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you only know you love him when you let him go

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     “Come on, Dan,” a little boy with wide eyes and thin hair, cheeks stretched in a smile as he watched another boy with a mass of brown curls on his head.

     “I’m not fast like you, Phil,” the other boy huffed, cheeks pink and puffed out into a pout. “Gotta slow down.”

     “You gotta catch up,” Phil giggled, turning and once again taking off in a sprint. Dan squeaked and began running again to catch up.

     Even though Dan constantly mumbled and complained and was generally an annoyance, Phil wouldn’t even humor the idea of leaving him behind. The six-year-old was surprisingly good company. They were only two years apart, but Phil had already well-established the idea that he was the higher-up in this friendship, and Dan didn’t seem to mind.

     The two had been friends ever since birth—literally. They were neighbors, and their mums were good friends. Phil had been a little older than one when Dan’s mum announced that she was expecting. When Dan was born, Phil had been the thirteenth person in the entire world to have seen him. The age-gap between them wasn’t monstrous, and they were the only ones in their neighborhood who were so young, except for Phil’s older brother, Martyn, but four years was enough of a difference between the two brothers that they ran with different crowds. Because of all that, the two boys became inseparable. Naturally, as soon as Dan became old enough to play and move around, it was also impossible to find them, as they would be running about and laughing together. There was never a dull moment around them.

     However, their mums became a bit concerned when Phil started going to school. He wouldn’t talk to any of the other kids besides Martyn and would cry, asking where Dan was and why couldn’t he play right now. Dan was just as bad. Without Phil, he tended to favor a dark corner with his blanket, wrapping himself up like a little burrito and just sitting there, not moving and not talking. The first time he’d done it, his mum had had a heart attack, thinking her son had died. She took him to a pediatrician, who told her that he was just sad and lonely, although that kind of behavior from a three-year-old was disconcerting. The doctor told her that Dan might have a form of mental illness, possibly depression or bipolar disorder, but it was too soon to tell. From then on, she had to keep a close eye on him, and she did, but the only times when he was like this was when Phil was either at daycare or couldn’t play with him.

     Phil couldn’t remember a life without Dan, and the latter had never even known a life without Phil, so it was obvious that they would be close and try to stick together, but it wasn’t healthy like this. However, the older the boys got, the better they became.

     At now eight and six years of age, respectively, the two were now both in primary school, although not the same classes due to their ages. They conversed with their own classmates (not including Martyn) and were kind to the other kids, but always came back to each other at the end of the day. Their favorite activities consisted of playing outside or playing with Phil’s hamsters.

     Right now, they were doing the former, and Dan was struggling to keep up. However, he had a secret weapon. When Phil began to let his guard down and slow his sprint to a jog, Dan saw his opportunity. He leaned his head forward and began running as fast as he could, arms outstretched like an American football player. He had no idea if this was going to work, but fate was on his side today, as his head hit soft flesh and his arms wrapped around a gangly frame. Phil let out an, “Oomph,” and fell over.

     The two boys, now entangled, began rolling down the hill, screams of pure delight and laughter emitting from both of them. At the end of the day, they had gotten stitches in their sides from laughing so much and a very stern scolding from both of their mums due to them getting so many dirt stains on their clothes.

     The both of them deemed that it had been worth it.

—————————————

     Dan pouted, glaring at the bus stop sign as Phil bounced next to him, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him gently. “Last day of primary school for me, Danny-boy!”

     Dan scowled even more and shoved his friend off of him. “I’ve told you not to call me that, Philip.”

     Phil just laughed, moving back to smile at his best friend. Dan huffed and crossed his arms. It was true, with it being Phil’s last day, but that didn’t mean Dan wanted to think about it. Phil was eleven and Dan was nine. It meant Dan still had two years to spend alone in primary while Phil moved on to bigger and better in secondary. He would make new friends and start spending more time with them and just forget about little Dan, two years younger than him. Plus, Dan was going to have to be spending a lot more time at home, what with his younger brother just turning two, and those parenting books totally understated the “terrible twos”.

     Phil, like always, seemed to know exactly what Dan was thinking, as he took Dan’s hand, forcing the younger to look at him. Dan met crystal eyes and found himself mesmerized. He hadn’t ever been able to look away from Phil.

     “Don’t worry,” Phil said, voice suddenly at a whisper. “I’m not gonna leave you, Dan. Just because I’m going to secondary next year does not mean that I’m gonna forget ‘bout you. You’re still my best friend. We’re still gonna play Crash Bandicoot and see the next Star Wars together. I’d never leave you.”

     Dan gave him a grateful smile and squeezed Phil’s hand. “I know.”

—————————————

     Dan was not excited to go to secondary school. He had to wear a school uniform—with a fucking tie and everything—and the kids there were older and bigger. Much, much bigger than little Daniel. The only positive thing about the move up was the fact that Dan was going to be able to spend more time with Phil. Sure, it would probably only be a couple of minutes at a time, and they might not even get to spend lunch together, but it was better than the previous two years, when Dan was all alone in primary. However, Phil always made time for Dan when they were in separate schools, so now that they were in the same school, maybe Phil would think that they were spending plenty of time together and would just abandon Dan.

     Dan scoffed at himself and shook his head. Phil would never do that to him. He looked in the mirror, straightening his tie once more before beginning his walk to school. He and Phil were lucky enough to live close enough to their school that they could walk. Phil had told Dan that he was going ahead to do something or other, so Dan was alone walking.

     It wasn’t all bad, though. It was a fairly nice day outside if not a bit chilly, but the uniform jackets were nice and thick, so Dan wasn’t hurting for heat. He shoved earbuds into his ears and cranked up the music on his mp3 player. “Adam’s Song” came blaring through the tiny speakers and Dan smiled as he allowed Mark Hoppus’ voice to take him away from dreary Manchester.

     The ten-minute walk seemed much shorter, and before Dan knew it, he was standing in front of his new school for the next five years of his life, until he took his A-levels when he was sixteen. Dan sighed and took out his headphones, craning his neck to look around the schoolyard. Phil promised him that he would show him around before school started, but the blue-eyed geek was nowhere to be found. 

     “DAN!” someone screeched, and Dan was caught between cringing and laughing as he recognized the voice. Phil hurtled down the steps of the school and nearly toppled Dan in a hug.

     “Get off of me, you oaf,” Dan said, trying to make his voice angry, but failing miserably.

     Phil obliged, leaning back to give Dan a giant smile. “So, I know I promised to show you the school, but I just heard that Amanda Sterling just got back from her summer trip to New York, and she dyed her hair blue. She’s the prettiest girl in the entire school, and you have to see her now!”

     Dan rolled his eyes and tried to ignore how his stomach started twisting itself into a knot. That was probably only because he was nervous for the new school year to start.

     Why else would he feel like he was going to throw-up after Phil mentioned Amanda?

—————————————

     Dan didn’t figure it out until two years later, when Dan was now thirteen and fifteen-year-old Phil was talking about his very first date with, surprise, surprise, Amanda Sterling.

     “Her hair had like this red glitter in it, and she looked a bit like a Christmas tree ‘cause her hair’s like bright green, and I told her so, and she laughed, but it looked so pretty, even when all the lights in the theater turned off,” Phil rambled, hanging upside down off of Dan’s bed, cheeks pink from the blood rushing to his head. Dan was sitting on his beanbag chair and nodding along to Phil’s story, tossing a ball into the air as he stared at his best friend.

     While Phil continued describing how pretty Amanda looked and how amazing the movie was, Dan was focused on Phil himself. He let his eyes roam over Phil’s face, catching on shiny irises and sharp cheekbones and pink lips, and thinking of how much he’d love to feel those lips against his own.

