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the part of you they’ll never see (is the part you’ve shown to me)

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Phil is helping his mother with the dishes, in his parents’ Isle of Man house, both of them staring out of the kitchen window across the sprawling front garden, where Dan is standing with Phil’s dad, pretending to be interested in the rock garden.

His mother frowns a little at Dan (all in black, expensive coat, hair flying around his face in the wind) “so how exactly did you meet him?”

(that hadn’t gone well, at dinner. He’d spent most of the afternoon in the hotel trying to get Dan to calm down about meeting your parents, I never meet anyone’s parents, is this a good idea so they hadn’t come up with a decent story. When his mother had asked Dan had choked on his mouthful of casserole and Phil, desperately, just said “at work” in the most suspicious way he could possibly have said it)

He says, “Oh, you know, just at the gallery.”

“The gallery? Which one?”

Phil can’t say Manchester, for obvious reasons. Manchester still catches in his heart, a little. He says, “The Tate.”

His mother huffs a little, as she always does at any mention of the Tate, and starts moving the dried dishes away. “He could have phoned you then. After all that happened."

Dan, outside, turns his head to try and make his hair blow in all the same direction, and catches Phil’s eye, as he always does. He smiles, hair fluttering, all the zippers on his ridiculous coat catching the sun, waves a mittened hand in Phil’s direction. Phil loves him so (so) much.

Phil says, “It’s a long story.”

~*~

Phil loves him so (so) much and it’s the best thing in the world. The best thing in the universe. He loves walking into the bar and seeing the exact moment where Dan looks up and realises that he’s there. He loves going through their photos and teasing Dan, why are you never looking at the camera, why are you always looking at me?, every single photo in every single frame displaying the right side of Dan’s face. Dan, weakly, would protest that’s my best side, but later, much later, he would say I just like looking at you. That’s all.

His mother, months and months ago, had asked, “What happened to Dylan? Why did we never meet Dylan?”

Phil said, “Oh, he emigrated. Really suddenly. He was quite similar to Dan though, in lots of ways.”

Sometimes it’s strange to think that he’s met Dan with three different names, in two different places. Sometimes he has to catch himself from referring to Dylan like he was a real person, an actual ex-boyfriend, rather than the same boyfriend he has now, just under a different name. Sometimes the backstory that he’s created for Dylan (the one Dan was too lazy to commit to) takes on a life of its own. But then, he did spend a few lonely months coming up with it.

At the bar, every Friday, Dan finishes with the theme to Attack on Titan, even though it’s in no way a show tune and confuses everyone in the room. Everyone except the two of them. Phil sometimes gets up to play the melody, terribly, and Dan will act like he did amazingly and say, “My boyfriend, ladies and gentlemen” as Phil walks through confused applause back to the bar.

Phil wishes sometimes that he and Dan could, somehow, live in that moment where it’s just them, and he could somehow cocoon Dan away from the rest of the world and all of their history. Their actual backstory.

He tries to explain this, on the tube home, after slightly too many bright pink cocktails. Dan, laughing, saying “you want to live in the theme tune to Attack on Titan?”

Phil, exasperated, “I’m not explaining it right.”

Dan, heart eyes turned up to one hundred, “No, I get it. I wish we could live in the theme tune too."

“You’re teasing me.”

“Only because I love you.”

Dan says I love you constantly, as though making up for all the times he didn’t before, all the times he thought they were too obvious. He says it when Phil waits up for him to get back from work. When Phil brings him a cup of tea without him asking, in the middle of an internet binge. When he walks into any room in the flat and sees Phil [mismatched socks, glasses, bedhead, trying to coax a half dead plant back to life], says it with complete surprise but with so much meaning that Phil hears it like he’s remembering a dream. Every time.

~*~

Dan says, “That was okay, right? I was okay?” when they’re walking back to the hotel, careful steps on the icy pavement. He has a tight grip on Phil’s sleeve, as though determined to take him down too, if he falls.

