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On Second Thought (Perhaps We Were Both Wrong)

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I.

 

 

Dan Howell is fourteen, and he has just started keeping a diary.

It's a black little notebook, and in it are his most secret thoughts, poured out on the pages in a messy, hurried handwriting. Somehow, just having it is therapeutic. It's a relief to have someone to talk to, even if the bearer of his secrets is a pen and some paper.

He writes about regular things and about the meaning of life. About school and about his parents and the movies he's seen; about his purpose in the world and whether he will ever be proud of himself for anything other than just getting out of bed in the morning.

 

In moments of quiet contemplation, he recalls days when he didn't ponder things quite as much. He didn't need a diary; he lived life day to day, on his own but not quite so alone. It wasn't all that long ago, yet to him, it feels like a whole different century.

 

Dan is fourteen, but he has a lot on his mind. Not one word of it ever escapes his lips.

It's not like anybody would care to listen.

 

 

~~~~~

 

 

Dan is eighteen, and he now lives on his own.

In his younger years, he used to think that being away from home, living without your parents, was the ultimate indicator of being an adult. Now, he is not quite so sure. At just eighteen, nobody perceives him as such.

Proper adults, older people, people his age. Often he'll feel like they're all looking down on him.

Perhaps they are. Why wouldn't they?

He doesn't have a whole lot of things figured out, to be honest, and that seems to be the main thing, at least if he goes by what his parents always told him. He needs to have a plan, and one he will go through with, and a lot of friends to support him along the way.

 

Fuck that. Dan doesn't want to see anyone. He's seen enough people in the past few months.

 

The person he's seen the most of since moving to London, aside from his old friend Louise, is likely the woman down at the reception of his dorm. She certainly doesn't take him serious. When he's asked her to have the room to himself for the rest of the year right at the beginning of his stay, she went all of course dear and basically told him to fuck off right back to where he came from.

Well. Not literally. But Dan's not stupid, and he knows that's what she meant. People are transparent. They'll use their mouth to lie to your face and then give it all away with their eyes.

 

He knows that all too well.

So many times before, he was told that he was loved, but the words never quite reached the point of being believable.

 

-

 

He is going to start his law course tomorrow, and he absolutely hates the very idea of it. It might be more poetic to describe his emotions using longer, beautiful sentences, but Dan figures that one word will suffice. It truly sums it up rather well.

He doesn't want to be a lawyer. What on earth even was his idea when moving to London?

Well, he knows what the idea was. To get away from home. Besides, his Uncle Jack is a lawyer, and he's rather well off, and they say money doesn't buy happiness, but we all know that's bullshit. In short, it seemed as good an option as any.

Perhaps it really wasn't.

 

Aside from the first day of Uni, there's one more thing for him to consider, and it may be even more dreadful. His living situation.

Dan figures that, if he is going to get a roommate, they'll likely be moving in today. He briefly ponders moving the wardrobe so that it blocks the door, but he knows that'd just get him in trouble, and he can't be bothered to do it. Instead, he opts to lie on the bed with his headphones on, planning to stay that way for as long as it takes.

Pretending nothing is wrong is also as good an option as any; Dan's personal favourite.

 

-

 

Try as he may, he can't tune out the incessant noise taking place in the corridor outside his room.

It's like bang, bang, bang, hi I'm Jackie, Jessica, Rob, James, bang, bang, bang.

The introductions are not unexpected, but the banging sure is. It also seems to be growing in volume as time goes on, until it sounds as if it's right outside his very door.

Dan's patience is nothing to write home about at the best of times, and he's been on edge the whole day. After thirty seconds of trying to ignore it, he bounces off the bed, tearing his headphones out, and stomps towards the door.

When he opens it with no warning, he almost ends up with a hammer to the face. He takes a step back, briefly intercepting the angry look in his eyes, but he regains his composure quickly enough.

 

Before him stands a very average Joe, a guy that's been seen cleaning the bathrooms and unclogging the sink and such. He's almost bald and has a minimum of three chins. Dan doesn't know his actual name.

He yells, because it always works, people don't expect it, not when you've never spoken a word to them before. "What are you even doing?"

It works. The man, thirty years his senior, shrinks back immediately.

"I'm putting this up!" Bob or Mark or whatever his name is replies hurriedly, pointing to a sign that now hangs on Dan's door. He's not asked for a sign. He doesn't want a bloody sign. Of course, it's easy to figure out what the sign is there for, and that only makes Dan all the more bitter.

 

The sign reads:

Daniel Howell, Year 1

Philip Lester, Year 3

 

Philip Lester sounds kind of lame, but it does have a ring to it; either way, Philip could be the nicest person in the world, Dan still wants nothing to do with him. Not for the first time, he tries to think of ways to live alone on his current income, but in London it's next to impossible.

But a year 3? Apparently the sign guy not only fails at not making a whole lot of noise, he also fails at putting up the right things on them bloody signs. He can't be sharing with a year 3. As far as he knows, people are usually paired with students of the same age.

 

"So you've gone and made all this noise just to put up the wrong sign?" Dan accuses, pointing to the thing.

Sign Guy, having regained his lost composure as well as clearly having remembered that Dan is just a teenager, replies in a strong accent, "It's what I was given! If something is wrong you're gonna have to speak to Eleanor down at the reception. But if yer gonna be acting like a right proper bastard then too, she's not going to help you, lad."

For a moment there, Dan is torn. A part of him wants to apologize for being rude and just overall unpleasant, but that part's gotten burnt far too many times. These days, if people are involved, Dan tends to balance just on the wrong side of impolite.

"Are you done, then?"

"I bloody well am," Sign Guy says, his red face all scrunched up and wrinkled in anger. "Fecking teens these days!"

Dan goes to slam the door in his face, but Sign Guy has already stormed off, so Dan's little performance goes by rather unnoticed.

 

It's all because of this Philip Lester guy, really. The man putting up the sign is hardly at fault. He just doesn't want to share with anyone at all and that's that.

 

A few hours pass and Dan begins to entertain the hope that maybe, just maybe, this Philip Lester person changed his mind about moving in. Maybe he's got lost on the way, or decided to quit Uni and move to the country, or maybe he won the lottery and doesn't need to live in this shitty building. But no, the moment the thoughts form in his mind, he begins to hear some noise outside his door yet again.

He sighs, bracing himself for the worst, but nothing happens for two, three long minutes.

What's taking him so long? What is he waiting for?

At last, he loses his patience and calls out, "Come in already, will you? I can hear you shuffling out the door."

After a moment of what he likes to think must be stunned silence, he hears a timid voice reply, "Er, right, yes!"

And then, the guy steps in, followed by what looks like a very heavy suitcase. Dan himself had brought next to nothing with him when he moved in, while Philip Lester seems prepared enough for the two of them.

Dan steals a glance in his direction; curiosity gets the best of him at times. Philip is tall, probably taller than Dan is, and that alone is an offense of sorts. His hair is dark, his complexion pale, and that's enough discreet staring for Dan; time to go back to Tumblr and pretend he's still alone in the room. He's not going to give Philip any ideas of the two of them becoming friends.

Philip breaks the silence far too quickly for Dan's standards, with a very generic greeting, spoken in a friendly, approachable tone of voice.

"Hey! You're Daniel, right? Nice to meet you, I'm--"

Daniel.

 

Daniel, if this is true, I'm completely disgusted. I'm speechless, appalled. I've raised you better than that!

 

"I'm not Daniel," through the haze of memories, he manages to interrupt. "I'm Dan."

"Dan Howell, yeah?"

Dan resists the urge to roll his eyes.

"Last time I checked, yeah."

"Right. I'm Phil Lester. I'm on my third year, hope that's alright."

He says he's Phil the same way Dan says he's not Daniel. He doesn't want that to be comforting, but stupidly enough, it is.

Philip, or Phil, whichever, then proceeds to try and make conversation and offer him things that Dan promptly turns down.

Dan steals little glances at his new roommate, but only when knowing that he won't be caught. Thanks to this, he finds that the guy's got a strange taste in clothing, his socks don't match, and when he sits down on the bed, he looks as though he is sitting on something made of knives.

 

Dan doesn't care when Philip leaves, and he doesn't care when he comes back, trying to be friendly again. He briefly wonders which part of the I-don't-want-to-talk-to-you memo his flatmate didn't get.

 

His mind is preoccupied with the difficult months ahead. It's going to suck. Even so, thinking of that is somehow more pleasant than thinking of the past.

He'll be busy during this first term. He's got work, almost each and every single day, and that just might be the one thing he despises more than the mere idea of having to go to class. Sitting there for hours on end feeds on his very soul, but someone's gotta pay for Uni, the dorms and the occasional bag of crisps.

 

He turns down the bag of sweets that he's offered, along with every attempt at conversation, until Philip Lester gives in and goes to sleep. Dan remains in that same position, on the bed, on his laptop, determined not to spare another look in Phil's direction.

He doesn't need friends; the sooner Phil gets that, the better. Dan just wants to make it through the day. It's been his sole goal for far too long now.

 

 

~~~~~

 

 

II.

 

 

Dan is fifteen, and he's officially done with his fucking diary.

He's done being asked if he doesn't have any homework to do instead. He's done hiding it whenever he leaves the house. He's done re-reading the pages and trying to make sense of their content; nothing ever seems to make sense, despite the fact that he is the author of the scribbles that fill the lines.

He's done with not saying everything, censoring his own thoughts, because what plagues him is far too private to ever be put into writing.

He throws the battered notebook into the fireplace one day when his family isn't home, but the questions in his mind never cease to linger.

 

 

~~~~~

 

 

It's quite late into the night when Dan decides that it doesn't hurt to look at Phil's side of the room. The guy's clearly asleep. Dan hears actual snoring.

Nobody's told him he'd need earplugs for living in a dormitory.

 

Phil sleeps on his side, back turned towards Dan, so not much can be seen. In all fairness, all the better. It's rather creepy to stare at people that are asleep.

The light's are off, upon Phil's request. Dan hates sleeping in the dark, it makes him feel unsafe. But he's got his laptop, and he was too tired to argue. He'll make do tonight.

He doesn't actually intend to sleep. Four more hours until it's time to get up.

 

Dan thinks of the impression he must have left so far. Certainly not a good one, but does he care?

Somewhat, maybe. But he's sticking with the plan. Don't form attachments, don't let people see you, it never ends well.

Despite this, Phil seems friendly enough, if somewhat too talkative. Dan supposes he could've ended up with someone far worse, but it's too early to say.

His eyes flit towards his desk, where Phil had left him a bag of Maltesers. It was all he could do not to snort when, on some happy accident, the guy had managed to bring him a bag of his favourite sweets.

Of course, he turned them down, but now...

He springs out of bed, grabs the bag, goes right back in. He opens it, careless as to the noise he's causing, and begins to eat.

It's a nice gesture, but Dan is not one to be bought with bribes. What could Phil possibly hope to achieve by this?

 

Dan closes Tumblr, tired of seeing the same old posts over and over. Before he knows it, he's opening up a new tab.

Philip Lester, he types in, knowing that he'll likely get a million results.  But look at that, the face of his flatmate, albeit with a far more emo haircut, is the first thing to come up. On a YouTube video, no less.

Surprised, he plugs in his headphones and begins to watch, because why the fuck not, he's got four hours to kill, and hey, he certainly won't be talking to Phil, so he might as well check this out to make sure he won't be living with a psycho.

 

Two minutes later, he's smiling at the screen, momentarily forgetting that he was supposed to be disinterested. It's as good a distraction as any other, and it's easy enough to feel detached.

He doesn't know Philip Lester, but AmazingPhil seems rather harmless, and Dan could use some of that in his mistake of a life.

 

-

 

It's just after six when Dan gets dressed and leaves the room. He's got to stop by work for a few hours before the whole opening ceremony crap begins.

But first, he leaves Phil a note; a few scribbles on a paper torn out from one of his new textbooks.

 

thanks

if they were poisoned, burn my laptop

 

It's a joke, mostly. He turned down the sweets earlier, justifying it with a they might be poisoned. He doubts that Phil will get it, though.

He regrets leaving the note the moment he steps out the door. He was supposed to avoid giving Phil the wrong impression, not to encourage him.

 

Despite that, he doesn't come back to toss it, telling himself that it doesn't matter and he's too lazy and --

And he's making excuses, but somehow, he can't bring himself to care. For the first time in months, he's intrigued.

He'll deny himself a lot of things, but he won't deny himself that.

Chapter Text

Dan has known Phil Lester for all of four days now.

He is just about to start the next video when his manager, a bald, short, disillusioned man called Bertie, finds him in the broom closet.

"Dan, what on earth are you up to? You're on cleaning duty today! A customer got sick down at aisle 4!"

Dan rolls his eyes, looking away from his phone.

"I'm on my break."

"You've had your break an hour ago."

"I needed another one," he dismisses then drags himself off the floor with an audible sigh.

"If you do this one more time, you're fired," Bertie schools him.

Do what? Go on break? he wants to ask, but he doesn't.

Dan shrugs once he is out of the man's view. They've already fired him twice, and yet they always ask him back within a couple days. Hiring is difficult when the wages are so low and the job is so terrible.

 

Once he is done with aisle 4 - and by the way, fuck you, random customer - he figures he deserves another break. The broom closet is no longer safe today, so he goes to the storage and sits on the floor, hiding behind some boxes.

Something tells him that he won't be getting employee of the month, but he can't bring himself to care.

It's not that hard to find a job when you've got standards as low as Dan's. He only wishes he could find one that pays better. The long shifts are killing him. Most days, aside from work and classes, he gets next to no time for anything he even remotely enjoys.

Some days, the only pleasant moments in his days are spent on the tube, when he watches Phil's videos on his phone.

The guy's got quite an imagination. Some might call him weird; to Dan, he is hilarious. At the same time, he finds there is a huge disconnect between the person he sees on screen and the person he lives with. He feels like he knows AmazingPhil quite well, but he doesn't know Phil at all.

Dan stands firmly by the decision that he doesn't want to know Phil. He didn't come to London to form friendships; he came here to make it through uni and be away from home.

 

Phil is pretty fun to watch; his antics let Dan forget about some of his woes. Dan does watch a bunch of YouTubers, but he's never acquainted himself with Phil's work before. The past few days, he's been catching up.

At this rate, he will run out of videos to watch in no time, while still not speaking to the actual person that he shares a room with.

 

With a shrug, he starts another one. No one goes into the storage at this hour, he should be fine.

Two hours left until his shift is over.

 

-

 

He drags himself to the dorms, each step feeling like a climb up Mt. Everest. Dan was never big on physical activity; now, more than ever, he thinks that he should have been.

Add that to the list of things he's useless at.

 

When Dan steps inside the room, he finds Phil (not Philip, he's been told) sat on his own bed, doing something on his laptop. He makes sure not to give him the impression that he'd like to chat or anything of the sort. It would only be all the more awkward, now that Dan's seen a bunch of Phil's videos and has this stupid feeling that he knows Phil. Which, of course, he so very obviously doesn't.

 

Despite Dan's attempts, they end up having a brief conversation about something weird (how Dan looks like a starfish and Phil looks like Pete Wentz), which is quickly interrupted by the arrival of Phil's friend PJ.

PJ has curly hair, close to what Dan would have if not for his permanent love affair with a pair of straighteners, big eyes and a friendly face that Dan spends very little time studying. Soon, both the friends take off to the library, and he's left with the option to either watch more YouTube or go through his notes.

Instead, he lies back down on the bed, enjoying the moment of silence and freedom. He shuts his eyes, but then, his mind wanders.

Dan always makes sure not to close his eyes before he is certain to fall asleep almost instantly.

 

Phil seemed really happy to see PJ. Dan is good at reading people, and the relief in the eyes of his roommate was impossible not to spot. It's only right, though. Dan's done nothing to be nice to Phil after the note he left him on their first night.

Dan scoffs, because his mind is being annoying, and he wants a proper distraction. Someone to talk to, for a change.

Of course, he's only got a total of one friend, so he skips two steps at a time as he makes his way down to the fifth floor, where Louise's room is.

Lou is an old mate. He's known her since he was nine or ten years old. She's the big sister he never had, as well as a big reason as to why he chose this particular university and dorm above all the other options which are available all around Britain.

 

He knocks and waits to be invited in, then steps inside somewhat shyly, hands in the pockets of his skinny jeans.

Louise's room is far, far cozier than his own, and she's only lived there for a week as of this term. She has nice curtains and sheets and everything is pink and white and homely and pleasant. Also, it's not messy, in contrast to the room he shares with Phil.

"Dan! You didn't say you'd pop in!" Louise exclaims, instantly pulling him in for a hug.

It's comforting and everything he didn't know he needed at the time.

"Wasn't really planning on it," he admits, making himself at home and sitting down on her bed. Louise is one of the lucky ones that have a single room, thus no roommate to get in the way of her life. "Spur of the moment thing."

"Those are the best. You want a cuppa?" she asks, taking the chair in front of him.

"I'm good, thanks."

She offers him a warm smile and opens up a packet of cookies, handing some to Dan.

"How is my favorite Dan? How is the roommate situation?"

Dan would roll his eyes at practically anyone else, but not at Louise. She gets a free pass.

"Still just as terrible as it was yesterday."

"You're not giving him a proper chance," she scolds him softly, "He seems well nice from the videos you linked me!"

"Well, he's completely different in real life," Dan argues, even though he doesn't know if that's true at all. "And I didn't come here to befriend people who don't even want to live in the same room with me."

"Is he really?"

After a meaningful pause, Dan concedes, "I dunno. I don't care."

"D'you know what I think, darling?"

"I think you're about to tell me."

"You're a stubborn tyke." Louise smiles smugly. Dan is unable to resist the eyeroll this time.

"I didn't come here to be insulted, thanks very much. I came here to whine and moan about my horrible life."

Dan wishes it was a joke, but mostly, it's really not.

Louise leaves the chair in favor of sitting next to Dan and wraps her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder. Her hair is tickling his nose, but he doesn't move away. He just breathes in deeply, relaxing into the embrace.

"How are you, Dan?" Lou whispers after a moment of silence. "Really."

The next breath that Dan draws comes out shaky and labored. He struggles to keep his voice even.

"I'm good. I'm -- I'm great."

He's waiting for it, for the no you're not, I know you're not, you have to stop thinking about it for now Dan, you need to live on.

It never comes. All that happens is that Louise hugs him even tighter, and he allows himself to stop trying for a moment and just be.

 

~~~~~

 

When he gets back to the room a short while later, Phil is still not there. In a way, Dan is glad. Living alone for two months, he's gotten used to a certain degree of privacy. Now, all of that is gone, and he enjoys a moment of peace and quiet.

Not that Phil bothers him, but there's always the chance that he might. He leaves socks all over the floor and tries to initiate conversations that Dan doesn't wish to have. His patience has its limits, and the threshold is set rather low.

He lies on the bed, opens up his laptop, but he doesn't do anything with it. He stares at the screen blankly, mind drifting somewhat against his will.

The past days have been a complete mess. Combining work with uni right off the bat was not his best idea, but then again, did he have a choice?

It's not like his parents are helping him out.

 

Do they even think of me, he wonders, I bet dad's relieved to be rid of me.

Deep down, he is not certain whether he is doing his parents justice. Perhaps not. But would it be so wrong to assume that they don't give a shit, all things considered?

There are two sides to every coin, he remembers.

Are his parents so very wrong to think so badly of him?

 

~~~~~

 

III.

  

 

Dan is sixteen, and he doesn't have a girlfriend yet.

It's not that he couldn't get one if he tried. If Weird Jim from his class could get one, surely Dan could find one too. It's got to be something else.

 

Dan isn't quite sure what it is, but people at school start making fun of him for it somewhere close to the summer. Snarky remarks eventually turn into insults right before his eyes.

He's been called many things in his life, but never that.

 

He thinks back to his old diary, and all the words he's never been able to put on paper suddenly start to make a lot more sense.

But no, no, it doesn't matter anymore. There is no diary; he burnt it last year. It's all gone, long turned into ash. There's still hope.

The only thing to do, is never to think of it again.

  

~~~~~

 

Dan wakes up somewhere before four in the morning, pulled out of a dream he can no longer remember mere seconds after opening his eyes.

He's slept in his clothes, without a blanket, in a half-sitting position, which makes the fact that he fell asleep at all a small miracle. He figures tiredness does that to you; eventually quiets your thoughts and lets you get some rest.

As clarity sets in, he remembers that he left his laptop on his stomach as drifted into slumber, putting his favorite thing in the world in danger. However, when he frantically looks around, he finds the laptop safe and sound on the carpet.

Phil must've moved it before it fell off Dan's exceptionally small bed. Dan doesn't even want to think what he'd do if his computer somehow broke due to the fall.

He also doesn't want to think well of Phil; it's a small, meaningless gesture, he refuses to give it any further thought.

 

Dan could easily get several more hours of sleep, but rest tends to elude him if he wakes up at an earlier time. As such, he settles for spending those hours on mindless browsing, or alternatively, watching more of Phil's videos. He's almost caught up, might as well finish it tonight and then pretend that he has never seen a single one.

Once he quietly types in the address which he already remembers, he is surprised to find a new video featured on the main page of AmazingPhil's channel. It's titled Back to Uni With a NEW ROOMMATE!

His heart pauses for a moment; stutters somehow, then starts beating out a nervous rhythm. It's a strange feeling, like Phil unknowingly broke the fourth wall. Like the gap between AmazingPhil and Philip Lester just became that much smaller.

 

Dan doesn't want to watch this video, he truly doesn't. He doesn't want to know Phil's judgment of him, even if it couldn't be any worse than his own. He just doesn't want to see it, he's not going to.

He closes the tab, grabs his headphones, puts on some music and tries not to think.

 

Of course, he fails. He always does, at most things. Curiosity is his worst enemy right now, and it's a losing battle, it was from the start.

He casts a glance at the other side of the room, where Phil sleeps, snoring lightly. His back is turned towards Dan and he's so wrapped up in a blanket that all Dan sees is a mop of jet black hair on a white pillow.

He takes a deep breath and starts the video.

The Phil he sees on the screen is far more like the one he lives with; the videos Dan has already seen are all from last year or more. This Phil is sitting on the bed in the room they have shared for the past couple of days, smiling brightly, animatedly describing his new living situation.

"Some sort of a mistake had occurred, and I now have a brand new roommate!" Phil then goes on to say that he can't say much about Dan, because, "I think he kinda hates me!"

While Phil describes their short acquaintance detail ("My new roommate won't even speak to me, and when he does, he looks at me like I've just stomped on his favorite kitten,"), Dan maintains a poker face throughout the whole viewing, despite eventually hearing that he is likely the least social person on the planet, and that Phil just has to make it through this one term.

 

The video ends on a good note, with Phil asking people to share their experiences and waving good bye at the camera.

Long after it's finished, Dan sits there, staring at the screen, wondering if he truly does deserve the things that Phil has said so carelessly. But does it matter?

He's only made things easier on Dan, to be honest. Dan never wanted to become Phil's friend, after all.

 

~~~~~

 

Phil apologizes to Dan several times, saying he didn't mean it that way, he was stupid, he shouldn't have done it. Dan agrees with all of the points, but apologies mean nothing to him, really.

It's actions that matter, actions that have some meaning. Anyone can say they're sorry, but that doesn't necessarily make it true.

Dan finds that he isn't even all that angry, it's more about proving a point. He's wanted nothing to do with Phil from the very beginning, and look at that, he was right!

But when Phil makes a whole video dedicated to apologizing to Dan and admitting his own shortcomings, Dan's point of view is challenged in ways he didn't think possible before.

It's not that big a deal, he supposes, but to Dan, it's a grand gesture.

It's something a complete stranger had done to try and make Dan a little bit less upset with him, even though it hardly matters whether they talk or not.

Dan's common sense tells him it means nothing, but a nagging feeling in the back of his head still remains. It tells him that small as it may be, that gesture is bigger than anything anyone else has ever done for him, and that's got to count for something.

It tells him that Phil seems sincere in the way his eyes meet the camera at all the right times, the way he looks down during a particularly difficult speech and the way he left all of these things in. He didn't cut anything out, even Dan's untrained eye can tell as much.

And if a person that he barely knows - doesn't even want to know - is not only capable but also willing of doing something for him, shouldn't he think twice before writing them off?

Dan can't even remember the last time he was on the receiving end of somebody's care and affection, aside from Louise.

Life got him used to feeling second best.

 

~~~~~

 

IV.

 

Dan is about to turn seventeen, and for whatever stupid reason, he really is looking forward to tomorrow. It should be a decent kind of day. His parents are bound to be acceptable, considering it's his one special day of the year, and that alone is a good present to Dan.

He thinks there might be cake, the cake his mum always makes and Dan can't stand; he thinks he might get some money, which would be great, as he's saving up.

He'll need his savings when he is finally old enough to move out.

He expects a family dinner. Perhaps even a hug from his mum, pat on the back from his dad. It might happen; he foolishly hopes that it does.

 

It doesn't.

 

"Your father and I think you're too old for birthday parties, Daniel."

"You're a grown man now."

"Besides, we're throwing a party for your brother's birthday next month. You can just celebrate there."

 

Dan stays in his room the whole day, undisturbed. When he goes downstairs, he's handed an envelope. He peeks inside, finding the money he had been hoping to get.

"Not even gonna say happy birthday to me, are you?"

"It was yesterday, Daniel. Maybe next year."

 

Dan only hopes that by his next birthday, he'll have moved away; it's the one thing he clings to, his one light in the dark.

 

~~~~~

 

 

Dan's resolve not to care doesn't exactly melt away over night, but he finds it far weaker than it was just the previous night. He figures that perhaps, he could give Phil a chance. Perhaps he should wait and see if the guy he lives with has anything at all in common with the person he's spent the past days watching on YouTube.

In a fit of insanity, he agrees to go out to Starbucks and talk. He should know better than that. He should know that befriending people is not only stupid -- for someone like Dan, it's downright impossible.

And yet, he tries, and soon he finds himself sitting across the table from Phil. Phil's cheeks are ever so slightly pink and he's constantly twiddling his thumbs.

The place is rather crowded and noisy, which for Dan is a real strain. They manage to find a table somewhere in a remote corner of the place and begin to chat.

Both of them are sipping on the exact same drink, while his roommate clearly scrambles for things to talk about.

Forget forgiveness and chances, seeing Phil so flustered and awkward is enough compensation for Dan. The guy is even worse than he is.

 

Dan doesn't have a whole lot of experience with socializing, but he knows what Phil is doing when the guy asks him several seemingly meaningless questions. He's trying to get to know him better.

Sorry, no dice. There is nothing to know. There is nothing that Dan might want to share. He's also quite determined to keep it light; if he wants to give the whole not hating Phil thing a go, he can't be Dan Howell. He has to be the more fun version of himself, the version that hasn't had a pretty fucking crap life until now.

As such, while trying to keep the conversation centered on Phil, he also tries to remain amusing.

"How badly did you not want a job to make you pick that course at uni?" Dan asks, poking fun at Phil studying English Language and Linguistics.

Phil bursts into laughter. Dan looks down at the table, quite determined not to smile back.

"Hey, it's interesting!" Phil defends himself.

"Guess you want to be a teacher or something?"

"I don't know... I doubt I'd be any good at it. I'm not much of a role model."

"Your YouTube channel says otherwise," Dan observes, not looking at Phil. He doesn't know why he's being nice, he only knows that he shouldn't be.

"Yeah, such a good role model considering how mean I've been to you," Phil dismisses. Dan feels his stare on himself long enough to force him to look back. "I'm really sorry, Dan."

He rolls his eyes. "You've only said that about twenty times since we got here."

"Make that twenty-one, then!"

"It's fine, Phil, I don't give a fuck."

They both know it's not true, but Phil is gracious enough not to comment on it.

"What else, then? If not a teacher. Which, by the way, good call. Teachers are complete losers."

"Are you implying I'm not a loser?" Phil asks hopefully.

"I'm implying there might yet be some hope for you," Dan says, poker face intact.

"I s'pose that is a tad better," his roommate agrees.

"It's the best you're going to get," he says easily.

Phil glances at him, briefly puzzled, eventually flashing him a small grin.

"And I don't know what I want to be," he says, addressing Dan's question. "When I was a child, I wanted to be a weatherman! I still do, kind of, but it's got nothing to do with my degree."

"The degree you still may not get, you mean?" Dan teases.

Phil kicks him in the leg. Dan winces, but also marvels at the familiarity this guy is capable of achieving with a person he doesn't know at all. The closest physical contact he himself allows with strangers is fighting back if someone were to try and mug him.

"Don't even joke like that. My parents would kill me."

Dan, previously maintaining eye contact with Phil, looks back down at his own hands. Parents are the last thing he wishes to discuss.

"I'll make sure to send them a card once it does happen." He pauses, then asks another question, "Where are you from? You've got quite an accent."

Phil absently corrects the pair of black glasses that he wears, then replies, "Manchester. Or, well, not exactly! But really close to Manchester. And you?"

It's a harmless question, so Dan doesn't make a fuss. "Wokingham."

"Oh, that's nice! Bet you're glad to not be far from home on your first year. When my mum and dad dropped me off here for my first term, I actually cried."

Amusement and sorrow fight for dominance in Dan's mind, eventually creating a mix that can easily work as indifference. He settles for a shrug and doesn't address the subject anymore.

"D'you make videos about every new person you meet?" he asks, and only as he sees Phil's downcast, guilty expression, does he add, "I'm kidding. Geez, Phil, you don't have much of a sense of humor, do you?"

Phil's relieved sigh does not go amiss. "I'm bad at picking up hints and clues," Phil admits.

Then I'm safe as ever, Dan thinks to himself. This guy doesn't read between the lines.

"Perhaps you should consider becoming a detective."

"Six year old me would be thrilled," Phil replies without missing a beat.

 

Dan keeps on asking questions, answering very little. He doesn't want to share much, but he finds that getting to know his roommate better is much less painful than he thought it'd be.

Phil is pleasant in a way that Dan hasn't really encountered before. He doesn't respond to malice, not in a way that could be hurtful, he laughs at jokes that are made at his own expense and he keeps looking at Dan while he is talking. Dan is used to people looking everywhere but at him. It's refreshing.

And stupid, and meaningless, and why did he stay so long?

Phil is telling him some story about his family of hamsters, and Dan finds he is only half-paying attention because his focus remains on the different hues of Phil's eyes; on the way the blue and yellow and gray all mix together, and on how much he'd prefer having blue eyes over his boring brown. He notes the way Phil's tongue slips past the zip of his mouth when the guy chuckles, and secretly enjoys that every minute together seems to put Phil more at ease, allow him to open up.

Only it's...

It's completely mad, is what it is. Why should he be talking to Phil at all? He doesn't want him to open up, all he wants is for the guy to leave him alone and let him live.

So why is he doing the exact opposite?

 

His shift at work doesn't begin until later in the afternoon, but he still leaves with a lame excuse of him having plans. He never has any plans. His only plans are long-term, and involve a list of things to do, such as survive and go over your fucking notes. He's got a goal to chase and he doesn't need people to interrupt him throughout. Phil Lester can live out the term if he wants, Dan doesn't care, but at the same time, he sincerely hopes to be rid of his roommate as soon as possible.

 

People only hurt you if you let them get too close.

In Dan's experience, even at an arm's length is far too close.

Chapter Text

Dan can't quite make sense of his own actions.

Why? Because he's exceptionally rubbish at keeping away from Phil Lester, that's why.

Rubbish through and through, one might say. After their whole let's get some coffee and chat thing at Starbucks last week, he's promised himself not to even look in Phil's direction, lest the guy get the wrong impression. Such as, you know, that Dan wouldn't mind becoming friends. Which would be exceptionally wrong.

His resolve was firm and worked for less than twenty-four hours, because the next morning, he's made Phil skip class and play Mario Kart with him instead. He doesn't know why he did it; he could just as well play it alone, he didn't exactly need Phil. And yet, his mouth seemingly acted on its own accord, and the invitation was out before he even registered it, dooming him to a day spent with Phil Lester.

So yeah, Mario Kart. Even then he told himself they'd only play a couple of games, but they ended up wasting the whole day away; Dan never went to class and even called in sick at work. Which, let's be real, wasn't the first time he's ever done that, but he's never done it because of wanting to spend time with someone.

Long story short; he really needs to get his priorities in order. And his life. And his everything.

 

Unfortunately, it's not so easy to avoid someone when you literally live with them, not just in the same block but in the same room. Dan is slowly beginning to realize that as long as Phil doesn't decide to never open his mouth, they will likely have to interact every now and again.

 

Dan lets out a long, weary sigh and tries to focus on the screen. He's doing a re-watch of Doctor Who, and he's just about to finish season 2 of the reboot. He'd like to be done with it before Phil gets home from class, because ever since Dan stopped being absolutely atrocious 24/7, his roommate developed an annoying habit of constantly trying to talk to him.

Dan is not quite cruel enough to yell at Phil and make him shut up, so occasionally, he humors him. The guy seems to sense the moments when Dan can't quite stand socializing anymore, at least. He'll give him that.

He stares at the screen of his laptop, Bad Wolf Bay Theme playing through his headphones as the Doctor and Rose say their final, interrupted goodbye. He's definitely not tearing up, and if he is, it must be some sort of allergies.

Trust Phil to come back right at this precise moment as Dan sniffles and rubs at his eyes. He's known his flatmate for what, two weeks? Two weeks and Dan already knows. Phil has the worst timing in the world.

 

Dan reluctantly gives Phil a quick once-over. Phil's hair is in a state of disarray, every strand going in a different direction, spoiling his outdated haircut. He's wearing this rather odd space-themed jacket that he seems to be fond of, one that reminds Dan of galaxies and nebulae and all the things he likes about the universe. The corners of Phil's lips are turned downwards, but his expression soon brightens upon seeing Dan.

"Hey Dan!" Phil exclaims, then clearly studies Dan further, because he asks, "What's the matter?"

Dan rolls his eyes, as if to say you're an idiot for asking, but he figures he might as well show Phil. He motions for him to come over, and once Phil does, Dan shows him the screen of his laptop, paused on the moment right after the painful parting of the Doctor and Rose.

Phil frowns for a moment, then comprehension sets in. He lets out a sympathetic oh.

"Why are you doing this to yourself?" Phil presses, moving towards his side of the room and shrugging out of his space jacket. Dan is not even surprised when the thing is immediately thrown on the floor.

"I don't know, felt like a re-watch."

Dan shuts down the laptop and turns to Phil. Somehow, despite his earlier thoughts, the interruption doesn't anger him as much as it probably should.

"I always skip that episode when watching season 2. I'm not masochistic."

"You mean you're a wuss," Dan clarifies.

"I'm a wuss that braved the storm to go buy crisps! D'you want some?" Phil offers, handing Dan the bag that he produced out of his backpack.

Dan accepts it with a shrug and starts eating, nearly finishing up the bag, despite Phil's protests to give it back as he ends up eating too much.

"Do you ever eat anything that's not unhealthy?" he asks, glancing pointedly at the dustbin in the corner of their room, which is overflowing with candy wrappers, empty bottles of cola and various other empty packages.

It's kind of annoying, the way Phil can afford to buy all these things and doesn't even seem to have a job. Not only that, he also shares with Dan, but never buys quite enough for the two of them to be satisfied.

Dan doesn't even know what he is getting at with this train of thought. Realistically speaking, Phil doesn't have to share with him at all. And not everyone is as broke as Dan himself is; nothing wrong with that, is there?

"I do! I've had a sandwich this morning!" Phil says, letting Dan have the last of the crisps and then tossing him a bag of Haribo. "Got you one of your own this time."

And just like that, without even meaning to, Phil shoots down one of Dan's thoughts. Dan gives him a timid nod and stuffs his face, so as to avoid having to actually speak.

 

Every time he tries to think the worst of Phil, his roommate manages to behave like such a Nice Person, capital N and capital P, undermining Dan's whole must hate Phil scheme. As a result, Dan tries to avoid thinking of Phil altogether when not directly in his presence.

It's not working. Dan clearly needs a better distraction.

 

As Dan doesn't follow up with anything else to say, Phil flops down on his own bed and looks up to the ceiling, falling back on the mattress with a sigh. Dan observes him out of the corner of his eye, prepared to look away the moment Phil catches him staring.

What would a guy like him even have to sigh about? In Dan's limited knowledge, Phil has it all. Friends (or at the very least one, that he'd much rather live with, but he's miserably stuck with Dan. So there's one thing, Dan thinks), a degree (soon, maybe), a hobby (YouTube). Knowing life, he must also have a girlfriend, because why wouldn't he? He's certainly not weird enough to scare people off, if they were determined enough.

No, Phil is weird, but it doesn't make him a bad person, that much Dan knows. He's not ugly, either. In fact, if Dan were a tad braver, he might even admit to himself that Phil is easy on the eyes in a peculiar way. Not conventionally attractive, just -- different, somehow, and that's eye-catching, interesting, and --

And fucking nothing.

This is a bad train of thought to follow, especially when already knowing where it might lead.

Memories. They always hit him like a freight train.

Dan clutches at the sheets until his knuckles turn white.

Don't think of that, don't, don't, don't --

 

 

~~~~~

 

V.

 

"Howell, you fucking faggot, get off my bench. I don't wanna catch the gay off you."

And the others are laughing, and they don't really think it's funny, Dan thinks, they just want to fit in. That's what he tells himself when he quietly grabs his bag and leaves.

He's so done arguing and protesting and trying to prove them wrong. As long as his family doesn't hear of it, he can bear this. He'll survive until he can move away to go to uni. It's not that far off.

 

Dan doesn't even know how the rumors began, what started it all. He doesn't know why they call him all these things and he doesn't know why he doesn't fight it anymore.

He wishes he could say they were not true, but the more he hears of it, the more he isn't sure.

After all, there is nothing wrong with two people liking each other. There is nothing wrong with one person liking another person. There is nothing wrong with not liking anyone.

 

He doesn't know whom he likes, because there is no one in particular.

He likes Luke's green eyes, he admires Mia's long hair. He thinks that Pete, a Year Twelve, is well fit, but then again, so is his girlfriend Sophie. They're like the Brangelina of this fucking school.

Dan may not know how to like or love, but he knows how to admire; always from afar. Is it wrong for him to stop and stare for mere seconds at a time? Does it mean he is... What they say that he is, if he happens to look at another boy?

 

He doesn't know. How could he know? He doesn't want to explore it. He's not going to think of it. That way, whenever someone calls him something along those lines, he can just easily deny it, ignore it, not give it any thought.

Burying things deep in his mind is one of the few skills Dan Howell possesses.

He might as well make the most of it.

 

~~~~~

 

"Dan? You alright?"

Dan sighs; barely visible, definitely inaudible. Sometimes, fighting off these thoughts is harder than it should be. Then again, who can say how hard it should be? If he's doing something wrong, then perhaps dealing with it on the daily is his well-deserved punishment.

A little voice inside Dan's head tells him that it's not, that there is nothing wrong with a bit of wondering. But clearly, his parents thought otherwise.

And yeah, this is exactly the kind of stuff he shouldn't be thinking about. He's got a whole list of banned subjects, he's just rubbish at sticking to it.

"I'm fine," he dismisses, eyes glued to his laptop. He releases the tight grip he's still got on his sheets and stretches out his fingers a couple of times. The whole time, he feels the weight of Phil's stare, heavy and far too serious for an acquaintance as short as theirs is.

Phil's voice is soft and pleasant when he asks, "Sure?"

Dan wants to properly be the teenager that he is and roll his eyes, but he controls himself. He does turn to look at his roommate though; takes in the whole picture of polite concern before him, keeps up a very straight face as he shrugs.

"Phil, we've talked about this. Do you really care?" he challenges.

Dan may have kept himself from rolling his eyes, but Phil doesn't.

"No Dan, I want you to be miserable and mope all day. It's my lifelong dream."

"I'm not miserable. And I do not mope."

"Fine, you sulk."

"Nope. I don't."

"Yup!"

"Nope."

"Yope!"

Dan shakes his head, fighting a smile. "You don't know me well enough to tell," he argues.

"My Mum always said that I'm very perceptive," Phil says in a light tone.

"Oh really," he remarks, his lips pursed to maintain a steady expression. "What else did she say?"

Phil pulls a thoughtful face, looking up and mulling it over for a moment before he replies, "She also said I look exactly like my great aunt Roberta. I wasn't very thrilled."

Dan maintains his composure for all of two seconds before bursting into laughter, imagining Phil's face upon finding out that, in the opinion of his own mum, he looks like an old lady.

"Never seen your aunt, but based on your personality, I'd say it's spot on," he teases.

"I don't look like aunt Roberta. I look like... Thor."

Dan then eyes his roommate very deliberately, from the dark, emo haircut to the mismatched socks (one with pugs, one with milkshakes). His glance briefly stops on Phil's frame - very slender, clearly not a gym fanatic. He only skims over Phil's kind, amused expression. Somehow, of all of Phil's features, that is the hardest thing for him to look at.

People don't usually look at him so softly. Dan is not dramatic enough to assume that everyone hates him, but he is also not optimistic enough to think the best of people. The vast majority he's met either disliked him or didn't care about him; if they pretended to care, they usually had a secret agenda.

Somehow, none of these options seem to apply to Phil, and he barely knows him, it shouldn't make sense. It doesn't make sense.

He clears his throat, and along with it, his mind. His thoughts are all over the place today.

"I dunno, Phil. I think I'm gonna agree with your mum on this one."

"You've never even met her!"

"Can't possibly be worse than you," Dan comments offhandedly, hoping Phil will get the joke.

 Phil stills for a moment, studying Dan's expression, and once reassured, responds in a similar manner.

"You just can't appreciate my muscles," he says, flexing pitifully.

Dan, now fully lost in the banter, shoots back, "The only muscle of yours that seems to work well is your tongue."

Phil's toothy smile turns into a confused expression, eyes open wide, as Dan goes over what he just said, and then, after a painful twenty seconds, Dan gets it.

"I meant -- I meant that you talk a lot! Jesus, Phil, get your mind of the gutter," Dan blurts, feeling heat rising in his cheeks.

A relieved oh spills from Phil's lips as he starts to chuckle. It begins as a nervous giggle but ends as a full-blown burst of laughter, putting Dan at ease.

"I didn't say anything! And I had no idea what you were on about!"

"You're such an idiot," Dan says, knowing that it's not very convincing. He feels like quite an idiot himself, but he'd never admit to that in front of Phil.

"Thor didn't need to be smart, he just had to be cool."

"And you think you are cool?"

If Dan, upon seeing Phil grin at him from all the way across the room, feels a rush of warmth surge through his body, he doesn't let it show.

"I'm cooler than an ice cube!" Phil exclaims cheerfully.

Dan covers his face with his palm in a resigned gesture and whines, "That physically hurt."

"Told you I'm Thor, I bring pain!"

Dan glances at Phil through his fingers, finding him staring right back with this stupid, idiotic, daft smile on his face, that smile that he changes into an expression that was supposed to be scary, but fell really short of it. It's hard to look angry when you're really not, and Phil is not a good actor, in Dan's limited knowledge. As a result, his dangerous gaze ends up quite friendly; Dan would go as far as to call it warm.

Dan likes warmth. Dan is not used to it.

He shakes his head and doesn't respond, half in fear of hearing more lame jokes, half due to the fact that he can't bear to see that expression on Phil's face anymore, not when he shouldn't even be talking to the guy in the first place.

 

Two minutes pass by without conversation, two heavy minutes filled with a flurry of thoughts.

Dan breaks the silence before Phil does, losing yet another unspoken battle.

"D'you wanna watch season 3?"

If Dan smiles right back when seeing Phil lighten up at his invitation, it's just a natural response and it doesn't mean anything.

"Of course," Phil replies.

Phil moves to sit down next to Dan, on Dan's bed, and Dan makes well sure that they're sitting far apart, but their knees are still brushing as he presses play on the first episode of the six they will watch that night.

 

