet until he was against the wall. Then, he slowly, slowly leaned into a kiss. Dan’s lips pressed softly back against his own and parted. Phil easily slipped the tip of his tongue into Dan’s mouth and ran it along the soft inside of his bottom lip.

Dan trembled beneath Phil’s hands that were running up Dan’s spine, tracing their path to the curl of hair at the nape of his neck. Phil pulled his mouth away from Dan’s to kiss across his cheek, to dip his tongue into Dan’s dimple and slide his wet mouth down Dan’s soft skin.

Phil kissed Dan’s neck, sucking the fragile skin there. Dan tilted his head back, groaning. The sound shocked Phil back to the present—to the reality that he couldn’t leave marks where he wanted to. His mouth eased up, softened, as it met Dan’s Adam’s apple.

Dan gripped tight fingers into Phil’s hair, sending tingles in a rush through his body. He loved this, the give and take of it, the push and pull, between them. It was always so good.

“God, I want you,” Phil muttered. “Always want you.”

“Me too,” Dan said breathily. “Please.”

Phil slid sweaty hands up Dan’s black t-shirt and skimmed his nails across Dan’s skin, leaving goose-pimples in his wake. 

“Kiss me,” Dan said.

Phil reacted immediately. He lifted his mouth to a spot near Dan’s collarbone and brought their mouths together again. This time, it was Dan’s tongue in his mouth. Dan’s tongue that tasted like ribena and cinnamon candy, Dan’s tongue petting across the roof of his mouth.

Their bodies were close now. They were pressed head to toe with Dan’s back to the wall. Phil could feel Dan’s cock through his jeans, a thick hard line rubbing over his own erection.

They breathed into his each other’s mouths—not kissing but almost—rutting and panting. Phil studied the intricately weaved shades of brown in Dan’s irises, the slow expansion of dark pupils.

Phil couldn’t resist and he dropped to his knees. He hadn’t done this in awhile, at least not like this, not like bruised knees and weak legs. Trembling with want, he pressed his face against Dan’s cock and rubbed against the rough denim.

“Please,” Dan whimpered, unbuttoning his jeans.

Phil batted Dan’s hands away, took the zipper between his teeth and tugged down.

“Fuck, Phil.” Dan pulled out his cock and stroked it a few times.

It was long and red-tipped, leaking just a little. Phil couldn’t stop himself from kissing the moisture away. As he did, Dan pressed his cock into Phil’s mouth—a little unexpectedly—but Phil was quickly ready for it. He had always liked this. The weight of Dan’s cock on his tongue, the feeling of it stretching his lips, making his jaw ache.

Phil bobbed his head, slowly, tightly, wrapping his tongue around the shaft and pulling tight. Delicious breathy moans fell out of Dan’s mouth and floated in the air between them. But those moans were nothing compared to the little whimpers and tiny whines. Those sounds went straight to Phil’s dick straining against his jeans.

Unable to stand the pressure, he opened his own pants and stroked his dick a few times for the relief.

“I want to fuck your mouth,” Dan mumbled.

Phil pulled away to drag in as much air as he could. “Do it.”

Dan pressed his dick between Phil’s lips again and thrust his hips, deeper and faster than Phil had been sucking him. Phil loved it. Everything about it. The ache of his knees on the hard floor, the shallow breaths that made his head spin, the want that was so strong it was unraveling him. Phil started to stroke himself, timing it with the thrusts between his lips.

“God, Phil…I’m going to. I’m close.”

Normally, Phil would let Dan come on his tongue. Normally, he’d swallow it down, feel it hot and sticky all the way down his throat. But that wasn’t what he wanted now. Phil pulled back and let Dan come all over his face, all over his lips.

“Holy fuck, Phil.” 

Dan dropped to his knees as Phil jacked himself off, and kissed Phil’s come-covered lips.

A hot rush roared through Phil almost instantly and he was coming on the floor between Dan’s legs.

“Not complicated at all,” Dan said. 

Phil chuckled. “Messy though. I think I need a shower.”

Dan grinned as he drew a heart in Phil’s come on the hardwood floor. “I’ll join you.”

They made their way into the bathroom and stripped off all their clothes. Dan turned on the water and stepped face-first into the spray. Phil just stood there watching the water roll off soft skin.

“Stop staring and get in here you, perv.” Dan laughed.

Phil just smiled, shook his head and as he was told. Even though Phil knew Dan liked to face the water in the shower, when they did this together, Dan would turn around so Phil could back into him. There was almost nothing Phil hated more than a stream of water shooting him in the face. But, this time, Dan stopped Phil before he could turn around.

“You’re still covered in my jizz, you know.”

Phil scrunched his nose. “Yeah, it’s hard to forget.”

Dan reached up to a high shelf in their shower and grabbed a washcloth. He rinsed it under the water. “Come here.” He had a little smile on his face as he lifted the cloth and gently washed Phil’s face. Wordlessly, Dan moved from his cheeks to his chin to his forehead and finally he rubbed the cloth across Phil’s lips. 

“All done.” Dan gave Phil a gentle kiss.

After that, they returned to their usual pattern of showering together. They ran soap over each other’s skin, making sure not to miss even a centimeter of the others’ body. Dan always took care between Phil’s legs and Phil spent extra time washing Dan’s ears, playing with his pretty black studs. They’d share tender kisses, Dan would duck down and bite at Phil’s nipples and Phil would hold his head there for a moment and just let him lick and suck.

Phil loved to wash Dan’s hair, to run his fingers through those gorgeous curls and work it into a lather. He loved to kiss Dan’s neck softly as he leaned back into the spray to wash it out. He loved the feeling of Dan washing his hair too—those big hands rubbing against his scalp.

When they were pruned and breathing more steam than air, they got out of the shower and dried each other off, passing uncounted kisses between them at every opportunity. Dan didn’t redress once they were dry. He just stayed naked while a shivering Phil tugged on some sleep pants and a t-shirt. 

Sometimes it would hit Phil—just how lucky he was—and this was one of those times. 

Dan had crawled naked on top of Phil’s bed, every bit of his body exposed. He wasn’t trying to arouse Phil. He was just being. Just being six feet of lightly tanned skin and toes playing with the comforter. Just being a big hand ran through wet curls that fell perfectly over his forehead. Dan hated his curls, but Phil loved them enough for the both of them. Dan had always been aware he was good looking, but Phil had never been able to quite convince him that he was beautiful.

Dan was though—and Phil knew that enough for the both of them too.

Phil got under the covers and Dan scooted closer, all soft and sleepy-eyed. He didn’t nudge his way under Phil’s arm but he just lay his head right below Phil's shoulder. 

“I love you,” Dan mumbled.

“Love you too.” Phil kissed those lovely curls.

They’d been saying I love you for years, since not long after they met. When Phil had first started noticing messages from danisnotonfire on Twitter, he’d smiled at some of his comments, warmed at some of them too. Enough that he'd taken the time to click on his profile. Phil wished he could say he’d looked at Dan’s face for the first time and just known. He hadn’t though. He’d looked at him and thought, well he’s really cute. That first impression had been right. Dan was really cute. He was also smart and kind, kinder than a bruised heart had any obligation to be. They started as boys with digital crushes and they found their way to this—to quiet, common ‘I Love You's that had never felt quiet nor common.

Phil had fallen in love with Dan during the week he’d stayed with him in Manchester. He'd fallen and he had no intention of standing back up again. Ever. 

That word had been passed around between them before. The way words got passed around when you were young and your heart was a bottle rocket. But with Dan asleep against him, his gentle breaths the only sound in the room, ‘Ever’ became something else to Phil. It became a deed to a home with both their names on it. It became a hyphen between their children’s last names, no phones at the dinner table, and be home before dark. It became wrinkled hands and grey hair. It became all the terrible and beautiful things that construct a life you decide to build with someone else. Phil was only twenty-five, so he sat there waiting to be terrified at the thought, waiting for a terror that never came.

Unable to sleep with a revelation like this bouncing around in his head, Phil had reached for his laptop. He hadn’t spent much time online recently—it hadn’t felt fun or safe—so he had several accounts he needed to check up on.

He knew his Twitter mentions would be a nightmare but he scrolled through them briefly anyway, and his eyes caught on a repeated phrase he hadn’t seen in awhile. ’Customer Service Blog’. He knew this was Dan’s way of confronting the fans sometimes, though he didn’t use it often, and Phil wished he wouldn’t at all, but it was clear Dan had recently posted on there again. Curiosity got the better of Phil and he clicked on a link:

okay right. i promise to be polite but you have NO IDEA how INFURIATING this is. we ARE NOT and NEVER WERE dating. okay?! the valentines video [b]was a prank!! 'formspring answers' 'skype pictures' - they don't prove anything!

Yes we are. Yes, they do. 

look. i really don't have enough time or fucks to give about any of this. i know that some of you that ship phan desperately cling to the most ridiculous crap to try and prove that i'm secretly bumming my friend, but i'm not.

That’s what this is? Secretly bumming? Or is that what it isn’t?

what does your grandmas vagina taste like? just imagine it now. you putting your tongue in your grandmas vagina. we! wrong & creepy right? well now you know how i feel!

Phil slammed his laptop shut and got out of bed. He hadn’t even remembered Dan had been asleep on his shoulder. He stirred as he dropped to the pillow, but the movement hadn’t woken him somehow. 

It was fine, Phil told himself. This is exactly what they needed to do, exactly what they said they were going to do? No, it isn’t. This couldn’t have ever been what he had meant, could it?

Dan’s words bounced around in his head, beating and bruising that single word that been in there before—ever. 

I’m overreacting. It’s fine. This is what we talked about, right?

It didn’t feel like what they had talked about. 

Phil braced his hand against the wall, taking in slow breaths. There was what something was and then there was how it felt. There was calling it a prank, and then there was breaking Phil’s heart. Wherever the line was, they’d lost it.

He knew he should let it go. He should get back into bed with Dan, just let the wound scab over, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t and he didn’t know why.

Phil turned off the light in his room, shut the door and slept on the couch. 

Chapter Text

Dan woke up alone in Phil’s room. He pulled on a pair of Phil’s underwear and some jeans he’d left balled up in the corner and one of Phil’s t-shirts, and walked out of the bedroom.

“Hey Phil, where are you?”

Phil was sitting on the couch, dressed in yesterday’s rumpled clothes, tying his shoes.

“Phil, what are you doing?”

“Oh, hello Dan.” Phil kept his focus on his shoes

Dan blinked, his head titled. There was a pillow propped on the sofa and blanket draped over the arm rest. It was the stuff they usually reserved for guests. “Phil, did you sleep on the sofa?”

Phil still hadn’t looked at Dan and didn’t as he stood up. “Yes,” Phil said.

“Why?”

“It doesn’t matter. Look, I was just heading out.” Phil started to walk past Dan, but Dan grabbed his hand. Phil stopped but slipped away from the touch.

“Alright, what’s going on? You’re acting weird and why would you sleep on the couch?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Phil gave a sharp shrug. “Just figured you wouldn’t want to sleep next to a guy who reminded you of your grandma’s vagina.”

Dan sighed. In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have said that one, but it wasn’t a big deal. “I guess you saw my posts.”

“I guess.” Phil shook his head.

“Come on, Phil. I was just shutting them up.” Dan reached for Phil, but he just pulled away.

“You really didn’t have to do it like that. It wasn’t what we had talked about it.”

Now, that just pissed Dan off. Phil acting like they'd really had a reasonable discussion about all this since it happened. “We haven’t talked about it all, Phil. You won’t talk about it. Not with me, not with Victoria.”

“So this was Victoria’s doing.”

Dan was starting to shake.  Phil was seriously mad at him about this? He’d done this for Phil. “No. She didn’t have anything to do with it. This needed taken care of, so I took care of it.”

“You didn’t take care of anything, Dan. You had a temper tantrum on the internet. Everything was fine.”

Now, that was too far for Dan. Everything was most definitely not fine. Phil could be as delusional as he wanted to be, but Dan wasn’t going to join him.

“I’m sorry,” Dan hissed. “Are you serious? Everything was—I’m just supposed to let this be out there—without context, without explanation—we’re just supposed to take the high road because it’s there? We could call it defamation of character, we could call it libel. We could. Maybe we should. Maybe we should drag their asses into a courtroom and let them explain to a judge exactly what they think they’re doing. But, then we can’t, can we? Because it’s all true. Every word of it is true. So what am I possibly going to do about it, other than this. Other than shout until my voice is just a little bit louder than their’s, loud enough that these fucking creeps on the internet don’t get to write the narrative of our lives. If we don’t put an end to it now, where does it stop? At what point, do we have the right to say enough? I’m saying enough, Phil. What the hell are you doing?” 

“We’re role models, Dan,” Phil spat back, red-faced. “Whether we like it or not, we have a responsibility to these people. So what the hell am I doing? I’m acting like somebody trying to be worthy of that responsibility.”

Dan shook his head. “How’s that working out for you? Because as far as I can tell, we’re still neck deep in shit—and what you're doing—it’s not making it better. If anything it’s making it worse.”

“Give it time, Dan.” Phil sighed and ran a hand over his face. 

“Time for what?” Dan felt the anger building in his chest. “You’ve tuned out in every way that matters—you’re hiding—and I’m seeing…fucking hell, Phil. You’re not seeing what I’m seeing. These people are coming for us and I’m not talking about fourteen year old girls asking what your dick tastes like. I’m talking about people who wield actual power over whether or not we have any kind of future in British media.”

Phil’s eyes narrowed, his body a tense line. “And you think going ape-shit on a tumblr blog is going to make any of this better?”

“Fuck, yes. I do!” Dan shouted. At this point, he was barely hanging on to his control.

Phil took a step forward, his gaze intense. “Then God help you, Dan. I love you, but Jesus Christ if you don’t think this is exactly what they want. As if, at the end of the goddamn day, these people—the ones you’re so angry at—want anything other than your attention. Some because they’re genuinely ignorant and some because they just want that little moment of power over you, that little moment where they can make you feel something. So if this is how you want to behave, how you want to present yourself to the world, you can. And you will have a crowd of people cheering you on, I will not,”—Phil took a deep breath, frowning—“I cannot, be a part of that.”

Dan stumbled back a little, blinking, pain twisting beneath his ribs. His voice softened. “Phil, what are you saying?”

Phil averted his gaze and said quietly, “You know what I’m saying.”