     And suddenly, everything made sense to Dan.

     He froze, the ball falling on his head as his chest filled with terror. Phil continued with his story, delightfully oblivious to the panic attack Dan was two seconds away from having. He was attracted to his best friend, and big time, too, but Phil now had a girlfriend, and one he’d been wanting for over two years.

     Well, fuck.

—————————————

     “York’s not that far, Dan,” Phil said off-handedly, throwing another shirt out of his closet.

     Dan caught it, frowning, and folded it while willing away the flutter in his chest from seeing a shirtless Phil sort through his thousands of colorful shirts. It’d been three years since he realized that he was practically in love with his best friend—he could control his emotions now. “It’s miles and miles away, Phil, and once you start, you’re never gonna be home.”

     Phil poked his head out of his closet and narrowed his eyes playfully at Dan. “Do I detect a hint of doubt in your best friend there, Daniel?”

     Dan rolled his eyes, trying to look anywhere but Phil’s face. “Fuck off. I know you. You’ll get busy at university and forget all about little old me, rotting away here in Manchester.”

     Phil laughed, moving back to grab a couple more shirts from his closet. “Don’t be an idiot, Dan. Martyn still comes back to visit, remember? Of course I’m coming back, for you and for Amanda.”

     Dan scowled and resisted the urge to throw something at a wall. Of course; he’d almost forgotten about little Miss Girlfriend of now three years, Amanda Sterling. Amanda was only one year older than Dan—which made her one year younger than Phil—so that meant she was on her last year before university. She had already made her decision to join Phil at York, having applied earlier that year and been accepted.

     Amanda herself wasn’t bad; she was actually quite nice and her sense of humor was dryer than the Sahara Desert. The main problem Dan had with her was the fact that her status was “girlfriend” instead of “girl friend”. He was a big enough person to admit that he was jealous of the rainbow-haired girl, but he also knew that she was a better fit for Phil than Dan ever could be. It still hurt quite a bit to see them together, and he suspected that the hurt would never truly go away. Maybe one day he would be able to come to terms with them.

     For now, though, he would allow himself to grumble and sulk, if just for these few seconds. “If you don’t come back at least once a month, I swear that I will castrate you, Lester.”

     Phil’s crisp laugh came from the open door. “Threat received and catalogued, Howell. I look forward to seeing how you do that.”

     Dan smirked at Phil, taking the last stacks of clothes from his arms and transferring them to Phil’s suitcase. “I don’t know. Maybe with like a rusty corkscrew or something.”

     Phil’s smile flipped into a horrified expression. “Okay, no more creativity for you.”

—————————————

     It was another one of those days where Dan woke up and didn’t feel like doing anything. He didn’t even feel like breathing, but his body was doing it anyways.

     Yay for him.

     He laid there, eyes staring at the ceiling as he tried to will himself to get out of bed. He was lucky it was Saturday; he wouldn’t have to pretend he was okay at school. Whenever he went to school during one of these days, there’s always so many people who were concerned about him, asking him if he’s doing alright or trying to cheer him up. They don’t get it though—Dan’s not sad; he’s…empty. A shell, drained of all will to function, to live. He was done with everything.

     The world was grey and dull and painful and uncomfortable and Dan hated it. He hated himself and everyone around him and he wanted everything to end. And yet, at the same time, he knew he sure as hell didn’t have the courage to even try, to even plan. At least the common sense part of his brain was still kind of working. Nothing else was, but hey. Progress.

     Maybe he would try to sleep now, to get the voices to calm down. Only, he was one-hundred percent sure that sleeping was impossible with his current state. How lucky for him that his mother bought over-the-counter sleeping pills for this exact reason. Dan groaned and forced himself to sit up, relishing the way that the room spun before his eyes. There was something satisfying about your mind being so fucked up that your body couldn’t keep up, and Dan had no idea why.

     His mom kept the pills in the cabinet of the bathroom right outside of Adrian’s room, which was about ten feet away from Dan’s room. Not that bad, except for the fact that when you felt like shit, one step was too much. Dan began his arduous trek to the bathroom, forcing his legs to move like his mind wanted them to, and it was harder than you’d expect.

     Once he actually got to the bathroom, he was starting to get the hang of moving around like this. It wasn’t that hard to find the pills—bright blue bottles weren’t common in their house—and there were plenty left. He hadn't had to use them for a long time, but for some reason, he’d started to lose a lot of sleep these past few months.

     Actually, since Phil left for university, Dan mused to himself as he opened the bottle. The realization made him freeze and dump the contents of the whole bottle into his palm. He didn’t register the number of pills in his hand, nor did he care.

     That cold, clenching feeling was back—like someone had decided to wrap their fingers around his heart and squeeze it like it was a fucking stress toy. It was becoming harder and harder to breathe, and Dan’s vision was starting to go blurry. The now-empty bottle clattered to the floor, his hands folding into trembling fists, the pills still nestled in his left hand.

     Dan dropped to the floor, knees and thighs screaming bloody murder at him for doing so. He felt numb; he had become so detached from the situation that he just couldn’t register the pain. The only thing he could hear was a loud buzzing noise in his ears, but he was making quite a bit of noise. Enough to alert Adrian to what he was doing, and for him to come check on him. “Dan? Are you in there?”

     Dan didn’t respond as his nine-year-old brother padded into the bathroom. His wide eyes shone in confusion, staring at Dan as if he’d grown a third head. “You okay?”

     Still, Dan kept quiet. Unbeknownst to Adrian, Dan couldn’t hear him. His mind wasn’t really…working, every word spoken to him just going in one ear and out the other. Nothing was registering to him, and everything felt fuzzy.

     But Adrian didn’t know this. He glared at his older brother before sticking his head out of the bathroom door. “Mum! Dan’s being a weirdo again!”

     It was thirty seconds before their mum appeared, wiping flour onto the apron wrapped around her waist. “What was that, Adrian?”

     Adrian pointed a bony finger at Dan, who was starting to shake. “Dan’s being weird.”

     “Dan? What’s wrong?” their mum started saying, before she saw the tears rolling off Dan’s cheeks as his shoulders heaved. “Oh my word. Dan? Daniel?” His mum sounded frantic now, on her knees in front of her son as she shook his shoulders.

     Still, he was unresponsive, but his hands weren’t. They, for some reason, unfurled to let the multitude of pills cascade onto the floor. Dan heard his mum suck in a sharp, aborted breath before sweeping the pills away and pulling him to her chest. Now she was crying, whispering things like, “No, no, no,” and, “Why Daniel?” Adrian didn’t know exactly what was wrong, but he started crying too. He knelt next to Dan, squeezing the hand that held the pills so hard that he could break bones if he really wanted to.

     Dan was oblivious to all this, not understanding what was happening, why his mum was crying and his brother was squeezing his hand.

     All he knew was that something was wrong with him. It was always his fault, in the end.

—————————————

     His mum took him to a therapist who “specialized in mental illnesses in teenagers”. Dan wasn’t entirely stupid; he knew he was being taken to a shrink, and he was pissed about it. He didn’t need to talk to a therapist, and he definitely didn’t need this person’s “diagnosis”. The therapist, Joseph Stenley, was nice enough about it—warm smile with thick glasses and a soft voice—but Mr. Stenley seemed to think that Dan needed help.

     He didn’t.

     Dan was perfectly fine on his own, which is why he told Mr. Stenley how he was feeling, because all of his feelings were perfectly fine and normal and he didn’t need help.

     Once he was done, Mr. Stenley just pursed his lips and called Dan’s mother in, speaking with her in low tones as Dan watched on, scrutinizing his nails with a bored expression. Mr. Stenley must’ve just been telling his mum about how Dan was fine. Why else would they be talking? After all, Dan didn’t have anything wrong with him.

