When he finally realizes it, he's already not alone, and it's too late.
Dan was taking forever, and Phil is cold. He's rubbing his hands together, wishing he had some mittens on. But he left the last pair on the bus yesterday, as he does, so no warmth for him.
When Dan arrives, he's having none of Phil's complaints. He's brisk and serious, a bit sullen even; he's obviously mad at himself for being late, but he's one of those people who mostly can't take criticism when it's actually relevant, being too absorbed in their own quilt and trying not to show it at the same time. And usually Phil hates this kind of attitude, for him, it's so easy to just genuinely say sorry and move on. But with him, with Dan. Well.
So he realizes what exact kind of trouble is on at the same moment he realizes he's not mad. And then he's gone from slightly annoyed to terrified in two seconds flat.
Dan's fucking four years younger than Phil. Four years. Phil's finishing college, this kid had just got his SAT scores, like, six months ago, for God's sake. It should be simple.
But with Dan, it's never simple.
Phil is not good with relationships, no, he sucks at dating. He's always taking the upper hand and at the same time does not feel good about it. His confidence is half fake. But it's not that he wants to submit to someone or anything weird like that.
But with Dan, it's never like it is with Charlie, Dan is always in his own world, so, so different from what Phil's used to with people he cares about. Dan can be mean even. He wouldn't reply to texts sometimes, he would disappear for days, he would always be late, while Charlie - who technically is sort of Phil's boyfriend - would go out of his way to be pleasant, and cool, and funny, to find all the time in the world for Phil and, most importantly, to initiate Phil to initiate something.
And Phil does initiate things, acts cool and grown-up, like he knows what he's doing. Can't be any other way with Charlie. He's older, he's presumably more experienced, he will not let some kid boss him around. So he does all the planning, takes all the initiative. Maybe he doesn't feel particularly excited half the time, but life's so, right? That's what you do with a boyfriend, right? And it's ironic, considering.
Considering that Phil never actually even slept with Charlie.
Or with anyone ever, to be exact. Not that Charlie knows that.
How healthy of a relationship, huh.
Whilst Dan. Dan. Dan would say "I want to go there and do this", and Phil will simply agree. Not because he feels pressured, but because when he's with him... when he's with Dan, well. He doesn't want to think cheesy, words like "adventure" make even him cringe, and God, what would Dan say if he heard.
But he feels like he's part of something exciting, like he is exactly where he wants to be, should be, and there is no plan that he has to forcefully create, because he's already in for something great that hasn't been planned by anybody, it just exists. It's Dan, all Dan, Dan's world, Dan's freaking eyes, his wit, the way he inserts himself into reality and is so present, so vibrant, so alive.
He probably doesn't know it himself. No, Dan knows he's attractive alright. But he doesn't know what kind of influence he can have just by being near. On people. On Phil.
God damn it, thinks Phil, and his nails dig into his cold palms, and he feels like throwing up.
Dan's fucking four years younger than Phil, but it doesn't matter one bit, because that's not the problem.
Problem is, there is no way. There is just no way. And it's already too late, Phil tries to squeeze the feeling in his mind away from existence, make his brain numb, make his stomach stop aching, think of anything else, anything.
It's not like it's working.
But they have to get going anyway.
They walk fast, scarves suffocating, hats too low on their eyes, hands firmly in pockets. God damn British winter. But when the wind finally throws them underground, and it turns out the tube is crammed, their air bubbles are broken, and they're pressed against each other, that's when Phil can't breathe.
He tries to count seconds in his head and fails. He can't remember the last time he actually wanted something so badly. It's insane.
If there ever was such time at all, in his whole life.
"Probably not", he thinks, and he can't tear his eyes away from the sliver of skin in front of him. He has to look up. Dan is freaking tall.
Dan gets out his phone. He's smashing colorful digital stuff, he's not even looking anywhere else, and Phil's nose is almost in his neck. He can almost smell it. He knows he can't touch.