Phil says, “You were fine” because he had been. Dan (for all his stressing) gives good parent, he’s polite, acts interested in all the right things, looks at every photo. “They liked you, honestly”

Dan smiles, relieved. “Good. I liked them. It was like being with three different versions of you.”

Phil laughs, almost slips. “Is that a good thing?”

“Of course it is.” Dan stops, steadies Phil. “It’s the best thing."

Phil flushes slightly, as he always does when he receives Dan’s complete attention. “Well, you’re biased.”

Dan says, “Possibly” and kisses him. His teeth are chattering and his cheeks are cold (the coat, bought for fashion only, isn’t exactly warm), Phil cups his face in his gloved hands and sighs.

Kissing Dan always makes him lose his balance, in so many ways. He says, “This isn’t the best place” against Dan’s mouth. “I’m going to fall over.”

Dan laughs and says, “Probably” but doesn’t stop.

~*~

(Phil’s mother, when they got to the house, blinked at Dan and said “goodness, you’re very pretty, aren’t you?” and Dan had flushed and dimpled and basically proven her point. Later, by the sink, she’d repeated “he’s very pretty, isn’t he?” in a slightly different tone of voice.)

~*~

The thing is that sometimes Phil forgets the story. The actual one. He gets very caught up in the we-worked-together-and-then-we-talked-at-a-bar narrative that he and Dan have, without meaning to, created for each other.

(forgets is maybe the wrong word. Pushes to the deepest crevices of his brain is maybe more apt.)

Sometimes they’ll be watching tv, or something on the internet, or even just talking to someone about their holidays, and maybe Paris will come up. Or Chicago. Boston. Amsterdam.

And Dan will say “oh, I’ve been there.”

Phil will say “when?

And Dan will suddenly look incredibly uncomfortable, answering both the when and the why without meaning to.

Those moments are the same as tripping over, as bumping into furniture, all things Phil does frequently -the sudden blunt pain, followed by blinking, embarrassed, confusion.

Dan will usually say, quickly, “oh, ages ago. I don’t really remember."

~*~

His mother said, to Dan, “I’m glad he’s found someone nice. The last one just up and left with no explanation. Who doesn’t know that they’re emigrating?”

Dan, politely, without looking at Phil, replied “he emigrated?”

“Yes, we never even met him. Where did you say he went, Phil? Japan? Something with baby pandas wasn’t it?”

Dan raised his eyebrows. “Baby pandas?”

Phil, giving his mother as close to an annoyed look as he can manage, said “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Dan, later, repeated “baby pandas?” in a careful, neutral tone.

“I had to think of something.”

Dan walked to where Phil was lying, starfished across the hotel bed, draped himself across Phil’s chest, cheek to Phil’s shoulder. He said “you gave him your dream job.”

He doesn’t muffle words that Phil can’t hear. Not anymore.

“I suppose I did” Phil dropped a kiss to the top of Dan’s head. He has a lot of dream jobs, in all honesty. Most of them involve baby animals of some description. “But that’s just because she put me on the spot a bit. Doesn’t mean anything.”

“I didn’t realise that you spoke to them about Dylan.”

“About you.”

There was a long pause, Phil carded his fingers through Dan’s hair until Dan, finally, said “it’s weird that we’re talking about him like he was his own person.”

Phil replied “I guess so” and looped his arms around Dan’s waist, pulled him up so they were face to face, kissed him as a way to end the whole odd conversation.

~*~

Or sometimes they’ll be at a pub quiz, points ahead of every other team, and Chris, in utter disbelief, will say “wow, Dan, you know a lot about classic paintings.”

Dan will usually shrug and say “I suppose” but only Phil will see the whitening of his knuckles, the tightening of his hand around his drink.

~*~

When he’s not at the bar Dan teaches piano, to beginners, at one of the studios in Guildhall. His students are mostly under twelve and Dan gets ridiculously attached to all of them, gets teased by the other tutors for not being strict enough, for not setting strict rehearsal guidelines and practice hours, letting the students call him by his first name.

