It was almost February 14 th , and Dan was terrified.
The date shouldn’t mean anything, really, he’d had enough of trashy gifts and sappy songs from his teen years, three years with the girl who’d been more like a best friend than anything. His life was different now, had changed completely, and it wasn’t just down to his starting at uni. Much as that was a new thing in his life, the bigger change, Dan thought guiltily, was the presence of Phil.
Phil changed everything. Dan knew this, was worried by it more than anything. Sometimes he still got stuck in twisting thoughts, nights spent alone at halls where doubts about what he and Phil really were crept in.
The other times, the times with Phil, it didn’t matter at all. When they were curled up together, holding hands, or when he managed to squeeze himself between Phil’s legs with his back against Phil’s chest and Phil’s arms around him, Dan felt more safe and comfortable than he’d ever felt in his life. The ever-present worry that he’d have to do something more to deserve this happiness dissipated in the softness of Phil’s touch, in the lightness of his laugh. Sometimes, it was even enough to stop Dan’s thoughts from spiralling down into dark places he’d rather avoid.
But sometimes, real life kicked him in the teeth. Like the upcoming date.
February 14 th .
Last year, it hadn’t mattered so much. There hadn’t really been much pressure – he and Phil weren’t living in the same city yet, had only really been ‘official’ (as much as they were) for a few months at best. Dan hadn’t even been in the country. He hadn’t planned anything for it, though the thought had crossed his mind, but Phil – Phil surprised him all over again by sending him the sweetest video, just kept between the two of them.
Dan remembered it with a fond smile on his face. It had cemented for him that whatever he and Phil had was good enough as it was, and he’d managed to stop worrying so much about putting a label on it. They just were , and that was enough.
But this year, something horrible had shifted in Dan’s gut, a twisting knot that had its origins in a casual conversation held earlier in the week.
Dan didn’t like his flatmates much. They were alright people, but after a gap year full of internet friends and international holidays he’d got used to being around people he didn’t have to hide his nerdier side from. Being stuck in uni halls with a bunch of people he’d never met and had little in common with was a shock back to reality that he wasn’t very much enjoying.
“You coming out on Monday?” Craig, one of the guys on his floor, asked in the kitchen one evening.
There was a group of them. Dan was tucked in the corner desperately trying not to set his pasta on fire this time, cooking himself a quick meal for a rare time that he wasn’t at Phil’s.
“Don’t think so,” Jessica answered with a shrug, “It’s Valentine’s Day, think Jason’s taking me out.”
“Ugh.” Craig made a face. “That means all the soppy couples will be busy, ugh .” He glanced around, sighing theatrically. “Alex, you won’t leave me, right?”
“Sorry, mate, got plans with my coursemates.”
“ Ugh .” Craig’s eyes landed on Dan and he smirked. “Of course, you’ll be out with Mystery Older Man, won’t you?”
Dan grimaced, slipping when he nearly burned his hand on the hob.
“Oh yeah,” Alex chimed in, “You have to let us meet him eventually. He taking you out somewhere nice, sky bar again?”
“Bet he’s got something real fancy planned,” Craig agreed with a wicked tint to his eyes.
“ No ,” Dan managed eventually, shrinking in on himself. “Don’t think so, anyway. He’s going to London the day after, he’ll probably be busy packing.”
That was a lie. Phil was a messy, late packer, not quite as bad as Dan was but still not great. Dan had learned this from their many trips across the country the past year, as well as flying out with him to E3. But it was true that he was travelling down to London the day after Valentine’s Day, leaving Dan alone for a few days. Dan wasn’t sure what to make of the timing of the trip. It was a work thing, he knew, Phil was doing several interviews and shows outside of his Youtube channel right now, which was still so much more successful than Dan’s.
Yet another thing for Dan to feel insecure about.
“I doubt it,” Jessica snorted in response to Dan. “Mystery Older Man always seems to make time for you, I swear you live more at his place than here.”
Dan gave a nervous laugh in response. The statement was truer than he’d like to admit.
“If you don’t have any plans, he’s probably going to surprise you,” Craig added wisely, and then grimaced. “Probably with something drastic and super romantic, ugh , I’m going to be so alone .”
The others all chuckled, but Dan felt something sharp twisting in his gut.
He escaped back to his room as fast as he could with a bowl of half-heated pasta and a sad, shop-bought sauce, and folded himself up in his desk chair to start watching the newest video clips Phil had sent him. The fanboy in him had mostly subsided over the past year of actually getting to know Phil, of realising that he was just as human as Dan and had annoying habits too like leaving his socks everywhere and grumbling at Dan for using almost all the body wash every time he was over, but part of Dan still curled up happily whenever Phil sent him clips to look over. It was like a spy into the world of amazingphil, which was something Dan still treasured, as much as he knew he was part of it now.
