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bruising the sun

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“Oi Howell. No phones on the floor.”

Dan looks up. He hadn’t even noticed she was there, and she’s hard to miss with her two toned pastel pink and turquoise hair. He’s extra not-giving-a-shit today, apparently.

“Oh shut up,” he says, dropping his eyes back down to the text he’s just received.

“I’m technically your boss, asshole.”

“Go on then. Fire me.”

She chuckles. “You’d like that wouldn’t you?”

Dan sighs. “Maybe? I dunno. I guess not.”

“So put your phone away and you won’t have to find out.”

“Why do you care?” he grumbles, shoving it back in his pocket.

“I don’t. It’s just fun to boss your around.”

He flips her off and she blows him a kiss. “Who was it?”

Dan shrugs, returning to the seemingly unending pile of clothes that need to be sorted and returned to their rightful places in the shop. “Who else?”

“What does old Philly boy want then?” She’s leaned against the wall, staring at her new manicure, not even pretending to do any actual work. He loves her for that.

Dan shakes his head fondly. “You’re nosy, you know that?”

“I’ve been told a time or two.”

“Anyway,” Dan says, leaning against said wall as well. “He was reminding me I haven’t paid my half of the rent yet.”

“Pfft. He has a proper job, make him pay for you.”

“He’s a PA, Bry. He’s basically a glorified lackey.”

“At the bleeding BBC,” she says.

“Hence the glorified. We’re fucking skint.”

She pushes off from the wall when a customer starts walking their way. “Guess I shouldn’t fire you after all then, eh?” she says, her voice hushed so the sour-faced middle aged woman approaching them with purpose can’t hear. “Topman bitch boy is better than unemployed.”

“Barely.”

He turns to look at her but she’s already scurrying away, leaving Dan to deal this woman’s angry glares on his own. He doesn’t know yet why she’s angry but it doesn’t much matter. He’s used to it. Half of his job description is to be an emotional punching bag.

Bryony finds him later when the coast is clear. She’s remarkably good at avoiding things she doesn’t want to do.

“You coming out later?” she asks.

He shrugs. “Probably not. Pretty tired.”

“Carrie will be there.” She says it like it should mean something to Dan, like it’s some kind of incentive.

“Who?”

She rolls her eyes. “Fuck’s sake, man. The girl I was talking to you about earlier.”

“Umm…”

She sighs. “You know you’re the shittest friend ever, right?”

“I do,” he agrees. “I do know this. But you love me anyway.”

“Remind me why, again?”

“I’ve never really been clear on that one, actually.”

She takes a quick look around before she punches him none too gently in the shoulder. “You can make it up to me by coming out tonight and meeting Carrie.” She winks. Bryony is nothing if not a spectacular wingwoman.

Even when Dan doesn’t particularly want one.

“You want me to waste money on drinks when I can barely afford rent just on the off chance of hooking up?”

“Yes.”

“Sounds about right, I guess.”

She grins. “So you’ll come?”

“Fine,” he says petulantly. She claps her hands triumphantly and he shakes his head at her. “I don’t understand why you’re so desperate for me to shag your friends.”

She punches him again. “Ow fuck. I almost broke my nail, you twat.”

He gives her a look, one that says you’re blinking mad, because that’s actually exactly what she is.

“I’m not,” she says. “I’m desperate for you to find a nice girl to date. Someone to look after you.”

“Wow. How very nineteenth century of you.”

“Oh piss off. You know what I mean.”

He laughs a little at the way she squints at her long, slightly claw-like sparkly nail to make sure it hasn’t been tainted in any way by his shoulder.

“I know what you mean,” he says. “And I also know it’s not going to happen. So as long as you’re not going to be cross if it turns into a one night stand thing—”

“You’re the worst. Why do I hang out with you?”

“I don’t know,” he says, and his voice comes out a little more dejected than he’d intended. “I don’t know why anyone does.”

She rolls her eyes. “No pity parties allowed.” She has to stand on her tippy toes, but she does it to fluff his curls. “You can bang my friends. We’re all feminists here. If they’re down, then who am I to get in the way?”

“I don’t have to go out,” he says, voice gone a bit softer. “You don’t have to keep trying to set me up.”

“It’s fine, Daniel. I want you to have companionship, be it for a real relationship or just for a night. It’s fine.”

“You make me sound like a sad, lost little puppy.”

She tosses her hair over her shoulder. “Because that’s exactly what you are.”

-

He’s nowhere near drunk enough to excuse the way he’s fumbling to get his key into the lock. He still has full control of all his faculties, but there’s something about the way Carrie is clinging to him that has him distracted.

It’s going to be a fun night. Much to his surprise, he and Carrie had taken to each other right away, bonded over the ridiculousness of their overly-eager-to-play-matchmaker friend with the candy floss hair and a similar darkness in their senses of humour. Carrie had made it clear she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend and they hadn’t stopped talking since then.

It’s going to be a fun night, but that’s not the kind of distracted Dan feels as he fails to properly insert his key into the lock yet again. His mind is full of a million things, but casual sex with an attractive and wickedly funny woman surprisingly isn’t one of them. He wishes he’d stuck to his guns earlier, told Bryony he was too knackered to go out.

He really is tired. And maybe a little… sad.

Suddenly the door opens even though Dan’s managed to drop his keys onto the floor.

“Hey,” Dan says sheepishly as Phil smiles at them and steps aside to let them in. He’s got his mobile squashed between his ear and his shoulder.

“Hi guys,” Phil says.

“Phil this is Carrie. Carrie, my flatmate, Phil.” Dan does the perfunctory introductions as he works his shoes off.

“Nice to meet you,” Phil says brightly.

Dan sees Carrie smile at him. “You too, mate.”

“That Kath?” Dan asks, nodding at Phil’s phone.

Phil nods.

“Tell her I said hi.”

“She says hello and that she hopes you’re eating enough.”

Dan chuckles. “Such a mum.” He turns to Carrie. “Want a tour?”

“Nah,” she says. “I think I can see the whole flat from here.”

Phil laughs.

“Oi,” Dan says, but he’s a little impressed. It’s the kind of mildly smartass thing he might say.

“Well I won’t keep you.” Phil heads back towards the sofa in the lounge and shouts, “Have fun!” suggestively.

Dan glares at him, feeling a hint of heat in his cheeks as he leads Carrie to his bedroom. He’ll have to give Phil a shoulder shove for that one later.

“Phil seems cool,” Carrie says, closing the door behind her.

“Yeah, he’s the best.” Dan sits on his bed and Carrie follows, climbing up onto his lap and straddling his hips.

No wasting time, then. She runs her fingers through his hair and he puts his hands on her waist. Fun night, he tells himself. It’s going to be fun.

“Was he really talking to his mum?” She’s working open the buttons on his shirt slowly.

“Mhm. He talks to her like every day now, ever since… uh. Yeah.”

“Since what?”