In the time since they’d met, Phil had never mentioned leaving Dan, and it nearly took the legs out from under him. 

“But we have to do something,” Dan said. Because they had to. They had to stop it before it ruined everything. It was already ruining everything. 

“We are,” Phil said gently, with a voice that sounded like the voice that said it would leave Dan, but it couldn’t be the same voice. It couldn’t. “We’re telling people it’s a prank. We’re taking down the videos.”

“And that’s the best we can do?” Dan asked, seriously.

“It’s the only thing we can do. It’s how we live with ourselves. It’s how we don’t break each other’s hearts. We…we take down the videos.”

Was ‘take down the videos all Phil knew how to say? 

“They’re just going to put them back up!”

Phil ran a hand through his hair. “And I will take them down again. It’s second nature for me at this point.”

Taking a deep breath, Dan let himself think. “I’m just—I’m so fucking angry. All. The. Damn. Time.”

“I know. Me too,” Phil said, sounding more sad than angry, “but I think—I think this is how, despite everything, we stay good men.”

Good men—Dan wasn’t sure he knew what that meant anymore. If it was something that had ever meant anything. What was good didn’t seem to matter very much anymore. What was good never seemed to last.

“I love you, Phil, and you're right, I know you are, but that doesn’t mean I can do it anymore.” Dan slumped down on the edge of the sofa and put his hands over his face.

Phil came and sat down beside him. After a long moment of silence he said, “So…what does my dick taste like?”

“Phi—“ The absolute shock of it, the absurdity of it in a moment like this, sent Dan into a fit of hysterical laughter, and Phil quickly started cracking up too. Dan laughed until his ribs ached, until he and Phil were leaning on each other.

“Why are we laughing?” Phil said through a chuckle. “This isn’t funny. None of this funny.”

Their laughter fizzled out, leaving a silence Dan decided to fill.

“I think it’s called gallows humor.

“Is that what this is?” Phil said, his voice growing as somber as Dan had ever heard it. “Something dying?”

Dan squeezed his eyes shut, all the levity of the moment before gone. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

 

Three months later

 

Phil woke up alone in bed. He crawled out from under the covers and dressed for the day in jeans and a short sleeve button-up. He went into the kitchen to find Dan standing up, eating a bowl of cereal from the counter and scrolling through his phone.

“Hey,” Dan said, briefly glancing up, as Phil went to pour some coffee into a mug.

“Hi,” Phil replied. “Anything new?”

Dan shrugged, keeping his eyes on his screen. “Not really.”

“Do you need the video camera? I was planning on filming today, but if you need it—”

“No, no. It’s good. I think I’m just going to catch up on some anime and later we can do some planning before the radio show tonight.”

Phil poured himself some cereal and milk. Dan took a few more bites of his breakfast, finishing it off, then he rinsed his bowl out and walked to his room. Phil sighed and sipped his coffee. He should find this abnormal, right? They used to have three hour breakfasts naked together in Phil’s bed. Phil should find this abnormal, but he didn’t. Not really. It was crazy how quickly you could get used to something. 

He finished off his breakfast, checked his Twitter account and did his daily cursory internet search for the video. Nothing came up. He knew it was certainly still out there, downloaded onto people’s hard drives so they could watch it whenever they wanted, so they could send it to curious friends in an e-mail attachment. But at least it wasn’t an easy Google search away, at least in the last months they’d cast enough doubt on it to make anyone who watched it wonder at the sincerity of the words, wonder if they were really getting insight into their lives.

Phil took a bite of his cereal, then frowned. At the moment, that video didn’t really reflect what it was like to be either one of them, to live inside their lives or their hearts. Their love, whatever it was now, however it was, it wasn’t young anymore. The events of the last year had aged their love beyond its time in a way that left behind an unsettling chill in the pit of Phil’s stomach. But he went on ignoring it. Went on hoping things would change. That they could.

When he was finished with breakfast, he stood up and rinsed his bowl out. He loaded the dishwasher, doing his best to keep any creeping thoughts in his mind at bay. He passed Dan’s room, and the door was slightly open, he was sat in front of the camera, talking to it, looking confident. Dan was meant for this—that became more and more clear to Phil. Even if Dan didn’t understand it fully, Phil did. There were bad times, bad days, where Phil wondered if he was in Dan’s way. It was easy for Phil to seem calm and self-assured on the outside. He had a relatively easy time telling himself a narrative about the world, about himself, and reciting it to others. It didn’t make him feel guilty or inauthentic, like he knew it sometimes made Dan feel, it made him feel in control. But the truth was he was uncertain. The truth was he was scared. Scared of failure, of holding Dan back, of the inevitable expiry date on an experimental career. But mostly Phil was scared of whatever drought he and Dan had settled into over the last few months being a permanent state of affairs. 

Dan caught Phil watching him and cast him a small smile. There was warmth to it, even if it was muted. It just made Phil sadder. He turned and walked back to his own room. 

He considered calling his mum for awhile before deciding it wouldn’t hurt. He talked to his mum all the time anyway. He could just talk to her. He didn’t have to talk to her about Dan, even if that’s what he really wanted to talk about. Phil dialed her up.

“Hello Philip,” she answered cheerily.

“Hello Kathryn,” he mimicked.

She laughed softly. “How are you?”

“Eh, I’m fine, I guess. You?”

“Just peachy, son. But why do you guess you’re just fine?”

His mum always knew when Phil was off, but he’d been off for awhile now, and she’d mentioned it every time they’d talked and he’d brushed her off, told her he was just tired. She’d let him because she was a good mum who knew how to give him his space, but he didn’t really want to brush her off this time.

“Things are just different.”

“What things?”

Phil sighed. “Lots of things, but…”

“But you mean you and Dan?”

How did she always know? “Yeah.”

“What do you mean different?’

“I mean I don’t know. They’re quieter, inside and out, if that makes sense. We feel more like friends than anything. We’ve always been friends, but it’s like that’s all we are now. Friends with a shared utility bill.”

There was a long stretch of silence before she said, “Do you still love him?”

“Yes.” It was an easy answer.

“And he still loves you?”

Phil’s chest tightened. “I think so.” They hadn’t said it in a while though, and when they did it was a texted—hey, do you need anything from the store? no thx. cool, love you. love you too. “Yes, but it doesn’t always feel like it, you know?”

“Yeah, sweetie. I do,” she said softly. “You’ve been together awhile and this is your first long term relationship. This happens, you know, it’s normal. You fall into a groove and the initial spark starts to fizzle out and suddenly, it’s not that hard to keep your hands off each other, not that hard to go a couple days and realize you forgot to kiss or to talk about anything other than the grocery list.”

“That sounds like, I don’t know, like middle-aged stuff not like…” Phil couldn’t figure out how to finish his thoughts.

“Honey, I know you’re young. You’re both so young, but you live together and you have for awhile now. I know you’re not married, but…”

“But we act like it?”

She sighed. “Yeah, and you have a lot of the stresses of a young married couple, and a bunch of other stressors as well with your job and it’s almost guaranteed to wear on your relationship.”

“But, I mean, what am I supposed to do? What should I do? Should I…I mean…like I can’t just buy him flowers, can I? Do I make some sort of romantic gesture? Do I suggest date nights?”

“Phil, listen. I’m going to give you some advice that would probably make a marriage counselor slap me.”

“We’re not married—”

“I know, I know, but hush. Look, don’t force it, Phil. You’re so young and he’s even younger. And, you’re right. You’re not married. You’re both at the start of really promising careers, the start of your lives really, and it doesn’t make any sense to me to start compromising now.”

“Dan’s not a compromise.” Phil was surprised at how fast he said it, surprised at the slight edge to his voice. He never had an edge when talking to his mum.

“Okay, I know. It’s my job to watch out for you, and my job to tell you to do what makes you happy though. All I’m saying, Phil, is this, if it’s right. If you’re really right for each other, it will be fine. The love, the feeling of it, it will come back. It might be shaped a little differently, it might have a little scar tissue on it, but it will come back.”

“And if it doesn’t…”

“Then, Phil,” she let out a long breath, “you’ll have to let it go. For both your sakes.”

Phil sat in silence for a moment, then gradually changed the subject. After half an hour or so, he hung up with his mom. He sat there on his bed, thinking of Dan. He’d been so giddy when they first started talking. All he wanted to do was see a message from danisnotonfire. All he wanted to do was spend hours with him on Skype. He’d never forget the blood-rush he felt the first time he saw Dan in that train station, the first time they’d kissed, the first time Dan had spread his legs for him and let Phil in. These were some of his favorite memories and he stored them in his heart for those moments when he needed to remember how to be happy. They’d never made him sad before, so why was he reaching up and wiping a tear off his cheek?

Chapter Text

Dan didn't know exactly how they got here. It was like closing his eyes on a plane and waking up on the other side of the world, waking up upside down. One day, they were Dan and Phil, and not in the public sense, in the private sense, the couple sense. They still were technically—they hadn't broken up or had a blow out fight. They’d just drifted. 

It was to be expected though, right? Between how long they'd been together and the new distance they were putting between themselves in public? It was an unavoidable consequence. Method acting that resulted in Dan being unable to remember the last time he and Phil had had sex. 

But it would be fine. They’d get used to it, get over this rough patch, and the way they behaved on screen and in public forums would stop dictating their behavior when it was just the two of them. They both probably needed space.

There were times though when Dan didn’t want to give Phil space. He wanted to crawl into his room at night and kiss him until they were both dizzy with it. But there was a part of him that was afraid it wouldn’t feel the same. He was afraid that there were already smudged fingerprints all over this thing they had together, and Dan couldn’t tell if they were his fingerprints—his stains caused by the things he’d said online—or if they belonged to the groping hands of faceless fans who seemed to have no motivation other than to just keep stealing away shreds of their peace. 

So what if he went to Phil. What if he kissed that mouth he’d kissed so many times and it tasted like all the lies they’d been telling? What if he crawled into Phil’s bed and spread his legs and let Phil fuck him like they used to, but instead of feeling intimate and special, it felt like a million eyes pressing against his skin, watching everything, recording everything, flaying it open and picking at the bones? 

He didn’t know when this fear had crept up on him, but they were so famous now, in a way they had far less control over, and Dan had made a very public statement denouncing any romantic relationship with Phil. And now even Phil had lied about how they met, so he’d lied about it too. Could he ever change his mind now? Or was this it? Had he destined whatever life they’d begun to build together to the shadows? Shadows that had already begun to strangle them.

That was the difference, wasn’t it? What Phil had meant when he said, ‘this wasn’t what they had talked about’. Denying the video was real, getting it taken down—those were all specific actions about a specific event. There could be a world where that was a prank and they still ended up together in the end. But how do you ever tell the world that you love a man you once compared to your grandma’s vagina?

You don’t.

And that was where they were at, Dan realized, as he suddenly came back down to earth from that void in his mind that kept him pacing the floor, muttering to himself. He came back from that void with a functional and profound understanding of exactly what he had done and exactly why Phil would no longer look him in the eye, would no longer touch him in the same way. It was an understanding that nearly knocked Dan off his feet.

He hadn’t drawn a line in the sand. He’d carved it into cement. 

If there was anything Dan knew, it was that once something was on the internet, it would always be there. 

And, yet, he still wasn’t sure he’d made the wrong decision. That was probably what scared him the most. He still wasn’t sure. And, God, how Dan missed being sure of anything. 

A knock at the door startled him. Since when did Phil knock?

“C-come in,” he managed.

Phil stepped inside. “We need to plan some for the radio show.”

Dan stared at him for a moment in silence. He could slam Phil against the wall and kiss him, but the rush in his head was filtering out and it left him feeling dull again. He was completely unsure of what to do, of what he wanted, of what was right, so Dan shoved his feelings down, gripped tight to the status quo and refused to let go.

“Right,” Dan said. “I had some ideas for that.”

Phil put on a smile. “Good. We should talk about them.”

. . .

Phil detoured to the bathroom once they got to the radio station. This was his normal routine now to try to avoid Victoria as long as possible. Dan really wished he’d just get over it, but he didn’t seem to be warming to that idea in any way. Dan walked down the hall into the buzz of the radio station. He started to walk to his position behind the desk, when he noticed it wasn’t vacant. 

A boy—probably fourteen or fifteen—was standing right where Dan needed to stand. He had messy dirty blond hair and he was staring, slack-jawed at all the equipment. 

Dan’s brow furrowed. “Uh, hey. What’re you doing?”

“Waiting for my dad,” the boy replied without looking up. 

“That’s kind of my, um, area.” Dan rubbed uncomfortably at his neck. “Not to be…but I do have a show in like fifteen minutes.”

“Oh, uh, sorry! I didn’t meant to,”— The boy’s eyes went wide—“Are you Danisnotonfire?”

A small smile quirked on his lips. “Dan is fine.”

“Oh, cool,” the boy said as he stepped out from behind the radio desk. 

“So who’s your dad?” Dan asked, as he glanced around.

“Oh, um, Ben’s my dad,” he said easily. The boy looked down and blushed a little. “I really like your videos, especially the ones you sometimes do with Phil.”

“Thanks,” Dan said. He was never quite sure how to take compliments, but someone once told him to just say thank you so that’s what he did.

Ben blustered forward, looking a little disheveled. He put a large hand on his son’s small shoulder. “Sorry about him. Tom’s a good kid. Nosy as hell and terrible taste in music, but a good kid.

Tom shot his dad a glare. “I am not! And I have great taste in music.”

“Can you take this to the truck?” Ben pulled some wires out of a cargo pocket on his pants and placed them in Tom’s hand. 

Tom nodded. “Nice to meet you, Dan,” he said and then scurried off.

He and Ben hadn’t spoken more than a few words since that night at the pub, so standing here right now with Ben made Dan really want to just sink into the wall.

“He has to shadow me for a school project,” Ben finally said to break the awkward silence.

“Don’t worry about it.” Dan shrugged. He really hadn’t minded, even if he’d been confused. Ben’s kid seemed nice enough.

“Well, okay then Howell. I’ll see you around.” Ben lumbered off, and Dan watched him go for a moment, unsure of why.

“What was that?” Phil’s voice jolted Dan back to the present.

“Oh, Ben’s kid. Some sort of take your kid to work or whatever.”

“Really? I guess that’s neat.”

Victoria strode up to them. “I told Ben it would be okay, but it’s technically your show so if you have a problem with it.”