~~~~~

 

 

A few days later, an energetic knock on the door startles Dan out of his sleep, nearly making him fall out of the miniscule bed he sleeps in every night. He checks the time: it's four in the afternoon.

Phil literally never knocks, a habit that's already growing rather annoying, so it can't possibly be him. Besides, Phil's gone to the library like twenty or so minutes ago. Thinking it must be Louise, Dan shouts a grumpy come in.

He could've gotten at least thirty more minutes before having to go to work. Lou better have a good reason for visiting.

When the door opens to reveal Phil's best friend, PJ, Dan's annoyance dissolves into discomfort; being around strangers is not his favourite thing in the world.

"Hey P- oh," PJ says upon seeing that Dan is alone. "Hey Dan, so sorry, I thought Phil would be in!"

Phil's friend stands in the doorway, all friendly smiles and bright, big eyes. He's wearing a Lord of the Rings hoodie and a pair of skinny jeans.

"'s alright," Dan replies, sitting up in bed. "He's just gone to the library."

PJ runs his fingers through his curly hair and states, "I should've just called first. I'll come back in a bit."

When he turns to leave, Dan stops him. "You could just wait here. I reckon he'll be back soon."

As per usual, Dan regrets the request the moment the words escape his mouth, but it's too late now. What's worse, he truly can't make sense of it this time. Hanging out with Phil is one thing, but his best friend? He's seen the guy like five times, during which they've exchanged a total of twenty words, tops. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

Apparently, PJ is just as surprised as Dan himself is, because his friendly smile falters for an instant that Dan is too perceptive to miss. However, he happily accepts the invitation, and after a moment of standing around awkwardly, takes his seat on Phil's bed.

They both fall silent. It would bother Dan, only he is used to being quiet around most people, so while he senses that Phil's friend doesn't enjoy it, he doesn't care enough to break the silence.

"How are your classes going? Phil said you're studying law?" PJ says eventually. Dan is almost disappointed at the boring question, but at the same time, finds himself taken aback by hearing that Phil has spoken about him to PJ.

"Yeah. It's shit."

"It gets better," PJ assures, friendly smile still plastered on his face.

"You don't know that," Dan disagrees, tone a tad more hostile than he hoped to sound. "It's probably going to stay shit, because it's a fucked up subject."

PJ remains quiet for a moment before starting to chuckle. "You're all sunshine and rainbows, aren't you?"

Dan furrows his brows for a moment, not used to friendly teasing coming from people he doesn't know, but he eventually cocks a small grin in PJ's direction and doesn't follow up with anything to add. Uni sucks, what else is there to say?

"PJ is not your real name, is it?" he asks after a pause.

"As far as everyone is concerned, it is. Or Peej."

"Does Phil know?" Peej frowns in confusion, so he adds, "Your name."

PJ eyes him curiously for a second before responding, "Yeah, Phil knows pretty much everything, even the size of my -" Dan's eyes grow far, far wider there. "Shoes. We've got the same size."

Dan lets out a breath he didn't know he had been holding and chuckles. "My mind went in a completely different direction."

Peej snorts. "I thought it might. Sorry."

"I mean, I guess you two are pretty tight," Dan mutters, "But I figure his girlfriend would mind if it got that far."

Just why is he rambling about this? Where did the girlfriend remark come from? He doesn't even know, nor care, if Phil has one. This is what happens when he is woken up by a stranger; he acts like a complete moron, that's what.

PJ shoots him a surprised look that quickly melts into amusement, amusement that seeps into his voice when he responds to Dan's statement.

"Why d'you think that Phil has a girlfriend?" Peej asks, sounding as if he's genuinely interested.

Dan does ponder just ignoring him entirely and sitting in silence until Phil arrives, but he feels he's dug a hole far too deep for him to let it slide. As such, he'd better come up with a reply.

"I dunno, just figured, most people have someone, like, she might be going to another uni, he's never said, but -- but I just -- I just figured," he rambles, ending it weakly by looking away from Peej and staring at his own lap.

He's a fucking moron. A complete, nonsensical moron.

"Dan, he doesn't have a girlfriend," PJ says calmly.

Dan nods and then shrugs in lieu of reply, feeling as though he couldn't be more embarrassed if he tried.

A couple of minutes pass with the two of them silent; Peej playing with his phone, Dan pretending to do the same. He can't wait for the guy to leave. Surely Phil will come back soon. He has to.

Eventually, PJ's phone chirps, alerting him of an incoming text. He clears his throat and then announces that Phil is almost there. Thank fuck.

"He speaks well of you, you know," PJ says inconsequentially, as if asking Dan what he's had for breakfast this morning. "He's really awkward at times, so don't start thinking that he hates you or something."

There's heat somewhere in Dan's cheeks. Perhaps he's caught something, could be a fever. What else could it be?

"He's the one that assumed I hate him. I just don't care."

He doesn't know a thing about PJ, but somehow, Dan is convinced that the guy is smiling without even looking his way. It can be heard through his voice.

"Told you, Philip is a bloody awkward mess a lot of the time."

Me too, Dan wants to say, but he doesn't. He's said enough stupid shit to last him for the rest of the month.

He is saved from further conversation by the arrival of Phil, who barges in without knocking, greets them with a loud hey guys!, flops down on the bed next to PJ and starts talking. Only he's not talking to Peej, for the most part, he's talking to Dan.

It's all senseless, illogical, borderline rude. Dan wants to tell Phil to talk to his friend instead of wasting time trying to cheer him up, it's not going to work; instead, he chooses to get up, grab his backpack and say I've gotta go, leaving the pair of friends without his company.

 

It's true, he does have to go to work. It's as good an excuse as any, if it gets him out of that room.

 

-

 

His second manager, Andrea, tells him she's never seen him work this hard when she catches him stocking the shelves in aisle 6. He fumbles over a quiet thank you and goes on a break to make sure that everything is still right with the universe. He'd hate to risk getting employee of the month.

 

Dan is properly distracted; that's why he's doing a good job, he prefers to have something to think about when doing such mundane tasks. This time, though, he'd really rather have nothing to think of.

Because he's thinking of Phil. Of those warm smiles and shared bags of crisps and several late nights spent watching TV shows on Dan's ancient laptop.

And he's thinking of PJ. Of the easy way the two friends seem to interact, how PJ himself admitted that Phil knows everything, of the way they've been friends for such a long time.

And then he's thinking of himself. How he's never had a friend he could be at such ease with, never had anyone to open up to. How he's been a rubbish friend to all the people that ever tried, and only Louise was persistent enough to stick around this long.

How the only person he's ever tried to be well and truly decent to is his brother, and see how that turned out.

 

~~~~~

 

VI.

 

"Jake, come on, we're gonna be late!"

Dan is standing beside his brother's bed, all dressed and ready to go, shaking the kid awake for the hundredth time. Jake lets out a sleepy yawn and rolls on his other side, facing away from Dan.

If there is one person who is harder to wake up than Dan himself is, it must be Jacob. Runs in the family.

"I don't want to," his brother eventually mumbles, wrapping the blanket around himself like a cocoon. "It's too early."

Dan shoots the kid an affectionate look, but continues to push him until he does get up, about twenty minutes too late.

 

By the time Jake is ready to go, their parents are yelling at them both from downstairs. Once they make their way down, Dan is not even surprised to hear the raised voice of his father, whose eyes are shooting daggers in Dan's direction.

"Daniel, how many times do I have to tell you to get ready faster? We're all going to be late because of you. Do you suppose I should just tell my employees that I come in late because my son is too lazy to get out of bed in the morning?"

Dan glances at Jake; five years his junior, his face round and scared.

Dan is no snitch.

"Sorry. I slept in."

Father shakes his head at him, Mum shoots him a worried look. Jake wants to protest, but Dan kicks him in the ankle.

It's not like this is the first time he took the blame for something he didn't do.

 

 

~~~~~

 

 

He can't decide what's worse, as of right now; thinking about his brother, or thinking about his stupid roommate. Both of those subjects should - and are - banned from Dan's life, but hey, he's shit at everything else, might as well be shit at thinking too.

 

It's just that - that Dan tries to be kind. Or he used to try. He'd help his brother and tolerate his father and help out their maid when she was cleaning the top shelves, too high up for her to reach. Dan didn't thrive on being a prick to people; in his quiet way, he tried to be friendly.

But what good came from that?

He's in London, on his own, with a total of one person in the entire world that even cares about him (yes, Louise), cleaning the floors of the worst hardware store in all of England, working towards a future he doesn't even want. Life didn't turn out for the best, not really, not so far. Being kind gets you nowhere.

So why can't he bring himself to continue to ignore Phil Lester? Why does he spend time thinking about a guy he barely knows? Why does he analyze the things he hears and tries to complete the puzzle, even though there is no point?

When did his own actions stop making any sense?

 

Distance. Distance is what he needs.

He finds Andrea asleep in the break room, shakes her awake, tells her he wants to work the night shift too. He's got time tonight, he says. Is it okay, he asks.

She says yes, all astonished.

 

As a result, he won't have to see Phil Lester for the next twenty or so hours.

Perhaps that is a good thing.

But if that's the case, why doesn't Dan feel the least bit satisfied?

Chapter Text

 

The whole world is spinning.

The whole world is blurry. Everything shifts in and out of focus. Everything is drifting nearby and far away all at once, and he is in the middle of this vast sea, lost, forgotten, abandoned.

Alright, so maybe he's not really at sea and he's not really drifting, but he sure as hell is nauseous.

 

Dan has never been drunk before. Not to this extent.

He's never had Phil's arms around him before. Not to any extent.

"I -- I -- can walk, y'know, like, I can, just go away, right, you just, you just go away, go somewhere, I want to stay," he tries and promptly fails miserably, tripping over his own feet as they slowly drudge through the corridor down to their room.

Phil is literally keeping him afloat, and that's such a lame metaphor that Dan is much too intoxicated to ponder right now.

"Dan, it's just a couple more steps, go on."

Phil's voice is cotton soft and sickly sweet. Phil's voice is far away, and yet Phil is here, keeping Dan walking even though Dan merely wishes to lie down and sleep. Phil doesn't make sense. Nothing makes sense.

Dan has spent the past couple of hours in the company of Phil, his friend PJ, and PJ's friend Chris. Holy fuck, talk about unresolved sexual tension.

 

Phil has got nice friends, at least one of them, at least Peej, but even Chris wasn't all that bad. They joked with him and made him feel like he belongs, and they didn't tell him to stop drinking, and they didn't look at him with that disapproving look on their face. They all spent a couple of hours together, and as much as Dan hates socializing, he can't honestly say that he hated this past night. He's definitely had worse.

And it's been strangely liberating, and if there was one thing he hated, it was that Phil would leave when Dan had planned for the two of them to watch this new anime he'd seen reviews of, and Dan got pretty upset, but then, curiosity got the better of him and he went to find Phil.

And that doesn't make sense, either, because nothing ever truly does.

Dan stumbles as they reach their room, nearly falls, Phil holds him up, fussing and sounding as though he's entirely sober, when Dan very well knows he's not. They've both had quite a lot to drink.

Phil's hands are soft and attentive as he helps Dan up on the bed, pushes him until he lays on the side, brings up the blanket so that Dan doesn't get cold.

Soft and attentive, Dan thinks. Soft. Bright around the edges. Pleasant. Infuriating.

Phil.

He needs to know, needs to ask, needs to get past the haze and --

"Why are you so soft, Phil. Why. I don't get it. It doesn't make sense."

"What's that?" Phil asks, wandering eyes pausing on Dan's face. There's this little crease between his eyebrows that grows more pronounced when Dan's eyes meet Phil's.

"What?"

"What did you say?" Phil asks, almost too quiet for Dan's ears to pick up.

"You're like a -- like a flipping human teddy bear," Dan says. His eyes are closing, but he's fighting it valiantly. "You don't make sense."

Phil smiles. His eyes are shining in the dim light of the upcoming morning, and his smile is subdued, but undoubtedly sincere. It's a pleasant sight.

"Alright," Phil replies inconsequentially, fetching Dan a glass of water and placing it on his nightstand, just far enough out of Dan's reach for him not to accidentally knock it down on the floor. "Sleep now, Dan. You're tired."

He doesn't want to sleep yet. He wants to talk. To understand why Phil would be nice to him of all people, repeatedly, when Dan is -- Dan is not always rude, but oftentimes, he is right on the verge of being a total prick.

"I'm not tired," Dan protests, voice dipping into a whine. "I don't want to -- I don't wanna sleep."

"But I do," Phil says, not unkindly. "Sleep, Dan, we'll talk in the morning."

The last thing Dan sees, prior to finally giving in to exhaustion, is his roommate slipping into the bed at the other side of the room and turning away from Dan.

 

 

-

 

His head is pounding, bursting at the seams, pulling his skull apart.

Dan's prone to headaches, but they're hardly as bad as this shit.

It takes him several minutes to force his eyes open, but he immediately buries his head in the pillow upon doing so, because sunlight is slipping through their tightly drawn curtains, and it's burning holes where his eyes are supposed to be. It hurts.

It's not a migraine. He's had a bit too much to drink the previous night, that much he remembers. Little else, though. Phil ditched him, Phil went to hang out with his friends, Dan said fuck no, I'm not going, then changed his mind, because for some reason, he was curious.

Everything past that is a bit of a blur.

What time could it possibly be?

He forces his unwilling limbs to move and digs through his pillow, looking for his phone; he still doesn't dare open his eyes, so it's not an easy feat. He finds it eventually, and upon turning away from the window, he opens his eyes and checks the time on his phone.

It's past two in the afternoon. Fuck.

Dan is not the most responsible of people, but he can't miss class every single bloody day, and he's never going to get up on time tomorrow.

He's a bit of a mess on the best of days. He's just woken up, but he doesn't feel like today is going to be one of those best days, either.

Slowly, he shifts until he is laying on his back, spread out in what little space there is, and opens his eyes for good, looking at the chipped paint on the ceiling, analyzing every bit, finding hidden patterns where there are none. He gives himself those ten, fifteen minutes, starts his day slowly, knowing himself well enough to tell that he needs it today.

Then, eyes more adjusted to the light, he turns towards Phil's side of the room and checks if his roommate is awake.

One glance at Phil is enough to tell Dan that he is in fact still asleep; the steady rise and fall of his chest, an occasional snore, the sight of his clothes scattered around the floor. Dan's a mess, their room is a mess, Phil is not a mess.

Dan recalls some of the things he had said to Phil last night and barely holds back a groan at the stupidity of it all. He then changes his train of thought; he'd rather not remember any more of it if he can possibly help it.

 

The relative silence in the room is broken by the sound of his phone vibrating, alerting him of an incoming text.

He doesn't often get texts; it's probably Louise, he thinks, closing his eyes for a few more moments, but then his phone chimes again. And again. This time, he doesn't hold back a sigh as he unlocks it and looks at the screen.

Two seconds later, nothing is the same.

 

4 messages from: Jake

 

His first urge is to toss it. Toss it right at Phil's head if he has to. Out the window. Ship it to bloody China.

His second urge is to go to Louise's and ask her to delete the texts. Without reading them.

His third urge is to change his number.

The fourth, and most prominent, and most destructive, is to read the messages. A little voice in the back of his head tells him that his brother had stopped trying to contact him after about a month. He wouldn't write if it wasn't urgent.

But why should Dan care about urgent? He is no longer part of that family in any way. They didn't want him. He didn't want them. He's done, so very done, he doesn't need to read the texts, he can just --

Two seconds later, he's opening the text app on his phone.

 

Jake (November 4, 2:43 PM)

It's Dad's birthday, u remember?

Mum's made her gross pie

He's not here and I have to eat it by myself

Would be nice if u were here to help me toss it to the dog

 

 

...

Fuck.

 

 

~~~~~

 

VII.

 

"There we go! My Nan's Shepherd's pie! We ought to have a proper celebration for your Dad's birthday!"

But he's not even here, Dan wants to say. He doesn't.

 

He sits there, staring at the pie, mentally willing it to spontaneously combust into flames. He hates this pie. It's possibly the worst thing he's ever eaten in the entirety of his sixteen years of existence. He hates the very smell of it, can't stand the way it looks, despises the way it tastes.

Jake hates it too. And yet, Mum makes it every year; she's never missed one, even though Father is rarely around for these things anymore.

It's Father's favorite, Dan knows, but what does it matter if he's never around to help them eat it?

 

"Dig in, boys. Your Dad will be here soon. We'll leave some for him. He called --" Mum pauses, her voice falters. "He called not too long ago."

Two hours ago, Dan thinks, but he doesn't say it.

 

He glances at Jake as he takes the first bite, shoves him when he notices the way his brother is grimacing at the taste of the pie.

 

"Well? Do you like it?" Mum asks, and she looks at him, and her worry lines are showing, and there is more to it, he knows there is more to it, he knows.

"It's lovely, Mum."

 

 

~~~~~

 

 

 

The salty drops that begin to trail down his face are completely involuntary, of course. Dan hasn't had a proper cry since he left home, on that first night alone, that was the last time. Not long ago.

Too long ago.

Prior to that, he can't remember the last time he cried. Jake was always the one to cry - scraped knees and annoying classmates and Dan not letting him play his World of Warcraft account - Jake was always the one he had to console.

In times of need, Dan never appeared to need consolation. He'd eat the pie and he'd pretend that Father really is coming home soon, and he'd tell Jacob to shut up when he was about to say that the pie was fucking awful, and Mum would yell at Dan, not at Jake, but it was fine, he was fine. He was always fine.

 

Dan doesn't fully realize the extent of it all until it hits him like a freight train. He doesn't notice that he's crying until he's full on sobbing. He doesn't feel it until there is a wet pool on his pillow.

Fuck.

He left home. It was the right thing to do. The only thing to do. He left home to be himself. To not have them hate him for something so -- something so -- for a part of him, surely, not the entirety, he is more than that, he tells himself. And yet, when push comes to shove, he still pretends that it's not true, sometimes.

Denial does that to you. Things just pile up.

What does it all matter? He's being a fool, a loser, a misunderstanding --

"Dan?"

Fuck.

"Go away," he yells, or he wants to, but it comes out as a low mumble.

The last thing he needs is anybody seeing him like this; least of all Phil Lester, the roommate he never wanted, and yet can't bring himself to not want. The stupid guy who smiles at dogs on the street and seems to think that there is nothing much wrong with the world even when everything is falling apart.

He's known Phil for a bit over a month. Why does he know so much?

"What's wrong?" Phil insists, "Dan, are you okay?"

"Do I look fucking okay? Just leave me be, Phil!"

 "No," Phil protests strongly, "I'm not leaving you like this. Talk to me, Dan."

I don't want to, he wants to say, but doesn't. He doesn't say anything. He buries his face in the pillow, ignores the way Phil sits at the foot of his bed, pays no mind to the warmth pressing against his leg in the tight space that people have the audacity to call a proper bed for a Uni student.

Minutes pass, and Dan's thoughts don't stop. He thinks of Jacob, of his Mum, of the pie, of Phil, of Louise. Louise would know to be quiet. Phil doesn't know him, Dan's always saying that, Phil doesn't know.

"Dan?"

He wants to yell, but he doesn't.

"I told you to go away," he says in lieu of a fuck off already, will you.

"I'm not going anywhere until you feel better."

Dan freezes, unsure of what to say or do, because he's not used to this kind of treatment from anyone but Louise, and even Louise knows his limits, she rarely goes as far as to say things like that. She's there for him, of course, but she knows him.

Phil doesn't know him, and that just might be his biggest virtue.

 

Dan sits up, feeling Phil's eyes tracking his every movement. As for his own eyes, they're bleary, irises hidden behind a thin sheen of tears, pooling up until they fall down his cheeks.

He's a mess, a mess, a mess.

He makes eye contact with his roommate, this brand new person in Dan's life, and finds the distraction he so badly needs - the exact colour of Phil's eyes. Not blue, not green, not grey; something in between, but still so very clear. Dan's eyes are muddy, boring, unclear. Phil's seem to reflect his personality.

 Phil looks like the kind of person who would sit there and listen to Dan all day. Phil looks at Dan as though he means something, but Dan knows that he couldn't possibly.

They're not even friends.

"I'm alright, okay? I'm fine. Will you please go now?"

The resolve, so clearly visible on Phil's face, only seems to strengthen.

"Dan, I'm your friend," he says, and Dan holds back a grim burst of laughter. ""Tell me, what's happened? What's wrong? Are you feeling ill?"

Friend, Dan thinks bitterly, Of course. Right. Sure you are.

You don't know anything about me.

Why do you want to know anything about me? You will never know anything. Never. Never.

But Dan's mind, Dan's imagination, they don't obey him, and before he can stop himself, he thinks of the past couple of weeks. He thinks of the nights spent gaming, watching things, sometimes, rarely, just talking. He thinks of last night.

He thinks of Phil, whose eyes never seem to leave his when he's speaking, who always listens, who never puts him down.

They're not friends.

As another broken sob escapes his lips, he shuts his eyes and consequently, tries to shut down his mind. Stop thinking. It's the best way to calm down.

Only he can't, not when suddenly, there's a pair of warm, comforting arms pulling him close, and he wants to fight it, but he doesn't.

Phil is soft and smells of sleep. The fabric of his shirt brushes against Dan's neck.

Phil whispers somewhere close to his ear, I'm here, Dan. I'm here.

Dan melds into the embrace. He's lost the battle, not the war. Just this battle.

It's been a rough day.

 

As Phil begins rubbing comforting circles across his back, Dan thinks of the very thing that brought him here; the so called butterfly effect that started it all.

And he denies it, he denies it still. Only this time, it just doesn't seem to work.

Phil is soft and warm and Dan is, Dan is -- 

Lost, his mind supplies, and somehow, it sticks.

Chapter Text

 One month later

 

"I showed Phil American Horror Story, and he loved it."

Louise looks up at Dan, tearing her eyes away from a dress she'd been eyeing, and grins.

"Oh, really?" she says inconsequentially, going back to her browsing.

"Yeah. I mean, I didn't think he'd like it, but he did," Dan responds. He's playing with the zipper of his jacket. And he's bored. They've been in this particular department store for about an hour, but it's the third one they've visited today. For Dan, that's three too many. And he likes nice clothes; doesn't mind fashion. Not necessarily a big fan of dresses, though.

Nothing to be done about it. He promised Louise that he would help her out, so he'll have to survive a little longer.

"That's nice," Lou states, picking out yet another dress and holding it up to her frame, showing it to Dan. "This one, d'you reckon? Or -- I don't know, I'm not sure about the, um, the frilly stuff?"

Dan frowns, surveying the hot pink little piece, then shakes his head. "It looks like what would happen if  a velvet cake had sex with a cupcake, Lou. You don't wanna look like a velvet cake slash cupcake hybrid."

Louise's eyes widen, she glances at the dress, hangs it back on the rack without another thought.

"Maybe I do. Maybe Matt likes velvet cakes and cupcakes."

"Phil does," Dan replies without being asked, "He likes all sorts of sweets. He's always showing me pictures of food that he gets off Google and I bloody hate it. Just makes me hungry."

Dan can't see Louise's expression, as her back is turned towards him, but he can hear a hint of a smile in the tone of her voice when she speaks.

"Oh, no, I hate that. Why don't you ask him to stop?"

Later on, he'll wonder why he didn't pick up on the extreme sweetness and innocence in her voice, why he only heard the friendly smile. Right now, he answers to the best of his ability, not sensing any sort of a scheme.

"I, well, I don't hate it that much. I mean, Phil is weird. No one ever talks to him. I s'pose he needs someone to link pictures of food to, 'cause PJ is probably well tired of it by now."

"It's a good thing that you two are friends, then," Louise says, then hands him a bunch of things before disappearing into the changing room.

"We're not really," Dan says a little louder from behind a mountain of dresses. "I'm trying to tolerate him, because I have to live with him."

"Right," Louise shouts back. "Oh god, hand me the purple one, this one looks awful."

Dan stares at the pile of clothes in his arms for a moment, perplexed, before calling out to Louise, "But they're all purple!"

There is a moment of silence that stretches for far too long. "I can practically hear you rolling your eyes right now."

Louise peeks out from behind the curtain, a muffled chuckle on her lips, and grabs the dress she's wanted before disappearing again.

"So you and Phil are really not friends?" Lou asks innocently.

Dan doesn't answer immediately, because it's a difficult question.

They did agree to give it a try, to give being friends a proper shot. If Louise were to ask Phil, Dan knows, despite everything, that Phil would say yes, of course they're friends.

Somehow, Dan is rather reluctant to admit to it properly, because then he will also admit to having failed. He wasn't meant to become friends with Phil. His plan only involved surviving until the end of the term, at which point Phil would move out. This, of course, meant that Dan would get a new roommate, but perhaps they'd be less interested in talking; maybe, if Dan were lucky, they'd just leave him be.

Maybe they would pay it no mind if they woke up one afternoon to find Dan sobbing like a fucking loser. Maybe they'd ignore it. Not like Phil.

Dan shakes his head, dispelling the stubborn thoughts.

"I don't know really. He's infuriating at times. He talks a lot. Tells me to study. Makes me tea. He's just -- he's like, borderline creepy with how nice he is. Besides, I've only known him for like, almost three months. And I don't want any friends." Dan pauses. "Aside from you, I mean!"

"Yeah, that all sounds horrible," Louise agrees. She then steps out of the changing room, wearing a really lovely purple dress. "What do you think?"

Dan gives her an awkward thumbs up. "It's fantastic. Buy it." He only hopes that the strain in his voice doesn't give away how much he wants her to buy it so that they can be done with it.

Dan doesn't fully understand the effort Louise is making for her first official date with Matt, some bloke she's met at Uni, but then, how could he? He's never had a boyfriend, or girlfriend, or anything. He can hardly relate.

"I don't know. I think it's a little tight."

"No, you look amazing," Dan assures her, then suggests, "Hey, I could take a picture of you and send it to Phil. To, you know, get a second opinion?"

Louise looks up at him, flickers of amusement dancing in her eyes. She's staring him down long enough for him to spurt out an indignant what.

"You can just say that you want to text Phil, I won't tease you for it," Louise says at last, still smirking.

"No clue what you're on about," Dan responds. He slides the phone back into the pocket of his jeans. "So, are you getting this one, then?"

Louise doesn't get that one, and it takes them two hours to leave that department store.

 

Once they part their ways and Dan gets on the tube to go to work, he gets a text.

 

Louise (December 17, 3:17 PM)

You mentioned Phil sixteen times. I counted!

 

Dan (December 17, 3:19 PM)

no wonder it took u forever to pick something out

math was never your strong subject

 

Louise (December 17, 3:21 PM)

Daaan likeees Phiiiil

 

Dan (December 17, 3:30 PM)

very funny.

 

Louise (December 17, 3:31 PM)

Oh no, it's the dot. Should I stop?

 

Dan (December 17, 3:31 PM)

yes

 

Louise (December 17, 3:32 PM)

Okay love. xx

 

Dan was just about to text Phil, but he figures he'd best not. If this is what Louise thinks of him, something is way off.

 

-

 

It's a little past midnight once Dan makes it back to the dorms. He's been trying to work a little more, despite it being the middle of exam week. Money doesn't grow on trees.

It's almost Christmas.

In the past, this meant that Dan had to spend some of his savings on presents for his family. He'd get something in return, of course, but each year more than the last, he found that it's a pointless expense.

Father almost never liked Dan's gifts. Mum just said thank you, putting the present right back inside the gift bag, never to be seen again. Only Jake seemed to enjoy his presents, but well, he won't be buying him any now, so, whatever.

Against his own common sense, he'd been saving what little he could. Maybe he'll get himself something. Maybe he'll pay his phone bill. Maybe he'll get himself some snacks.

Maybe he'll get something for Phil.

The mere notion is ridiculous, of course. He barely knows Phil. But at the same time, he knows that Phil was there for him when no one else was, and that ought to mean something.

That day when he got a few texts from his brother, it wasn't easy; that must be why he gave in completely. Why he allowed himself to be held. Why he didn't stop crying until he felt like he was done, not as soon as he was seen.

He didn't talk to Phil about the reason behind his pathetic little breakdown, of course. As far as Phil is concerned, Dan is part of some big, happy family and has no problems whatsoever. Oh, and he doesn't work. He just goes places. For the entire day.

 

Dan sighs as he steps inside, as quietly as he possibly can, so as not to wake Phil. Friends or not, he hardly needs to make Phil's life miserable. No sleep sucks.

To his surprise, his roommate is awake, laying in bed with a book that he immediately puts away upon Dan's return. Phil is wearing a colourful shirt, sweatpants and of course, his glasses. He looks tired, but still smiles brightly when their eyes meet.

"You're back! I thought you got kidnapped or something," Phil exclaims, sitting up properly.

Dan chucks his backpack somewhere on the floor and flops down on the bed, then turns to face Phil.

"I kind of did. I was helping Louise pick out a dress for her flipping date."

Phil's eyes widen briefly before he nods with understanding. The date was basically the only thing Louise talked about the last time they went down to her room to play some Mario Kart.

"You've been dress hunting until now?" Phil asks eventually.

Dan unconsciously bites down on his lower lip, looks up, responds the same way he always does. "No, I mean, I was doing stuff later too."

"Sounds awfully mysterious."

"It is."

Dan is lucky, really. Phil doesn't know him, he doesn't know him at all. Definitely not well enough to press the matter.

It's stupid, Dan knows. It's really bloody daft. But he still doesn't want Phil to know that Dan is forced to work late in a hardware store of all places in order to even afford living in London.

"Our video is my second most popular of this year," Phil announces after a moment of silence.

Oh, right, that's also a thing that happened. Phil talked him into filming a video together.

Dan wanted to hate it. He really wanted to.

He didn't.

"Really?"

"Yeah! Come look!" Phil beckons, pointing to his phone.

Dan wants to come look, he really does.

He doesn't.

"Too lazy. I'm tired."

"Oh my god," Phil whines, getting off the bed and moving to Dan's. He then hands him the phone so that Dan can see for himself.

Hundreds of thousands of people saw him make an idiot out of himself on camera. Somehow, Dan thinks he should be more mortified than he really is.

In a way, he feels proud. It's a strange, giddy feeling that Dan hasn't really experienced before, because what is there for him to be proud of?

"Nice," he says easily, giving the phone back. Phil shoots him a warm smile.

"Why're you so tired?" Phil tries again.

"Long day," he responds without interest.

"Why?"

Dan doesn't like this whole position. Phil is far too close, sitting right beside him, Phil's blue eyes boring into Dan's. It makes him wonder if he truly does talk about Phil that much, and if he does, then what are the reasons? Surely not the same ones that are responsible for him not moving away, that he's allowing the closeness, that he doesn't mind it all as much as he should.

Dan is lonely, that's what it is. He's never had any proper friends, let alone now, having moved to another city. It's not all that terrible to have someone who doesn't hate you, he supposes. That's gotta be it.

"You don't care, so why d'you ask?" he questions, true to form.

Phil frowns ever so slightly, his already thin lips pursed in an even thinner line.

"Thought we agreed to be friends, Danny?"

"I might retract the agreement if you ever call me Danny again, Philly."

"Danny, Danny, Danny," Phil chants with a grin.

Dan, without thinking, proceeds to grab Phil's arm and shove him, which is probably more physical contact than they've ever had, aside from the day they don't speak of, when Dan completely broke down.

He tries to tell himself that it's nothing, that Phil is so discreet, that Phil doesn't mention it; and yet, he knows better. It's just one more proof that Phil is so fucking decent, and one more proof that Dan is an idiot.

"Don't risk it, Dan, I'm bigger than you. And older. I have an advantage."

"That's what she said."

Phil's eyes widen for a moment, and then he gets it. As said, so bloody decent, he doesn't even pick up on lame jokes in time.

"Dan!" Phil shouts, and his voice breaks a little, and his cheeks redden. Perhaps Dan's crossed some unnamed border. He wouldn't know. His own borderlines are so much different from Phil's, that there's no way they won't be bothering each other in the months to come.

Unless Phil moves out at the end of the term, of course. Legit possibility.

 

That was the plan for the two of them, after all. Survive the term, then Phil gets to go back to living with his best friend, and Dan is discarded. And left to live with Chris, PJ's roommate, who is probably a psycho killer. A fairly pleasant one, but still.

Dan doesn't realize he was smiling until he abruptly stops, the corners of his lips turning downwards.

Phil notices. "Is something wrong, Dan?"

"I'm fine, honest. Just want to get some sleep," he lies, but not really. He does want to get some sleep. And if he's always not fine, then surely that's not a lie either?

"I'll let you sleep, then," Phil says, looking away from him, leaving Dan's bed in favor of his own.

Something within Dan wants to ask him to stay, but of course, he doesn't.

 

~~~~~

 

Dan is studying. Or trying to.

Exam week is the so called cherry on top of this fucking cake that is university, and about a month too late, Dan had realized that he should probably prepare. As such, while Louise is off on her date (that Dan wasted half the day finding the perfect dress for, for whatever reason), Phil is at the library with PJ, and most people are out Christmas shopping, he's spending December 19th at work, hidden behind his manager's desk, trying to make sense of his law textbooks.

Tomorrow is the last exam of the term, and then they're all free for a couple of weeks. Of course, Dan is not exactly free. He intends to work all the way through the Christmas break, but that's yet another small detail he doesn't have to share with his flatmate.

He finds it difficult to focus on all the things related to company law when his mind keeps drifting in all sorts of directions. He hates how often that direction is Phil. He blames it on the fact that not much else ever happens in his life; of course his mind goes to the person that he sees the most. It makes good sense.

His manager, Bertie, catches him after an hour. If not for the busy period right before Christmas, he'd fire Dan, he says. Dan shrugs ever so slightly, grabs his stuff and moves to the bathroom, because Bertie is not likely to go that far.

 

After work, Dan stops by the store he had previously looked up online and buys the thing he'd been planning to purchase. Until the very last moment, he tells himself that this is a present for himself, but once he pays extra to have it wrapped, that excuse kind of falls to pieces.

 

-

 

The next day is a long day for Dan. Exam (probably failed), work (Bertie found his latest hiding spot), the tube (accident on one of the stations, Dan got stuck for an hour). It's really cold and Dan never checks the weather, so he's wearing his usual jacket, the fabric of which is woven with the cold British wind.

He might just keep the gift, he thinks. He might as well. Phil will think that he's a complete loser if he does give him a present, and Louise will never go off his case, and he'll have spent a lot of money on a person that is probably going to move out really soon.

Mind almost made up, he steps inside, only to find that Phil had gone a bit overboard with the Christmas decorations.

The room is illuminated by fairy lights, something that Dan really secretly enjoys. There's a golden little tree that's tacky as fuck, but still pleasant to look at. There are some Christmas figurines and there's Phil himself, wearing a terribly ugly Christmas sweater that he still somehow manages to pull off.

And Phil is smiling at him from the very moment he steps in, smiling like he means it, smiling like he's happy to see him.

Something, a tiny little something, seems to thaw in Dan's chest, warmth spreading throughout his whole body.

Christmas was never Dan's favorite time of year.

 

~~~~~

 

VIII.

 

"Daniel, you have to be nicer to Grandma Ruth this year. Don't argue with her anymore."

Dan can't think of one time that he did argue with his Gran. He may disagree with some things, some views of the world. He's got opinions of his own. That doesn't mean he's arguing, necessarily.

He doesn't bother saying it, because there is no bloody point.

He puts on a suit and tie for Christmas morning, he helps Mum carry the food to the dining room, sits down in a corner between Gran and Uncle Tom. Tries to stay as quiet as possible, occasionally shooting a meaningful look in Jake's direction.

But then, it starts. Uncle Tom mentions that his coworker is getting married. To another man.

"Thomas, I can't believe you would say things like that at the table," Gran says between bites of food. "It's not right. A marriage is between a man and a woman."

"A marriage is between two people that love each other," Dan protests as politely as he can.

All of the eyes turn towards him. He fights the urge to dive underneath the tablecloth and stay there for the rest of the day.

The deep voice of his father fills the otherwise silent room.

"Daniel, don't speak when not asked. We've been over this."

Dan is not asked to speak for the rest of the meal, and thus, he doesn't.

Next Christmas, he'll know better than to stand up for what he believes in.

 

~~~~~

 

 

It turns out that Phil had also got him a present, two tickets to see Muse live. That tipped the scales on whether he should give Phil one too, and Dan, somewhat shyly, handed his roommate a box set of the best Ghibli movies. There was a hug, unfortunately initiated by Dan. There were many, many smiles. There was the smell of Phil's cologne, lingering on Dan's shirt after he pulled away. There was the announcement that Phil is staying for the next term, and Dan shouldn't have said no, it's great, that's great when asked if he's alright with it.

Phil gave him a choice as to whom to give the second ticket to, mentioning that Dan may prefer to go with a friend, a girlfriend, anyone... Dan held back laughter, but only just.

Somehow, in that moment, it was clearer than ever that Dan does have a friend, and that friend is Phil.

It's a terrifying thought.

 

It'd all be pretty swell, but for whatever reason, Phil said that he'd be going home. Tomorrow.

 

Of course, Dan lied and said he'd be going home too, a couple of hours after Phil, but the disappointment that he felt at the perspective of spending two weeks alone was strange and completely unwelcome. He thought he'd love it, being alone all day, not having to entertain Phil, not having to speak to him, but when push came to shove, he didn't like it much at all.

 

As a result, when they both go to their respective beds, having exchanged their presents and talked far too much for Dan's standards, he quickly finds that he can't sleep.

He lies on his side, staring at the darkness before him, seeing the veiled silhouette of Phil, clearly asleep mere ten minutes later. He envies the guy. Obviously, Phil doesn't have quite as much on his mind as Dan does.

And there's a lot.

Everything in his life led up to who he is now, he knows. If he were always accepted, perhaps things would come easy. As it is now, they rarely ever do.

The smallest thought of being exposed, of opening up to someone, sends Dan jumping head first into a stormy ocean, risking what little he's got for the chance of finding dry land.

But why is it that lately, the only thing he can think of when imagining storm, are Phil's eyes?

 

Why is it that he talks about him so very often that even Louise, who is the very definition of tact, seems to have picked up on it?

Why is it that, when they parted after that hug earlier, the only thing he could think of was that he'd like to do it again?

 

Phil is -- Phil is the definition of warmth, to Dan. He smiles brighter than the sun and laughs at his own jokes and listens intently when Dan is speaking. He knows more than Dan would wish, because he knows that not everything is perfect; and while he may not be able to pinpoint exactly what is wrong, it's still more than Dan had ever allowed in the past.

Would Phil accept Dan if he knew that when he closes his eyes, he often thinks back to all the things they've done together the past day?

Would Phil be okay knowing that Dan re-watches his videos when they're apart, just because Phil's voice is stupidly soothing?

 

 

Would Phil accept Dan if he knew that he thinks marriage is for people of any gender, or would he react like Gran?

What a stupid question, Dan thinks. Phil, of all people, would certainly accept that.

But why does it even matter in the first place?

Why is it that the thought of Phil's disapproval makes Dan's heart crawl all the way up to his throat?

 

Why is it that Phil is leaving tomorrow, Dan is staying behind, and he couldn't be less happy about it?

 

-

 

Dan wakes up with a head full of questions that he can never hope to find answers to.

Phil is gone two hours later, and three hours later, Dan receives a text.

 

Phil (December 23, 10:21 AM)

It's flipping cold on this train! I might be going to Polar Bear Land

 

Dan ignores the text, goes to work, leaves his phone at the dorms.

He's not careless enough to risk filling his head with even more questions that have no answers.

Chapter Text

 

 

Dan pulls a thirteen hour shift on the day that Phil goes home for Christmas break, and yet, when he finally makes it to bed, he doesn't actually want to sleep.

 

Their room is dark aside from the fairy lights that Phil hung up before leaving, but Dan can still make out enough to see a pile of discarded clothes right next to Phil's bed, his backpack and his textbooks, and the stupid little Christmas tree that he got for the pair of them too.

Somehow, seeing all that only makes Dan feel all the more out of place in this room that he can't help but call theirs instead of his.

He opts to stare at the ceiling to avoid looking towards Phil's side of the room, if only to stop those nagging thoughts, but it's far too late.  He's already thinking, and all of the things on his minds are treacherous.

It doesn't take long for him to budge, and although he wasn't planning on it, he'll check his phone; perhaps knowing whether he had gotten any texts will give him the peace he needs to sleep. Having made up his mind, he checks his mobile to find that it's been blown up by texts from Phil.

Dan can't find a logical explanation as to why that is not a nuisance, but in truth, he doesn't try very hard.

Starting from the beginning, he reads through each and every one; the last one received two hours ago. It's a rollercoaster, really; a rollercoaster in which Phil calls him a lazy bum for not packing, goes through several stages of why aren't you replying, maybe my phone died, only to finally reach the conclusion that Dan must have been eaten by a snow shark, whatever that might be, and that's why he's not responding to Phil's texts.

Phil even managed to hold a one-sided conversation for the entire day, telling Dan about how he once went on the wrong train and ended up in Newcastle, only to finally end it all with a resigned why do I keep spamming you.

The smile that creeps up on Dan's face is involuntary and rather uncontrolled, but it doesn't last.

 

The thing is, Phil thinks that Dan is going home for Christmas, too. Hence the mentions of packing, going on the train home, things like that. And Dan is not going anywhere, least of all home.

He doesn't like lying, and yet, he lies. It could be because he hates being judged even more than he hates being dishonest, and admitting to the reality of his situation would open up a lot of ways to be judged.

Dan runs a little checklist in his mind. Disowned by his family, works a shit job just to barely scrape by, somewhat ran away from home with just a few of his belongings and his dog, the latter of which he had to leave with the parents of his one and only friend, Louise. He's living the good life, certainly. Lots of things to be judged for.

 

Mind back to the matter at hand, Dan decides that he'd best not reply to Phil and just go to sleep. What's it gonna help to text his roommate at two in the morning? He'll still be alone, too tired to appreciate the bliss of it, too confused to figure out why.

His resolve lasts a little longer than it usually does; a bit over five minutes.

He writes the first text and then erases it, because sorry Phil. when are you coming back? seems a bit too clingy to start off with, and Dan would hate to seem uncool; he's doing a good enough job at that without trying to. After a few attempts, he finally breaks the message up into several texts, and before he can change his mind, sends it to Phil.

 

 

Dan (December 24, 1:46 AM)

oh god what is this spamfest

i was out

as in didn't have my phone

i mean i have it now

obviously

 

 

I'm an idiot, he thinks, covering his face with his palm. He's never going to reply to that.

Minutes pass and Dan is proven right, because Phil sends no reply. Dan should be giving up by now.

 

 

Dan (December 24, 1:49 AM)

am i waking you?

 

He's gone this far, might as well keep it going. It's obnoxious, but he's eighteen, he's allowed.

Kind of.

 

Dan (December 24, 2:01 AM)

Philip

only losers sleep at this hour

you do know you're a loser right

i barely know you but i know that much

are u enjoying the way your phone keeps going off

?

?

??

 

 

Dan's persistence pays off and results in a brief exchange. He'd feel guilty for waking Phil, but this isn't the first time he's woken him just because he wanted company. Somehow, he feels even more entitled to it now, with Phil miles away, surrounded by people that love him.

At least one of them is about to have a proper Christmas.

 

Phil (December 24, 2:01 AM)

Hello to you too Dan

Yes, I was sleeping

 

Sorry, a part of him wants to say, I just wanted someone to talk to.

What he says instead is meaningless and far, far safer.

 

Dan (December 24, 2:02 AM)

and now you're not

 

Phil (December 24, 2:02 AM)

And now I'm not.

 

 

He's got a million ideas of what to say next, but ends up leaving it for the night. Phil doesn't text either, so Dan supposes he must've fallen back asleep. It makes sense that Dan would go to sleep, too. He's working all Christmas Eve, and unless he wants to be late (which to be fair, does happen rather often), he needs to be up in five hours.

He leaves the light on - for once - just because he can, 'cause Phil hates sleeping with the lights on, but Dan actually prefers it. As long as it's not right in his face. He sets his laptop down on the carpet and leaves it open, some instrumental music playing in the background to help him sleep better. He shuts his eyes and concentrates on thinking things along the lines of don't think, just sleep, just rest, don't think.

 

Perhaps all of that put together is too much of a distraction, he concedes as thirty minutes later, he's still wide awake. He turns off the light, turns off the music, tries to relax and let his mind wander.

Terrible, terrible idea. A typical Dan Howell sort of idea, really. He always gets these fucked up ideas that end up in the worst possible ways.

If he does allow his mind to roam, it truly does end up in the worst possible way, because he starts thinking of Phil. And that's a forbidden subject on most days, but Dan was never one to play by the rules.

 

In too deep to stop, he tries to imagine Phil in his house, whatever that's like, tries to imagine his family and the way he'll be spending his Christmas so differently from Dan. It's not all that hard to picture - Dan used to be a part of a similar life, he supposes - but at the same time, he figures that Phil's family is far different from his own. Phil is such a bloody happy person, so open and compassionate and quick to trust; he can't possibly be coming from a family like Dan's, where if you're not exactly what your parents may have hoped for, you're pretty much fucked. Dan's not sugarcoating it tonight. Far too late, far too tired.

Far too alone.

He's seen what Phil's room looks like on some of his videos, he's also seen Phil's older brother Martyn, a tall, ginger-ish guy who never seems to stop smiling. From Phil himself, Dan knows that he's got a mum and dad, two grandmothers and one grandfather, plus a whole phone book worth of cousins. No pets. At least there's one thing Dan wins at. He has a dog.

He can't keep his dog here, obviously, which is a shame. Of his entire family, Dan just might be missing Colin, his Tibetan terrier, the most. Colin is fluffy, warm and ever so happy to see him. Colin also doesn't care if Dan will ever amount to anything, as long as Dan can still provide treats and the occasional scratch behind the ear.

 

He gives up on sleep for the time being, pulls out his phone, opens up the camera app and browses through old photos of his pup. It's stupid really, to miss a dog, but it's -- it's the only thing, the only creature, left of home and --

He exhales, and the breath comes out shaky, erratic and shallow.

Fuck.

 

 

It's the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. There is no snow and, as far as Dan is concerned, the whole world is quiet.

It's also the first Christmas Eve that Dan will be spending all alone, but it's alright, 'cause he's got big plans. Big plans, big plans. Pizza, crap comedy marathon, absolutely no human interaction. He's got it all figured out.

How vastly different that must be from what Phil will be experiencing, Dan can only imagine.

 

Dan can't help but wonder whether Phil might spare him a thought during the course of his holiday. He already knows that thinking about Phil is rather unavoidable for him, however much he may want to deny it, but he doesn't see why that would go both ways. Dan is not very interesting.

 

If someone were to ask Dan why exactly his thoughts often seem to wander in that precise direction, he knows full well what he would say. I don't know many people, Phil is an idiot, idiots are fun to think about, I'm just bored, it's a hell of a lot better than thinking of home.

Most of those reasons may be true. But is that really it?

Or is it that the room feels eerily quiet when all of a sudden, he is alone again? Is it that Phil's occasional snoring had served as background music for a few weeks too long and now Dan can't get used to the silence?

Is it that once he finally does fall asleep, there will be no one there to pull him awake and force him out of bed, tutting and fussing pointlessly?

Is it that Phil is the one person, who upon wrongly judging Dan, not only retracted the opinion but even went out of his way to apologize, having known him for all of a week?

 

Is it that being around Phil, instead of making him feel worse, only puts him at ease?

 

Dan dozes off three hours later, but wakes up shortly after while it's still dark outside.

He doesn't manage to fall back asleep.

 

 

