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Stubborn Love

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“This one,” Phil says, the awe in his voice unmistakeable.

The ring is all black, with a thin strip of black diamonds running through the middle. The outer edge of the thick band is ribbed with a gentle design that’s almost silver, but not quite. The most fascinating aspect of the ring, however, is the way that Phil is looking at it.

Martyn’s only ever seen that look on his brother’s face one other time. Or, rather, in one other situation: everytime he looks at Dan.

It’s kind of adorable, really. Normally, Martyn would rib on him for being so hopelessly in love, but he figures he can cut Phil a bit of slack today.

But only just a bit.

“You’ve hardly looked at the others,” Martyn teases, a grin pulling at the corners of his lips as he bumps his shoulder playfully into Phil’s. “And it’s a bit simple. Dan’s more edgy, isn’t he?” he asks, side eyeing Phil knowingly.

But Phil just shakes his head without looking up from the ring. He doesn’t say anything, he looks far too mesmerized by the soft black of the wedding band to defend Dan the way he normally would. Martyn can see the way his finger traces over the glass, as if trying to imagine what the ring would feel like pressed against his skin.

“What about this one, though?” Martyn asks anyway, pointing to a second ring that had caught his attention. It was black too, pretty similar but just a little fancier, with silver encasing the sides. “Isn’t it a bit more Dan’s style?” he wheedles, nudging Phil playfully again.

“No, this is definitely the one,” Phil argues, his eyes barely flickering to the second one.

It’s a declaration of such utter conviction that Martyn doesn’t question him again. The teasing grin falls from his lips as he looks up, catches the salesperson’s eye, and gestures them over. When he looks back, he studies Phil’s face carefully: the delicate pull of his brows downward, the determination pinching at his lips.

And he smiles, because he knows that look, too.

It’s the look Phil always gets when he makes up his mind about something. It’s the look he’d had when he’d told Martyn he’d fallen in love with the kid on the other side of the computer screen; it’s the look he’d had when he’d told Martyn he was moving in with Dan; it’s the look he’d had when he’d told Martyn he was going to ask Dan to marry him.

So it’s definitely the right ring.

Only it’s not the right size.

As the saleslady slips it free from the display case and hands it over for Phil to examine up close, Martyn can already tell that it’s not going to fit Dan. It’s absolutely massive, and despite the fact that Dan has pretty big hands - a conversation Martyn never wants to have with his brother ever again - even Martyn can tell it’s too big.

Phil tries to slide it over his ring finger anyway, and then his middle, index, and thumb, but on each consecutive finger, the ring continues to slide down Phil’s skin with no resistance. Martyn can see that his lips are pursed, even more tensely than earlier. This isn’t a look of determination anymore - this is a look of distress.

Martyn looks back at the saleslady and asks the question Phil clearly isn’t able to ask just then.

“Do you have this style in any other sizes?”

“One second,” she replies, and moves under the counter again, pulling free the little box the ring had sat in. Martyn watches hopefully as she glances at the bottom of the box, where he assumes information about stock must sit, but from the corner of his eye he can see Phil continuing to check out the ring. He runs his fingers over the dark metal, the little black stones, and his face absolutely melts.

The saleslady clears her throat.

“Unfortunately that’s currently the only ring in that style we have on hand. We can send it to be resized though. Where you looking to size up or down?” she asks sweetly.

Phil doesn’t answer her question.

“My boyfriend’s birthday is on June 11th. Can it be resized by then?” he asks instead, already worrying at his bottom lip, his eyes wide and pleading. Martyn rests his hand on Phil’s shoulder reassuringly, doing his best to keep Phil from panicking.

The saleslady looks taken aback, like she wasn’t expecting the question. She blinks rapidly a few times, clearly caught off guard.

“I - I’m not sure. I’d have to check. Would the pick up be in store, or -”

“Is it possible to have it shipped to the Isle of Man?” Phil blurts out, very obviously growing more and more nervous by the second. Martyn tugs on his shoulder a little, draws him into his side, and curls his whole arm across the plane of Phil’s back.

“Of course,” the saleslady hastens to reply, only now she looks proper nervous. “I’m just not sure it could be done and arrive at your location by June 11th,” she admits. She’s staring at Phil sympathetically, but it looks almost forced. Martyn jostles Phil a little, convinces him to turn and look at Martyn instead.

“We could try another style?” he suggests calmly, “Maybe look at just the ones that are in Dan’s size?”

“No!” Phil retaliates passionately. He yanks himself roughly away from Martyn’s side, and turns to glare at him. “It has to be this one!” he insists, his eyes fiery. His brows are pulled down, that familiar look of steadfast determination resting at his pursed lips, and Martyn sighs.

“Alright, okay,” he says in an attempt to placate his brother. “I get it, you want this one,” he reassures, turning back to face the saleslady. Her eyes are still wide, but at least she doesn’t look mock-sympathetic anymore.

“You can always come back to have it sized, sir. David Yurman does sizings at any store, no matter when the transaction was originally completed,” the saleslady explains, but Phil isn’t really listening anymore. He’s glaring down at the little - well, large - piece of metal resting in the palm of his hand as if staring at it hard enough will make it the right size.

Martyn just nods his head, because the suggestion is a fair enough one. Phil had invited Martyn along to be his moral support, to keep the salespeople from screwing him over, and to be the voice of reason in a moment such as this, so that’s what he’s going to do. He reaches out to grasp at Phil’s shoulder again, forcing his attention back onto Martyn.