“Oh no, it’s fine,” Phil replied, his voice immediately colder. He’d never really said much about it, but Dan knew Phil blamed Victoria for the Customer Service Blog. He blamed her for a lot of things. She was an easy target for him for some reason. Just like the fans online had been an easy target for Dan.

Victoria gave Dan the same look she’d been giving him for a few months, and Dan gave her his customary little smile through which he tried to convey that Victoria should probably just give up.

She wandered off and few moments later, the phone buzzed in Dan’s pocket. He pulled it out. He had one unread text from Victoria.

There’s something I need to talk to you about it.

Uh, I'm right here. talk to me.

Just you.

Why?

I have an invite to an important industry event—everyone who is anyone is coming—and I have a plus one.

Okay…why are you telling me this?

I’m asking you to be my plus one, Dan.

Chapter Text

Phil stood in the kitchen, rinsing the dirty dishes off in the sink and filing them into the dishwasher. The repetitive movement allowed his mind to drift off. His thoughts started with the videos he intended to make soon, some ideas for the radio show, and ultimately, drifted into thoughts of Dan—thoughts of the way it used to be when kisses and touches were as absent-minded and easy as breathing. God, he missed those days.

Phil barely noticed Dan quietly walking into the room and standing just a few feet away. Dan was looking down at the kitchen counter instead of Phil as he spoke.

“Hey so, Victoria texted me yesterday.”

Phil placed a dirty bowl in the dishwasher. “Is that unusual?” Phil knew they texted often about the radio show, but just as often about other things. Dan and Victoria were friends.

“No, not really.”

“I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, Dan.

Dan drew in a deep breath and turned to look at Phil. “It’s what she texted me.”

Phil tensed. Mentions of Victoria always set him on edge, and the trepidation in Dan’s voice only made that edge sharper. “Okay…”

“She invited me out.”

She what? Anger flashed hot through Phil, making him dizzy. “How could she?” Phil spat, then his voice lowered and he mumbled below his breath. “She knows we’re together. I should have seen this coming. How could she just—”

“Whoa, Phil. What?” Dan stepped back, looking confused. 

How could he be confused? They hadn’t been themselves recently, but Dan still had to know that Victoria asking his boyfriend out would piss Phil off.

“You're my boyfriend. She knows that and she just asked you on a fucking date!”

“A date? It’s not a…oh my God, Phil. No. She has a plus one to some industry thing and she thought it would be good for my career if I went with her. I mean I obviously said no.”

A plus one to an industry thing? And Dan said no?

Phil blinked as the anger receded. “Why would you say no?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah.” Phil shrugged. “It seems like a good opportunity for you.”

Dan took a step forward, seeming uncertain, cautious maybe. “But we don't do these things without each other, Phil. When BBC contacted you about the radio show, you made them take me too.”

Phil frowned. He had, though that decision had been as much about his own fear of forging ahead on his own, as it had been about wanting Dan to succeed alongside him. Sometimes he felt guilty for that, but guilt didn’t make something untrue.

“Dan, I don't want to hold you back.”

“You don't. You've never,” Dan sounded so sincere it scared Phil, especially given how they’d been acting toward each other recently.

“That might not always be true.”

“Phil, don't be ridiculous.”

“I'm not being ridiculous. It's happening right now. You just turned down something great for your career because you're worried about me. Text Victoria back and tell her you'll go.”

“I'm not going to—”

“Yes, you are. If you don't want to go for yourself, go for both of us. You could meet some important people and make some connections that would help us both out.” Phil didn't really think Dan going to this event—whatever it was—would help out Phil’s career, but if a white lie was what it took to get Dan to look out for himself, especially right now, Phil wouldn’t feel bad about it.

Dan let out a long breath. “You’re absolutely sure?”

Phil nodded. This was the right thing. It was. 

“Absolutely,” he said. 

“Okay,” Dan said and, for a moment, Phil thought he was going to lean in a for kiss, but he didn’t.

He never did anymore.

 


 

Phil sat alone in his room for awhile, going over a video for the fourth time. He’d already edited the thing within an inch of its life, but he really just needed something to do. Eventually, thankfully, his phone vibrated on the desk. It was a text message from his brother, Martyn.

philllll, what’s up?

nothing, just editing.

how’s life?

eh, it’s fine. you?

good. i’m going to be coming through london tomorrow if you wanted to grab lunch or coffee or something.

starbucks work? at like 11?

sounds good to me.

Martyn rarely came to London, so it was a little strange, but Phil wasn’t complaining. He could really use someone to talk to. Someone who didn’t make Phil’s heart ache. 

The next morning, Phil walked to the Starbucks near their flat and found Martyn already waiting there. Martyn strode up to him, smiling, and clapped Phil hard on the shoulder.  

“Hey baby bro,” Martyn said.

“Really, Martyn?” Phil rolled his eyes.

“You’ll always be my baby bro.”

After they both ordered their coffees, Phil said, “Thanks for meeting me” as they sat down on a leather sofa by the window. He took a sip of his coffee and stared at the rain drizzling on the window. 

Martyn flicked Phil’s Starbucks cup, getting Phil’s attention. “Why are you acting so serious? That’s not very…Phil.”

Phil sighed and kept his attention out the rainy window. “I know. I’m just…stressed.”

After a moment of silence, Martyn lowered his voice. “With work or with Dan?”

How did he know…? “Did you talk to Mum?”

“You're my brother. I can tell when something’s up. And also, I talked to Mum.”

Phil shifted uncomfortably tightening his grip on his Starbucks cup. “What did she tell you?”

“Nothing. Just that maybe I should call you and be supportive.”

“Is that why you texted me?” Phil took another sip to wet his dry mouth.

“Technically…”

“Great.” Phil pursed his lips. “Mum’s got you checking up on me now.”

Martyn scooted a little closer and lowered his voice again. “But something isclearly up.”

Phil took a moment to decide how much he was going to tell his brother, and what he actually wanted to talk about because he had, in fact, come here with the intention of talking some of this out. Martyn had always been a grounding influence in Phil’s life. Phil really needed that right now.

“It’s nothing,” Phil said. “Dan and I are going through a rough patch, but that’s not…he got invited to his industry party thing with our producer and I didn’t.”

“And you’re jealous?”

“Not that’s not it. Not at all, actually. I’m just i’m starting to wonder if I have future in this. Have I ever even stopped to ask if I want this, especially after…”

Martyn frowned, visibly tensing. “The video?”

“Mom told you about that?” Phil asked, barely above his breath.

“Some idiots from our high school sent it to me.”

“Great.” Of course they had. Of course the whole world has seen Phil’s heart laid bare. Of. Fucking. Course.

“They’re jackasses. Don’t worry about them, but maybe you do need to start asking yourself some hard questions before you get too deep into a career or a lifestyle that you don’t actually want. Can you imagine doing anything else? Besides your childhood dream of meteorology, of course.”

Phil shrugged. “I like what I do. I like the radio show. As pissed off as I’ve been at it lately, I enjoy it, and I enjoy filming videos and interacting with my audience occasionally, but I like my privacy. I just don’t know if I can have it both ways.”

Martyn looked down at his coffee, his brow drawn together, clearly considering what Phil had said. “I think maybe you can—YouTube glitches aside. But this is kind of out of my realm of experience.”

Maybe it was unfair of Phil to have expected Martyn to know what to do. Phil was sort of charting unknown territory here. He sighed. “It also just put a lot of pressure on my relationship and there are moments where I want to just beg Dan to runaway with me to a remote cottage where we can become goat herders together.”

Martyn raised an eyebrow.  “You’d goat herd with Dan?”

“I think I’d do anything with Dan,” Phil replied easily. He would. He absolutely would do anything, live any kind of life, big or small, as long as he was living it with Dan.

“So maybe you do this with him for as long as you can. When it stops working, then you two can become goat herders. But—and this kills me to say as your older brother—but you’re talented. You’re smart and creative. More than I ever was. Don’t fall into Dan’s shadow just because you love him. If you want this career, if you want it with him or even without, don’t step aside. Make things happen for yourself—for both of you—whatever you want. Just don’t stand on the sidelines, Phil. It’s not a good look for you.”

Phil sat in silence for a moment, staring down at the Starbucks cup in his hands, an idea being born quietly in the back of his mind. 

Chapter Text

When Dan got to the radio station, he found that once again his desk was occupied by a smallish dirty-blond haired teenage boy, flicking at the control panels. Even though it was clear the kid had no idea what he was doing, he was still staring at it all with some intense fascination.

“Well, well, we meet again,” Dan said, using a weirdly performative voice and immediately feeling like a capital L loser. 

“Oh, hi, sorry. I’m just like always in your way, Dan.”

“No problem. I’m sorry…I like totally forgot your name. I’m an idiot.”

The boy looked away from the desk to Dan. “It’s Tom. Ben’s son, remember?”

Dan nodded. “I remembered that, at least. Not a total flop.”

“Cool,” the boy said awkwardly, as he leaned back on the balls of his feet. He stuck his hands in his pockets and that drew Dan’s eye to Tom’s t-shirt.

“You like Fall-Out Boy?” Dan asked.

“What? Oh.” Tom glanced down at his t-shirt and then up at Dan. “Yeah, they’re pretty good. I like Panic at the Disco more and Muse too. They’re pretty good.”

“Muse is…me and Phil listen to a lot of Muse.”

“I know,” Tom said easily.

“You do?”

“Yeah, I watch your videos, remember?” 

“Right…right, you said that.”

At that moment, Ben strode into the room, some extension cords wrapped around his large upper arms. His grey beard looked extra gruff and he rubbed it with his large hands as he spoke to Dan. “Sorry if he’s bothering you. He’s just really into this radio stuff.”

“Not bothering me,” Dan reassured. “Just bonding over a similar taste in music.”

“I guess my ears are just too old to understand.” Ben made a face, then handed the extension cords over to his son. “Now would you make yourself useful and put those back in my truck?”

“Fine.” Tom groaned, but then his voice softened as he looked at Dan. “It was good talking to you again. I really did, um, like the video.”

Dan was about ask Tom which one, but he’d already scurried out of the room.

“I didn’t realize my son was such a fan of yours.”

“I’m sure it’s ironic.” Dan let out a small laugh. 

Ben looked at him a moment, through narrowed eyes, then said, “You know, I don’t think so.” Then, he just walked off without another word.

Phil came up behind Dan, startling him. “What was that?”

Dan had a moment of deja vu before he managed to say, “I’m not sure. You ready for the show?”

“Yeah, you?”

“Ready as ever, I guess.”

Victoria swept into the room, a signal that they were about to go on the air. Like a well-oiled machine, that knew how to work but not why anymore, Dan got into place and Phil followed suit. 

She slipped on her headphones, gave Dan a little nod and a smile. “On in five.”

 


 

 

“Dan? Dan! What on earth are you doing in there?” Phil’s voice came from down the hall.

Dan sighed, then let out a loud groan. He didn’t realize he was making that much of a racket. “I’m trying to find something to wear!” he shouted back before noticing Phil was learning in his doorway, wearing nothing but some ratty pajama pants. 

“Your entire closet is on your bed.”

“Not my entire closet.”

“Close enough.”

Dan gave Phil a look. “Should I wear a suit or like should I still be casual?”

“You should definitely wear a suit, but maybe wear like an ironic shirt. For branding.”

Dan dug a shirt with a funky purple pattern out of the pile on his bed. “Like this?”

Phil nodded. “Yeah, it’s very you. Just wear that and your suit.”

“Thanks…” Dan said softly. “For helping me with this.”

“No problem. Have a good time tonight.” Phil turned to leave.

“You’re sure you’re okay with this? I really don’t have to go.”

“Go, Dan. It’ll be good for your career.” 

Still feeling a little uneasy, Dan forced a smile. “Yeah, okay.” 

Regardless of what Phil said, it just never felt right doing things like this without him. But maybe it was important that they forged some kind of separate identity for themselves. Maybe that would be best in the long run. Dan wasn’t sure.

Dan went to say something else to Phil, though he wasn’t sure what, but Phil had already disappeared down the hall, leaving Dan alone in his room again, with the mess he’d made.

 


 

 

The restaurant the nameless entity throwing this ‘industry party’ at was weirdly industrial, and Dan couldn’t help but feel like he was standing in a train station bathroom being fed gourmet sushi and weird pink and black aesthetic looking drinks. Dan had already had two. 

“You could slow down with those, you know,” Victoria whispered with a hand on on his elbow.

“They taste like candy floss.”

“And they’re like 110 proof.”

“Shit.” Dan whipped his head toward Victoria. “I’m gonna be fucking sloshed.”

Victoria snorted and shook her head. “No shit. Just hold it together and don’t make me look bad.” She brushed her hand down her black cocktail dress. “Not that you could. I mean, I am flawless.”

“Oh, Victoria, it’s so good to see you!” A posh woman’s voice came from behind them. She tossed her sleek black hair and turned her attention to Dan. “Who’s your date?”

Dan’s immediate reaction was to correct the word date, but it didn’t actually mean ‘date’ as in romantic or girlfriend. It just meant person Victoria had brought with her. 

“That’s Dan Howell. He has a radio show on BBC1.”

The woman’s red lips stretched into a grin. “I think I’ve heard your show, Dan. I’m Alisha.”

“Good to meet you.” Dan started to put out his hand to shake hers, but before he coudl, she pecked him on the cheek.

Dan froze. ‘Industry people’ could get too touchy for him, and this was just an example of that. If the rest of the night was going to be anything like this, he was going to need more of those pink-and-black drinks, 110 proof or not. 

The next half hour went on just like that. A stream of new people in suits and dresses introducing themselves and chatting amongst themselves like old friends. Dan did his best to keep up with the conversation, to figure out what was a genuine conversation and what was glorified gossip, and he tried to keep the self-deprecation to a minimum because Victoria kept shooting him angry glares or kick him lightly with her heels.

“I’m already going insane,” Dan whispered to Victoria when they had a break in the stream of people talking to them. “How do you do this on a normal basis?”

“You want to make it in this world, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to get used to it.”

Dan groaned. “Maybe I shouldn’t have dropped out of uni.”

Victoria tossed a casual arm around Dan and said, “Too late now, Howell.”

Just then, all the commotion in the room seemed to stop. It hadn’t really, but Dan stopped noticing it, stopped caring about it, because standing across the room was Phil. His Phil. What the hell was he doing here?

