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june in january

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Sometimes Dan tries.

Sometimes he tries a lot, and in those moments if Phil closes his eyes and opens some door in his mind he can picture exact expressions on Dan's face as they are now and as they were then; back, years ago, back when Dan thought he had a lot more to prove than he ever really did. Back when Dan felt like he needed to grab on with both hands tight, to be the best and do the most or he'd lose - whatever it was he feared losing. Phil, what Phil represented, the potential for a life together.

Dan stopped being afraid of losing that somewhere along the way, and it's good. It's a very good thing, it's the best thing, as far as Phil's concerned. But along with it came less of a need to try. Complacency is comfortable. They're more than gift wrapped boxes and stretching the limits of a bank account to fill them.

He remembers a conversation a couple years back, wine drunk and talking quietly with Bryony while their boyfriends were busy in a conversation of their own.

"It's just a thing," she'd said. "When you've been together long enough. It's exciting to get someone presents the first couple of birthdays, or Christmases, or Valentine's Days. But then you blink and it's been ten years and it's just like, this again? Didn't you just have a birthday? What else do you really need?"

He'd laughed along with her but the words had settled in his heart. It's easy not to try and to still trust that it's fine if you don't, that a life together is more about every day than the special days.

But he likes to try, sometimes -

And so does Dan.

*

He sits in the boat with his eyes closed. His stomach rolls with gentle a sort of nausea; he's not sure why this is a good idea. It's never a good idea. But his mum and dad were so excited and Dan reminded him to take the motion sickness tablet before they left the house. So this is fine, he can do this.

(Dan, fluttering after Phil with half-spoken sentences and two pairs of socks in his hands and his head full of the itinerary of the day, Dan's own version of in-law panic all-consuming. But he'd still had time to remind Phil to take the tablet and that's the only reason this is halfway to tolerable right now.)

He just can't do this and talk, or do this and stand, or do this and look out over the water. But sat back, eyes closed, he's found the sweet spot to still his stomach and let his mind wander down all sorts of paths. It's his birthday, after all, and if he wants to have a self indulgent think he will.

It's just - there are a few things in life that satisfy Phil all the way down to his toes. Turning an alarm off because he has nowhere to be in the morning. The last bite of a cake when he's left all the frosting bits from around the bottom to scoop up and savor at the very end. Ending a conversation with a friend knowing he's said just the right thing at just the right moment and it's one he won't be left fretting over in his mind all day long.

And this, this right here - listening to Dan and his mum and his dad all carry on conversation, being this strange level of there but removed. They're talking about the weather and Phil's mum's had her phone out showing Dan pictures of the water during the last big storm to roll over them and Phil's dad is interjecting details that don't matter at all but Phil can still hear Dan nodding attentively, playing host.

Or he was, at least. He realizes the voices have quieted and when he opens his eyes it's just Dan.

"Where'd mum and dad go?" He asks, sitting up. Surprisingly, his stomach stays calm.

"They thought the view called for champagne," Dan says.

Phil isn't surprised. It's very like his parents, there must be an occasion for a drink - but anything can count as an occasion.

"That'll be nice," Phil says, opening his eyes and looking out at the water. He can feel Dan's shoulder pressed to his.

"How are you feeling? Need a bin?" Dan grins, dimple faintly showing.

Phil makes a face at him. "Fine, actually. I feel - fine."

"Good," Dan says, voice soft.

Phil reaches out and squeezes Dan's knee briefly. He'll be self indulgent with more than his thoughts if he wants. This is a good moment.

It's his birthday, damnit.

*

Phil's tummy's full of cake and his face is full of the mess of curly fluff that Dan calls hair these days.

But he loves this, really. He loves how Dan's not afraid to curl in close to him. Inside the boundary of their flat, cameras off and lights down low, Dan finds no shame at all in who they are to each other. It's nothing Phil's parents haven't seen so many times over so many years, but it feels healing for Phil to be precisely no one but themselves in their most natural dynamic in the company of other people.

He thinks it does for Dan, as well. He thinks it's good, it's healthy that they've locked themselves away less in the past year. It's just a bit of a cuddle while they watch a film, Dan's head on his shoulder and a lazy arm around Phil's middle. It's what Dan always needs after a long day, and it has been a long day. Phil thinks it with a sigh and his fingers nudging under the hem of Dan's shirt.

Dan tips his head in response, a faint press against Phil's neck in acknowledgement. No words, because the film is playing, because his parents are there, because they aren't really needed. But maybe also because Dan just doesn't have many words left at the end of a long day. He gets quieter, his gestures softer. Out at dinner, he'd gotten that look on his face he gets sometimes when he goes off somewhere in his own head. And while they'd been out Phil had compensated effortlessly, drawing him back to the moment in ways not obvious to anyone else. But here, at home - Dan can be quiet if Dan wants to be quiet.

*

"You had a good day?" Dan asks, naked and loose-limbed from all sorts of pleasant exertion, on his side with his arms curled around a pillow.

Phil feels so pleasantly wrung out that it takes a few seconds for words to swim up from the depths of a sex puddled brain. For a moment there's nothing but feeling, tight and hot across his chest, burning a smile into his cheeks. "The best day."

Because Dan did this. Dan did all this; booking the tickets for the show and inviting Phil's parents and making a whole day of it, things Dan would never think to do himself but carefully selected to make Phil feel celebrated. That's the gesture, that's the knee-weakening gesture, that's what makes Phil want to promise forever even knowing there's no guarantee.

Every holiday can't be special, because with any sort of luck there's going to be a lifetime's worth of them. He can't remember what he did when he turned twenty, or twenty five. He'll eat the cake, he'll eat the sweets, he'll burn the candles, he'll lose parts of the game. They'll slip away like grains in the hourglass of his mind, but this - this feeling of being loved by people he loves... it wraps around him like a coat and feels like forever.

This is how Dan tries, and this is how Dan always gets it right.