Dan plays it cool and says “what can I say, I’m just lazy like that” but Phil knows that’s not it. Dan’s lazy in lots of ways, hundreds of ways, but the piano is one of the few things that he isn’t a huge procrastinator about (Phil is one of the others).

They’ve been to a few student recitals and Dan sat on the edge of his seat throughout, fingers drumming against his knees. Jumping up to give a standing ovation before the parents did.

“Maybe you should start a youtube channel, one of those piano tutorial ones,” Phil suggested, on the way back from one concert, Dan all flushed and proud, carrying a little pile of thank you cards.

Dan laughed and said “really, me? Seems like too much work.”

“I could edit for you. I wouldn’t mind.”

Dan had stilled a little, post recital giddiness instantly gone, and replied “I wouldn’t be able to show my face though. Just in case. How would that work?”

Phil said “why?” and, off Dan’s incredulous look, added “oh. I forgot.”

“You forgot?” Dan looked somewhere between awe and concern, an odd mix of emotions that mostly made him look envious. Envious of what? Phil’s ability to brush things to one side? “How could you possibly -”

Phil said, honestly, “I don’t know. I just choose not to think about it. I prefer to think about what we’ve got now.”

He helped Dan arrange the thank you cards across the Ophelia piano, as neatly as possible, read every message aloud while Dan blushed and said “stttoooopp” without really meaning it (you’re the only person who ever helped me understand arpeggios; i would never have played in public if you hadn’t helped me; you’re way better than my last teacher etc etc).

After reading the last one (if you ever leave i will QUIT THE PIANO) Phil said “I’m so proud of you.”

Dan blushed again, not yet recovered from previous blushes, still slightly pink in the face, and said “thank you.”

He said thank you again later, tracing the shell of Phil’s ear with his fingertip, Phil’s head on his chest, too tired to move.

Phil mumbled “for what?”

“Everything really.”

“That’s a lot of things.”

It sounded like the echo of a past conversation, a half remembered half repressed shadow of something. Dan huffed a tiny caught breath, and Phil instantly added “you’re welcome.”

~*~

Getting back to the flat after his final lecture of the day, having stopped to get a pizza, which he promptly drops when he gets to their door and there’s already someone there. A blond someone, dressed in head-to-toe peppermint green, hair swept off his face. He has a parcel propped against his legs.

Blond says “oh, it’s you” in a possibly Scandinavian accent that Phil can’t place. “Is Dan home?”

Phil says “no” which in hindsight, was a pretty naive thing to do.

(he’s too trusting, all the time. It’s really endearing. Until it’s not.)

Blond says “okay” then “I’m Felix, by the way.”

Phil says “I’m Phil.”

“I know who you are.”

“Oh” says Phil, at a loss at what else to say. “I’ll tell him that you -”

“I have a parcel for him. There’s a letter inside it.”

“A letter?”

“It’s old fashioned but I don’t have his number anymore. I wrote it in case he wasn’t at home. Which he isn’t,” Felix sounds annoyed, like Dan has set out to personally avoid him. He kneels, collects the parcel and hands it to Phil.

The parcel is painting shaped. Phil, obviously, notices straight away. He says “what -”

“I know that you know what it is, you’re not stupid,” Felix rolls his eyes. “Tell him I feel bad about this. Tell him I sounded regretful or something.”

“Regretful,” Phil echoes.

Felix says “yes” and, genuinely, both sounds and looks exactly that. Full of regret. “I don’t like going back on my word. But circumstances change and I sort of need his help with something.”

Phil, holding the parcel, says “how do you know that I’ll even give this to him?”

Felix blinks like he’d never even considered that Phil wouldn’t.

“If you’re who I think you are -”

“Who you think I am? You mean he never talks about me? That hurts my feelings.”

“ - then I might just go and throw this in the canal and never mention it again.”

“I wouldn’t do that, it’s a pretty nice painting.”

Phil sighs, says “are you who I think you are?”

Felix tilts his head to one side. “It depends. But probably.”

“What does the letter say?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Phil, for some reason, says “but he’s happy here.”