“He kind of got… dumped, recently,” Dan says quietly. It feels like bad form to tell a girl he’s just met about his best mate’s personal life.

“Poor guy,” Carrie says softly, just before she drops her head down to plant a kiss on Dan’s neck.

“Let’s not talk about him right now?”

She pushes him down onto his back and pulls her shirt off. “Talk about who?”

-

Dan wakes with a start, heart pounding and sweat beading at his temples. He can’t even remember what he’d been dreaming about, all he knows is that it was awful and now he feels scared and shaky and sick to his stomach.

He rolls over and gets a mouthful of curly blonde hair.

Oh. Carrie. Right. That’s actually perfect. That’s the number one reason he’s ultimately glad he’d said yes to Bryony dragging him out to a club with bad music and overpriced drinks. He won’t admit it to her, but companionship is not a bad description of what he’s been after lately. At least when the sun has gone down.

He’ll be fine when the morning comes, but nights breed an aching kind of lonely hollow in his chest and his brain tortures him with dreams that have been getting worse and worse every night.

He scoots in a little closer and cuddles up against her back. From what he knows about her he’d reckon she’s not really a cuddler but she’s dead asleep and he’s not really touching her very much. He tilts his head up a little to smell her hair, to remind himself that he’s not alone.

It helps. He can feel her warmth right next to him and it’s just what he needs to push the cloying pain the dream left out enough to go back to sleep.

-

He still feels like death in the morning. Carrie looks like sunshine as Dan gives her a hug goodbye and watches her walk down the hallway to the lift. They don’t exchange numbers or promise to see each other again and that’s fine. That’s what they both wanted, and Dan knows if she hadn’t been there in the dead of night when his demons woke him up, he probably wouldn’t have gotten any sleep at all.

And the sex was fine.

When he trudges into the kitchen Phil is there, showered and dressed and smelling like musky vanilla. He looks tired, too.

“Morning,” he says, handing a mug of coffee to Dan.

“Cheers.” He takes the coffee and wraps his fingers around the warm ceramic like a lifeline. “You look kinda beat.”

“Speak for yourself,” Phil says. “Good night?”

Dan shrugs. “It was fine.”

“Sounded like she had fun.” Phil smirks.

“Ugh,” Dan groans, suddenly remembering. “Shut up.”

“Thin walls, mate.”

“Did we keep you up?”

“Nah. Reckon I’d’ve been up anyway,” Phil says. He necks the rest of his coffee and plonks his mug down on the counter.

Dan frowns. “What’s that about?”

Phil shrugs, but his head tips down like he’s trying to avoid Dan’s eyes. “Just not sleeping great lately.”

Dan feels like the biggest asshole on the planet a few moments later when he figures it out. “Oh. Amy. Fuck, Phil. Sorry.”

Phil shakes his head, and smiles weakly when he looks up again. “It’s fine. I’m actually fine? It’s just weird, like… I got used to her being there, y’know? It’s like I forgot how to sleep alone or something.”

Dan nods. “I can stop… you know.”

Phil tilts his head to the side. “What, having fun?”

Dan shrugs. “It’s not really as fun as it used to be,” he says quietly.

“Well you don’t have to worry about me,” Phil assures him. “It doesn’t bother me.”

“Alright, thanks. You off to work?”

Phil nods. “Off to another super fulfilling day of doing all the jobs no one else wants to.”

“Yeah, but you’re like… Drake.”

Phil frowns. “When will you learn that your references always go over my head?”

Dan rolls his eyes. “Drake is hardly obscure.”

Phil still looks confused, so Dan says, “Started from the bottom?”

“Ohhh.”

“Yeahhh,” Dan says, taking a sip of his coffee. “You got a job at the fucking BBC, Phil. You’re just working your way up. You’re doing good.”

Phil shrugs. “I guess.”

“Shut up. You actually finished your degree, and now you’ve got a job you’re not embarrassed to tell people about.”

“Are we playing misery bingo or something?”

Dan’s mouth snaps shut. “No. Sorry.” He’s so bad with that and he knows it.

It’s not Phil’s fault Dan couldn’t bear to finish more than a year of his own degree. It’s not Phil’s fault that a clothing shop was the best job Dan was qualified to apply for when they first moved to London together. It’s not Phil’s fault that something is broken in Dan’s brain that keeps him from acting on the aspirations of creativity and success he holds in his heart.

Dan doesn’t actually hold any of these things against Phil. If anything, he’s glad Phil is always so willing to call him out without being mean about it.

Phil chuckles and claps Dan on the arm. “Good pep talk, Howell. I’ve gotta be off or I’ll miss my train. You gonna be home tonight?”

“You gonna cook for me?” Dan asks.

“I will… if you pay your half of the rent.”

Dan scowls.

“I’m sorry! The landlord lady is terrifying!” Phil insists. “I swear to god her eyes are yellow. I think she might be a witch.”

Dan chokes on his coffee a bit with his laugh. “She’s not a witch Phil, you’re just a wimp.”

“Yeah but I always pay my rent on time.”

“Ouch. Technically I pay it for you, dickhead.”

He does. Nine times out of ten Phil will give Dan the money and Dan will be the one who physically takes it down to Linda in her little office in the lobby. Maybe that’s why Phil thinks she resembles a witch - he never actually sees her.

“Sorry,” Phil mutters, looking away. “I can help you out if you—”

Dan waves his hand dismissively. “I got it, no worries. I’ll shower and go pay the wicked witch of the overpriced shitty apartment kingdom.”

Phil smiles. “You’re so brave.”

“Which is why I deserve a proper meal when you get home.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Fine. That’s fair. Do we even have any food in the house?”

“Dunno. I’ll have like ten pounds to my name after rent so we’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got.”

“You mean I’ll have to make do,” Phil reminds him.

Dan gives him a big cheesy grin. “Mhm.”

“Do you work today?”

“Nope. Blissful freedom. Might throw a party. Might buy some blow and hire some strippers.”

“And tidy up a bit?” Phil asks gingerly. “And water my houseplants?”

“Course.”

Phil smiles a genuine cheesy grin. He’s so easy to please. “Thanks mate.”

“Go to work now,” Dan reminds him. “Can’t afford for you to get sacked.”

“Oh bollocks,” Phil says, jumping up from where he’s leaned back against the counter. “I’m gonna have to run for the tube.”

“Go,” Dan says, waving him off. “Run. Have a lovely day, darling.”

“Shut up!” He hurries out of the kitchen to the front door, shoving his feet into his trainers and leaving them untied as he wrenches open the door. “Bye!”

“Tie your laces!” Dan shouts after him. “You’re clumsy enough when your shoes are tied!” He hears Phil shout something back but he can’t hear it as Phil’s already halfway down the hall.

Dan’s smile lingers the whole time he finishes his coffee.

Chapter Text

so?