Dan tried to step away from Victoria, to go towards what could maybe have been an illusion, a pink-and-black induced hallucination, but another group of people approached to introduce themselves. Dan shook their hands and followed Victoria’s lead, but he kept trying to look over their heads to find Phil’s face again in the crowd.

It didn’t take long before Dan realized that it hadn’t been a dream. Phil was here. Somehow, inexplicably, Phil was here at a party, an industry party, he hadn’t been invited to, looking like a fucking wet dream. Every time Dan tried to get away to find Phil, he was dragged into another round of small talk. As far as Dan could tell, Phil was laughing and enjoying himself—drinking his own pink-and-black drinks and not caring in the slightest about trying to talk to Dan. 

Then, Dan caught a glimpse of it, over a woman’s glittery shoulders. Phil was looking at him, dark-eyed, like he was trying to catch Dan’s attention, like maybe that’s all he’d ever been trying to do. Did Phil know he had it? That he always had Dan’s full and complete attention? Dan shifted his feet, his collar feeling suddenly tight, this whole place feeling suddenly much, much too warm.

Dan licked his lips. “Need to go to the toilet,” he managed.

“Thanks for sharing, Howell.” Victoria gave him a a weird look, and he just jogged off.

He couldn’t wait anymore. He had to see Phil, had to understand how and why he was here. Dan’s mind was swirling and the ground felt a little soft…too much alcohol…he managed in the back of his mind. He mentally agreed not to have anymore as he searched through the bustling crowd. Finally, his eyes found Phil, his head of black hair popping up above the crowd. 

He pushed through the people, trying to catch up with Phil, who somehow kept disappearing. Dan wandered off down a weird hallway he wasn’t even sure he was supposed to be down just because he swore he saw Phil go that way. Fuck, he’d follow Phil anywhere, wouldn’t he?

“Dan,” Phil’s voice was quiet but it still startled him.

Dan spun around to see Phil standing just a foot away in a well tailored suit, a white shirt and a narrow black tie. Holy fuck. Phil had always looked good in a suit, but for some reason, it was too much that night. It had been so long since Dan had had his hands on that man and he was suddenly, acutely, devastatingly aware of how much he wanted to touch and never stop touching.

“What are you doing here?” Dan finally managed, his voice gravel-beaten.

“Partying,” Phil gave him a crooked grin. “It is a party.”

“A party you weren’t invited to.”

“I got an invite.”

Dan’s eyes narrowed. “What? How?”

Phil stuck his thumbs in his pockets. “A magician never reveals his secrets.”

A group of women eyed them as they passed by, and even though they were only talking, it made Dan feel exposed so he grabbed Phil by the arm and dragged him through a nearby door labeled staff only. Dan fumbled around on the wall looking for a light. He never found it, but Phil flipped it on, exposing the broom closet they were now standing in.

Dan grabbed the door handle and slammed it shut. He looked at Phil, a second passed, another second, and it all just snapped. Months of want, flooding into one singular moment. 

Dan lunged forward, crashing his mouth against Phil for the first time in so damn long. Too damn long.

Immediately, Phil opened his mouth, letting Dan lick inside. Dan pressed him up against the wall and knocked over several brooms, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but feeling Phil’s fit body against his, tight and firm.

Phil was moaning against his lips and threading his hands into Dan’s hair and pulling him in. Dan managed to get the button undone on Phil’s suit jacket and ran his hands over the thin white cotton of his shirt. He wrapped a hand around Phil’s tie. God, that was so hot, so masculine, just the feel of a tie wrapped around his fingers. 

Dan moved his mouth down Phil’s neck, leaving a line of kisses. He tasted aftershave on his tongue. Phil rarely used aftershave, but God he smelled good when he did. Dan wanted to fucking eat him alive. 

Phil now had a grip on the belt loops of Dan’s trousers, pulling their hips together. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Phil was hard and Dan was hard and they were sweat and heat and so much desire Dan worried his skin was going to light on fire and burn them both. Dan moved his mouth back to Phil’s mouth and relished in the way their lips fit together, the wet, warm give of it. How did they ever stop this? How did they ever not touch each other, even for a second?

The broom closet door opened.

“Fuck,” Victoria said, sliding in with them, before shutting the door shut again.

Phil bolted away from Dan, leaving him weak-kneed, out breath, still fucking erect.

“Are you both…are you crazy? Anyone could have walked in here. What were you thinking?” she whispered.

“I…um…I don’t know,” Dan said, but he did know. He was thinking Phil. Phil, Phil, Phil. It was the only thought he’d ever had that was worth having. 

“You need to be careful,” Victoria said. “You don’t want anyone finding out.”

“Right,” Phil said, straightening himself out. “We don’t.” His voice was flat, toneless. He walked right past Victoria and out of the broom closet. 

When Dan went to follow him, Victoria grabbed his arm and stopped him. 

“Wait,” she said. “You don’t want someone to see you going out together.”

Right, no, of course not. That makes sense. “Good idea.”

She looked him up and down, then shook her head. “Get it together, Howell.”

He used his wrist to push down his erection and then adjusted his trousers. He  flattened down his hair with his hand. “All good?”

Victoria straightened his tie for him. “I don’t know why I like you so much. You’re a fucking pain in my ass.”

“Sorry.” He let out a sigh. 

She peeked out the door. “We can go now.”

“Should we go separately so people don’t think—”

Victoria put on a small frown. “For both your sakes, it’s best they do.” She stepped out of the room and Dan followed her. She touched his wrist. “Come on. There’s more people I want you to meet.”

What Dan wanted to do was to find Phil and go home, but he didn’t find himself doing what he wanted to do. He found himself doing what he felt like he was supposed to do, and he followed Victoria back into the party still thinking the only thought worth thinking—Phil. 

Chapter Text

Weeks passed and they never talked about that night. They never talked about Dan’s hands in Phil’s hair, the way their bodies moved together, the way they’d both wanted. It became as if it had never happened. They returned to the friendly, albeit a little distant behaviors that had grown so familiar over the past several months. 

Phil had hoped the party would shake something loose in them. It's why he called in every favor he knew to get an invite. That and he didn't want to forgo any opportunities for his career just because he’d burnt his bridge with Victoria. But mostly, honestly, it was about Dan--about surprising him, about trying for a desperate jump start in their relationship.

It had worked. For the briefest of flashes, it had worked. Phil had had Dan’s hands on his body, Dan’s tongue in his mouth and the electric buzz of his desire all around him, but it had ended. Ended like a slap to the face when Victoria followed them inside. Why did she have to do that? Logically, Phil knew if she saw them and walked in anyone else could have, and it would have all been over.

Now, Phil was walking into the room where they did their radio show. For once, Dan wasn’t here before him. Victoria had called Dan into her office—just Dan—and Phil bristled a little at that, but he was also grateful. He didn’t know how to talk to Victoria anymore, didn’t want to really. If she said anything Phil needed to know, Phil still trusted Dan to pass that information along to him.

Standing a few feet away from their desk, a young boy Phil vaguely recognized was talking to an older, slightly taller boy that Phil didn’t recognize at all.

“You’re Ben’s son, right?”

The boy nodded. “Yeah. Name’s Tom.” He turned to the taller boy beside him. “This is my, uh, friend Michael. Michael, this is Phil.”

As a reflex, Phil started to extend his hand to Michael, but Michael didn’t move to take his hands out of his athletic shorts and he just kind of shrugged his shoulders at Phil. He seemed altogether uninterested in anything happening here.

“Nice to meet you, Michael.”

Michael didn’t acknowledge Phil any more, but he stepped a little closer to Tom and spoke under his breath, “How long do we have to be here? You said we were going to—”

“My dad will let us take the car after work, I promise,” Tom whispered.

Before Phil could become suitably invested in this little slice of teenage drama, Dan  swept into the room with Victoria trailing behind him. They were laughing about something.

“Pull yourself together, Howell,” she said, acknowledging Phil with a small nod. “We’ve got a show to do.”

Phil gave her a glimmer of recognition as he moved to his spot and slipped on his headphones. As Victoria began her countdown, Phil found his attention being drawn to where Thomas and his tall friend, Michael were passing close conversation behind a hazy wall of soundproof glass.

 

That night after the show, they’d ordered take-away Chinese and scarfed if down in front of some anime they both enjoyed. 

After a few episodes, they tossed out the trash and put their cups in the sink. Phil didn't notice any changes, anything particularly off about Dan that evening or at any point during the day. In every visible way, that evening was the picture of every one before it over the last several months. 

As it grew late, their conversation turned to more yawns than words. Everything felt sleepy--dulled in that nighttime haze. 

“We should probably get to bed,” Dan said.”

“Yeah,” Phil agreed. “Good night.” 

Phil started to stand from the sofa and, as he did, he dropped a kiss to Dan’s lips. It was chaste, unexpected to even Phil, an ancient reflex unearthed on accident. Dan didn't kiss back, but he didn't pull away either. It felt like kissing an oil painting. Beautiful, wanted, but unmoving. 

Phil stepped back. 

“Good night, Phil,” Dan said, his voice soft.

At a loss for words, Phil simply turned and walked away. He got ready for bed, turned off the light and crawled under the covers. He didn't want to be alone with his thoughts, so he focused on the darkness around him. What color was it? Was it really black? Or did we only think it was black because it was too dark to see? Somewhere in the middle of Phil’s treatise on darkness, his bedroom door squealed open and the sound of bare feet on the hardwood invaded his space. 

Startled, he flipped on the light on his nightstand. Its glow was dim, but enough to illuminate Dan at the foot of his bed.

“What are you-”

Phil lost his words as Dan grabbed the bottom of shirt and tugged it up over his head, exposing the pale planes of his gorgeous torso, his dark, lovely nipples. God, how Phil missed feeling those small, taut nubs under his tongue.

Phil swallowed and scooted up in his bed, propped against the pillow, as Dan unbuttoned his jeans an slowly unzipped the fly. Unable to resist, Phil slid his hand under the duvet cover and rubbed it over his half-hard cock. A hiss escaped his lips.

Slow, so goddamn slow, Dan pushed the jeans down his legs. He tugged them off, leaving him in nothing but skin-tight boxer briefs that showed off his lean body. In the dim light, Phil could see the tip of Dan’s leaking cock above his waistband. It had been so long since he’d seen it, since he’d touched it or felt the weight of it on his tongue.

Dan’s eyes stayed locked on Phil’s as he dragged his black pants down his thighs, over his knees, down his calves and onto the floor. There he was—completely naked, miles of touchable skin Phil ached to get his hands and his mouth on.

Dan tugged on the duvet cover, pulling it down, exposing where Phil was handling his own erection. His pajamas were down around his thighs, constricting them. Biting his lip, Dan pulled the pajamas off Phil, leaving him naked and hard.

Wordlessly, Dan crawled over Phil’s body. He left a wet trail of kisses as he went. Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, Dan wrapped his lips around Phil’s cock and sucked. Phil threw his head back and let out a strangled cry. With a little mewl, Dan continued sucking and licking, drawing his tongue in circles around the shaft, letting it dip into the slit.

A deep groan on his lips, Phil slipped his hand into Dan’s hair, gripping the soft, familiar strands. He gave it a little tug in just the way he knew Dan liked, and Dan responded by thrusting against Phil’s leg in a wonderful, helpless way that just made Phil push even deeper into the warm suction.

“So good, Dan. You’re so…don’t stop. Never stop.”

Dan’s eyes flicked open, his gaze intense, almost feverish. Phil felt delirious, out of his own mind, with this, the feeling of it. Physically, it was almost unspeakably good. Emotionally, it was entirely something else.

This was Dan. The man he loved, the man he had never stopped loving, could never imagine not loving, in his bed again. Touching him again. Wanting him again.

Dan pulled back and Phil gasped as the cold air hit his dripping cock. In seconds, Dan was posed over him and Phil felt the give of Dan’s rim against his own tip.

“D-dan, lube.”

“Stretched myself for you. I’m still wet.” 

Before Phil could say anything else, could insist on more lube, Dan sank down on Phil’s dick. The tight, blinding heat was like goddamn miracle after so long. 

Dan tossed his head back, exposing the tight tendons in his neck. He let out a loud, delicious moan as he wrapped his hand around his own dick and began to just…well, they called it ride for a reason.

Dan looked so beautiful like this—all skin and sex—his body sharper than it used to be, a little stronger too. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing his fringe away from his forehead. The dim light reflected off Dan’s dark earrings, creating the smallest flicker, like two lost stars.

Phil put his hands on Dan’s hips and held him in place. He gripped tighter than he needed to as insecurities slithered into his head. He normally didn’t let passing thoughts get to him—or the passing criticism of others—but these last months had weakened his defenses and the thoughts hit harder now.

Dan was young and lovely.More than one woman at the BBC had made passing comments about Dan, like they were trying to gage his availability through Phil. Dan was growing more popular than Phil, and it wasn’t that Phil was jealous of that success, just that he was scared. Scared of losing the one thing, the one person, he couldn’t bear to lose.

“Phil,” Dan whimpered. “Phil I—”

Phil tensed, fueled by surge of adrenaline and fear, and flipped Dan over onto his back. Phil wanted this—needed it—to see Dan underneath him, to feel his ankles crossed at the small of his back. He crushed his mouth onto Dan’s, parting Dan’s lips with his tongue, licking along the inside of his mouth. 

Dan kissed back. Hard. His fingers threaded through Phil’s hair and pulled. The sharp pain dragged Phil deeper into the moment, allowing him to sink and sink into the sticky, hot burn of fucking, of pounding into Dan like it was the last time and the first time and every other time, all wrapped up into one, all set on fire and exploding.

“Harder,” Dan begged when Phil pulled away from the kiss. “Fuck me, fuck me. Need it.”

Phil dug his fingers into the mattress and shoved his hips forward. He’d been on the other side of this enough to know that this couldn’t feel that great, but the way Dan was responding disagreed with that. He was whimpering for more and pushing back and grasping desperately at the sheets or sliding his nails against Phil’s back.

“I’m…Dan, I’m close.”

“Don’t stop.” Dan sucked in a breath. “Come inside me.”

Phil growled, his eyes shutting. He wanted that. So. Damn. Much. To remember what that felt like to lose himself, to just fall apart while he was buried deep inside this man he loved with enough force to break his own bones. And Phil wanted Dan to remember what it was like too. To let Phil in like that, to feel Phil’s warmth dripping down his legs as they fell asleep tangled up like a knot. 