Distressed blue eyes stare into his own. Martyn hates to see that look on his brother’s face.

“It doesn’t have to be the perfect size right away,” Martyn reminds him calmly, seriously. “You and Dan can come back and have it sized after his birthday,” he adds coaxingly.

“You don’t understand,” Phil huffs, the sound of his voice defeated. He drops his gaze, clearly unable to look at Martyn any longer, as his shoulders slump impossibly, all of the tension fleeing from them instantly. “It has to be perfect. I want it to be perfect when he sees it.”

Martyn stares at his face, at the longing and the determination there, at the way Phil seems to have slumped into himself. He hates seeing Phil like this, but he also can’t help feeling like Phil is being a little bit dramatic.

He sighs.

Phil might be in this thirties now, but he’s still the pouty little kid Martyn has always known him to be. Everything has to be perfect with Phil. Everything.

But then again, Phil is about to propose to the love of his life, so Martyn guesses he can understand. Martyn turns back to the saleslady, prepared to do whatever he can to fix this, to make it work, so that Phil’s plan’s aren’t completely ruined.

“What’s the fastest you can have it ready by?” he asks, voice serious.

“The turn around is 14 business days,” the saleslady rushes to reassure them, biting a glossy bottom lip, desperate not to lose this sale. “I can put a rush order on it, but I’m not sure -”

“If money’s the issue, it’s not a problem,” Phil says, interrupting her, eyes dark and desperate. His palm closes around the ring, and he stares at her, imploring.

Martyn’s fingers tighten on his brother’s shoulder, and does his best not to roll his eyes. It’s just like his brother to try and throw money at a problem in order to make it go away - anything to avoid having to deal with disappointment, to deal with his own problems in an actual adult way.

The saleslady looks upset, like she wishes she could give them better news, but knows that she can’t. Martyn just wants to calm his brother down, just wants to find the fastest way possible to get the ring sized for Dan’s birthday.

“The best I can do is make it a rush order, but you wanted it shipped to another location. Even with a rushed sizing, I can’t promise it’ll be there by June 11th.”

Phil looks devastated, but Martyn’s just determined.

“Put the rush on it,” he agrees, taking over for his little brother. “We’d really appreciate it if you could get it done any faster than 14 days.” Martyn offers the girl his most disarming, pleasant smile. ”And if you could make the delivery a rushed one as well, that’d be great.”

**

It’s a family thing, the Isle of Man. Martyn never feels right coming here alone. Over the years their family has grown to include Cornelia, and then Dan, and it no longer feels right to come here without them, either.

Phil’s blocked out a solid five days of his and Dan’s schedule for this trip. Martyn knows this because he helped organize it for Phil. They arrive on the tenth, and don’t plan to leave until the fifteenth.

Martyn doesn’t want to imagine what Phil will do if the ring doesn’t arrive by then. He’s been party to Phil’s tantrums for the better part of thirty years, and although Phil’s gotten quite a bit better about not throwing things at other people’s heads, he’s still not exactly pleasant to be around when he’s mad.

Martyn can’t imagine what Dan has to deal with back home, but if the way Dan still looks at Phil after ten years is anything to go by, Martyn’s willing to bet Dan’s more than happy to put up with it.

It makes him smile, and he curls his arm tighter around Cornelia’s shoulder, glad that he and his brother have both found someone willing to put up with them and all of their quirks. Martyn hasn’t asked Cornelia to marry him yet, but it’s mostly because he doesn’t feel like he needs to. To them, marriage is just a piece of paper. It doesn’t define their relationship in anyway.

It’s different for Phil; he likes to pretend that he isn’t all that into romance, but he really, really is. Martyn knows that to Phil, asking Dan to marry him is the biggest and best gesture of “I love you,” that he can think of, and Martyn couldn’t be prouder that his little brother is finally choosing to do just that.

**

Later, when he and Phil are alone in their mum’s kitchen, finishing up the after dinner dishes, Martyn bumps his shoulder and says, “I’m proud of you, you know.”

Phil turns and looks at him, confused. “For what?”

But Martyn doesn’t answer, because Dan’s just in the other room with Cornelia, and he knows that Phil will figure it out.

**

On June 11th, they gather around the kitchen table to sing Dan happy birthday. Dan is all smiles, despite trying to pretend that he hates the attention, and he giggles at the silly little decorations Phil had insisted on sticking all over the homemade cake. As the song winds down, and Dan is instructed to blow out the candles, Martyn watches Dan glance over at Phil. His little brother is grinning gleefully - he always did love birthdays - and Dan is staring back at him fondly. His eyes speak volumes as he turns to “make a wish.”

It's disgusting, and ridiculously sappy, but Martyn’s grinning anyway.

Mum starts to cut the cake then, a handful of little dessert plates already stacked and waiting on the table to be handed around once they’re filled. Dan turns to speak to Phil, but Phil is already there at his side, a dorky birthday boy ball cap in his hand. Dan squacks as Phil goes to wrestle it onto his head, the sound of Dan’s high pitched, distraught voice filling the room.

Cornelia is laughing at all the fuss, and Martyn can’t help but to join in.

“Get a room!” Martyn groans teasingly, the tone of his voice joking, hands cupped around his mouth to make his voice louder. Cornelia shoves him, laughing all the while, but this only urges Martyn on. He joins Dan and Phil at the front of the table, and pushes in between them, just to mess with them both. His hands come up to ruffle both Dan, and Phil’s hair, and he laughs as Dan shouts in reproach.