Dan rolls his eyes. There really isn’t a nosier person on the planet than Bryony. so what he texts, just to rile her up a little.

oh so it’s gonna be like that

it’s not like anything. i’m a gentleman, i’m not gonna kiss and tell

so there was kissing? Bryony asks.

shut up. can’t you ask her?

i did. she didn’t tell me anything either

Dan laughs out loud as he replies. maybe i should’ve gotten her number after all

you fuckwits are ungrateful

get back to work ms. matthewman Dan texts and then tosses his phone onto the sofa.

He needs a shower. He can still smell a hint of Carrie’s perfume on him.

-

“Do you ever feel guilty about eating meat?”

Dan’s sat on the countertop next to the stove, watching Phil brown some ground beef he’d found in the back of the freezer.

“No,” Phil answers without a thought.

Dan has to chuckle a little.

“What?”

Dan shrugs, picking a single piece of raw spaghetti out of the open box that sits next to it and crunching it between his teeth. “I wish I had your conviction.”

“About eating meat?” Phil asks incredulously. “Stop eating the ingredients.” He reaches over Dan’s lap to grab the box of pasta.

“About everything,” Dan clarifies. “I agonize over everything and you’re always so sure.”

“Maybe I’m just quieter about my agonizing,” Phil says, dumping the spaghetti into the pot of water that’s just starting to boil. “Set a timer on your phone, please.”

“How long?” Dan asks.

“Eight minutes.”

“Are you making it the way I like it?”

“What, raw?” Phil teases.

“Al dente, you pleb.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Seven minutes, then. But you have to do the washing up.”

Dan beams.

“Are you seriously thinking about vegetarianism?” Phil asks, jumping right back into a conversation Dan had already forgotten about.

“I dunno. Maybe. Maybe veganism.”

Phil looks at him likes he’s mad. “Stop. What about ice cream? You can’t give up ice cream.”

You should, though,” Dan reminds him. “You know people who are intolerant to lactose aren’t actually supposed to eat massive amounts of dairy.”

“Pfft,” Phil says, waving a dismissive hand. “Those are guidelines, not rules.”

“Right. You’re a real rebel, Lester.”

“If you go vegan I won’t know how to cook for you anymore,” Phil points out.

“Shit, you’re right. That actually might be the best argument you could make. Well done you.”

Phil goes to the cupboard and pulls out a jar of pasta sauce. He tries to twist the lid open in vain for a few moments before giving up and handing it to Dan. “Also Dominos,” he adds.

Dan grunts as he twists with every ounce of muscle in his arm until the seal pops. He hands the jar back to Phil and says, “Ok, you win. I can’t give up Dominos.”

Phil pours the sauce into the pan with the meat and it sizzles and spits, but aside from that the room has fallen quiet. Dan hops down from the counter to go fetch the strainer for the spaghetti and put it in the sink in preparation.

“I’m not always,” Phil says quietly then, apropos of nothing.

“Not always what?” Dan asks, frowning.

“Sure.”

Dan turns around and catches a glimpse of Phil’s face before he drops his head to stare intently at the sauce he’s stirring. He looks strangely intense for a fairly shallow conversation about food.

“Oh,” Dan says. “Ok. I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

Just then the timer on his phone starts going off, loudly. Phil turns off the burners and grabs the pot, carrying it over to the sink to drain the water.

The topic is forgotten. Or possibly ignored by the both of them, but either way, they don’t talk about it again.

-

“You. Fucking. Cu—”

“Dan!” Phil scolds loudly and excitedly as he somehow manages to pass Dan at the last minute and cross the finish line in first place.

“Fucking blue shells,” Dan mumbles, closing his teeth over the game controller and biting his frustration into the plastic.

“I’m just a superior racer, mate, what can I say,” Phil gloats, sitting back on the sofa and crossing one leg over the other like he owns the place.

Dan picks up a stray bit of spaghetti off his plate and flicks it right into Phil’s hair. Phil just laughs as he retrieves it and wipes it on Dan’s bare leg. Dan’s graduated to the ultimate levels of comfort tonight, a pair of boxers and his red Manchester hoodie.

“You’re the sorest loser I’ve ever met,” Phil says, laughing. “Even worse than Martyn.”

“Yeah well,” Dan grumbles. “You’re an even sorer winner.”

“Nope, still you.”

Dan belies his annoyance by yawning an absolutely massive yawn. As soon as he’s done, Phil follows suit.

“Tired are we?” Phil asks.

Dan shrugs. “A bit.”

“I guess you were up late last night.”

Something unpleasant tightens slightly in Dan’s chest, which he doesn’t understand. Carrie was a laugh and they’d had a good time together, so why should he prickle to hear Phil talk about it? They’ve talked about Dan’s hookups plenty of times before. Not in detail that would make Dan feel guilty, but he’s never balked at even the reminder that Phil is aware of what happens when he brings girls back to his bedroom.

“You gonna see her again?” Phil asks.

“Nope. Wanna go again?” he asks, changing the subject as quickly as he can.

As if on cue, Phil yawns again. “Reckon I should go to bed. Got work in the morning.”

“Yeah,” Dan agrees, the feeling in his chest tightening. Tonight he’ll have no one to curl up to if he wakes in the darkness with a racing heart and a head full of poison. “Me too.”

“Let’s get some sleep. Rematch soon?”

Dan stands up and stretches his back out until something pops. “Yeah. Definitely. Need to redeem myself.”

“You only lost like three times out of about fifty billion. You don’t need to redeem anything.”

“Still.” He gathers up the dishes from dinner and carries them to the kitchen. He considers doing the washing up to put off going to bed a little longer, but figures that would just look suspicious.

He checks his phone and sees that it really is quite late. He’s just going to have to suck it up and go to bed.

“Night!” Phil calls from halfway down the hall.

Dan takes his time brushing his teeth and washing his face and maybe plucking a stray eyebrow hair or two and clipping his toenails and… when he’s finally run out of ways to stall that make sense, he climbs into bed reluctantly.

And opens his phone.

A few minutes later his phone buzzes with a nice little guilt trip from Phil. go to sleep!!!

Dan smiles as he types out his reply. i am asleep. you’re the one who’s awake. bet you feel foolish now don’t you. also just fyi landlord lady definitely has brown eyes and i didn’t see any sign of black cats or cauldrons or broomsticks or anything. not even a single wart. i think we might have to accept the possibility that’s it’s just you being a giant man baby

.......
i hate you

Dan laughs and reaches his arm back to knock on the wall behind his bed. “Night Phil.”

There’s an answering knock on the other side of the wall a moment later and Phil’s muffled voice saying, “Night Dan.”

-

Black.

Everything around him is black. Not even black, but some all encompassing darkness that doesn’t even have a name. Or at least, Dan doesn’t have a name for it.

It’s swallowing him, stretching out endlessly and crushing in on him at the same time. He can’t even tell if his eyes are open or closed. It’s just… nothing.

He’s trapped in the very essence of nothingness. A chill spreads up his spine. Nothing is cold. Not in the way he feels cold in the winter. He’s cold on the inside, in the part of him that realizes he’s never known loneliness until this very moment.

