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half step and a tumble

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They don't kiss goodbye.

They'll only be apart for the day. Dan has a flight to catch to Seattle and a date with the Guild Wars offices, which he’s been gleeful about for weeks now. Phil's staying behind and traveling the more scenic route with the bus so he can work on tour details that need to be finalized before the next round of ticket sales, which he feels decidedly less excitement for. He’s been good about it though, letting Dan ramble excitedly all he wanted and not complaining. (Much.)

They’ll only be apart a day. No time at all, really.

Before they realize it's the only chance they'll get to say a proper goodbye without an audience, they're out of their hotel room and into the lobby. Dan stops just inside the door with a hand on his suitcase and looks at Phil, who just looks back. They hold eye contact for a moment longer than is probably normal and Dan gives a half-shrug of apology. "See you tomorrow morning?"

Phil smiles at him. "Yeah, of course. Text me."

"Maybe." Dan feigns a blasé attitude with a little smile that completely contradicts it, and then he’s out the door.

*

They're texting as soon as the Uber door shuts behind Dan. They text, off and on, until the wheels of Dan's plane are bumping across the ground and the flight attendant is glaring at him.

/taking off ttyl/, he sends.

Phil sends him four messages while Dan's mid-air. A picture of his breakfast. A blurry picture of a dog in motion, taken from across the street. A selfie, captioned with complaints over Phil's hair not doing the thing he wants it to do. A picture of his mid-morning snack.

Dan saves the selfie, and tells Phil he never wants to see another pancake in his life, and he's really not kidding this time.

*

Dan has breakfast by himself at the airport. He rips apart a bagel, decides he doesn't like the spread he picked but is too lazy to go back and ask for more. He gets coffee and a donut half an hour later, and sends Phil a picture. The coffee is too sweet, but the donut is perfect.

Traveling alone always starts out exciting, a freedom. He doesn't really do it all that often. Before Phil he mostly only flew with his family, or the families of friends on holiday. After Phil - well, there's not many places he'd go that Phil wouldn't be right by his side. He got a little taste of it with the BBC documentary the year before. He hadn't always flown with the crew. It was exhilarating to be on his own. He could go where he wanted, eat where he wanted. Phil wasn't there to slow him down or lose critical bits of paper or panic unnecessarily over if they were going to end up at the wrong gate or miss the flight.

Back during the rush of writing the book, going off on his own to film felt like a holiday. Not from Phil specifically, but from life in general. It's almost the same right now, but as he watches the travelers walking at a hectic clip all around him he remembers the down side, too.

When he sees a ridiculous outfit or a kid with a really cool Pokemon backpack, there's no one to point it out to. When he remembers the name of the episode of a tv show they'd been talking about the week before, he can't just blurt it out. (Well, he can, and he does, but all it gets him is a strange look.) When his heart starts pounding funny and he really needs someone to bump their shoulder into his and tell him to breathe or distract him from his own anxieties, there's no one there.

By the time he's in the car heading away from the airport, the independence feels hollow. It's not like missing Phil, exactly, but it's just a feeling like something about every moment he's living in could be a little more complete.

*

Dan gets to the hotel room and checks himself in. One room, two double beds. The second one is for having their own space if they want to sprawl, or laying out clothes, or in case they mess the first one up too badly. Dan dumps his suitcase onto it and then sits down across from it and stares at it.

It's too quiet. He picks up his phone and takes a picture of the peaceful scenic beach painting on the wall to send it to Phil. /Jaws theme./

Phil doesn't respond.

Dan changes his clothes and plugs in his straighteners and tries to do something with his hair.

He sends Phil a selfie lamenting how flat it looks.

Phil doesn't respond.

Dan uses the app to call for another car. He'll be early but he'd rather that than late. It's incredible how easy it is to get himself out the door when there's no one else to talk into lingering.

Still no text back.