~~~~~

 

December 26th, 11:21 AM

Hey, this is Phil. I can't pick up right now, so leave me a message after the ROAR!

 

-

 

December 26th, 11:47 AM

Hey, this is Phil. I can't pick up right now, so leave me a message after the ROAR!

 

 

-

 

December 26th, 12:33 PM

Hey, this is Phil. I can't pick up right now, so le-

 

-

 

Dan aims the phone at the bed as he throws it across the room. He's lucky that for once, he doesn't miss.

What's Phil been up to? This is his third call, and he promised himself he'd stop at two. Of course, Dan is no stranger to failing to hold a promise made to himself, but honestly, the least the guy could do is pick up the bloody phone. That way, Dan would look less like a fool.

He's enough of a fool for calling just to chat, like a flipping high school girl, but he's gone through all the movies he had prepared for his day off and now, his thoughts are catching up too quickly.

It's no wonder, really, if you consider that for Dan, out of the past 48 hours, only four were spent sleeping.

He tries. He lies down in bed and closes his eyes and pulls the duvet up over his head, but it's not working. His mind roams all over the place, his thoughts running wild, and he can't seem to steady himself enough to finally drift off. The place is too quiet, too unusual, too unlike what he'd almost gotten used to calling home.

 

His failure of a roommate does a very good job at filling the silence, thanks to which, Dan doesn't have to think so much. As it is now, left to his own devices, he basically does nothing else but that.

The list of subjects that are forbidden only seems to grow by the moment.

 

Dan picks up the phone yet again, mulling over the idea of calling Phil once more, when he is startled by his very own ringtone right as Phil's name appears on the screen.

Phil is calling him.

Maybe he should just let the call drop. He tried Phil three times, he shouldn't be too easy to reach, Phil will just think that he's --

Oh, fuck it.

 

"Yo," he says into the phone, as casual as he can ever hope to be.

"Hi Dan!" Phil's voice fills the handset. "You rang, is everything alright?"

Of course Phil thinks something is wrong. Dan never ever calls people without any specific reason. He doesn't think he's ever called Phil, at least.

"Yeah, I just, um, I couldn't find the -- the link to that website with anime that I showed you," he lies quickly, stumbling over the words.

"Oh. It's, err, think it's just anime dot com?"

Of course he knows the link, and of course it's the lamest excuse in the history of forever, but what can you do.

"Right, thanks." He despises the silence that follows, so he fills it with a quick, "How's it going over there?"

"It's good! We're having a --" Phil pauses; Dan hears a lot of background noise, including what sounds like a series of girly squeals. "A movie marathon of sorts!"

Who's that girl giggling in the background? Does Phil have a girlfriend after all? He's never mentioned it, but he very well may have one, right? Should he ask?

No, of course he shouldn't bloody ask. Fucking hell, Dan, get a grip.

"Sorry that I interrupted you," Dan says instead, and it comes off as far more upset than it should.

"No, you didn't! I thought about calling you actually, just didn't wanna wake you, I know you sleep until --" Phil pauses as the noises in the background grow in volume. Dan hears him pull the phone away and say something along the lines of No, stop, no, and then Phil's voice is replaced by a vastly different one. A female one.

"Hello! Is that Dan? Oh, my god, he talks about you all the time! Hi Dan! Hiii!" the woman half shouts, half giggles into the phone. She has a pleasant voice with an accent that Dan can't quite place.

"Who's this?" he asks. She laughs in reply.

"Aw, you have such a cute voice! Like in the videos!"

Dan's cheeks heat up ever so slightly as he ponders just hanging up. Whoever this is clearly has nothing much to say to him, or at least nothing he needs to hear.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, a single sentence sticks. He talks about you all the time.

Then there's more noise and he hears Phil, more noise, then Phil again, far more clearly.

"Dan, I'm so sorry, that was just my brother's girlfriend," Phil explains hurriedly.

Dan exhales. He didn't even notice that he has been holding his breath.

"That's alright," Dan says, willing his voice not to sound shaky. "Seems... Nice."

"She's horrible!" Phil shouts, and Dan knows him, he knows that the girl is still there, listening to Phil speak. "I just might add salt to her tea."

"Wow, Phil. I didn't know you were six."

Phil laughs; a soft, gentle sound.

Something intangible constricts within Dan's chest.

"It's my best kept secret."

"You're failing at keeping it secret."

"I never fail at anything!" Phil protests, "Aside from failing at something. I fail at failing. Do you see what I did there?"

Dan tries - and fails, how fitting - to wrap his brain around Phil's odd idea of logic; once he gives up, he says, "You're a flipping weirdo, Lester."

"I'm taking that as a compliment," Phil announces, unbothered.

"That's not how I meant it, but sure."

Everything on Phil's side of the line grows more quiet and Dan figures that Phil must have went to another room in order to keep their conversation going. He shouldn't feel flattered, but he kind of does.

"How are you, Dan? How's it going at your parents place?"

Dan's heart sinks. He feels it all the more, because for a moment there, it almost felt like it was fluttering. What a foolish notion.

Dan can be a good liar when he wants to. Or alternatively, when he has to.

"It's fine. Nothing special."

The silence that follows lasts a bit too long. Dan wonders if perhaps Phil is looking for something to say.

The question remains unanswered as Dan hears Phil get called back to the room by what sounds like his father.

"I gotta go. I'll text you! Have fun, Dan!"

"Yeah, bye," Dan says, masking his disappointment. "You too -- you -- err, bye."

He hangs up, but he keeps on staring at the phone for the next ten minutes. Minutes during which Phil doesn't text him and Dan feels stupid to interpret it as I'll text you right away, because hey, they just spoke on the phone.

 

Dan puts the phone down.

The room is still very quiet.

 

~~~~~

 

IX.

 

"What are you getting me this year?"

Dan doesn't have to open his eyes to know that his brother, Jake, is bouncing up and down. It's enough that Dan's entire room is shaking.

"Math textbooks," he replies, pulling the blanket over his head. He's not feeling well, and thanks to the fever, his parents allowed him to stay home. Just this once.

Jake lands on Dan's bed with a loud thud, followed by a pained noise from Dan, whose leg was just sat on.

"Fuck," he mutters into the pillow before he can correct himself.

"Aha! I heard you! You said fuck!" Jake exclaims happily.

Dan whispers an internal good bye to any Christmas presents he may have hoped for this year. It's a matter of time before Jake says fuck in front of their parents.

Fuck.

"If you get me a DS, I won't tell Mum and Dad," Jake offers, as if reading Dan's mind.

"If I had the money for a DS, I'd get one for myself. Go away, I want to sleep."

Jake stops moving and shaking Dan's mattress, giving a moment's reprieve to Dan's aching head.

"I'll get you one!" his brother announces enthusiastically.

Dan peeks out from underneath the covers to shoot him a doubtful, although friendly, look.

"You can't afford that, Jake."

Jacob looks borderline offended. "I've got my savings! I have twenty-two pounds!"

Dan smiles, if somewhat against the odds, and lifts himself off the bed just enough to pull his brother down and give him a noogie.

"Ow! Stop!" Jake exclaims, pulling away immediately.

Dan does stop, closing his eyes again. There's a small smile still tugging at the corners of his lips.

"So what are you getting me?" Jake tries again after a moment of silence.

Dan thinks about the hidden present left in his locker at school, the one place Jake can't access. The present that cost Dan all of his savings and then some. The thing he just told Jacob he's definitely not getting.

"Didn't I tell you?"

It's going to be a good Christmas.

 

~~~~~

 

 

Most of the Christmases that Dan had spent with his parents were fairly rubbish, but this one takes the cake.

He can't sleep. He's got nothing good to eat. The room is too quiet and too cold. Phil is busy having fun in the middle of who-fucking-knows-where and what's worse, Phil also thinks that Dan is having a ton of fun, too.

Jacob sent him a text on the 25th, and three days later, Dan still hadn't read it.

Dan doesn't get how, even though he used to despise the very thought of having a roommate, being without one somehow makes everything so much worse. He's been through the whole what if Phil was here phase over the past couple of days and against everything that seems logical, the Phil is here scenario sounds far more appealing than whatever he's got going now.

He's stuck in limbo, really, stuck between thoughts about family and thoughts about Phil. Somehow, thinking about his family seems better. At least that makes some sense.

He and Phil have been texting on and off throughout, and while Dan is careful not to initiate the conversations, he still texts back far too quickly to make it seem like he doesn't give a shit. Which, ideally, is the vibe he'd been wanting to go for. Not working, not really.

Truth is, he looks forward to the messages far more than he should. And when he reads them, he almost hears Phil say them out loud. Perhaps he's finally gone and lost it. It'd make good sense.

His musings are interrupted by the sound of an incoming flurry of texts.

 

Phil (December 28, 11:20 AM)

Dan

Dan

Daniel

Danny

Hi Dan

 

Dan (December 28, 11:21 AM)

have u eaten too much sugar again phil

 

Phil (December 28, 11:23 AM)

I may have had some ice cream

And chocolate

And cake

 

Dan (December 28, 11:24 AM)

if u come back and don't fit through the door don't expect me to help you

 

Phil (December 28, 11:25 AM)

I never gain weight! I'm like my Aunt Helen

 

Dan (December 28, 11:26 AM)

that kind of thinking is bound to get you far in life

 

Phil (December 28, 11:28 AM)

I always told you that I'm a genius

 

Dan goes over a couple of snarky replies, but Phil texts again before he gets to pick one.

 

Phil (December 28, 11:29 AM)

Did you sleep any better last night?

 

In a series of unfortunate events, in the middle of the night, when he was at his worst, he texted Phil and told him that he can't sleep. As a result, he now receives a question he doesn't know what to say to. In the end, he settles for honesty.

 

Dan (December 28, 11:33 AM)

not really

 

Phil (December 28, 11:34 AM)

You need a lullaby

Listen to the 10 hour video of Jigglypuff singing that's on YouTube

 

Dan chuckles. Typical Phil.

 

Dan (December 28, 11:36 AM)

yes phil thank you for your infinite wisdom

 

Phil (December 28, 11:37 AM)

That'll be ten pounds

 

Dan (December 28, 11:38 AM)

wow

you're cheap

 

Phil (December 28, 11:40 AM)

Roommate discount

It's normally twelve pounds

 

Dan (December 28, 11:47 AM)

i feel special

 

Phil (December 28, 11:47 AM)

You are

 

And then, Dan says no more.

 

 

-

 

He's turned off the lights an hour ago, and he still can't sleep.

He said good night to Phil over text, like the lame idiot that he is, and put his phone on the nightstand, determined not to use it. The light distracts you, keeps you from sleeping, Dan knows better.

Only he doesn't, because he is still awake.

He doesn't know what's the matter, really. He tried various videos with background noise, waterfalls and birds and things like that, and all they do is annoy the living hell out of him. So he goes with silence, but then, it's too quiet.

 

He makes a valiant effort, he does. But four hours later, all he wants is just to sleep. Perhaps a little distraction might help him with it.

He grabs his phone. Checks Facebook, checks the news, checks his email, finally winds up on YouTube.

Two clicks later, he's on Phil's channel. Another two clicks and he's watching one of Phil's more recent videos.

Phil is funny in a quirky way that not all people understand, Dan judges, watching the sketch. A smile spreads over his face instantly and he does nothing to stop it.

In the middle of the night, all by himself, he can afford to be true to his own emotions, he thinks.

Several long seconds pass before he catches up to his own train of thought.

Emotions? What is he on about? There are no emotions related to Phil, surely. Aside from contempt and hatred and --

And Dan's an idiot, a bloody idiot. He doesn't hate Phil. He feels as though he has a mild case of split personality disorder, where one Dan is more honest, the other Dan is trying to tell lies that no one ever believes in.

More often than not, he's the second Dan.

The video ends. He picks another one of Phil's and starts it up.

 

Phil's voice is warm and doesn't quite go as high as Dan's does. His eyes are like three different colours, but the camera does a poor job at picking that up. On camera, his eyes just look blue. In reality, there's some green and grey thrown into the mix. Dan remembers, somehow. If you asked him about the colour of his own eyes, he'd have to think for a moment. Phil's are a whole different story.

Phil smiles widely and laughs earnestly. Phil gesticulates a lot and the stories he tells are all told in a very animated tone of voice. His sketches are odd, but in a good way, if that makes sense.

When Phil talks to Dan, he never looks down on him. Well, Phil is taller. By a little. But metaphorically speaking, there's no looking down. They're on the same level. And that makes no sense, does it? Because Phil's got it all. His life sorted, a hobby he likes, a family that loves him. Soon enough, a degree. Friends, a couple of them, who adore him, probably.

A roommate that spends his free time watching Phil's videos instead of sleeping.

Dan is not his equal, not by any stretch. Dan's a complete mess.

And yet, Phil has never made him feel that way. In fact, if Phil makes him feel anything, if Dan were to be honest, it's only positive things.

He starts up another video, careless as to which one it is.

Phil is odd with a sense of humour that stands out from the rest. Phil is awkward, but that doesn't stop him from talking to people and being so fucking nice. Phil worked so hard to befriend Dan and was pretty much undeterred, even though Dan had done a lot to prevent it from happening.

Phil talks, a lot. Phil listens when Dan's speaking and remembers what he said. Smiles a lot too. When he's laughing, the tip of his tongue sticks out the side of his mouth. When he's frowning, there's a little crinkle on the bridge of his nose. When he starts laughing, Dan forgets that he was meant to be sulking.

In fact, that's the problem, isn't it? Phil makes Dan drop his act entirely. He doesn't force him to do so, aside from persistent questions when he wants to know something; no, he just -- just makes it happen, Dan supposes. And that's a bad thing. There are too many aspects of Dan's life that have to remain hidden for this to be good.

 

If that's truly the case, then why is it that it feels good? Why doesn't Dan hate the very idea of Phil, like he had initially planned to?

The video ends. Dan doesn't notice.

 

For Dan, nothing comes easy. His sexuality is one thing. For the longest time, he'd tell himself that he's imagining things, of course he's into girls, and guys are just bros.

He knows full well that is what his parents wish to be the truth. He also knows that it couldn't be further from the truth.

Dan has never had a proper crush or anything more advanced than that, but everyone has fancied someone at some point in their life. It just so happens that all the people Dan had fancied were very much male. Still, it never went anywhere, of course. He'd hardly spared them much of a thought.

 

Yet somehow, he can't go five minutes without thinking about Phil Lester.

Phil, in Dan's opinion, is just -- fuck, this sounds lame even in his head -- somehow better than everyone else. Nicer, kinder, funnier. Lots of interests in common. Very understanding when it comes to Dan's less-than-perfect attitude at times.

Tall, dark haired, skinny. Attractive against all odds, because Phil does nothing to highlight that.

 

And that is where Dan crosses the mythical line between this one guy from Uni and Phil Lester, Chapter One of Far Too Fucking Many.

He sits up abruptly. His phone falls on the carpet. He doesn't check whether it survived the fall.

Dan is the kind of person that likes to have everything tie up nicely, fall into place just right. He finds pleasure in seeing something that makes no sense suddenly seem clear as day.

Somehow, this moment, although it's exactly that, brings Dan no pleasure.

All the hours spent thinking, all the pointless smiles that he hid, all the questions he could never answer, all the nights he couldn't sleep.

Many problems, one answer.

 

Phil Lester.

Coincidentally, also the first guy that Dan...

Fell in love with, he thinks, trying it on for size.

 

If his heart starts pounding at that, it makes good sense.

After all, it's all too fucking true.

 

-

 

Dan doesn't text Phil for the entirety of the next day.

 

At night, he still can't sleep.

Chapter Text

 

It's New Year's Eve, and Dan is being rather pathetic.

The battery in his phone is running really low, but he can't be bothered to go find his charger. He also doesn't want to stop scrolling. He's nearly reached the first year.

The photos he is browsing tell some sort of a story, but in reverse. Stupidly fascinated, he stares at pictures from a few years ago. So much has changed, but Phil's smile has stayed equally wide throughout the years. The same could never be said about Dan.

Yes, he is going through all of Phil's Facebook photos. So what? The guy isn't coming back for a few more days. It's not like he'll ever know. And this is far, far better than actually contacting Phil, which he is trying to keep himself from doing, so he is well and truly excused. Still pathetic, but excused.

He started about thirty minutes ago with Phil's most recent pictures. Actually, the first few are of them both. One of them sitting on Louise's bed, playing Mario Kart, one from that stupid night spent drinking with PJ and Chris, where they're both somewhat red-faced and dizzy-eyed, a selfie that Phil insisted on during a trip to Starbucks (Dan is actually smiling on this one), a picture of the two of them and PJ, playing a board game.

A picture of Dan, taken by Phil, when Dan wasn't looking. It was a late night, Dan was trying to study, and Phil said that he looked very intellectual.

There's a caption on it, too. Dan pretending to study so that he doesn't have to go make me some coffee.

Dan usually hates seeing pictures of himself, but for some reason, he's quite fond of this one.

 

As he goes back in time, pictures of Dan disappear and other people take his place. Lots and lots of Phil and PJ. One or two more recent ones of them and Chris. Some other friends that Dan has never heard of and doesn't recognize. Parties and outings and things like that.

A few pictures of Phil and some guy that is not PJ. Another friend? Dan doesn't know. But on one of the photos, they're pressed so close together, Dan scowls and tries to forget that he'd ever seen it.

Pictures of Phil with his brother. Other people that look very similar - probably Phil's family. A photo of Phil, the brother and a girl that Dan supposes is his girlfriend.

Phil's fashion sense had decidedly improved over the years. His haircut too, although Dan does enjoy the longer hair Phil used to have. Then he finally finds pictures of Phil's natural hair color, pictures that are older, pictures on which Phil looks rather young, a teenager still.

He finds an old photo which back then would not be called a selfie, but is essentially just that, where Phil is looking directly into the camera. He is laying in bed, shirtless, a bit of his chest exposed. The look in his eyes brings a lot of words to Dan's mind, none of which he would repeat if someone asked.

Dan's heart works its way up his throat, blocking it for a moment. His cheeks feel hot, as does the back of his neck.

Very, very  careful not to accidentally like the picture, he keeps on. At this point he is just curious what the first photo on Phil's Facebook might be. All of this is just for research purposes, clearly.

 

Finally, he gets to the last picture. It's small and really bad quality, but still captures Dan's attention.

Phil's hair is brown-ish, short and spiky, he's wearing a t-shirt that makes Dan question Phil's sense of style, and he's smiling from ear to ear.

Dan's heart skips a lonely beat as he recognizes that smile. It's the same one he's been seeing every day for the past months; wide, unabashed, friendly and kind.

 

He tosses his phone aside and lays back on the bed, staring at the many cracks on the ceiling. He's breathing heavily, even though his exertion is merely of the mental kind; but there's a lot of it, because his mind still swimming with the very fresh realization that Phil is more than just a friend.

Somehow, after initially admitting it, repeating that sentiment seems so much harder for Dan. He's not even certain that it's true. Maybe he's just being stupid, insecure and anxious, and as a result, projecting his loneliness onto the one guy that is usually around.

Maybe he's an idiot. Actually, scratch that, that's not a maybe, that's a certainly.

Maybe he truly is in love with Phil. Maybe that's what all this means.

What does he know about being in love? It could just be a crush, although Dan likes to think himself above crushes, he's not twelve anymore, is he? Either way, it could be anything. He's probably just being delusional, or stupid, or maybe he's got a cold coming, it could very well be that.

Dan likes to lie to himself, he does it exceedingly often. Today, it just isn't working.

 

He closes his eyes, knowing that he won't be able to sleep, and tries not to think, but Phil keeps reappearing in his thoughts, stubborn as ever. Phil takes up so much space in Dan's memories and seems to have taken permanent residence in Dan's thoughts of the future. Dan wishes there was a way to just purge someone from your thoughts; something like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

 

Dan doesn't want to be in love. Dan doesn't want to have anyone that he would miss if they would toss him aside like the piece of trash that he is. He doesn't want any strings to keep him in one place, and to his limited knowledge, loving someone means you want to have them around. That you'll want to stay close to them.

Then again, he doesn't exactly want to see his family, so that proves him wrong. But on which point?

 

He sighs, runs his fingers through his hair and rubs his eyes until there are little stars blocking his vision. He needs a distraction, one that is not related to Phil.

He'd also like to get some sleep. He's barely slept this week.

Sleep would be a dream come true, but Dan's dreams rarely ever do.

 

 

When his phone, which should really be out of battery by now, alerts him of an incoming text, he jumps. A little voice inside his head tells him it's probably Louise, but another voice, one even smaller, tells him that it might also be Phil.

Without a moment's pause, he darts off the bed, nearly trips over his backpack, rummages through a pile of clothes, finds his charger and plugs the phone in at what feels like the very last second.

After a deep breath and somewhat against his will, he checks his messages, and (unfortunately?) he is not disappointed.

 

Phil (December 31, 11:37 PM)

Dannnnnn

It's almost new year!!!!!

 

He rolls his eyes, if only to counter the smile he can't seem to hold back.

 

Dan (December 31, 11:39 PM)

i guess

whats your new years resolution that is set to fail within a week?

 

Phil (December 31, 11:40 PM)

Eating less chocolate. Yours?

 

He snorts. He's known Phil for what, a few months? And he knows, he knows that this is such a Phil response. Of course Phil texts him about chocolate. Dan is tempted to google something along the lines of chocolate factory and send Phil a picture, but he doesn't. He is focused on Phil's question.

 

Dan is terrible at sticking to his resolutions, so much so that he hardly ever makes them. But he did make one last year, and he did stick to it. How refreshing, right?

If things were any different, he'd probably not have managed it, though.

 

 

~~~~~

 

X.

 

His friend Louise thinks that Dan is spending New Year's Eve with his parents.

His brother thinks that he is spending it with Louise and her friends.

His parents probably don't give a shit, so Dan doubts that they think anything much of it.

 

Of the two assumptions, none are real, but his final decision still seems to be the best one by far, despite the difficulties involved.

Dan is cold, freezing cold, he wasn't able to secure any alcohol (his babyface makes it impossible to pretend he is 18), and if he runs into a group of drunks he will probably get mugged and beaten and who knows what else. All in all, it's hardly a luxurious cruise around the world.

But this is nice. He's alone, nobody is bothering him (yet), and he gets to see the fireworks so much better from way up here.

All he did was ride the lift and climb a few sets of stairs to reach the roof of an apartment block, but in a way, this feels like an adventure. His first New Year's alone.

 

The last few months haven't been easy on Dan. At school, at home. Feeling like a failure is almost a requirement for him these days. He tries and tries and yet still ends up falling just short of the goal. The problem might be that he doesn't even know what the goal is.

He doesn't know how to please his parents. He doesn't know what to do with his life.

He's tired. He wants to sleep. He wants to be alone.

 

The lights so far down beneath him make him feel like he is swimming in a sea of stars. When he looks up to the sky, he can see quite a few of them too. Minutes pass and he does not want to look away.

 

A feeling of freedom washes over him as the minutes tick down and down closer to midnight. As if they were physical beings, he captures each one of his problems and mentally locks them down, if only for a few seconds. This moment is his.

 

Dan used to have a lot of dreams and wishes. He probably had some goals too, way back in the day.

After everything that's happened, but one wish remains.

Freedom. Freedom to be who he is. Freedom to find out what that even means.

 

As the clock strikes midnight and the sky lights up with all colours of the rainbow, he makes a promise to himself.

He will move out this year, and he will never look back.

 

~~~~~

 

 

What would he wish to happen in the upcoming year? What does he feel he needs to work on?

He sighs. That list would be fucking endless. He needs to get his life sorted in every way possible.

He thinks back to the way he spent his day. Thinking about Phil, feeling sorry for himself, thinking about texting Phil, looking at pictures of Phil, and then, after all this, finding the cheek to actually tell himself he doesn't feel anything for the guy. Dan's level of pathetic is definitely rising each and every day since he'd met Phil Lester.

There he goes, blaming it all on Phil. How convenient.

 

What does he need to do? Suddenly, he knows. He types out the response in mere seconds.

 

Dan (December 31, 11:49 PM)

re-evaluating my life choices

 

-

 

This year, getting alcohol was easily done, he's eighteen now. This year, he can't see the fireworks, because he's got the curtains drawn shut and he's in a shitty dorm room, not on the top of what at the time felt like the whole world. This year, he is still alone.

Dan knows it's midnight because everyone in various other rooms starts screaming like mad. As if on cue starts drinking. He's got to celebrate, right?

He puts on an episode of The IT Crowd and drinks far faster than he probably should. It's pointless; it doesn't quiet down his thoughts, just makes them run in parallel to what he is trying to pay attention to.

What's Phil doing? Dan never bothered to ask. Partying with friends from back home? Spending the night with his parents? The second option doesn't sound very likely. Phil, unlike Dan, seems to know a fair amount of people. What's more, he knows a fair amount of people that don't hate him, something that Dan hasn't been able - or willing - to achieve.

 

Dan wasted the entire day away. When he is at work, he hates his life a bit more, but he also thinks a bit less. Today, on his day off, he'd done nothing but think. It's not good for him.

His phone alerts him of an incoming text. His heart drops a little when he realizes it's not from Phil.

 

Louise (January 1, 12:21 AM)

Happy New Year Dan! Love you heaps xx

 

Despite his disappointment, he replies immediately. It's not Louise's fault that he's an idiot.

 

Dan (January 1, 12:22 AM)

thanks lou x

happy new year :]

 

Why hasn't Phil texted him yet? After all, Louise found the time.

 

Is this what it always feels like when you develop feelings for someone? Is it always this annoying, horrid and unpleasant? Does it always feel like something's knocked the life out of you? Not that Dan had a lot of it to begin with, but still.

Does it always feel so hopeless?

It's not like anything will come of it. He truly has wasted the day, and something tells him it's not the last time that he will do this to himself.

 

He's not planning on texting Phil anymore, but Phil texts him first. Drunk, clearly. Later than Dan had hoped, but better late than never.

 

Phil (January 1, 1:21 AM)

HAPPY NEWY EAR DANNY!!!!!!!!!!!!

My parents letk me drinkm because of my adavanced ageb

 

 So he really did stay with his parents.

For a brief second, Dan imagines being there with Phil. That it would be nice. That he wouldn't feel so alone.

He shakes his head and texts Phil back.

 

 

Dan (January 1, 1:22 AM)

wow phil

youre so cool

how do you even bear it?

 

There. That's indifferent enough, sarcastic too. Well done.

 

Phil (January 1, 1:27 AM)

Im AM AZING by natrue

Like my channel

On youtube

You know? My video channkel

 

Dan chuckles. How is it that he'd been watching a comedy series for the past hour, and the first time he laughed was when Phil texted him?

Dan is a loser, a complete, utter loser.

He takes another swig of whiskey, right from the bottle. And unfortunately, he then proceeds to turn off his brain for a little while.

 

Dan (January 1, 1:41 AM)

pretty sure i do know your channel yeah

and youre a loser by nature you turnip

but well

you're also kind of amazing maybe

like i mean the channel name is maybe not a total miss

you know

you have your moments when youre funny or nice or idk

but youre also a loser so dont get your hopes up

 

Phil doesn't reply and Dan goes through all the stages of grief, because he's let his barrier down for a moment, and as always, got nothing in return.

He wishes that life would work out the way he wants it to. Briefly, he allows himself to imagine that his feelings for Phil will lead to something bigger. But what?

"This isn't a rom-com, Dan," he says to himself, looking at his phone, still awaiting a reply. Against all odds.

Has he mucked it all up? He didn't say too much, did he? Couldn't have. Then again, coming from him, the smallest bit of praise is a lot. Phil might be in shock.

 

Once he's started this, it's kind of hard to stop.

 

Dan (January 1, 2:58 AM)

do u ever think about how weird it is how some things just turn out

its bloody strange that you became my roommate

and its strange that i dont hate u

and that we get along

life is weird

its a new year and i just want things to pause and let me breathe but they never do

its not a game

cant pause or save and reload you know

i wish i could

 

He wants to hear Phil's voice. Only what would it help? He doesn't try to call.

He waits, but it's pretty obvious that a reply is not going to happen.

 

Dan (January 1, 3:11 AM)

phil?

you asleep?

 

He drinks the last of his whiskey, knowing he had way too much.

 

Dan (January 1, 3:26 AM)

gnight then

happy new year

 

 

To the sound of drunk uni students screaming outside, his mind a complete mess, Dan, at long last, falls asleep.

 

~~~~~

 

He wakes up in the afternoon with a lot of texts from Phil awaiting him. Phil is nice and doesn't hate him. Phil also says, I'm glad you're my roommate, which turns Dan's expression sour.

Did he really use words such as friend to describe Phil? Phil is his roommate, that's all. Clearly.

 

It's a rollercoaster, this whole falling in love thing. Dan doesn't want to be on this particular ride anymore, but at the same time, he can't seem to find a way out. And Phil is by no means making it easy on Dan.

 

Fuck.

 

-

 

Phil is set to return a few days after New Year's, and on the day of his return, Dan makes some sort of an effort. He doesn't clean the room all too well, but he does throw away the empty bottles and other things. After all, Phil thinks that Dan had spent the entirety of Christmas break with his family.

Dan scoffs at the mere thought. Oh well, he lied once and has to keep it up now. Not like he wants to discuss his family situation with anyone, let alone Phil. In Phil's case, Dan would rather not be perceived as the complete flop that he well and truly is. Something tells him that it might be too late for that, considering that he already broke down in Phil's presence and went as far as crying in the guy's arms.

Ugh.

 

Dan has a whole plan in relation to Phil's return. Obviously, he doesn't want his flatmate to notice that he developed some sort of feelings towards him. As such, he's gonna keep it cool.

He won't straighten his hair or dress properly. Look like he doesn't give a shit.

He'll stay on tumblr and pretend Phil isn't there.

He'll keep it cool.

 

The plan lasts for all of two seconds, because when Phil comes back, panting from carrying his stupidly heavy suitcase all the way up to the 7th floor (the lifts haven't been working since New Year's Eve), Dan is starstruck.

Lame as it may be, he had watched Phil's videos every day during the time they spent apart, but seeing him in person has a different effect on Dan.

 

Phil's hair is a total mess, there are little droplets of sweat on his forehead and a spot of what looks like ketchup on his very white shirt. In Dan's eyes, he looks quite amazing.

Phil meets Dan's gaze the moment he steps in, and his lips stretch in a wide smile, wider than the ones Dan had seen on his pictures, a different kind of smile.

The plan? What plan?

Dan barely manages to hold back a joyful chuckle as he grins from ear to ear, completely losing his facade. An impulse tells him to hug Phil, but that, he manages to contain. He merely stands there for a moment, before at last saying, "You're back."

Phil bites down on his lower lip, still smiling, and nods.

"I'm back."

And from then on, the plan kinda goes to hell.

 

~~~~~

 

"Why are we still walking? It's so fucking cold!"

Phil merely rolls his eyes at Dan, pointing to the street ahead.

"Just a little more! I have to show you this shop, it's amazing!"

Dan shakes his head, but doesn't hide his smile. "What's the point? It's not like we can afford any of it, you spork."

"Don't need money to look," Phil retorts nonchalantly.

"Yes, looking at chocolate, great idea. The next time you eat, I'd suggest you stick to just looking, too. You're gonna be a model."

"I know! I'm like Tom Hiddleston, but better!" Phil jokes, but Dan silently agrees, if only in his mind.

"If someone comes to shank you for saying that, I won't stand in their way," Dan says instead.

Phil looks back at him, an exaggerated, sad expression on his face.

"You wouldn't protect me? Such a bad friend."

The word rolls off Phil's lips easily. It's bittersweet to Dan.

Having the guy around only makes the confusion so, so much worse.

 

They're spending the last few days of their Christmas break by hanging out together. Of course, Dan still has to work, but he cancels two shifts just to have more time for this. It's invigorating, but it's not good for him, it's exhausting, but it's so good that he can't help himself.

They watch anime, they play games, they walk around London, exploring different places. This time, Phil insisted on showing him a chocolate shop and Dan agreed, even though it's a long way to walk. In his defense, he was rather distracted by staring at Phil's lips as he spoke, and didn't realise what he had gotten himself into until they were practically halfway there.

Dan feels like he's drowning, he's in way over his head. Phil is, of course, oblivious. The least Dan can do is make sure of that.

"'course not, I'd run straight home and tweet about it later. I'd be internet famous thanks to you."

"I don't believe you," Phil says easily, "You'd at least take a picture first. You know, for extra points."

Dan laughs against his will and shrugs. "You know me too well. I'm like, a bit uncomfortable right now. Please go away."

"I can't. I won't find my way back if you don't guide me."

"Phil! I wasn't even paying attention when we were walking! I've got no clue where we are," he exclaims.

"Me neither, but I know we're on the same street as the shop! I bet it's somewhere close," Phil says carelessly, looking around. "There it is! Montezuma's! Come on!"

And Phil pulls at Dan's jacket sleeve to make him hurry along, and Dan bumps into him, and they're close, and Dan is a flop, a complete flop.

 

-

 

Dan spends some money that he really shouldn't be spending and gets the cheapest bit of chocolate that they offer, claiming it's only for his own use.

When they get home, frozen solid and exhausted, he stops pretending and offers some to Phil. "Take half," he says, "You need some sugar after that bloody trip."

Dan is the one to split the chocolate, so Phil never notices that the so called half is much bigger than what Dan keeps for himself.

Dan likes chocolate, but deep down, he really does like Phil more.