He’s so. Fucking. Alone. And he always will be. He can’t say why he knows that - he just does. He knows this is all there is and all there ever will be: a vast emptiness of dark that sucks away everything until he feels empty.

He can’t feel anything. Nothing is meaningless. There is no reason for anything, no reason to be anything. He doesn’t need to be. He wants to die. He doesn’t want to be here.

Is he already dead? If he screams will the spell break. Will this endless chasm disappear? Will the bleakness leech out as the dark fades or is this what his forever looks like.

He tries - he tries to scream. He opens his mouth and tries to make the sound escape, tries to vocalize his terror and his desperation but nothing comes out. The blackness swallows his voice along with everything else. Along with happiness and reason and warmth and colour and everything he thought was real.

His mouth is still open, his throat screamed raw though no sound is uttered at all.

His shoulder starts to shake. There’s pressure there. He turns to look and there’s a hand, pale fingers pressing into the bare skin and shaking him. He looks up and there is Phil standing above him saying, “Dan. Dan? Are you alright?”

Dan pushes Phil away. He sits up in bed and rubs the heels of his palms to his eyes only to pull them away confused at the wetness that lingers there. His heart is pounding, his brain scrambling to make sense of something, anything.

“Dan?” Phil says again. “What happened?

“What?” Dan croaks.

“You were screaming.”

“No,” Dan says weakly. “No, I was… I tried. I tried but I couldn’t. No sound would come out.”

Phil sits slowly on the edge of Dan’s bed, cautious like he’s dealing with a caged animal. “I think you were just dreaming, Dan. You were shouting really loudly, I was genuinely freaked out. Are you alright?”

Dan turns his head away, awake enough now to know none of it was real, but not enough to divorce the feelings he felt from how he feels now. He still feels that awful emptiness, still sees that terrifying black swallowing him like he were nothing. He can still taste that bitter hopelessness, that defeat at knowing there was no way out.

Tears stream down his cheeks and he can’t even bring himself to answer Phil’s question.

Poor Phil. Woken in the middle of the fucking night by his flatmate screaming like some kind of bloody lunatic.

“I’ll just… I’m sorry,” Phil murmurs, and the bed creaks as he stands up. “I’ll let you get back to sleep.”

“No!” Dan’s reaching out to grab Phil’s arm before he’s even thought about it. He looks at Phil and lets him see the tears and the snot and the absolute mess that he is right now, then drops Phil’s arm.

Phil’s eyes are wide as saucers.

“Sorry,” Dan says, clearing his throat to try to get some semblance of a handle on himself. “Sorry I freaked you out.” His voice still comes out shaky.

“What can I do?” Phil asks.

Dan notices then how tired he looks. He wants to be a grownup and tell Phil he’s fine, that he feels ridiculous for waking Phil up and that he’s totally fine, but the thought of being alone again trumps any humiliation he might feel, so instead he says, “Could you stay? Just for a bit?”

“Yeah?” Phil asks.

Dan nods. “Just maybe… maybe until I fall back to sleep?”

“Oh. Ok, yeah. Of course.” He sits back down on the edge of the bed awkwardly.

“You don’t have to do anything,” Dan says, lying back down and pulling up his duvet. “Just. It was a bad one, and it’s really dark in here. You know me.” He says the last bit like an apology.

Phil just nods. “Sometimes I’m still sad I don’t share a room with Martyn anymore. Sometimes nighttime is scary. I get it.”

Dan closes his eyes and tries to run through every happy memory he has, anything at all the push away the threat of the vast black emptiness of the dream.

He can hear Phil breathing. That helps.

“Sorry, mate,” he murmurs after a few minutes. “I know this is well weird.”

“It’s fine,” Phil says, but Dan can hear him yawning.

“You’re so tired,” Dan says.

“Yeah,” Phil says sleepily. “Actually, do you mind if I like… lie down? I feel like I’m gonna fall asleep sitting up. I just wanna lie down for a sec.”

“You’re the one doing me a favour here, mate. You don’t have to ask my permission.”

“Ok. Thanks.”

Dan watches him stretch his long body out on the opposite side of the bed, which is only a double and not big by any means, but there’s still enough space between them that there’s no danger of their bodies touching.

Suddenly he feels like an absolute idiot. He’s not even a teenager anymore but he’s acting like a child. He’s embarrassed, truly, but even as the shame swirls hot and sour in his gut he knows he’s not going to tell Phil it’s alright if he wants to leave.

“You’d think I’d have grown out of being afraid of the dark by now, eh?” He tries to sound playful in his self deprecation, like acknowledging it will make him feel less like a loser.

“It’s really fine, Dan,” Phil murmurs. He sounds half asleep already. “I’m scared of phone calls and horses and the sea. I’m scared every time I go back home that my parents will suddenly look too old. I don’t—” He stops to yawn. “I don’t think it’s weird. To want someone there after a bad dream. Just—” He yawns again. “Just relax and go to sleep. I don’t think I can stay awake much longer.”

Dan has the strangest urge to reach out and pull Phil into a hug. Instead he says, “Thanks. Goodnight.”

Phil’s reply is nothing more than a sleepy hum.

Five minutes later Dan risks turning over to look at Phil and isn’t surprised to find him fast asleep, glasses skewed slightly on his face, mouth open just a little. He’s shirtless and wearing a truly heinous pair of sailor moon pajama pants.

Something in Dan that was small and frightened suddenly settles into warmth. He’s not sure he’s ever felt this kind of fondness for another person before, but he feels like he could cry again for how grateful he is to know someone as kind as Phil. He really did win the best friend lottery.

It still takes a while, but when he falls asleep the fear is nothing but a memory.

-

Again he wakes up to Phil shaking his shoulder, but this time it’s gentle and not frantic.

Dan groans and rolls away from the offending touch that would dare drag him back into consciousness.

“Don’t you work this morning?” Phil asks. He doesn’t sound much more awake than Dan.

But hearing Phil’s voice kind of jolts some awareness into Dan. Had Phil just woken up? Did he spend the whole night in Dan’s bed?

“Um… yeah?” Dan croaks, forcing himself to sit up. “I think?”

“You should get up,” Phil says. “I think we slept in a little. I have to have a quick shower.”

“Ok.” He rubs the crusties out of his eyes. “Uh, thanks by the way.”

Phil stops in the doorway, just for a moment. “Course,” he says. “Sorry I fell asleep.”

“Don’t be. Just… go have a shower.” Suddenly the sincerity feels too earnest and he has to make a joke to shield himself from the vulnerability. “You smell.”

Phil just laughs. “I smell like a fresh summer rose, you knob.”

Dan is dressed and has coffee waiting by the time Phil strolls into the kitchen ten minutes later. His hair is wet but he looks smart in a dark blue button up and tight black jeans.

Dan hands him the hello kitty mug, coffee already made how Phil likes it, milk and two sugars. Phil accepts it wordlessly and sighs after the first sip.