The pain is, no other words to put it, physical.
They get out of the tube and he takes a couple of steps to the left, parts their parallel paths without slowing down, inhales, exhales. He's not fifteen, he shouldn't suddenly go crazy like this, it's bizarre. Maybe it's just hormones. Maybe he should get laid, har, har. Maybe he should call Charlie.
But the fingertips resting on his phone in his pocket remain lifeless.
There are so many different people on this meet-up. People he's been watching on screen for years now. People who came here just to see him. People who might be potentially important to get to know.
He feels like he's underwater. He doesn't know how much time passes until a hand touches his shoulder.
"You wanna get something to eat?" asks Dan.
It doesn't take even a second to think.
The fresh air does not seem cold this time. They've been too hot for too long, and the lungs welcome the oxygen, tolerant to any temperature at this point.
Dan says he saw a sandwich place around the corner. He nods, but they don't move, just look around for a moment.
It's gone really quiet, actually.
"It's been snowing", Phil says. Dan doesn't point out that he's stating the obvious, which is weird for Dan. Phil sneaks a glance in his direction, but he's already moving, skipping forward like a ten-year-old. He's in his furry hat, his pants are too long for him, his jacket is askew and overall he looks awful.
Phil loves him so much he can't move, just stays there, glued to the spot.
This morning he didn't even know. Like, seven hours ago - he didn't yet know.
It's completely hopeless, that's what it is. And it hurts, like with every breath he's breathing in something painful instead of air. He can feel every strain of his lungs. He wished he could drop his passive bossy attitude and finally like someone - really like someone - for such a long time. Little did he know, that it literally hurts like someone's carving stuff inside his body with something particularly sharp.
But Dan shouts, "Come on!" and he can't not follow. They cross the road, moving away from the hotel, the aforementioned sandwich place long forgotten. There's a small park area on the other side of the street. The ground looks soft and completely white. Dan drops right onto the snow, lays on his back, spreads his arms, then pulls the left one back to his body, like he's expecting something to land near him, makes spot for it. He's playful. Phil can't watch and can't stop watching him at the same time.
It's insane, how pretty he is, sometimes.
He just stands there for a second. Then sits down awkwardly. There's definitely snow seeping through his jeans.
Dan looks at him from the ground, he's gone serious for some reason, but doesn't say anything. The silence should be awful, uncomfortable, but the trees are murmuring around them and Phil is quite ready to sit here forever, wet bum and everything.
"What do you see in that twink", asked Charlie angrily a couple nights back. They were all buddies at first, and then Charlie didn't want them to hang out together all of a sudden. Phil kind of understands, now. Although Charlie's got one thing wrong.
Dan's got those breath taking eyes and he's thin as a pole, but he's no twink.
And Phil's known that for a long time, but it's too late now, too late.
Because Dan's up in Phil's face all of a sudden, he's probably sat up abruptly, Phil doesn't know anything at this point. He has a second to stare at him in extra close-up like a moron, silenced by the intensity of the look in Dan's eyes, and then Dan's hand is in his hair and Dan's lips are on his own, and that thing hammering in his chest - it can't be humanly possible, can it?..
Phil makes a private video for a Valentine's day while Dan's in India, and sends it to him.
It's very sweet.
It contains all the things it shouldn't have.
Seven months later, a youtube glitch allows everyone to see it.
He has to sit through the complete horror of someone telling them how they should go on about their personal life.
Lauren is not even mean, she's just very straight-forward. And official. The youtube sign on the wall stares at them menacingly, and the table is very white.
"Are you actually - in a relationship", she asks, and Phil can see that she is not interested in the answer either way.
He literally can't get any words out of his mouth.
"How important is the answer", asks Dan quietly. Phil was expecting aggression. But Dan seems small all of a sudden, out of place.
"We're not sending you to jail, guys," she attempts a more friendly tone, which is somehow only worse. "But you know how this stuff goes. Gotta work out the details, how things will be from now on."