He picked up speed, finding that perfect rhythm that sent delicious tendrils of want  across his skin, under his skin. Phil dipped down and captured Dan’s lips in a kiss as he came. Moments later, he felt the hot splash of Dan’s come against his chest and heard the shaking whimper fall from Dan’s kiss-bruised lips. 

Delicately, Phil pulled out and fell down on the bed beside Dan. Dan looked over at him, his chest still heaving. They laid in silence, in the warm, mindless glow for a few moments. Then, Phil felt the bed shift as Dan stood up and walked out of the room without a word. He never did this. He never just left, not even to go clean up. Certainly, not without saying something.

Phil’s head fell back against the pillow, momentarily stunned. He laid there, still covered in Dan’s come, a vice grip of pain between his ribs and a growing burn in his eyes. He gave Dan a few moments to come back. He didn’t.

This was hurtful in a way Phil had never expected Dan to be. To fuck him, and to fuck him like that, and then just leave. Phil wasn’t just sad. He was angry. He threw back the covers and stood up. A part of him wanted to march into Dan’s room and yell, just scream until they figured this all out. But Phil was anxious, keyed up, and as he paced, there was only one thing he felt like he could do.

Phil shoved open his closet door, dug under some unfolded piles of clothes to his suitcase. Shaking, Phil tossed it on his bed and began to pack.

Chapter Text

Dan slammed the door to his bedroom. He dragged in big, shaky gulps of air before pressing his back to the wall and sliding to the floor. Trembling, he pulled his legs to his knees and tried to stop his head from spinning. He shouldn’t have left Phil like that. Dan understood it the moment he’d sat down on the floor, the moment he realized what had just happened. Dan shouldn’t have just left, but he hadn't felt like this in so long. Like his mind was just this thing trapped inside his body, this thing that had this enormous power to pull him apart, to attack him from all sides and to hurt the people he cared about most.

Over the last several months, Dan had pushed everything down, everything he was feeling and thinking, he just kept pushing it down and down inside himself so he could keep making the videos he needed to make, so he could keep showing up at the radio station, so he could keep being a boyfriend and keep being a son and a brother and whatever else other people needed him to be. Whenever he let himself feel anything, good or bad, he felt all of it at once and too much—and this was the result. 

Turning into this—into his pathetic, shaking creature curled up uselessly on the floor. Dan knew he needed to get back up—to force his trembling legs to his feet—and go back to Phil and apologize, but he couldn’t move or think or function. It was as if he had no idea how to do that at all. Like he didn’t have the ability. Dan felt that if the flat caught fire at this exact moment, he would be incapable of standing to escape the flames. This feeling—whatever it was—was that overwhelming, that debilitating.

All he could do now was squeeze his arms tighter around his legs, bury his face into his knees and let his eyes burn with tears. he was too confused, too exhausted, to feel embarrassed by crying. He could only hope Phil wouldn’t walk in here and see him like this. It had been so long since felt this much. This angry at himself, this angry at the whole concept of existing. 

Vaguely, in the back of his mind, Dan could recall that he’d felt like this before—or some version of it—and come back from it. The only thing that could help right now was oxygen and time. He had to breathe. He had to wait it out. 

So, he did. He sat there on the ground, a trembling mess, and took sobbing breaths when he could manage, and just waited. Dan had no idea how long it had been when he finally started to even out. When the fear backed away enough, that his rational mind had a chance to make sense of any of the last several hours. He tried, through a haze of exhaustion, to lay it out like a timeline.

They had eaten dinner and watched anime. That was normal, part of their new way of existing with each other. It was fine. It was the new pattern of behavior they’d established and it was working for Dan, it was helping keep all these thoughts right where they were meant to be. Buried.

But then, Phil kissed him. And it wasn’t like it had been at the party. It wasn’t this alcohol and adrenaline fueled fling in the storage closet. It was a kiss. His boyfriend’s kiss, simple and soft. A reminder of what they actually were to each other, of what they had been, of what was true. What had been unfairly exposed and then covered up.

Dan had gone off to his room. He’d tried to go to bed, but that kiss, the feeling of it, took over every other thought Dan tried to have. He felt jittery and obsessed, obsessed with a simple kiss that he should be able to have however and whenever he wanted. Somehow, they’d slowly stripped each other of that privilege and left behind a tangled, watered-down version of what they’d been meant to be. It wasn’t right…It wasn’t right.

Earlier that nght, Dan had stretched out on his bed and shut his eyes. He didn’t have to think of anything but that quick, gentle kiss as he rubbed the heel of his hand against his cock. Dan touched himself, fingering himself open with the lube from a mostly empty bottle as he thought of the kiss until he was unable to do anything but walk down the hall and…

Dan started to shake again, the nerves ramping up. He couldn’t think about it. Not now. He couldn’t think about how it had felt to have Phil inside him, not if he didn’t want to fall apart again. Something was wrong with him, that much was clear. What it was, Dan wasn’t sure yet.

Giving himself a little more time, Dan stayed there, letting his legs go numb on the floor. Again, he had no idea how much time had passed before he felt he’d calmed enough, before he felt remotely himself again. Before he was able to fully realize how terrible he'd been to Phil and that he needed to force himself out of his room and go back to Phil and apologize.

Dan struggled down the hall and pushed open the door to Phil’s bedroom. The light was off and when he whispered Phil’s name, there was no answer. He whispered it again. No answer. Deciding Phil must be asleep, but not wanting to go back to his own room, Dan pulled up the corner of the duvet on his side of the bed and crawled under the covers.

He felt Phil stir beside him and, in the quiet, could hear his soft breathing. Dan laid there with raw-eyes and an aching body and let Phil’s gentle breaths lull him to sleep.

The next morning, Dan woke to a stream of light coming in through the bedroom window. He blinked the stiffness in his eyes away and rolled over. Phil was still asleep beside him. Over Phil’s shoulder, by his dresser, was a blue, rolling suitcase that had definitely not been there the night before.

Phil was stirring now, his lips stretching into a yawn. He looked over at Dan and blinked. With a furrowed brow, he asked, “Dan? What are you doing here?”

Dan was still staring over Phil’s shoulder to the shock of blue by the door. “Why do you have a bag packed?”

When Phil sat up in the bed, the duvet slipped down to his waist. He was dressed—actually dressed in one of his nicer t-shirts and Dan could see the waistband of his jeans. How had he not noticed that in his sleep? He must have been that exhausted.

“You…you just left last night after we…you just left,” Phil said.

Dan sat up too. “I’m sorry.”

“Why’d you do it?”

“Leave or—”

Phil rubbed a hand over the stubble on his jaw. “Both, I guess.”

Did Dan even have an answer to the question? “I just…after you kissed me, I wanted to.”

“And then you left,” Phil’s voice was so sharp it made Dan cringe. 

“I couldn’t breathe…it was shaking. My chest was tight and everything just seemed so…I’m sorry Phil.”

Phil bit his lip and, after a long stretch of silence, said, “I’m so tired.”

“I’m tired too.”

“Of what?” Phil snapped, sliding out of bed. “I haven’t done anything. You’re the one—”

“The one who what, Phil?”

“You’ve barely kissed me in months, we don’t sleep in the same bed, you don’t fuck me anymore, Dan. We’re like some sort of shadow thing of what we were before, and I don't know what I did. I don't know why you don’t want me anymore. Or us. Or whatever is happening.”

Dan shook his head as he stood. “You can’t blame this on me. That isn’t fair. You could have kissed me, you could have slept in my room with me or held my hand or fucked me too. But you didn’t.”

“I didn’t know you wanted me to. How could I know that?”

“You’re my boyfriend. I love you. Of course, I want you to!”

Phil ran a hand through his hair, his cheeks were red. “And you’re mine and I love you. So where the hell have you been?”

“I don’t know…I just…I don’t know.”

“After what you said about me in that fucking blog, I just—”

“I didn’t mean any of that,” Dan felt his voice crack. “That was so long ago, Phil. Who cares?” Dan had no idea Phil wasn’t over this.

“You apparently because we went from fine to…to this.”

Dan was dizzy and he felt like he needed to brace himself against the wall but he couldn’t move. “To what? To you packing a fucking bag?”

“You broke my heart, Dan!” Phil shouted and it felt like a punch to the chest. “When you left last night, and with that goddamn blog and when you stayed in the damn office with Victoria.”

“And you broke mine!” Dan spat with a sudden rush of anger.

Phil stumbled back. “What? Dan, what are you talking about?”

“When that video leaked…the first time…and you asked me to lie about it. I wanted to tell people, Phil.” Dan felt tears prickle at his eyes. “I wanted to tell them about us and you just, you took that away from me. From us.” That morning was the first time Phil had ever scared Dan and instead of making him braver, stronger. 

Phil’s mouth just kind of fell open. “I was…I was trying to protect—”

“So what’s changed?”

“Things…they’re different now.”

Were they? In what way? In the world, in media? In their own lives? In what way…

“You want to come out?” Dan felt a rush of terror. “You want to tell people now? That’s what you want to do? Our careers are just—”

“Oh, fuck off with the career shit, Dan.”

Dan was shocked by how harsh Phil sounded. “No. That’s what you were telling me back then and you know what? You broke my heart, Phil, but you were right. About all of it. No one needs to know. No one can know.”

Phil nodded. “Because that’s all that matters to you now isn’t it? Your radio show. Your dinof branding. Money.”

Now Dan was just pissed. How could Phil even think that? “Of course it matters. It’s stupid to think it doesn’t matter. How else do we feed ourselves, Phil.”

“Maybe we get normal jobs like normal people.”

Dan froze. What was happening here? “Is that what you want?”

Phil ran a hand through his hair and his voice softened. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Letting out a long breath, Dan sat down on the edge of the bed. “Oh. I…I didn’t know. Is that why you wanted me to go to that thing with Victoria alone?” Phil had only shown up it had seemed to get under Dan’s skin. “And why you’re kind of shutting everyone out?”

“I shut Victoria out because she wanted me to make a joke of the truest thing I’ve ever said.”

Dan sighed. “To be fair, Phil, you kind of started that one.”

“Not like that.”

“She was just saying it so you’d tell her the truth.”

“That’s not any better.”

“I know…but I don’t know why you act like she could possibly be some kind of threat to you. You act like you think—”

“I don’t think you’re going to sleep with her, Dan. I kind of think she wants to sleep with you, but that’s…”

“She’s doesn’t,” Dan said. 

“I’m just…something is obviously wrong between us.”

Dan didn’t want to admit it, but he had to. “I know and I have no idea how to fix it.”

“Me either.”

“So what do we do?”

Phil sat down beside Dan on the bed, but stayed silent. Finally, Dan couldn’t stand it anymore and spoke up. “You packed a bag.”

“I didn’t leave.”

“You considered it.”

Phil squeezed his eyes shut and forced out a tight “Yeah, I did.”

“I don’t want this,” Dan said. “I don't want any of this. I just want things to go back to how they were Phil. Can we just…can we please?” Dan turned toward Phil and gave him a hard kiss. He returned it, but there was something frightened about it. Dan didn’t know a kiss could feel afraid.

They did try after that. They spent the next week trying to put things back the way they had been. They slept in Phil’s bed together, and they kissed again. When they woke up, casually throughout the day and before they went to bed at night. They held hands when they watched anime, or Dan curled into Phil’s chest. It felt better. At least, better than it had been.

They even slept together again. They'd rubbed each other’s cocks through their pants and Dan had quickly fingered Phil open and fucked him from behind, feeling the tight squeeze as he trailed kisses along Phil’s back. It was good…so good…always good.

Things seemed to be getting better, but there were moments, moments when it was like a mask slipped a little bit, like a glitch in the matrix, and a sick feeling would fall over Dan. None of the problems they had were being addressed, not really. It felt like trying to cover up a cracked wall with nothing but a fresh coat of paint.

But Phil was kissing him again and he was still here. Dan just shut his eyes to everything else and held onto that. 

Chapter Text

Phil was worried. More worried than he’d been in a long time. Ever since he’d packed that bag and had that conversation with Dan, things had been better or at least they looked better. And that, that gilded, fake sheen over everything made it feel worse. To be perfectly honest, Phil felt terrible and he was pretty sure Dan thought everything was fine.

Everything wasn’t fine. 

Instead, there was a constant nagging voice in Phil’s mind just repeating over and over again something’s wrong, something’s wrong.

Of all the things Dan and Phil’s relationship had been over the years, it had yet to feel forced, like an act. But what could Phil expect when they each had these issues and ideas that stood in contradiction with each other and absolutely no idea how to compromise or make them better. Their communication had almost entirely broken down and play acting like everything was fine was only making it worse—only driving them apart in the ways that mattered most.

When Dan had fucked Phil the other night, it felt great and he’d wanted it, but it also felt like there was so much Phil wanted to say. They should be talking not fucking. And not talking about random, meaningless stuff, but talking about the real things, truly, honestly working things out. Every time Phil would try to bring it up, he’d chicken out because Dan would be smiling and he didn’t want to take that away. 

Maybe if they kept on like this—going through the motions—maybe it would seep its way inside and things would actually improve. Maybe. This was Phil’s hope and he clung to it.

For the first time in weeks, when Phil arrived at the radio station. Only the normal crew was there, Ben’s son, Tom, was nowhere to be found. Phil didn’t remember the kid ever saying that there was a time limit on his internship or whatever it was. 

“You think Tom’s sick?” Phil asked Dan.

“Who? What?”

“Tom, Ben’s kid. He’s not here.”

With a furrowed brow, Dan glanced around the small studio. “Yeah, that is weird. He’s always here.” Then, Dan shrugged. “Must be sick or something.”

Phil gave a little shrug. Dan was probably right, but still something wasn’t quite right. Ever since they’d gotten here something about the energy of the place felt off. Whatever it was, Phil couldn’t put a name to it. 

He didn’t have much more time to think about it as Victoria came into the room like she normally did right before the show started. Her face was a little flat and she didn’t even really acknowledge Dan as she normally did. She just walked right over to her spot and pulled on her headphones. Victoria cast a cursory glance in their direction as she raised her hand to perform a silent countdown with her fingers.

Didn’t she normally count aloud? Phil thought as he slipped his headphones on. Dan did the same beside him and things felt a little better as the show began and they sank into the headspace of performing. Still, Phil found himself a little more distracted than normal. The banter between them two of them felt a little forced and off and Phil couldn’t be certain if it was the result of the strangeness that had been going on between him and Dan or if it had to do with the odd energy he’d been feeling since he’d arrived at the BBC. And he kept seeing Ben, hulking and pacing, electrical cords wrapped around his shoulder, a constantly moving boulder bouncing around at the edges of Phil’s vision.