“Bless you.”

“Least I could do,” Dan mutters, turning his back to study the toaster intently as he waits for his breakfast to pop up.

“It’s really no big deal,” Phil says. Dan’s toast pops and Phil leans over him to steal one.

“Oi,” Dan protests with exactly zero conviction.

“Payment,” Phil says. “What are we having on it?”

“Reckon it’s a marmalade kind of morning,” Dan replies, and Phil goes to the fridge to fetch it. “Are you gonna be late for work?”

Phil shakes his head and his damp fringe flops down over his forehead. He hands Dan the jar and the toast so Dan can spread the jam for him. “Not if I take this to go. You taking the tube with me today?”

It’s too early. If Dan leaves now he’ll have time to kill before his shift starts.

He hands Phil his marmalade toast. “Yep. Let’s neck this coffee and go.”

Chapter Text

He gets enough of a blissful reprieve from the dreams that their return shocks him. In reality it’s only been a few days, but when he’s jolted awake again at 3am with a sunken gut and the inalienable feeling that nothing will ever be right again, he takes it hard.

He’s soaked through with sweat and his heart is in his throat but this time there’s no one there. No stranger warming the sheets, no caring flatmate standing over him a worried expression. He’s as alone as the dream makes him feel.

He rolls over and fumbles with the cord of the fairy lights strung across his headboard until he manages to get them into the outlet between the bedside table and the bed.

That’s better. At least it’s not dark.

He lies on his back and puts his hand on his chest to feel his racing heart. He tries to breathe, tries to remind his sympathetic nervous system that nothing is actually wrong.

Hours pass. His heart rate slows but the dread does not, and every time he closes his eyes the only things he sees are ugly and malicious.

He gives up when the sky starts to pinken outside his window. Weary limbs and tired bones drag him from his bed and into a shower so hot it leaves his skin blotchy and dry afterwards. He lotions it and brushes his teeth and shaves and tries not to let his eyes linger on the reflection of the dark circles under his eyes.

Phil doesn’t get up before Dan has to leave for another bullshit day of folding shirts and enduring abuse from customers about various corporate policies he has no say in determining. He must have a later shift, or maybe he has the day off. Dan leaves some coffee in the pot for him.

-

Bryony is wonderful. She’s witty and acerbic and takes shit from exactly no one. She’s Dan, if Dan were a girl and also brave enough to be the person he actually wants to be.

She’s a lot, and usually it’s great. Usually she makes the days bearable.

Today her voice, as low toned and smooth as it, makes Dan want to claw his own ears off. He doesn’t think it’s personal. He thinks anyone talking to him this much today would make him borderline homicidal.

He tries to be subtle about inching away from her conversation, about finding excuses to do the work he usually avoids like the plague, but she’s smart and she’s observant and she calls him on it before he’s even been working long enough to take his first break.

“What’s wrong with you today?”

“What?” He should know feigning ignorance is futile but apparently he’s going to do it anyway.

“You’re so bitchy.”

Blunt as ever, Dan thinks. Lovely. “I’m tired.”

“Did you got out last night?”

Dan shakes his head, shoving a shirt roughly back onto its hanger. “Can’t sleep lately.”

“Me too,” she says. Even through his fog of irritability he catches the change in her tone.

He turns to look at her. She’s staring at her nails. “Yeah?” he asks. “What’s up?”

Her shoulders shrug up and the way she avoids his eyes is pointed. “Stuff on my mind I guess.”

“What stuff?” he asks, taking a page from her book.

“Just stuff.” She looks up at him and then shoves him with a reluctant smile on her face. “Shut up, Howell. Cut it out.”

“Cut what out?” He’s smiling too, feeling suddenly lighter.

“Caring so hard,” she says. “You’re spending too much time with Phil. He’s rubbing off on you.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Yes.” She reaches out to grab the hoodie he’s just hung. She straightens it out and makes it look as it actually should and hands it back to him. “I don’t need both my best mates showing me up at all this human decency rubbish.”

“You care,” he counters, smirking. “In your own special kind of way.”

“Oh piss off. Go on your break.”

“Yes sir,” Dan says as he salutes her.

“And get me a coffee.”

“Phil’s the PA, not me.”

She smiles and slaps him on the back. “Good boy. That’s more like the Daniel I know.” She waits until he’s halfway to the back room before calling out, “No but seriously, get me a coffee please or I’m going to perish.”

-

Their plates and forks litter the coffee table, only a few stray bits of the stir fry concoction Phil had made still stuck on. Dan feels full and warm with a big fluffy blanket wrapped around him in the dimly lit lounge as they watch a film.

He made it through the day. He managed to survive a full shift on only about two hours sleep and now he’s safe and sound at home on the sofa next to Phil and struggling to keep his eyes open. Phil keeps trying to talk to him about the movie, ask him questions about what’s going to happen next even though Dan hasn’t seen it either.

That’s probably the only reason Dan’s still awake. Part of him wishes they could just stay like this all night. He can’t imagine a nightmare coming out of a brain that feels so at peace.

Then Phil’s hand is on his shoulder and the telly is turned off and Dan’s eyes feel even heavier than they did before. “Huh?”

“I’m off to bed. Sorry, I could have let you carry on sleeping here but I reckon your back would feel wonky in the morning.”

“I fell asleep?” Dan asks, the froggy croak of his voice answering the question before Phil gets a chance.

“Yeah, you were out cold. Long day?”

Dan lifts his arms up and groans through the stretch. “Long night last night, actually.”

“Nightmares?” Phil asks gently.

Dan feels oddly exposed, but he doesn’t know what else to do but nod.

“That’s shit.”

Dan laughs. “Yeah. It’s been—” He cuts himself off. Phil doesn’t need the details. “Anyway.” He grabs his blanket and stands up. “My spine thanks you for waking me up.”

“It’s been what?” Phil asks.

“Uh… just. Yeah. Shit.”

“Maybe we should stop watching so many horror films.”

“Shut up,” Dan chuckles. “I just need a new brain. No big deal.”

“If I send you the money will you order one for me as well?” Phil asks. He reaches up to push his fringe back up out of his face.

“What’s wrong with yours?”

Phil shrugs. The two of them are stood there rather awkwardly in the near dark and Dan doesn’t even feel fully awake but he can’t deny that something about Phil’s energy suddenly feels off.

Dan cocks his head to the side and regards Phil as he realizes he might not do enough lately. He’s been so wrapped up in feeling sorry for himself that he’d more or less completely forgotten that Phil could be as good as heartbroken right now.

He doesn’t know how to ask, though. He doesn’t know what words to use to tell Phil that he can talk about it if he needs to. Maybe he’d figured Phil would already know that. Maybe he thought if Phil wanted to talk, he would.

He doesn’t know what to say that’s sincere, so instead he says, “Alright, two functional brains, coming up. Thank god for Amazon Prime, eh?”

He feels like a real asshole, but Phil gives him a relieved smile. “You should head to bed.”