They've spent the past two months in each other's pocket, often without even a separate room to escape to, Dan tells himself. If he goes away for a day and Phil isn't immediately accessible by phone, it's fine.

He doesn't let himself wonder about what Phil could be doing with the rest of the crew that Dan's missing out on. That would be stupid, he reminds himself. He's been excited for weeks about getting to indulge his gamer nerd side.

The time apart is probably healthy, he thinks as he uses the app to get another car for himself. Phil and Martyn get to discuss the numbers stuff that Dan has no head for. They're working with the AKT merchandising rep that travels with them. It'd be boring, Dan decides. Phil's really doing him a favor with this. It's probably not fun at all.

So not fun that Phil can't even bother checking his phone.

*

An hour in and Dan's having an amazing time.

So amazing that he almost forgets to check his phone for about a twenty minute span. That's the only record he can boast, though.

He spins on the edge of impulse and then snaps a picture of the pile of free merch and collectors items he's been given.

/There's a girl here. I think she fancies me.

She just gave me a fuckload of free swag./

The thing is, there is a girl. Her name is Chloe and she's got blonde hair. She's shown Dan around and introduced him to everyone, and when she laughs she puts her hand on his arm. It's not overt enough to be uncomfortable but familiar enough that he certainly notices.

Phil isn't answering his phone. Dan can also tell he hasn’t read the messages yet, because he’d be able to see the read receipt if Phil had.

She leaves him to go check on the status of the interview segment he's agreed to be part of.

"They're not going to be ready for filming for another hour. Do you want to get lunch?" She asks when she comes back.

He hesitates. She's tall, wearing skinny jeans and heels and red lipstick. She's gorgeous. He may be happily in a relationship, but he's got eyes and a sex drive so he still notices these things. He hesitates exactly because he's noticed. Because she's hot and he doesn't often go out to have meals alone with hot women by himself.

"If you'd rather not-" She starts to say, looking slightly confused but masking it with polite professionalism.

"No, no." Dan laughs. He sounds uncomfortable. That probably doesn't make her less confused, but she smiles at his acceptance to the invitation and leads him out.

*

Impulsiveness wins again with a series of texts made while he stares at the menu and thinks about the donuts Phil made them stop, and how there were two left on the bus and Phil's probably eaten them by now. He means to ask about that but he's feeling that little stab of spite at being ignored. Phil still hasn’t even looked at any of the other messages. Whatever he’s doing, he must be awfully distracted. Well, that’s fine. Dan’s got stuff to do, too.

Over the course of the next half hour Dan sends a series of messages:

/She's vegan, appaz.

We're having lunch.

She asked me what server I'm on. That’s like second base in GW2 terms.

Not that you’d know./

*

Chloe's got a good sense of humor. She's intense about her job, and the conversation takes off at a rapid pace. Dan feels something loosen in his chest as he realizes he can talk as much as he wants about this thing he loves and she gets it. She gets every bit of it, laughing and chiming in with little facts and details and stories of her own.

It's not a date. He mentions Phil no less than a dozen times, two of which are stories about Phil that ramble on for minutes. To Dan, that means something.

But then she says: "You've got such a healthy friendship." And she rests her hand over his and squeezes and adds, "It's really sweet."

She doesn't notice his smile go tight. It's amazing what people remain oblivious to when they aren't looking for something to challenge their own assumptions.

*

Phil replies halfway through.

/My phone died and no one had a charger I could borrow/.

/But I'm glad you're having fun. Send me an invite to the wedding./

Dan doesn't see it until near the end of the meal, just after she gets a text summoning them back to the office for Dan's interview segment.

His eyes linger over the text. There’s an uncomfortable prickling in his stomach, but - Phil’s joking, right? Because Phil knows Dan’s joking. Annoyed, but - joking.

When she gets up to refill her drink, Dan texts back. /You’ll be my best man, naturally./

*

The picture is her idea.