“Twat!” Dan complains at the same time as Martyn knocks the birthday boy hat askew. He’s smiling, batting playfully at Martyn’s hand to push it away, but that’s not what catches Martyn’s attention. As Phil shouts “Hey!” in complaint, and shoves back at Martyn playfully, Martyn watches Dan reach up and carefully pull the dorky birthday boy hat properly back onto the top of his head, despite all of his complaints otherwise.

“Hey!” Phil complains as well, shoving Martyn back playfully, but Martyn isn’t watching Phil.

Dan’s not looking at anyone anymore, but he’s smiling this soft, secret smile to himself that Martyn isn’t sure anyone else notices except him.

Martyn can’t help staring, can’t help noticing. It’s ridiculous, how cute the action is. Five seconds ago Dan had been putting up a fuss about the hat, complaining that it was entirely too silly, and yet here he is fixing it back atop his head the moment it nearly falls away.

That small, secret smile speaks volumes about his feelings for Phil, and Martyn feels a bit of affection creeping over him. He can’t believe someone can love his idiot of a brother this much.

The feeling of Phil playfully shoving him again not only knocks Martyn out of his thoughts, but knocks him off balance. He reaches out for Phil instinctively, pulling his brother along with him as he stumbles across the kitchen floor. He doesn’t fall, but Phil does, and Martyn just manages to catch Phil awkwardly in his arms.

Martyn’s laughing as Phil’s gangly limbs wrap haphazardly around Martyn’s middle in an attempt to catch himself, but he still collides painfully with Martyn’s chest.

“If you wanted a hug, you could have just asked,” Martyn teases breathlessly, not one to give up an opportunity such as this.

“Shut up!” Phil groans, doing his best to drag himself out of Martyn’s hold, but Martyn’s not done with him yet.

“Awww, little brother. I’m just teasing,” he jokes, his voice low. He reaches up to ruffle Phil’s hair again, and Phil groans, immediately struggling against him. Martyn just wraps his other arm around Phil’s shoulders, and drags him back in real close before Phil can get away. “Come here, give me a kiss!”

With loud, wet kissy noises, Martyn smacks his mouth all over Phil’s face, laughing as Phil struggles against him, groaning and complaining all the while.

Eventually, Phil manages to tear himself out of Martyn’s hold, but not before the entire room has started laughing with him. Martyn’s still grinning when Phil finally rights himself and turns to glare at him. He chuckles when Phil punches him playfully in the shoulder, eyes darting over to catch Dan’s reaction.

It’s obvious he’s been watching the entire interaction just as much as the rest of their family has been, but unlike the rest of them who are smiling and laughing at witnessing such a familiar sibling interaction, Dan almost looks a little bit sad. He’s smiling too, but his eyes are a little dim, and his lips a little downturned.

Martyn flashes back to all the times Phil would come downstairs in the morning, looking exhausted, only to tell Martyn another story about how Dan’s family life wasn’t so good. It makes Martyn’s heart pang a little bit with the hurt for Dan, and he reaches out to pat his soon to be brother-in-law affectionately on the shoulder.

“Did you want a kiss too?” he teases, because he doesn’t know how else to cheer the boy up. He puckers up his lips playfully, laughing when Dan’s face twists up into a comical twist of disgust and amusement.

Phil shoves at him again.

“Get your own boyfriend!” he defends weakly, his voice high pitched. The sound is familiar, the same tone Phil has always has when he fights with Martyn, when he tries his best to come up with a witty come back, but the words just won’t come.

Martyn rolls his eyes in Cornelia’s direction, and sticks his tongue out at Phil.

“If we’re all done rough housing,” Kath interrupts pointedly, humor lacing her voice, “Don’t you think it’s time we settled down for cake?”

She doesn’t bother waiting for a reaction. Instead, she begins passing out the little dessert plates, purposefully placing them down at each place setting decorating the family dining table despite the fact that no one is sitting down.

Martyn knows it’s her way of insisting that they all do.

The Lester clan are quick to comply, filling in the seats around the table. Dan’s sat at the head of it all, still wearing the silly birthday boy cap that Phil had wrestled on top of his head, and he’s already dug into his rather large slice of cake.

“Did you bake this yourself, Kath?” he asks sweetly, voice soft, the way it always is when he talks to their mum. Martyn rolls his eyes to himself, but when he glances up to see Phil’s reaction, he just looks ridiculously in love.

“With a little help from Cornelia, while you and Phil were out for the day,” their mum admits, her smile shy. Dan is quick to compliment her, assuring her that it’s wonderful. He’s absolutely gushing, and it’d be cute if Phil weren’t making heart eyes at his boyfriend.

Martyn makes a gagging motion at Cornelia, who smacks him despite the smile on her face.

“Hush up,” she insists. They both know that Cornelia used to behave the exact same way, only she gets to see Kath far more often than Dan currently does, so it’s no surprise she’s grown a little out of the suck up stage.

As the conversation continues, Dan takes advantage of the moment to make a dig at Phil for the many adornments he must have added sometime after they got in for the night, and the table laughs at Phil’s expense because that’s what they do - they tease, and they joke, and they make fun of each other because that’s something that only family gets to do.

Phil’s cheeks are bright red, and he looks almost embarrassed, but mostly he just looks enamored.

As the six of them finish up the last few bites of their cake, Kath stands up with a great big smile and says, “Is it time for presents, then?”