Dan nods. “Night, Phil.”

-

The aisles of Tesco are so big. The shelves seem to stretch so high they disappear into the sky. When he looks up the lights hurt his eyes, so he covers them and feels a sinking sense of being lost.

Abandoned. He opens his eyes again and there are so many people, so many legs walking around and squeaky trolley wheels and he can’t see his mum and he feels too embarrassed to call out for her. He’s old enough to feel embarrassed - embarrassed because he’s lost and embarrassed because it makes him want to cry.

His tummy feels funny and his throat is sore from swallowing down the frightened noises that are begging to be let out. He’s just stood there next to the big bags of rice. Who could ever need so much rice?

He walks. He walks up and down every aisle twice, convinced she’s gone. She’s left him here, tired of having to say no every time he asks her to play with him or buy him something. All the grownups look scary, like all their colour has been leached away. They’re grey and their eyes are lifeless as they trudge the aisles and dump boxes of processed food into their trolleys.

He’s starting to panic. He feels the urge to scream, to curl up in a ball and cry and pretend everything is fine and that his mummy didn’t leave him all alone. He can’t be alone, he doesn’t know how to take care of himself yet.

Someone hits his heel with their trolley. It hurts, but when Dan turns around the man who is pushing it shouts at him, tells him to stop being useless and get out of the way.

Something catches his eye behind the shouting man: it’s his mother. He sees her red coat first, and then her smiling face. She’s the only grownup who isn’t grey. She’s smiling, stood in line at the checkout and cooing at baby Adrian in the trolley.

She’s happy just with Adrian. She’s not looking for Dan. She’s forgotten about him, or else she remembers and has decided she doesn’t want him anymore.

Dan wakes up without a sound. He’s not crying. His heart is racing, and his chest aches with that ever present midnight feeling of being completely and utterly alone. His fairy lights are plugged in but it doesn’t matter. It’s not the dark that’s bothering him tonight. His bed is cold. His whole fucking life is cold.

There is warmth, though. He remembers it like a lightbulb flashing on, like the cliche of an epiphany: there is warmth on the other side of the wall, and he’s fucked up enough that tonight he doesn’t think twice about throwing off his duvet and grabbing his fuzzy blanket off the foot of his bed. He pads out of his room and goes straight to Phil’s.

He makes sure to be quiet. He leaves the door open a crack so it won’t creak. He tiptoes over the clothes Phil’s got strewn across the floor and wastes no time lying down on a strip of mattress not occupied by Phil’s unconscious body.

Phil’s a heavy sleeper. He doesn’t wake. Dan doesn’t try to get under the duvet, just arranges his own throw over himself and tries to move around as little as possible.

He can’t explain why it instantly makes him feel better. Their bodies aren’t touching and he can’t feel Phil’s warmth. He can barely even hear him breathing tonight and Phil’s room is dark, but there’s something about knowing that Phil is there that makes Dan feel undeniably safer than being by himself.

The pillow smells like Phil’s fancy hair gel. It reminds Dan of the day he’d knicked some after sleeping in past his alarm and having no time to shower before work. His hair’d been a wonky mess of frizz and kinky curls and he’d slapped some of the goopy stuff on his head in a desperate attempt to tame it.

It hadn’t worked, but it sure did smell nice.

Phil shifts then, rolling over onto his back and Dan panics, running through any and all possible excuses until he hears a little snore. Phil’s still asleep and the world isn’t about to implode. He can relax, at least for now.

Dan takes a quiet breath. He stretches his legs out so his feet dangle over the foot of the bed, then quickly pulls them back up before any demons can grab him. He rolls over on his side and faces Phil. He can’t see much but the shape of him under a blue and green duvet, but it’s enough.

It’s probably not ok what he’s doing. It’s probably a violation of Phil’s trust, but Dan needs this. He needs sleep or he’ll start to go properly mad. Hopefully he’ll be able to wake up before Phil and sneak out before he’s any the wiser.

He closes his eyes and thinks of how easy it had been for Phil to fall asleep in his bed the other night, for the sole purpose of making Dan feel safe.

He cares. He wants Dan to be ok. Surely he’d be ok with this too?

-

When he wakes up, the sky is uncharastically sunshine bright and the spot next to him in Phil’s bed is empty. His heart does a nervous flip flop and he gets up quickly, slipping into his own bedroom to throw some clothes on. He should probably shower but he kind of wants to slink out of the flat as fast as possible.

He stops into the bathroom just to brush his teeth and throw on some deodorant. His hair’s a mess but he cares about that a little less every day.

Phil is in the kitchen and the air smells like coffee and food - real food. He’s stood at the stove stirring something in a sizzling pan. Dan’s growling stomach trumps his burgeoning awkwardness and fear that he’s crossed a line and he says, “Morning.”

Phil jumps. “God.” He turns around to look at Dan with bespectacled morning eyes. “Dan. You scared me.”

“Are you cooking?” Dan asks despite it being undeniable that he is.

“Yeah. My specialty.”

“Is there enough for me?”

Phil frowns. “Of course. You want toast with it?”

Dan nods. “Yes please.”

Phil brings him over a mug of coffee after he’s put bread in the toaster. “Did you get some sleep finally?” he asks gently.

Dan can’t look at his face. “Uh. Yeah, I— yeah. Thanks. Sorry,” he mutters.

“No sorries. I’m glad you did. Bad dreams again?”

Dan nods, taking a sip of his coffee. It’s too hot but it’s something to do with his awkward hands, at least.

“I was gonna wake you when breakfast was ready,” Phil says, returning to the stove. “You looked so peaceful.”

Dan doesn’t know how to thank him properly, so he drinks some more coffee and asks, “Did you sleep?”

“Mostly,” Phil says with a shrug.

Dan groans quietly. “Please don’t tell me I somehow kept you up.”

“I mean… you do talk in your sleep a bit,” Phil says sheepishly.

Dan groans again. “Euthanize me please.”

The toaster pops. Dan gets up to deal with it while Phil finishes the scrambled eggs and plates them. “That goes against my morals. I don’t kill my mates, sorry.”

“Selfish,” Dan tuts. “Also, my bad.”

“I accept payment in the forms of Haribo and/or Starbucks.”

“Noted.”

They sit at the little kitchen table with their food and eat in relative quiet, each scrolling through their phones, occasionally stopping to show each other a particularly ridiculous meme, on in Phil’s case, cute photos of puppies or sloths.

They dump their dishes in the sink afterwards and Dan promises he’ll do the washing up after work. They get their shoes on together and leave together and take the tube together. When Dan gets off he waves goodbye and pulls out his phone the moment the train pulls away.

He types out a quick text for Phil and sends it off feeling strangely nervous. For some reason it feels easier to say it in text form than in words that come from his mouth.

by the way, thanks :)

Chapter Text

He’s still naked. The sheets beneath him feel foreign in their softness; he’d never be able to afford anything this nice. It should feel good but actually, it’s distracting, as is the glow of lamplight outside the open window and the sounds of cars on the street below and the purring of the black cat that lies at his feet.