Felix looks taken aback, an expression he immediately blinks away. “I’m not taking him anywhere. I just need to borrow his expertise. For a bit.”

“He doesn’t do that anymore.”

He lives here, Phil thinks, wildly. He lives here with me and he teaches piano and plays in a bar every other evening. He comes to meet me after work every single day, even if it’s raining and he hates going out in the rain because it makes his hair curly. We love each other. He’s happy here.

Felix says “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t ask him if I wasn’t desperate.”

“Is it bad? Has something gone wrong?” Phil is clutching the parcel to his chest, arms wrapped around it. “I don’t want -”

“He wouldn’t want me telling you,” Felix, thoroughly uncomfortable with the whole conversation, leans over to pat Phil’s arm. “Nice to meet you in person.”

When he leaves Phil stays standing on the spot for a few seconds then abandons his dropped pizza to go into the flat, straight to the balcony, where he stands between the pastel begonias and stares down into Camden Lock. Balances the painting on the edge of the balcony railing.

He doesn’t throw it in. He wants to but he can’t quite give that final little push. Dan would find out, somehow, from someone. Felix would surely just keep coming back until he got an answer. The painting, the heavy weight of it in his hands, feels like a ticking bomb, waiting to go off. It doesn’t usually go well for him and Dan, paintings hidden in anonymous parcels. Or, it hadn’t gone well the first time in particular.

~*~

The first time Phil met Dan’s parents was also the first time Dan had seen his parents in “a ridiculously long time”. Phil doesn’t know how long ridiculously long is exactly, but it seemed like years, from the amount of tears when Dan’s mother met them at the door.

She had looked at Dan like she didn’t quite recognise him, or that she did and couldn’t believe he was real. A sort of rose tinted nostalgia, holding up her hand like she could pause him in place. She kept talking about how much weight he’d lost, what his hair looked like, what he was wearing and Phil had wondered when exactly Dan had last been home (except he doesn’t call it home. He had said, on the train, very deliberately, that they were going to “my parents’ house.”)

Phil had helped with the cleaning up after dinner and, when she was sure Dan was out of earshot, Mrs Howell had leaned towards him and said “he looks so happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that happy.”

Phil said “oh” and left an uncomfortable pause where he should have said something else, but didn’t. Not from not knowing what to say, but from wanting to say too much.

~*~

Phil waits up right until Dan gets back. He doesn’t usually, on a Wednesday, he has an 8am seminar and Dan doesn’t come home until at least 1, but he felt like he should. Dan’s footsteps, coming through the hall, sound like a drumroll, the start of something.

Dan, instantly, says “what’s wrong?” before he’s even taken his coat off.

“Nothing’s wrong” Phil says, unconvincingly. “Just, um -”

Dan says “what?”, and repeats “what?” when he sees the parcel on their other sofa. Unassumingly propped up, completely unaware of the issues it’s causing. “What’s that?”

“Come on Dan” Phil replies, mildly. “We both know what it is.”

He should have known really, that the whole thing was too good to last.

~*~

They never talk about it, not since the time on the balcony the day after Phil came back, months ago, when he had said let’s never talk about this again and so they hadn’t done. Phil sometimes regretted even saying it. He should have said let’s talk about this a little bit. Sometimes.

He wonders sometimes if he’s really enough for Dan, if this comfortable life of theirs isn’t just incredibly boring, after years spent jumping off speedboats, or hanging from ceilings above lasers, or whatever else Dan used to do, in Phil’s head. Wonders if Dan, secretly, wants to do one last job, properly.

Dan comes to meet Phil after work, he’s always a little bit late, leaves Phil standing outside the building for a few minutes on his own, then suddenly appears, like he’s been there the whole time.

Phil always says “where have you been?”

Dan always says “I was here. I was just watching you for a bit.”

Phil used to say “well, that’s creepy” without really meaning it, but he doesn’t anymore. He says “it’s just me. You can see me all the time.”

Now standing outside the building on his own, waiting in anticipation, he preens a little under the hidden attention, tries to lean nonchalantly against a wall, looking studious and hopefully not like he’s trying too hard. He still says where have you been? like it’s a surprise, like he hasn’t been standing, posing, waiting for Dan to unhide himself.