"There was nothing in the contract", words burst out of his mouth before he can process the thought himself, "Nothing. There are tons of..."
Gay youtubers, he was going to say.
Dan is not even gay.
And they're in Britain, not States. There's a ton of gay youtubers in America, that's true - although even there not everyone's okay with coming out. Especially not with being outed.
Not the way they were, anyway. Nothing beats that. There's literally nothing more horrible that could have happened. Phil would prefer his naked ass pictures leaked out, but not this. Not this. Even a sex tape would have been better.
"Can I wake up from this", was his first thought, back then.
Now it's just a dull throb in his chest.
Anyway he would never say anything like this out loud, not here. So he shuts his mouth tight.
He looks at Dan, but Dan is not looking back. He is concentrating very hard, trying to calculate something, Phil knows the face.
"Fucking turn your head", thinks Phil. "Look at me".
"We can give you a trial period", offers Lauren. "See what the audience will think".
"We also have an appointment with BBC people today", says Dan, like he didn't hear.
Phil closes his eyes.
"Do you mind if I bring someone?"
Phil is playing a video game and trying to shake off the feeling of being filmed at the same time. He wonders if all gaming youtubers are like that. If Felix or Mark still enjoy playing anything by themselves, off camera. If they have time to.
"What do you mean", he answers absently. His character jumps over a huge cliff and manages to stay alive.
"Um, I mean, home. In the evening. A girl".
"Like, for..." he trails off, then takes a moment to process. "Yeah, sure".
They haven't slept together in a year. They haven't had a proper conversation on the subject for much longer. They didn't break up - didn't need to. Everything was obvious anyway.
They meet people, sometimes, Phil knows for sure that Dan does. He doesn't know how far it goes. They have a silent agreement on the terms of friendship. Not to ask each other too many personal questions. Not to torture each other with unwanted memories. And not to read comments in the comment section. Because that, surprisingly, still hurts.
That's how Phil sees that treaty.
Phil himself had gone on a few dates, even tried going out with a girl once, but that ended quickly. All the money in the world wouldn't make him do it again, swim in awkwardness.
He stopped a while ago, because there's just no point. It's exactly like it was in the pre-Dan era. He's doing something, saying something, touching something and he has no idea why he's doing it. So why do it at all, then. It's not fair to the other person, either. And Phil does not like hurting people.
Maybe he's a bit on the asexual side. It didn't seem like it two years ago, though.
It's probably sad, that's what it is, but he's got his excuses straight. Lots of work, he's doing a lot of editing, they have the radio thing and the interviewing things, and maybe it's just not the right time for new relationships of any kind.
He still has dreams though. In his dreams, of course, who could have thought, none of what happened had happened. Sometimes they're in that tube, in that winter, and Dan is crushing candy on his phone again, and this time Phil does press his nose into the sliver of skin behind his ear, and Dan does not freak out like he would in reality, because his neck is supposedly too sensitive. No, Dan turns to him, and it's suddenly Dan's arms and lips everywhere, overwhelming, hot like a furnace, so close, so close, fingers slipping under his shirt, burning him. And nothing else matters.
He hates mornings after dreams like that.
"I'll be out of your hair, man. Don't worry".
"No, it's..." Dan seems embarrassed for some reason. Phil is not sorry, though. "You can..."
Phil's character dies in a fire. He does not want to snap. He won't.
"There's only one thin wall between us, Dan. I can hear you breathing most of the time when you're in there. I can hear you pee. There's no way..."
"Shut up. Yeah, okay. Just tell me if it's..."
"It's fine. Seriously".
Dan leaves the room slowly, scratching the back of his head, and Phil has a nagging feeling that maybe he was expecting some other kind of reaction.
But he leaves it at that.
You rarely notice how you change over the years, sometimes the only way to monitor the progression is through ancient pictures and old friends' surprised faces, when they see you for the first time in a long while. Normally they would compliment you. Say something nice.