Nothing is bad, in fact everything that’s distracting him is objectively nice. The woman sleeping next to him is nice too, even if he can’t quite remember the details of their ending up back here in her bed. He can’t even remember her name.

He well and truly hates himself for that one. He wonders if she remembers his.

He wonders if the sex had been good for her. He does hope it was somehow better for her. He’d tried to make it extra good for her once he’d realized it wasn’t going to be good for him.

Not her fault, not in the slightest. He almost wants to wake her up and tell her so, just in case she was able to tell. It wasn’t her fault at all that Dan was so turned off he struggled to even keep it up.

He knows it wasn't her, but that’s about all he knows. It’s him. There’s something wrong with him.

He can’t sleep. That’s been a problem for most of his life since puberty but now it’s something else entirely, and to make matters infinitely worse he apparently doesn’t even enjoy sex anymore.

If he weren’t desperate not to wake her, he reckons he’d be having a full fledged panic attack right about now. It must mean something. It can’t be a small thing that his primary coping mechanism for most of life’s little disappointments and the failure of his brain to make him happy suddenly just - doesn’t work anymore.

If he can’t distract himself with physical pleasure, can’t feel the rush that comes with touching someone else’s body… is there even any hope left? It’s sex with strangers. Surely that should be near the top of the list of last resorts for ignoring your problems. Where does he even go from here?

Suddenly there’s a weight on his legs. He looks down to see the cat slinking up his body, her green eyes flashing when they catch the light. Dan stays still and lets her curl up right on top of his chest. Strangely his first thought is of Phil and how allergic he is, how he’d endure the sneezing and the stuffy nose and itchy eyes if it meant he could stroke the little creature’s soft fur.

Dan doesn’t stroke her, but he enjoys the warm weight of her on his sternum. It’s grounding, like a living and breathing weighted blanket suppressing his nervous system’s instinct to panic.

As soon as the sky shifts from black to grey, he cradles the kitty in his arms and sits up, slowly and carefully so as not to wake her owner. He sets her gently on the bed and she curls up in the warmth Dan’s head must has left on the pillow.

He feels like a piece of human rubbish as he skulks around the bedroom in the near dark searching for his discarded clothing. He’s really going to be that guy, then, the kind who fucks a nice girl and sneaks out without saying goodbye. The kind he would have never thought himself capable of being.

When he’s dressed he turns around and looks at her for a beat, seriously considering waking her up and spilling his guts so she won’t wake up confused at why she’s alone. She looks so pretty all curled up there next to her cat, her dark skin practically glowing in the dim light of early morning, tight black curls askew on her pillow. He’s an asshole not to wake her, but he’s also an asshole if he does, so he might as well give her the small mercy of a nice lie in.

-

it’s not until he’s stood in front of his own apartment door double fisting venti caramel macchiatos that he realizes his keys aren’t where he left them. He checks every pocket about twelve times but of course, they’re not there. They’re probably on the floor where they’d fallen out last night as Dan took his jeans off with clumsy drunk hands.

He thunks his forehead against the door in his frustration. He’ll have to borrow Phil’s later and make a copy. He knocks on the door hoping that Phil’s up by now. It’s still pretty early but it’s not out of the realm of possibility if Phil wanted to have a shower and a shave and a proper breakfast before work.

After three politely volumed round of knocks he has to accept that Phil is either still sleeping or still in the shower. He knocks harder and waits. Then harder, and harder, until he’s just shy of pounding, and also feeling like a real dickhead. Hopefully the Starbucks will be penance enough.

But Phil’s still not answering, so Dan crouches down to put the coffees on the floor and pull out his phone.

phil if you’re not dead could you please let me in i lost my keys last night and i bought you a massive coffee

He sits down on the floor as he waits. This must be the feeling people describe when they talk about the ‘walk of shame.’ He hadn’t really understood until now. He definitely feels shameful.

And tired. So bloody tired. He reckons he couldn’t have gotten more than ten minutes of sleep last night and now that he’s so close to home his body is starting to give in to the exhaustion.

Finally, finally, he hears the doorknob jiggling. He grabs the coffees and stands up just as Phil pulls the door open.

He’s still in his pajamas, shirtless and bedheaded and rubbing his eyes groggily.

Fuck. He’d very obviously still been asleep. Dan holds the paper cup out for him without a word. Phil accepts it and steps back to let Dan in.

“Drink that,” Dan says, kicking off his trainers. “You look like you could use it.”

“So do you,” Phil croaks, but he still drinks some. “Mm, caramel.”

“D’you not work today?” Dan makes a beeline for the sofa and collapses into it like his muscles have suddenly atrophied.

“Nope.”

“Fuck,” Dan mutters. “Sorry.”

Phil shrugs, sitting down right next to him, closer than he normally would. Perhaps his depth perception isn’t so great when he’s only just woken up. “Couldn’t just leave you out there all pathetic and alone, could I?”

“I would tell you to fuck off,” Dan says, putting his feet up on the coffee table and getting comfortable in his sofa crease. “But I deserved that.”

“What happened?”

Dan fidgets a little and takes a sip of his coffee. He doesn’t want to talk about last night. “Must’ve fallen out of my pocket.” He digs his hand into the crack between the cushions and fishes out the the remote. “Adventure Time?” he asks, flicking the telly on.

“Sure,” Phil says. “Lemme just go put a shirt on.”

“And grab my fuzzy blanket?” Dan asks faux sweetly.

“Only if you share with me.”

“Yeah, ok. It’s big enough.”

He watches Phil’s pale back as he walks away. Has he always been this… good? This generous?

Dan’s not sure. He’s not sure if something has changed or if it’s just that he’s finally paying attention, but Phil is kind of amazing. Anyone else would’ve cursed him out for waking them up at the asscrack of dawn on their day off, pounding on their door no less. Anyone else would’ve gone right back to bed.

Not Phil. Phil just shrugs and puts on his old York hoodie and settles himself on the sofa to keep Dan company while he watches tv.

The blanket is big enough for the two of them, but not so big that they can sit on opposite sides of the sofa as they normally would. They slump back into the soft, well-worn cushions, warm under the fur and sip their coffees.

It’s nice. It’s cozy. It’s everything he hadn’t felt last night.

-

When he wakes up his mouth is open and there’s wetness drooling out of it onto… Phil’s hoodie. The shoulder of Phil’s hoodie to be exact, the place where Dan had apparently been soundly asleep. He jerks his head up embarrassed only to realize that Phil had been sleeping too.

And in fact he still is, with his head tipped back and his own mouth hanging open. Dan can’t help but smile. He slowly and carefully reaches down into his pocket to pull out his phone and snap a cheeky photo or two.

Then he settles back down and returns to watching the show that had continued playing the whole time. He’s not going to risk getting up and waking Phil for a second time today.

He doesn’t want to get up anyway. He’s happy right where he is.