~*~

Dan, wildly, says “he was here? Why was he here?”

“I don’t know - he left you a note. And that parcel.”

Dan says “a note?” then, gripping Phil’s shoulders “what did he say to you?”

“Nothing much really.”

“He shouldn’t be speaking to you. He shouldn’t even be here.”

Phil says “the note is in the parcel.”

Dan, confused, says “what?”

“He said the note is in the parcel. He wrote it because he doesn’t have your number anymore. And also I had to say that he sounded regretful.”

Dan’s hands, still on Phil’s shoulders, soften a little; one slides up into Phil’s hair, thumb to his temple. He must be doing the head shaking thing again. Dan says “he shouldn’t be speaking to you.”

“Why? He wasn’t rude or anything."

“I just don’t like the thought of it” Dan gives the parcel a wary glance. “I don’t like the thought of that being here either.”

“He said he feels bad but circumstances change.”

“What circumstances?”

“I don’t know, there’s a letter. In the parcel.”

The glance Dan gives the parcel isn’t wary anymore, it’s almost intrigued. Interested. Phil thinks no wait, come back.

“Don’t open it.”

Dan says “what?”

“I was going to throw it in the lock.”

Dan looks horrified at the thought of anything like that happening to a painting. “But you didn’t."

“It’s not my decision to make. It’s not for me.”

They leave it propped on the sofa but Dan, next to Phil, usually a heavy sleeper who doesn’t move an inch, tosses and turns the entire night, bangs Phil with his elbows, his knees. Eventually Phil reaches out and catches his hands, holds him still, Dan makes a small sound under his breath, freezes like something caught in a trap and then sighs. Phil thinks, again, come back even though Dan hasn’t gone anywhere.

~*~

Phil doesn’t say I love you as much as Dan does. Not out loud anyway. He’s hugely obvious about it in every other way, says that’s my boyfriend! to every new attendee at the bar, gives standing ovations to everything Dan plays, puts all of his thank you cards into one frame, so they can display them forever, does all the small talk at parties so Dan doesn’t have to, swiftly changes the subject if he can see Dan getting awkward, doesn’t leave his side if they’re somewhere with a lot of new people. Lets him out of basements. Gives him a piano.

When the Ophelia piano finally got delivered from the Tate Dan had spent most of the day circling it, hand reaching out like he was scared to touch it, like his fingerprints would ruin it somehow, like someone was going to jump in and take it away.

He waited for Phil to get back from work, sat at the bench, and played Fur Elise with no introduction, a look of pure joy on his face. Phil stood and watched him, feeling like his heart was going to burst, like it was just the two of them in the entire world.

Dan said “this is the best thing anyone has ever gotten me. I can’t even say thank you, it doesn’t seem like enough.”

Phil said “you’re welcome. I love you.”

~*~

Phil doesn’t recognise the painting when he finds it, the next morning, propped up in their hallway, facing the wall. He almost doesn’t turn it around but curiosity gets the better of him. It looks like the docks of somewhere, a lot of blue, tiny orange sun.

A painting Phil might have chosen. A memory of himself from a year ago saying I mostly just like all the blue, lamely, desperately trying to get the cute cleaner with the sad eyes to stay talking to him.

Dan says, from the kitchen, knowing exactly what Phil’s doing, “it’s a Monet.”

Phil says “right.”

“That’s how this all started. With a Monet.”

Phil says “right” again. His tone is flat, he doesn’t mean for it to be.

Dan appears in the doorway and says “Phil.”

“You opened it.”

Dan attempts to avoid his eyes but that’s always impossible, with them. They end up staring at each other instead. Dan says “I had to.”

“That’s fine,” Phil looks at the Monet again. “I have to go. I’m late for my seminar.”

“You’re not going to ask about the letter?”

Phil says “no” and leaves.