The table erupts into an excited chorus of “yes!” as Kath leaves the room to fetch them. It’s only a moment before she returns with two wrapped presents in her arms.

Martyn turns to Phil expectantly, wondering where his present is. Phil hadn’t shown Martyn the backup present he’d gotten for Dan, and he’s excited to find out what it is, knowing all the while that nothing will be able to compete with the ring that’s hopefully in the post and on its way here by now.

But when Martyn’s gaze lands on Phil’s face, he realizes that something is wrong. Very, very wrong.

All the blood has drained from his brother’s face, and he’s biting his bottom lip hard, eyes wide and horrified. He won’t look at Martyn, he won’t look at Dan. He won’t look at anyone. He’s staring in distracted horror at the far wall of the kitchen, while Martyn stares at him and Dan begins to unwrap the presents that have been set in front of him.

Phil didn’t buy a back up present. Martyn can see it on his face. Phil didn’t buy Dan a back up present, and now he’s going to have to face the look of disappointment that is bound to appear on Dan’s face no matter what excuse Phil manages to come up with.

Unable to help it, Martyn finds himself desperately wanting to laugh. The idea of his brother coming up with the best birthday present possible for Dan, and yet unable to present it to him on his actual birthday, is almost too much. A part of Martyn feels horrible for Phil, who probably hadn’t been able to think of a single thing that could even began to compare with a proposal, but mostly, Martyn just can’t wait to see how Phil attempts to get himself out of this one.

He’s eager, more eager then he should be, as Dan unwraps first his present from the Lesters (a new build-your-own terrarium), and then his present from Cornelia and Martyn (a board game called Munchkin that they’ll probably all play together sometime this vacation).

Finally, Dan turns to Phil expectantly, a wide, excited smile on his face, only to find Phil avoiding his gaze. Martyn watches gleefully as Dan’s expression falls, confusion taking over. Phil looks like he’s literally dying, his face is so pale, and the way he’s biting his bottom lip makes it look like he’s going to bite straight through it. His entire body is turned away from Dan.

“Phil?” Dan asks, the confusion clear in his voice.

Phil swallows thickly, and finally turns so that he’s facing Dan. His expression is almost pleading, but when he opens his mouth to say something, nothing comes out.

Dan only seems to grow more concerned at this, only it’s not clear whether he’s upset or not. He just looks downright flustered, unable to comprehend what’s going on, and why Phil looks as terrified as he currently does.

Their parents look confused as well, though they aren’t speaking. It feels like a hush has fallen over the entire room. Cornelia is clutching at Martyn’s leg under the table, and her gaze is boring into the side of his face, but Martyn doesn’t look at her. He bites back his own grin, waiting, ready to watch the rest of the night’s events unfold.

“I uh,” Phil finally manages, his voice high pitched. He clears his throat and tries again, “I might have - your gift is - well,” he scrambles, voice growing more and more squeaky as he goes on. Martyn stares at him gleefully, unable to hide his smile now. This whole moment is just too hilarious. It’s just like Phil, to mess this up.

And while Martyn knows he probably shouldn’t be laughing, Phil is his little brother, and he just can’t help himself. Families tease, after all.

“I don’t have it,” Phil finally finishes lamely, staring down at the palms of his hands miserably.

Martyn finally glances over to Dan, desperate to see his reaction - only it’s not quite what he’d been expecting.

Dan’s always been kind of a chill guy. Martyn’s seen him get ragey when they play board games together, seen him gnaw at a video game controller the same way Phil does. He knows that Dan’s not a saint, but the expression on his face still somehow surprises him.

Martyn had been expecting a teasing grin, and a joke or two exchanged. He’d been expecting Dan to wheedle some kind of information out of Phil, to push for Phil to tell him what he’d got for him, and why it wasn’t here yet.

Instead, Dan just looks pissed the fuck off. His brows are all scrunched up, and he’s glaring at Phil with his arms crossed over his chest. It makes the muscles he has there bulge, a surprising feature Martyn hadn’t been expecting, and something that almost lends a bit of menace to his stance. It doesn’t matter that Martyn knows Dan wouldn’t hurt a fly, the image is still there.

“Phil,” Dan asks, his voice steady. “Did you forget to get me something for my birthday again?” The words are cold, harsh despite their lack of intonation.

And oh, oh shit, that’s why. That’s why Dan looks so pissed off. There’s no way Martyn could know the particulars of the time Phil had apparently forgotten, because Phil had never told him, but there’s obviously something there that makes the moment a sore spot for the both of them. Martyn has never seen Dan look at his brother like this before.

Nor has he ever seen his brother look so ashamed.

The room has grown tense. Their parents are sat stock still, looking nervous, now. Cornelia’s hand has turned into a claw against Martyn’s thigh. The air is thick with tension, and neither Dan nor Phil are looking at anyone else in the room.

“Well,” their mum finally says, clearing her throat awkwardly, and only seeming to add to the tension in the room. “I think maybe we ought to head to bed,” she adds, despite the fact that it’s hardly nine o’clock, and they usually take any excuse to have a family game night.

Her chair screeches loudly against the floor as she stands up, their dad following in her stead almost immediately. Martyn doesn’t know what else to do but stand as well.

Neither Dan nor Phil acknowledge anything that’s been said, though Phil winces at the loud sound of the chairs scratching against the floor.

Cornelia grabs tight to Martyn’s hand, and begins to tug him out of the room.