There’s no real reason to say no. He’s already taken photos with a couple of other people in the office.

She tilts her phone toward him to show him the finished product, complete with caption, once she posts it on twitter.

He retweets it without thinking, because that’s what he did with everyone else.

*

Dan doesn’t check his phone again until he’s taking it out to put it on silent for the interview segment.

He has one text waiting.

/blonde? really/

The prickling feeling turns into more of a nervous dread. He thinks about apologizing, but stops - what does he have to apologize for, really? Having lunch with someone? Phil’s had lunch with plenty of people, without Dan there. For the fact that she’s attractive? Dan has no control over that.

He silences the phone and puts it away.

*

The interview goes well. It's an easy subject to relax and talk about. He mentions Phil at least a half a dozen more times. He doesn't mean it. It's just how his mind is programmed to function. Eat, sleep, breathe, Phil.

He doesn't look for Chloe when he's finished, just heads to the front of the building with his swag in tow and waits for the car he's called. He's staring at the map showing how far away it is when he hears the clack of heels on tiled floor. "You almost got away without a goodbye! Naughty, naughty."

He laughs a little and stands up. "Yeah, sorry. I figured you were busy... jobbing."

"I can take a minute or two. I'll wait with you," she says, sitting on the bench beside him. "I know you’re not exactly from around here, but… how long are you in town for?"

Her body is tilted toward him, hair tucked behind her ear. He's not dumb, he gets what's going on here. Indulging it the tiniest bit seemed fine earlier but now he's just tired and wants to go back to the hotel and ring Phil. "We'll be in Seattle for a few days."

Her smile is suddenly a little nervous, and her fingers pluck his phone where it rests loosely in his hand.

She turns it to face him and says, "Unlock it?" He's too caught off guard to even argue. His fingers tap at the code. He watches her text herself from his phone, and then she hands it back. "Just in case you need a tour guide."

"Right." His mouth is dry. He has no idea what to say, but he's saved having to say anything by the ding of his phone saying his car has arrived. He slings his backpack over his shoulder and gives her wave, backing away quickly. "Nice to meet you."

*

He didn’t ask for her number, Dan tells himself.

He’s not ever going to use it, anyway.

Phil doesn’t even need to know it ever happened, right?

And it’s not like Dan needs to feel bad just because it turns out she was interested in him. Phil still had no right to react the way he did.

Dan spends the entire car ride trying to talk himself into righteous indignation, but once he's checked into the hotel the first thing he does is close the door and pull his phone from his pocket to try Phil.

When Phil doesn't answer, Dan takes a few minutes for himself. He checks his email. He washes his face. He changes into more comfortable clothes.

Then he rings Phil again.

Still no answer.

Frustration mounting, he sends off a text: /whats up?? you can't still be doing tour stuff/

Phil’s starts to reply instantly. Dan feels the sting of it, realizing Phil must have been ignoring his calls on purpose.

/You livetexted your date to me, Dan. Excuse me if I don't feel like listening to how well the chat up went./

Dan stares down at the phone, stunned. Full punctuation and everything.

He immediately tries to ring Phil again. It goes straight to voicemail.

He looks back at the text thread and sees three dots. They stop and start a few times, minutes ticking by on the clock before a message actually appears.

/Do you think you're the only one of us that ever gets jealous? I get it. A beautiful woman who shares all of your interests and aspirations wanted to take you out, and you said yes. I've been miserable all day long dealing with international tour details and answering all of the emails I got behind on because when you're around you'd always rather do anything but work. Now excuse me if I need some time before I want to hear all the wonderful details./

Dan's heart crawls up into his throat. He sinks down onto the bed and wraps his arms around himself. He reads the message again, then fumbles out a reply.

/Okay. I'm sorry.

I love you.

Phil?/

He can see right away that Phil’s read the messages, but there’s no reply.