~*~

(his mother had said “he’s very pretty, isn’t he?” slightly suspiciously, like Dan had no business running around with his hair, and his dimples, and his face. Phil had ignored her tone and said “yes, he is”, in the same casual way that he brushes off similar remarks at the bar, at work, with his friends, faking obliviousness to what they’re trying to say why is he with you he’s not going to stick around. They’ve proven them all wrong so far.)

~*~

Dan is still in the kitchen, almost late for work, by Phil’s reckoning. He jumps a little when Phil comes through the door, startled expression on his face giving way to complete relief, like he wasn’t sure if Phil was coming back (which makes no sense. Phil always comes back)

Dan says “I have to tell you what’s in the letter.”

(Dan is obsessed with there being no secrets between them, even tiny white lies. There are some mornings where he will solemnly take Phil to one side and say I’m sorry about this but…. and Phil will think all kinds of awful scenarios before Dan will finish .....I deleted the last episode of Bake Off.)

Phil says “you don’t have to.”

(Phil tells Dan white lies all the time. I didn’t eat your cereal. I didn’t buy another candle. That’s not a new houseplant, it’s been there the whole time. Tiny things that Dan always works out and always always looks completely betrayed by.)

Phil says “I’d rather not know. To be honest.”

Dan says “how would you rather not know? I would have to know” because Dan would have to know, needs to know everything about Phil. “It would be driving me crazy.”

“It’s not driving me crazy,” another white lie.

“I have to go to work. I don’t want to go if we’re -” Dan gestures between the two of them.

“If we’re what?”

“I don’t know.”

“We’re not fighting Dan, we never fight” maybe they should sometimes. The lack of fighting doesn’t mean that they never have anything to fight about, more that it’s difficult for them, as a combination, to get angry with each other. “Go to work. It’s okay.”

Dan says “is it? Really?”

Phil kisses him as he leaves, a peck to the hinge of his jaw, below his ear, and Dan leans forward until his forehead is on Phil’s shoulder. Phil says “is it a job? Is he asking for a job?”

“I thought that you didn’t want to know.”

“I don’t. But I do at the same time.”

“We’ll talk about it when I get home” there’s an uplift on the final word, turning it into a question. Dan leans back so that he can see Phil’s face.

Phil says “okay” with the same amount of uplift. Dan scrunches up his nose, confused. Phil says, “I love you” with no uplift whatsoever, an absolute statement of truth.

Dan visibly relaxes. “I love you too.”

Phil pulls his shirt collar, reaches over and pulls Dan’s and, somewhere between the two, thinks that he can’t lose this, can’t lose Dan, not again. Can’t relive the whole miserable experience.

Dan says “hey” and Phil realises that he still has Dan’s collar between his fingers. “We’ll talk about it. Nothing’s happened, I’m not going anywhere.”

Phil thinks nothing’s happened yet and releases Dan from his grasp.

~*~

There’s another painting. A woman next to a vase overflowing with flowers. The flowers are quite pretty (the woman, extreme right of frame, is not appreciating them). A note, on top of the parcel, saying he likes flowers, doesn’t he? Answer my letter in over the top cursive.

It’s been put down the back of the sofa. Phil only notices it when he’s going to bed, sees the gold of the frame catch the lamplight.

The note is probably aimed at him, it probably arrived while he was at class, stuffed down the back on the sofa because Dan would have panicked and had no clue where else to hide it.

For all his time working in galleries Phil doesn’t really get art. There’s a few he likes, a few obvious choices (one of which is carefully placed at the exact centre of one of their photo collages), but mostly not. He always feels like he’s missing something, not quite understanding what it’s trying to tell him.

He’s probably missing something by not recognising the artist, some sort of forming pattern that’s going straight over his head. Dan can recognise artists by brushstroke alone, can identify whether something is a fake by looking at it once. Phil can sometimes hear him, watching Antiques Roadshow, sighing at the tv about how you can obviously tell that’s not a real David Hockney, god.

(this painting is probably trying to tell him wow, you thought you could keep him with you. You thought not talking about it was a great idea, well done Phil.)