 

~~~~~

 

Classes begin again and January is coming close to an end. Dan's days are filled with work (that Phil still doesn't know of), classes (that he hates more and more each day), and hanging out with Phil. He agrees to join him for yet another video, and even learns a little bit of editing in the process. It's quite fun.

He stops making it a big deal whenever they spend time together. They no longer make plans. Somehow, it's slowly becoming routine; as if it's a given that when they're both home at the dorms, they'll be doing something together instead of Phil awkwardly trying to make conversation and Dan ignoring him.

As far as having feelings for Phil goes, this proximity both makes things easier and harder on Dan, but he finds himself unable to change anything about it.

 

One day, as they're both sitting on Dan's bed and watching a rubbish horror movie, Dan sort of stops paying attention to it. He glances at Phil instead, amused by how the guy jumps at every little thing, even though none of it is even remotely frightening. Phil's eyes seem dark blue in the light coming from the screen, wider than usual now that he is scared.

Their knees are brushing on occasion, and each time it happens, a shiver runs down Dan's spine.

Has he ever mentioned that he is pathetic?

Dan doesn't even notice that he's been staring until Phil suddenly meets his eyes. He feels caught red handed, even though technically, he's done nothing wrong.

"What's the matter? Do I have something on my face?" Phil asks, rubbing both his cheeks as if to clean them.

Dan, his silent reverie suddenly interrupted, opens his mouth; what comes out is not an explanation, but a long ummm that doesn't make this any less weird.

"Errr, no, um, just an -- an eyelash, yeah, you've got a stray eyelash," he lies, mentally kicking himself for being an idiot.

Then he goes and makes it worse, because he reaches out, touches Phil's cheek and pretends to remove said eyelash. His touch lingers; Phil's eyes never once leave his, his gaze questioning but not upset. He removes his hand hastily, lays it back in his lap. There is warmth radiating from where his fingers had just brushed Phil's skin a moment ago.

"Hey, I wanted to make a wish!" Phil whines.

Dan frowns, because he'd already forgotten what he was pretending to be doing, but he gets it quickly enough. Or so he hopes.

"I already threw it away," he says, showing Phil both his palms to prove it.

"Pretend it's there! Come on, my Grandma always said it's bad luck if you don't do it!"

Dan sighs theatrically and sticks out his left hand, palm up. "You should write a book about the shit your family says, Phil. They sound like a goldmine of life advice."

Phil grins at him, entirely unoffended, and then his face is closer and closer, and he blows on Dan's finger, not closing his eyes until the very last second, when Dan supposes he makes his stupid wish.

Dan's heart, unmoved by the horror film, is now racing really fast. And Dan is daft, so daft and hopeless, so hopeless.

The moment is gone before Dan knows it. Phil moves away and looks back at the screen.

"There! Now it will surely come true."

"What did you wish for?" Dan asks, resigned.

"Can't tell you!" Phil replies, "It won't come true if I do!"

He rolls his eyes, mumbles something about Phil being an idiot and goes back to pretending to watch the film. Can't stare at Phil too much. It gets weird if he does.

Dan doesn't want it to get weird. He'd hate for Phil to know how much of a mess he is on the inside; he'd hate for Phil to figure out that Dan has a thing for him. It would be really bad.

 

On the other hand, if he truly does think it'd be all that terrible if Phil were to find out, then why does he imagine that exact moment when he goes to bed and shuts his eyes?

 

-

"Are you asleep?"

They haven't said a word for about two hours, which is when they said good night. Dan hasn't slept a wink, too lost in his thoughts. He wasn't aware of Phil being awake too, though.

"No." He pauses for a moment. "Why are you awake, you loser? We've got class in like five hours."

He hears Phil chuckle lightly and opens his eyes. It's dark, but he can just about make out Phil's face after a moment of staring. Phil is on his side, propping himself up on his elbow. He's looking at him and Dan is looking right back.

"Why aren't you sleeping, Dan?"

"You woke me up, obviously," Dan jokes, then takes it back when he sees that Phil's expression falls. "I'm kidding."

"Oh," Phil says. He lays down on his back, breaking eye contact. "I just can't sleep today."

Dan mirrors Phil's position, but turns his head to the side and glances at him still. It's weird, laying here in the dark, with the world around them so quiet that even though they're almost whispering, it still sounds too loud.

"Welcome to my world," Dan says.

"Does this happen to you often?"

"What, not sleeping?"

"Yeah."

"I guess. I'm used to being tired."

"You should sleep more, Dan," Phil says softly, "I've got to stop keeping you up."

"No!" Dan utters a little too hastily, then to cover it up, adds, "I mean, it's mostly me keeping you up. I'm a night person."

"You're a night owl. Dan Owell."

Dan groans at that. If Phil was sitting beside him, Dan would likely shove him off the bed.

"Oh my god Phil, I hate you. I hate you so much."

"No, you don't," Phil protests playfully. He turns his head too, facing Dan once again. "You like me."

Dan's eyes grow wide and his breath catches in his throat. Has Phil noticed after all? Wasn't Dan stealthy enough about it? How is this even possible?

Is he upset?

Since Dan is too late to say anything in reply, Phil adds, "You didn't want to be friends, but we are good friends, aren't we? Dan?"

Dan wants to stand up, take the two steps that separate him from Phil's bed, and slap the guy across the face. Is he blind? Is he stupid? No, wait, Dan doesn't want him to know, but still. He doesn't like the word friendzone, but if it were a real thing, Dan would be so deep in it that he'd be living underground. Friends. Friends!  Fucking hell, Phil.

With a sigh, he responds, "How much are you paying?"

"For what?" Phil asks, taken aback. Clearly, this wasn't the answer he had been expecting. To be fair, Dan's in the same boat. He's just winging it and hoping that they end this conversation soon, because he might say something that he'll regret later.

"Being your friend. It's a lot of work, y'know."

"A bottle of coke twice a week?"

"I'm offended."

"Two. Two bottles?"

"D'you want me to get fat?"

"I don't mind," Phil says easily, "You'd still look fantastic."

Dan throws his head back and looks at the ceiling with a stunned expression. This guy. This guy. Does he even know what he is saying? Of course, this would all be fine if not for Dan's stupid feelings for Phil. It'd be just as meaningless as Phil intends it to be.

"I hate you," Dan repeats. It doesn't sound convincing, not even to him. "Go to sleep, Phil."

He hears Phil laugh across the room. It's a warm, pleasant sound that fills his ears and somehow travels all the way to his heart.

"Alright then," Phil says, his voice simultaneously a little soft and a tad coarse. "I hate you more."

"I hate you most."

"G'night, Dan," Phil whispers.

Dan doesn't turn to look at him, but he feels his heavy gaze burning into his skin.

"G'night."

 

That night, when he does fall asleep, he dreams of Phil, and Phil is not just a friend in this dream, and the words they exchange are vastly different, but the tone of voice remains exactly the same.

He wakes up thinking that something is missing, eluding his notice, that he doesn't see the entirety of the puzzle, he's missing a vital piece.

But what could it be?

Chapter Text

 It seems like everyone knows. No, really, it does. Just not Phil. Every-single-person, with the notable exception of Phil.

Every single person seems to be so aware of the fact that Dan has a -- a thing for Phil, but Dan's flatmate is as oblivious as ever.

Dan is upset, but not only that; no, something akin to anger seems to be boiling in his veins, threatening to emerge in full force. There are a lot of emotions it would need to fight through to get to the surface, though. And yet, it's there - a hint of anger, a stormy expression, a befuddled mind.

 

He can't place why exactly he feels angry.

If you asked Phil, Phil would say that Dan is upset with him due the fact that Phil kept something from him. There is some truth in that, of course. Hardly enough to justify storming out on a Saturday night with nowhere else to go. It's a good thing he brought his wallet; perhaps the twenty quid he carries in it will allow him to last the night without having to come back until after he's done with work on Sunday.

 

Dan feels like he's been taken advantage of, but that wasn't really the case.

Dan feels like Phil betrayed him somehow, but if he were to be rational, he'd know that betrayal is an exaggeration.

 

Is it really, though? What if someone who knows him had seen what Phil had kept from him?

 

Dan shakes his head and zips his jacket all the way up. It's cold, bloody cold. Two in the morning on the last day of January is really not the perfect time for a little stroll through London, but if there is one thing that Dan is known for, it's being reckless.

 

Where should he go? Dan definitely doesn't want to go home. He scoffs at his own thoughts. Home? The dorms are hardly home. But does he have anything better?

The question sends a chill down his spine, and he refuses to answer it, if only in his mind.

 

He walks through the streets, trying not to make eye contact with any of the drunk strangers that appear now and then, until he finds a McDonald's that's open around the clock. This'll do, he thinks. Once inside, he finds some comfort in the warmth and bright lights, and for now, this will have to suffice.

 

Approaching the visibly tired cashier in order to buy something to eat, he goes as far as to shoot the boy a sympathetic grin, but he doesn't get one in return. Dan doubts the guy even registered it.

Dan is not mad. He feels the exact same way when he is at work.

 

Dan sits down somewhere in the corner where he is not very likely to be seen and starts eating. He's so numb, he barely notices the taste, but he can't just sit here without ordering anything, so he might as well eat it, too. It's not like he's made of money.

His shift starts at 9 in the morning, but he's decided he'll come in early. He'll sit here for like three hours and then go straight to work without seeing Phil.

His phone vibrates with what is probably yet another message from his flatmate. This time, as opposed to how it used to be, he is in no rush to read it.

 

The entire day was a mess. It started out fine, it being Phil's birthday, with Dan giving him an Adventure Time hoodie as a present and receiving a hug in return. That, Dan has to admit, was rather nice. It felt like it was Dan's birthday, really. And then Phil invited PJ, Chris and Louise over for a party of sorts, and there was alcohol, and some laughs, and a bloody stupid game of truth or dare.

And for a dare, they held hands. For much longer than necessary. And Phil's hand was warm and Dan felt safe, safer than he could ever remember feeling, for a fleeting second... Before it all went to shit.

Because Phil hasn't been honest with Dan, and it's not even Phil that made it known; it's Chris who lets it slip like it's the best joke he's ever heard.

Dan has agreed to join Phil for a few videos, and even though his flatmate said they were a huge success, Dan refused to check the comments on them. He got bullied more than enough back home, he didn't want strangers from the internet to judge him too. His clothes, his hair, his mannerisms; he didn't want to see the scrutiny. He dislikes himself well enough on the best of days without the help of other people.

So he never knew that Phil's viewers apparently think that he and Phil are dating, are cute together, are in love, and whatever else there was in those comments.

 

Like he said. Everyone knows, just not Phil.

 

His phone vibrates yet again. He lets out an irritated, impatient sigh, and decides to check it just to getit over with.

He has six new messages and two missed calls.

 

Phil (January 31, 2:31 AM)

Dan? Come on, come back, it's late

I really am sorry :(

 

Phil (January 31, 2:42 AM)

I mean it when I say you're brilliant Dan, the viewers too. And why worry about something that is not real? I can ask them all to stop if u want? Just please come back, it's too late to be walking around London =/

 

Phil (January 31, 2:55 AM)

Dan please pick up

 

Dan ignores these texts, too annoyed to bother replying. He did receive one from Louise too though, clearly concerned with how things went after she left Phil's party along with PJ and Chris.

 

Louise (1:55 AM)

Dan sweetie, I hope you're not too mad at Phil. I honestly think he didn't mean to do anything wrong. He seems like such a nice lad. Don't flip out please. xx

 

He rolls his eyes and on impulse, starts typing out a response that is less than polite, but before sending it, he takes a few deep breaths and rewrites the whole thing. Louise, of all people, has always been kind to him. Not even Dan is stupid enough to fuck that up.

 

Dan (2:59 AM)

i am mad at phil but i appreciate that u care

dw about it lou

 

Once the message is sent, he vaguely remembers that Louise is most likely asleep by now. He only hopes that he hasn't woken her up.

 

-Incoming call-

Louise

 

"Hi Dan! Are you okay?"

"Did I wake you? I'm sorry."

"It's okay, I only just went to bed," she says softly. "Are you alright?"

Dan pauses briefly before replying, "No. I don't know."

"Where are you?"

"Just gone out for a quick walk," he lies, knowing that Louise would scold him if he admitted just how far he went.

"Go back and talk to Phil. I'm sure he's upset."

"Why should I care?"

"Dan."

Silence hangs in the air until he can't bear it anymore.

"What?"

"You know that you do care."

"I don't," he scoffs, "Couldn't care less. It's not my fault that he lied to me, is it?"

"But is it so bad that people say these things about you? They're strangers, you'll never even have to meet them," she reasons with him. Her voice is persuasive, but Dan is not going to be swayed.

"That's bullshit. Imagine if my father had seen these comments. Or even Jake."

Again, there's silence on the other end of the line. Dan speaks again. "Imagine what they'd say, Lou! Phil should have fucking told me! I should have known!" he exclaims in a shaky voice.

"They won't see it, I'm sure they won't. And if they did then -- then there's nothing wrong in it, you know it."

"Maybe not to you, but to my family, it sure as hell is wrong."

Louise can't very well argue with that. She knows Dan's story.

"I'm sure Phil is sorry. Go home and give him a chance, love."

Dan doesn't want to talk about this anymore. In fact, he doesn't want to talk at all.

"Yeah, okay. Go to sleep, Lou."

"Promise me you'll go home now?"

"Yes, I promise," he says.

It won't be the first promise he had ever broken.

 

-

 

 

After four hours at work, Dan locks himself in one of the bathrooms in order to take a nap. He hasn't slept the whole night, obviously, and it's as good a place as any; possibly the only place where his manager won't discover him sleeping. Not even Bernie is that desperate to catch him.

The bathroom stalls are tiny, but the doors reach the tiled floor, so he is quite safe just sitting there. He closes the lid and sits down, barely fitting in such a small space, tilting his head back and closing his eyes.

Sleep doesn't come to him as soon as he would like it to. Instead, he starts thinking again.

 

The night spent at McDonald's and the few hours spent at work allowed his anger to subside significantly, leaving him quite hollow in the process. He's not angry at Phil anymore. It was childish of Phil to keep these comments from Dan, but Dan could always have checked them for himself. He's no better, really.

There are two things that bother Dan more than Phil lying, if you can call it that. One, that someone who knows him, aside from Phil's uni friends and Louise, may see these comments. And Dan doesn't want that kind of thing on the internet, not at all.

There are still days when he tells himself he is not interested in men. Rarely and far apart now that he is away from home, but still, these days do happen, so it's not like everyone knows. In fact, his family aside, only Louise knows of it. There are bullies back in his hometown, but obviously, Dan never confirmed it to them.

However, judging by the comments, these people seem to have no doubt. What's more, they are certain that Phil is the object of Dan's desire.

They're not wrong.

That's the other thing that bugs Dan. Phil edits these videos. Phil spends most of his days with Dan. And Phil sees nothing, not any of it.

 

Isn't that just the way Dan wants it to be? Doesn't he actively try and prevent it?

Well, yes, but --

 

"Daniel, I know you're in there! Rob saw you go in an hour ago!"

Fucking Bernie. And Rob. Fuck him too.

"Am I not allowed to go to the toilet anymore?" Dan spits, opening the door and stepping out, past his manager and his favourite employee, Rob.

"Not for an hour," Rob says, even though it's none of his business. He's working the same job as Dan is.

"Show me a line in my contract where it says that, mate," Dan says.

Both the men stare at him for a moment, wide-eyed. For the first time ever, Dan thinks that studying law may have been a good choice, if only for this moment of brief satisfaction.

"If I say you're not allowed, then you're not allowed," Bernie tries, but Dan already has the higher ground.

"Strong argument, well done." Dan shrugs. He then washes his hands needlessly and walks out, leaving the two men behind.

 

Later, as he is restocking the shelves at an exceptionally slow speed, he's back to thinking.

Yes, Dan does try and prevent Phil from figuring it out. But if others see it, why doesn't Phil?

Of course, it's entirely possible that the guy isn't even interested. Or even... Dan is petrified to imagine, but perhaps Phil sees it and pretends not to because he's not into Dan? What a terrifying thought, but why wouldn't it be true? It very well may be, for all Dan knows.

Wow. That makes far more sense than Dan would like it to.

Momentarily, all that remains of his anger is replaced by anxiety; it takes over his brain and controls all of his thoughts. He feels hopeless, dumb, played for a fool even.

Could it be that he had been hoping all along, and it was all for nothing?

 

~~~~~

 

"You've not gone anywhere over Christmas. You've been here this whole time."

So, Dan thought things were bad enough before, but now that he actually came back and found Phil in their room, things got significantly worse. What a surprise.

It's ironic really, that Dan was all upset with Phil for what could barely classify as a lie, compared to this. Yeah, compared to this, because while he was away sulking, his own lie somehow came out. And Phil is clearly not happy.

 

When Dan came back in, after nearly twenty-four hours away, he was still somewhat annoyed. He wasn't going to talk to Phil at all, but Phil approached him with a question that he could hardly ignore.

 

What are you hiding from me?

 

What aren't I hiding from you, he wanted to say, but didn't.

He chose the hostile approach, pretending he's got no clue as to what Phil is on about, which worked for a moment, until it didn't.

Phil found out that Dan lied. That Dan never went home over Christmas break.

Dan told him he'd be going to his parents, all the while sitting in their dorm room, being the pathetic loser that he is.

 

How is he going to explain this one? For an instant, Dan is speechless, staring at Phil with his eyes wide open. Phil, whose skin seems near translucent today, Phil, whose birthday was just yesterday, Phil, who seems almost hurt by the way Dan is behaving right now.

Dan's heart clenches, but this will not do.

He's got to get his act together, and the only way he knows how, is to strike back.

"Honestly, Phil. What's it to you where I've been?" he asks, hints of anger slipping into his voice.

"It's not that I need to know where you've been," Phil mutters, "It's that I need to know why you had to lie to me."

"Please," Dan scoffs, "It was barely a lie. I just said I'm leaving the day after you."

"That's barely a lie to you? It sounds pretty major to me."

For a moment, Dan thinks that this might actually turn out to be bigger than he had thought. That Phil may want nothing to do with him by the end of this.

For a moment, he considers telling him the truth. But what if Phil reacted the way his father did? Phil, the first person that Dan developed feelings for? Dan doesn't think he could bear it. No, the truth must be kept secret, that much he knows.

"Why? Have I done something bad to you? What I did over the break doesn't affect you at all."

Phil sighs. There are dark circles underneath his eyes, ever so prominent, contrasting with his pale skin.

"You haven't done anything to me," Phil explains, "I just want you to trust me. I tell you things and expect the same in return. I don't want you to feel like you have to hide things from me."

"I'm not hiding anything that I don't want to hide," Dan shouts. The louder he is, the quieter Phil becomes.

Dan is winning the argument, but he is not enjoying it at all.

They're both standing way too close, looking one another in the eyes, and this, more than anything, catches Dan off-guard. Phil's eyes - the very eyes Dan marvels at, like a lovesick teenager, which to be fair he probably is - Phil's eyes seem darker than usual, tinted with worry. Yes, worry for Dan; against all odds, despite the way he behaves, Phil still worries about him.

Would he still worry if he knew that Dan is hopelessly in love with him? Or would he be disgusted, repelled, or just indifferent?

Dan may never know.

Phil's eyes travel to Dan's lips for a moment; Dan notices it, but thinks nothing of it.

It won't help him to think too much. It never does.

"Why do you want to hide things from me, then?" Phil asks, breaking the silence.

Dan doesn't back away, doesn't look away, stays close as he returns the question.

"Does it matter?"

"It does to me."

Louise's words ring in Dan's head. Dan, you know you do care. He feels like Phil just knocked his weapon out of his hands, leaving him somewhat defenseless.

"Why?" Dan asks in a voice that is far more quiet than it was just a second ago.

"I told you. I want to get to know you. I thought we were friends."

I thought we were friends.

 

Dan is tired. So tired of this rollercoaster of emotions that started just after Christmas and has only been getting worse over this past month.

He feels like he'd been slapped in the face. By Phil. Because yet again, he is reminded that they are friends and nothing but.

Will they ever be more?

Phil may not be interested. In men, or just in Dan. Phil may not be into the whole love thing at all; that's fine too.

And even if the stars aligned, who says that Dan would be worthy of Phil? Phil, who despite sometimes being annoying is still so very kind. Phil, Dan's only friend aside from Louise, the only one he gets along with so well.

Is he really going to fuck that up for the sake of feelings that he, on some days, refuses to even think of?

Dan turns away from Phil. He can't bear to see him right now. He takes a deep breath, and makes his choice.

 

They'll be friends first, everything else second. Dan won't let his feelings get in the way of their friendship. He'd been keeping them from Phil, but deep down, he also kept hoping that he might be found out. That Phil might feel the same way.

No, he has to put all of this aside if any of this is ever going to work. And for the first time, Dan realises just how much he wants it to work.

 

Once he is able to, he finally speaks. "We are. At least I want us to be."

Phil lays a hand on Dan's shoulder, remaining out of Dan's sight. The touch is warm and comforting, but Dan has to stay strong without the help of his friend.

"I'm not asking for everything, Dan," Phil says quietly. "Just give me something. You never... You never let me in."

I do let you in, so much more than you know, Dan thinks. He takes in a deep breath.

Should he tell the truth? Should he tell another lie?

Before his thought process is even formed, he knows where this is heading. He knows what he is going to say.

"I don't have a family," Dan blurts out. Tears are starting to pool in his eyes. He's shivering all over. He feels like he is the only person in the whole universe. In a broken voice, he adds, "I'm alone."

What hurts Dan the most of all, is that while he told yet another lie, he somehow still managed to say the truth at the same time.

 

~~~~~

 

That night ended with Dan sobbing in Phil's arms, yet again, and while Phil may have been clueless, Dan knew the exact reasons why he couldn't stop crying. He knew them all; there were enough to create a rather long list. By the end of the night, he sealed them all away in that little box he keeps hidden somewhere within his soul, and promised himself not to touch them with a ten foot pole ever again.

Dan is going to be brave. And he's going to have a good friend in Phil. He won't compromise that again.

 

The first few days are quite awkward. They're both tip-toeing around each other; more so Phil than Dan, but Dan is trying to be extra nice too, and it shows. They don't talk a whole lot and don't spend too much time together, but slowly, their previous routine returns. Dan makes sure to sit quite far away when they're watching anime and tries not to remember the way he felt when Phil held his hand that night, for a dare, or the night after that, when he spent what felt like an eternity in Phil's arms.

 

Eventually, about a week after their Big Fight, Phil asks him if it's okay if Phil's friend PJ comes over to study. Then Phil asks him again, and again, until Dan tells him that the next time he asks he will say no just to spite him. Phil grins; probably the first earnest smile Dan had seen in a week, and Dan turns back to his own textbooks. Of course, he's barely paying attention, but that's another thing.

Thirty minutes later, PJ appears, bearing a load of books.

"Hey Phil!" he says, then adds, "Hi Dan, how are you doing?"

Small talk. Fantastic.

"I'm alright, thanks," Dan replies without asking back.

PJ smiles at him wordlessly, then turns back to Phil.

"Right, I brought everything. And no excuses today, Phil! If we don't study, we're toast."

Out of the corner of his eye, Dan observes the two. Phil rolls his eyes at PJ.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Phil says nonchalantly, opening up one of the books.

"No, of course not."

Thirty minutes pass and they are quiet, for the most part; Dan buried in his own books, Phil and PJ at least trying to study. The temporary silence is suddenly broken by Phil's alarm going off, which is odd, considering it's a Thursday afternoon.

"Oh, it's my laundry! I've got to go down and get it," Phil exclaims after checking the time. He bolts off the bed, throwing a couple of books down in the process. "You'll stay, right?" he asks PJ.

"Yeah, 's alright. Go, before someone steals your knickers."

Phil glares at him, and after a brief glance at Dan, leaves the room.

If there is one thing that Dan hates more than small talk, it's this. Being left alone with a person you barely know, having to make the choice between an awkward silence and a pointless conversation. Bloody Phil.

What does Dan have in common with PJ? Probably next to nothing; maybe a mutual love for some TV shows, but that's hardly enough for Dan to be desperate to befriend him. PJ is a handsome, rather outgoing guy with a lot of friends. Not much in common with Dan, not really.

The only thing, or rather person that they have in common, is Phil. PJ knows Phil so well, far better than Dan does, and once Dan starts going down that train of thought, he can't seem to stop.

Does PJ know who that guy on Phil's Facebook pictures is? Surely he does.

Does PJ know whether Phil has forgiven Dan for the lie? Probably not. Dan imagines Phil had kept that to himself.

What else does PJ know?

 

When their eyes meet for the third time since Phil's departure, Dan decides to just go for it.

He doesn't sit up. He keeps laying on his stomach, glancing at PJ with a wary look on his face, and he simply asks the question before thinking twice.

"How come Phil doesn't have a girlfriend?"

PJ's eyes grow wider for a second, before he schools his features into a knowing, unsurprised smile.

Dan feels odd, like there's a secret he hasn't been let in on; then he remembers that PJ knows of the comments on their videos and may have his own idea on the subject matter.

"I don't know, to be honest," PJ replies and stays silent for so long that Dan thinks this is all he is going to get. "He hasn't had... anyone for quite some time, you know."

Dan tilts his head, shooting PJ a questioning look. He was very deliberate in his choice of words and was met with the same thing in return.

Could it mean what Dan thinks it means?

"That makes no sense," Dan says, although he regrets it the second the words leave his mouth. "He's -- he's a good guy, Phil."

"He's decent enough," PJ agrees with a smirk on his face. "You should tell him that, by the way. He always seems to think that you hate him."

Dan looks up to the ceiling, as if it had any wisdom to offer, and says, "Ugh. Next time he says that, tell him that I don't."

"I do. He doesn't believe me."

Dan rolls over to his back, giving himself an even better view of the cracks in the ceiling, blaming himself for even starting this conversation.

"If I hated him that much, he'd notice. Trust me."

PJ chuckles at that. "I can easily believe that."

After a brief pause, without as much as a glance in PJ's direction, Dan asks yet another question. "He doesn't hate me, does he?"

What was a chuckle seconds ago is now a loud bark of laughter, but PJ composes himself quickly enough. "No, definitely not."

Dan lets out a long sigh. He'd been so good this past week, keeping true to his promise of friends first. But now, with the implication in PJ's voice that he couldn't miss, he finds himself re-thinking his what ifs.

Maybe Phil could potentially feel something for Dan too. Maybe it's not such a lost cause.

There are about a thousand reasons why Dan shouldn't be thinking about this, and yet, he does. He closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep upon Phil's return, and yet, his heart is all aflutter when he merely hears the guy's voice, low and whispering as he and PJ keep on studying, trying to be quiet to let Dan sleep.

 

Maybe not all hope is lost. Or maybe Dan's being an idiot again, which is, let's be honest, far more likely.

He knows, however, that this whole time he had been lying to himself. First about not feeling anything for Phil, then about keeping it all secret. It's really hard to do all this stuff when the object of your longing is right next to you; it's hard not to think back to the moment they held hands, or even to the less pleasant moments spent in Phil's arms. These thoughts plague him, chase him, leave him restless, exhausted and confused.

Phil hasn't had anyone for quite some time.

 

What could that possibly mean?

Dan doesn't even dare to imagine.

 

And yet, when they go out for lunch ten or so days later, Dan acts on impulse again. He grabs Phil's hand as they're walking, just because he thinks he probably can, for once forgetting about all the people that will see and what they might think. He grabs his hand because he misses the feeling of it, because it's been a while and because hey, friends can hold hands too, he supposes.

 

What he doesn't expect is the moment when Phil squeezes his hand right back.

Somehow, against all laws of biology, Dan feels that gentle touch as it travels all the way to his heart, purging his mind of everything but Phil Lester.

 

Phil Lester.

 

This whole thing is a wild ride, and Dan, Dan has just lost his seatbelt.

Chapter Text

"You're such an idiot, Phil."

Phil is smiling at him in a way that could almost be called affectionate, entirely unmoved by the insult. It's a Saturday evening, and instead of socializing, they're staying in, marathoning The Lord of the Rings, and eating a discounted batch of cupcakes from their local bakery. Only Phil can't seem to eat anything like a proper adult - he's got cream all over his face, and when Dan pointed it out, Phil deliberately smeared some cream all over Dan's face too.

The whole thing is almost sickly sweet, but Dan is too far gone to wince at it. He tastes cream on his tongue and feels the sweetness creep all the way to his soul.

In truth, Phil looks endearing more than idiotic, with half his face covered in pink and white cream; there are even bits of sprinkles stuck somewhere on his chin.   

Dan wants to lean in and kiss Phil until none of the cream remains. Until they're both out of breath. The thought startles him at first, but he shrugs it away; it's the least he can do, really.

He's not giving his secret away, but he's keeping it far less secret than he probably should.

They've been spending all of their spare time together, neither questioning it all too much. Sometimes, they'd hold hands. Sometimes, Dan would casually drape his arm across Phil's shoulders during a movie. Other times, he'd almost lose himself simply looking Phil in the eyes, forgetting that it's not normal to stare for so long.

Dan doesn't know what to make of it, but he is quite certain that this warm feeling inside his heart is what most people would call happiness. If it is that, he's not going to question it, because for Dan, happiness was always in short supply. The past weeks, he's just been going with the flow.

"I'm not!" Phil protests, pulling Dan out of his reverie, distracting him from staring at Phil's lips.

"You so are. Look at yourself. You're a fucking mess," Dan says, the tone of his voice far softer than intended.

"You don't look all that great yourself, Dan," Phil retorts in the same tone. "I'd say you look worse."

Dan, with a mischievous grin, reaches over and touches Phil's cheek. His touch lingers for an instant, during which Phil remains silent and his mouth falls slightly open. Dan uses the moment of distraction to his advantage and proceeds to ensure that the cream goes further than just Phil's cheeks, smearing it on his nose and forehead before Phil pushes him away, laughing out loud.

"Oh my god Dan, you're the worst," Phil screams, and Dan loves the way he says his name without even needing to; adores the way his name sounds when it's Phil that says it.

Dan is stupid to let it all get this far, but he can't seem to find his way back. Being in love with Phil is like a bottomless pit of feelings that he'd never even thought existed, and the farther he falls, the more he doesn't want to stop.

Of course, Phil has no clue. Hopefully.

Phil is the one to assault him now, and soon enough Dan's got cream in his hair (the same hair he spent twenty minutes straightening just three hours earlier), and Dan shoves Phil really hard, and they're both laughing, and the movie is long forgotten, and if this isn't what happiness is like then Dan doesn't know what is.

 

~~~~~

 

XI.

 

Dan's got five missed calls, and his phone is ringing again.

It's probably his Mum. It's probably because it's way past ten PM and he's not home yet. At seventeen years old, he still has a curfew, unlike a lot of the people he goes to school with.

The mere thought of school turns his previously serene expression into a scowl.

It's been getting worse lately, what with the other students calling Dan all sorts of names and his parents arguing day and night.

Dan feels guilty. He is often the subject of their fights. Against his will, he recalls the one he overheard just a week ago.

"It's your fault, you've spoiled him!"

"Spoiled him?! I have never spoiled him! Look at yourself, coming in once a week like some superhero! I was here every day, raising them!"

"And look how well that went. He can't even get through high school!"

 

He's useless, just as his parents like to think. But somehow, out here, it feels okay.

It's a warm spring night and Dan is out, somewhere, he's not even sure where; he walked and walked and ended up here. But he's sitting on the grass and the sky above him is dark and filled with stars, and he is alone, and he doesn't want to go back home.

This moment of peace, this moment of solitude, is the closest he's felt to happiness in months, and he chooses to indulge himself, knowing he'll get yelled at no matter what.

So he grabs his phone, and he texts his Mum, and all the message says is, "I'll be home tomorrow. Dan.", and he turns his phone off after sending the text.

And in this moment, Dan is free, and if this is what happiness is like, then he hopes there's a bit more to it than that.

 

~~~~~

 

The first time Phil is the one to grab Dan's hand while they're watching a series on Netflix, Dan's instinct suddenly tells him to retreat.

Somehow, it's okay if he is the one to initiate it, but it's so unexpected when it comes from Phil. What if people saw? What would his father say? What does this mean, the two of them doing things like that?

Dan freezes, eyes glued to the screen. This isn't similar to the way Phil reacts when Dan is the one to take his hand; Phil always responds in a natural way, nothing is ever awkward, and all that Dan takes away from it is pleasure mixed with a little bit of confusion. Dan, however, doesn't move to squeeze Phil's hand in return, he stays still and silent.

"Dan? Is this okay?" Phil asks eventually, forcing Dan to look at him. His blue eyes are tinted with concern, but he doesn't let go of Dan's hand, not just yet.

Dan doesn't want him to stop. He just... He just doesn't know, he doesn't know anything really, perhaps that is where the problem really lies.

He offers Phil a small grin and relaxes into the touch, squeezing Phil's hand softly.

"Yeah, 'course," he says quietly, voice somewhat raspy.

"Okay, 'cause I didn't mean to, you know, make things weird." Phil pauses. "I'm making things weird just now, aren't I," he states instead of asking.

"Only if you want to," Dan responds with a shrug, making Phil relax visibly.

"I -- well, no, 'course I don't."

"Cool."

And they say nothing else on the matter. Phil doesn't let go until Dan gets up to get some water.

He regrets it. Getting up, that is. Because Phil doesn't go to grab his hand again that night.

 

~~~~~

 

 

Dan drifts awake very slowly. He sighs contently, stretches a little, and finally opens his eyes. It was a good night of sleep, surprisingly good for someone who usually wakes up every one or two hours.

He opens his eyes, blinks once, twice, three more times, but Phil's face on the pillow next to him doesn't disappear.

And then it hits him.

They shared the bed. Sort of. Kind of. Not really. He must've fallen asleep.

Fuck.

It was Dan's idea to pull their mattresses down to the floor and watch Game of Thrones like that. They got every blanket and pillow and made a thing of it, and it was really pleasant, and Dan must have fallen asleep at some point, with Phil next to him. Not close enough to touch, of course, but close enough for Dan to be facing him now as he lies on the opposite end of their blanket fort of sorts, staring right back at Dan, his blue eyes wide and alert.

He's probably worried that Dan will flip out. In truth, that is Dan's first instinct, but he can hardly blame Phil for letting him sleep instead of waking him up in order to retrieve his mattress. It was actually kind of him.

So Dan smiles lazily, stretching once more, and decides not to make it weird, the same way Phil didn't want to make it weird just a few days back.

They're friends, and friends do share beds on occasion, or so Dan has heard.

"Morning, Phil."

It takes Dan a moment to register just how -- how odd Phil looks, terrified, almost. Dan frowns, hoping that Phil is okay with all this, because while it may be unusual, it is nice for Dan. It's nice on so many levels and it makes his heart race and throws his common sense right out the window, but looking at Phil now, Dan wonders, through the haze of sleep, if he's gone too far.

"Morning," Phil replies at long last. He does smile, but his lips are drawn in a tight line and it only makes Dan worry even more.

"Sorry for falling asleep," Dan says quickly, searching Phil's eyes for answers, but he finds none.

"No, I'm -- I'm sorry for staying, but I had nowhere else to sleep." There's a pause during which Phil breaks eye contact and sits up. Dan exhales and does the same. "I hope you don't mind? I'm really sorry, Dan, I really --"

"Phil." Dan lays his hand on Phil's shoulder and pulls him in his direction to look him in the eyes. "It's fine. Calm down. It was my idea, wasn't it?"

Phil closes his eyes for a brief second and then meets Dan's gaze, looking equal parts worried and uncertain. "That's good! Just didn't want you to get the wrong impression."

Dan's cheeks turn hot, burning hot. He looks away immediately, then promptly gets up and starts putting his things back in their place. Phil doesn't move for a minute or two, but soon joins Dan.

They don't say anything until Dan has to leave for class, and even then, it's only a see you later, then.

 

-

 

For the first few days, Dan tries to act as if nothing happened. He still asks Phil to watch anime, he still invites him to play games, and even joins him for another video.

He doesn't, however, touch Phil at all. No hand-holding, no hugging, no falling asleep close together. After all, Phil doesn't want him to get the wrong impression.

How else can Dan take that, if not that Phil doesn't want this to become anything more than it already is? Dan can take a hint, thanks very much, and that's exactly what he is going to do. He won't be making a fool out of himself anymore.

The thing is, Phil seems to be avoiding him. All of a sudden he's got to study with PJ, or go to the library, or help Chris with his English project. All that time previously reserved for Dan is gone now, and as a result, they only hang out twice during the course of the week. Even then, things aren't the way Dan likes them to be, with Phil quiet, distracted and often staring at Dan for no reason in particular.

Maybe he's thinking how to tell Dan that he's not interested. That could very well be it.

After that first week, Dan kind of gives up. He goes back to taking more shifts at work, and with their spring exams coming up, he tries his best to do a bit of revising.

Easier said than done.

 

One afternoon, as Dan is laying on his bed, wearing his headphones, Phil comes back from the library. Drenched, because it's raining outside and Phil seems to be eternally rubbish at bringing an umbrella on rainy days. Visibly tired, because he's been gone the whole day. Avoiding Dan's questioning looks, because he hates him. Obviously.

Phil does smile, eventually; the problem is that the expression never reaches his eyes, creating something that chills Dan to the bone.

"Hi Dan!" Phil exclaims cheerfully, throwing his things down on the floor.

On any other day, Dan would complain about Phil making their room a mess, but he's been quiet lately, and he doesn't intend to stop. At the same time, he wants to know what's wrong. He wants to know if he can fix it.

He wants to feel the warmth of Phil's hand in his again, if only just once.

Against his own wishes, he responds coolly, "Hey."

"Revising again?" Phil asks conversationally, flopping down on his own bed across from Dan.

"Trying to. I hate all this crap, though. It's so boring."

"My textbooks are really boring too. I once fell asleep holding one of them over my face and when it fell down it hit me so hard that I cried."

Dan chuckles at the image, if somewhat against his will. At least Phil seems to be in a better mood today. Tempted by the prospect of having a bit of their old banter back, he tries, "That explains a lot, actually."

"What do you mean?"

"Head trauma being the cause of your brain damage."

"Hey!" Phil shouts in mock indignation. He then proceeds to throw his pillow right in Dan's face.

It hurts a little and Dan chucks it right back at a very surprised Phil, but not before noting that the pillow smells just like him.

He swallows thickly, staring at Phil's mussed hair. He doesn't miss a second of the way Phil's smile changes into that indifferent look he's been seeing for the past few days. It's almost as if he forgot that he wasn't supposed to give Dan the wrong idea.

"You're horrible," Phil says, but without his previous enthusiasm. As a result, it sounds far more like a true statement than Phil had probably intended it to.

Seeing Phil's expression fall does the same thing to Dan.

"I am," Dan agrees, because it's true. He's horrible. And pathetic.

"I didn't mean that," Phil protests softly.

"Didn't you?"

"Dan, you know that I didn't."

"Whatever," Dan says as he gets up. "I've got to go."

"Wha -- where are you going?" Phil asks, seemingly confused by the way Dan just went from happy to annoyed in two seconds flat.

"What's it to you?" he asks, true to form, because he still hasn't told Phil that he has an actual job, a job he despises, a job he needs because it helps him pay for living in London.

It's embarrassing, that's why. Phil can clearly afford his uni life just fine and Dan hates that his life is so very different from the friend he looks up to so much. So as far as Phil is concerned, Dan doesn't have a job. He just goes out. For hours on end. For reasons.

"Why can't you just tell me?" Phil pushes, a hint of irritation in his voice.

"Do you really care?"

Dan finds that the best way to avoid answering questions is to ask questions in return, and it always works on Phil.

"Of course I do, Dan."

Dan puts on his jacket and grabs his backpack, and then, with one final look at Phil, he says, "Thought you didn't want to give me the wrong impression."

 

He's out the door before Phil gets the chance to reply.

 

-

 

Phil (March 31, 3:49 PM)

I'm sorry Dan. I didn't think you'd take it serious

I mean we're always calling each other horrible and such

 

Phil (March 31, 3:52 PM)

You know I didn't mean it right?

 

Phil (March 31, 4:01 PM)

Dan...?

 

"Daniel, you do know that no phones are allowed on the floor, right? A customer could see you!"

"Yes, I know," Dan says, but he doesn't hide his phone. He keeps on scrolling through his texts, re-reading some of the older ones with Phil, because they bring a smile on his face. Sadly, they only make him feel all the more confused.

Bernie, clearly furious at being ignored, starts a whole rant about Dan ought to be fired and he's going to talk to HR about it. Dan doesn't care. They're already understaffed, they won't be stupid enough to fire him. To shut up his manager, he hides his phone and excuses himself, pretending that he's going to clean.

He doesn't clean, he just goes to his latest hiding spot - behind some boxes in the storage - and replies to Phil.

 

Dan (March 31, 4:14 PM)

dont be stupid

i was joking

ofc im not mad. :]

 

That little smiley is all it takes to convince Phil that everything is okay. Dan, however, is not so easily convinced.

His mind is a mess, and only Phil can make it better. The problem is that he doesn't intend to.

 

 

-

 

All it takes is a dark room and them sitting close together for Dan to break.

He's been really good with this whole keeping some distance thing. If this is what Phil seems to want, Dan is not going to throw himself at his flatmate endlessly. Gotta preserve some of that dignity, or what little remains of it, at least.

He's been good and casual. He did ask Phil what's wrong on more than one occasion, but he has always received very generic answers along the lines of nothing's wrong, or I'm just tired, or  I'm fine, what about you?

Having all but given up, he didn't expect that he might lose the battle just by going to the cinema with Phil, PJ and Chris.

Considering the fact that PJ and Chris are almost all over each other like a pair of horny teenagers, Dan and Phil are practically third wheeling the whole time, and it's awkward, and Dan hates it, and it makes Dan realise just how much he's been missing the closeness that he and Phil had started to share. Even if it meant nothing at all.

The whole movie, he's distracted. He's got no idea what they're even watching. It's an action film, but that's about all. He's more aware of Phil's presence next to him, of every word he says in response to PJ, of how he says nothing to Dan throughout the movie.

He is keenly aware of Phil's arm on the armrest next to him, and of the way their arms aren't brushing at all, despite the limited space.

He wants to hold Phil's hand again. Phil was okay with it for a while, why did they even stop? They don't have to be more than friends for them to do this, Dan wishes that Phil would realise, they can just be who they are and still hold hands sometimes, or so he tells himself.

Without thinking twice, he reaches out, closes the distance between them and grabs Phil's hand in his.

This time, it is Phil who freezes and remains motionless. He relaxes soon enough, but doesn't say anything or return the gesture.

"Is this okay?" Dan whispers nervously.

"Yeah," Phil breathes in reply.

Dan figures that's as good as he's going to get, and while he is disappointed, he doesn't let go. He'll hold on until Phil pulls away. He missed this too much.

The moment doesn't last nearly long enough, and Dan is the one to spoil it by pointing out that Phil hasn't been hanging out with him as much as he used to. Dan's voice is quiet, but even he is surprised by how whiny he sounds; like a jealous partner instead of a flatmate slash friend.

He doesn't receive any answers. Instead Phil takes his hand away and remains silent for the rest of the film.

 

Dan is a flop, a complete, utter flop. To prove his point, he stays up the whole night, unable to sleep, unable to think of anything else but Phil.