"Dan's different now, isn't he", said Sarah, and that's definitely not what Phil wanted to learn about changes in his life. They were sitting in a cafe not too far from home, just the two of them, and Phil was glad for a break. Hasn't seen Sarah for over a year, talked to her through Skype once or twice, but that's it. Dan never knew Sarah very well, and he was busy editing anyway, so Phil took a chance to explore the world outside the usual, the one where Dan was not the center of the freaking universe. Where he wasn't even relevant.
So much for that.
"Girls on the internet say they wish he'd get his old fringe back."
"He's so grown-up though, now, right? So confident. Nothing left from that awkward teen. Seems like he knows now who he is. What he's doing with life".
"Although honestly, he did seem more... happy. Before. You know?"
"What am I even doing here."
"Are you still in love with him?"
Dan never asked anything about bringing home girls before. He did go on dates sometimes, and he didn't always come back for the night. But why the heck would he ask Phil something like this, now?
Maybe it's just a natural progression of things.
Maybe that's how roommates are, normally. Joe and Caspar probably do it all the time. Joe asking Caspar to stay out a bit later some evenings, or Caspar informing Joe his girlfriend is spending the night on the weekends. Not weird at all.
Although Joe and Caspar have never slept together, now have they.
Come to think of it, he has no idea. It's not like he keeps in touch with them. He was a pretty social person before Dan came into his life. Not extremely social, but there were friends and events and parties - mostly lame board game ones, but he likes these, sue him - and college stuff.
With Dan, it was like nothing could beat simply staying at home. Going out together. Returning home after that again. Just freaking lying together on the bed browsing tumblr. Maybe this mutual procrastination didn't do them much good, but it was hard to care at the time.
He just didn't need anyone else. That's how they lost Chris and PJ, and couple others, and he's sorry for that now, he truly is. There's only a handful of unreplied messages any friend can tolerate.
But that's not exactly what he's missing the most now.
"Are you still..."
Phil sits on the sofa all day, holding a controller in his hand, staring into nothing.
He promised to leave at ten. Should go visit someone. Probably will end up in the nearest Starbucks, though. The sofas there are not very comfortable, but couple hours shouldn't be too bad? Three hours? Four? How much time is it appropriate for...
Dan comes home at fifteen to ten. The door bangs on the wall, loudly. He doesn't take his shoes off, which Phil hates, storms right into the living room, stands in front of him, blocking the TV. There was nothing there, anyway.
"What's wrong with you", he hisses. Phil looks at him. He feels so tired. He wants to curl under a blanket and sleep. Preferably for a week.
Dan seems ready to start blasting fire any second now, all nicknames aside. There are literally flames in his eyes. He might burn right through him, leave a hole in the fabric.
He used to worry where his hair are, how his shirt is, when Dan looked at him so intensely. Or just looked at him, period. He wonders when that has stopped. He wonders if Dan cares at all, if he ever did. He wonders many things.
"What do you want from me?", he asks, finally. He thinks he sounds sincere. He doesn't know if he is.
Dan leans over, grabs his collar. It's an uncomfortable feeling. He wanted to avoid any uncomfortableness. That was his wish for the evening, not too much to ask, right? My roommate's getting sexy times - and I am not awkward about it. We're cool, man. We're cool.
But there's something in the air that makes Phil's throat close up. Wake up, his mind says. Dan is here, and there is no girl in sight.
Two years ago he wished his fake confidence away. Slid into a milder, softer personality, which suited him better, felt more real. Now he wishes he would have it all back. If just for a minute.
But Dan would see right through it, anyway.
Dan's eyes frantically search his face.
"I want", he mumbles. Leans closer.
Whatever it is, it's a disaster, that's what it is. But Phil can't move away.
"Are you actually in a relationship?"
"Are you still in love with him?"
"Is that an important question?"
Phil closes his eyes.