~*~

On one Friday a couple from New York came into the bar. Older, expensively dressed, the woman in furs. When the guy spotted Dan he did a legitimate double take and said “Harry?

Dan, wearing a name tag with his actual name on it, said “no, sorry” in a dismissive way but Phil could see the shock in his eyes.

“That’s so weird, you look exactly like -”

Dan repeated “no, sorry” and the guy shrugged and sauntered off.

Phil wanted to be casual, wanted to say what, were you going through all of One Direction with your fake names?, but somehow it felt like a abrupt pull to his heart. A name he hadn’t met. A version of Dan in New York. Harry.

Dan had kept staring after him after the couple had left, gone to their seats. Waiting for Phil to say something. But Phil didn’t. Dan sighed.

Phil knows that one of the (very few, thankfully) things that annoy Dan about him is his passivity, never questioning, always trusting. I hate that you forgive so easily Phil, you should make people fight for you more. Sitting back and waiting for things to blow over.

Dan said “do you want to ask me anything, about -” he waved his hand over to the New York couple.

Phil said “about what?”

Dan, slowly, carefully, considering each word, said “I stole a sculpture from him. Pretended to be an art student and managed to get after hour access to the gallery. I was literally the only person who could possibly have done it and -”

Phil, loudly, said “aren’t you late for the piano?”

Dan stopped mid sentence, blinked at Phil. “I suppose.”

He didn’t finish with Attack on Titan, didn’t say my boyfriend, ladies and gentlemen, but he did take Phil’s hand when they walked to the tube and, later, hummed an entire symphony of iloveyou into Phil’s neck during the kind of hand clasping, gentle sex that warms them both down to their toes.

(Dan possibly gasped my boyfriend, ladies and gentlemen at the end which makes Phil laugh and pinch his side, and they never spoke about the couple from New York ever again.)

~*~

He doesn’t go to bed. He carries the painting to one of their guest bedrooms, feeling sad about leaving it down the back of the sofa, is not at all surprised when he goes to the room they use the least and finds another painting, face down on the bed.

(this one is odd looking, he has to stare at it for a while before he fully understands what it is. It’s a piano says the note, answering him. Answer me please. I’m being serious. I wouldn’t ask if the next sentence is scribbled over, so aggressively that Phil looks for a mark on the canvas)

Flowers next to a piano. A painting filled with blue in the hall. Phil can’t even deal with the sheer amount of memories that this causes, a tidal wave that crashes right over his head, completely envelops him.

~*~

Phil had met Brigitta Palmarsdottir once; they had a special closing party at the Tate, a few months after the attempted robbery. He’d been invited as a special guest. He’d wanted to take Dan, couldn’t imagine walking back into that place without Dan at his side, but Dan had (rightly, sensibly) said that was probably a bad idea. Phil went by himself, wore a green shirt that he didn’t even like and tried to avoid speaking to any of the other security guards.

Brigitta Palmarsdottir was petite and blonde with an accent that sounded like she was speaking elvish (a tuneful whispering). She said “thank you. For saving my painting.”

Phil said “you’re welcome.”

If Dan had said, on that night, we’re stealing the llama, you and me, Phil would have done it. Phil would have broken through every lock in the place, cut the llama right out of its frame. He would have done it if Dan had wanted him to, if it would have kept Dan with him. He would have waltzed right out of the Tate with her painting under his arm.

Brigitta Palmarsdottir added “it was very brave, what you did.”

Phil said “not really” and he wasn’t even being modest, it was the absolute truth.

One of the girls from the gift shop, the one with the lovely hair, bouncing around her face in ringlets, skipped up to him and asked if he ever saw Liam around, if they ever spoke, and Phil almost said who? but just about saved himself.

He said “no, not really” and she looked disappointed.

“He disappeared” she said. “Like he never even existed.”

Well, he didn’t, Phil wants to say.

~*~

Isle of Man, storm brewing, sky the colour of slate. Martyn had wanted to take a walk, after dinner, and Phil had agreed, even though the wind was so loud that they couldn’t keep up a decent conversation and his Converse kept getting stuck in the mud.