 

~~~~~

 

Dan has all but given up on the day that Phil suddenly makes him an unexpected offer.

He's tried and tried again to get Phil to tell him what's wrong. It's ironic, really, because Phil has done this same thing to Dan many times, but it seems that they're both equally stubborn, because Dan still doesn't know what's wrong. He can only guess, and his best guess is that Phil figured that Dan has feelings for him and is trying to keep it all under control. It's noble of him, really, but try as he might, Dan can't seem to rid himself of those feelings. Even worse, they seem to grow stronger by the day.

 

Phil bursts in one afternoon at the beginning of April just as Dan is about to leave. Their meeting ends in a bloody nose (Dan and wooden door apparently do not mix) and a lot of swearing on Dan's part. Phil, of course, starts to apologize immediately and proceeds to sit Dan down on the bed, grabs a tissue and dabs it all over his face. Dan is in pain, it hurts like fuck, but his nose is most likely not broken. Phil's ministrations however only seem to make him more of a mess, so he eventually shoves him away impatiently and starts to clean his face himself.

"Does it hurt?" Phil asks, resembling a guilty puppy that had just peed on the floor.

"No, it feels great. Of course it hurts, what do you think? Seriously, Phil."

"I really didn't mean to. I was in a hurry..."

Dan winces. He's in too much pain to be mad at Phil. Even talking quietly hurts a little, yelling requires even more effort.

And then Phil starts to leave, saying he's got to get some ice for Dan, but Dan isn't having it. The least he deserves after this delightful clash with the door is an explanation.

He places his hand on Phil's thigh, ignores the way his flatmate shoots him a scared look, and asks, "Stay. Why were you in such a hurry, then?"

"I wanted to talk to you," Phil admits, looking away from Dan.

"That's new."

"I deserve that," Phil agrees. He's playing with his own fingers, a nervous habit that Dan has learned to recognise. "Dan, you're right, I've been weird these past few days."

These past few days? Dan wants to say, but doesn't. It's been longer than that, but he is far too nervous to pick on words right now.

"I've sort of, I don't know, been under a spell? I'm okay now. If you are, that is."

Dan can't fucking believe it.

So Phil is all great and amazing, pun intended, for a long time. Then all of a sudden, after waking up next to Dan, which sounds far more compromising than it really was, he's completely different. He's gone a lot and doesn't smile near as much and doesn't want to give Dan the wrong impression.

And now, having near broken Dan's nose, he says that he was under a spell. Under a spell. This is almost too much for Dan to process. And yet, a big part of him that he doesn't want to admit to, is ecstatic at hearing Phil say that he's okay now. His heart is racing and the pain subsides because of the adrenaline that courses through his veins.

"A spell, huh?"

"I guess you could say that."

"You mean you've basically ignored me for like two weeks for no reason?" Dan mutters, because to give in immediately would be far too easy. "That's bullshit and you know it, Phil."

"Remember what we said a while back? I'll give you something, but not everything," Phil offers, using Dan's own words.

"You're seriously not going to explain anything?"

"I've had a lot of my mind, Dan. It's been a... A rough two weeks."

Dan's previously angry expression transforms into one of concern upon hearing this. He hates that Phil can probably read him like an open book.

"Has something happened?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Is it bad?"

"No," Phil replies immediately, "No, not really bad."

Now is the time for Dan to make his choice.

Does he want to be angry at Phil, does he want to keep his distance, or does he run right back to him like the pathetic loser that he is?

Was it ever really a choice?

"I should spend the next week being cross with you." Despite that, he's smiling already, and Phil is smiling right back. Dan feels as though a big weight has just been lifted off his chest, but Phil's warm expression affords him no clarity still.

"You probably should."

For the first time in over two weeks, he's looking into Phil's eyes and finds him looking right back. There are questions without answers, and while Dan has probably been confusing as fuck at times, he never expected Phil to be the same way. And yet, he has.

Dan still has no idea what to think.

"I'm gonna go get cleaned up," he mumbles, standing up, but Phil asks him to stay.

"Stay." Long pause. Dan glances at Phil questioningly. "What are you doing for spring break?"

Such a nice question, thanks Phil. Why not remind Dan about the weeks he'll spend working day and night, hating his life. Fantastic.

"What do you think?" he shoots back, "Sitting here, obvs."

Right then and there is when Phil surprises him yet again, leaving him stumped.

There's warmth in the guy's voice as he offers, "Come with me to the North, then."

If Dan was confused before, he is clueless now. Phil, the same Phil that doesn't want to give him the wrong impression and has all but avoided him for the past two plus weeks, is now offering that Dan comes with him and spends two weeks with him in his family home.

What does any of this mean? Just a friend being kind, surely. Nothing else.

Dan doesn't think of the money he'll miss out on if he goes, nor does he think of whether it's the right thing to do. He only thinks of the last Christmas break, the first time he and Phil were apart.

He thinks of the sleepless nights, the heavy feeling that never seemed to let go of him, the loneliness and the boredom.

 

And then, as his eyes are boring into Phil's, he gives the only answer he could ever give.

 "Sure."

Chapter Text

 It's early morning when they get on the train and start their journey to Manchester.

Dan is exhausted. The last few hours have been a frantic mess of packing, freaking out and not sleeping. The whole trip is very sudden, but he agreed to go and there he is, on the train with Phil and PJ, and in a couple of hours he will be in Phil's home, about to begin a two week long vacation.

He can hardly believe it himself. Actual time off work and university, in a foreign city, with Phil-don't-get-the-wrong-impression-Lester. It would all be peachy, but Dan's been getting the wrong impression over and over, and he can't find the right way to quiet his thoughts.

 

He's sitting next to Phil in a rather cramped space, with Phil's friend PJ sitting across from them, on a packed train. It only just took off, and Phil is already flipping out.

"Have we packed the chargers? I don't think we did! I don't have a spare at home," Phil rambles, frantically checking his phone's battery level.

Dan rolls his eyes. "Phil, no, you didn't pack any chargers. I did. I've got both yours and mine."

Phil lets out a quiet sound of relief.

"Phil would forget to bring his own head if it wasn't for you," PJ comments with a grin. "Or me, previously, that is."

"Peej! I've never forgotten anything!" Phil protests a little too loudly. Dan catches an old lady shooting them angry glances from two rows of seats away, but he ignores it.

"You forgot like all of your socks the last time we went home."

"I just left them in the laundry."

"So you forgot them, then?"

"No, I just -- I just left them behind."

"On purpose?"

Dan smiles, but the two friends don't notice it. He's staring out the window, observing the passing shades of green and blue with moderate interest. It's been almost a year since he came to London, so it has also been a year since his last train trip. Nostalgia washes over him in waves, but he quickly puts an end to it. This is no time to be thinking of the past.

Phil stumbles over words as he tries to form a coherent response, so PJ says, "I win. It's official. You forget things. You're lucky you've got Dan to help you with that, right?"

Dan turns back to face PJ upon hearing his name spoken and finds the guy beaming at him in return. It's almost suspicious, really, how happy he looks.

After a pause and a quick look in Dan's direction, Phil eventually responds, "Yeah, I am."

And Dan's heart is soaring, even if it's all stupid and meaningless, in that little second, his heart is soaring and so is he.

 

-

 

"How is your law course going, Dan?" PJ asks conversationally about an hour later.

Dan struggles to hold back a sigh.

"It's making me hate everything and regret all of my life's choices, but other than that it's great, yeah."

PJ snorts in reply. Phil's eyes are closed, but Dan is not sure if he is actually asleep or just trying to contain his motion sickness. Either way, he's been silent for the better part of the trip, leaving Dan and PJ to do far more talking than they had ever done before.

"I kind of hated uni at first too. Not as bad as Phil. He cried every night because he missed his mum."

They both turn towards Phil and wait for a rebuttal, but when it doesn't come, it's clear that Phil is indeed asleep.

"I was kidding, of course," PJ adds needlessly. Dan nods.

"So just every other night, then?" he jokes.

"Approximately."

Before Dan can stop himself, he asks, "What are his parents like?"

PJ thinks for a moment before replying.

"His mum is like the nicest person in the world. His dad is the quiet sort, but very smart. Runs his own business. You'll like them."

"I'm actually scared of them now that you put it that way," Dan admits, only half in jest.

"The only thing you should be scared of is gaining so much weight you won't fit through the door. I spent the summer with Phil's family once and his mum fed me so many things that I went up like three sizes."

Dan eyes PJ, skeptic. The guy is quite good looking and rather fit.

"No, really. I'm serious. Don't eat too much. Phil's mum doesn't take no for an answer."

Dan thinks back to his own mum and her complete lack of cooking skills. The stuff she made just wasn't tasty for the most part; Dan would have to force his brother to eat some of it and sneak the rest to the dog when she wasn't looking. He always finished his own portions, and after a certain age, he learned to control himself and stopped wincing at every bite. She likes cooking, his mum. She's just not that good at it.

It's almost sad how even such a little detail separates him from Phil. Do they have nothing in common aside from their shared interests? It seems like Phil grew up in fairyland, and Dan grew up in reality, and now that he's on his way to fairyland he can't really be sure if he will fit in at all.

What if Phil's parents hate him?

What does it even matter? Nothing at all. He'd do best to stop stressing about it.

"Do your parents live far from Phil's?"

"A few streets away. But don't worry, I won't be bugging you two too often. Gotta meet up with some old friends."

"That's -- I didn't mean it like that," Dan mumbles awkwardly. "I don't even know what me and Phil are going to do. I just want to sleep, to be honest."

"So does Phil, apparently."

 

Twenty or so minutes of companionable silence later, Phil's head ends up on Dan's shoulder. He's still asleep. The train was turning and with it, Phil's position changed. Now his hair is tickling Dan's cheek and his cheekbone is stabbing Dan in the shoulder.

It's an odd sensation, but it's not unpleasant. No, not at all. The only unpleasant thing is the knowing grin on PJ's face that Dan spots immediately.

Does PJ know that Dan has feelings for Phil? Hopefully not. Dan has promised himself time and time again never to let Phil know.

PJ opens his mouth to speak and for a second, Dan is terrified of what he might say.

"Have you seen the new episode of Game of Thrones?"

Dan lets out a breath of relief. Phil's friend has far more tact than Dan himself has ever had.

 

-

 

Phil wakes up eventually, and after a brief moment of realization as to the way he slept, he almost jumps away from Dan, putting a lot of space between the two of them. Dan doesn't even try to make sense of it anymore. One day they're holding hands, the next Phil won't even sit too close. Dan doesn't get it, but he is trying not to hold any grudges. His own actions make little sense to him too, so he can only imagine how hard it must be for Phil.

Dan is sure that Phil has no clue how hard it has been for him too.

 

They arrive in Manchester and are waiting at the bus station when Phil's phone rings. He takes it out of his pocket, rolling his eyes slightly when checking who's calling.

"We're on our way, Mum," Phil says in lieu of hello, then pauses, his expression suddenly changing from mildly annoyed to perplexed to borderline horrified. "Wait, who is Cousin Joanne? Why do you need to go there? No but -- Mum, remember, I'm bringing Dan?" Another pause. Phil starts pacing; PJ and Dan exchange a confused look. "So how long are you -- oh. Oh, alright. Yeah. Have a safe trip."

When he hangs up, he runs his fingers through his hair, messing it up a whole lot.

"What's up?" Dan asks warily.

"That's our bus, come on," PJ urges the two of them along, while Phil mutters a quick later in Dan's general direction.;

When they're safely on the bus and starting the last part of their journey, Dan asks Phil again, and this time he receives a response.

"It was my mum. My parents are going to be away for a couple of days. Something about my cousin giving birth." Phil stops, looks at Dan and surveys him carefully. "So it's just going to be us two for a few days. Is that alright?"

Dan tries his best not to laugh. Is it alright?  Of course it bloody is, you idiot. Dan likes nothing better than when the two of them are alone. On the other hand, given recent events and Phil's apparent wish for them to keep things friendly, this just might be more torture than pleasure when it comes to Dan.

He shrugs in reply, thoughts pushed behind a barricade. "Don't really mind, tbh."

Phil looks him in the eyes and Dan doesn't avert it. He feels like he's being asked a question, but he can't respond if he doesn't know what it is.

The silence is broken by PJ, who clears his throat and says to Dan, "I like how you say tbh, like just the actual letters. Very modern, that."

Phil looks away from Dan and smiles. It doesn't look very honest to Dan, but who is he to judge?

"You sound like an old man, Peej," Phil comments.

"Perfect age to start dating your mum, then."

Dan laughs at PJ's terrible comeback and grins at the banter that follows, but he can't pretend not to be distracted.

He is going to be alone. With Phil. For a few days. With - most probably - no friends dropping in at random, no work and no classes.

Shit.

 

~~~~~

 

Phil's house is fucking scary.

It's huge. Like really huge. Like why do you need something so big for a family of four huge.

Dan's parents are not poor by any means, but he figures that Phil's family must be rather well off. Sure that the house could use some renovations and the interior is terrifying, straight out of an old horror film, but it's still a wonderful piece of real estate, even Dan can see that.

So this is the kind of thing Phil is used to. Meanwhile, Dan has to work in a shop just to make ends meet at university.

Great.

 

They step inside and drop their bags on the floor, after which Dan gets a proper look around. It's all a bit sad: dark red carpets, dark brown wooden furniture, everything seems about a hundred years old. He's sure that it's not, but it's possible that this house was built by Phil's grandparents or something. Who knows. Who cares. All Dan knows that with the lights off, the place scares him, and he doesn't want to be left alone in here. For reasons. It's not that he believes in ghosts, he doesn't, but --

But he sleeps badly when Phil is not around, and in a house like this, things could only get worse.

So, on impulse, he does something daft. He suggests that they share the room here too, asks Phil if he can sleep in his bedroom. Says he can sleep on the floor even. He sees Phil's reaction before the guy manages to say anything, and to escape it, he grabs both their bags and goes upstairs, accurately guessing that's where Phil's bedroom must be located.

It's clear as day that Phil doesn't want to share just from the way he looks at Dan, but to make matters clearer, his flatmate spends the next few minutes convincing him that they shouldn't. His room is too small, apparently (far bigger than what they have back at the dorms), Dan shouldn't sleep on the floor (Dan doesn't give a shit), Phil's air mattress is too big for this room, yadda yadda. Dan can take a hint when it hits him square in the face, and this one really does. Sadly, that's not a first when it comes to Phil. Dan hates how stupid he can be when it comes to the guy.

So Dan leaves Phil's bedroom behind and is promptly relocated to the guest room, where he gets a gigantic bed of his own, a TV and some more of that creepy ghost film furniture to keep him up at night.

It would be ungrateful to complain, so he doesn't. Besides, Phil is entitled to some privacy. Is that what he wants? Some privacy, getting to sleep alone without Dan close by? Or is it that he wants to put some distance between the two of them so that Dan can get over him? But Phil doesn't know, does he?

Does he?

And if he wants some distance, why did he invite Dan to come visit in the first place?

 

Nothing makes any sense.

 

Phil leaves him alone to get them some food, and Dan closes his eyes and falls asleep, feeling unwanted even though he knows that wasn't Phil's intention.

 

-

 

"Your house scares me."

They're both sitting on the sofa in Phil's living room, watching a movie. This time, Phil is not trying to stay far away from Dan; their arms and legs are brushing, but neither makes a big deal out of it. Or, at least Dan tries not to.

Dan's mind is in a state of perpetual mess. It's best not to question anything anymore, because nothing Phil ever does seems to make any sense to him.

Phil tilts his head slightly and frowns. "Why?"

"I told you. It's like the house from The Shining."

"That wasn't a house, it was a hotel," Phil retorts.

"Whatever. Your house is big enough to be a hotel," Dan says, then adds, "Kinda."

Phil smiles in reply, his blue eyes locked on to Dan's for no reason whatsoever, the movie still playing in the background. "It used to belong to my grandparents. I guess they were hoping my Mum would produce more children to fill it with."

"And then she had you and had enough?" Dan chides with a cheeky grin.

"Oi!" Phil exclaims, elbowing Dan in the rib. "Quit being horrible!"

"Why?" Dan asks, pinching Phil's arm in retaliation.

"The ghost of my grandma will haunt you in your sleep!"

Dan scoffs. Phil is sitting really close to him now, and their faces are close together too. He feels heat pooling in his cheeks because, despite the casual banter, just feeling the warmth of Phil's body so close to his is enough to put him on edge.

He's a loser, but then again, no one's ever doubted that.

"I don't believe in ghosts. I believe in aliens."

"My alien grandma will haunt you in your sleep, then."

"Looking forward to it!"

Phil flashes him a smile and looks back to the TV distractedly. "Should we rewind? I wasn't -- wasn't paying attention."

Dan keeps on looking straight at Phil as he replies, "Me neither."

 

-

 

When they both head upstairs, shower and part ways for the night, Dan can barely remember what movie it was that they had watched. All that he remembers is the way Phil stayed close to him, the crinkles in the corners of his eyes when he laughed, this strange up and down thing they've been going through lately. Nothing makes sense, not one bit of it.

And he can't sleep, even with Phil is two rooms away. It's just not the same.

 

~~~~~

 

 

Dan makes his way down the stairs, sleepily tripping over his own feet, because he hears Phil rattling about. It's around noon, and Dan has slept for maybe three to four hours, but that's still more than he'd gotten when Phil was back here at home and he was alone at the dorms. It's progress. He'll take it.

Being up all night thinking brought him to a conclusion that he is rather proud of. The conclusion being that he should let Phil lead the way in whatever it is they've got going. Phil hates him? Alright, Dan will fuck off. Phil wants to be friends? That's better than nothing. Phil wants to hold hands and almost cuddle when they're watching a film? It makes no sense, but who is Dan to say no?

He will just try not to start things, not to be the one to grab Phil's hand, not to push him and ask him to sleep in the same room. He will be a proper adult, patient and under perfect control.

It's not going to be easy.

 

"Phil?" he calls out, unsure of where his flatmate even is.

Phil peeks out through the doorframe closest to the main entrance to the house. He's still wearing his sleep clothes, which consist of a Cookie Monster shirt and pyjama pants. His hair is an adorable mess and he's wearing his glasses.

Dan's resolve is already slipping.

"Hi Dan! I was just making some crepes," Phil says cheerily, then motions for Dan to come along.

Dan steps inside the kitchen and his eyes widen at the complete mess that Phil has made of it. On the other hand, though, the crepes smell amazing and his mouth starts watering right away.

"I didn't think you knew how to cook," Dan comments, sitting at the table, far too lazy and sleepy to help out.

"Just a few things," Phil says, "I was hoping you'd get up and eat. Didn't want to wake you."

"It wouldn't have made any difference if you did. I barely slept," Dan admits.

Phil turns to look at him properly, clearly concerned. "Is everything okay?"

"Just one of those nights," he lies, because what else is there to do?

 

-

 

After breakfast, they spend some time playing Crash Bandicoot, all the while Phil tries to convince Dan that they should go get some groceries. Which makes no sense, because Phil's parents left them with a fridge full of food. They've got enough to last them a month.

Phil is very adamant though, and once Dan gets tired of saying no, he eventually agrees. With a theatrical sigh, because Phil can't have it too easy.

On the way there, Phil suggests that he shows him around, and while Dan can't pretend to care about the landmarks, he does care about Phil, and this seems strangely important to him. In fact, Phil appears ot be rather antsy and reluctant to get back home.

"I'd have never thought you're such an outdoorsy person," Dan comments in the middle of Phil's speech about a local church.

Phil stops and meets his eyes with an absent look on his face. Dan frowns in confusion, which in turn makes Phil look away.

"Just don't want you to be bored while you're here! Not much ever happens in my hometown," Phil explains and keeps on walking.

"I'm never bored with you," Dan blurts out. "That sounds lame, doesn't it? Fine, take it, appreciate it. Just don't hold it against me."

"It doesn't sound lame," Phil retorts softly, "It's the same for me."

Dan has to keep himself from reaching out to grab Phil's hand. In this city, with so few people around, it feels like they're in a different world. And Dan's idea of a perfect world includes Phil, and the warm, grounding touch of his hand in Dan's.

Dan reminds himself that he is meant to follow in Phil's lead, and as such, he does exactly that.

 

They visit a park, two stores, walk by another church and sit by the fountain for a bit, but eventually, they end up at the grocery store. Phil spends a stupid amount of money on sweets that they don't need, and Dan gets them some beers just because he can. It's only later that he asks himself whether drinking around Phil is such a good idea right now.

Briefly, Dan wonders if anything related to Phil could ever be a good idea when it comes to him.

 

He's starting to feel tired, but as they're walking home through some small patch of woods that Phil insists on calling a shortcut, he suddenly feels him grab his hand.

It's a surprise to say the least, all things considered. He stops for an instant, freezes, then squeezes Phil's hand as if to assure him that it's alright.

Because it is, even if it's making his daft heart beat faster, running on hope.

He won't question it. He'll just enjoy it while it lasts.

 

It's moments like these that make him quite certain of his feelings for Phil, of being in love with the guy, even though Dan is not sure what that word even means. It's the fact that he's willing to give up a lot just for Phil to stick around. He'll hide it all if he has to, because the one thing he'd hate to compromise is their - still somewhat shaky - friendship. Phil should do whatever he is comfortable with, and if Dan wants more, then that is his own problem.

Easy in theory, but not so easily done. He remains quiet as he tries to work through his feelings, Phil's touch distracting him just as much as the thoughts that roam his head.

 

As if Phil was hell-bent on making Dan miserable, he proceeds to drag him further into the woods and then on a climb up a small hill that is enough to make Dan literally choke on his own lungs.

Droplets of sweat are starting to appear on his forehead, thoroughly messing up his perfectly straightened hair. To make matters worse, Phil doesn't really explain why they even have to go there - wherever that is. All that he says is that he wants to show Dan something. By that point, Dan is done playing the tourist and voices his complaints loudly, but Phil is pretty much ignoring him. The one time he looks back at him, his expression is strange; happier than Dan had seen him for the past few weeks.

He shuts up and keeps on walking, if only to make Phil maintain that expression a little longer.

 

After what feels like forever, they arrive atop the hill, and Dan has to admit the view is rather spectacular. With the sun setting right before their eyes, the town below them and a little creek to their left, it's almost like they're in a novel. On top of all that, Phil doesn't let go of Dan's hand.

His first instinct is to thank Phil for bringing him here, but of course, he has to keep that one quiet, because that is exactly the kind of thing that gets him in trouble and makes Phil tell him about wrong impressions and shit like that.

"Is this why I had to literally cough my lungs up?" Dan whines. Phil stays quiet, which makes Dan take a good look at him, and as a result, he turns serious. "Phil? You okay?"

"Just wanted you to see my hiding spot from when I was younger."

Hiding spot? Dan's had lots of those, but Phil? This happy-go-lucky guy with a great family and friends?

"You don't seem like the kind of guy who'd need a hiding spot," Dan says carefully, "Especially not in a place like this."

"You'd be surprised."

There has to be more to the story, and since they're already here, Dan might as well take things a little further. He sits down on the grass, Phil's hand still in his, pulling his friend down with him. He stares ahead at the setting sun before them.

It's nice, he'll admit that. He feels Phil's gaze on his skin, but he doesn't return it.

"I've had a bunch of those," Dan admits, "But someone's always found me out."

Phil's grip on his hand tightens. Dan smiles absently.

"I've only ever brought PJ here."

Dan gives in and meets Phil's eyes, which right now appear to be dark blue, much like a stormy night. Dan can relate, because inside his heart, a storm is raging too.

He knows Phil so well, and yet, he doesn't know him at all. On some days it feels like they're two halves of a whole, but most of the time, it feels like they have nothing in common.

There is a dull ache in his chest, and it never seems to go away. With Phil so close, it turns into a sharp, sudden sensation. With Phil away from Dan, it's subdued and keeps him miserable; makes him feel more lonely than he should be feeling. He's so much different compared to just a few months ago.

Phil's turned his whole world around, and he doesn't even know it.

"Thank you, then," Dan utters at last. Phil nods and looks away with a small smile playing on his lips.

"Do you still need to hide away sometimes?" Phil asks eventually.

"Yeah." He pauses. Fuck it. "But then I just go back to the dorms and hang out with you. It works out."

A quiet, almost a whisper, I'm glad fills the air between them for a brief moment, and then they're silent again.

 

As the sky turns from bright to a little bit darker, they each open a can of beer and make a toast to nothing in particular.

"Days like today, it really feels like spring is here," Phil says, eyes on the horizon.

"It is spring, Phil. It's almost the middle of April."

"It's not spring until it's warm and bright out," Phil disagrees, "Consistently, not like once a month."

"So it's never spring in England, then?"

Phil glances at him with a smile that Dan doesn't return in time, because Phil looks away again.

"It is today!"

In Dan's heart, spring mixes with winter so very often that he's really quite unsure of what he feels. All he knows that right now, he feels warm. And it's not a bad feeling at all.

"You should become a weatherman," Dan comments, "Clearly you know a thing or two about the weather."

"I wanted to when I was little. I still might!"

"Can't wait to see that."

"I'm gonna be called Phil the Weather Wizard."

"You're an idiot," Dan states with a fond expression.

"No I'm not."

"Yes you are."

"No!"

"Yes. Full stop."

"No. Fuller stop!"

Dan laughs at that. He'll win the argument later, once Phil has forgotten about it. He always does.

 

Once they both finish their beers, Phil surprises Dan yet again, this time by pulling them down so that they're lying in the grass. They're close, their hands still joined, and Dan's losing his grip on reality.

"You do realize there are bugs in the grass," Dan mutters, if only to keep things casual. "And they will crawl into your ear and lay eggs and-"

"Shut up," Phil quips fondly.

"This is like a novel. Lying in the grass, watching the sunset. Have you been reading Nicholas Sparks again, Phil?"

He turns his head to meet Phil's eyes. Their faces are far, far too close.

"No, it's more like a fanfic really," Phil disagrees, "Novels have done this kind of thing years ago, now others are catching up."

"No. If this was a fanfic, I reckon we'd be making out under the moonlit sky or something."

Has he really just said that? He'd slap himself if it wasn't for Phil's intent stare and the way his eyes widened when Dan spoke.

"You think?" Phil mumbles. His cheeks seem to be a little redder than usual. "We should get going, unless we want to get shanked in the woods on our way back."

The sky begins to turn from orange to dark blue, and Dan convinces Phil to stay a little longer.

Once they are here, once he's gone this far, he really doesn't want to go back just yet. Let him stay in fairyland. It will all be back to normal by tomorrow.

Let him dream, for now. Let him glance at Phil's lips and imagine. He won't take it any further, but dreaming is allowed, surely, even if you're crazy for your friend slash flatmate.

Or so Dan hopes.

"Why'd you ever have to hide?" Dan whispers after a moment of silence, losing a battle against his own curiosity.

"All sorts, really. When I was little it was bullies at school or my hamster dying or things like that." The words hang in the air with no follow-up of any kind.

"And?" Dan prods at last.

"And when I grew up it was people hating me for having a boyfriend," Phil blurts out, avoiding Dan's eyes.

Having a boyfriend.

Dan remembers the conversation he's had with PJ a while back; he recalls the way PJ made sure to say that Phil hasn't had anyone in quite some time. It's that conversation that first gave him hope, but it was soon squelched by Phil himself.

Now, his heart starts racing at the thought and he remembers the pictures he's found on Phil's Facebook, a lot of them containing some guy Dan has never heard of before.

A pang of jealousy hits him, because for Dan, all of this is so very new. Meanwhile, Phil has had something real with someone else before and now, Dan is stuck in this feeling all alone.

"You've had a boyfriend," Dan utters, voice strained. "When?"

"We broke up over a year back."

Dan pulls their joined hands up, glances at them, runs his thumb across the back of Phil's palm.

Phil has had a boyfriend.

Would he ever want to have one again?

"Were you in love?" Dan whispers.

The silence feels almost eternal as Dan waits for Phil to reply.

"With him? I don't know. I don't think so, really. It was all a bloody mess."

Suddenly, he no longer wants to hear about any of it. Because even though Phil may say that now, it's clear that things were rather serious. Casual flings rarely end up in a mess, or so Dan thinks. Not that he's an expert of any sort.

He changes the subject by saying, "You don't deserve being bullied. You know that by now, right?"

"Yeah," Phil breathes, then hastily asks, "Why did you need to hide?"

Phil's question sends Dan down a spiral of memories he doesn't wish to think of, not right now, not ever really. But it all comes back to him for the two seconds that it takes for him to put it all away again. People at school calling him weird. His parents, who were never satisfied with anything he did. People at school mocking him for his sexuality that he was barely even certain of back then. His own brother outing him to his parents and the way they reacted to the news.

If none of that had ever happened, would Dan be here with Phil right now?

"People hating me for basically everything, I guess," he answers eventually, voice thick with emotion.

Their faces are mere inches away from one another and Dan can feel Phil's warm breath ghosting over his skin. He holds on to Phil's hand tightly, because it's the only thing that keeps him grounded.

Dan feels like he's falling, falling deeper still, as he stares right into Phil's eyes and notes the way his friend looks back at him. With fondness, with affection, without pity.

With...

"Have you ever been in love, Dan?" Phil whispers, pulling Dan's racing heart to an abrupt stop.

 

Has he ever been in love?

Is Phil blind?

 

Dan doesn't know, not truly. Doesn't know what it feels like to be loved. Hasn't felt anything like this for anyone before. Everything is new, scary and uncharted. And bittersweet. It fills his heart, his very soul, and tears him apart from the inside.

 

His eyes flit all over Phil's face, pausing at his lips only to return to his eyes.

He draws a sharp breath and responds.

"I don't know," he whispers, then pauses. "What's it feel like?"

Phil glances away for a second, as if in thought, then meets his eyes once more.

"Warm... Like home. And like going somewhere you've never been to. And like you can't change anything, but it doesn't matter because you don't even want to. And like - like a terrible rollercoaster that you want to stay on even if it's terrifying."

There seems to be a lump in his throat, interrupting his breathing and rendering him speechless. It's almost as if Phil is describing the way Dan feels, to the dot. It's unexpected. It's terrifying. It's right.

"How poetic," he manages at last, trying to sound as if he is teasing.

Phil smiles nervously, still awaiting a response.

 

If Dan is ever going to be honest, he'll have to be honest now. In this world, in this version of reality, he trusts Phil. He feels safe.

He thinks back to the very beginning. How set he was on disliking Phil, on not becoming his friend. How long he denied even having feelings for him.

How different he is now, how strange are his thoughts, how strong is his longing; Dan himself can hardly believe that.

He feels overwhelmed, pinned down by the weight of Phil's stare, filled with disbelief at the fact that his feelings are no longer his own, that his -- his life is so much different, that Phil gave him a reason to get up every morning, a good reason, that he is no longer running on pain and spite alone. It's not that his issues have been made any smaller by this. It's that he also has something good to look forward to in his life.

Phil brightened his world in every possible way, and Dan may be one to use big words, but he quickly finds that only one word can describe that.

 

"I think I have. I didn't want to be. I think it's all... fucked up, you know." Phil nods, urging him to keep going. "But -- but things just happened and it's..." He pauses, biting down on his lip. "It's always warm. It's always like you said."

Phil's eyes are filled with questions, but Dan doesn't know the answers. His friend remains quiet, emotional turmoil clear in his features. Dan allows himself a moment of studying him, as Phil never once looks away from him too, and only feels all the more overwhelmed.

Yes, he knows what it feels like to be in love. Try as he may, he will never be able to change that.

Because Phil is... Kind, unique and patient, and Phil has the most amazing sense of humour, and he never once puts Dan down, he tries his best to lift him up, even without knowing where the real problem lies.

Phil looks at him as though he is precious, and Dan knows he is not, but through Phil's eyes, for just a second, he feels special. He feels like he is one of a kind.

For just a second, losing himself in the eyes of his best friend, he finds his own feelings mirrored right back at him.

Could it be that...

"Dan," Phil utters, searching his eyes for answers, and this time, Dan finally understands.

He's struggling to breathe. He nods, a gesture so small that anyone else would miss it, but not Phil.

Not Phil.

 

Dan's eyes remain wide, wide open even after Phil's lips finally touch his.

Is this really -- is this real?

He closes his eyes after two seconds, giving himself into the kiss, too stunned to reciprocate in any way. He saves this moment, promises himself to treasure it forever, wants to pinch his own arm to make sure he isn't dreaming, but his left hand is still held firmly by Phil's right.

 

Dan has been kissed before, but never like this. Never like this. This is the first time he feels something, an unfamiliar sensation that starts in his chest and spreads all over his body, leaving him breathless.

When Phil pulls away a few seconds later, Dan feels the first tear stain his cheek. He bites his lip again, hard, willing himself not to burst out crying. It's hard, because Phil looks at him with something akin to reverence in his eyes, and Dan can't quite believe it. Does not think he deserves it.

They both turn to lie on their sides and their lips meet again, only this time, they meet right in the middle. Phil's arms suddenly wrap around Dan's back, pulling him closer, and once again he gives in to the touch, still unsure if this is even real. Phil's lips are soft against his own, insistent and yet gentle, and their kisses are filled with longing, with questions long left unanswered, with misunderstandings never quite explained.

When they part, Dan starts to act on instinct and chases Phil's lips, locking their mouths again in a kiss a little more heated than the previous ones. Their bodies are pressed flush against each other, and if Dan could just melt into Phil's touch to maintain this moment forever, he would.

Without a second thought, he would.

 

Time is but a concept now, and as the world around them grows darker, Dan remains entirely oblivious to it. At some point he turns to lie on his back and Phil follows after him. Every broken kiss is soon remedied by one that lasts even longer, that goes even deeper, that destroys Dan only to put him together all over again, mending all those broken pieces he's been ignoring for so long.

 

Phil --

Phil.

Phil feels the way that Dan does. Phil's arms hold Dan close and Phil's lips bring him comfort and such a feeling of want that he doesn't know what to do. Dan doesn't know, he doesn't know anything but this moment, but this person in front of him, this -- fuck, it's lame to even think that, but this dream that he hadn't even dared to chase.

 

Dan's dreams, they don't usually come true.

And yet, there he is, kissing Phil like there is no tomorrow. Maybe there isn't. In this moment, Dan could never bring himself to care.

 

"Are you cold?" he asks eventually, voice husky and strained, eyes searching Phil's.

"I'm warm," Phil replies, cementing it with a short kiss. When they part, they're both smiling at each other.

The sky is now filled with stars, but Dan doesn't even notice.

 

~~~~~

 

They go home eventually, right when the night starts to slip into dawn. They hold hands the whole way there and kiss one last time at the door to the guest bedroom.

Dan is far too delirious to suggest that they share.

 

He throws himself on the bed and simply stares at the ceiling, much the way he used to do so many times before, only now, there's a shocked smile on his face that soon becomes a series of disbelieving, delighted chuckles.

Phil kissed him. So many times.

Phil --

Phil...

Phil is...

Dan closes his eyes, almost feeling Phil's lips still on his. He runs his fingers across them, remembering the way Phil's tongue slipped past the zip of his mouth and --

He grabs his phone, impatient, and texts Phil.

 

Dan (April 12, 05:21 AM)

you were right

it is warm

 

It only takes Phil a few seconds to respond.

 

Phil (April 12, 05:21 AM)

I don't know what to say

I've never felt like this

Never

 

Dan (April 12, 05:22 AM)

me neither

... :)

 

Dan falls asleep shortly after, and for once, his dreams can't compare to reality.

Chapter Text

Dan wakes up with a start, abruptly pulled back to reality, even though his surroundings are almost eerily quiet.

He immediately sits up in bed, panting for breath, drops of sweat traveling down his neck. Instantly, he feels alarmed, as if something had happened. This lasts for all of ten seconds, because quickly enough, he realises that yes, something did happen.

Or did it?

 

Was it all just a dream? He's certainly had those before.

Did he and Phil really...

 

Only one way to know. He feels around for his phone and checks his texts, also noting that he managed to sleep in until 1 PM, which feels late but doesn't mean that he actually slept long. If last night was real, of course.

Maybe nothing happened, maybe he went to bed at midnight and somehow slept for thirteen hours. Knowing Dan, it's not impossible. He is always tired, after all.

 

Frantic now, he opens his texts and finds a new one from Louise. He doesn't bother reading it. No, he checks the texts he exchanged with Phil instead, and he is not disappointed.

 

Phil (April 12, 05:21 AM)

I don't know what to say

I've never felt like this

Never

 

Dan (April 12, 05:22 AM)

me neither

... :)

 

Dan's heart stops and then restarts again, immediately beating faster and faster. Butterflies suddenly seem to make so much sense, because there's this nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach, spreading all over his body. It feels amazing, it feels terrifying, Dan doesn't know what to do or what to say, because the texts prove it, they prove that --

That Phil kissed him, and Dan kissed him right back.

Dan remembers the moment now, he makes a point to remember every little detail that he can, he wants to keep it before it all slips away from him and his famously bad memory. He recalls their conversation, the question that Phil asked him and his answer, and that Phil picked up on the meaning which he hid within the words. The way Phil said his name right before he kissed him, the clear longing that strained his voice. Dan is quite certain that he will never hear his name spoken in that way again.

He will remember this, and the way their lips met time and time again as they laid there underneath the night sky.

The way Phil looked at him, as if Dan was precious, as if all of this meant something to him too.

 

Dan gets up and starts pacing the room, barefoot, wearing nothing but his pyjamas. His thoughts are racing, so he tries to occupy himself with the usual things. He goes to the en suite and splashes some cold water on his face, brushes his teeth, runs his fingers through his hair but does not bother to fix it. It takes too much work, and his hands are shaking. He'd probably end up at the ICU with a burn wound if he tried to straighten his hair now. He'll have to make do with the usual mess.

 

Phil wouldn't mind, would he? 

 

He stands there over the sink, looking at himself in the mirror, somehow discovering himself anew.

He has been kissed before. He has had a girlfriend. It was a disaster from start to finish, but Dan tried to make it work, and kissing is kind of a part of the deal for most people. For her at least it was.

So yeah, he kind of knows the drill, but it never felt like this. Never. It never felt so right, it never felt like his whole body had come alive with just that one kiss.

Should it feel so right? After all, he...

 

He shakes his head. He won't let the views of his parents and peers spoil this for him. They'll never even have to know. Besides, right now, he is much too simultaneously happy and distressed to even think about things like that.

How could he, when the only thing he can begin to think of is Phil?

 

He absently brushes his lips with the tips of his fingers, trying to replicate the delicate caress from just last night. He looks at himself as he does so, overcome with how much emotion there seems to be hiding within his eyes.

Is this what Phil had seen just last night?

Try as he may to bring back the feeling of their first kiss, he can't. He never will. He may live to a hundred and will likely never feel anything like this ever again.

Somehow, he is okay with that. That is, if Phil...

His eyes widen as it dawns on him that he's spent a better part of an hour nervously pacing about, but Phil hasn't contacted him at all.

He runs back to the guest room that he sleeps in and stands next to the door, listening, but there is no sound. Perhaps Phil is still asleep, or he's just being quiet, or he left--

Wait.

Does Phil regret it? Is that why he hasn't come to see Dan yet?

 

He tries to rationalize, because to be fair, it was Phil that kissed him first, but on the other hand, it was Dan that pushed a lot of other boundaries under the pretense of them just being friends. Like holding hands, things like that. But surely kissing couldn't be mistaken for anything else than that?

Well, if it could, trust Dan to get it wrong.

 

He doesn't know what to do. Suddenly, he is afraid to face Phil, because oh my god he is my roommate and we kissed for hours and just wow.

Suddenly, it hits him that this can never be undone. Last night. It wasn't a dream and it can never be taken back.

Not only Dan's own journey - if you can call it that - will never be the same. He will never be able to deny the truth anymore, won't be able to tell himself that this is just a weird, passing fancy.

No, not just that. Their friendship - and he is no longer stupid enough to deny being friends with Phil - their friendship is going to forever be made different by it. Friends don't kiss like that, that much he knows.

Friends don't talk about love underneath the starry skies.

Friends don't look at each other the way Phil looked at him last night.

 

They can never be just friends again.

 

Dan throws himself on the bed, more confused than he has been in a long time, and ponders what to do, until he gets a text.

He immediately checks the sender and finds that it's from Phil. His heart might as well jump out of his chest, that's how fast its beating.

 

Phil (April 12, 3:02 PM)

Are you awake?

 

He is quick to type out a response.

 

Dan (April 12, 3:02 PM)

im honestly not sure

 

It's not a lie. He is wide awake, but he may as well be dreaming, everything is so surreal.

 

Phil (April 12, 3:03 PM)

Can I come over there?

 

Dan smiles against his own will. Phil is such a gentle person, he knows, and Dan trusts him. Something tells him that things will be okay in the end, and he chooses to trust that little voice in his head that is telling him to calm down.

He is nervous, of course, but when he gets up and leaves the room to find Phil, he allows that newfound trust to guide him and soothe him ever so slightly.

At the door to Phil's bedroom, Dan stops for a moment, remembering the day they first met. Back then it was Phil, standing outside the door to what would become their shared room, too nervous to come in.

How quickly and how completely things had changed, he thinks.

 

He opens the door without knocking and stops there, looking around.

Phil's clothes from last night, discarded on the floor. Rumpled sheets kicked down to his ankles. Sunlight slipping in through drawn curtains. And finally Phil himself, in his pyjamas, propped up on his elbows, staring at Dan with such wide, fearful eyes.

Dan is scared, too. But when their eyes meet, everything seems to melt away, slowly at first, and then all at once. All that he feels is the quickened beat of his own heart and the strain in his cheeks as he smiles one of the most genuine smiles in years.

He chuckles in disbelief, because just one look into Phil's eyes is enough to tell him he's been an idiot to doubt him. Phil looks at him with wonder and awe, and Phil is a bad liar, he wouldn't be able to fake this.

Emotions swell within his heart and threaten to spill out at any moment. He pushes all of his thoughts aside, and when Phil sits up in bed, Dan sits down next to him. They never once break eye contact. Phil scoots over closer, but Dan doesn't move back.

 

Briefly, he wonders if Phil might kiss him again, and his heart - once more - starts racing in anticipation. Phil doesn't kiss him, though, but instead he asks him a question, his voice shaky and nervous.

“Yesterday, did you- did you- did you mean it?”

So Phil has had the same kind of thoughts, too. It's a comfort to know that.

"Did you?" Dan asks right back, voice laced with uncertainty.

Phil nods. Dan bites down on his lower lip, unable to believe his own luck.

"You too?" Phil presses.

"Are you kidding me?" Dan responds, then without thinking, he adds, "I'm happy."

And he is, he well and truly is. Everything that had ever felt was lacking in his life before suddenly seems to have been leading up to this moment, this one true moment of genuine happiness.

Not for the first time, it hits Dan that nothing will ever compare to this, and it's a bittersweet feeling; a feeling that Phil takes away from him, along with all rational thoughts, by fulfilling his wish and kissing him again.

 

It starts out slow and shy, their lips meeting time and time again before finally locking for a moment that almost feels infinite in all of its glory. Dan tastes Phil's lips on his and the way he feels right now resembles the feeling of being drunk, his senses in complete overload, as the kiss grows more heated by the second. By the time they eventually part, Phil's fingers are tangled somewhere in Dan's hair and Dan's got his arms wrapped around Phil's neck, completely unwilling to let go.

If it were up to him, this moment would last forever. And in this one moment, nothing else could ever matter.

 

 

~~~~~

 

The day flew by, and as Dan lies in bed at the end of it, knowing he won't be able to sleep, he can hardly believe it all to be true.

Things were a little awkward, sure, but mostly it felt like what they already had before with the very pleasant addition of there being so much more. They spent the day watching TV and playing games, and the whole time they remained close, so close, and they kissed far, far more than Dan would have ever expected, and yet at the end of it all, he was only left wanting more.

Falling in love with the person he once refused to even call a friend has been, so far, quite pleasant.

 

However, now that he lies in bed alone, knowing Phil to be close and yet still so far, it only gets worse than usual. He couldn't sleep with Phil away on Christmas break, he hasn't slept well in here either, and he told Phil as much. For some reason though, when Phil offered that they share the room, he said no.

Why? Dan doesn't really know. He didn't want to take things too far; surely Phil would like a little break from him after an entire day spent joined at the hip. Surely Phil deserves some privacy too.

Surely Dan isn't stupid enough to miss him. The guy is two rooms away, and yes, Phil's house looks haunted, but it's not. Dan should just sleep.

The sooner he falls asleep, the sooner he'll see Phil again.

 

No, that's not helping at all. Now he's thinking of Phil, and everything they shared, and that's only making him feel stupidly excited, not sleepy in the least. Still, he closes his eyes and tries his best to turn off his brain, even though he knows it won't work.

 

About ten minutes worth of attempts later, Phil knocks on the door to the room Dan sleeps in. Dan sits up, both startled and curious.

"Yeah?" he calls out, and Phil enters the room, carrying a pillow and a blanket.

"Hey," Phil says softly, seemingly oblivious to Dan's confused look.

"What's that for?" Dan asks, referring to the things Phil's carrying.

"You didn't wanna sleep there, so I figured I'll sleep here instead! We're both tired, could use some good sleep," Phil says cheerfully. "Plus, if my Mum and Dad are coming tomorrow, you're gonna need all the energy you can get."

Right, Phil's mum and dad, that's a thing that's happening too. But most importantly, what?

As Dan scours his brain for things to say, Phil throws the pillow down on the floor and begins to settle down on the carpet, as if nothing had ever happened.

No, just no.

He grabs his arm, stopping him, as they make eye contact.

"Have you lost your mind? Come on up here, we're not on a fucking camping trip," Dan orders. His voice is strained, filled to the brim with emotions he can't quite name just yet. All he knows is that he's not taking this gigantic bed to himself while Phil sleeps on the floor just because he's told him that he can't sleep alone anymore.

Phil is kind, so kind that it takes Dan's breath away sometimes. He doesn't even know how to react when faced with Phil's kindness.

They both have one of those wordless conversations that seem to happen more and more lately, and then, as if on cue, they share a fond smile. Phil nods slightly and climbs up into bed next to Dan as Dan moves over to make room for him.

This whole thing is progressing fast, almost too fast, but Dan takes it in stride. It's not like he hasn't wished for this very thing thousands of times before.

 

Dan is hyperaware of Phil's presence next to him, even though their bodies aren't even touching. He still feels the heat radiating off Phil's body, and it seems almost unnatural not to move closer, but he keeps himself from it. One thing at a time, he thinks.

Phil does close the distance between them however, if only for a moment, because he leans in, looks Dan right in the eyes and kisses him on the lips. Dan's eyes remain closed for a few seconds after Phil lets go, but once he opens them, he finds Phil still looking at him, lips pursed in a smile.

Phil lies back down on his side of the bed before Dan can stop him and whispers, "G'night."

"Night," Dan whispers back.

Three minutes later, he's asleep, Phil close to him, but not nearly as close as he would like him to be.

 

~~~~~

 

"What would you do if you won the lottery?"

Dan chucks a bit of popcorn at Phil's face, but Phil fails to catch it. It falls somewhere on the mountain of sheets between them. Dan rolls his eyes.

"What would I do? I don't know. I'd quit uni, for starters." Phil looks at him as though he expected a more fun answer, but that is honestly the first thing that Dan would do. "Then I'd... I'd buy a house and a huge bed. And I'd sleep for fifteen hours a day."

"Sounds exciting," Phil remarks with a side-grin, throwing some popcorn right back at Dan. Dan fails to catch it just as Phil did, and Phil starts to laugh while Dan shoves him playfully.

 

They're sitting across from each other on Phil's bed, both cross-legged, both in their pyjamas, and they're having one of their long conversations about nothing in particular. Only now, when Dan stuffs his face full of popcorn, Phil leans in to taste the salt that remains on his lips.

Things like that vastly improve their conversations, that much Dan can truly say.

Phil's parents called three days ago to say they're not coming back just yet, a fact that Dan is quite pleased with. He likes being alone with just Phil. Over the past few months, while they were still just friends, that much was also true.

"Don't worry, you could always come visit me in my huge villa," Dan says, "Sometimes."

"Visit? I thought I'd be living with you!" Phil exclaims in mock-disappointment. Dan's silly heart soars at the thought. They already live together, but he knows just as well as anyone that it's quite temporary. Who knows how much longer he will even be able to stay at uni, considering his terrible grades.

"You could be my servant?" Dan suggests. Phil throws popcorn right in his eye in retaliation, so Dan has to cover himself quickly. Once they finally stop tossing their food around, Dan asks, "What about you, then? If you won the lottery?"

Phil flashes him a soft smile. "I already won once. Like ten quid."

"What did you spend it on?"

Phil looks up, as if deep in thought.

"Cola and... ice cream?"

Dan makes it a point to roll his eyes long enough for Phil to take full note of it.

"Of course you did."