Dan’s chest has grown tight and his breathing is shallow by the time the dots finally make a reappearance. It seems to take forever before:

/I love you too./

*

Dan keeps his phone on the pillow beside him, but Phil doesn’t text again and Dan can’t bring himself to try.

It’s the worst night of sleep he’s had in awhile. Around half two he gives up completely and spends the next four hours listening to music and trying not to cry.

*

In the morning Dan sends:

/eta?/

While he waits for a response, he finds Chloe's text. He stares at it for ten seconds then he deletes her listing from his contacts page, and because it doesn't feel like enough before he deletes the text itself he blocks it so she can’t send him any more messages.

He feels momentarily bad. She didn't do anything wrong. But she's a pretty girl, and it was one lunch. He doesn't really think she'll be that phased by a few texts that never get answered. It's worth it to assuage his own guilt.

Phil responds with a time, three hours off. Dan rolls over and tries to catch a couple hours of sleep.

*

When Dan gets the message saying the buses are a few minutes away, he goes down to the lobby to meet everyone.

His stomach is in knots. The crew filters in first, their manager handling the check in. The merch girls are loud and full of laughter, wearing what they probably slept in and loving life.

Phil comes in last, talking to Martyn. Martyn smiles at Dan, but Phil won't look him right in the eye.

Their manager chats to them both for a minute, giving them a rundown of the day. Phil’s responses are polite and professional, and she doesn’t know him well enough to feel the undercurrent of wariness.

Dan does, though. Dan knows every mood of Phil’s and just how to read him. Right now, Phil looks tired and like he wouldn’t give a fuck if the entire rest of the room dropped away. He looks the way he does after one of his headaches or a really frustrating day of editing.

If they were home, Dan would make him a cup of coffee or run a bath or maybe just agree to stay in bed all day napping with him. Dan’s useful like that, sometimes.

And sometimes he’s just a twat who riles his boyfriend up without meaning to and causes them to spend a miserable night apart.

"I've got an extra key for you," Dan says.

Martyn claps Phil on the shoulder. "Go on, no need to wait around for us."

Phil slight glare toward him would be adorable if Dan didn't feel so antsy about everything.

*

Phil follows Dan up to their room while everyone else is still figuring out room assignments and getting keys.

“I’m sorry,” Dan says, as soon as the door is shut behind them. "For yesterday."

Phil takes his glasses off and rubs his eyes.

Dan aches, just a little.

“We have to be to the venue in five hours,” Phil says. He sounds detached. It’s his fight voice. Phil hates fights. He hates fighting. Even with Dan, especially with Dan. So when he thinks they’re going to fight he just goes away somewhere deep inside himself.

Dan hates it a lot. Probably as much as Phil hates the way Dan wants to tackle things head on as much as possible. They’ve both made a lot of progress with meeting in the middle.

“Phil.” Dan sighs. “I wasn’t on a date. I had an hour to kill before an interview and we walked somewhere to get lunch. There was no date, I was just - trying to get your attention, I guess.”

Phil’s mouth is a tight, flat line. “You wanted me to be upset, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t think it would work.” Dan’s hands flail upwards. “Or I wouldn’t have.”

“Do you.” Phil stops and breathes in and out. He’s exhausted. Dan sees it suddenly, clearer than he ever has before. He sees Phil tired and unraveling and maybe this is about more than a few texts. Maybe this is just a symptom that they're running out of steam. It's a miracle they've made it this far without something cracking. Suddenly Dan is so fucking glad this tour is almost over. Phil is still talking. “Do you really think the idea of you spending time with a- a woman, who is - interested. Did you think that wouldn’t-”

Phil stumbles over his words. His hands are clenched into fists at his side.

“Fuck, Phil.” Dan moves in swiftly, because trying to say this is hard for Phil to do and harder for Dan to hear. He grabs Phil and hauls him in and hugs him hard. “I wouldn’t, Phil, I would fucking never- I’m sorry, I just. I’m sorry.."