“Goodnight, you two,” she states hastily, wincing at her own poor choice of words, and then, “And happy birthday again, Dan!”

A harsh sound, too small and subtle to identify, interrupts the quiet of the room, making the atmosphere somehow even darker than before. The four of them rush out of the dining room as quickly as they can.

They don’t speak as they make their way to the upstairs landing and trail awkwardly into their rooms.

**

Martyn and Cornelia turn in early. While they lay in bed, Martyn quietly explains to Cornelia what’s happened, and why Dan’s present isn’t here yet. Her eyes get a little wet, and she purses her lips without saying anything, but Martyn doesn’t blame her. He doesn’t know what to say either, other than that his brother is kind of a stubborn idiot.

They’re up by eight the next morning, still feeling a little off kilter after the strangeness of last night, and they head down the stairs together for breakfast.

They aren’t expecting Phil to already be downstairs, looking disheveled where he sits on the recliner in front of the TV. He’s nursing a mug of coffee, dressed in a loose pair of pajama bottoms and a baggy t-shirt.

There’s a pillow on the sofa, and Phil’s left the blanket bunched up in the corner. It’s clear he slept down here last night, and the dark shadows under his eyes make it clear that he didn’t sleep very well either.

Martyn feels bad for him, he really does, and he pats Phil reassuringly on the shoulder as he passes him by. His brothers eyes flick up to him for a brief moment, but otherwise Phil doesn’t really react. Instead, he curls his fingers tighter around his mug of coffee, and goes back to sipping at it quietly.

Martyn sighs, and wanders into the kitchen to make himself something to eat.

He settles on a bowl of cereal and a mug of coffee before he joins Phil back in the lounge, grabbing the TV remote while he’s at it. Phil doesn’t look too bothered about the news, doesn’t look like he’s paying any attention at all, so Martyn flips through the channels until he finds an early morning movie to put on.

It takes Cornelia a little longer to make herself breakfast - some eggs and avocado with toast that Martyn steals a bit of - and the three of them settle into the quiet of the morning. There’s a tense silence surrounding them for a little while, mostly coming from Phil and the tight way he’s curled into himself on the recliner, but eventually Martyn is able to get lost in the movie. His own shoulders untense, and he even finds himself laughing at the silly antics of the people on the screen.

“Dan?” Phil suddenly says, breaking the quiet tension he’d been harboring for the last hour or so. “Where are you going?” he continues. His voice is high with stress.

Martyn looks up, surprised at the sudden question. His arm is curled comfortably over Cornelia’s shoulder, and for a moment, last night hadn’t seemed to matter. Dan’s sudden appearance is admittedly a surprise, but more than that, the fact that he seems to be leaving takes Martyn off guard.

“To the shops,” Dan replies, shrugging on a large jacket as he makes his way over to the front door.

Phil shoves himself out of the recliner, and stands, looking as if he’s going to rush to Dan’s side and stop him from going anywhere. Martyn watches the way Phil restrains himself, watches the way he worries at his bottom lip, eyes pleading with Dan.

“What? Why? At 10 in the morning?” Phil asks, sounding desperate, rocking on the balls of his feet.

Martyn turns to stare at Dan again, takes in the dark circles under his eyes, and the anger brewing in his gaze. It seems clear that he hadn’t slept well last night either, despite having the bed rather than the sofa. Martyn winces, trying to imagine how bad last time could have been for Dan to be this fucking angry over it.

Dan zips up his jacket and marches the last few steps towards the front door, all the while glaring at Phil.

“To buy myself a present, because my boyfriend didn’t bother to get me anything.”

Martyn winces at the harsh words, and finally looks away. He can’t bear to watch this moment unfolding in front of him, can’t bear to be witness to something neither male probably wants anyone else to be witness too. Suddenly, Martyn feels really bad for being downstairs, enjoying a stupid movie on the telly, when Dan and Phil are fighting.

Martyn has never seen them fight before, and he regrets that he has to see it now.

“Dan,” Phil pleads. “I told you, it’s not like that,” he continues, trying to defend himself. It’s clear that Dan isn’t listening, though, because in the next few seconds, the sound of the front door opening and then slamming shut echoes through the room.

The sound of Phil falling back into the recliner is sharp, as is the deep, shuddery exhale that floods the room.

**

Cornelia is the first to leave the room. The tense atmosphere is back, and it’s almost suffocating. It’s clear that Phil didn’t want them to see that, clear that Phil is upset and wants to be alone, but he also looks to be frozen where he is on the recliner. Some part of Martyn wonders if Phil thinks it would be rude to excuse himself to the room he was supposed to share with Dan when Dan is so obviously upset with him.

He doesn’t blame Cornelia for leaving, but it does leave Martyn a little unsure of himself. He ends up switching on another movie as the first one ends, sitting stiffly on the sofa while his brother stoically tries to hide his emotions away.

Eventually their parents come downstairs too, but while their dad heads out for a game of golf he’d promised some of the lads, their mum stops to give Phil a warm, sympathetic hug and a kiss on the cheek before heading into the kitchen.

There’s some delighted exclamations, and Martyn hears the word “bake,” being repeated a few times over. The girls have clearly found something enjoyable to do away from the tension in the lounge, and if Martyn weren’t so cruddy at baking himself, he’d go and help them. As it is, he feels kind of stuck trying to cheer up his brother, who very clearly doesn’t want to talk just then.