     He was perfectly fine.

—————————————

     Dan dialed the number he’d imprinted into his fingertips years ago, eyes staring at a wall.

     He felt really, really cold.

     The familiar dial tone rung his ears for about two seconds before the person he wanted to talk to the very least answered.

     “Hello?” Phil’s voice was clear and airy, kind of like the summer sky Dan used to love.

     “I went to a therapist today.” On the other hand, Dan’s voice sounded hoarse and grating, like nails against a chalkboard.

     “Dan?” Phil sounded confused, which was to be expected.

     “I have depression.” Dan didn’t give Phil any time to respond before he continued. “Adrian found me in the bathroom with a handful of sleeping pills and he told our mum. She got the wrong idea; took me to a shrink to ‘diagnose’ me. He told me that I have ‘clinical depression with a risk for suicidal thoughts’. Said I needed to start on medication right away.” Dan gave a low chuckle, which was deprived of all amusement. “So from now on, I need pills to be normal, to even function without feeling the need to off myself, apparently.”

     “Dan,” Phil breathed, voice filled with concern and a hint of fear. Everything Dan was going to say seemed to dissipate in his mind, leaving him with an open mouth and no words to come out of it. Of course Phil was scared of him. He heard Phil take a breath to start talking—more than likely, lecturing—but Dan couldn’t listen to his voice anymore.

     He pulled the phone away from his ears and hung up, throwing the device onto the floor and away from him. Talking to Phil had been the only time he’d felt somewhat human today, and that scared him beyond imagination. It scared him, because Phil wouldn’t be with him forever, wouldn’t be his friend forever. Eventually, Phil would buy a ring, probably for Amanda, get married, and settle down with children. Dan would become irrelevant, that younger kid from next door whom he spent a lot of time with when he too was young and dumb.

     All of these thoughts filled Dan’s mind, attacking the very thing that was keeping him afloat for so long: his friendship with Phil. He still felt incredibly numb as he crawled into his bed and let his pillow collect his tears until he couldn’t remember who he even was, or where he was, as his eyelids dropped and he fell into darkness.

—————————————

     Dan didn’t want to go to school the next day. He just wanted to sulk in his bedroom, but his parents seemed to think that social interaction would distract him from the fact that he had been diagnosed with a mental illness just yesterday. Still, he couldn’t blame them. They was trying their best; it wasn’t their fault that their firstborn son grew up to be a mistake.

     Nah. That one was entirely on Dan.

     Adrian didn’t really talk to Dan, though, unsure of how to approach him, and that possibly hurt the most. Despite the seven year age-gap, Dan and Adrian had always been close, so for his younger brother to actively ignore and avoid him was a new kind of torture. It made Dan actually want to go to school, which was a mistake.

     School was, to put it simply, hellish.

     He’d never had many friends outside of Phil, and he’d always been quieter than the rest of his classmates, but it seemed as if everyone wanted to talk to him today. He lost count of how many times he was asked if he was okay or if he needed a hug. No, he was not fucking okay; no, he did not need a fucking hug. What he needed was a new mind. One that wasn’t broken.

     That handful of pills was starting to seem like a pretty good option the more time went on. Dan’s mind was screaming with everything from kill yourself, to talk to Phil again, and back around to, Phil’ll never love you like you love him. That last one was particularly annoying, considering how he had never, never, verbally acknowledged his crush on Phil. A crush, which was starting to drift more and more into the “First Love” zone, and Dan didn’t like that at all.

     By the time the school day was over and Dan had walked home, he was one-hundred-percent ready to brain himself on his bedroom doorknob. He was fantasizing about how amazing it would feel if it would get his brain to stop talking when he noticed that there was someone in the living room. Probably Adrian, home early from school.

     Dan sighed and rushed into the living room, not giving his younger brother a chance to leave. “Adrian, can we please talk about this?”

     “Adrian hasn’t gotten home yet.” Dan froze at the sound of a crisp voice that was too familiar to him.

     The person in the living room was not Adrian.

     The person paused the TV and stood languidly, rolling his shoulders and stretching the tiniest bit. He had gotten taller in the past few months, and his hair had grown past his ears, but Dan would recognize that blinding smile anywhere. He regained enough of his mental functions to stammer out a breathy, “What are you doing here?”

     Phil cocked his head and grinned at Dan. “Can’t exactly hang up on me in person, now can you?”

     Dan’s vision became blurry—damn him for crying so easily—and his tongue felt like lead in his mouth. All he could do was drop his backpack and stumble forward into Phil’s waiting arms, burying his face into the chest of his best friend/crush. Phil immediately wrapped his arms around Dan, holding him close in a cage of affection. Dan had no idea how long they stood there, silent and hugging, but he did notice that the second he touched Phil, his mind shut up.

—————————————

     They ended up on Dan’s bed, lying side by side, shoulders pressed together and hands clasped. It was a position they took when they needed to talk about something. There were glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling for the exact reason of giving the two something to stare at while they spoke to each other.

     Dan took a deep breath and let it out. “Adrian hasn’t talked to me since mum took me to the shrink. Whenever we’re in the same room, he either doesn’t look my way, or he leaves when he sees me. It hurts.”

     Phil squeezed Dan’s hand. “Give him some time. I know it’s hard for you, but you did give everyone quite a scare with those pills. They’re probably thinking you were considering suicide.”

     Dan made a frustrated noise. “I wasn’t though! It was a complete misunderstanding.”

     “I know that, and you know that, but do they know that?”

     Dan growled underneath his breath and sat up, yanking his hand from Phil’s. He wrapped his arms around his shoulders and sat with his back to Phil, ignoring when he heard the other sit up. He felt cold arms twist their way around his waist and a chin rest on his right shoulder.

     Phil’s breath was hot on his neck. “I know you’re scared, Dan, of what other people will think, but this does not define you. You are not, ‘Depressed Dan’. People will not look at you and think, ‘There goes that kid with depression.’ You are not your illness. Yeah, you’re gonna have hard days, but that’s what friends and family are for. Taking pills isn’t going to make you different, nor is it fixing you, because there’s nothing about you that’s broken.”

     “Then what am I?” Dan’s voice sounded tiny to his own ears.

     Phil pressed his face to Dan’s neck, obviously with friendly affection, but Dan’s heart raced nonetheless. “You’re one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and you never let anyone get the better of you. You’re smart, you’re funny, and you’ve a heart bigger than England. You’re my best friend. You’re Daniel Howell.”

      Dan felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes for the second time that day, and he twisted around in Phil’s grip to throw his arms around his neck. Phil was prepared, fixing his arms and resting his own head on Dan’s.

     “I don’t want you to leave,” Dan whispered.

     “I know,” Phil said, even quieter than Dan. “But I have to, but I promise that I will call you every single day, no matter what.” Affection bled in Dan’s heart, and he wondered what the hell he ever did to deserve Philip Lester as a best friend.

—————————————

     At first, Phil kept his promise. He called every day, and they talked for at least an hour. Soon, Dan began to smile more, and he sort of forgot that he had depression.

     Phil did that to him.

     It was an entire month before Phil missed a day, and he apologized profusely via text, promising that he would make the next day’s twice as long. Dan had laughed and didn’t think anything more of it. Over the next two months, Phil would miss occasional days, and Dan wouldn’t mind in the least, but then Phil missed a week and Dan became worried. Phil told him that he had been getting ready for a big test in the class that he was failing, and he didn’t have any time to call.

     Like a fool, Dan believed him.

     One week turned into two, which turned into a month. Short texts of excuses became more common than actual phone calls, and Dan could feel his heart break ever so slightly every time he read a flimsy line about how Phil was studying and forgot.