He ate his pasta and watched the clips and tried to ignore the twisting in his gut. But the worries continued running through his mind.
Craig didn’t know them, Dan knew this. There was a reason he was keeping Phil separate from his uni life at the moment. It was exhausting, being around a group of people and having to pretend to be something he wasn’t, he didn’t want to drag Phil into that too. Never mind that Dan wasn’t sure how he was supposed to act around Phil when there were other people with them. Would they be expected to kiss? Make out?
Dan grimaced at even the thought.
Would Craig and the others still think Phil was going to lavish him for Valentine’s Day if they knew that he and Phil had only kissed once, and then firmly decided never again?
Dan tried to push the thoughts away, too used to them to truly be bothered anymore. He knew what Phil would say – it doesn’t matter what they think, Dan, they don’t know us, and we know what we are . The difficulty was, Dan still felt like he didn’t really know what he was, actually. He had no doubts that he and Phil were together , but—but he still didn’t really know what to call it, and sometimes that bothered him.
Valentine’s Day was just adding to that worry. Dan bit his lip, trying to focus on the clip he was currently watching whilst simultaneously typing up a commentary to email back over to Phil. Would Phil really be planning to surprise him? Dan didn’t think so, but then, they’d never really talked about Valentine’s Day together, and Phil did have a habit of spoiling him with surprises (the sky bar on their first meeting, for one).
In the end, Dan just grabbed his phone and sent Phil a text. He’d learned, or was learning, that when his thoughts got too twisted and overrun, sharing them with Phil made him feel a little lighter.
Dan: hey you doing anything monday?
The reply came back pretty instantly, which made Dan smile, imagining Phil sitting in a pile of blankets in his bed on the other side of the city.
Phil: no are you suggesting something?
Dan: not necessarily
Dan stared at the innocent-looking question mark for several seconds, biting his lip. Did Phil even know the date on Monday? Did he know it was the 14 th , that Dan was freaking out over whether or not he should be doing something for Phil? Or that Phil was secretly planning something for him, and Dan had no idea how to react?
Letting out a long breath, Dan typed out a response.
Dan: nvm im being dumb
He didn’t want to type it out over text. Besides, his thoughts were far too muddled to even begin trying to string them into a sentence.
Dan settled back into the clips with a shake of his head, trying to kick his worry to the back of his mind. It helped when Phil replied quickly again.
Phil: k well can’t wait to see you again :D :D <3
Despite the slightly sour taste of anxiety, Dan still softened at the text. The string of emojis was very Phil, and Dan could almost hear the text in his voice. It was comforting. Dan relaxed a little and turned back to the clips with renewed gentleness.
Valentines’ Day was just a stupid holiday. Dan was being ridiculous worrying about it.
After that, Dan and Phil spent a couple of days at Bryony and Wirrow’s, and Dan still pinched himself to remind himself that yes, he was now friends with actual paperlilies. She was far more brash in real life than he’d expected, but over the summer he’d found he actually liked that about her. Never mind that she and Phil got along like a house on fire.
While there, Valentine’s Day wasn’t even brought up once, and Dan found himself forgetting about it.
But now, it was the day before, and Dan was freaking out all over again.
Even his phone reminder was dinging that it was Valentine’s Day tomorrow, and Phil still hadn’t mentioned anything. The idea that he might be planning something secretly plagued Dan’s mind. Did that mean he should be prepared? Should he be doing something back for Phil? Or was nothing going on at all, and Dan was just freaking out over nothing?
The logical thing to do would be to talk to Phil, but Dan had tried that earlier in the week with no success. Besides, if it was a surprise Phil was planning then he wouldn’t tell him anyway.
Dan worried his lower lip with his teeth, biting down viciously. He didn’t know what to do. He hated this indecision, this hanging on, worrying about something that might not even matter. Would he mind, if Phil had something planned? Would he mind more if Phil didn’t ?
Dan considered that last thought, narrowing his eyes as he lay sprawled across his bed in halls. He’d been at Phil’s the day before, and was going back the day after – he’d only returned to his room to attempt some uni work (which Dan would much rather not think about). He thought about Monday morning rolling around and Phil not having anything special planned – Dan showing up at his flat and it just being another, normal day.
That would be alright, wouldn’t it?
Dan’s stomach tightened. A strange wave of regret washed over him – regret that Monday might roll around and nothing would happen. Sure, it was Valentine’s Day, a ridiculous holiday in most ways, and yet…
And yet, Dan still kind of wanted to celebrate it.