As the morning wears on, the smell of cookies begins to fill the house. Laughter bubbles from the kitchen, and the hum of family and joy finally feels prevalent. It’s the way the Isle of Man is supposed to feel - but Phil is sat apart from it all, all clammed up and hiding what he really feels from the very people Phil should share it with.

Martyn’s just about to get up and insist that he and his brother go for a walk, maybe have a nice talk, when the door finally opens again and Dan walks in holding a ton of shopping bags.

Both Martyn and Phil’s heads snap up to stare at him, mouths gaping in surprise as Dan drops the bags carelessly at his feet before removing his jacket. Martyn can see Phil staring pleadingly at Dan, but Dan ignores him, avoiding his gaze. Once his jacket has been hung back up next to the front door, Dan picks the bags back up, and marches up the stairs with his spoils. The sound of a door slamming shut behind him echoes through the house loud enough that even the laughing girls in the kitchen fall silent for a moment.

The set of Phil’s shoulders drops again, and he sighs loudly as he falls back against the recliner. Martyn hadn’t even realized Phil had sat up straight until that exact moment, and he stares at Phil sadly as his brother closes his eyes, looking tired.

It’s another fifteen minutes before Dan comes back downstairs, this time wearing an expensive looking designer sweater, and what appear to be a new pair of jeans. Phil’s complained enough about Dan being a label whore for Martyn to guess what it is exactly that he went out and bought, and he finds himself feeling terribly for Phil’s bank account.

There’s no doubt in his mind that Dan charged it all to Phil’s credit card, and just after Phil had dropped a good two thousand pounds on Dan’s engagement ring. It’s a petty thing to do, especially considering whose card is used doesn’t actually matter when they share everything as it is.

That will be quite the discussion once Phil shows Dan what his birthday present really is.

Without hesitating for even a split second, Dan walks straight into the kitchen with a bright smile on his face, and starts talking to Kath and Cornelia as if nothing is wrong. Martyn can hear the brightness in his voice even if he can’t hear the words.

When he glances back at Phil’s face, he looks all the more dejected for it all, and slowly slides deeper into the soft cushion of the recliner.

For a while, they sit in almost-silence. The movie Martyn had picked out earlier has begun to wind down, and it’s nearly over now. The kitchen is filled with the excited sounds of baking mixed with Dan’s deep laugh, all while Phil sits and mopes in quiet pain over his fight with Dan.

Martyn’s about ready to give it all up, and leave the room as well, when the doorbell suddenly rings. Surprised, both Martyn and Phil glance over at the door. As Martyn’s gaze slowly falls back onto Phil, he notes how rigid Phil suddenly looks. Despite the obvious nerves, however, there’s something hopeful brewing in Phil’s eyes.

“Phil?” Kath calls after a beat, “Can you get that, love? I wasn’t expecting anyone,” she explains, sounding as bewildered as Martyn imagines she must feel. Martyn can’t tear his eyes away from Phil, though, from the stuttered way he launches himself out of the recliner and stands on shaky feet. Finally, finally, Martyn feels like grinning again, and he watches as Phil stumbles towards the front door.

“Y-Yeah, I’ve go-got it!” Phil stutters back loudly, the nerves clear in the way his hands shake as he finally makes it to the door and reaches up to fumble with the doorknob. Turning completely in his seat on the sofa, Martyn watches with greedy eyes as the door comes open.

Unsurprisingly, the postman is stood on the other side of the door. Martyn’s grin only grows larger.

“Is there a Philip Lester here?” the postman asks, sounding bored. The house is so quiet as everyone waits to find out who’s at the door, that the words almost seem to echo.

“Tha- that’s me,” Phil practically yelps, stumbling over the words. The postman hardly glances at him as he fiddles with a little handheld device, before handing it over.

“Sign here,” the man says blandly. As Phil moves to do just that, Martyn turns towards the kitchen, only to find Dan poking his head around the doorway curiously. His eyes are wide, unsure, and he’s biting his bottom lip like he knows that he was too quick to jump to conclusions last night.

Martyn has to stifle a laugh as he turns back to Phil just in time to watch Phil fumble with a small brown package the postman has left with him.

“Phil?” Dan asks, the first thing he’s said to Phil since he got back from his shopping spree.

Phil shuts the door, blatantly shaking with nerves, and turns to face Dan very, very slowly.

“What’s going on?” Dan asks suspiciously “What is that?” he prods. He sounds wary, but there’s no hiding the excitement, the hope in his voice. Martyn’s grinning like an idiot, but he just can’t help himself, because this is the moment he’d been waiting for. Last night, when he’d thought that Dan would joke with Phil and not mind so much that his birthday present was late, Martyn had been greedily waiting for the moment when Dan would finally get to see the huge surprise Phil had planned for him.

And now it’s finally here. Somehow, the fact that it’s coming on the tail end of this morning’s mini tantrum and petulant shopping spree only makes it all the funnier.

“I tried to tell you I got you something,” Phil replies softly, eyes soft and a little pleading as he looks at Dan. Martyn can’t stop staring between the two of them, amused beyond belief. Dan looks shocked, and almost like he feels bad about this morning as he finally stumbles out of the kitchen doorway and more properly into the lounge. Kath and Cornelia are quick to follow, with Kath looking equally as confused as Dan.

Martyn catches Cornelia’s eye and winks at her.