"Don't act all high and mighty, Dan. You like ice cream too."

"Weren't you lactose intolerant?"

"Only on Thursdays."

"Right, yeah, how could I forget. You're that special brand of lactose intolerant people that only suffer on Thursdays."

Phil nods rapidly, as if agreeing fully. "Exactly!"

Dan is tempted to dump the rest of the bowl on Phil's head right then and there, but instead, he leans in and kisses him softly. They remain near even once they part. Dan smiles somewhere close to Phil's lips, forgetting their conversation entirely.

After a moment of heavy, intoxicating silence, Phil whispers, voice low and delightfully possessive, "If I won the lottery, I'd take you some place nice and never let you go. I'd kidnap you."

A pleasant chill runs down Dan's spine as their lips meet again and again, with Phil eventually pushing Dan back against the headboard and moving over him. Their bowl of popcorn falls down to the carpet, but they don't really notice, too lost in their own little world.

It's only been four days, but Dan doesn't think he'll ever sate this newfound hunger. No matter what they do, how much they kiss and how close they are, it just doesn't seem to be enough.

Dan opens his mouth ever so slightly and Phil's tongue slips inside, meeting his, and it's all new, he's never kissed anyone like this, and he is a little self-conscious on whether he's any good, but the fact that Phil doesn't stop tells him he's not half bad. He pulls Phil closer, wrapping his arms around him, while Phil supports himself with one arm against the wall, the other on Dan's shoulder. His weight is heavy, but Dan, and it sounds so fucking stupid but it's true, Dan feels lighter than a feather.

It's nice, all this. He's losing himself in it, knowingly forgetting everything else. It's like a vacation from the real world.

He wants it to last. So badly.

When they part, Dan breathes against Phil's mouth, "Where would you take me, then?"

Phil's eyes are shining in the dim light of his bedroom. He looks amazing, Dan thinks, as he adds this to his ever-growing list of treasured moments with Phil.

"You'll say I'm boring, but anywhere would be nice with you really," Phil replies, strangely bashful.

"You are so boring," Dan teases, true to form. "You could have said like, I don't know, Japan?"

"I'm not sure if kidnapping is legal in Japan."

"I won't tell if you don't."

Phil chuckles. "Japan it is, then."

"Then you better be nice to me, or else I will tell and you'll end up in prison."

"When am I ever not nice to you?" Phil exclaims. "It's you who's so rude to me always!"

"I'm rude. It's in my nature. Get used to it."

"You're not rude, Dan," Phil says with conviction, "You're actually rather sweet. But don't tell anyone I said that."

"Let me get my phone and text it to your mum."

"She'll agree with me once she gets here. You don't need to."

Dan's cheeks are red, not just because of their current position, but mostly because of the way Phil seems to fully believe the words he says. Dan doesn't agree with him in the slightest, but seeing himself through Phil's eyes is addictive, stronger than any kind of drug.

 

Eventually, they get up and clean up the popcorn as best as they can, even though Dan is quite certain that some of it must have scattered underneath the bed, but hey. He's no cleaning freak, that much is certain.

They order pizza, because they are running out of food. They stay in bed watching Netflix. At some point, Phil wraps his arm around Dan and Dan rests his head on Phil's shoulder, and it all feels so right, so perfectly right.

 

It's odd, all this, feeling happy for so many days in a row. Dan doesn't want it to end. He wants to stay here, stay here with Phil.

He wants the world to just revolve around this. He wants no memories, no university, no responsibilities, nothing but this. Deep down, he knows it's dangerous to throw himself into this thing with Phil so fully, to just trust and be trusted in return. People usually hurt one another, and it may very well end up that way with them too.

But no. Dan isn't going to think today. Today, he will stay in bed with Phil, and his lips will eventually be red and swollen from all the kissing they've done, and he will feel more exposed than ever, and for once, just this once, he will feel safe in his vulnerability.

He will trust Phil not to hurt him, he will trust himself to get this right, eventually.

 

All too soon this is becoming far too important for Dan to mess up.

 

 

-

 

When he and Phil are making themselves some hot cocoa, Dan's phone starts to ring, and his anxiety immediately sets in.

Who's calling? Dan doesn't want to know. He wants to stay here in this bubble of happiness, he wants to pretend, if only for a while, that nothing else matters.

He mutes his phone without even checking the caller. Things can wait. Everything can.

Everything but this.

 

Later on, they go to bed, and while they do not cuddle, they're closer than the previous night and it takes them forever to part their locked lips and actually go to sleep.

 

Dan's long forgotten phone is downstairs, and it runs out of battery before Dan sees who was calling.

 

1 Missed Call

From: Mum

Chapter Text

Time flies faster when you are happy.

That was the conclusion Dan reached when they were packed up and ready to go back to London at the end of their spring break.

 

It's been a crazy two weeks, and he and Phil were alone for the majority of time, as Phil's parents only came back for the last two days. Dan was terrified of meeting them at first, but it didn't last long. Turns out that Phil, alongside everything else, got lucky when it came to the people who brought him to this world. His parents are nothing short of lovely.

They were very nice and inviting and polite, immediately treating him like one of their own. It only served to remind Dan of everything he had missed out on in his life, but at the same time, as Phil's mum would not let go of him when they said goodbye, it was a comfort to his soul in some long forgotten way.

 

On the train back, he finally turned his phone back on, finding several calls from Louise and one from his own mum, whom he hadn't spoken to in almost a year now.

 

He wasn't very worried. She called him on occasion. He just never picked up.

It always ruined his day, though, finding her in the list of missed calls. It was hard not to think about it.

He caught himself thinking of what she would say, or rather what would his father say, if they knew about... About the past two weeks.

It's quite obvious really. They wouldn't approve. After all, that was the reason of him leaving home and cutting all ties with them. That they didn't approve.

Dan forced himself to stop thinking about it, because Phil noticed far too soon, and Dan didn't want to talk about it.

Or maybe he did. It's not like he wasn't offered a chance. But it wasn't a matter of wanting.

 

Phil kept asking what's wrong, but Dan could hardly tell him the truth, so his only choice was to say nothing at all.

 

-

 

That night, when they get back to London, without discussing it, they both go to bed together.

Their beds back at the dorms are nothing like what they were using at Phil's home. In truth, they are too small for one, let alone two rather tall men, but Dan finds himself quite happy with the arrangement. After all, it means that they are left with no choice but to get really close, and it's what he's been wanting for the past days, but felt too shy to initiate. When the bed was bigger and large enough for two, they had no reason to cuddle as they do now.

He positions himself so that his face rests somewhere near the crook of Phil's neck and inhales his scent. He was quiet the whole day and Phil picked up on it, of course, but now, as Phil tentatively wraps his arms around Dan, Dan feels whole again, like he can finally breathe freely.

Reality caught up to him  briefly, but he's not letting it stay. He wants this to be his new reality. He's not going to think of home.

He's not.

This is home, as far as Dan is concerned. This overpriced dorm. With Phil. His one dream that actually came true.

He can't spoil this, he can't, he can't.

"Is -- is everything okay, Dan?" Phil whispers into Dan's hair, breaking the silence.

Dan can't tell him, of course not. Phil believes that Dan doesn't have a family. Dan has told him as much.

What bothers Dan the most, is that while it's still a lie, it's not at all far from the truth.

"I'm just tired," he whispers back.

He grabs Phil's hand and begins playing with it until Phil pulls their joined hands up and kisses Dan's fingers gently. Dan smiles, slowly feeling the tension escape his body in small waves.

"Yeah, we've had quite a day," Phil says, although he doesn't sound entirely convinced. "Mum's already texted me twice, asking if you will be coming back soon."

"What'd you tell her?"

"I told her yes. Because I hope so, I mean. If you don't want to --"

"Phil," Dan interjects, "Of course I want to. Your parents are far less scary than you made them out to be."

Phil lets out a soft chuckle. The fingers of his right hand are tangled in Dan's hair, playing with his unstraightened curls.

Dan loves it really, how such little touches are slowly becoming the norm. They haven't said anything about what they are now, instead be mapping out new borderlines with the help of looks and gestures, and that's okay with Dan.

He doesn't want to talk. Talking is what spoils things. Talking is what makes him think too much.

"I'm glad. I mean, you've been quiet today. I thought -- thought they might have worn you out. Or I might have done. That's another possibility."

Dan tilts his head upwards, meeting Phil's gaze. He knows him well enough to recognize that worried look, but he opts to ignore it, instead kissing him briefly. When they part, he whispers somewhere close to his lips, "You'll never wear me out."

And it's true, he knows that it's true, and when Phil holds him tighter upon hearing that declaration, Dan believes it to be true for Phil too.

 

~~~~~

 

Spring break is officially over. They've had one day to unpack and what not, but now Dan's already had a whole day of uni, only to go straight to work afterwards.

The worst thing of all is having to come back to work and deal with his stupid manager Bernie. Or perhaps having to come back to uni and deal with all of his courses that he doesn't understand shit from. Or just having to come back to life.

Or having to be away from Phil. That sucks too.

 

Prior to their friendship developing into something more, Dan spent a whole lot of time away from Phil. What's more, the moment he realised that he's got feelings for the guy, he went out of his way to avoid him, going as far as taking extra shifts at work for no other reason than to see Phil less.

Then they went away for two weeks, and -- and things happened, and the entirety of that time was spent together in what felt like an alternate dimension, and Dan is not going to lie, it was quite brilliant.

Now, back in London, even two hours without Phil feel like ages. Dan is pathetic, really, there is no other way to refer to it. On top of that, it's been a busy day and his manager has been even more of a prick than usual, so he hasn't even checked his phone in two hours. It's time.

 

He moves to an area of the store that is not very popular and pulls out his phone, finding three texts from Phil. His heartbeat quickens immediately as warmth spreads over his body, starting in a nervous knot at the pit of his stomach. He absolutely can't wait to read the messages.

They've been texting the whole day. It's quite nice, but only makes Dan all the more eager to get back and actually see Phil for himself.

 

Two weeks, just two weeks, and the difference is quite phenomenal. It's like night and day, really.

 

As he goes to check what it is that Phil wrote, a customer interrupts him. Of course.

Dan sighs, making no effort to conceal it, and looks up to see a large, bald guy in his forties.

"Where are the light bulbs?" the man asks, skipping the pleasantries. It's not unusual, but it's also exceedingly annoying. Why do they never say hello or excuse me? Dan's not a slave, it wouldn't kill the customers to be nice now and then.

"In the section called light bulbs," Dan deadpans, because hey, it's true.

"Where's that, then? I've been walking all over this place!"

Dan rolls his eyes. His phone vibrates in the pocket of his jeans.

Probably another text from Phil. He's got to get rid of this guy fast. Problem is, the section the man is looking for is on the other side of the store, and store policy is that they have to take the customers to their desired section, making sure they don't get lost.

Dan honestly just can't be bothered today. He looks around in search of a solution, finding one of his coworkers cleaning the shelves in the corner; a very timid girl in her teens.

He motions for the customer to follow and brings him over to the girl. Dan doesn't even remember her name.

"Hey, you, d'you know where the light bulbs are?" Dan asks, startling her. The girl turns to face him, blue eyes wide and confused.

"Y-yes?"

"Follow her then, sir. I don't know where they are. I'm new," Dan lies and walks away before he can be stopped. Of course he isn't new. He is just lazy. And he hates this job, hates it more than anything.

He just wants to go back to the dorms and spend some time with Phil.

Dan feels the girl's piercing gaze, but he doesn't turn to meet it. Of course, the kid knows that Dan isn't new. Dan was the one that trained her for the job a couple of weeks ago.

 

Determined not to take any more risks, he goes to the break room and hopes that no one else will follow. It's a cramped space filled with furniture that was too ugly to be put on display anywhere else, but at least it's empty right now, and that's all Dan needs.

He sits down in one of the few chairs that aren't broken and finally begins reading the texts.

 

Phil (April 24, 2:41 PM)

Daaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

When are you coming back?

 

Phil (April 24, 3:19 PM)

Where even are you :[ Come back I'm bored without you

 

Phil (April 24, 4:01 PM)

I miss you =[

 

The smile that blooms on Dan's face is involuntary; he couldn't stop it if he tried. He wonders if it was difficult for Phil to send him such a text. Dan knows for a fact that he would struggle if he were to send one like that first, but since Phil paved the way for him, he doesn't hold back too much in his response.

 

Dan (April 24, 4:14 PM)

you miss me huh :]

i might miss you too

ill have to think about it

 

Dan (April 24, 4:16 PM)

and ill be back in like 2 hours tops

 

Phil replies almost instantly, much to Dan's delight.

 

Phil (April 24, 4:17 PM)

Two hours? I was hoping two minutes :(

 

Me too, Dan thinks, but doesn't put it in writing.

 

Dan (April 24, 4:18 PM)

ill try to be back sooner

make a video or something

 

Phil (April 24, 4:19 PM)

We could when you get back ^_^

 

That was not what Dan meant, but knowing that Phil immediately connected his suggestion to something they might do together, that's quite nice. He smiles at his phone and briefly ponders leaving work early, but he knows it's too risky to do on his first day back. It takes a few days to blend back in, plus Bernie's mood seemed to be rather awful today and Dan doesn't want to take any part in that.

He sighs. He doesn't want to be here. At all.

 

Just as Dan is about to reply, the door to the break room opens, revealing the kid that he left with the light bulb customer just a few minutes back. She seems to be cross with him, and no wonder; Dan would be too, if he were in her place.

He has the decency to shoot her a remorseful look. And not to make any excuses.

"You're new. Very funny," the girl comments, pouring herself a glass of water. She leans against the counter, looking at Dan. She's got blue eyes and light brown hair accompanied by a round face. Her slender frame looks even thinner underneath their company issued, baggy shirt. She's probably two to three years younger than Dan.

"Sorry 'bout that," Dan says, but he doesn't sound very sorry, and he is met with a quite stormy expression.

Suddenly, he remembers the girl's name. Marissa.

"You could have just said you were going on break." Dan's phone goes off, interrupting Marissa. "Or that you wanted to text someone." There it goes again. "Text someone a lot, apparently."

Dan really wants to check his phone, but most of all, he wants the kid to leave, so he focuses on that first.

"Yeah, I -- you're right," Dan agrees, "Sorry again."

"Who's texting you so much?" she asks, curiosity seeping into the tone of her voice seemingly against her will.

"Just -- just this girl," he lies as if on autopilot, freezing as he realizes what he just said.

Of course, it's far easier that way. But then why the bitter taste in his mouth?

He feels Marissa's heavy gaze on his face and finally meets it, making sure to look entirely unfazed. To his surprise, she seems quite puzzled, no longer upset with him.

"A girl. As in a girlfriend," she states.

Dan rolls his eyes and looks back at his phone, even though he's not reading the texts yet. He opens the tumblr app and begins mindlessly browsing, if only to look busy.

It's as good a strategy as any other.

"Look, I said I'm sorry. Do you need anything else?" he asks instead of answering her.

She scoffs, sets her glass down and turns to leave. "No. Hope you won't be needing anything else either, twat."

She then leaves the break room, shutting the door loudly behind herself.

Great. Add his coworker to the list of people that hate him with a passion. Just what he needed.

 

Dan wonders what it is that Phil even sees in him. What's worse, he won't even own up to it in front of other people.

He thinks of his mum calling him during the spring break, thinks of what she would say to all of it. An unpleasant shiver runs down his spine.

He can't be too open about things.

Because what if his parents knew?

 

~~~~~

 

XII.

 

"Jacob! For fuck's sake! What did you do? It isn't working!"

Dan keeps banging on the door to his brother's bedroom, but it's locked. Jake won't let him in. Dan also happens to be holding his laptop, the very one he lent Jake just three days ago, which, coincidentally, is now broken. It won't even turn on.

That laptop is Dan's whole world, pretty much. Saving up for it took forever. And now it's not working.

Surely, he has some right to be upset?

"Jake!" Dan shouts again.

"Daniel, be quiet, I'm on the phone!" his mum calls from the lounge downstairs.

"Oh my god, just stop shouting," Jake yells back eventually, unlocking the door.

Dan storms in immediately. Jake stares at him, traces of fear in his eyes, but he regains his composure quickly enough.

Of the two of them, it is Jacob that always gets what he wants. Dan is not the least bit surprised when his brother doesn't back down.

"You broke my laptop! What did you do?" Dan demands, setting it down on Jake's desk and demonstrating the problem.

"Nothing. It was working fine when I used it," Jake says, but he doesn't look Dan in the eyes for one second of it.

"You're lying. You broke it."

"I didn't!"

"You did! Give me money to get it fixed now, it's not my fault you keep breaking shit!"

Dan may be overreacting, but there are reasons for it. He doesn't normally yell at anyone, much less his brother. But this isn't the first time Jacob broke something of his, and laptop repairs cost far more than Dan's got in savings. In fact, he barely has any savings whatsoever. He is going away to university soon, after all.

"I'm not giving you anything! I haven't got any money!"

His brother's youthful face is contorted in anger; a cover-up for any guilt he might be feeling. He shuts Dan's laptop closed and sits down on the bed, not looking at his elder brother at all.

"Do you want me to tell Dad that you broke it?" Dan asks, hoping that will work.

Of course, it doesn't. Jake actually laughs at that.

Dan hasn't really thought this through. Of course, their father always took Jacob's side.

"Tell him and I'll tell him something else." Jake finally looks at Dan, meaningful and collected. "You know what."

 

~~~~~

 

On the way back to the dorms, he pushes all of his thoughts back where they belong. That is, as far away as possible, where he can freely pretend that they don't even exist.

Fact is, he is in love with Phil, and in the quiet of his own mind, he admits that fairly easily.

Phil probably knows as much too. No, he surely does; after over two weeks of them snogging every chance they got, it must be hard to get it wrong.

So there's that. And Dan doesn't want to lose it. No, not for anything.

As such, the conclusion is rather simple. The best way to keep anything safe is to keep it secret. And he doesn't want this newfound happiness to slip away, so he will take every safety measure possible.

All too often, Dan has lost what he loved. He won't let that happen again.

 

-

 

"You're back!" Phil shouts the moment Dan opens the door to their shared dorm room.

Dan smiles brightly, taking in the sight of Phil, leaping out of bed to meet him right by the door.

They survey one another for a moment; a wordless conversation that ends in an impatient kiss, initiated by Phil. Dan easily complies, melting into the touch as Phil pulls him close and kicks the door shut. They walk to bed, Dan pushing Phil in the right direction, without parting for anything else than catching their breath.

Moments later Phil, walking backwards, hits the bed and his legs buckle from underneath him. He lands on the bed with a thud, breaking the kiss in temporary confusion, but Dan is quick to follow and pin him down, their lips meeting once more in a heated caress.

This is better, Dan thinks. Better than anything. Nothing could ever begin to top this.

Phil seems happy enough to let Dan take the lead this time, and Dan doesn't stop, moving over Phil and allowing his tongue to slip past the zip of Phil's mouth, deepening the kiss.

It all leaves them both panting for breath, but they don't go further. They don't discuss it; at some point, they just pause and Dan lays down, half on top of Phil, watching as his chest rises and falls as he starts to catch his breath.

He looks up to meet Phil's eyes and grins widely when he finds his flatmate - or whatever it is that he is now - staring right back at him.

"So you did miss me after all?" Phil asks, expression mildly smug.

"Not at all," Dan replies without missing a beat, "I was kinda hoping you wouldn't be here, tbh."

Phil smacks him playfully. "You're a terrible liar, Dan."

His expression falls ever so slightly. If only Phil knew just how many things Dan had lied about... His parents (Phil thinks he doesn't have any), his job (Phil thinks Dan just disappears at random); those are the two major lies that spawned a million other, smaller ones.

Would Phil still kiss him like this if he knew?

He recovers just in time for Phil to think nothing of it.

"Keep telling yourself that, Lester. Fact is, I haven't missed you at all."

Phil pouts and makes a disappointed sound that, knowing him, wasn't supposed to be quite as adorable as it turned out to be. Warmth spreads all over Dan's body, the way it often seems to do when Phil is involved.

"Fine, I haven't missed you either."

Dan pulls an unconvinced expression, then says, "You totally missed me all day."

"Oh yeah?" Phil asks with a lopsided grin. "How do you know that, then?"

Dan retrieves his phone from the pocket of his jeans, hand brushing dangerously close to certain areas of Phil's body that he tries to avoid. There is heat rising in his cheeks, but he ignores it. He opens up the text app and shows Phil their texts from today.

"You even said so here," he states, "And you've been spamming me from the moment you left for class."

"I was just being nice."

"Of course you were."

"Besides," Phil says, rising slightly to alternate their positions, leaving Dan pinned to the bed now. "Even if I did miss you, it means nothing if you didn't miss me right back."

Dan swiftly loses the ability to form a single coherent thought with Phil looming over him like that, so he merely gazes him in the eyes for far too long. That feeling of being vulnerable returns in full force, but surprisingly, it still isn't unpleasant. Not even with the thoughts that have been plaguing him ever since he found that missed call from his mum.

"Make me miss you, then," Dan whispers after a pause.

Phil's grin doesn't last long at all, replaced by something different entirely. Their lips meet right in the middle, and they meet again each time they part, and Phil's hands are tangled in Dan's hair, and Dan's arms are wrapped around Phil's neck, and --

And Dan forgets. He forgets, or he tells himself that he does. He forgets about this other version of reality, the one he refuses to think of.

If only for a while.

 

~~~~~

 

The next two weeks are a mess in their own right. A good mess, because Phil. A bad mess, because Phil.

On the one hand, he is ridiculously happy; so happy that it should be illegal, in fact. He and Phil spend all of their spare time together, they share the bed every night, and their friends (the little they've got) are all but forgotten, because their time is better spent doing other things.

No, nothing like that. But Dan does think about it, and if he doesn't actively try to, then his body helps him with that. It's a bit awkward when such thoughts enter his mind with Phil around.

Right, so, happy. Definitely. But on the other hand...

On the other hand, he does wonder. What would people say if they knew? Louise has been shooting him knowing looks even before he and Phil ended up like this, but Louise is kind, she would never intentionally hurt him. His parents though, that's a different story. And Jake, Jake was never hateful about it, but he --

But he is the reason behind all of it, after all, so it's quite hard to judge.

 

Phil has caught him lost in thought on more than one occasion, but he hasn't pushed Dan. The only questions that come up over and over are related to where it is that Dan disappears to. Somehow, he feels ashamed to admit he's got a job even now. If he were doing something interesting, it might have been worth mentioning, but his job is the single most soul-consuming thing in the world, and definitely nothing for him to be proud of.

So he evades the questions, and as they have both gotten reasonably good at distracting each other, it's not all that hard to do.

 

Four weeks since the beginning of the thing, as Dan calls it in his mind, Dan begins to think that it might actually work. He could be happy with Phil without taking too many risks. Maybe one day he will even feel comfortable in his own skin. That, he doubts, but not all dreams have to be realistic.

Either way, four weeks in, Dan is quite content with the state of things. And then Phil comes home from meeting PJ, and it all goes to hell.

 

-

 

Phil comes in and Dan greets him, simply excited to see him. They end up on the bed like they do every single day, a tangled mess of limbs, and they're kissing, or snogging rather, and Dan wants more, but Phil pauses, and he suddenly looks all serious and nervous and Dan's stomach clenches at the mere sight.

"Dan?"

"Yeah?"

"I've been thinking --" Phil begins, but pauses.

"Wow, how did that go for you?" Dan jokes lamely, if only to relieve some of the sudden tension between them. Phil smiles, but it doesn't reach his eyes.

"I've been thinking," Phil says instead, "D'you reckon we could... I don't know, tell people? Like our friends or something?"

Fuck.

Trust Phil to suggest the exact thing Dan doesn't want to do.

Although, for a moment there, it sounds nice. Telling people he's with Phil. Letting them know that -- that they're together.

Being out in the open, unashamed to be himself.

But reality doesn't work like that, and while Phil may not know it, Dan certainly does.

"Tell people what?" he asks, pretending to be oblivious to buy himself some time.

"Well, err, I mean- whatever we've got, I guess? You and me, I mean?"

Phil's eyes are dark blue in the limited light of the room, and wide as ever. Dan spots the fear in them easily; it stands out above everything else, even though Phil probably doesn't wish to express it.

He tries not to let that emotion reflect back in his own eyes.

"I thought we could just keep it as it is for now," Dan suggests after a pause. "I mean, it's fine now, isn't it? Why bother?"

It hurts Dan, the way Phil's scared but hopeful expression instantly falls at this.

Phil takes a moment to recover, absently playing with the zipper of Dan's hoodie. "Well, Peej has been bugging me to tell him what's up. I've barely seen him for the entire past month and he thinks I've got someone new."

Someone new, Dan thinks. That must be a reference to Phil's ex-boyfriend.

Jealousy stings, but it's the least of his problems right now.

"PJ is not a twelve year old girl, Phil," Dan retorts, "I'm sure he'll be alright."

Silence stretches for a tad too long again, but Dan does nothing to break it, leaving it all up to Phil.

"Why can't we just tell him?" Phil asks, somewhat impatient now.

"Why do we have to?" Dan shoots back.

 

"I thought we were-" Phil pauses, eyes conveying what his lips are not able to put across.

Dan closes his eyes for a few seconds. His mind is a mess at the best of times, but now, it's even worse.

He wants them to be --

Well, whatever Phil is proposing.

What's more, he knows that they already are exactly that. But he doesn't want to label it, doesn't want to spoil a good thing once he's got it.

Labels never quite worked out for him, after all.

"Yeah well, that doesn't mean we have to go around telling people, does it?"

"Is it bad if people know? Why does it matter?" Phil presses.

This is an awkward conversation to have when basically laying on top of Phil, but it would be weird to move away in the middle of it.

"I'd just rather not," Dan dodges with no further explanation.

"Are you having second thoughts?" Phil asks, voice low and timid.

Dan pulls away as far as possible, allowing himself a proper look at Phil. Then he stares at the man until he meets his eyes.

"Obviously not!" Dan exclaims. "I just think we're fine as it is. What are you gonna tell him, anyway? Oh yeah Dan and I make out on a daily basis, want pics?"

Dan's cheeks feel awfully hot. His only consolation is that Phil's pale complexion has turned oddly red too.

If he could choose, they would not be having this conversation at all.

"But it's more than that, isn't it?" Phil asks, then after a pause he adds, "I could just as well tell him that you're my boyfriend."

Dan's eyes widen at his use of the word.

So Phil has got an ex-boyfriend, but now --

But now he is calling Dan his boyfriend too, and Dan would be lying if he said that his heart did not leap at the thought.

Thinking of himself in relation to Phil -- thinking that he belongs to him in any way -- it's romantic and foolish, but it's also -- it's everything Dan wants, really.

Surely, the best thing in this situation would be to kiss Phil and say that yes, he is right. That they are -- well, boyfriends. And be happy, just allow himself this, just be happy and forget.

But it doesn't really work like that. One doesn't truly forget. Not ever.

 

 

~~~~~

 

XIII.

 

"Do you want me to tell Dad that you broke my laptop?" Dan asks.

"Tell him and I'll tell him something else," Jake replies. "You know what."

Oh yes, Dan knows. Of course he knows. They go to the same school. Jake hears all the same rumors.

The rumors about him being gay started a couple of months ago for no real reason. Dan is not up to date on gossip. His brother probably knows more on the matter than Dan himself does.

And he is scared, at first. Of the backlash, of what his parents might say. Of -- of it being true, because his whole life, he's been told that it's wrong.

But no. Dan knows. It's not wrong, and he will not be ashamed of it, and his parents aren't perfect, but they would never hurt him like that.

No, they wouldn't.

So, it is with confidence that he says, "Fine. Go and fucking tell him! See if I care!"

What he doesn't anticipate is that, although he's been wrong about many things in his life, he's never been so wrong as he has been in this very moment, assuming that his parents would care for him no matter what.

~~~~~

 

 

"I still don't get how it even matters," Dan mumbles, lost in thought.

Phil shoots him a look that resembles an abandoned puppy. Dan's heart skips a beat.

He is doing something wrong and he knows it, and yet, he can't bring himself around anymore. He's too far gone.

"Are you ashamed of it or something?" Phil asks eventually.

Ashamed? No, never. Scared? Maybe.

"'course not," he chokes out at last. "Just don't wanna tell people. What's it to them? This is between..." He pauses briefly. "Between us, you know."

Phil seems to find some consolation in that, and yet, he still chooses to press on.

"So you don't want anybody to know that we're - that we do this." Phil motions between the two of them, indicating what Dan assumes is kissing.

He looks away, unable to look Phil in the eye as he replies, "I just don't see the point."

The silence that then falls seems to stretch for an eternity before he hears Phil whisper something so quietly that it's almost inaudible.

"Right."

Dan wants to meet Phil's gaze, but he can't bring himself to do so. Every part of his body, of his heart, his very soul, tells him that he is not doing the right thing. That the right thing is to let go and let himself -- no, let them both -- have this.

And yet, he doesn't.

He swallows thickly and, after what feels like forever, asks Phil, "I'm gonna go down to the shop. Want anything?"

Then, and only then, does Dan meet Phil's eyes. And he instantly wishes that he hadn't.

Phil looks at him with so much affection mixed with sorrow that Dan feels entirely unequipped to deal with it. He simply doesn't know what to do.

He truly doesn't know what to do.

"No, thanks, I've got what I need."

Dan only wishes that he could say the same.

 

-

 

They barely talk for the rest of the night, and for the first time in a month, they each go to sleep in their own bed. Or well, sleep might not be the right word for Dan. At least he lies down and closes his eyes, that much he does.

He wants to be happy. On instinct, he knows that Phil is the key. Dan is not often arrogant, but on some level, he knows that he could make Phil happy too. Maybe.

Not that he would be worthy of him, but he -- he could make him happy. He could.

Phil deserves it, that much he is certain of.

But does Dan deserve it?

 

Does he?

 

~~~~~

 

XIV.

 

"Daniel, if this is true, I don't want to see you again. I'm serious! Tell me it's not true or I expect you out of this house by tomorrow!"

Daniel -- no, not Daniel, just Dan -- stares at his father mutely. He feels drained, empty, entirely too tired to be disappointed.

"I'll be out by tonight. And do you know what? Fuck you. Fuck you!"

Four hours later, he was on the train to London, and his old life was over.

For good.

Chapter Text

It's still dark outside when Dan sneaks out, tired of pretending to be asleep, fed up with listening intently for signs of Phil being awake.

Phil is asleep, and if he is not, he must be hellbent on not giving it away.

 

Around four in the morning, Dan gave up on staying in bed. He got dressed and even went out of his way to fold his sheets neatly, something he never usually does, all the while painfully aware of the fact that normally, Phil would be sleeping in his bed with him.

Now, it was empty, so he made the bed, if only to surprise Phil when he wakes up and Dan isn't there.

He did so quietly, swiftly, giving his mind a little reprieve from all the things that kept him up all night. He then grabbed his backpack and jacket and simply left, out into the night.

 

It's not the first time he's done this in their acquaintance, but somehow, this time around, there is an air of finality to it. The streets are cold and quiet and he wishes Phil were here, and when he thinks about their argument, it feels as though his own thoughts echo back to him, only adding to this growing, hopeless feeling that has taken residence in his heart.

 

Dan decides to walk around aimlessly for a while, but that resolve is quick to pass when he runs into the first group of drunks. Dan isn't very brave at the best of times, not to mention the fact that the last time he exercised was during gym class two years ago, when forced. He wouldn't stand a chance.

On a whim, he catches the night bus and heads to work, knowing that the night shift could always use some help doing mundane tasks such as unloading boxes, packing boxes, moving boxes and whatever else, all of it involving boxes. He'll do some boxes. That is mindless, and mindless is precisely what he needs right now.

There, that's another thing Phil doesn't know about. His job. And why? Because Dan is ashamed? What a stupid reason to lie to someone that you --

Someone that you are in love with.

But he wasn't exactly planning on falling for Phil. All of the lies were deflections made at the beginning, when he'd just gotten to know him. He didn't even want to be friends, much less...

Boyfriends.

 

As expected, the shift manager is more than happy to let Dan do some work, so he ends up in the vast storage with the task of counting all the different kinds of light bulbs they have in stock.

Light bulbs. How ironic. Briefly, he remembers his coworker, and the stunt he had pulled just two weeks ago, leaving her with a customer just because he was way too busy thinking of Phil, like the pathetic loser that he is.

 

Yes, he does think of Phil a great amount. And yet, when Phil clearly showed that he wants to -- to bring things forward, why did Dan retreat so instantaneously?

 

It's stupid, Phil must certainly be confused. For the past month they've done a whole lot of kissing and little but. Obviously they're so much more than friends.

Obviously Phil feels something for him too. It's clear as day even to Dan.

And he wants to tell the world. He wants to tell the world that Dan is his boyfriend.

 

Heat begins to pool in Dan's cheeks at the mere thought of it. His initial reaction to the idea wasn't angry, he was just taken aback.

Then the memories and the what-ifs caught up to him.

 

Phil doesn't get it, because why would he? He can't know the wounds that never close, the concerns that plague Dan day by day. What's worse, he also doesn't know of the sickly sweet feeling that filled Dan from head to toe for a moment, as he imagined telling the world that he and Phil are together.

Phil, the guy he's been pining for since Christmas. That's only consciously; the thoughts were there before too, he just wasn't entirely aware of them.

 

Phil has no idea how much Dan wants to just let go, be free, not think about what people will say, not think of what's wrong or right.

How much he wants to live with that careless abandon that he has almost gotten used to over the past month.

But labels...

Labels make everything sound so final, and final is scary, terrifying really.

 

It's almost like he is standing at the edge of a cliff. Below it is a stormy ocean, and Phil is his raft, his way back to safety.

But what are the odds that, if he takes a chance and jumps, he will land right where he needs to be?

 

-

 

He is barely awake by the time he reaches lunch. He hasn't registered anything of what's been said during his first four lectures. On the upside, that's not far different from usual, so there's that.

He can't stop thinking about Phil.

Why isn't he texting him? Obviously he must be cross with him, and as the day goes on, Dan begins to see why. Not for the first time, it hits him how little Phil knows of the whole situation. If he were in his place, he would almost feel rejected. Dan's heart sinks at the thought. No, if there is one thing that he is not confused about, it's whether he wants to stay with Phil. He does. He needs to. He can't imagine anything else.

But how does he fix this, this thing that he was never prepared for?

On the other hand, why does Phil have to make such a big deal out of this? Why push him so much?

The anger returns, subdued but still there, and Dan almost wants to smack himself for being so daft.

 

Dan is halfway through his slice of pizza when two unexpected voices pull him out of his reverie.

"Dan Howell! Wow, it's like I haven't seen you in forever! Where'd you get that shirt? And more importantly, does it come in pink?"

Dan looks up just as Chris sits down across from him with no ceremony. PJ towers above him, not so quick to join him without asking.

"Hi Dan, is it okay if we join you?" PJ asks politely, rolling his eyes at Chris a little.

Dan shoots him a tired look, but he can't resist the temptation of potentially seeing Phil. Perhaps he will be joining them for lunch. He nods in resignation, and only then does PJ take his seat and set down their tray.

"How is it going?" PJ asks once Chris stops rambling about Dan's shirt.

"I'm tired," Dan responds, and out of courtesy, he asks, "What about you?"

"We're fine," Chris replies, not letting PJ speak this time. "Although Peej is being really boring."

PJ rolls his eyes again, this time with a fond smile.

"I'm being responsible, Chris."

Dan frowns in confusion, but doesn't care enough to ask. Besides, an explanation is likely to follow in three, two, one...

"My mate is going to Brighton for the week and he said we could come with, so I was like, fuck yes!" Chris says over a mouthful of pasta. "But then Peej started moaning about exams and shit, and we ended up staying."

Dan stares at Chris mutely, because not even Dan himself is that stupid. Exam period starts soon, going on vacation right now would be completely bonkers.

Then again, it's Chris. It fits.

Dan does take note of one thing though; of the way Chris speaks for them both, constantly using we. Once he figures out the implication, the whole conversation suddenly becomes so much more interesting.

"We couldn't have gone," PJ retorts patiently, the tone of his voice indicating that he's explained this many times before. "Or we would've failed our end of the year exams. And we'd be royally screwed."

"We couldn't be royally screwed! We're not royalty."

"Just for the purpose of this conversation, we would become royalty."

"I call dibs on Prince William."

"He's already married..."

Dan silently observes the familiar back and forth and catches the meaningful little glances between the two. He finds himself feeling rather curious about the whole thing.

And jealous, perhaps. Then again, he and Phil act similar in public, it's just --

It's just that he doubts that these two would ever be ashamed of it. Just look at Chris. Dan doesn't think the guy has ever been ashamed of anything in his life, especially not who he is.

Dan looks down at his plate, a bitter, oppressive feeling crawling up his throat.

Is this what this is all about? Shame?

Has his past made him ashamed of who he is?

 

"You okay, Dan?" PJ tilts his head at him, concern visible in his eyes.

"Yeah. Yeah, 'm fine." Dan pauses, tries to force an indifferent expression. "Where's Phil?"

"We thought he'd be with you," Chris answers, "He always is. I swear, you two! So bloody cute!" Chris then winces in pain and shouts at PJ, "You! What're you kickin' me for!"

PJ looks up to the ceiling, as if it had any wisdom to offer, then says to Dan, "Sorry. Chris is a bit... Wild? Too much sugar."

"So Phil's not joining you for lunch?" Dan insists, ignoring everything else.

PJ shakes his head. "Think he's skipping it today."

Dan pouts ever so slightly, eyes trained on his now empty plate, as he tries to imagine what Phil must be thinking right now.

Honestly, how pathetic. This was their first real fight since becoming a -- a thing, and yet, it's almost the same as the one they've had just a few months ago.

 

Dan needs to learn. Leave the past behind, pretend it doesn't exist. Pretend it all never happened.

Try to be happy, happy the way only Phil can seem to cause in him, in a way that will keep this happiness safe. Not too little, not too much.

Can it be? Would Phil be up for it?

Would Phil be willing to -- to take it one step at a time?

 

Dan is largely absent from the conversation. He finds he doesn't have much to say. They're Phil's friends and not his, although he supposes that they would refer to him as a friend, but he's got impossible standards. Either way, he prefers to listen than to speak. The only person he is talkative around is Phil.

 

Phil...

 

Dan excuses himself and leaves before the other two are done eating, followed by the curious looks of Phil's friends.

 

Despite judging Chris just moments ago, he does something similar and skips the rest of his lectures.

He's got a lot of thinking to do.

 

~~~~~

 

By the time Dan gets home, it's dark outside.

He's thought about things a lot, all the while listening to music and wandering around pointlessly. Then he went to work, where he was being useless the whole afternoon. However, even once his mind is all made up to just go back to the dorms, he still isn't sure of which way to take things with Phil.

Should he be mad? Does he have any reason to?

Should he say sorry?

Should he say nothing and let Phil start the conversation?

 

As he steps inside, he finds Phil sitting on his own bed. It immediately strikes Dan just how tired Phil looks; dark circles underneath his eyes, hair pushed back instead of perfectly straightened, lips tightly pressed in a thin line. Seconds later, he notices hints of anger in Phil's stare, and his defense mechanism kicks in. If Phil is angry, then so is Dan. He won't beg him for forgiveness.

"Where have you been?" Phil asks. His voice is a little unsteady, Dan notes; he'll have to make sure that he doesn't sound like that when he responds.

"Just out."

Dan surveys the room, avoiding looking at Phil now, fighting the urge to sit down next to him. Eventually, he shrugs off his jacket and sits down on his own bed, across from Phil.

"Out doing what?" Phil presses.

Dan makes it a point to sigh loudly and roll his eyes. Phil doesn't know about his job, after all, and Dan can hardly think of an excuse right now. "What's it to you?"

The moment he says it, he realizes how stupid it sounds. What's it to Phil, the guy he's been snogging for the past month? Really Dan?

Phil seems to feel the same way, because Dan catches him shaking his head and almost smiling.

"I think you know, Dan."

Of course he knows. He's not that bloody daft. But revealing something, anything new right now, when they're fighting, is a very bad idea.

 

Dan's gaze is now glued to the carpet. He sits with elbows resting on his knees, anxiously fiddling his thumbs.  

 

It hits him that the only way to resolve this is to be honest with Phil, no matter how difficult it might seem. However, Dan himself knows that there is only a little room for honesty where he is concerned. Some things have to stay as they are, for now, until Dan figures out a way to deal with them properly.

He chooses not to pretend that this is about anything else than last night and speaks up.

"I'm sorry I don't wanna go around telling everybody, alright? I'm not saying never, I'm saying not now."

Dan risks a look at Phil after this, and finds him staring at him, frowning.

"PJ is not everybody."

"No, but as long as anyone else knows, it's bound to get out," Dan retorts, then wonders if he is doing the guy justice. Probably not.

"I trust Peej more than anybody else, he'd keep it secret." Dan's eyes widen and Phil sees it, immediately adding, "Aside from you, I mean."

He smirks in response. Of course Phil doesn't trust him. Why would he?

"'s alright, I've hardly given you reasons to trust me, have I?"

"You've given me plenty," Phil disagrees.

They make eye contact, and it sticks. They're looking at each other, exchanging questions that have no answers.

Dan finds himself with nothing else to say. Nothing else that he knows how to say.

 

Sitting across from Phil, he feels strangely lonely, confused, lost. He knows what he wants, but he doesn't know how to get it. He wants things to be okay, but stubborn as he is, he doesn't want to put himself out there before knowing Phil wants to sort all of this too.

 

Dan spots a shift in the way Phil looks at him. His previously annoyed and forlorn expression begins to transform into something far softer and warmer, the very look that makes Dan lose the ability to breathe. There are still a thousand unanswered questions between them, but this look -- this look gives Dan hope, and he is not wrong.

Phil, all of a sudden, stands up, and it takes less than two seconds for Dan to do the same.

 

Neither one of them came out of this victorious, this first fight of theirs, but Dan doesn't want it to continue. He doesn't care about being right, he just wants to be with Phil, no matter the cost.

 

Phil opens up his arms, and Dan immediately falls into them, accepting the embrace, melting into it as if they are two pieces of the very same puzzle. He inhales sharply, enjoying the smell of Phil's aftershave and just Phil, as he buries his face somewhere near the crook of his neck; Dan's most favourite spot.

Phil pulls him close, their bodies pressed together tightly, and Dan attempts to pull him even closer still. Slowly, his breathing evens out. The only sound in the room is that of Phil's heartbeat, Phil's breath, so close to Dan's ear.

 

For the first time since their argument, Dan is breathing freely. But in the back of his head, he remains keenly aware of the fact that nothing is resolved. They didn't reach a compromise. They simply left it all for later.

Phil plants a kiss on the top of Dan's head, which completely disarms him. They then share a soft, gentle kiss on the lips and remain close afterwards.

"You don't mind, then?" Dan asks anxiously, breaking the silence.

"Don't mind what?" Phil asks back, his Northern accent slipping through.

"Not telling people yet?"

"No, it's fine." Phil's reply is immediate, tone of voice unwavering and steady. "'sides, you're right, what would we even tell them?"

Dan was right to think that nothing is resolved.

But still, the thought of being -- being with Phil properly, giving it a name, is just as dreadful as it is wonderful, and Dan is not sure what he wants, which emotion wins out. All he knows that he's not giving Phil what he asked for, but he should at least give him that.

That one label, if only between the two of them for now.