Not in the way everyone else did. Not with candles and overpriced presents and kisses, because yuck . But… but he still wanted to spoil Phil. And to have some kind of reassurance, some semblance of normality to their relationship. If they celebrated Valentine’s Day the same as any other couple, that would be a strange kind of validation that Dan was annoyed he still craved.
But what if Phil didn’t feel the same way?
Well, it wasn’t necessarily Phil that had to give the surprise.
Dan could just as easily surprise him, too.
Once he’d made that decision, Dan found himself surprisingly relaxing. Tension washed out of his muscles and he flopped back on his bed, head hanging off the end, blowing out a gusty sigh. He’d show Phil. He’d show Phil (and himself) that their relationship was just as valid as anyone else’s.
Except it was a fucking Sunday and Dan hadn’t got anything yet and the shops wouldn’t be open for much longer. With a yelp, he jumped to his feet, grabbed his bag and shoes and keys, and legged it out of the door.
Monday morning, Dan left his halls with his rucksack slung over his shoulder, nerves jumping in his belly and a shout from Craig that almost soured the whole thing.
“Good luck, Dan! Have fun with your boyfriend and try and at least get some sleep tonight in between banging him, yeah?”
This followed by a lecherous cackle as Craig disappeared into the kitchen.
Dan tried to force out a laugh back past the waves of nausea that flowed through him. Craig didn’t know him and Phil, he reminded himself. Dan didn’t have to listen to him.
If only that was easier to internalise.
He hopped on the bus across the city to Phil’s, avoiding eye contact with other people, his rucksack hanging precariously off one shoulder. He held onto the strap though, biting his lip. He really, desperately hoped that this wouldn’t all backfire on him, his stomach tightening at the thought. Phil’s reaction was completely unknown. Dan didn’t like walking into the unknown.
But, he knew, somewhere deep within himself, that he needed this.
The walk up to Phil’s apartment building was grossly familiar by now, so Dan didn’t even have to think as his feet led him straight to the door. His stomach, however, jumped more and more the closer he got.
Dan was being ridiculous. He’d been with Phil over a year. There was no need to fear rejection anymore, he knew that but… but he couldn’t quite make his mind realise that it didn’t need to be in a constant state of worry.
Dan pressed the buzzer with his heart in his mouth.
Phil, of course, buzzed him in straight away, only making some kind of cawing animal noise through the speaker. Dan shook his head, murmuring to himself. “One day you’re going to get overheard, Phil Lester, and someone in a white coat is going to arrive to take you away.”
He took the lift with the buzzing of nerves making his gut twist and actually took a few deep breaths to keep himself calm. There was absolutely no reason for him to be getting as worked up over this as he was, and yet something about this entire thing was setting him on edge. He still didn’t even really know if he was doing the right thing – but the only way to find out was to do it.
Dan had never been the best at being impulsive.
He knocked on Phil’s door, and spent the few seconds it took him to answer swallowing down the butterflies trying to escape his stomach.
The door swung open and Phil beamed at him, arms open, reaching out to drag him over the threshold. He was still in his pyjamas. “Hey! You’re early today, not that I’m complaining, but I haven’t had breakfast yet so you’re gonna have to wait for me to have that before you beat me at Mario Kart again.”
“Yeah, sure. That’s fine.” Dan’s voice was a bit stiff.
Phil noticed, giving him an odd look.
“It’s nothing,” Dan said quickly before he could ask. “Just. Look. Wait.”
“Stop, look, and listen?” Phil teased, but his expression was curious.
Dan twisted, sliding his rucksack off his back. The present within felt way heavier than it should do, laden with everything he was worried of attaching to it, and he almost hesitated.
But he was here now, wasn’t he, and Phil was looking at him with curious eyes.
Dan pursed his lips, drew in a breath, and bit the metaphorical bullet.
“Ok, so.” He stepped back, dropped his bag behind him, present gripped between his fingers. “This might be a totally bad idea. You can say no. Full disclosure, in fact, you probably want to say no so if you’d rather I just put this back away again--”
“Dan,” Phil interrupted him gently, “You’re rambling.”
“Oh.” Dan squeezed his hands behind his back, took in another slow breath. This was a bad idea. All his instincts were currently screaming at him to backpedal as fast as possible, but Phil was still looking at him with a distinctly curious, if slightly confused, look on his face, and Dan had always been powerless to giving Phil what he wanted. Phil did the same back, of course, but… still, Dan was weak.
“It isn’t much,” Dan said finally, and brought his hands around to the front to reveal a little teddy bear with holding a heart. “It isn’t even something you’d want, tbh. But everything in the shops is like this right now, and, well…”
He was interrupted by Phil making cooing noises and reaching out for the bear.
Dan stopped, blinking. Slowly, he held it out, and Phil took it off him with a soft, fond-looking smile.
Dan’s heart picked up a little in his chest.