“It was just a little late, is all,” Phil explains shyly, worrying his bottom lip the same way he’s worrying the little brown package between his hands. “I tried really hard to make sure it came on time, but…” Phil doesn’t finish the sentiment, instead opting to shrug his shoulders a little awkwardly. He still looks a little ashamed, like the reminder of whatever fight had occured ages ago hasn’t really left his mind.

Someday, Martyn has to ask about that. Maybe after this is all said and done, and the old wound isn’t quite as sore as it seems to be right now.

“Phil…” Dan breaths, arms slack at his sides as he stares guilty at Phil. Phil just waves him off, laughing a little wetly as he starts to tear away at the packing tape holding the little box closed. Martyn can see the tears pricking at Phil’s eyes, watches as one slips away. Phil purses his lips, like he’s trying to hold himself together. Martyn can see that both their mum, and Dan are confused about Phil’s sudden bout of emotion, and it only makes the whole moment feel that much stronger to him.

Phil’s not looking at Dan anymore, clearly too focused on holding himself together to meet Dan’s gaze. “I’m sorry, Dan,” Phil chokes out, shaking his head a little bit as he continues to tear open the box. “I just wanted it to be perfect, so I… well, I figured better late than never, right?” he asks, laughing darkly at his own words.

Martyn can hear him inhale sharply in an obvious attempt to hold back any more tears, but they seem to fall anyway as Dan stumbles forwards.

“Phil, I’m really sorry,” Dan starts to say as he gets closer, but Phil shakes his head.

“No, it’s okay,” he insists, finally getting the box open and lifting his head to stare shakily at Dan. His lips are quirked at the side in a nervous smile, and his cheeks are red with the held back emotion he’s trying so hard to keep in check. “I understand,” he adds, his voice ridiculously sweet.

But Martyn can’t blame him, not as he watches his brother reach into the brown package, fumbling around for something inside. When he pulls his hand back out, it’s with a folded slip of paper that he crumples up in his hand and shoves into his pajama bottom pocket, before reaching back inside again.

This time, Martyn knows he must be closing his fingers around a small, velvet box.

The air in the room feels tense, similar to last night, and yet filled with so much more charged energy. There’s a sense of knowing pervading the room, despite the fact that neither Kath, nor Dan know with any certainty what’s coming.

But it’s coming, and Martyn can feel it, as his brother smiles another wobbly smile at Dan. Phil’s body twitches as he starts to pull the present free, but his hands are hiding what it is. Slowly, Phil begins to crouch down, the movements of his body obvious, intentional, as their family looks on.

The gasp that Dan lets out as Phil finally settles down onto one knee is loud in the sudden quiet of the room.

“Dan?” Phil asks, staring up at him with wide, wet eyes. His hands shake as he finally reveals what he’s been planning for weeks to give to Dan. Martyn can see him fumbling with the top of the little black box in his attempts to get it open, but eventually he does.

“Oh god,” Dan gasps, reaching up to cover his mouth with his hands. He doesn’t seem to be concerned with how badly Phil is shaking. He looks far too stunned, almost disbelieving of what’s happening to much care about anything except what Phil’s about to do.

It only takes a moment for the tears to fall. Martyn watches as the tears cascade down his face in a surprised torrent of emotions. Dan doesn’t look like he can hold himself up much longer as he stumbles forward, stumbles closer to Phil until they’re mere meters apart.

Phil’s grinning up at Dan, seemingly giddy with relief that the ring is finally here, that he’s finally doing this, that it’s almost over. He doesn’t even look nervous that Dan’s going to say no. He just looks happy, and it blows Martyn away how someone can be so confident in their love for someone else, in that person’s love for them.

“Sorry it’s a little late,” Phil says, his voice stuttery and low. Dan collapses onto his knees in front of him, hands still covering his mouth, eyes scrunched up as he continues to cry. Phil just kind of laughs, and Martyn watches as he ducks his head a little sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to make you cry on your birthday,” he murmurs, voice so soft Martyn almost doesn’t hear it.

Dan chokes on a laugh that almost sounds like a little sob.

“Dan… you’re my best friend. You have been for a really long time,” Phil says, choking on his own swell of emotion. Martyn can see him holding back his tears. “And I know you know that. I know you know that I love you, too. But that doesn’t make it any less worth saying.”

Dan laughs again, and he looks almost like he’s proper sobbing now. His chest is heaving with the force of his emotion as his face scrunches up, and he stares at Phil, watching, waiting.

“I love you,” Phil says for good measure, laughing himself. The sound comes out stuttery, and Martyn isn’t sure if it’s the nerves, or the desire to cry, but either way, it makes Martyn a little weepy as well.

He glances over at Cornelia, and wonders for a moment if maybe, just maybe, Cornelia wants this as well, because the moment is just so beautiful and sweet it makes marriage almost feel like a thing.

Cornelia looks absolutely delighted, but she doesn’t look jealous or particularly interested in participating in such an event herself. It settles Martyn, to know they’re always on the same page, and he smiles as he turns back to his little brother.

“Daniel Howell,” Phil finally says, “I’m tired of just being your boyfriend, so… will you marry me?” Phil’s voice does something strange as he says the words, lilting highly, until he sounds just as unsure and nervous as he probably should, but it’s okay.

It’s okay because it only seems to make the moment seem even more real as Dan quite suddenly throws himself into Phil’s arms, knocking his boyfriend a little off center. Martyn can see him nodding his head eagerly into the crook of Phil’s neck as Phil’s arms move to wrap around him, can almost hear the whispered yes yes yes pressed against Phil’s skin, and feels his own tears start to fall.