When the radio show finally ended, Phil packed up the few things he’d brought along with and Dan did the same. The next show had just started and Dan and Phil were making their way out down what they thought was an empty corridor when a deep voice echoing behind them shocked Phil to a stop.

Both he and Dan spun around to face the source of the sound. It was Ben, red-faced, drunk possibly, pounding toward them.

“What the fuck is wrong with you two?”

“W-what?” Dan managed, but Phil was struck silent. 

“It’s fucked up is what it is! This whole thing with you two.” Ben gestured to both of them.

Phil finally snapped out of his shock enough to say something. “I’m not sure what you're talking about, but I think you might need to calm down.”

Ben pointed a large finger at Phil. “Don’t you fucking tell me to calm down, Lester!"

Dan stepped forward, angling his body a little in front of Phil’s. Dan did know Ben better. Maybe it was best if he talked to him. 

“Ben, what’s going on?” Dan’s voice sounded even, but Phil knew him well enough to know that he was worried, scared even.

“I saw it!” Ben spat.

The word ‘it’ bounced around in Phil’s head making him dizzy. It? He couldn’t mean…

“Saw what?” Dan asked.  

“You fucking know what!” Ben snarled.

Dan went pale and Phil could hear the blood rushing in his ears. He looked over Ben’s shoulder, hoping that someone was coming down the hall, but they were all alone.

“That’s what you’re talking about.” Dan let out a nervous-sounding laugh. 

“Yeah, that’s what I’m fucking talking about, you prick!”

Phil was speechless, terrified, and confused. Why was Ben reacting like this? There were other queer people who worked here. Why was he singling them out? Why was he so angry? What the hell was going on?

“It was just a dumb prank,” Dan said tightly.

Ben shoved Dan. Hard. His back hit the wall with a thud. 

Phil felt a genuine bolt of terror, his heart dropped to his feet. Ben lifted his large, curled fist and Phil was putting his body between Ben and Dan without thinking. 

“Ben!” Victoria shouted from down the hall.

Ben froze, his mouth falling open slightly and his arm snapped back down to his side.

“What are you doing?” Her voice was pitched high. “What’s going on?” Now, she wasn’t the only person watching them in the hall. Others had come out as well and were approaching with curious faces. 

Ben didn’t acknowledge her, but he backed away from them, his voice low. “What the fuck was so goddamn funny about it? I just want to know—” his voice sounded wrong. Now, he turned to face everyone in the hall. “Can someone just let me in on the fucking joke?”

“I know you're upset, Ben. After what happened…I know, but I can’t…this isn’t…you’re done here.”

Ben stumbled back.“You can’t—“

“Don’t speak. You’ll be lucky if they don’t press charges.”

“Vic—”

“Dan, Phil. Go to my office. Ben…I’m going to have security escort you off the premises.”

Phil was too shaken up to do anything, but follow Victoria’s instructions and go into her office. Once the door was shut behind them, Phil asked, “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“Not really,” Dan said quietly, then raised his voice. “What the fuck just happened?”

“I don’t know.”

A few moments later, Victoria came into her office and quietly shut the door behind her as well. 

“Are you both alright?” she asked. “Physically, I mean.”

Phil nodded and Dan did too.

“We think so,” Phil said.

“Do you have any idea what the fuck that was about?” Dan asked.

Victoria sighed and ran a hand over her face. “Yeah. I think I might.”

“Okay…” Phil prodded. “What is it?”

“Friday night Ben’s son was sent to the hospital. He was hurt pretty badly.”

“Oh my God,” Dan said.

It was awful, but Phil had an uncomfortable feeling that there was quite a bit more to this story. “What happened?” Phil asked.

“You remember that boy who’s come here a couple times with Tom? The one who seems like a real lad?”

Phil nodded. 

“They were…” Victoria continued. “Well, Ben didn’t exactly say. I’m not sure he knows the whole story, but some boys caught Tom with another boy and…well…”

“Holy shit,” Dan breathed.

Phil couldn’t manage words at all, but he could feel bile burning at the back of his throat. Finally, he forced out, “Is Tom alright?”

“He’s out of the hospital now, but…it was…and Tom won’t identify who hurt him.” Victoria sniffed, her eyes turned read. 

“And you just fired him…” Dan spoke, his voice low. “You don’t have to—”

“He’s a liability now. There’s no way we could continue to employ him after an outburst of violence like that, regardless of the circumstances.”

It took a stretch of silence, of Phil just staring at his own still-shaking hands, to realize exactly what had just happened. Ben hadn’t come after them because he thought they were together—gay or something—he’d come after them because he thought they were contributing to the kind of thinking that landed his son in the hospital. Phil felt his stomach do a sickly roll in his chest as heavy thought settled in forefront of his mind: were they? 

“I’m sorry,” Dan said quietly.

“Don’t be.” Victoria gave them both a sad smile “None of this is your fault.”

Phil wasn’t so sure about that.

They were nearly silent all the way back to their apartment. Phil was trying to think, but his thoughts all landed in the same place. Phil needed to make some changes and he wasn’t sure he could do that with the way things were right now. But what did that mean?

They were standing by their dining table when Phil finally broke the silence. “I don’t think we should have ever called it a joke.”

Dan sat down at one of the dining room chairs. “What else were we supposed to do?”

“Tell the truth, like you wanted to.”

Dan laughed a sad laugh. “Phil, I’m not even out to my parents.”

Phil stared down at his feet. They didn’t talk about it much. They pretty much pretended it wasn’t a thing at all, but it was true. Dan’s family wasn’t really close, which made it pretty easy for Dan to stay closeted. As far Phil knew, Dan’s family had no idea they were more than just friends. 

“I know.”

“I swear I forget sometimes,” Dan said quietly. “I’ll go to say something to my mom and then I’ll realize I can’t. I can’t tell her that story or even come to her when I’m hurting.”

Phil sat down at the table with Dan. He hadn’t given that a lot of thought, which he should have. When he’d been struggling with the leak or with his relationship, he’d gone to his mum and to Martyn. Dan didn’t have that. Maybe that was one of the reasons he’d latched onto Victoria like he had. She was someone who knew. 

“I should tell them,” Dan said. “I don’t know how you live with me not telling them.”

“It never mattered to me,” Phil said. “As long as I had you.”

“But it matters now, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I guess…I’m having trouble understanding now. What do you think will happen if you tell them?”

“I don’t know,” Dan sighed. “I guess that’s what scares me, especially with my grandma.”

Phil knew how much Dan’s grandmother meant to him. He also knew that she was pretty conservative and might not react that well to finding out the truth. 

“It just…it’s starting to scare me and I can’t…I don’t know how to not feel the way I’m feeling, even though I know it’s not fair to you.”

“What scares you?” Dan asked.

Phil let out a shaky breath. “It feels like you’ve created an easy exit, like this thing between us…like you see an end, like maybe you always have. If we…if we were to…well, not be together like that anymore…it would just be erased for you, in every way, publicly and with your family. I don’t care if we call it a prank or not, since that video, you’ve been written on every part of my life in permanent ink.”

“I could never erase you, Phil. Even if no one else knew, I’d know.” He was staring down at his feet. “I’d know enough for a thousand people.”

“It doesn’t feel like that.”

Dan sighed.  “I know.”

“If I hadn’t been such a fucking coward back then…maybe none of this would be happening.”

“You’re right. It wouldn’t, ” Dan said. “You weren’t a coward. You saved our asses back then, Phil. I know that now.”

“That’s funny because I’m pretty sure that’s when I killed us.”

Dan’s gaze snapped up to meet his. “Please don’t say that.”

Phil rubbed his eyes, unsure of anything anymore. “I just…I can’t help but wonder what would have happened, where we’d be now…”

“Probably working some boring shit jobs in a crappy apartment where we could barely make ends meet.”

It was clear Dan meant it as a bad thing, but Phil couldn’t help but think it would kind of nice to be rid of the fishbowl it felt like they lived in. Phil just frowned as he let out a soft breath.

Dan’s voice softened, a frown slowly forming on his face. “Which is what you want…”

“I don’t know what I want,” Phil answered honestly. “But you do.”

Dan stiffened, like he wasn’t sure he was going to respond with the truth, but then he just nodded. He must have realized, like Phil, that the time for hiding things had long past.

“I’m sorry,” Dan said. “I’m really scared that we don’t want the same things anymore.”

“Me too.”

A painful silence stretched out before Dan finally filled that silence. “I think we might need to figure it out.”

“Yeah, but how do we do that?”

Dan rubbed his temples, looking pale and sick. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, God I don’t want to say this, but I just keep thinking about that bag you packed.”

Phil’s throat was tight. “What about it?”

“You packed it. That means something.”

“It means I was hurt,” Phil said defensively, reflexively. Dan gave him a look that reminded Phil that he needed to be completely honest. “I’m not really sure what it means. Do you think we need time apart?”

“Is your bag still packed?” Dan asked. “Because if it is, I think that says something.”

Phil couldn’t look at Dan because the bag was still packed and he was starting to think that maybe Dan was right, maybe it did mean something. “I want to work this out. More than I’ve ever wanted anything, but, honestly, I don’t think we can…I mean, I’m not sure we can do it right now. Not together.”

Dan eyes fluttered shut and a small tear escaped from the corner of his eye and trailed down his cheek. Phil reached up and brushed it away. 

“I’ll go to my parents’ house for awhile,” Phil said, barely feeling like the words were coming from him at all. “I can say I got laryngitis, skip the radio show, until we figure out what we’re going to do, what we want…and if that can still include each other.”

“O-okay.”

With his hand still against Dan’s cheek, Phil could feel Dan trembling against his fingertips. He dropped his own hand to Dan’s and squeezed. “I’m so sorry.”

“Me too.” Dan let out a broken sob. “God, Phil. Me too.”

By the next morning, Phil was on the train, gripping that packed bag with tired fingers, riding full-speed away from all the broken pieces of his heart. 

Chapter Text

It was strange being at his parents’ house. Maybe it shouldn’t have been because he did come to visit for holidays and such—and not always with Dan. But Dan was always there, even if he wasn’t physically there. He was the buzz on Phil’s phone as he sent random little texts throughout the day. He was the whispers in the dark, after everyone else had gone to bed and they missed each other too much already. Dan was a part of their conversations at dinner. His parents asking how Dan was and what they’d been up to together. This time, no one was talking about him. Like they were afraid that if they said his name, Phil would just fall to pieces. The truth was he might. The truth was that it was probably for the best that, for now, Dan Howell was ‘he who shall not be named’ around the Lester family house.

They were sat at the dinner table now, and Phil was picking at the breast of a roast chicken, an ache pressing against his skull.

“So, I hear it’s supposed to rain tomorrow,” his dad said.

“I heard that too,” his mum replied casually and took a sip of wine.

“It’s England,” Phil muttered.

“What was that?” his mum asked.

Phil sat down his fork, then rubbed fingers on his forehead. “Of course, it’s going to rain tomorrow. It’s England.” There was an edge to Phil’s voice he didn’t really recognize. It was an edge he’d found coming out of him more and more over the last few years.

“I thought we skipped that rude teenager stage, but apparently it’s just a few years late.”

“Nigel, leave him alone.”

Phil shut his eyes and let a breath out through his nose. “It’s fine, Mum. Dad’s right. I’m just…I’m not great company right now is all. I’m sorry.”

His mom reached over and laid a hand on his arm. “And you don’t have to be. I know you’re hurting.”

Phil felt his eyes begin to burn and a lump formed in his throat. He shot to his feet. “Dinner was great, Mum. Good chicken. I’m not feeling well.”

With that, Phil spun on his heels and bolted out of the kitchen. When he was certain his parent’s couldn’t hear him, he sniffed and wiped at the tears already falling down his cheeks.

God, it hurt so much. It wasn’t even like they’d technically broken up and it already hurt so much to even begin to imagine a life, a future that didn’t have Dan in it. But that was thing, wasn’t it? Phil thought, as he braced himself against the wall in the upstairs hallway. He had to be brave enough to imagine a life, a good life, without Dan. That way whatever decision he made would be what he truly wanted, not just a default decision made out of fear.

If he was going to be with Dan, it would be a choice, not an accident.

 

. . .

The apartment wasn’t especially big, but without Phil there, it felt enormous. Like a cavern, and Dan was the single bat hanging around in the darkness. He’d barely eaten over the last few days. He’d let his phone fill up with notifications as he mindlessly played video games, not bothering to turn on any other light in the apartment.

Dan couldn’t remember ever feeling this way before. Sure, he’d spent most of his teenage years sulking around his parents’ house, but this was different because he hadn’t been happy before. Well, maybe he had as a child, but he hadn’t remembered it. Childhood memories were like that. But, he remembered distinctly, vividly, exactly what it was to be happy with Phil Lester.

All the memories felt like ghosts in this house. The ghosts of the way they had loved each other. When he walked into the kitchen, Dan could see all the times Phil had lifted him onto the counter and leaned up to kiss his mouth. When he walked into the bathroom, it was like he could feel the cold tiles against his palms as Phil fucked him in the shower. In the living room, it was all the times they’d cuddled and watched hours of anime. Before they’d started fighting, Dan almost never slept in the room he publicly called his own, so sleeping in it now made him feel so far away from the life he’d tried so hard to build, but he couldn’t bear to go into Phil’s room, into the bed they shared together.

That was the first thing Dan had done after Phil had walked out with his suitcase to go think things through. He’d walked to Phil’s bedroom, to their bedroom, and shut the door. It hadn’t been opened since.

Dan was miserable—there was no way around it—and he desperately wanted to blame somebody else for it. Over the last several days, he had. He blamed Phil for making the video in the first place. Then he blamed the glitch at YouTube for putting their private truth on display. He blamed the person who leaked the video again a year later and he blamed Victoria for creating conflict between him and Phil. He blamed every single person who’d ever watched the video or asked him about it. But no matter how angry he got, it made no difference. Dan was still miserable.

What about you?

The thought hit him as he was cycling back through all the people that were responsible for what had happened.

He tried to immediately dismiss the idea. It wasn’t his fault that the video got out, nor was it his fault that people couldn’t mind their own business, or that they lived in an unfair world that tried to criminalize and dehumanize people like them. It wasn’t his fault.