“It’s adorable, Dan.” Phil’s eyes were still soft and heartwarming. Dan was melting a little. “And so soft! What’s it for, though?”
And all of a sudden Dan felt like a bucket of ice cold water was thrown over him again. He swallowed stiffly. This was a stupid idea, he should have known it.
Phil was clutching the bear to his chest a little possessively, though, so Dan couldn’t have fucked up too badly, right?
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Dan finally managed to say around the lump in his throat.
“Oh.” Phil’s gaze snapped up to look at him, and Dan’s heart sunk to his feet.
“Sorry,” he croaked out to dodge Phil’s gaze. “Look, we didn’t talk about it and I don’t even know if it’s something we should do, like - it’s a stupid commercial holiday anyway, it’s honestly kind of gross, but everyone back at halls was talking about it and Craig kept going on about you--”
“Me?” Phil interrupted him again, and Dan chanced a glance up to find Phil was grinning. “Your cool older boyfriend, full of smooth lines and teller of the best jokes?”
“Fuck off,” Dan shot back, but something inside him loosened, especially when Phil laughed softly. “‘Course not. More like - they just assumed we’d be doing something? Only you hadn’t said anything, and I felt kind of weird about it anyway, but…”
He trailed off, and Phil didn’t fill the silence. Instead, he watched quietly while Dan gathered his thoughts.
Dan loved that about him, really he did.
“I don’t know,” Dan finally said quietly. “Valentine’s is supposed to be about celebrating the person most important to you, right? And you’re the most important to me, so.”
“Aww.” Phil hummed, glancing from Dan to the bear and then back to Dan. “That’s so thoughtful, Dan. Who knew that somewhere in there you could be sweet.”
“Fuck off .” Dan shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground, feeling a little awkward. “I just. I don’t know, I wasn’t sure it would be… like, appropriate?”
“Appropriate?” Phil asked, tilting his head. “How so?”
“Like.” Dan paused for a moment, pursing his lips, and then went to sit on Phil’s (tiny) couch. “It’s Valentine’s . That’s all lovey-dovey mushy stuff, half of which we don’t even do anyway, plus it’s something that I always felt kind of obligated to do as a teenager - which was really just kind of awkward?”
“Well, I hope you didn’t feel obligated for me.” A crease appeared in Phil’s brow.
Dan shook his head, though. “No, not really. Not you. More just, like - everyone is celebrating their significant other and I don’t have one in the same way they do.”
“You calling me not good enough?” Phil joked, but paused when Dan’s face fell. He tilted his head. “Hey, Dan. I’m joking, you know that, right? What we have is just as good as what they all do.”
“It’s better,” Dan disagreed. “This way, I never have to kiss anyone ever again. That is such a relief , you have no idea.”
Phil laughed. The sound loosened up the lasting tension clutching at Dan, eased him up enough to let out a breath. Phil came and sat next to him on the sofa and Dan instantly leaned into him, resting his head against Phil’s shoulder and sighing happily when Phil wound an arm around his waist.
With his other hand, Phil settled the bear on Dan’s lap and made it give him a wave. “For the record, though, I like him. Valentine’s might not fit us perfectly but I’m still glad you thought of me.”
“Yeah. Makes me a bit bad for not getting you anything, though.”
“Don’t worry.” Dan closed his eyes, leaned into Phil’s chest. “You can take me out for fancy dinner to make up for it.”
“I spoil you.”
“You do,” Dan agreed, “it’s one of the reasons I even bother sticking around.”
Phil pinched his side, huffing, but Dan just swatted him away and leaned into him further. “Later. You can take me out later. Resting now.”
“Alright, you spoiled brat, let me at least grab my laptop.”
Later, Phil took him to a restaurant closer towards town. It was filled to the brim with other couples, holding hands and kissing and sharing sweet, soft looks. Dan held back for a moment by the doorway, sure that someone was going to look at him and Phil and call them fakers, call out their relationship out for being a facade when Dan knew it was the absolute opposite of that, the most genuine thing he’d felt in his life, even -
“Dan.” Phil caught his hand, gave it a squeeze. “You sure you want to do this?”
Dan looked at him, at his concerned expression, and then through the glass windows to the fancy restaurant full of all its fawning couples. He and Phil had a place with them, if they wanted it.
And Dan decided that, yes, for this day, he really did want it. Perhaps he shouldn’t need the validation, but sometimes he wanted to join in something that gave them equal status to other, more conventional couples. Because they were a couple. Over a year together had made him more sure of that than anything.
“Yeah,” he answered, interlocking his fingers with Phil’s. “Let’s go in, shall we?”
Phil held the door for him, like the gentleman that he was, and Dan’s smile grew. He was content.