"I mean, I guess we are - well, what you said, last night," Dan mumbles into Phil's chest.

Phil pulls away at that, scanning Dan's face with a surprised look on his own.

Dan wishes that he hadn't done that. He just wants to hide.

"So you'd want to be my boyfriend?" Phil asks in disbelief. He doesn't even flinch when saying the word, but Dan does flinch upon hearing it.

However, if he said that the thought doesn't make him happy, he'd be a fucking liar.

"Honestly Phil, what'd you think this was? No, I'd much rather be your German teacher, clearly."

Phil's smile is infectious and reassuring; exactly what Dan needs today.

"I could really use one of those though! I can only say nein and guten tag."

"That's still more than me, so I'm afraid you're on your own on this one," Dan replies easily, in contrast to his own feelings.

"That's a shame," Phil retorts, "I guess I'll have to find a secondary boyfriend to be my German tutor, then."

Dan starts laughing at Phil's poor attempt at relieving some of the tension. Clearly, it's working. Dan nudges him in the chest.

"Good luck with that," he chides, voice breaking ever so slightly. "I don't think you'll find anybody else to put up with you for this long, you spoon."

"No, I guess not," Phil agrees fondly.

 

They say nothing else for what feels like forever, although Dan knows very well that they're not done. It seems that Phil must have decided the whole thing is not worth the trouble right now, and Dan is too big a mess to start something he isn't prepared for.

He has a boyfriend now, and in his mind, pride and anxiety are fighting it out; will likely keep on fighting until he finally makes up his mind and disregards the thoughts and wishes of his parents. Which he thought he had done, but apparently, judging by the last few weeks, judging by last night, he hasn't.

 

He has a boyfriend, Phil, and the thought fills him with such joy and such fear in equal measure. No matter which way he spins it though, he can't bring himself to regret it.

Of course he wants to be with Phil, no matter what name they give it, he wants this thing to stay.

 

He just needs to stop thinking. Forget. Enjoy what his life gave him, enjoy this extraordinary person that he can't survive two fucking hours without.

Forget, forget, forget.

 

The look in Phil's eyes changes from bliss to something different entirely, and although Dan isn't fully aware of it, it must be in response to the way Dan stares at him with such longing. Phil. Phil is his way out of all this. Being with Phil feels right, so he will have to try to do better, he will forget his family, because all they did was push him away. And for what? For being himself?

This kind of thinking only brings him pain, and Dan has had more than enough in his life.

 

Instead of pondering everything, Dan shuts his mind down and kisses Phil right on the lips. It starts out slow and timid, but progresses quickly into a series of open-mouthed kisses that leave them both panting for breath, and before Dan knows it, Phil is back to sitting on the bed, he is straddling him, and Phil's hands are tangled in his hair, pulling and pulling and --

And Dan won't stop, won't stop, won't stop.

He won't think of anything but the taste of Phil's lips on his tongue, won't see anything but the fire in his eyes that is surely reflected in his own, won't feel anything but Phil's lips moving from his mouth to his jaw to his neck -- to his neck -- and he will be left with several hickeys, and he won't care, he won't.

 

Because this, this is right, and if there is a part of his brain that tells him otherwise, he will know, he won't forget, that these thoughts are never his own. Never his own.

 

~~~~~

 

"Study night today?"

Dan sighs and shakes his head.

"Can't. Work."

Phil frowns at him, but says nothing.

Since Dan revealed the truth to him that night after their first argument, Phil is aware of Dan having a job, and doesn't really approve. At least not of the hours that Dan works. And they've had this conversation several times, and Phil has learned by now that it leads to nowhere. Dan needs to work these hours to be able to live in London; or rather, to be able to afford to live at all. Even Phil understands that.

 

Phil was surprised at first, when Dan admitted that it's a job he disappears to for many hours a day. Apparently he assumed something illegal, like selling drugs, or ridiculous, like a secret girlfriend. Trust Phil and his impressive imagination to turn Dan into some sort of a mafia boss.

Upon learning that it's just a regular, fairly shit, job at a hardware store, Phil seemed so relieved that he wasn't even mad at Dan for concealing it for so long. As a bonus, he'd often come and visit him at work. Downside is that his managers started to catch on that Phil is not some regular customer, and they have been bothering him more than usual, but Dan doesn't care. At least he gets to hang out with Phil.

 

Of course, Phil doesn't want Dan to have a job. Dan has joined Phil for a few videos, and apparently these videos make some money, and Dan should take his share. No thanks. Dan already depends on Phil for maintaining his sanity, he is not going to also take his money.

 

On top of the job and Phil, Dan has something else to worry about. It's the end of May and the end of the year exams are a real thing, no longer a creepy story told to scare new students. They're a thing, and they're a thing that Dan is going to fail miserably.

For one, law is possibly the worst course he could have ever picked. Go figure.

Two, he's barely done any revising, always either too lazy or at work or with Phil, so the little knowledge he should have obtained during this year has already dissipated from his mind.

 

Long story short, things are going great. Yeah, brilliant. Or not really. Or at least with Phil they are.

Phil hasn't been pressuring Dan at all, although he does encourage him to study, hence the study night. Dan hasn't been thinking of his parents, or at least not consciously. Their relationships remains hidden, but when they are alone, Dan makes up for it.

Sometimes he wonders if he is making up for it to Phil or to himself.

 

"What time are you going to get back?" Phil asks.

"Around ten, I guess..." Dan sighs again, unable to stand the thought.

"I'll come at nine-thirty and walk you home?"

He is about to protest, of course, because what is the point in that, but Phil stops him with a finger on his lips, already making him shush.

Dan looks around, but they're alone in this particular part of the library. He followed Phil here under the pretense of needing some books, but he doesn't really. He just wants more time with him.

Knowing they are alone, Dan kisses the finger that's pressed against his lips, never tearing his eyes off Phil. Phil swallows visibly and offers him a nervous little smile. Dan takes his chance and, with one hand at the back of his neck, pulls Phil closer and kisses him; fast and unexpected, leaving Phil out of breath.

"Dan, someone could see us," Phil chastises, although it doesn't sound the least bit convincing when his voice sounds so raspy and breathless.

"Do you care?"

Phil's lips stretch into a patient, loving smile. "No, but I know that you do."

Dan looks down. It's true, he does.

He cares about Phil. He cares about what people say. There is no in between. He just needs to ignore one of those things, and he does. He does.

Never Phil, though. The guy is surprisingly addictive.

"Hey," Phil says softly. He places his hand on Dan's chin, forcing him to meet his eyes. "When we get home, we can do some more of that. If you -- if you want."

Dan returns Phil's smile and nods. They step out of the library and part their ways.

Dan already can't wait to see him again.

 

-

 

Of course, Phil shows up right on time when Dan is about to leave work, waving at him from the entrance. Dan rushes to get rid of his work uniform and leaves fifteen minutes early, hoping that his manager won't notice.

"You really didn't have to," Dan says, zipping up his jacket and following Phil out of the store.

"I wanted to," Phil replies easily. "Besides, it's a nice distraction from studying!"

"Oh, so I'm a distraction now, am I?"

Phil glances at Dan for a moment.

"Not just that, but yeah. You totally are, Dan."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dan demands, although he knows. He just likes to hear it.

"It means," Phil says, grabbing Dan's hand, taking advantage of them being out on the street alone. "That I miss you all day long and that's super distracting. And then you get back home and -- and it's even more distracting."

In the dim light of nearby street lamps, Dan could swear that Phil is blushing slightly. He feels heat in his own cheeks too, because he has a good idea as to what Phil is on about, and he can't really disagree.

 

It is distracting, all this. And that's good. That's very good.

Dan doesn't want to think. He wants to feel, taste, experience. Not think.

 

"Well Phil, you've got to have priorities. Boyfriend or revising. And if you pick revising, we're over."

Phil almost trips upon hearing that, because it's the first time Dan has mentioned that word since the time they made up, almost two weeks ago. Dan can't help the smug little grin that makes its way onto his face upon seeing Phil so flustered.

"Blackmail!" Phil exclaims. "Fine, I pick the boyfriend. But you're going to be the one to tell my professor about it. He's already out to get me since the time I accidentally spilled Ribena down his shirt."

Dan scoffs. "Point him out to me and I'll yell at him for exposing himself in front of you, what a prick."

Phil laughs, letting go of Dan's hand as they approach the dorms. Dan is both thankful for the understanding and bitterly disappointed.

 

-

Once they get in, it's already quite late, so they don't have much time to do the things they like to do. Dan takes a shower, eats some crisps and eventually, they both end up in bed with the lights off.

Dan normally hates sleeping in the dark, but with Phil, it doesn't feel so bad anymore. He got used to it.

 

Dan is lying by the wall, half on top of Phil due to the limited space, and Phil pulls him even closer, one arm wrapped around his body. This is their routine these days, and although the bed is too small for one, they make it work for two.

 

Going to bed is both Dan's favourite and least favourite moment of the day. Having Phil so close, holding him, is pretty much the stuff of dreams, pathetic as Dan is. However, in the dark, once Phil drifts off, it's hard to keep his thoughts in check. Hard not to think of the painful memories, difficult to keep them at bay.

 

Luckily for him, today, they don't immediately fall asleep. Lazy conversation turns into a slow series of kisses where their lips meet over and over and over, tasting one another. Dan bites Phil's lip softly and allows Phil's tongue to slip into his mouth, deepening the kiss further. Tonight, Phil tastes of mint and something forbidden, something that they haven't discussed, something that Dan wants but doesn't know how to ask for.

He sneaks his hand underneath Phil's shirt, pushing things in the direction he wants them to go, relishing the sound of Phil's gasp in his ear. Phil doesn't respond in kind, but he does nothing to stop Dan either.

Dan pulls away only to kiss his way down Phil's neck, to his collarbone, then back up again. He enjoys this, this feeling of control, but what he loves even more is when Phil reciprocates, when Dan pushes him far enough for him to act on pure instinct.

Phil's fingers are in Dan's hair now, bringing him back each time he pulls away, and they don't stop for an eternity or longer, but it feels like a second.

Dan wants more, so much more, and yet he doesn't say anything. His whole body is filled with lust, but Dan doesn't know what to do about it. And Phil isn't helping.

Evidently spotting the moment of doubt on Dan's face, Phil's wandering hands cease their movements, instead pulling Dan into their usual sleeping position.

"We should--" Phil breathes, pausing when Dan marks his neck with another hickey. "We should stop, Dan. We should -- should sleep... Yeah?"

Dan sighs in what he knows to be disappointment, but he agrees with Phil.

He wants things to progress, but he is far too shy to make that happen, and Phil insists on being all nice and proper.

"Right."

"Sleep well, Dan," Phil says, and their lips meet for another, far more chaste, kiss.

"G'night Phil."

 

Dan lays his head on Phil's chest and tries to fall asleep, lulled by the sound of Phil's heartbeat and the feeling of security that being near him brings.

 

He doesn't think of whether what he does is right or wrong. Doesn't think of home. Doesn't think of what people might think.

But it all comes back to him in his dreams.

Chapter Text

It's quite rare for Dan to be alone at the dorms, but it happens on occasion.

Usually it's Phil sitting around while Dan is at work. It feels odd to be alone in this small, empty room. Dan wonders if it ever bothers Phil to be here by himself too.

 

There is no big reason to this, not really. Phil has an afternoon lecture, and then he is supposed to go to the library with PJ, and Dan doesn't have to work today. Yet, instead of enjoying the rare moment of freedom and privacy, Dan finds himself rather distracted.

His thoughts have been doing his head in lately. He needs something to do, something to occupy himself with. Of course revising would be just the thing, as the end of the year exams are close, but that would be too reasonable for Dan. Dan doesn't do reasonable. Ever.

 

He sighs, checks his phone for the hundredth time today and finally budges. Fine. He'll text Phil. He'll risk seeming clingy.

He is, after all. Kind of.

 

Dan (May 29, 3:31 PM)

can i edit the video you recorded last night?

im bored

also

come home already

 

Phil replies within a minute.

 

Phil (May 29, 3:32 PM)

ooo yes please! Thank you Dan

And I wish

I can't wait

I miss you :]

 

How does Phil always make him feel so warm? It's as if rays of actual sun are gently caressing his skin, bringing peace to his otherwise tired mind.

 

Dan (May 29, 3:33 PM)

mhmmm

i almost believe you

 

Phil (May 29, 3:34 PM)

I'll make you believe it when I'm back!

 

Dan (May 29, 3:34 PM)

:]

cant wait

 

He puts the phone away and grabs Phil's laptop, turning it on and opening the editing program.

Editing is quite nice, to be honest. Phil taught him from scratch, but once he learned the basics, he started picking up on some new tricks on his own and Phil's been letting him do it more and more, every time he asked. Dan appreciates the trust, knowing how much YouTube means to Phil, but he is not surprised by it. Phil is the type of person who would give their newborn child to a complete stranger if they really needed it.

No, not really. Phil trusts him a lot, more than he would most people. But is Dan worthy of it?

 

The video is just Phil talking to the camera about the upcoming exams and things like that, but it does the job of making Dan feel a little bit less lonely. He cuts out all the umms and the moments where Phil himself said that something should be cut, adds some fancy firework effect that Phil had bought and insists on using all the time, he watches and re-watches until he is satisfied with the end result. He ends up saving three different versions for Phil to pick and choose from. It's his video, after all. Dan is not even in it.

In a way, he envies Phil. Phil has passion for something in a way that Dan has never experienced. Actually, his first real fixation has been Phil, which is probably weird, but that doesn't make it any less true.

 

It is true. How could it not be, when the only positive thoughts Dan gets to have are either about Phil or caused by Phil?

 

-

 

Dan wakes up with a start when Phil comes back in the evening and subsequently trips over Dan's shoes.

"Ow!" Phil screams a tad too loudly as he manages to hit the corner of his bed.

Dan sits up, smiling tiredly at the scene before his eyes. "Hey Phil."

Phil immediately turns to face him. The room is dark, so he probably hadn't noticed Dan being awake up until that point. Dan turns on his lamp, feeling his heart jump a little at the sight of Phil, all disheveled and still wincing in pain. He really did miss him, despite never wanting to admit it.

"Did I wake you?" Phil asks, walking over to Dan and kissing him softly. "I swear, the lecture's gone on forever! He even made us stay longer to do some stupid quiz. It was torture!"

"Just a bit," Dan replies, patting the space next to him so that Phil sits down. "Your video was so interesting it actually made me fall asleep."

Phil bursts into laughter, shoving Dan into the wall. "Oi! I'd kick you if I wasn't in so much pain! My bed assaulted me," he whines, rubbing the spot on his thigh that was affected during the impact.

"Probably because you never use it," Dan comments. Phil meets his eyes and Dan finds his own happiness reflected back at him.

"I do use it! I store all my clothes on it. It should feel proud."

Dan grins and lies back down, on his side; Phil follows, still in his jacket and all. They barely fit on the bed, but they manage, and Dan finds he's grown used to this cramped kind of comfort. It doesn't take long for Phil to pull Dan close and rest his chin atop his head, afterwards planting quick little kisses all across his scalp.

"That's not where my mouth is, you spoon," Dan mumbles into Phil's chest, but Phil doesn't let go.

"I think your head has missed me, though. Have to give it enough attention now and then."

"I'm going to push you off the bed..."

"No you won't."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure. I might hit my head and--"

"--and it would only be an improvement over what you've got now, surely," Dan teases and Phil finally lets go of his head, if only to stare at Dan, offended.

"Is this what I get for missing you all day? You're the worst boyfriend," Phil complains, and he actually pouts. Yes, he does.

Dan's heart skips a beat at the word boyfriend. They use it among themselves, Phil much more often than Dan, but never in front of other people. Phil, of course, respects Dan's wish to keep things under the wraps for now. Dan imagines it's not all too easy to do, though.

"If I knew you were going to be so rude, I wouldn't have finished your video for you," Dan says, somewhat excited to show Phil.

Phil's eyes widen, the excitement seemingly rubbing off on him. "You're already done? Show me!"

 

So they sit up, Phil gets his laptop and Dan plays his favourite version of the video, shooting timid glances in Phil's direction while they're watching.

"D'you like it?" Dan asks the moment it ends. "You could always just edit it yourself -"

"Dan, it's fantastic," Phil interrupts. "You're so good at this! Better than I am. You should really be making videos of your own."

Dan rolls his eyes ever so slightly, if only to cover his own interest in the matter. Phil has suggested this before, but Dan knows better.

"Like anyone would want to watch that," he mutters, "I'm boring, ugly and nothing ever happens to me. I'd have nothing to say."

Phil places both his hands on Dan's shoulders, forcing him to meet his eyes.

"Dan, you know that's not true," Phil says with certainty. "You're amazing! My subscribers love you. You should give it a shot if it interests you."

Dan waves him off, closes the laptop and sets it down on the carpet.

"I'd rather just keep helping you behind the scenes. I'm like the mastermind behind this whole operation."

"Now, I'm not sure if I would agr-"

Phil is stopped by Dan, pulling him by the neck and kissing him abruptly, with heat and passion. Passion that seems to have appeared out of nowhere, but then again, it always does with Phil around.

Dan's mind roams as their kiss deepens; he ends up lying in bed again, with Phil somewhat above him, as Phil's lips trace a path down his neck. To Dan's disappointment, he goes back to kiss him on the mouth again instead of moving where Dan would like him to.

Dan wants more, that's a fact. He can hardly think of anything else when they do this. They used to do a lot of things together, watch anime and movies and play games, but for the past few weeks, his favourite pastime has been this - just being with Phil, just doing this endlessly, for as long as they can.

Always hoping Phil will move things forward, do the stuff Dan is far too shy to ask for. But he doesn't. On the contrary, he stops Dan if he ever goes too far.

It does make him wonder if Phil truly does want this too.

 

On instinct, he pulls Phil even closer, both his arms wrapped tight around his middle and bucks his hips into Phil's. Phil freezes, gulps and kisses him one final time before stopping.

"We should do some revising, Dan."

What a great way to put him off, really. Dan can't help the annoyed sigh that escapes his lips.

"Let's watch some Death Note first," Dan retorts. "I can't be fucked studying now. And it's late."

Phil seems to be close to arguing, but lets it go in the end, and Dan knows he's won.

 

They spend the next two hours watching anime, but Dan doesn't feel victorious in the least.

 

~~~~~

 

"This is bullshit."

Dan has been staring at the same page of his law textbook for the past twenty minutes, reading and re-reading every paragraph, still making no sense of it.

What was he thinking, studying law? He is far, far too dumb for this. They should have handed him an IQ test when he applied. How did he even get in?

Phil glances at him with concern. Exams are in two days, and it's their last chance to revise. Of course, it was Phil's idea. If it were up to Dan, they'd be up on the bed, either sleeping or doing things that are far more interesting than company law. Actually, nearly everything is more interesting than that.

 

Phil leans over his shoulder to check what he is referring to. After reading for about thirty seconds, he gives up.

"I don't understand any of it," Phil admits.

"Me neither. And I'm supposed to be studying it."

Dan chucks his textbook at the wall, both relieved and upset when it doesn't fall apart in the process.

"Dan, calm down. You'll just do your best. I'm sure you'll do fine. I remember my first end of the year exams at uni, I was so terrified, I cried on the phone to my mum for over an hour."

Dan imagines calling his own mum, crying, and the thought alone is enough to stop the grin that Phil's attempt at cheering him up managed to bring.

Dan's mum still calls, sometimes. But he never picks up.

What would she say if he told her that he's been thinking of dropping out?

 

It's hardly a new thought by now, really. If not for Phil, he likely would have done it ages ago. It's Phil, and wanting to be around Phil, that has kept him here for so long. Lately, he started thinking of solutions that would allow him to stay in London without being a student.

So far, he's found none. He'd need a fulltime, decently paid job for that. Which is not likely to happen.

 

Of course, he hasn't told Phil any of this.

He sighs. It's almost as if he is digging his own grave, every day of his life.

 

"Yeah. You're right. I'll manage."

Dan doesn't sound convinced, but when he looks into Phil's eyes, he notes how desperate his boyfriend is for it to be true.

 

~~~~~

 

Exam week comes and goes, leaving Dan quite certain of his own failure. Phil spoils him and Dan allows himself to be cheered up, having come to terms with all this a while back. He won't succeed at university, that much he knows. The exams will just serve to confirm what he is already painfully aware of.

 

His birthday rolls around, a day he would wish to forget, but it is made better by Phil, who despite Dan's earnest protests decides to celebrate it and hands him three gifts: a CD with songs that Phil says remind him of Dan, a train ticket and a slip of paper.

The train ticket is for Manchester, and that's Dan's summer sorted. He can't wrap his head around the idea that Phil actually passed up on a trip to Florida in order to stay with him, but he's not complaining. It means two months with Phil, whereas before he thought he'd end up spending the summer alone.

The slip of paper contains the password to Phil's YouTube channel along with the encouragement for Dan to make his own video. He doesn't make one and he doubts he ever will, but he keeps it in his wallet as a reminder of Phil's generosity and overall kindness.

As if he could ever forget that.

 

The day would be perfect, if not for the call from Jake and later on, his mum. It seems like they don't want him to forget and move on, and Dan is no self-care expert, but in his case it truly does feel like the wisest choice. However, it simply isn't meant to be. He can't bring himself to block their numbers. He doesn't know why.

It's almost a year since he had to leave home so abruptly. Since his brother betrayed him. Since his parents had failed him. Since he ended up alone in the world, with no one but Louise, a good friend but still just a friend, to turn to.

 

The least they could do would be to not call him on his fucking birthday.

What could they possibly say? Happy birthday, Dan? Sorry for ruining your fucking life, good thing it was kinda worthless in the first place?

They wouldn't be wrong.

 

It's a long day and Dan manages to keep all of his thoughts in check until they go to sleep. 

Once Phil falls asleep that night, Dan cries. He doesn't mean to, it just happens. He cries. Silently, facing the wall, feeling cold despite the warm arms that embrace him and hold him tight.

His life has been so fucked up for the past year. He spent the majority of it lying not only to Phil; no, he lied to himself most of all. But are they worth it, his parents, his brother? How much will his memories poison his future, ruin it for him, spoil even the greatest of days, destroy what he loves?

 

Forgetting doesn't just happen, it has to be a conscious effort, and through his tears, Dan promises himself that he will try.

 

That night, something changes. A part of Dan is no more. It withers and fades and then dies, leaving him forever, leaving him scarred, wounded, but only better for it.

 

Before his birthday, he was always on the fence about things, asking himself whether it's okay to -- to love Phil, to be with him, to venture further, to be himself. It's not like he magically learned that yes, it is. What he did learn, though, is that he wants it to be. He wants more, he wants everything, and he wants it all with Phil.

Phil would never hurt him. Not like this. Not so badly. Phil would never reject him.

As his silent sobs die down and his tears begin to dry, he takes a deep breath and thinks back to the past few months. The first time they held hands, the questioning, curious looks that they shared, the night the truth escaped them and was out in the open, the first time their lips met. Dan always held back, chained by the notion that love could ever be wrong.

 

It can't. It couldn't possibly. What could be wrong about loving the greatest person in the world?

 

Dan wiggles around until he can face Phil, see his sleeping face. He is sleeping soundly, having had a few beers to celebrate Dan's birthday, unaware of the emotional rollercoaster Dan had spent the night on. He looks serene, a few years younger in his sleep, bits of hair falling into his eyes. When Dan moves, Phil only further tightens his embrace, as if not wanting to let him go.

 

Dan's heart swells. Even in his sleep, Phil manages to make him feel something that no one else ever has: precious.

 

He knows this feeling despite never having experienced it. It's strong and steady and firm and it fills him from head to toe, and it erases the past, because only the future seems to matter now.

And that's Phil. Phil is his future. Dan won't have it any other way.

 

In the quiet of the night, three words slip from his lips and scatter into the darkness, and Phil never hears them, but Dan knows them to be true.

 

Just three words.

 

"I need you."

Chapter Text

Dan finds himself slowly growing oblivious to the passage of time.

All of his days blur into one big pile of conflicting emotions. The only constant thing in his life is Phil, a fact he could not be more grateful for. Despite that, other thoughts, far less desirable, always seem to catch up to him, right when he least expects it.

 

Thinking of the future is something that Dan usually tries to avoid. It never brings him anything other than copious amounts of anxiety. However, since his birthday, he could think of little else but the days, weeks and months ahead.

He wanted his future to have Phil in it. That much he was very certain of. But the rest of it? Nooo idea.

 

University? The exams have come and gone, and if not for Phil pretty much forcing him to revise, he'd surely have done even worse. They're waiting for the results, but Dan is quite certain he will fail at least two courses. In all honesty, he should care far more than he actually does.

Law is not for him, that much he knows for sure, and he isn't likely to get his degree at this rate, because he's completely rubbish at it. Dropping out now seems like a logical option; it would allow him to get a fulltime (albeit shitty) job and earn more money in order to keep living in London with Phil. That's a priority, most definitely.

Another option is to change direction, study something else. But what? He only chose law to please his father and his uncle, both lawyers, and because he couldn't think of anything else. It's not like magically, he became interesting and developed some marketable hobbies. No one's going to pay him for playing video games and making out with Phil for hours on end, unfortunately.

He's reached a stalemate; it's almost like having a mid-life crisis, only he is much too young for that. He never thought he would have to settle into a job he hates and a lack of prospects so early on in life, but he'll do it, he'll do a whole lot of things, if it means he can stay with Phil.

 

He's re-thinking everything, every little bit of the future, even their upcoming vacation. If he spends two months with Phil, away from London, he'll be out of work for two months, and those two months worth of potential income, working crazy shifts, would really help his wallet. On the other hand, he can't resist the thought of spending the summer with Phil. Passing up on that somehow feels like the wrong option, even if going wouldn't be very fiscally responsible.

 

Then again, when was Dan ever responsible where Phil was involved?

 

-

 

Two days prior to their exam results being released, their whole group is meeting up to celebrate the end of the year. If you ask Dan, it's a little too soon to celebrate anything, but Chris is quite insistent, and Phil doesn't put up too much of a fight. Dan invites Louise, if only to have someone familiar there, and they all head out in the evening, going to the local pub.

 

Dan sits between Phil and Louise, the perfect spot, and downs the majority of his beer in one go, drawing glances from everyone but Chris, who is doing the same thing as Dan.

"You okay, Dan?" Phil whispers into his ear, hot breath tickling Dan's skin. It only makes him long for the two of them to be alone again.

Their friends don't know that they're together, of course. Dan hasn't allowed that to happen yet.

"Yeah, 'm fine," he dismisses.

The thing is, it's not a lie. He's just distracted with far too much on his mind, and being social is the last thing he wants to do right now, but what can you do? He'll have to manage.

"What a year!" Chris exclaims, drawing everyone's attention away from Dan. "What a capital year!"

"Chris, you don't know if we've even passed yet," PJ notes, but Chris just shakes his head.

"Doesn't matter. If I've failed I could always just sell my body to the Dean. He can't resist me, the old horndog!"

They all burst out laughing, with the exception of PJ, who covers his face with his palm. Despite that, through his fingers, Dan can clearly spot a smile.

"Well I'm sure that won't be necessary. I'm betting we've all done a wonderful job!" Louise says.

"It was a good year," Phil agrees. Dan glances at him, their eyes meeting immediately.

"Eh, I've had better years," he teases.

Phil bumps his knee into Dan's, and when he moves away, Dan shifts so that they are still touching. No one sees it, of course, but it's something.

"I'm with Dan. I'll wait with all the proclamations until I'm sure I won't have to come back here and be miserable in August, with exams to re-sit." PJ takes another sip of his drink, missing Chris rolling his eyes at him.

"Oh Lord, stop being boring! You lot need more drinks!"

"What are your plans for the summer, boys?" Louise asks, strategically changing the subject.

"We're going back home," Peej responds, motioning at their entire group. "I mean, Phil and I are going back home, and Chris and Dan are tagging along."

Dan pretends not to feel Louise's curious gaze burning into his skin and says nothing.

"Oh really? For the whole summer?"

"Yeah! But Dan and I are going to pop back to London at some point, for our Muse concert," Phil supplies happily.

PJ downs the last of his drink and says, "You're lucky I'm not that big a fan, Lester, or I might have disowned you. This is the first concert you're going to without me. I feel quite abandoned."

"Dan is a much bigger fan of Muse than you are."

"And you're a much bigger fan of Dan than you are of me."

Dan hears laughter from all around, but he doesn't follow, feeling his cheeks grow red, red, red and only redder still, when Phil puts his arm around him. In a friendly way, of course, but it's still far more than what they usually do these days.

"Is it really that obvious?" Phil asks.

Dan looks at him and Phil looks right back, grinning, putting him at ease. He lets go of Dan all too soon.

"Glaringly so."

"Am I such a terrible friend? What do you think, Dan?" Phil asks, once again turning towards him instead of addressing everyone.

Dan gets it, really. He's trying to make him a little more comfortable by getting him more involved in the conversation. And he appreciates it, he does, but he'd love it even better if they could go home, lie down and just be together, just the two of them.

"The worst I've ever had," he replies without missing a beat, looking Phil straight in the eyes, finding his own amusement reflected back at him.

"You just don't want to boost my ego too much. I know you, Dan."

"Keep telling yourself that."

"I will, since you refuse to ever say anything even remotely nice to me--"

"I'm always nice to you!"

Their eyes are locked. Phil looks at Dan as if he is the only person in the building, no, in the world, and Dan looks back without shame, trying - and failing - to contain his smile.

"I think you've got always mixed up with never."

"You're forgetting that I'm the one that made you coffee this morning, when you were too bloody lazy to get up. See, Phil? I'm super nice!"

"If making coffee is what makes a person nice, then I'm the nicest person in the world!"

"The worst person in the world you mean--"

"Get a room," Chris shouts, and only then does Dan realize that they have been the only ones speaking for the past two minutes, and that all of their friends are staring at them.

Phil seems equally caught under a spell as Dan is, and only looks away when Chris speaks, but his smile lingers, and underneath the table, his fingers find their way to Dan's.

They probably won't be able to keep this secret for much longer, but somehow, Dan doesn't seem to mind all that much right now.

 

Perhaps it won't be such a bad night, after all.

 

-

 

They stumble into the dorms somewhere around three in the morning, Phil guiding Dan slightly, his hand on Dan's back a little lower than might be deemed appropriate. Phil is telling him a story - something about his bloody family of hamsters again - and Dan's laughing, because everything is funnier when you've had enough shots, and everything is funnier when it's said by Phil. A girl peeks out of one of the neighboring rooms and tells them to shut up, which only makes them laugh a little harder.

 

Once they get to their own room, they shut the door and immediately fall onto Dan's bed, Phil lying on his back and Dan draping over him in what little space remains.

"So that's why I no longer have any pets," Phil concludes. Dan's lost track of the story, but he still makes an awww sort of noise in consolation.

"We could get a pet one day," Dan says, lifting himself up on one elbow to look at Phil properly. "We could get like, a horse."

"No! I'm terrified of horses," Phil protests. He pushes Dan's hair back, which surely looks disgusting, but Dan can't bring himself to care.

"Then we're definitely getting a horse."

"You always disagree with me," Phil notes. His voice is pure warmth, sweetness and a pinch of exhaustion. "You're so stubborn."

"D'you hate it?"

Phil looks down to meet Dan's eyes. Staring right back, Dan finds affection and something else that he can't quite name. He only knows that he feels it too.

"Maybe."

"You're such a twat," Dan says, almost lovingly, and then they stop talking, because there is nothing more to say.

 

Instead, their lips meet.

Dan shifts in order to be able to kiss Phil freely, laying on top of him now. Phil at first smiles into the kiss, which makes Dan stop and stare for a moment. Phil takes advantage of the pause by simply looking at him, seemingly surveying his face, and poking him in the nose. Dan giggles, and this time, it's Phil that kisses him, short and sweet, as he wraps his arms around Dan.

Phil's lips taste of piña colada, and his hands are warm as they eventually slip underneath Dan's shirt when their kiss deepens, when lips are caught between teeth and when Phil leaves a hickey somewhere down Dan's neck, eliciting sounds that closely resemble moans.

 

Dan doesn't even know when it happens, when soft little kisses transform into this -- this need, but he supposes it's always there, and always will be.

 

Minutes feel like hours, but Phil doesn't take things farther, even though Dan can easily tell that he wants to. They lie there kissing, needy and wanting, until sleep overcomes them and they drift off, closer than close, teetering dangerously on the brink of something that they have never tried before.

 

When Dan falls asleep, he dreams of Phil.

When he wakes up, still almost on top of him, he is thankful for Phil still being asleep, because otherwise, things would be awkward as fuck.

 

~~~~~

 

The next few days just fly by.

The exam results are in and Dan's failed two of his courses, which, to be honest, wow. He almost thought it'd be worse. Of course, his failure only reaffirms what he already knows, that law is not for him. And that he's a procrastinating sack of shit, of course, but he doesn't say that to Phil.

What he does tell Phil, though, is that he's been thinking of dropping out. And that he's been thinking of staying in London throughout the summer, if only to keep working.

 

To say that Phil is shocked is quite an understatement. Dan feels guilty even before finding out why he feels that way, but he figures it out quickly enough. Phil probably expected to be a part of Dan's decision making process in all of this, and Dan has instead sprung it all on him without any warning. But Phil is not like Dan, he doesn't dwell. Instead, he convinces Dan to come with him as planned. And just like that, one thing leads to another, and even more plans are formed.

 

For the first time, they talk about the future. Dan talks about maybe taking a gap year, he's not decided yet. Phil is supportive, of course, so supportive that it makes Dan feel even worse.
So, a gap year, maybe. A year off to figure things out. But what about living in the dorms? He'd have to be a student for that.

Fuck.

Just as Dan makes his mind up to keep studying until they kick him out, if only to be able to live with Phil, Phil manages to convince him to try something completely bonkers, and somehow, they agree to rent out a flat together by the end of the summer.

Well, if Dan will be taking a gap year, he will have plenty of time to waste his life at work. Maybe, with some luck, divine intervention and a winning lottery ticket, they'll be able to afford living in some sort of a dumpster in London. That's a huge maybe, but he'll take it.

 

Dan isn't even surprised when he agrees to Phil's idea. Of course he'd pick a dumpster with Phil over just about anything else. No other option would ever make sense.

 

It's a tiresome conversation and coincidentally, it's the most they've ever talked about the future. What's more, Dan knows that most of their ideas are downright stupid.

 

Then why is it that when they say good night on their last night in London for the summer, he feels more hopeful than he had felt in years?

 

~~~~~

 

They've arrived, and they're alone.

Arriving at Phil's house for the summer, Dan can hardly contain his excitement at the thought of at least three weeks spent completely alone, with no people dropping in unexpected, a proper bed to sleep in, no lectures and no work. Just he and Phil, together.

 

When and why did he become such a sap?

 

On their first night they do a whole lot of kissing and little else but, and Dan's frustration with Phil's refusal to take things to the next step grows by the minute. Not enough to actually ask him about it, though. That would be far too logical for Dan. As it is, he settles for testing Phil's limits, allowing both his lips and hands to roam until Phil comes to his senses just enough to stop him.

 

In a way, he is glad that Phil stops him, because apart from a whole lot of tension, there is a decent amount of fear in there, too. Because it all signifies one more step in that direction, in the direction that his parents --

 

No. He's not going to spoil his summer by thinking of that. The next two months will likely be the best time in his life, and he won't ruin it for himself. No way.

 

No way.

 

-

 

Phil's bed is huge, but they still sleep wrapped tightly together, arms and legs tangled, blanket kicked down to their waists. They stay up far too late at night, and they're talking for hours, and nothing else seems to exist in those moments, only he and Phil and no one else in the whole world.

Considering all that, it's no surprise when on the second morning Phil's phone wakes them up, Dan is nowhere near as rested as he would like to be.

"Ello," Phil mutters into the phone, his voice delightfully thick with sleep. Dan buries his head somewhere near Phil's neck, leaving lazy little kisses along the curve of his collarbones. "Um, right, you're here in ten?"

Dan's eyes widen as he immediately stops, wriggles out of Phil's embrace and stares at him questioningly. "What?"

"'course I'm not asleep! Come over whenever!" Phil shouts, pushing Dan off and scrambling off the bed immediately.

Dan sits up, whining about why didn't we set an alarm, which to be honest, quite logical. They got distracted and forgot about the whole thing entirely, and now, PJ and Chris are going to be there in ten minutes for a Lord of the Rings marathon. Fan-bloody-tastic.

 

They run around like crazy, getting dressed in whatever they find on the floor and hastily brushing their teeth, but despite his almost-best-efforts, Dan still feels like a mess when fifteen minutes later, PJ and Chris arrive. PJ, ever-observant, seems to instantly notice Dan's disheveled state, which only makes him look away in embarrassment and bolt into the lounge, leaving them all to follow.

 

The moment they sit down, Phil excuses himself to get them some drinks, and Dan, for once, joins him quite eagerly.

He doesn't want to entertain guests, for fuck's sake. He wants to hang out with Phil. Is that too much to ask?

 

When Dan joins Phil in the kitchen, he is immediately greeted by a quick peck on the cheek, and however pathetic that may be, even such a little gesture makes him a bit less angry at the rude awakening he had received this morning. He offers Phil a small smile and starts searching for a bowl large enough to store enough popcorn to feed them all.

"D'you reckon they'll stay long?" he whispers after a moment of companionable silence, heat rising in his cheeks.

"Why?" Phil asks, bumping Dan's shoulder, to which Dan responds in kind.

"Well, it's not so bad when we're alone, is it?"

"It's pretty terrible, to be honest," Phil disagrees, "Can't seem to get anything useful done around you."

Their eyes meet, and not for the first time, Dan doesn't even realize that he's stopped doing everything else, all of it in favor of simply staring at Phil. He blushes, but covers it up with a mischievous smirk.

"Nothing to do with me, you're just a tad useless, Philly."

Phil laughs out loud in response, shoving Dan playfully. "You're literally the worst person!" 

 

When Dan is about to respond that no, Phil, you are the worst person, when all of a sudden, Phil drops the bowl of crisps he had just filled up. That in itself is not very odd, because Phil is clumsy as hell on the best of days. The odd thing is the look on his face, the way all colour seems to drain from him within seconds, the way his eyes widen so fast.

 

Dan turns around and follows his stare.

In the doorframe stands PJ, looking at them as though they are a puzzle waiting to be solved. It takes Dan mere seconds to put two and two together.

 

He saw.

 

He leaves the kitchen without a word, heart racing just a little slower than his own thoughts.

Chapter Text

PJ  knows.

How could they get caught? How could Dan allow that to happen?

Logically, he knows it's hardly the end of the world. Of all the people they know, PJ and Louise would likely be the first to hear about their relationship.

But he was adamant that no one should ever know; adamant for reasons he himself can't quite understand. Dan's emotions are a mild mess on the best of days, so it's no wonder he can't make sense of his own actions, his own decisions. It's always that way.

 

Right, emotions. Logic, then?

 

Yes, logic. Logic tells him there are many reasons for their relationship to remain hidden. Phil does YouTube, for one, and that means that strangers on the internet have some sort of an interest in his life. Two, lots of people are against it, despite them living in very modern times. Three, Dan doesn't want the news to reach --

To reach his parents. Right.

But how stupid is that? It's not like they'd ever know.

 

He stops in the middle of the hallway and shakes his head. On instinct, he still tries to hide and justify things rather than just ignore the outcome. Who cares what his parents might think? They're done, he and them. It doesn't matter if they know. It doesn't matter what they think of him.

 

And yet...

 

He walks back into the lounge, if only to be left with no space to think too much. Chris turns around and smiles at him from the sofa, then frowns upon finding Dan empty-handed.

"You were going to get drinks and you come back with nothing? Son, I am disappointed."

Dan doesn't bother to force a smile. "Phil is bringing them in a moment."

"Weren't you supposed to be helping him?"

Dan just about manages not to roll his eyes. Chris is so unbearably nosy sometimes.

"I helped him, and then I left," he snaps. "Anything else you need to know, or are you done?"

"Alright, alright, relax!" Chris raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. "What's got your knickers in a twist?"

Dan sighs, pondering just ignoring Chris, but before his mind is all made up, he is already speaking.

"Just life being complicated, is all."

Chris shoots him a confused look, then says, "You're too young for your life to be complicated."

"I guess my life didn't get that memo, then."

Dan stares at the TV, even though it's not even on yet. Through the corner of his eye, he notices that Chris is looking at him with a grin on his face.

"It all gets better, you know. My life was a complete mess just a year ago, now every morning I get up and I'm like, holy fuck, this is brilliant!"

Hearing that really hits home for Dan. He doesn't know Chris all that well, but he can truly relate to that.

"Well, if you put it that way..." he trails off and doesn't finish the sentence, because Phil and PJ come back to the room, both bearing drinks and bowls filled with crisps and popcorn.

"Fuckin' finally!" Chris exclaims, bolting off the sofa and grabbing one of the bowls for himself.

Dan stares at Phil, mentally willing him to meet his eyes; Phil seems to avoid eye contact, but he does sit down next to Dan, while Chris and PJ occupy the other sofa. Dan then glances at PJ and finds him looking right back, his gaze somewhat curious, but not angry.

Somehow, he feels relieved without even knowing why. It's not until a few minutes pass that Dan realizes he must have felt that PJ wouldn't approve, and surely PJ's approval would mean a whole lot to Phil. Of course, he won't truly know until he talks to Phil, and with Chris around, that's just not going to happen.

 

Phil doesn't really look at him until they've started the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, and even then he seems to wait until the other two are engrossed in the action on the screen. Dan has barely spared the film a single glance. He's seen it a billion times before, and he is far too nervous to focus on watching anything other than Phil right now.

 

They're sitting close, yet not close enough to touch, of course. The room is dark aside from the TV, but there is just enough light for Dan to make out Phil's worried expression.

"You okay?" Phil mouths, not even whispers.

Dan nods without thinking. They'll talk about this later.

"You?"

Phil smiles warmly, and a little bit of ease seems to find its way back into Dan's heart.

 

-

 

They get through one movie, with Chris drinking a whole lot and the rest of them not so much. Dan remains distracted, eagerly looking forward to the moment when he and Phil are alone. He tunes out, unaware of the conversation and the things happening on the screen, instead thinking of his relationship with Phil.

 

This whole time, he's tried to keep it under the wraps. And for what? So that his parents wouldn't know, is that it? How would they even find out, being miles away and having no contact with Dan?

Well, it's not impossible, but it's not very likely.

 

The thing is, how long can they keep this hidden from even those that are the closest to them? Dan doesn't have much in the way of friends, but Phil does have a friend that he's been close with for years, Phil has PJ. Dan can see why having to keep it secret bothers Phil, and yet he has been doing it, for Dan.

But how far can they go without anyone finding out? How far into the relationship can they progress before someone inevitably finds out?

 

And why is it such a bad thing if someone does find out?

 

 

~~~~~

XV.

 

"Quit staring at me, Howell.  I don't want to catch the gay off you."

Dan shakes his head, as if knocked straight out of a daydream. He wasn't staring. He just zoned out.

"I wasn't staring," he says tiredly.

He shouldn't say anything. His three classmates only laugh at him even more.

"Right, 'course you weren't. You little bitch."

 

Dan isn't even sure when the rumours started, or what he has done to bring them upon himself. Either way, this is his life now.

 

"Why do you call me that?" he asks in a surge of bravery, catching them off-guard for a moment.