     Six months after Phil had promised to call every day marked the day that Dan stopped checking for voicemails or explanations. If they came, he ignored them.

     When Phil came home over the holidays, he tried to visit Dan, but the younger had put his creativity to use in order to evade the liberal arts student. After explaining what had happened, both Adrian and Martyn had pledged their help. Despite all of their best efforts, a small gift box appeared on Dan’s bed when he came home after Christmas dinner. He didn’t open it, although he did send a strongly worded text to Martyn about betraying him.

     Phil didn’t try to talk to him or see him for the rest of break.

     Pretty soon, the two didn’t even text one another. It seemed as if they’d drifted apart completely. He and Phil lost complete contact for Dan’s last year before university, the only sign that Phil even remembered Dan being a short text on his first day of school, wishing him luck. Dan read it, then deleted it.

     It wasn’t long before his mother was “subtly” hinting at Dan to start looking at colleges, beginning with slipping a brochure for York underneath his door. Dan ripped it up and searched up universities in America. His grades were almost flawless, and his reputation was clean, so he didn’t have any doubts that he’d be able to nab a couple of good scholarships.

     He applied for what seemed like a million at law schools all over the country and hoped for the best. His luck turned out to be in his favor, as New York University gave him a full ride, tuition and housing. His parents were ecstatic at the news, happier about the fact that they didn’t have to pay for their son to live in America, but that was to be expected. Adrian was considerably less happy, but he forced Dan to promise to keep him updated, even if he had to send, and this was a quote, “letters across the fucking ocean”. Dan promised, and told himself that he wouldn’t be like Phil, and he would actually make good on his promises.

     For the first time in two years, since he was diagnosed, Dan felt proud of who he was.

—————————————

     “How could you not tell me that you’re going to America for university?” The accusation came while Dan was in the midst of taking down his numerous My Chemical Romance and Muse posters, packing them away gently to put up in his dorm room.

     Dan recognized the voice—how could he not—and looked over his shoulder to see a furious Phil standing in his doorway. He climbed off his bed to face the person he once called his best friend. “Oh, you’re talking to me now?” Maybe that was a bit petty, but Dan was not above hitting below the belt.

     Phil scoffed, sounding more like a fifteen-year-old than a twenty-year-old. “More like you’re talking to me now. I spent like a week over break last year trying to get you to talk to me and you never did!”

     Dan scowled. “Well, I spent months waiting for you to call me, but I guess we both ended up with disappointment, huh?”

     Phil narrowed his eyes. “I was busy.”

     “So you told me,” Dan said, rolling his eyes, “but I never believed it. You promised me, and it took you two months to break it.”

     “That doesn’t explain why you’re leaving to go to university in America!”

     Dan bit out a humorless laugh. “It’s to get away—from Manchester, from England, and, most importantly, from you.”

     “Why, though?” Phil’s voice was quieter, more hurt-filled. It tugged at Dan’s heart, but he’d trained himself to ignore stupid shit like that.

     He didn’t train himself well enough, though, because his verbal filter seemed to shut down, and the truth came spilling from his mouth. “Because I can’t stand being around you. Looking at you makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry. I can’t deal with staring at you and knowing that what I want will never happen. Knowing that I was temporary in your life, that you’ve moved on from me and our friendship, and that my feelings weren’t really important. Never expected them to be, but it still hurts me. You hurt me, Philip Lester. You really fucking hurt me, and I can’t—I won’t—get over it in a few days. Don’t know if I ever will, but I’m leaving in the hopes that not being around you will help me forget how you broke me.”

     Phil threw up his hands, eyes shining with confusion and hurt. “What did I ever do to you for you to hate me this much, Dan?”

     “You made me fall in love with you!” Dan screamed, every single emotion built up from two years of repressing them falling out into his words. “You spent eighteen fucking years making me fall in love with you. You’re the reason I realized that I was bi. You’re the reason I’ve never had a damn girlfriend, and yet you have always had the audacity to make fun of me for it. You are the reason I spent months feeling like shit and crying myself to sleep, because I wasn’t important enough to you for you to remember to fucking call me. I should fucking hate you, but I can’t, ‘cause I’m still in love with you.”

     Phil stood there, eyes and mouth wide. Dan knew he could never take his words back, but he didn’t want to. He waited ten seconds for Phil to say anything, but he just stood there silently.

     Dan turned away. “I think it’s time for you to leave, Phil.”

     Dan didn’t see him leave, but he heard the door close, which confirmed his suspicions.

     Phil really didn’t care about him. He never did.

     This was a new feeling. Hell, Dan never thought he’d be heartbroken at eighteen, but here he was. He should feel relieved with that enormous weight off his chest, but he just shoved his posters onto his floor and wept until he felt numb and sleep overtook him.

     He’d been doing that a lot lately.

—————————————

     Dan was half an hour later to the airport than he wanted to be due to the emotional goodbyes he had to give his family. His mum had cried, his dad almost did, and Adrian just said, “Can I get your room if you die?” The answer was no, he could not.

     It didn’t matter much, though, as his plane was getting ready to board. After hours in security and bag checking, Dan rolled his suitcase to the gate where he would board a plane to his new life in a completely different country. Not intimidating at all. He was getting ready to get in line when he heard someone call his name.

     Turning around, he saw one Philip Michael Lester jogging towards him, a frown on his face. Dan had the irrational urge to run away, away from his past and away from Phil, but his body wasn’t getting the memo. He stood shock still as Phil caught up to him. They were about the same height with Dan’s growth spurt, so he was forced to stare into Phil’s eyes. “What do you want, Phil?”

     Phil took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Dan. I’m sorry for not calling, I’m sorry for not texting. I’m sorry for running away from you and not being the best friend you deserve. I made excuses and thought I could put band-aids on cuts that needed stitches, but I’m done doing that. I’m done running and I’m done being such a shitty person to you. You’re one of the closest people in my life, and I’m sorry for not treasuring our friendship as I should have. I made a bunch of dumb mistakes, and I know there’s no real way for you to forgive me, but I want to at least try and repair this friendship before I lose the chance.”

     Phil trailed off, eyes pleading. Dan’s eyes widened with every word and he slowly felt that flimsy wall he’d built the night before crumble. This could be the worst mistake of his life, but eighteen years of feelings don’t disappear within hours, and Dan would be damned before he let himself ignore something so big again.

     That’s what lost him his chance with Phil in the first place.

     “I accept your apology, Phil, but I think it’s gonna be a bit before I can forgive you.” Phil looked like he was about to cry, but Dan wasn’t done. “But I’m not saying that I don’t want to be friends with you again. I miss you. I miss you like a limb, and I don’t want something to ever happen like that again. Promise me that when I’m in America, you’ll text and call and you won’t forget about me. If you promise me that, then I say we forget the past two years.”

     Phil smiled, bright and happy. “I promise.”

     Dan mirrored Phil’s grin before grabbing onto his suitcase handle. A cold hand fell over his. Dan jerked around to see that Phil’s face was five inches from his own.

     “Please don’t go, Dan.” Phil’s voice was quiet and pleading and Dan felt his resolve drip away, but he slowly retracted his hand from under Phil’s.

     “Goodbye, Phil Lester,” Dan whispered, moving away as soon as the words left his mouth. He set his shoulders and began walking towards his gate, forcing himself not to look back at the gaze that was burning a hole into his neck.

     He didn’t think that he could handle the look on Phil’s face as he left.

—————————————

     “Welcome to the fucking United States of America!” were the first words that Dan heard coming into his new home for the next four years. He saw someone lounging across one of the two twin beds squeezed into opposite corners of the dorm room.