He can’t help it, not when he can see just how happy Phil is, not after all the stress of the last 12 hours, not with a moment this monumental.

Marriage might not feel like a lot to Martyn, but he knows it's a lot to Phil, and apparently Dan as well, and it’s impossible not to be overcome with the emotions of the moment.

Sniffling, Martyn reaches up and swipes his tears away as Cornelia joins him on the sofa, tearing up as well. She’s laughing, the sound loud and boisterous in the room. It’s almost infectious, and Martyn hears Phil start to laugh as well.

From the kitchen doorway, Martyn can hear his mum quietly weeping, and his eyes dart over to look at her. She’s smiling despite the tears, and it’s enough to make Martyn smiles as well. When he looks back, Phil is rocking Dan in his arms, laughing giddly into the top of dark, messy curls. Dan’s grasping so tight to Phil, it looks like he’s never going to let go, not even long enough to get the actual ring on his finger.

In fact, for as much trouble as the silly thing is, it’s currently laying discarded on the floor at Phil’s feet, not quite forgotten, but by no means the most important thing right now.

**

It seems to take ages, but eventually Phil is able to pull himself and Dan together enough to get them up off the floor, and relocated on the sofa. Phil’s holding the little black velvet box again, and he slides the ring free as soon as he’s seated in front of Dan so he can slide it onto Dan’s ring finger.

Dan’s face is tear streaked, and he’s staring at the dark ring in complete awe. The moment it rests against his ring finger, he reaches up to stroke gentle fingers over the black stones embedded in it.

“It’s David Yurman,” Phil explains softly, affectionately. “Cause you’d mentioned before that you liked him, and I figured… well, you are kind of particular, Dan,” Phil teases, giggling a little when Dan sends him a mock offended look.

“Shut up,” he complains, but he’s smiling anyway, clearly used to Phil making fun of his affection for labels and brand names. He doesn’t once look up from the ring as he rolls it over his finger, taking in every last detail with greedy eyes. It’s obvious that he adores it, and Martyn’s suddenly proud of his brother because he really had picked out the perfect ring. That stubborn determination in the David Yurman store no longer feels quite so annoying.

“Wait,” Dan suddenly says after a moment, finally looking up from his ring. His brows are furrowed as he looks up at Phil. “What about you? Where’s your ring?” he asks, clearly confused.

The question surprises Martyn. Phil hadn’t once said anything about getting himself a ring. He’d been entirely focused on finding the perfect one for Dan, and it hadn’t seemed the least bit strange to Martyn in the moment. Wasn’t it like a thing where the person who proposed didn’t wear a ring?

Now that Martyn was thinking about it, it sounded kind of ridiculous.

“Oh!” Phil replies, sounding as if he’s just remembered something. “I don’t have one,” he admits sheepishly. He opens his mouth to continue, probably to explain, but Dan cuts him off before he can.

“Phiiil,” Dan whines, sounding entirely put out and almost offended. “That’s not fair. I want to see a ring on that finger as well,” he complains, lips puckered up in annoyance as he points aggressively towards Phil’s currently undecorated hand. “It doesn’t feel much like an engagement if only one of us is wearing the ring.”

Dan’s pouting, and he’s crossed his arms over his chest defensively as he stares at Phil. The entire image it makes is ridiculously cheesy, and the fact that Phil is smiling fondly at Dan makes it almost sickeningly so.

Martyn makes an undisguised gagging noise that goes ignored by the two boys.

“Come on Dan,” Phil says softly, reaching forward and gently prying Dan’s arms apart. It takes a little bit of struggling, but eventually Phil manages to take Dan’s left hand in his. He’s still smiling like a completely enamoured idiot. “Who said I’m not going to wear a ring, too?” he teases, squeezing Dan’s fingers in his.

Dan’s pout only seems to grow heavier. Martyn imagines Phil finds it absolutely adorable, but Martyn just finds it entirely ridiculous, and rolls his eyes despite the fact that he’s still smiling.

“I thought maybe when we get home, you could pick one out for me.” The words are said so soft, and low that Martyn almost misses them, but Dan doesn’t. His jaw drops open in surprise, and his cheeks seem to burn a dark red as the information hits him. The way his lips curl at the corner is enough to tell Martyn just how much Dan is living for the sentiment.

Shit. Martyn really has to give it to his brother. He really knows how Dan works. Chuckling in shock, Martyn can do nothing but watch as Dan’s expression turns to literal mush, it’s so sappingly sweet.

“As soon as we get home,” Dan agrees wholeheartedly.

Before Martyn is even fully prepared for it, Dan leans forward and presses his lips wetly to Phil’s, the force of his touch nearly knocking Phil over - which would have been unfortunate, considering Martyn and them are currently sharing the same sofa and Martyn really doesn’t need a lap full of his brother and his fiance making out.

Phil manages to catch himself, laughing into the kiss, one hand falling to the back of the sofa to keep him upright, and the other curling against the side of Dan’s face.

It would have continued to be cute if Dan hadn’t threaded his fingers through Phil’s hair and dragged his face so close that the image becomes almost pornographic. Martyn can’t help it when he says, “Get a room!” almost teasingly.

Phil doesn’t so much as bother to pull away from Dan when he picks up a pillow and tosses it backward at Martyn.

It misses, but Martyn’s not really all that surprised. Phil has always had terrible aim. Except, it seems, with Dan.