Martyn said, hands cupped around his mouth, “why didn’t you wear proper shoes?”

Phil said “I don’t have any” poutily, in the same way he always did when they were kids and someone (usually Martyn) would suggest a hike, or a trek, or camping. “Why would I have any?”

Martyn said “what?” and, when Phil didn’t repeat himself, added “Dan seems nice.”

(Dan was currently sat in on his mother’s floral print sofa, pile of photo albums on his lap, a Lester parent on either side of him, ready to go through every twenty nine years of Phil’s life so far. Phil said it’ll be boring and Dan, eyes shining, already opening the first page, said it absolutely won’t.)

Phil said “yeah, he is” loud enough for Martyn to hear and not quite big enough for what he actually feels about Dan.

“How did you meet again? You didn’t really say.”

Phil, under the wind, said “he used to steal art. He stole the Van Gogh from Manchester and I let him escape. Then he came to the Tate and faked a robbery there so I’d get all the reward.”

Martyn cupped his hand around his ear and said “sorry, what?”

Phil shouted “oh, just at work.”

“Really? It looked like you said more than that.”

~*~

Dan says “Phil” in a horrified way and Phil, snapping awake, realises that he’s fallen asleep in the guest bedroom.

Phil, blinking back to consciousness, says “no, I didn’t mean to. I was just -”

“It’s late. I thought you might still be up” Dan still looks dismayed. “I didn’t think that you’d be in here, I didn’t think we’d argued that badly.”

“We didn’t argue,” Phil says. “We never argue.”

“Then why are you here?” - valid question. It’s the guest bedroom that they don’t even use for guests.

“I was thinking. And then I fell asleep.”

Dan says “what were you thinking about?”

Phil feels himself shaking his head, Dan is there instantly, fingertips to his temples. “Lots of stuff I guess.”

“Tell me what you were thinking about.”

Phil shakes his head again, hair brushing against Dan’s chest and pushes himself up off the bed. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not really important.”

Dan freezes in time for a second, hands still outstretched, then says “you’re coming to bed?” like there’s any reason why Phil wouldn’t be, like he already isn’t halfway down the hall to their room.

Phil stops, turns back to face him, and says “tell me what was in the letter.”

Dan, coming out of the guest room, stumbles, missing a step, and says “I thought you didn’t -”

“I didn’t. But I guess I do now. Maybe it’s something I can help with.”

Dan gives him a searching look. “I’m not sure about that.”

“I found the other paintings.”

“I didn’t hide them very well” Dan says, looking pained. “It’s a Degas and a Matisse. They both came today, about two hours apart.”

“They’re from Felix.”

“They all are. He used to send deliveries here, when -”

Phil repeats “deliveries.”

“Things he’d rescued. He used to send them here for storage, while he was waiting for collectors. But, I don’t know why, now. I think something’s happened. I might have to go and see him.”

~*~

Dan turning his head to try and get his hair to blow the same way, catching Phil’s eye, because it’s impossible for them not to be looking at each other. Dimple filled smile, hair fluttering, all the glittering zippers on his stupid coat, waving in Phil’s direction, like they’re on two passing ships, like Phil somehow won’t see him.

Everytime Phil sees him it’s a supernova in his heart (is that cheesey? He said it once, when drunk, Dan, you’re a supernova in my heart, and Dan had laughed so hard that he’d fallen out of bed.)

~*~

Phil repeats “It might be something I can help with.”

“I think it’s something where you’re going to stay here, where it’s safe, and not have any involvement whatsoever.”

Phil says, horrified, “where it’s safe?”

Dan winces. “That was a poor choice of words.”

“Whatever it is, I’m helping” the Monet is still in the hall. Phil glances at it, a masterpiece worth who knows how much propped up against their radiator. A ticking time bomb finally gone off. You thought you could keep him with you, you thought that you could keep him safe, well done Phil.

Dan watches him look at the painting and says “Phil -” as the start to a pretty intense sounding sentence.

Phil says “tell me what was in the letter.”

And Dan does.