     The person looked like the physical embodiment of the Cheshire Cat, with insanely large blue eyes and 2005 styled purplish-greyish hair. They even had the grin to match as they rose off the bed in with languid grace and stalked over to Dan. He had the unreasonable urge to run away, but the other person was too fast. They stuck out their hand, tipping an imaginary hat to Dan. “Name’s Cameron, but call me Cam. I’m a senior here at this…lovely school, and I’m your new roommate.”

     Dan shook their hand, feeling a bit more confident. “Dan, and I’m a first year.”

     Cameron’s eyes widened. “Oh, British? Fucking awesome. My last roommate dropped out of school to pursue a career in porn, and they told me my new one would be an international student, but I didn’t know where from.”

     Dan didn’t exactly know how to respond to that, but it seemed like he wouldn’t have to, as Cam just shrugged and continued talking. “Anyway, being a senior means it’s my fourth—and last—year here, in case you didn’t know. I’m that kinda person who likes to air all my dirty laundry on the first day, so I’m nonbinary and asexual. Preferred pronouns are ‘they’ and I think sex is really, really weird, which is why I was so confused as to why someone would drop out of school to have sex full-time, but hey. To each their own. What about you?”

     “Um, I guess I’m bi?” Dan said, rubbing the back of his neck.

     Cam raised a dyed eyebrow. “You guess?”

     Dan shrugged. “Well, girls are cute and all, but some guys are just really fucking attractive.” Cam laughed and Dan felt a grin tugging at his lips. He could tell that this was going to be fun.

—————————————

     Dan was beginning to question his roommate’s sanity. To be fair, it only took three hours, so, that was good. Still, what kind of person immediately sits their new roommate down for a very, very long game of twenty questions? Some sort of sadist, apparently.

     So far, some key facts Dan had learned about Cam consisted of the fact that they were the first person in their family to go to college, their favorite color was the same purplish-grey that their hair was, and they hated guavas with a fiery, inextinguishable passion. It was almost scary how much they hated guavas. He didn’t even really know why they hated guavas; they just did.

     “Do you have siblings?” Cam asked.

     Dan nodded and hummed. “Yep. A younger brother named Adrian. I’m seven years older than him, but he’s probably the second closest person to me.”

     Cam quirked one eyebrow—how did they do that?—and smirked the tiniest bit. “Oh yeah? Who’s the first?”

     Dan looked away, trying to hide the blush on his cheeks. “My best friend, literally since I was born. His name’s Phil.”

     “And where is this Phil?” Cam questioned, resting their head on one of their hands.

     Dan shrugged. “England. He older by two years, went to York two years ago, and we had some…trouble in the past year, so I kind of wanted to not be in the same country as him. We’ve made up though.”

     “What’s he like?”

     Dan’s smile grew almost wistful. “He’s funny and nice as hell. Like, I swear he takes the stereotype of British people being polite to a whole new level. He’s smart, too. Really smart. We like all the same music and video games. He’s the one person in this world who can understand me without me really saying anything, ya know?”

     Cam’s gaze was soft. “Yeah. He sounds like a great guy.”

     “He is.”

     “Sounds like you like him a little more than friends, you know?” Cam waggled their eyebrows, and Dan forced himself to scoff, feeling his heart clench. “Yeah right. We’re just friends. Plus, he’s got a girlfriend named Amanda. She’s perfect.” Cam narrowed their eyes like they knew something, but moved the topic on anyways.

—————————————

     Dan threw his textbook on the floor, his pencil ending up somewhere near the door on his side of the closet. “Fuck it. I’m done. Why the hell did I decide to study law?”

     Cam’s laughter could be heard from their bed as they read a comic book. “Your choice, mate.” Ever since they found out Dan was from England, Cam called him “mate” ninety-nine point nine percent of the time. “Shoulda studied like video postproduction or something.”

     Dan leaned back in his chair and tried his best to glare a hole into his Mathematics-majoring roommate. “Shut the fuck up. You know that that’s one of Phil’s majors.”

     Cam rolled over onto their side, resting their head on one of their hands. Their eyes gleamed. “Really? I couldn’t remember, what with him also majoring in liberal arts.”

     “With Honours in both English Language and Linguistics,” Dan said, puffing out his chest. He was unspeakably proud of his best friend and his accomplishments, and he was not afraid to show it. Dan’s phone began to vibrate on the edge of his desk.

     Cam chuckled softly. “Speak of the devil.”

     Dan stuck his tongue out at Cam before picking up his phone and pressing the correct buttons so Phil’s smiling face popped up on his screen. The older student preferred to use Skype rather than just calling. He said that seeing Dan’s face was better than just hearing his voice, but Dan had blushed profusely when he’d said it, so he just stopped questioning Phil.

     “Hey Danny-boy,” Phil chirped.

     Dan groaned and mimicked banging his head on his desk while Cam laughed behind him. “Oh, I’m definitely using that.”

     Dan gave Phil a weak glare. “Look what you’ve done, Phil. You’ve given Cam an idea. You know how dangerous that is.”

     Phil chuckled and Cam flipped them both off. “How is Cam?”

     Cam hopped off their bed, padding over to stick their face into the shot, smiling and waving. “Cam is good. How’s Phil and Amanda?”

     “Eh,” Phil hummed. “Phil could be better, but Amanda’s perfect.”

     “And if Dan hears one more person speak in third person, he’s gonna have a fit,” Dan grumbled.

     Cam shot him a knowing look—they’d gotten him to spill the truth about his crush on Phil and now found endless ways to utilize that information—before throwing up a peace sign for Phil to see. “Imma head out. Don’t break your neck, Howell.”

     “Don’t end up dead in a hole, Schultz.” Dan heard the door to their dorm room slam, and he turned back to give his attention to Phil, who was smiling warmly. “So, how’re you doing, Dan?”

     Dan shrugged, moving his phone so Phil could see where his textbook had ended up. “Not that great, honestly.”

     Phil made an understanding sound in the back of his throat. “Well, you’re getting to the end of your first year, so it should get better.”

     Dan scowled, looking away from Phil’s face. “Not exactly. Apparently, I chose one of the, like, ten professions that progressively gets harder and harder the longer you study it.”

     Phil’s eyes shone brightly with amusement. “Um, Dan? I’m pretty sure that’s every profession.”

     “Shut the fuck up, Lester, okay? Let me wallow in my self-pity.”

—————————————

     One of the very first things Dan learned about Cam was the fact that they loved alcohol. Whether it was drinking at a party or just throwing back a few in the comfort of their own dorm room, Cam couldn’t resist alcohol. Because of that, they had roped Dan into a new tradition: beers and a made-for-TV movie every Monday night, no matter what. It was a tradition they had yet to break, now six months into Dan’s first year at college.

     It was Monday, and it had been Dan’s turn to choose the movie, which meant Cam got the beer. Dan, naturally, chose a cheesy horror movie for them to make fun of and Cam bought the good stuff. Halfway through the movie, Dan was feeling pleasantly buzzed. Cam was in the middle of a rant, fingers flying around their face as they laughed and mocked the movie.

     Something hit Dan about the way Cam looked in the crappy lighting their TV provided. Their face was bathed in dim blue light, making their sharp features appear even more pointed as their hair fell in soft waves across their forehead. Dan felt his stomach clench and his mind went blank as he leaned forward and effectively interrupted Cam’s rant, pressing his lips to theirs.

     Cam froze, body stiff, but they loosened up in seconds, winding their lanky arms around Dan’s neck as they kissed back with a fierce passion. Lips and tongues slid across each other’s, breaths were exchanged, and hands roamed across bodies. It wasn’t heated; instead, the two merely explored each other, touching and feeling for what was comfortable, learning in the midst of doing.