"Because that's what you are!" Tim, the shortest of the group, shouts in his high-pitched voice. The boy is quite pathetic, but when faced with three people, Dan is always going to be the one to lose the argument.

"Seriously, have you seen yourself? You like theatre, you're practically drooling at the sight of Mike, and the birds come to you for like, tips with their outfits," Jesse, their so-called leader, mocks him. "You're as gay as it gets, mate. Face it."

 

Dan doesn't even know who Mike is.

He just wants to go home.

Yes, he likes theatre. Yes, he has told one of the girls in his class which dress would look better, because she asked.

He is who he is. He doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. He doesn't want to stand out.

 

And yet, labels are given to him so freely. And there is nothing he can do about it.

 

Dan lifts himself off the floor, grabs his backpack and starts heading to class. Before he leaves, he says one last thing.

"You lot are ugly as shit, the girls don't want you, why would I?"

 

He pays the price over the next few weeks, but the satisfaction is somewhat worth it.

 

~~~~~

 

He has been judged by people for so long.

Partially, he has learned to avoid it over the last two or three years. He isolates himself, doesn't talk when not forced, doesn't have any interests that people could mock him for all too much. Phil is the first person he's let in since this whole thing started, since people decided to judge him based on trivial things.

If they were proven right, if he and Phil would make things well known, there'd surely be people wanting to say something about it.

 

Is that what he wants to avoid? Being judged?

Being judged for something that he is so... So stupidly vulnerable about?

He can try to avoid it, of course. But how long? How long do they have to be at this standstill, not moving things in any direction?

And Dan wants --

Dan wants more, so much more with Phil, he feels it each time they kiss and each time Phil pulls away when Dan doesn't want him to stop. He wants everything with Phil. So why not just take a leap of faith and hope for the best?

 

Easier said than done, he thinks. None of this ever came easy to him and he doubts if it ever will.

Moments later, he is pulled out of his musings by the very object of them, Phil, who suddenly grabs his hand and squeezes it tight. Dan looks up and meets his eyes for a brief second before turning to PJ, who looks away immediately, and then to Chris, who has already passed out, having had one too many shots.

PJ already knows. It's fine.

 

Dan squeezes Phil's hand right back.

And it feels kind of nice.

 

-

 

They finish the second movie in relative silence, with Chris drunk and asleep and the other three quite sober; two of them too deep in thought to really be able to speak to anyone, which leaves PJ to his own devices.

Dan catches Peej shooting him glances from time to time, and while it does make him quite anxious, it doesn't interrupt his train of thought. He's quite set on talking to Phil as soon as they are alone.

"Should we start up the third one, then?" Phil asks, breaking the silence once the movie ends.

PJ shakes his head and points at Chris. "I think I ought to carry this gentleman home. Let's meet up next week for the last one?"

Dan turns to look at PJ properly, trying not to appear all too thankful, while Phil nods with understanding.

"Do you want us to come with and help you get him home?"

Going out at night is the last thing Dan wants to do, but he doesn't mind. He likes it when Phil calls them us.

"Naa, I'm good, you two stay and -- and do whatever you want, I s'pose." And then he winks, and Dan wants to die, if only for a moment. Phil just laughs awkwardly and stands up, Dan following, while PJ rouses Chris.

 

Chris whines loudly, but eventually gets up, downs the rest of PJ's drink, gives both Dan and Phil a hug each, and starts heading out with PJ's help. Somewhere in the meantime, Dan hears Phil and PJ whisper to each other; something about meeting and talking. It's quite easy to put two and two together, and for a moment, his strange serenity leaves him in favour of anxiety, but the smile that follows assures him that PJ doesn't hate him. At least not yet.

 

Dan flops down on the sofa and lets Phil see them out. His heart is beating a mile a minute.

These are his last seconds, last moments in which he can try to figure out what to say to Phil. How to explain what he wants.

How to find compromise, a middle ground they'll both be happy with.

How to find a place where he won't -- he won't sabotage his only chance at happiness.

How to be... Content with who he is, content with his life and satisfied with his future.

 

Wow. That's quite a lot to figure out on a summer night after a couple of drinks. By the time Phil returns, Dan has no clue what to say anymore. He doesn't even turn to face him, despite feeling Phil's stare, serious, piercing and heavy.

 

How to begin, where to start? As always, Phil seems to know before Dan even forms the thought.

Phil sits down next to him and grabs his hand without ceremony. Dan smiles at him, half-earnest and half-forced, but he does squeeze his hand right back and tries not to avoid the eye contact.

"Are you alright?" Phil asks, almost whispers.

"No, yeah, I'm fine." And then, Dan is looking at the TV again. He's a weakling and he knows it.

Phil doesn't give Dan the time to come up with something to say. He speaks first, clearly nervous. "I know you didn't want Peej to find out, but he's caught us and -- I shouldn't have kissed you when we've got people over, I just didn't think-"

Dan turns back towards Phil, meeting his eyes, losing himself in them the way he always seems to do. Phil is scared, it's clear as day, and Dan may be a weakling, but he never wants to intentionally hurt Phil. Never wants to make him feel like this, labels and other people be damned.

Suddenly, as he stares into Phil's eyes, everything starts to make sense, and at long last, he knows what he needs to do. No, what's more - he knows what he wants to do.

"Chill," Dan says gently, interrupting him. "I've been a bit of an idiot."

Phil frowns, and Dan knows him, he is about to launch on a tirade about Dan not being an idiot, but Dan keeps on talking, because this is far more important than his non-existent self esteem.

"PJ is your friend. I trust you. If you trust him, then I guess I ought to give it a shot. Besides, it's kind of..." he trails off and looks away, because while he knows what he wants, it's not so easy to put it into words, especially with Phil looking at him like that.

"It's kind of what?" Phil quietly presses.

"It's kind of nice, I mean, that he knows that we're -- uh, a thing. It's not unpleasant."

Phil puts Dan's hand in both of his and squeezes even tighter. He gathers the courage to look Phil in the eyes once again, and the way Phil looks at Dan is loving, even if coated with a thin layer of fear. Warmth erupts from somewhere within Dan's chest and spreads throughout his body, filling him with anticipation.

"Does that mean you're okay with this?" Phil asks carefully.

"I guess it's - it's fine if our good friends know," Dan blurts out nervously. "But I don't wanna tell everyone, because then they'll be all up in our business and we'll have to move to -- to Scotland."

"Scotland is nice," Phil jokes, clearly trying to relieve some tension. "They've got lots of sheep!"

Dan laughs out loud, earnestly, even if it's a conscious decision to do so.

"That's Wales, you bloody pancake."

"Bloody pancake? Sounds like breakfast for Edward Cullen." Phil scrunches his nose.

That joke instantly makes Dan think of all things gross and he doesn't hide it; he elbows Phil in the ribs, and Phil giggles through the pain like a real trooper.

As the laughter dies down on both sides, all that remains are their joined hands and a prolonged moment of eye contact. Their expressions grow more serious, and if Dan said that they were both searching one another for clues and answers, he would not be exaggerating. It would sound corny as fuck, but it would still be true.

Phil's eyes, for Dan, hold twice as many questions as they do answers. Dan knows that he is the key to some of Phil's worries, and until he makes things clear, nothing will ever go forward.

So today, Dan has to be brave and for once, say exactly what he wants.

"D'you know why I don't mind? About PJ?" Dan whispers at last.

"Not really," Phil admits.

"It's because I want everything." Dan pauses, bites on his lip. "I don't want all these, I don't know, boundaries or whatever, I just want everything, I -- I guess I want everything with you."

Phil's eyes widen as he tilts his head to the side and appears to be studying Dan, who tries to remain calm under Phil's careful gaze, but he can't help the shiver that runs down his spine as his full meaning seems to dawn on Phil.

He wants Phil to understand. He wants Phil like he's never wanted anything before.

"But Dan -- are you -- are you sure? We can wait, it doesn't have to be--" Phil stammers, but Dan doesn't let him finish; he closes the short distance between them and kisses him right on the lips, quick and passionate.

Dan almost stops when Phil freezes, unmoving although soft and compliant, but the thing is...

Dan doesn't want to stop.

He allows their lips to part for only the few seconds it takes him to say, "Stop thinking. Just let go for once, Phil. Please."

In the back of his mind, Dan realizes that this could apply to himself just as much as it applies to Phil, but he doesn't hold on to that thought.

 

His heart sinks when Phil pulls away after that.

Has Dan been wrong all along? Could it be that Phil doesn't want to take that next step? He may want the world to know about their relationship, but he may very well not find Dan attractive in that way --

No. No, wait.

Phil is looking at him in that way that only Phil knows how to; like Dan is precious, like Dan is something special, something that he is also struggling to understand. Phil is studying his face, wordlessly asking him questions, and Dan realizes that he needs to give him that time. He looks back straight into Phil's eyes, this time without fear.

"Please," Dan eventually whispers. Phil gasps softly, his expression changing drastically.

 

From then on, everything happens really fast.

 

Dan doesn't know who starts the kiss. Before he realizes it, he's already right in the middle. All he knows is that they meet halfway, and he stops thinking, he just stops.

Phil's lips have a lingering taste of alcohol and salt, but underneath that, Dan finds the sweetness that has held him captive since the very first time they kissed. He never wants this to end.

Phil pushes him lightly, after which Dan falls back on the sofa and Phil climbs over him, but they never break the kiss. No, instead Phil takes things one step farther, slipping his tongue inside Dan's mouth. Dan gives in, doesn't hold back, tangles his fingers in Phil's hair, pulls him closer and closer and closer, attempting to stifle the moan that is already threatening to escape his lips.

Phil still has a mind of his own and puts an end to it eventually, leaving Dan disappointed for all of three seconds, after which Phil's lips move towards his cheek, his jaw, and then finally, his neck. Dan gasps when Phil, after leaving sloppy kisses down his neck, applies a little suction at the very base of it, probably leaving a hickey.

Dan likes it. He shouldn't, he doesn't want the world to see, after all. But in a way, in a really small way, tucked away in the corners of his mind, he wants everyone to know that he belongs to Phil.

Thinking is very difficult to do, with Phil right above him, their bodies touching in many places. He wraps his arms around Phil's neck and pulls him even closer, grinding his hips against Phil's on instinct, making him cease all movement for an instant. He moves away just enough to look Dan in the eyes; Dan is taken aback by the way Phil's pupils are blown, eyes almost completely dark, and this time, Dan has no doubt that he wants this too.

Dan does what he just did, this time very deliberately, without breaking eye contact, and uses Phil's moment of distraction to sneak his hands underneath his shirt, trying to pull it off. Phil helps him, and Dan has seen him shirtless before, but never like this, never like this.

Dan bucks his hips again when Phil goes back to kissing his neck, moaning softly at the contact. He's never done this before, but with Phil, it somehow comes easily.

"Fuck," Phil breathes into Dan's neck, sending a shiver throughout his body.

 

Then, Phil starts moving away, and Dan only holds him tighter.

Did he misunderstand? Is it too much?

"Come on," Phil demands, standing up and pulling Dan with him. "Let's go up to my room."

Dan barely registers the surge of relief that washes over him when their lips meet again, hungry, needy and impatient.

"Hurry," he mumbles into Phil's mouth, following him down the hall.

At the foot of the stairs, they pause, and suddenly Phil pins him to the wall, fumbling fingers lifting the hem of Dan's shirt, and --

"Up," Dan says now, because if they're meant to get to Phil's room, he'd rather they get there fast.

"Yeah," Phil replies, but he still kisses Dan, only stops when they have to start climbing the stairs and then starts again once they're up.

 

When they get to Phil's bedroom, Phil immediately pulls Dan's shirt off. Dan lets him, feeling insecure for a few seconds, before he looks at Phil, admires him properly, and takes note of the expression on his face.

Dan doesn't find himself very good looking at all, and yet, Phil is staring, mouth slightly agape, almost mesmerized.

"You look amazing," Phil whispers, pulling him close, their lips meeting for a second, only a second, because they're both still wearing their trousers, and it's becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

Phil kneels before him, making Dan's heart start racing even more, and pulls down Dan's sweatpants, leaving his boxers on. Dan steps out of his trousers and watches as Phil too strips down to just his underwear, then stands there before Dan, seemingly equal parts nervous and filled with passion.

Dan gets it, he does. He feels the same way.

He admires Phil for a few seconds, somewhat shocked that he is allowed to see him like this. Phil's pale skin, slender form, strong arms, all of it just fills Dan with such longing, it's nothing like he's ever known before. And yet, the longer they stand there, the more nervous he feels. What does he do now? What comes next?

Phil doesn't let him keep thinking, though. He smiles at him lovingly and leads him to the bed. Dan complies without a word, lies down on his back and waits as Phil gets on the bed too, hovering above him once again.

 

And then it hits him. They're really doing this. And this too is another step they'll never be able to take back.

But why would they want to?

And he's never done this. Phil probably has. Dan hasn't.

What if he's terrible? What if Phil doesn't like it?

 

Phil seems to sense his turmoil, because he brushes a strand of Dan's hair away from his forehead, kisses him softly, looks him in the eyes.

"We can stop," Phil whispers, but that's the last thing Dan wants.

"No!" he replies hastily. He feels himself blushing. "I'm just... Fucking hell, it's just, I've never done this before, okay? So if I'm rubbish--"

Phil doesn't let him end that sentence. "You're perfect."

Dan draws in a sharp breath, after which Phil kisses him again, and that kiss, that kiss is different. It's not centered on passion, not all about wanting more. It's slow, gentle, it's -- it's all about affection, reaffirming the words that Dan has just heard, and he --

Fuck. He's going to cry. Fuck. No.

He's never been called perfect. His whole life, he was the perfect example of one thing, just one, and that is not perfect. And yet there they are, Phil saying it, and Dan knows he is not lying, Dan knows that he means it. Warm tears begin to pool in his eyes and anxiety hits him once again. He doesn't want Phil to misunderstand, doesn't want him to stop.

Phil doesn't stop. He kisses away the tears and then they lock lips once more, lust giving way to something that runs way deeper.

Dan knows what it is. He just doesn't want to say it out loud just yet.

 

They take it slow, which gives Dan time to focus on how good it feels to have Phil's bare skin brushing against his, how amazing it is to have him this close, after weeks and weeks of wanting it so much. He allows his hands to wander, running down Phil's back only to move up again, wrapping his arms around Phil's neck, moaning softly into the kiss.

When their hips brush briefly, Dan feels just how much Phil wants this too.

 

Dan gives in to this entirely. He allows Phil to take the lead and choose the way, but Phil doesn't seem to mind, and just when Dan starts feeling impatient for more, he is given exactly that. Their lips part and Phil begins kissing down Dan's neck, leaving a trail of open-mouthed kisses, sucking on the skin at the base of Dan's neck, moving down to his collarbone.

Dan throws his head back, arches into the touch, bucks his hips to meet Phil's. He shuts his eyes and focuses on the sensation. He doesn't say anything other than calling Phil's name.

Phil keeps on moving down, briefly licking Dan's nipples and then kissing his way down his stomach. The more he moves south, the more Dan squirms underneath him, the more he tries to bring him closer.

Once Phil's lips reach the hem of Dan's boxers and his anticipation grows, Dan can't help himself. He looks down, staring at Phil's head, now almost between his legs, and then Phil surprises him by looking up, meeting his eyes.

"Are you sure?" Phil asks him without necessity.

Dan swallows and nods, unable to even speak at this point. Phil responds by finally pulling down Dan's boxers, leaving him completely naked, bare, vulnerable and so impatient. Fear and lust are still fighting for dominance in Dan's heart, but the latter wins out completely when Phil, after a brief pause, brings his lips back to Dan's lower abdomen.

 

Dan inhales sharply, instinctively moving towards Phil, but Phil keeps on doing things his way; he skips the place where Dan needs him the most and instead teases him by kissing on the inside of his thigh. Dan half-moans, half-whines, muttering a quiet please and tangling his fingers in Phil's hair, almost trying to push him in the right direction. He's hard, really hard, and he can't wait much longer.

Finally, after what feels like an eternity of teasing, Phil takes Dan's cock in his hand and begins to stroke him, fingers moving up and down quite slowly. The moment Phil touches him, Dan lets out the first full moan, unable and unwilling to control himself anymore, overcome with so many new sensations hitting him all at once.

Dan squirms uncontrollably beneath Phil's touch, pulling at his hair a little too hard, shutting his eyes forcefully only to open them again, if only to look down at Phil and meet his eyes as he begins moving his hand faster and faster down Dan's length, moving his thumb over the tip.

"Fuck, Phil! You're -- you're -- Fuck."

Dan is already close, much sooner than he would want to, but at the same time, he can't help his hips moving along with Phil's hand, can't help wanting to reach the peak, can't help trying to get there now.

"I..." he begins, but it dissolves into yet another needy moan.

And then Phil smirks, actually smirks, and breaks eye contact, because he replaces his hand with his mouth.

Dan loses the last of his breath as Phil wraps his lips around his length, licks his way up and down and then, finally, begins to suck.

"Fuck... Phil, just -- just don't -- don't stop," he begs, bucking his hips, moving in time with Phil.

Phil doesn't stop. He alternates between using his mouth and tongue, increasing the pace, and with each movement, Dan slowly begins to completely lose it. He doesn't stop himself from tossing around on the bed, doesn't care if his fingers in Phil's hair are pulling too hard, doesn't force his lips shut in order to stifle his moans.

He gives in to Phil, completely, and in his ecstasy, only one thought remains in his mind.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you...

He wants to say it, but Phil -- Phil is moving faster, and the warmth that emanates from that part of his body spreads all over, and he's close, so close, and instead of what Dan wants to say, other words seem to come out.

"Phil!" he cries. "I'm gonna- you have to stop because I will-"

This too is interrupted by a moan, as Phil only sucks him even harder, faster, taking Dan in full.

Stars erupt before his eyes and he's so close, so close to reaching the peak and so close to yelling out the words. I love you.

"Phil, I'm..."

Dan comes with a loud cry, spilling into Phil's mouth, momentarily ashamed about it, but Phil swallows everything, doesn't pull away until Dan comes down from the peak.

 

Dan falls back, eyes shut, breathing heavily. In fact, it's almost like he can't catch his breath at all. There is a pounding in his ears and he is far too tired to even open his eyes. He both wants to cry and laugh from disbelief at how good that felt.

After a moment, he feels the mattress budge underneath Phil's body as he lies down next to him. Dan forces his eyes open and looks at Phil in complete wonder, finding the emotion reflected in the blue eyes he is staring into.

I love you.

Dan won't say it. Not now. But, as he glances down, he realizes he needs to repay the favor, in what small way he can.

What if Phil won't like it? Phil is obviously fucking amazing at this, but Dan?

No. He won't think about this right now.

 

Wasting no more time, he surprises Phil by pushing him down so that he is lying on his back, and Dan is the one above him. This time, he is the one who tries to take control, and he begins by kissing Phil lightly, hands pressed against his chest as he straddles him, feeling his hardness against his thigh. Phil tastes different now, and Dan doesn't know how to feel about it.

Dan hasn't exactly got a plan for this.

"Dan, you don't have to," Phil assures him in between their lips meeting.

"I want to," Dan says, then admits, "I just -- I just don't know --"

Phil swallows thickly and then smiles. "Just do what feels right, Dan."

Dan is grateful, even though Phil hasn't given him any exact directions. He kisses him again and then reaches down, blindly pulling down Phil's boxers.

At first, Dan doesn't even look, somehow too nervous to do so. He finds both calmness and lust in Phil's eyes, so that is what he looks at, but his fingers reach down, brushing past Phil's stomach, to his thighs, until he finally reaches his cock. Phil grinds his hips against him, silently pleading for him to get on with it.

Dan finally looks down and stares, entranced, feeling turned on again even though he's just finished. At last, he takes Phil in his hand and begins to stroke with some uncertainty, but Phil spurs him on, low, needy noises escaping his throat as he shuts his eyes and throws his head back.

Seeing the effect of his own actions makes Dan a little less nervous, and his grip becomes more firm, movements quicker, as he looks down, staring, trying to make sure he is doing it right. Eventually, Phil makes him look him in the eyes again and kisses him, a deep, open-mouthed kiss that lasts for what feels like forever, but Dan doesn't stop, only encouraged by the way Phil has to pause kissing him to draw in sharp breaths or let out a moan.

"Faster," Phil pleads, and Dan obeys immediately. "You're so good, Dan. So good."

It is Dan that kisses him this time, and he strokes faster and faster, until Phil is the one squirming underneath him, slowly losing control.

I love you, he thinks.

"Let go, Phil. Come on...!" Is what he says instead, increasing the pace again.

"Dan, I'm gonna - I'm gonna cum," Phil breathes.

Dan kisses his neck now, as Phil is panting for breath, and keeps his grip tight as he moves up and down until Phil comes with a loud grunt, spilling all over his stomach. Dan keeps on; he doesn't stop until Phil falls back, clearly exhausted, breathing heavily.

Dan stares at him, admires him in this moment. Somehow, in the back of his head, he knows he will remember this for years to come.

I love you.

 

Phil opens his eyes and smiles shyly at Dan, pulls him close; they both fall back on the bed together, Dan resting his head on Phil's chest. Phil kisses the top of his head and they readjust in order for their lips to meet in a kiss that is lazy and satisfied.

"That was amazing," Phil rasps, filling Dan with a stupid sense of pride.

"I've clearly been missing out."

"We've got time to make up for that."

Heat rises in Dan's cheeks. To be honest, he could go again even now.

He doesn't know how to suggest that without sounding weird, though.

"I'm gonna hold you to that, you know?" he whispers instead.

"I sure hope so."

 

They lie there in silence for a while, their breaths slowly evening out. After a few minutes, Phil reaches down to clean up, then wraps them both up in the duvet, and Dan - in his arms.

Dan feels safe, secure, wanted, needed. All these things he's never felt before.

Of course it's only natural for him to want to say those three words.

I love you.

 

He drifts off to sleep before he can even try to formulate a proper sentence.

 

 

~~~~~

 

When Dan wakes up, Phil is still asleep, and sun is slipping through the curtains. It's probably quite late into the day.

Throughout the night, they have both moved now and then, but they are still wrapped up together, legs tangled, bare skin brushing everywhere. It's very intimate, warm and comfortable. Dan doesn't think he will ever be able to sleep without exactly this to wake up to.

He tilts his head so that he can observe Phil. His mouth is slightly agape, soft little snores escaping it on occasion. His hair is an adorable mess that Dan wants to run his fingers through. His arm, wrapped around Dan, holds him close without limiting his movement too much.

 

They did it. It happened.

It was pretty fucking amazing.

 

For a few minutes, Dan's thoughts consist of that and not much else. He thinks of the events of the previous night, recalls the way everything felt, blushes in anticipation of sometime, hopefully, doing that again. It's a nice, blissful place, one that he wouldn't mind staying in.

Of course, with Dan, it's never quite that easy.

 

As he stares at Phil, the words from last night come echoing in his mind once more.

I love you.

He's never said it out loud. He's also never wanted to say it more than he does right now.

But is it okay? Love only makes you vulnerable. In his experience, he was never worthy of being loved, and if he -- if he loves Phil but is not loved in return, that would just ruin their whole relationship. Dan can't have that happen. No, Phil is a priority now, no matter what happens.

Thinking of their relationship in ruins, that is a disastrous train of thought for Dan. Because one thing leads to another, and his breath quickens as he realizes that it's not all that simple.

 

He's been lying to Phil for a year. Lying about not having a family. Lying about his past and his present.

 

How can they build any kind of future on a lie?

 

Dan's heartbeat quickens at the thought of losing Phil because of his own stupid fears. 

Then again, does Phil have to know? Not really, but is it likely that he will find out at some point? Well--

Phil stirs underneath him. Dan looks up, meeting his eyes at the exact same moment that he opens them.

Well, no more time to think now.

"Morning," Dan whispers.

"You're awake! Did you sleep well?" Phil asks with a sleepy smile.

I love you. I fucking love you.

He could just say it. Perhaps someday, he'll tell Phil everything. But this, this he could say right now.

I love you.

He frowns.

"Phil, I have something to tell you."

"What?"

I love you.

But no, it's not that simple, and Dan doesn't want to say it, but he says it.

"I haven't... I haven't told you the full truth."

 

As he watches Phil's expression transform from bliss to worry, Dan wonders if he will ever be given the chance to say what he truly wanted to say.

Chapter Text

 “Are you still awake?”

“Yeah?”

“What do you want for breakfast?”

Dan opens his eyes slowly, rolls over and looks to the left side of the bed, where Phil lies, staring at him.

It’s way past noon, and they still haven’t gotten up. They’ve both been awake for the past hour or so, but they haven’t really said much, simply lying there together, with Phil’s arms draped across Dan’s waist.

“Phil, you don’t have to make me breakfast.”

“I want to make you breakfast!” Phil exclaims, his voice a tad too cheery. Dan smiles at the effort. “Pancakes? Or as the Americans call them, crepes?”

“Yeah, sure, pancakes. Or crepes. Whichever.”

Phil grins from ear to ear and nearly jumps out of bed. Dan’s stare follows him and pauses when Phil does.

“You stay here, I’ll bring them to you when they’re ready.”

Dan sighs softly. Yesterday was... difficult, but Dan really does not  deserve this kind of treatment for it; on the contrary, Phil should be mad at him, not run around like an idiot, making him breakfast.

He swallows any remarks on the matter, knowing better than to be snappy towards someone who is genuinely just being nice, and nods obediently. Phil leans down to kiss his forehead, making Dan feel even worse, and leaves the bedroom. Moments later, Dan hears him stumbling downstairs, undoubtedly on his way to make a mess in the kitchen.

Dan sits up in bed, stares blankly ahead for a moment, and then starts rubbing his eyes tiredly. He doesn’t stop until his clear vision is replaced with these annoying little stars, bursting open before his eyes and disappearing right after, leaving him dizzy.

 

Yeah, yesterday was rough.

 

On a stupid impulse, he ended up telling Phil everything. Stupid? Maybe not, because they can’t go any farther if what they have is built on lies, he’s told Phil as much. That was the main reason for him to go ahead with this, to tell Phil about his family, his mum, his dad, his brother. To tell Phil why he was now alone. To admit that he lied when he said that he didn't have a family.

Dan’s said it all, and he expected Phil to be mad, but he never was. No, Phil was the way he always is; Phil was kind. Phil held him close and stayed beside him until there was nothing left to say, and Phil did not judge him, and Phil forgave him for the months and months of lies that Dan had served him before.

 

The thing that he thought would jeopardize their relationship ended up not causing any harm. Dan felt relief, but it was also closely tied with exhaustion. Speaking of the past was even worse than just thinking of it, and he did it all, he did it for himself and he did it for Phil, but it still took its toll on him.

 

Phil understood. After the initial conversation, Phil just let him stay quiet, held him in silence, ran his fingers across his back, whispered sweet little nothings into his ear. They haven’t said much, but now, on the very next day, Phil seems set on going out of his way to make Dan feel better. Which, let’s be real, he shouldn’t. Even if Phil is not angry with him, Dan still lied, and Dan still should not be forgiven for it so very easily.

 

Frustrated, he throws back the covers and gets out of bed, making his way towards the bathroom. He stands in front of the mirror, staring himself down. There are dark circles underneath his eyes, his hair is a mess, and the corners of his lips still curve downwards, even when he tries to smile.

He doesn’t regret telling Phil. It was the only way for them to ever move things forward. But that, in itself, is so fucking scary, and a part of him wishes that Phil were mad at him, if only to occupy his mind with something else.

 

How stupid is that?

 

-

 

 

By the time Phil comes back with their breakfast, Dan’s gone through his entire morning routine of shower, brush your teeth and grab the nearest t-shirt.

He’s sitting on the bed on top of the covers, absently playing a game on his phone, when Phil comes in, shakily attempting to balance a tray filled with food. Dan, knowing enough from living with Phil for almost a year, jumps out of bed to catch the tray just as Phil is about to drop it.

“Dan! You weren’t supposed to get up!”

Dan sets the tray down on the nightstand and sits on the bed. “If I didn’t, all your pancakes would now be on the carpet.”

“I burnt a few,” Phil says, casting a nervous glance at the plates, “But they’re mostly good! I think. I haven’t actually tried them yet.”

“You’re a master of marketing, Phil. That really makes me look forward to eating them.”

Phil laughs, flops down next to Dan and puts the tray in his lap. “Is this my thank you for serving you breakfast in bed?”

“It’s the best you’re going to get,” Dan says easily, then grabs a glass of juice off Phil’s tray. After a pause, he adds, “Thank you.”

They share a look where Dan’s tired eyes meet Phil’s little smile, and somehow, Dan’s day is already a little brighter.

“Go on, then! Try them!” Phil urges him on, giving him the entire plate of pancakes.

“I’m not trying them first! You try them, I’ll only eat them once I know they’re not disgusting.”

Phil rolls his eyes, grabs a fork, pours a ton of sugar on one of the pancakes and takes a big bite. He makes a delighted noise and says, “They’re good! They’re actually good!”

“Don’t sound so surprised,” Dan chides, taking the other fork and eating the rest of Phil’s pancake without asking. “Phil! That’s way too much sugar! But they’re good, yeah.”

“You see?” Phil gives Dan a shoulder bump. “Told you.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Dan responds around a mouthful of food.

For a while, they eat in silence, both taking pancakes off the same plate, alternating sugar, lemon and syrup until only one pancake remains, which they decide to split in half. Phil fails at splitting it properly, though, so Dan gets the smaller half and gives up the bigger one for Phil.

“I’ll clean up,” he offers, because it’s the least he can do, but Phil takes the tray, sets it on the ground and grabs Dan’s wrist.

“Are you okay, Dan?” he asks quietly, eyes trained on Dan in a way that makes him shift uncomfortably.

“Why?” he shoots back, if only to buy some more time.

“You’re quiet today.”

“I was quiet last night too.”

“That’s why I’m asking if you’re okay,” Phil retorts patiently. Dan doesn’t have to look at him to hear the smile in his voice.

Dan could be honest and spit it all out, or he could avoid it for as long as possible. However, considering the previous day, he figures that if he’s started being honest, he should probably stick to it now.

With a sigh, he says, “I just, I thought you’d be upset with me, I guess.”

He dares to look at Phil, and his breath is caught in his throat upon finding Phil staring at him with such affection. Not for the first time, Dan thinks to himself that he doesn’t deserve it in the least.

“Why would I be upset with you?” Phil asks. His fingers move down from Dan’s wrist to his palm, quickly grabbing it.

“Because I lied to you, about my family and all.” Dan, despite his inner turmoil, only strengthens his hold on Phil’s hand.

“Dan, I... I wish you didn’t lie to me, that’s true,” Phil admits, breaking eye contact. “But I kind of understand why you did. And you told me the truth now, so how can I be mad at you? You’ve done nothing wrong, Dan.”

“I think you’re the only person that thinks I’ve done nothing wrong,” Dan muses. He pulls up his legs, sitting cross-legged now, facing Phil, and Phil does the same thing.

“I’m sure I’m not.”

“I know you are. My parents think I’m the worst person in the world, and my brother –“ Dan’s voice breaks for a moment; he takes a deep breath before continuing. “I don’t know what my brother thinks. I doubt he thinks at all.”

Dan’s staring at his own lap, so what Phil does next comes as a surprise.

Phil cups his cheek, forcing him to look him in the eyes, and slowly brings their faces together, until their lips finally meet. The kiss is slow and deliberate, and by the end of it, both Phil’s hands are resting on Dan’s cheeks. When they part, they remain close, looking one another in the eyes.

“I don’t want to tell you that you’re wrong,” Phil whispers, “Because I don’t know enough to say that, but… I really don’t think your parents think that way. And if they do, they are wrong, not you.”

“You don’t know that,” Dan retorts. “I lied to you for almost a year. That makes me a bad person, doesn’t it?”

“That just makes you a person who’s gone through a lot, Dan.”

“That doesn’t mean I can just –“

“It does,” Phil insists, “Trust me.”

Dan bites down on his lip, studying Phil’s expression, almost trying to find anger that is nowhere to be found. Phil is not mad at him, will not be mad at him, Dan knows as much.

Should Phil be mad? Definitely. But if he’s not, Dan should only be glad.

Then what is this guilt, eating away at him right now? What is this heavy feeling in his chest, pulling him back into the past he so carefully kept stored away up until yesterday?

 

Without thinking, he blurts out a question he didn’t know he was wanting to ask.

“D’you think it’s my fault?”

“What?” Phil asks back.

“My parents, Jake, the whole thing. Do you think –“

“No,” Phil interjects, “Absolutely not! Dan, you –“

“I always kinda thought it was,” Dan replies as an afterthought. “If I were any different, they wouldn’t… I don’t know, they wouldn’t hate me, I guess.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Phil repeats, leaning forward, wrapping his arms around Dan.

“You can’t know that,” Dan whispers into the crook of Phil’s neck.

“I can. I do.”

Dan exhales and pulls away. He doesn’t want to think of this anymore. He’s told Phil, he’s done that much, but he doesn’t want to do more.

“Can we like, do something? Watch a movie? Play a game? I don’t care what, just, let’s do whatever. Okay? I don’t – I think we – I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Phil stares at him mutely for a moment, lips pressed in a tight line, but eventually nods.

“We could play some Crash Bandicoot?”

Dan smiles with as much sincerity as he can muster, and leans closer to briefly kiss Phil on the lips.

 

Phil doesn’t hate him. But perhaps he should.

 

~~~~~

 

They spend the day playing games, watching films and eating an unhealthy amount of pizza. Dan notes the way Phil seems to be rather careful around him, but he hopes that will pass. He’s told Phil all about the past now, and he doesn’t want to keep talking about it.

What he wants, truly, is for this thing with Phil to last. That in itself is something he’d never have thought he would want, but here he is, wanting it more than he thought possible.

As the hours pass, Dan is almost successful in turning off the part of his brain that keeps wanting to talk about things. It’s not healthy for him. It’s best not to.

 

He thinks, however, of Phil. Odd as it may be, because the man is currently sitting right next to him, but his thoughts still focus on him. On the things he says, on the things he does. On the night, the night, two nights ago, when he and Phil took that next step. And stupid as it may be, looking at Phil in his one-size-too-large Superman shirt, watching him scream about the game being rigged when he loses for the fourth time in a row, Dan’s heart grows with both fondness and desire. It’s hard for him now, difficult to piece together the different versions of Phil he’s gotten to know; there is such a contrast between this childishly funny Phil and the Phil who took such great care with him, the Phil who kissed him with such passion, the Phil that Dan saw in his most intimate moment and who, in turn, saw Dan in his.

Somehow, observing Phil, he can see the connection between the two, but –

But after that night, Dan does perceive him slightly differently, and it’s not necessarily a bad  thing.

 

He wonders if Phil has such thoughts too. If he sees him differently. If he is disappointed or -- or pleased.

 

Distracted, he actually manages to lose at Mario Kart, and although he wasn’t planning on it, he seemingly makes Phil’s day.

“I won! Finally!” Phil shouts, shoving Dan excitedly. “I win, I win, I win!”

Dan shakes his head and looks at Phil, struck with a longing that wasn’t there just ten minutes ago. This is Phil. The person he… Fell in love with. He can say that, he finds, if only in his thoughts. The more he knows of Phil, the easier it is to do so.

This is Phil, and on every level, through every oddity of his, through every motion and every smile, Phil always remains exactly that. Phil.

“Phil…” Dan says, not knowing what else to say. It seems that, despite thinking he was doing well, his thoughts still manage to not only catch up to him, but overwhelm him entirely.

Phil beams at him, a proud smile on his face, but his expression changes upon taking proper note of Dan’s.

Dan doesn’t know what he looks like, but he soon finds it reflected on Phil’s face, when Phil too stares at him, when Phil’s eyes grow darker and his smile is replaced with something else entirely.

“Yeah,” Phil says, not asks, and they say nothing else. They toss their controllers aside, and it’s Phil who brings their bodies closer, but it’s Dan who wanted it first.

And it’s Dan who never wants it to end; to freeze this moment for all of eternity, to be here with Phil until everything ends.

To never have to think again, not about anything, not about anything except Phil.

 

-

 

Late into the night, when they make their way to bed, they both strip down to their boxers and crawl under the covers, Dan immediately making his way into his favourite spot at the crook of Phil’s neck. Phil kisses the top of his head, the way he so often does. Listening to his breathing relaxes Dan, lets him finally banish some of the thoughts that have been spinning around his head for who knows how long.

Phil is warm and soft around the edges. Phil is far kinder than Dan could ever hope to deserve.

Phil knows him better than anyone, and Dan had never intended for that to happen, but it did. Without his knowledge, it did.

“Thank you,” Dan mumbles somewhere close to Phil’s chest.

“What for?” Phil asks.

“I don’t know, just – Fuck, don’t make me say it. I don’t want to be a sap.”

Phil chuckles softly in reply. “You’re welcome then, for I don’t know what.”

Dan remains quiet for a while, relishing in the comfort and warmth that are so normal when he’s around Phil.

It wasn’t always that way. For the majority of his life, people were something for him to avoid, and he can’t remember ever feeling so relaxed with another person as he does with Phil. It’s dangerous, he thinks. If things ever go south, he doesn’t know what he’ll do. And he hates that. He needs to be self-sufficient, able to continue his life no matter what, to face every adversity without any allies, the way he had for a long time now.

There was no one in his corner to help him fight his battles, most commonly. Louise, sure, but she wasn’t always there. His grandparents, sure, they were always nice to him, but they hardly defended him from the things he had going on outside of their visits.

And now, he’s got Phil.

He shouldn’t get used to it.

He wants to.

“Where do you think you’ll be in a year from now?” Dan asks, unsure of what he wants to hear.

“A year from now? I’ll be done with uni, I hope,” Phil muses. “Hope I’ll just be living in a flat with you somewhere. I’d say I hope we’ll live in a large penthouse, with a pool and a water slide, but the water slide just doesn’t seem very realistic.”

Dan snorts, then says, “Yeah, sure, it’s the slide that sounds unrealistic. Good for you, Phil.”

“What about you, then?”

“Probably still working my shit job, hating everything and everyone except you.” As an afterthought, he then adds, “Usually.”

“Hey! What do you mean, usually?” Phil sputters. Dan turns to face him, content to find him with a huge grin.

“I mean that I usually don’t hate you. You should be proud, Phil. It’s quite an achievement.”

“When do you hate me, then?”

Dan’s kind of talked himself into a corner. He can’t think of a single instance of hating Phil anymore. Just as he is about to make something up, he decides to reply in earnest.

“When you make me think too much,” he mutters, breaking eye contact.

“I don’t mean to,” Phil replies without missing a beat. “But it’s not always bad, you know.”

Dan shifts, positioning himself more comfortably, his head resting on Phil’s chest. “Depends what I’m thinking of, I guess.”

“What are you thinking of?”

“Right now?”

“Yeah?”

Dan thinks for a moment before replying.

“You. Me. The future. Just the usual crap, I guess.”

“The future? That sounds scary,” Phil jokes, but beneath the easy tone, Dan hears an underlying hint of something far more serious.

“No shit,” Dan agrees. “Better than the past, at least.”

Phil wraps his arms around him a little bit tighter and says nothing, so Dan continues.

“It wasn’t always. Better than the past, I mean. I – before I met you – before this – I always thought my life would always be this fucking failure, but now, I’ve got a plan of sorts and – and I just hope that I don’t – that I manage not, not to, lose you, I guess. And now I’ve gone and said too much again and I –“

For the second time that day, Phil forces Dan to look him in the eye, this time by placing his fingers beneath Dan’s chin. Phil’s eyes study him with an intensity that Dan doesn’t expect and doesn’t want. It’s almost like he’s reading all of his secrets, seeing all of his thoughts. “I’m sorry that things were so hard for you, Dan.”

“It’s hardly your fault, is it?” Dan scoffs, torn between putting an end to this and continuing it.

“It’s not your fault either.”

Dan sighs and looks away. “Let’s not talk about that again.”

“Okay,” Phil immediately agrees and remains silent for a moment. Just as Dan assumes the conversation truly is over, Phil asks him, “Do you have any nice memories? From before, I mean.”

Before means before everything went to shit, Dan knows, and fully appreciates the omission. And although it hurts, he scours his memories for a nice one to share with Phil, if only to make up for all the times he’d listened to Phil go on and on about his family and their yearly trips to Florida while Dan sat there, green with envy at the descriptions of a family that actually loved each other.

“Getting Colin, that was nice. Colin was meant to be my parents’ dog, but he sort of imprinted on me, I don’t know. He followed me around everywhere. If I like, got up and left the room, he’d go right after me. And I taught him how to sit with just one pack of biscuits.”

And now, Dan’s hurting again. Because Colin is far away now, and realistically, Dan may never get him back. At least he’s with Louise’s parents; both good people, who insist on giving him back if Dan is ever able to take him. But when will he be able to?

“Do you have any pictures of him?” Phil asks, running his fingers through Dan’s hair.

“On my laptop. I’ll show you tomorrow.”

“Alright.”

This time, it is Dan who breaks the silence. It’s always like this. Once he starts, he simply cannot stop.

“My 13th birthday was nice, too. My grandma made me this cake – it had layers, it had three layers, and it was for me. Then the next year, Jake got one too, off the local bakery, but it tasted like shit compared to what my grandma made. It was – the one I had, it was – it was like vanilla and coconut and chocolate, three layers, it was – it was pretty great.”

“I’ve never had a cake that had layers. I’m jealous,” Phil comments, his voice soft and affectionate, and suddenly Dan feels proud, because there’s at least one thing he’s had that Phil hasn’t. Phil may have had the love of his parents, but Dan has had a cake with three layers.

He’s pathetic, he knows, but if he were to say that, he knows that Phil would object.

“My grandma seriously makes the best cakes, to be honest. She’s tried to teach me when I was little, tried to teach me how to cook, but I never learned. I can do like, scrambled eggs, and that’s it.” Dan pauses, thinking back to the hours spent with his grandma in her tiny little kitchen. “She taught me that, too. The scrambled eggs.”

“I can’t cook either. I didn’t even know how to make the pancakes. I looked up the recipe last night.”

Dan smiles and shakes his head. Of course he did. Of course Phil did that.

Suddenly, it hits him. Why is he talking about the fondest memories he’s got from the past, when all the best ones are the most recent?

“I remember when we played that truth or dare game,” Dan whispers, “And we held hands, and you let go, and I felt -- I felt proper disappointed."

“I remember it too,” Phil says, and there’s a hint of emotion in his voice that Dan can fully relate to.

“I remember – I remember when you first came to the dorms, when you were so noisy and you didn’t want me to keep the light on at night, and I thought like, I hope he moves out soon. And a week later I thought, I hope he doesn’t move out soon.”

“A week later? I could’ve sworn you hated me for months,” Phil argues playfully.

“I did, but I still didn’t want you to move out.”

“Great…”

Dan smiles and looks up, meeting Phil’s eyes with a sincere smile on his face. He kisses him again, tasting the mint from his toothpaste, and says one more thing.

“D’you know where I hope I’ll be a year from now?”

Phil brightens, pulls him even closer. “No?”

“Somewhere,” Dan pauses, punctuating the confession with another kiss. “With you.”

Phil beams at him, and they kiss again, and again, and again, and the night is still young, and they don’t fall asleep until five in the morning.

 

And Dan has said more than he ever planned to.

But he doesn’t feel afraid. Not tonight. Not right now.