But how you react is…

The voice in his head, which sounded frustratingly like Phil, just wouldn’t let this go, would it?

He could have dealt with all of this better than he had. That was the truth. He’d been so afraid and so hurt, that time and again he’d acted from a place of fear and from a place of hurt and all that had done was hurt the one person he never wanted to hurt. All it did was help circumstance strip the happiness out of his life until he was left with this—a cold and empty apartment and a possibility of a future without Phil in it.

Dan leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. God, he was sorry. God, it was time for him to grow the hell up.

Chapter Text

Phil had spent most of this week catching up with old friends. He found a few that were in town, and the ones that weren’t, he caught up with a few of them over a video chat. Of course, talking to them was nothing like talking to Dan. They couldn’t fit into those hard to reach places inside of Phil and understand them. He didn’t really want them to—and that was fine. They were just friends, acquaintances at this point in his life. But, one day, if he didn’t end up with Dan—the thought still made his head spin—he would find someone else who he’d let in like that, even if it wasn’t as easy as it had been with Dan. He couldn’t imagine anything being as easy as falling in love with Dan had been.

Right now, Phil was lying down on the bed in the guest room of his parents’ new place. He had his head pressed into the pillow, his arms crossed over his chest and his earbuds in, pumping out some old songs. He tried to find some that he liked that didn’t remind him of Dan, but it was hard. Everything reminded him of Dan. Phil took a deep breath. This was about him—not Dan. It was okay to think about himself. To think about what he wanted, about what was best for him. Phil took a deep breath and let images and thoughts bubble to the forefront of his imagination—and no matter how much he wanted to, he wasn’t going to let himself picture Dan at all.

In his mind, Phil was standing in a house, not unlike this one, but maybe a bit smaller. The faucet was leaky and floorboards creaked in several places throughout the house. Phil had a job—local weatherman—and a dog and…and a wife or a husband, really it didn’t matter. And sometimes the bills were hard to pay and it was quiet and people only knew his name after he introduced himself.

It was fine. It was a life he could tolerate, enjoy even… if Dan were there.

God, it was hard to get Dan out of his head. He pushed the thought away and re-focused on himself. How did he feel about this for himself?

It was fine. But no spark.

Phil drew in a deep breath and let himself imagine another, different future for himself.

This time he wasn’t tied down to a home, to a particular place or even many particular people. He took the money he’d already made and traveled around the world—seeing far off places and learning bits of the world he hadn’t even really known existed before. He visited city after city and ate strange and delicious foods and he was free to have all of the adventures he wanted.

Now, this…there was something to this. To the traveling, to the experiences, but it still wasn’t right. Phil liked having roots and deep connections to other people. He wanted to see the world, but he didn’t want to do it alone and he wanted to be able to go home at the end.

So Phil wanted the structure and the home from the first idea and the traveling from this one. There was also something to the anonymity of both and this, of course, was where he was beginning to run into trouble with Dan. Dan, Phil was certain, was a star, meant to be heard and seen—and there were sacrifices that came with that. That wasn’t to say that Phil didn’t like what he did…he had liked the radio show and the videos he made. He like making things and he liked making people happy. It was just complicated…the lines a person had to draw between themselves and their audience, especially when you were trying to draw those lines for two.

But maybe, a thought arose in the back of his mind, he just needed to be open to moving those lines.

He could be happy, Phil suddenly realized, in any of these realities. As long as he could create things and experience things with people he cared about—the details didn’t matter.

Phil pulled his earphones out of his ears, the music still audible but barely.

There was one detail that did still matter. One detail that even if he could be happy without it, he didn’t want to be.

. . .

Dan felt his heart rate rise as the car pulled up to the old stone house. He’d spent the last few days thinking of what to do, thinking of where he’d gone wrong and the ways in which he could start to right those wrongs, start to change and become the person he actually wanted to be rather than the person fear and hate wanted him to be. He wanted to be the kind of person who did the right thing, even when it was the hard thing. So Dan had made a list of where to start and this was on it.

He thanked the driver and asked him to wait as he traveled up to the front porch. Dan wasn’t sure how Ben would react to him just showing up out of nowhere. He could deck him in the face for all Dan knew. That’s what he’d tried to do last week, but if that’s what happened, then that was what happened.

With a deep breath, Dan knocked on the front door and waited. It took a few moments but eventually the door cracked open and, through it, Dan could see Ben standing there.

Ben blinked, his wide face scrunched up. ”I almost hit you. I would have--had Lester not shoved you out of the way. And then you got me fired. You got me fired and you're on my doorstep, right now?"

“Yes,” Dan said, keeping eye contact.

“I could break your nose, Howell. You know that. It wouldn’t be the first, and I probably should. You get that?” he spoke the words slowly, as if Dan didn’t understand the risk he took coming here, as if he didn’t know. He knew.

“Yeah.”

“And you’re still here?”

Dan took a tentative step closer to the cracked open door. “Can I come in?”

Ben hesitated, then let out a quiet huff before opening the door even more. He stepped just enough out of the way and Dan took that as an invitation to come inside.

He stepped into the house and the door squeaked shut behind him. In the dim hallway, Ben turned Dan. “Okay. What do you want?”

Before Dan could reply, Tom came traipsing down the stairs. He came to a dead stop when his gaze met Dan’s.

Now that he was in the dim light, Dan could see how different Tom looked. His face and arms were covered in purple and yellow splotches. There were lines of stitches across his cheeks and eyebrows.

Dan tensed, suddenly sick to his stomach.

“Oh, uh, hey Dan. You’re in my house,” Tom said sheepishly.

It was hard for Dan to speak, a lump forming in his throat, but he forced out the words. “I am. I brought you something.” Dan held out the black cotton shirt he’d gripped in his fist.

Ben started, “You shouldn’t have—“

“It’s not a big deal,” Dan stopped him short. “I just kind of outgrew it. Here.” It wasn’t entirely true. Sure, the shirt was a little tight, but it had meant something to him. He’d planned on keeping it, but he wanted to make a gesture that meant something to him on a different, deeper level.

Tom unfurled the bundled shirt and stared at it. “It’s a Muse concert t-shirt. It’s a signed Muse concert t-shirt.” His mouth dropped open as his gaze snapped up to meet Dan’s. “Holy shit.”

“Tom, language,” a woman’s voice sounded from out of sight.

“Sorry, Mum,” Tom called out and then looked back to Dan. “Thanks!”

Dan smiled. “No problem.”

With that, Tom scurried off out of sight.

Ben stepped closer to Dan and lowered his voice. “Is that why you’re here? To bribe my kid with some band t-shirt?”

Dan steadied himself. He’d come here for a specific purpose. He’d come here to tell the truth, to help Ben understand.

“I’ll never forget the night I got that shirt,” Dan said quietly, beginning to get lost in the strong memory. “Me and Phil were so excited. We’d always wanted to see them in concert and we’d waited so long to get those tickets. The energy that night was incredible, and they were playing this song. It was one of the first ones we’d ever listened to together—and everyone around was screaming and Phil kissed me and he tasted like the cheap beer he’d been drinking all night and he was kissing me and I was so goddamn in love with him.” Dan let out a long breath, looked Ben in the eye and brought himself back to the present. “That’s why I’m here.”

Ben just looked at him, his expression unreadable and then he said, “You know I was in the army, Howell? Most people forget about that—the UK sending forces to back up the Americans. Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq. I’ve done tours in all of them. I’ve been in the shit, Howell. I’ve had an AK-47 pointed at my head and you know what scares the hell out of me?…That boy in the other room.”

“Ben,” Dan breathed the name.

Ben shook his head and Dan could see the hurt on the man’s face. “How do I protect my son from a world that doesn’t want him to exist? A world that’s going to constantly tell him he has a less of a right to the things that make life worth living? I mean how do you fight against that?”

“You can’t fight an idea. Not physically at least."

Ben’s lips quirked into the smallest smile. “It’s never stopped people from trying.”

”No, I guess it hasn't."

“How does it get better?” Ben asked with a shake of his head. “I look ahead, I look at his future—and I just…I don’t see the way forward.”

Dan gave him a tiny smile. “That’s okay. He sees it, and I’m starting to.” He was…finally, after everything. It would take time, it would take confronting the shit he didn’t want to confront, but he’d do it. For Phil. For himself. "Thank you…for letting me in.”

Ben gave a little nod and rubbed the back of his neck. His voice lightened. “Where’s Lester, by the way?”

“Gone.” It was hard to say, but it was the truth.

“Well, shit. You think he’s coming back?”

Dan shrugged. “I hope so. I don’t know. But if he does I want to finally be the man he deserves."

After a pause, Ben asked, “You want to stay for dinner, Howell? My wife makes a hell of a pot roast.”

Dan shook his head. “I’ve actually got a catch a train to Wokingham.” He was still a little terrified, but he wanted his parents to know the truth—and his grandmother. Whatever their reactions.

“Raincheck, then.”

Dan nodded and opened the front door. He looked back towards Ben. “You’re a good father. Tom’s a lucky kid.”

With that, Dan left and set his sights on Wokingham. And after that, Dan had one last thing in mind.

Chapter Text

Phil knew he wanted to fix this with Dan, but he wasn’t sure how, and he wasn’t sure if Dan wanted it too. Everything was confusing, and stalling seemed like the best option. so he was still at his parents house, trying to figure out how to get from wanting something to having it.

At about ten in the morning, Phil traipsed down his parents’ stairs and into their kitchen. His dad was sitting at the table reading a newspaper. His mom leaning against the counter, and looking out over the garden. It was a comforting sight—one from a childhood he often missed.

His dad looked up at him and smiled over his coffee mug. “Your mum made waffles. You love waffles. Come sit. Eat a waffle with your old man.”

“Yes, dear,” his mom said. “What would you like?”

Phil yawned as he plopped down in the chair beside his dad. “I’ll take some coffee. Black.”

His dad gave him a strange look--Phil usually took more cream and sugar than he did coffee--clapped him on the shoulder. “How are you doing anyway, son?”

Phil gave him a forced smile. “Great.”

“Oh, obviously.”

Phil sighed. “It hasn’t even been that long and I just, I don’t even know how to do this anymore.”

His dad blinked. “Do what?”

“Exist without him.” Even if Phil wanted Dan, that didn’t mean Dan felt the same. He’d been the one drawing away more than Phil and this time apart could have caused Dan to have the opposite reaction that it had for Phil.

“Well, first of all,” his dad said. “I think you’ll be fine. I think you can exist just fine without him. People break up with boyfriends all the time, every day. You're in good company.”

Phil rubbed his hands over his face. “He’s not…it’s not that simple.”

“Because of your job?”

“Not that…not really. It’s—I know I’m young and this will sound stupid, but Dan isn’t...he’s not my boyfriend. He’s not just my boyfriend. Not just my friend either. I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. Being here for the last few days, it’s made me certain of something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Dan…he’s… it for me, Dad.”

Phil’s dad pursed his lips and hesitated before speaking, “Did I ever tell you about the time your mother left me?”

“What?” Phil leaned back. “No… Mum?”

His mum sighed. “Nigel.”

His dad just gave her a look then returned his attention to Phil. “We had just gotten married. This was before Martyn was born and we were living in this rundown apartment—the water came brown out of the faucets if it came out at all—anyhow, your mum and I were fighting all the time, and about anything and everything The stupidest little things.”

Phil shrugged. “Dan and I don’t fight, Dad. Not really.”

“That’s not…that isn’t the point, Philip. It just turned one night. A normal little domestic simply blew up. She wanted to leave and I said ‘Fine. If you want to go so bad, then go.’ and she did.”

Phil looked up at his mum who was shaking her head. “Clearly, she came back,” Phil said.

“She did, but you know how long I waited, son? Two months.”

“Whoa,” Phil’s voice softened. “I had no idea.”

“I went two months without a word from her, and she went two months without  word from me, until one day she just knocked on our front door, and I said, ‘You don’t have to knock to enter your own house’ and she laughed and that was that. I mean that wasn’t all—”

“Please stop,” Phil said a little frantically. He didn’t need details.

“You see what I’m saying though, right?”

“Don’t knock if I go back to the flat?”

His dad sighed. “No, Phil that isn’t—“

“Don’t waste two months of your life together, not being together. That’s the point of the story,” his mum interrupted. She walked closer to Phil. “Whatever it is, Philip, that’s pulling the two of you apart, you just sometimes have to play by a different set of rules when you’re talking about that person. If he is to you who you say he is, then you just—it’s not glamorous—but you just dig your heels in and you wait for him.”

. . .

 

Dan was fucking terrified, but on the train here, he’d imagined, in full-detail the worst case scenario. He’d imagined his gran crying and then yelling at him and then saying he was no grandson of hers. He’d imagined her never speaking to him again. He imagined it and, even though it made him sick to his stomach, he accepted it as a possibility. At this point, there wasn’t a cost he wouldn’t pay to be with Phil. And, logically, not telling his gran didn’t mean she didn’t think all those things anyway if she did. Avoidance didn’t just magically make everything alright, and he was tired of hiding from the people he loved the most.

Dan took a deep breath and knocked on his grandparents’ door.

It took a few moments, but eventually the door opened. His gran was stood on the other side of it. Her eyes widened.

“Daniel? What on earth are you doing here?”

“Hi, Gran. Are you busy?”

She shook her head. “No, no. You just surprised me. You usually let me know when you’re coming for a visit.”

“Sorry,” Dan said, his throat tight.

“Well, come in, dear.” His gran ushered him inside. “Let me take your coat—are you hungry? I just made some of your favorite cookies.” She took his coat and started to walk toward the kitchen.

“No…I’m…I’m fine.” Dan glanced around the familiar living room with its outdated furniture that was still somehow so welcoming. A small, scared part of him wondered if he’d ever see it again after today. “Is Pop here?”

She stopped her walk to the kitchen and headed back towards Dan and the living room. “No, no. He’s gone to the hardware store. Keeps trying to fix the sink. I told him to just hire a plumber. But you know him. Stubborn as an ox.”

Dan’s lips pulled into a flat smile. “Yeah…”

His gran gave him a look. “You seem strange, Daniel? Are you feeling well?”

He swallowed. “Yeah, Gran. I’m fine. I just…there’s something I need to talk to you about. Can we, like, sit or something?”

“Oh, uh, serious business, then. Let’s talk.” She sat down on her recliner, a soft, pea green thing where she’d do her sudoko puzzles.