Phil’s arms, which have stayed lax at his sides, come up and suddenly he’s holding Dan as tightly as Dan is holding him. "Yeah," Phil says. His eyes may still be dry but his voice sounds choked and he's shaking slightly in Dan's hold. "Me, too."

Dan tucks his face into Phil’s neck and they stand like that for minutes.

*

"Didn't sleep for shit last night," Dan says.

"Me either," Phil admits. He's sitting on the bed with his back to the headboard.

Dan's spinning little half circles back and forth in the chair at the desk, trying to gauge if it's okay to approach or not.

Phil yawns and then pats the bed beside him. Dan's up in an instant, moving toward him.

If they had this fight back in London, they’d probably turn their phones on do not disturb, have sex, then stay in bed for twelve hours watching television until everything felt okay again.

Instead they skip the sex and crawl in bed for as much of a nap as they can manage before show time.

“Four hours,” Dan says. “That’ll give us time for food.”

He sets the alarm on his phone.

Phil is already under the covers, eyes half closed. Dan crawls in beside him and lays facing him, but not touching. His hand hovers and then comes to rest on Phil's cheek. Phil's eyes flutter open just in time to give him warning as Dan presses in for a brief but firm kiss. Phil kisses him back, close mouthed but lingering, and then says, "Sleep."

*

The alarm will go off in fifteen minutes. Phil woke up an hour earlier than they needed to, bladder full. Dan never really fell asleep. Dan slept off and on but he never gets good rest when his mind is this full and scattered.

Eventually he’d just let himself get caught up studying the fine lines on Phil’s face, the way his hair was pushed back off his forehead, the way his bottom lip was slightly chapped. He’d spent hours memorizing something he already thought he had committed to memory, because a rough twenty four hours and a shift in perspective made it seem brand new.

“I didn’t really think you would cheat on me," Phil says. He looks better after the rest, and some food. He seems better too, and ready to talk. This will probably be the extent of the discussion, because they're not always good at working these issues out in depth. They are, at least, good at remembering and learning from their mistakes. “And I knew if you were texting me, that it couldn’t be anything too serious. You weren't - you weren't hiding anything. But it still. I just. I didn’t like it.”

“If that was you texting me those things, I’d have been on the first plane to Washington,” Dan says. He feels stupid and sorry and angry at himself and tired, mostly. Tired and properly homesick for the first time this whole tour. “I’m so fucking sorry.”

“I’m sorry for overreacting,” Phil says. He’s shirtless and sitting up, picking at the room service they ordered.

"Hey," Dan says. He waits until Phil looks at him and then he reaches out to brush his fingers through Phil's hair, adjusting it. He just wanted to touch. Phil rolls his eyes slightly like he can see right through Dan, but he doesn't mind. "Sorry. That's all."

He loves Phil. And yeah, Phil knows it. Dan doesn't need it say it again, but he thinks it all the same because he likes the shape of it, in his mind and in his heart.

Dan doesn’t take them for granted. He doesn’t take Phil for granted. He knows what he has with Phil is special, because he's not blind to all the sad faces and broken relationships in the world. Maybe he’s naive, but he thinks that other people don’t last like they have, as long as they have, and come out of it as happy as they are.

Maybe that’s what makes the moments they forget to be careful with each other so terrifying.

He steals a fry from Phil’s plate. “So we’re both sorry assholes,” Dan says.

Phil lets him pillage the food. He still looks worn out. He still looks a little sad. Dan resolves to make it go away, to make Phil smile as much as he can today. It’s not entirely selfless; it gives Dan a thing to channel his own frustrations into. The tour will be over soon. They'll get a break soon. They can retreat and mend what they can only patch right now, and have a few weeks of relatively little responsibility to anything but themselves. But for now, he’ll do this.

“I love you,” Dan says quietly, and plainly.

Phil looks up at him and Dan wins that first smile, small and tired though it may be.