     However, Dan’s mind exploded with thoughts and he pulled back like he’d been burned. Cam fell away, eyes shining with confusion. Dan had enough competence to stammer out, “I-I’m b-b-bi,” before his tongue felt way too heavy for his mouth.

     Cam’s eyes lightened, and their entire demeanor shifted. They chuckled and drew their knees to their chest. “Last time I checked, being bi didn’t include kissing your nonbinary roommate, so I’m guessing you’re gonna have to go back to the drawing board, mate.”

     Dan gave them an incredulous glance. “How can you be so calm about this?”

     They shrugged. “I had my own freakout like eight years ago. Guess I’m kinda immune to it all now.”

     Dan looked at his hands, mind whirling. “So, I’m…not bi?”

     “Maybe you’re pan?” Cam suggested, voice empathetic.

     Dan lifted his head to meet Cam’s eyes. “I already looked into that. I’m pretty sure that’s not me. I mean, people are hot, yeah, but…”

     “You don’t feel the need to kiss them or stuff like that,” Cam said, picking up where Dan trailed off.

     Dan nodded. “Yeah.”

     Cam looked thoughtful, moving their head gently. “Have you ever heard of the term ‘demisexual’?”

     Dan raised an eyebrow. “No. What’s that?”

     Cam grinned, teeth flashing white in the low light. “Basically, it means that you’re only sexually attracted to people that you have a deep connection with. You can find someone that is exactly your type, but if they’re a stranger, ain’t no way you’re sleeping with them.”

     Dan slowly sat back, letting the term ring in his mind. It felt…right, in a way that labels hadn’t in a long, long time. “Well, that certainly explains the giant crush I used to have on Phil.” This time, it was Cam who shot Dan an incredulous stare, most likely at his mention of supposedly getting over Phil, but Dan didn’t pay them any attention. “Guess I’m demisexual.”

     Cam grinned before leaning forward and pressing their lips to Dan’s again. This time, Dan didn’t push them away.

—————————————

     It was a week before Dan broke the “big news” to Phil. He’d already Skyped his parents—who immediately accepted Dan and Cam—and Adrian—who just called Dan a big sap and told Cam that he liked them better.

     Still, Dan had yet to tell his best friend this particular news. He didn’t have the courage to Skype or call, so he settled on texting, a decision he was sure was going to get him lectured at later He spent hours contemplating how to break the news to his best friend, and he had to eventually call in Cam to help.

     Together they composed a text that read: Hey Phil. So, I’ve recently discovered that I’m demisexual instead of bisexual. The only real difference between these is the fact that I don’t feel any romantic or sexual feelings towards a person until I form a connection with them. I sorta found this out through kissing Cam, then having a freak out about it. (“Really, Cam? Do we have to tell him about that?” “Yep.”) Anyways, long story short, I’m demi, and now I’m dating Cam. Please don’t be mad that I’m texting you this. You know I’m not confident. Bye.

     After the text was done, it was another ten minutes before Dan gathered the courage to press “send”. Cam made him put his phone down and took him out on a walk. They held hands and laughed, sharing a bag of roasted nuts that had made their appearance as the weather grew colder. It was nice, and Dan completely forgot about the text to Phil until they got back to the dorm room.

     At that point, Dan bounded towards his phone and picked it up, expecting to see a million notifications about texts or missed calls. Instead, all he saw was the fact that Phil had read his text almost immediately, but didn’t respond.

     “What did Phil say?” Cam asked, climbing onto their bed.

     Dan didn’t stop looking at his phone, although he could feel tears start to run down his cheeks. “He said he was happy for us.”

—————————————

     Dan draped himself across Cam’s lap, closing his eyes when he felt the latter tug at his hair. Cam knew all the ways to make him collapse into a puddle.

     Cam hummed and threaded their fingers through his hair. “Why don’t you leave your hair curly more often?”

     Dan huffed. “My hobbit hair? No thank you.”

     “Why not? I think it’s cute. Plus, curly hair is in nowadays,” Cam tried to reason. Dan shrugged, but the idea stuck in his mind, and if he started to wear his hair curly every so often, then he couldn’t be blamed for it.

—————————————

     “Hey, Dan?” Dan looked up when he heard Cam’s voice. Cam looked nervous, which was not a look Dan was used to seeing on them. They were wringing their hands and glancing everywhere but Dan. “Yeah, Cam.”

     “Can we…talk?”

     Dan closed his book and sat up, patting his bed for Cam to sit next to him. Cam stood standing. “Sure. What do you wanna talk about?”

     Cam took a deep breath before staring straight into Dan’s eyes. “I want to break up.”

     Dan felt his jaw drop and his heart clench, but there was a knot in his stomach that was slowly unraveling. Huh. He’d never noticed that before. “…what?”

     “Look, we both know sex is weird to me, and I don’t like it, but you’re not like me.” Cam shook their head, voice sympathetic. “I can’t make you abstain from sex for your entire life because of me. I’m not willing to do that to you. I like you too much. Plus, I know you’re still at least a little in love with Phil. You’ve been subtlety moping ever since you texted him about us. I don’t want to take him away from you, so I’m breaking up with you.”

     Dan laughed and wiped at his cheeks; they were wet. He wasn’t sad about Cam breaking up with him. In fact, it was almost like he was…grateful. “I think I’m supposed to be sad right now, but I’m not?”

     Cam’s features relaxed and they let out a breathy, almost confused laugh. “Guess that’s a good thing, huh?”

     Dan shook his head, a soft chuckle growling from his throat. “Breaking up doesn’t mean we’re gonna stop being friends, right? Because if so, Imma kick your ass and steal your Fall Out Boy CDs.”

     This time, Cam’s laugh was louder and more sure. “You wish, Howell. You’re still stuck with me until I graduate.”

—————————————

     “You didn’t have to do this, Cam,” Dan said, voice warm as he gazed at his ex-significant-other.

     Cam scoffed and rolled their eyes. “Yeah, right. This is the last chance we’re really gonna be able to see each other in person, at least for a of couple months. You’re going back to England for a gap year, and I’m going off to my very first job.”

     Dan smiled. “Yep. You’re definitely going to be an interesting high school maths teacher.” Cam’s eyes glittered in the harsh lighting of the airport.

     Sure, the two had broken their relationship off three months ago, after a short two month run, but that didn’t mean Dan still didn’t feel things for Cam. He was sure that there would always be a small part of his heart that belonged to Cam, but then again, there was also the part of his heart that belonged to Phil. If Dan didn’t get his act together, he was going to die with a lot of holes in his heart from how many times he had given it away, only to have it handed back with a piece missing.

     “So,” Cam hummed, “do you know what you’re going to do during your gap year?”

     Dan shrugged, shifting the backpack on his shoulders. “Dunno. Spend time with my family, do a bunch of dumb shit with Adrian, visit friends, start on a new major that doesn’t make me want to kill myself. I’ve got a checklist.” Cam’s laughter rang clear in the airport. Their laugh was possibly the loudest thing Dan ever heard so far, a mixture of snorts and cackles that somehow sounding more endearing than annoying.

     He was going to miss them. A lot.

     Without another word, Cam leaned forward and wrapped their arms around Dan’s shoulders, pulling him close. Dan looped his own arms around their torso, hugging them tightly. They stood, interlocked, for quite a while. Probably too long, but Dan couldn’t bring himself to care. He had to say goodbye to someone he cared for very much, and he more than likely wouldn’t see them for another year, or even two, three. It might even be an entire decade before he would be able to hold Cam like this again, and that knowledge broke Dan’s heart.