Dan sat down in the wicker chair across from her and said nothing. He could see the picture of Jesus hanging on the wall behind her. It wasn’t anything scary…it was just Jesus playing with some lambs and kids, but something about the picture was making him feel like he couldn’t breathe.

“What is it, dear?”

Dan shut his eyes and did his best to gather his courage. “You know Phil?”

“No, dear. Never heard of him.”

Gran.

She waved her hand. “Sorry, continue…”

“Well, Phil is…he’s my best friend. He really, really is.”

Gran leaned in, her head slightly tilted. “I know…”

“He’s more than my friend, Gran. He’s my…” Dan’s throat was really tight now and he could feel the tears burning at his eyes as he looked down at his hands. He hated this. He hated that it should have to feel like this for even a second. “We’re together…romantically. He’s my boyfriend. I’m in love with him.”

Dan had been having such a hard time saying the words that when he did, he basically just word-vomited every different way to say what he’d come here to say.

His gran said nothing, and when Dan finally gathered the courage to look at her, her expression was unreadable.

“Gran,” he managed. “Please say something.”

She still didn’t. She stood from the chair and walked over to bookshelf. She grabbed a blue Bible off the shelf. It had been laid across the top of some other books, rather than nestled in alongside them.

Dan felt nauseous and he eyed the door. Gran sat down in her chair and opened the Bible. He started to stand. He wouldn’t sit here and be subjected to any kind of guilt trip.

“Sit, Daniel,” Gran said. “Please.”

He hesitated, but she hadn’t said anything yet so he’d give her a chance. He lowered himself back onto the chair.

His gran flipped through the thin pages of the Bible and then stopped. She grabbed something from inside it and held it out to Dan. Slowly, he reached to take it.

It was an old photograph. The lighting was bad and the focus off, but he could see it was a picture at hospital when he was born. His grandma was holding him. She was smiling down at him.

“Gran, what is—”

“I’ll never forget that day. When your mother first passed you to me, I just looked down at you and you were so small…you weren’t especially cute. You looked kind of like a little alien, like any newborn, but you had the darkest eyes. I remember looking at those eyes and thinking I didn’t see a baby’s eyes. I saw you. You—Daniel—a whole person.” A tear escaped her eye and she wiped it away with her hand. “I prayed for you then. You know what I asked?”

Dan shook his head.

“I prayed that you would know joy, true joy. I prayed that you wouldn’t be fooled by false happiness, by all the temporary things that destroy a person in the long run.”

“Gran,” Dan’s voice was a little harsh. Nothing about what he felt for Phil was false.

“Please, just listen.” She took a deep breath. “You grew up and I watched you grow sad…and I felt like I had cursed you with that prayer to be acutely aware of just how empty life could be, and it broke my heart to see you like that. So I just have one question for you, Daniel? Does he make you happy? Truly happy?”

Dan hesitated for a moment, a little confused, but all he could do was tell her the truth. “He makes me believe it’s possible, that I could be, that I…deserve to be. And that’s everything to me, Gran.”

She reached across the distance between them and took the photograph back. “Then God finally answered my prayer, didn’t He?”

Dan smiled, the tension coiled inside him starting to relax. “What about Pops?”

“You let me worry about him,” Gran said. “He’ll be fine. Did you tell your mum and dad?”

“Not yet.”

“They won’t care, dear.”

“Yeah.” Dan sighed. “Probably not.”

“They love you, Daniel,” Gran said. “And I love you too.”

Dan nodded. “Can I have some of those cookies now?”

She laughed and stood up from her chair. “Of course, dear."

Chapter Text

Phil was packing a suitcase. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever get the chance to unpack it, but he hoped Dan would hear him out. He hoped Dan would want to fight for them, whatever that meant. When Phil had come to his parents house, he hadn’t known what he wanted out of life, but now he did.

He liked his career. It allowed him to create things and meet people and go places he’d never get to go without it. He could find meaning and happiness in it. There were probably other jobs he could find meaning and happiness in too, but this was the one he had—and the one Dan loved. The one they could do together.

Maybe, for some people, careers were what they dreamed about. They wanted to be rock stars or astronauts or radio show personalities or doctors or meteorologists. Phil realized that it didn’t matter to him the way it mattered to some people. He wasn’t raised to think your work was your identity, not that there was anything wrong with it, it just wasn’t how he saw the world. Family was Phil’s identity, and Dan was Phil’s family.

So, he was packing up his things, put them in his suitcase and just hoping when he showed up at their apartment, Dan would know what he wanted too and that what he wanted would fit with what Phil wanted—to build a life together—everything else was just background details they could sort out.

But, as much as it would hurt, Phil would walk away if Dan wanted him to, or he’d give him whatever space and time he needed. Still, Phil needed to tell Dan how he felt, lay all his cards out on the table, and see what they could do with them.

Did Phil still want to tell people they were together? Sure. For his priorities, it would be easier, but he understood that for Dan, it probably wouldn’t be easier—and Phil had decided that it was a sacrifice he was willing to make, even if it was a long term sacrifice. 

He hoped that one day Dan would be comfortable enough to tell his own family, but that wasn’t Phil’s decision to make. As for the world, the world didn’t need to know if Dan didn’t want them to.

What Phil did need was for Dan not to pull away from him when they were in private. He needed Dan to be as committed to him as he was to Dan, to take it as seriously as Phil did. He also didn’t need them to tell everyone about their relationship, but he didn’t want to outright deny it anymore. He didn’t want to say they were single or mock the idea of them being together or get pissed at people who thought it or talk about all the women they wanted to bang. This was something Phil had realized he just couldn’t live with. 

There was a lot to talk about, but Phil was ready if Dan was ready. 

Phil zipped up his suitcase and walked over to the small desk in the room to pack up his laptop. He was about to shut the computer, when he realized how long it had been since he’d logged onto anything. He decided he should probably check all his accounts before heading off on another long trip that, if things went right, could result in several more days of being disconnected from the rest of the world.

Phil checked his emails and his twitter and tumblr accounts. He had a bunch of messages asking where he was, asking if he was feeling better. He hadn’t watched the radio show. Dan must have told the story about Phil being sick on the air. Phil considered replying to some of them, but decided not to until he talked to Dan. After that, Phil logged into AmazingPhil and looked over some of his statistics, then he quickly logged into LessAmazingPhil to do the same thing.

He hadn’t gotten many views on that channel or new followers, but he was suddenly thrown by what looked like…a new video? Phil furrowed his brow as he looked at completely black thumbnail with a title underneath that read “For Phil” and it had zero views.

Phil’s stomach plummeted. Could it be…? It had to be. Dan was the only person besides Phil who had the password for this account.

Phil hovered the arrow over the video link, preparing to click, as his nerves skyrocketed. He jumped to his feet and began to pace around. His heart kept pounding and he ran a hand through his hair trying to work out the excess nervous energy. He shut his eyes and blew out a long breath. 

This video could be about anything. It could be good or bad and not watching it wouldn’t change what it was. It was merely prolonging the inevitable. Phil sat back down in the chair and clicked on the link. It 

It was Dan, sitting on Phil’s bed—their bed, really—in the apartment. Dan was silent for a moment, just looking at camera, then a small smile curled on his face.

“Hi, Phil,” Dan said, his voice a little shaky, like he was scared or nervous.

That was good, Phil thought, because he was very nervous too. He had no idea what Dan was about to say.

“I know this is…well, it’s a little weird. And hope you don’t mind that I logged into your account and uploaded this. It’s private, but,” Dan straightened up and let out a breath, “It doesn’t have to be. You can upload it, if you want. I’m…I’m ready, Phil. Having you in my life, deserving to have you in my life, there’s nothing more important to me. Not my job or my image or even what my family thinks.”

Phil could feel tears start to form in his eyes, could feel the knot tightening in his throat. He put a hand over his mouth.

“There’s you and there’s everyone and everything else. And I choose you. I choose us.” Dan cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter. His voice became very serious as he continued. “What we have has never been a prank or a joke to me. Being in love with you and being loved by you has been and will always be my greatest privilege. Phil Lester, you are the love of my life.”

And that was it—that was the video.

Phil felt warm tears streak down his cheeks and he mopped them away with his hand. Though the blur of tears, he managed to see when the video had been posted it was about five days ago. 

He needed to get to Dan. Right now.

 

. . .

 

It had been five days since Dan had posted the video. Since he’d poured his heart out on camera to Phil—and maybe the world. If he allowed himself, he’d stare at the thumbnail all day, refreshing the page and hoping to see that zero view count go up to one. But he only let himself log into LessAmazingPhil once a day. He’d make himself a cup of coffee and then sit down in his sofa crease to check to see if Phil had made the video public yet. So far, there had been no views and the video had remained private. 

That morning, Dan settled into his spot, setting his coffee off to the side as he opened his laptop and logged into Phil’s channel. 

1 View

Dan’s heart plummeted. Phil had seen it, but he’d yet to call or text. Dan didn’t know what that meant, but he figured it could be good news. He checked to see if the video remained private and it did. Dan stomach churned. Maybe Phil had decided something very different than Dan in their time apart. That had always been a possibility, but it still stung. It more than stung.

Dan covered his face with his hands, trying to hold back his tears. Maybe Phil had just watched it. Maybe he was thinking of what he wanted to say. Maybe there was still a chance Phil would call. Even if he called though, Dan’s mind supplied, it could be bad news.

Dan closed the laptop and stood from the sofa. He didn’t know anything yet. He shouldn’t be responding like he knew something yet. Dan had to think of something to occupy his mind. Maybe he could go play a video game. Maybe he could clean or script a video or—

His phone buzzed in his pocket. He rushed to pull it out, desperate to see Phil’s name, but it wasn’t Phil. It was a text from Victoria.

Hey, Dan. Sorry to bother you, especially about this, but any word on whether Phil will be there for the show this week.

i don’t know anything you don’t know.

God. I’m sorry. I’m here if you need anyone to talk to. Or if you wanted to go out and get your mind off things. 

thanks

Dan let out a sigh and shoved his phone back in his pocket. Maybe, if he didn’t hear from Phil in a few hours, he should take Victoria up on his offer. If he just kept sitting around here all the time, he’d just end up feeling even worse. Even more alone and scared.

To occupy his time, Dan decided to start a load of laundry. He walked to his room to gather up his clothes in a basket. He knew he’d left some socks in the living room so he headed there to get those.

When he stepped out of the hall and into the living room, he saw someone standing by the sofa. Dan dropped the laundry on the ground, his stomach flipping.

“Phil,” his voice broke.

“Hi, Dan.”

A nervous smile pulled onto Dan’s face. “You’re home.”

“I’m home.”

Dan walked slowly towards Phil, almost in disbelief that he was here at all, that this could be real. “You saw—”

“The video? Yeah.” Phil was moving towards Dan too.

They were close now, in arms reach, and Phil lifted his hand to put in on Dan’s cheek and guide him in a little closer. 

“I love you,” Phil said. “I want to be with you. Always. If that’s what you want.”

Dan could feel the tears starting to form in his eyes. He usually hated how much of a crier he was, but he didn’t care right now. “I do. God, Phil. I do. We can work out everything else.”

“You don’t have to tell anyone, Dan. We don’t. We can if we want, but we don’t have to make an announcement or anything. We don’t owe anyone our story, but I don’t want to outright lie or hurt each other. They don’t get to ruin the good things anymore, Dan. I won’t let them.”

Dan put a hand on Phil’s solid chest, as if to make sure he was actually standing there. “I won’t either.” Dan let out a breath. “Look, Phil. There’s something I need to tell you. I told my grandma about us—and I called my parents and my brother.”

“How did they…”

“They’re okay. My grandma surprisingly so. It feels…it’s a relief.”

Phil put his other hand on Dan’s face and then leaned their foreheads together. “I’m so proud of you. And I’m happy to keep doing what we’re doing. I like our life and our job. It’s stressful, but anything would be.”

“Me too, but I’ve been thinking…the reason I love all of this as much as I do is because of you. I love doing things together. I’m tired of fighting it—fighting this ‘Dan and Phil’ thing. I’m cool with being a double-act, as long as it’s with you.”

Phil laughed quietly and his eyes fluttered shut. “Dan and Phil. I can get behind that.”

“Phil,” Dan whispered softly.

“Yeah?”

“Can you kiss me already?”

With a soft chuckle, Phil leaned slightly up to press his mouth against Dan’s. It started out timid, just little, gentle movements, like they were afraid that none of this was real and they were dreaming, but slowly, surely, Dan was reminded him of just how real this was. Not just this kiss, but Phil and their life together. It had been so long…too long…anytime apart was too long, but this was more than that. This was the kiss after the fear of never having another kiss—and it was everything Dan had wanted, everything he had been afraid to believe could be real again.

Dan gripped onto Phil’s shirt, pulled him in as close and as tight as he could, but he needed closer and he would get closer later…as close as two people could get. 

Phil’s fingers were on his neck and in his hair, a powerful touch that kept them close, that kept their mouths moving open and hot and wet against each other. God, he’d missed this. More than he’d even realized. There was nothing like this, nothing like the feeling of their mouths moving together in a slow rhythm, their bodies pushing and pulling against each other. 

There was nothing on earth like kissing Phil Lester. Nothing could ever be better, nothing could ever be worth letting it go.

 

 

February 14, 2014

 

“I’m glad we just decided to be lazy today,” Phil said as he flopped down on the couch beside Dan. He threw his arm behind Dan’s shoulders and Dan cuddled close to him. He leaned over and breathed in the familiar warm scent that was just Dan.

“Isn’t that pretty much what we always do on Valentine’s Day?” Dan said, looking up at him with a smile. He had his laptop sat on his legs.

“Who would want to sit in a crowded restaurant when you could just stuff your face with take away and watch anime instead?” Phil reached over with the hand that wasn’t behind Dan’s back and started teasing Dan, playing with the strings of sweatpants, letting his hand start to trail lower… 

“Can’t do that in restaurant,” Dan said. “At least not legally.”

Phil laughed, low and soft as he placed a wet kiss on Dan’s ear. The change in position gave him a glimpse of what was on Dan’s laptop screen.

It was own face. From about four years ago.

“What are you watching that for?” Phil asked.

“It meant a lot to me, Phil. It means a lot me.”

Me too. “Play it,” Phil whispered.

Dan clicked play, and the video began…

“Hi, Dan. Happy Valentines Day.”

- the end -