     So, he held onto them. He didn’t want to let go, and Cam didn’t seem to want to either. The two stood there, against the world, a million apologies, confessions, and accusations lying on the tips of their tongues, but neither could bring themselves to say anything but, “Goodbye.”

—————————————

     Adrian had grown up quite a bit in the year that Dan was in America. He had shot up at least five inches in height and was skinnier than a stick. His brown hair—which was naturally straight, the little fucker—was longer, like Dan’s was when he was twelve. It was a little creepy how much his brother resembled him from that age. Genetics, man.

     Still, Adrian seemed happy to see Dan, if the way that he ran at him as soon as his older brother was in eyesight said anything. The two hugged in the middle of the airport, and Dan resisted the urge to start crying, hiding his damp eyes in the hair of his younger brother. It really hadn’t registered to him, how much he’d missed his family while he was in America. Cam always seemed to be around to take his mind off of his homesickness, but Cam wouldn’t be around anymore.

     From this moment forward, Dan would be alone. Even if he went back to university in America, Cam wouldn’t be there. They’d graduated, starting their own life away from Dan. It hurt, of course, but it was a bittersweet pain. By the time Adrian let him go, their parents had caught up with them, hugging Dan as well. Dan felt something warm expand in his chest, being surrounded by his family again.

     He hadn’t felt this way since he’d kissed Cam—no, nope. Nopity, nope, nope dot biz dot uk. He was not supposed to be thinking about Cam. Cam was in America, without Dan. They were perfectly fine without him around, and Dan almost couldn't stand that, but he was a fucking adult now; he was going to have to put on his big-boy pants and suck it the fuck up.

     He needed to move on, but doing so was easier said than done.

—————————————

     It was to be expected that Dan would be home for just two days before his mum roped him into the daily chore schedule. All it had taken was one smile and a simple question, and Dan was now washing the literal mountain of dishes that Adrian was supposed to be helping him with, but no. Adrian was nowhere to be found, which left the elder Howell sibling to do all of the dishes by himself.

     It took an entire hour, as his mum was very, very particular about how she wanted her dishes washed (“Dishwashers were made for a reason, mum.”).  Dan sighed and wiped his hands on a dish towel before grabbing a can of Ribena and popping the tab, drinking it as he walked into the living room. He saw someone sitting on the couch as he rounded the corner from the kitchen to the living room.

     Of course Adrian was watching TV instead of helping Dan with the dishes. “Adrian, you little shit. Mum told us to do the dishes together. You’re lucky I’m mature enough not to tell on you.”

     “Sorry, but I’m not Adrian.”

     Dan froze.

     That…that fucking voice. He knew that fucking voice. Fucking hell on a shit cracker.

     Dan stared at the guest, heart pounding in his chest. The familiar shaggy hairstyle had been swapped out for shaved sides and a shorter, neater fringe, and there were more lines around his mouth and eyes—eyes that seemed dimer than they did two years ago—but it was still him. It was still Phil, no matter how many years passed. His smile was still the same as well, even thought it was sadder than Dan remembered it. “Well, this seems familiar.”

—————————————

     After a quick reunion that consisted of hugs that lasted too long and a few tears that Dan would rather die than admit to shedding, the two ended up, once again, in Dan’s room. They resumed their familiar position, one from so many years of friendship: on Dan’s bed, on their backs, close enough that their shoulders pressed together.

     It was peaceful and calming for the both of them to be in that position, but Dan knew that the feeling wouldn’t last long. “What are you doing here, Phil?”

     “Heard you were coming home,” Phil said lightly. “Wanted to visit you. Plus, Martyn’s home, so it would look bad if I didn’t come home. Are you really taking a gap year?”

     Dan let out a breath, wishing that it was cold in the room so he could see the physical manifestation of it. “Yeah. Law makes me want to gouge my eyes out. No way I was going to spend another year wasting my life by figuring out how to get away with murder. Maybe I can figure out something when I go back, but that’s just not working for me right now.”

     “Maybe you could find that something somewhere that isn’t America,” Phil mumbled, quiet enough that Dan had to strain to hear him.

     Dan frowned and sat up, which forced Phil to sit up as well. There wasn’t much room on a twin-sized bed for two grown adult men; there had never been enough room, but that never stopped them. “What do you mean by that, Phil?”

     “I think you should come to York next year.” Phil had a faraway look in his eyes when Dan quirked one of his eyebrows. “My roommate graduated last year, so I’ve got an open bed. It could be fun.”

     “Maybe,” Dan said. “I wouldn’t want to interrupt any time between you and Amanda though.” He tried to make the last part sound like a joke, but it sounded more like an interrogation when Phil winced at the mention of Amanda.

     “Ah, yeah. About that.” Phil took a deep breath and stared at his hands. “We broke up about eighteen months ago.”

     Dan couldn’t help but drop his jaw, looking at Phil in shock. “What? But you two were fine when I left.”

     “Well,” Phil bit out, now defensive and affronted. “A lot can happen in a year, Dan.” An awkward silence fell over them, one that Dan knew Phil hated.

     Soon enough, Phil scowled and turned his head away. “Forget it. It was a stupid suggestion anyways.” Dan placed a hand on Phil’s, which made the older whip around as if Dan had burned him.

     “It’s not a stupid idea.” Dan spoke softly, as if Phil was a scared animal that would spook at any loud noise. In some ways, that was true. “I’ll think about it. Honestly. I mean, Cam graduated, so it’s not like I have any real incentive to go back there.”

     Phil winced horribly at the mention of Cam. “But you’ll want to visit them. It’s not smart to be thousands of miles of ocean away from your…significant other?”

     Something in Dan’s chest pulled at his heart, and he used every single fiber of strength in his body in order to not let Phil see how his eyes were dampening. “They broke up with me around three months ago. Said they didn’t feel right making me ‘abstain from sex’ in order to be with them, so they called it off.”

     Phil actually looked sympathetic. Right. He had been completely enamored with Amanda, so he more than likely wasn’t the one who broke it off. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

     Dan shrugged, trying to play it off. “It wasn’t a big deal, honestly. We stayed friends, so I wasn’t too hurt.”

     “You loved them,” Phil whispered, sounding almost disconnected from his body.

     Dan gave a wet laugh. “Little bit.”

     Phil leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Dan in, once again, another hug, and Dan melted into it. The two stayed interlocked for a while 

     “So you’ll stay?” Phil whispered in his ear, hot breath tickling his neck in the process.

     Dan leaned back and wiped his eyes. “I’ll think about it, but…probably. America was fun while it lasted, but I think I’m ready to be home again.”

     Phil’s entire face lit up the fucking sun from the Teletubbies and Dan knew that he was lying. There was no way in hell he was going back to America after Phil smiled at him like that. It was never even a question in Dan’s mind—he needed to be where Phil was, and that was in England, at York.

     His mind had been made up years and years ago; it just took him a bit to listen.

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     “You’re still in love with him, aren’t you?” Dan startled and fell out of his office chair, letting out a shriek that he was sure to regret later. He clumsily stood and whipped around to see Adrian standing in his doorway. He had a frown on his face.

     Dan glared at his younger brother as he tried to catch his breath. “What the hell are you talking about? And how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me, you little shit?”

     Adrian didn’t budge, choosing instead to roll his eyes. “Who else would I be talking about? Phil, dumbass. You’re still in love with him, aren’t you?”

     Dan was still a bit pissed, so he didn’t register Adrian’s words at first, but as soon as he did, he froze.

     “What?” Dan’s voice sounded small, even to his own ears.

     Adrian raised his eyebrows. “You think that was a secret? It’s a secret to, like, no one. You’re so fucking obvious about it.”

     Dan felt his cheeks burn, so he turned away. “So what? It’s none of your fucking business, so you can go fuck off, Adrian.”

     He heard Adrian sigh from behind him. “I know. But I can see it. You’re still in love with him, and the last time you looked this enamored, he broke your heart. I just want you to be careful. Don’t let him hurt you again, okay? You don’t deserve that.” With that, Adrian left. Dan felt weary and collapsed onto his bed, letting the words of his brother ring in his mind.

—————————————

     “First day of classes, Danny-boy!” Phil chirped, running through their dorm room like a chipmunk with caffeine in its veins. Dan rolled his eyes as he shoved his psychology books into his back before hefting it onto his shoulders.

     “Fuck, books are heavy,” he huffed.

     Phil popped up in front of him, eyes shining brightly. “Why aren’t you more excited? Today marks the day you take your very first class here at York!”

     Dan laughed. “I’ve already been through one year of college, Philip. The only thing that’s changed has been location and major.” Truth be told, his first day of classes seemed much less daunting, considering he’d been sharing a fucking room with the person he’d been in love with since he was thirteen. So many things that other people would find annoying, Dan just found endearing, and it was annoying as all hell. All things considered, classes should be a piece of cake. “Plus, I’m twenty. I don’t get excited about having to go to school anymore.”

     This time, it was Phil who rolled his eyes. “You’ve lost your sense of adventure, Dan.”

     “No,” Dan said. “I’ve just lost my will to live. Thus, here I am, about to go to a college class.”

     Phil laughed and shoved Dan’s shoulder lightly. Dan’s heart and cheeks felt warm as he gazed at Phil.

     Oh, yeah. He was fucked.

—————————————

     Dan groaned and fell in a heap on his dorm bed. Phil’s head popped up from where it had been stuck in the mini fridge Phil’s mum had gifted him when he first came to York. “Tired?”

     “Psychology is a bitch,” Dan complained into a pillow, which he stuffed over his face.

     Phil made a noise of agreement before plopping next to Dan. “Good thing I’ve got a nice shitty movie for us to watch and make fun of.”

     “It’s Friday already?” Around two weeks after Dan had moved into the dorms, Phil had instated a weekly movie night where they could just relax and have fun after hours and hours of studying and classes. It had truly been a life saver the past few weeks. It was mid December, which meant final exams were coming up rapidly, and Dan was trying to cram as much knowledge as he could into his brain. Still, he would psychology exams over law exams any day of the week. Now those sucked balls.

     “Yep. I bring items to bribe you, as well.”

     Dan moved the pillow away to see Phil offering him a bottle of beer and a plate of pizza. With many exaggerated noises and movements, Dan sat up and took the offerings from Phil, immediately popping open the beer to take a gulp. Yep; tasted like shit.

     Phil took a swig of his own and settled close next to, pressing play to let their crappy TV sputter to life and start playing the movie. Dan couldn’t really understand the plot very much—something about a superhero who found out that his girlfriend was his arch nemesis and also, somehow, his twin sister? It was fucking confusing and weird as shit.

     Perfect.

     It was about half-way through the movie when Dan felt his phone vibrate. He pulled it out to see a text and picture from Cam. Over the past year, he and Cam had been texting a lot, and the two shared almost everything. If Dan didn’t already consider Dan his best friend, then Cam would immediately get the position. They had texted him a picture of themselves with a gray cat, as well as a caption that read, Can you spot the difference? 99.99% of users can’t.

     Dan couldn't stop the laugh that bubbled in his chest, though he tried to mask it through coughing.

     Phil didn’t fall for it, though. He looked weirdly at Dan. Dan blushed and looked at his phone. “Cam just texted me a really funny picture. Sorry. I’ll put it away.”

     As he threw his phone to the other side of his bed, he snuck another look at Phil. He had an odd look on his face, once that looked to be a combination of distaste and…jealousy? Why would Phil look jealous? Dan shrugged it off and turned back to the movie, only to see it being paused a couple seconds later.

     Dan turned around to face the older student. “Phil? What the—“

     And those were definitely Phil’s lips against Dan’s.

     They were warm and soft, moving steadily against his. Something in Dan’s mind couldn’t process this, and he froze. Phil was…kissing him, Phil was kissing him, Phil was kissing him, Philwaskissinghim.

     It was chaste and sweet and ended just as suddenly as it had started when Phil drew back. Dan, wide-eyed and confused, touched his fingertips to his lips, about to talk, but Phil held up a hand. “I broke up with Amanda the day you started dating Cam.” Dan gave Phil a very confused look. What? “I actually got your text, then called Amanda up and broke the news to her. I told her that I realized I was in love with my best friend. She asked me what had taken me so long. Dan, I’m jealous of Cam. I have been ever since you met them. You two seemed to connect almost instantly and that killed me, because I thought only we had that kind of connection. Then you two started dating, and I realized what I had been missing all along.”

     Phil reached out and grasped Dan’s hands. Both of them had cold fingers, but it didn’t matter when Phil interlocked them. Phil looked up, crystal eyes narrow and serious. Dan shivered. “I’m in love with you, Daniel Howell. I’ve probably been in love with you since day one, and it’s taken me way too long to realize it, but I know it now. That day, when you confessed, I was so confused. It felt good and bad, at the same time, and, looking back, the only reason it felt bad, was because of Amanda. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I wanted you. I still do. I know it’s probably way too late, that I missed my chance and you moved on, but I had to—“ Dan decided to do some interrupting of his own.

     Kissing Phil was even better when the both of them were participating. Dan held his cold fingers to Phil’s face, pulling him closer, and Phil reciprocated by wrapped his arms around Dan’s waist and heaving him onto his lap. Dan pressed his chest to Phil’s and tilted his head, and oh. That’s what kissing was supposed to feel like.

     If Phil’s kiss had been chaste, then Dan’s was certainly anything but. Sure, neither of them really knew what they were doing—there was too much tongue and too much teeth—but it was perfect because it was them.

     It was Dan who broke the kiss this time, pulling back, gasping for breath. Phil chased his lips, panting. Dan smiled and leaned his forehead against Phil’s giddy off of adrenaline and affection.

     Phil’s smile was blinding as he began to comb his fingers through Dan’s hair. “Never asked you about the curls.”

     Dan shrugged lightly, eyes narrowed lazily. “Wasn’t really relevant.”

     Phil laugh was soft, breath blowing softly across Dan’s collarbone. “Looks good on you. Really good.”

     He began to mouth along Dan’s jaw, but Dan pulled back again. Phil raised an eyebrow, looking confused.

     Dan shook his head. “No, no you don’t. Not before we talk about this."

     Phil sighed, but released his death grip on Dan's hips. Dan took a deep breath before staring straight into Phil's eyes. "Phil, I love you too. I never stopped. Even when I was with Cam. That was actually one of the reasons they broke it off; they could tell that I was still in love with you. I don’t regret Cam, and I don’t regret you. I love you.”

     Phil’s eyes widened. “Wait, this whole time?”

     Dan’s smile and voice were full of love and affection. “This whole time, you twat. Philip Michael Lester, I, Daniel James Howell, and wholly and irrevocably in love with you.”

     Phil laughed, almost like he couldn’t believe it, before he pulled Dan on top of him as he laid down. “And I, Philip Michael Lester, am, irreversibly, in love with you, Daniel James Howell.” The words were whispered next to Dan’s ear, soft and heavy at the same time. Words only meant for one set of ears, and Dan was damn well lucky that it was his ears that heard them.

     It didn’t take Phil long to resume where they were, though, and all those sappy thoughts were filed away for a different time. Dan tangled his fingers in Phil’s hair and thought that he could get used to this. They would take their time, though.

     They had the rest of their lives together, after all.

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