Phil wakes up on his own about two episodes later, confused and blinky eyed and gravel voiced. “I fell asleep, too?”

“Did I fall asleep first?” Dan asks. Had he been using Phil as a pillow since the get go?

“Yeah,” Phil croaks. “Like almost right away. You must have had a wild night.”

Dan’s stomach twinges. “I need cereal,” he declares, pushing the blanket off his lap and standing up. “You want some?”

Phil nods. “Yes please.”

Dan pours them each an oversized bowl of Crunchy Nut and they eat them right there on the sofa like proper lazy bachelors. That thought reminds Dan of Phil’s newly single status, and it seems the perfect opportunity to prove himself a good mate after all.

“How are you doing?” he asks, slightly awkward with no lead up but hey, Phil is kind of an awkward guy. Dan doesn’t think he’ll mind.

Phil turns to look at Dan with a little bit of milk on his lip. “Um. Good? How about you?”

Dan shakes his head. “No, like, I mean lately. How have you been?”

Phil frowns his confusion until his forehead smoothes out. “Oh.” He looks back at the tv. “You mean since Amy?”

“Yeah.”

Phil shrugs. “I’m fine.” Dan’s not too stupid to read Phil’s tone: he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Ok,” he says, fully prepared to drop it. He definitely understands wanting to keep some things close to the vest. “That’s good.”

They’re quiet as they finish their breakfast, until Dan puts his empty bowl on the coffee table and Phil asks, “What’d you do last night?”

Dan sighs internally. It seems like Phil really wants to know, and Dan doesn’t have a reason that makes sense for not wanting to talk about it. “I went out,” he says simply.

“With Bryony?”

Dan nods. “And work people. They like going out.”

“You do too,” Phil says. He doesn’t phrase it as a question.

Something about that irks Dan, makes some part of him bristle with indignation. “Says who?”

“Oh.” Phil puts his bowl on the table too. “I dunno. I guess I just thought you liked it because you do it a lot.”

“I don’t do it a lot.” Now he’s downright annoyed.

“Ok. Sorry.”

Dan watches the screen intently, frowning for about two minutes before he realizes he’s being completely unreasonable. Phil’s not wrong, he does go out a lot. And he did enjoy it for a time, but that time definitely seems to have come and gone.

“I don’t like it anymore,” Dan says quietly.

Phil turns to him. “No?”

Dan shakes his head. “Feels kind of… lonely? I dunno. Empty, maybe that’s a better word.”

“The going out?” Phil asks. “Or what happens after?”

Dan huffs a bitter laugh. “Both I guess.”

“Did something bad happen last night?”

Dan glances at Phil for a quick moment before looking away. He shrugs. “Just… wasn’t fun. Afterwards, you know. The…” he falters, not wanting to admit he’d slept with a stranger and rather hated it.

“The sex?” Phil offers.

Dan nods, keeping his gaze focused on the television.

“It was bad?”

Dan shrugs again, but says, “Because of me, though. Like, I just… I dunno. It felt bad. It just made me feel sad.”

Phil’s quiet long enough that Dan starts to worry he’s shared too much and made the situation too awkward for Phil to bear, but then Phil says, “I get that. That’s kind of how I was feeling near the end.”

Now it’s Dan’s turn to look at Phil with concern and a little bit of confusion. “With Amy?”

Phil nods.

“Shit, Phil.”

“I know. It’s bad.” He pushes his glasses up onto his forehead and rubs his eyes. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Nothing’s wrong with you,” Dan says automatically.

Phil gives him an incredulous look.

Dan chuckles. “Look, if there’s something wrong with you, that means there’s something wrong with me and I just can’t go there right now. I can’t have a full on quarter life crisis again. I already did that.”

“Or maybe you just never stopped,” Phil suggests.

“Oi!” Dan shoves him. “Are you trying to make me cry?”

“No. Sorry. That was rude, wasn’t it? You’re fine, of course you’re fine. This is normal, right? Like it’s a normal part of adulthood I reckon, getting sick of partying and meaningless sex and stuff.”

“Yeah,” Dan says. “Maybe. Or maybe I’m just a freak.”

“You’re not a freak. Don’t say that.” He sounds so sincere. It makes Dan’s chest feel funny, like he could tell Phil absolutely anything in this moment and it would be ok.

“Phil, I can’t even sleep anymore.”

Phil frowns. “The dreams?”

Dan nods. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’ve been in crisis ever since uni. Maybe it’s not quarter life, maybe it’s just… life. It’s like a fucking… existential crisis. Maybe it’s just never going to end.”

“Maybe we’re both in crisis.”

“Do you feel like you’re in crisis?” Dan asks.

Phil looks away then. “Maybe not in the same way as you,” he says quietly.

“In what way?” Dan’s voice comes out soft.

Phil is still and quiet for a moment, and then he plasters on a smile and shakes his head. “You know what’s good for a crisis?”

“What?”

“Dominos.”

“Phil, it’s like ten o’clock in the morning.”

“So what?” Phil asks, standing up. “It’s never too early for pizza.”

“We just had cereal,” Dan reminds him.

“Yeah, and now I want pizza. Are you gonna join me on this pizza quest or what, Howell?”

Dan knows Phil is trying to change the subject and cheer them both up, and the good friend thing to do is to let him. So he will. He’ll drop the talk of crisis and let Phil soothe them both with dough and cheese and he’ll pretend for the day like his insides aren’t all twisted up for reasons he doesn't understand.

He can do that. He’s been doing it for a while now.

But knowing that Phil has been doing it too is something new, and somehow it feels even worse. Phil always seemed to be the one who had things under control: a university degree, a close relationship with his family, a girlfriend who loved him, a job that promised good things for the future.

If Phil is in crisis, what hope is there for Dan? He’s got nothing. Nothing but a few good mates and a job that just barely pays the bills.

But that’s not it. That’s not what’s making Dan feel cold and sad right now. It’s just… Phil, just knowing that Phil is in pain and he’d never noticed it. And now Phil’s trying to push it away like it doesn’t matter.

Phil comes back into the room with his laptop open to the Dominos order page. “No vegetarian nonsense today, yeah?”

Dan nods. Pizza isn’t going to solve their problems, but maybe it’s a start. Maybe sharing a little of his pain with Phil and letting Phil share a little of his is a start.

Crises don’t disappear in a day, and certainly not because of some above average delivery pizza, but it’s a start. At the very least, it will make them both happy for a little while.

“I don’t think I want to go out anymore,” Dan blurts as Phil studies the topping options.

“No?” Phil asks.

“Not like that. Not the kind where I bring someone home after.”

Phil nods. “I don’t think I want to date women anymore.”

Dan’s heart does a weird thing where it starts to pound. “Women?” he asks.

“Just, no. I mean date. I don’t wanna date right now,” Phil mutters. “I need to figure some stuff out.”

“Me too,” Dan agrees. His chest still feels weird.

“You do,” Phil says with a grin. “First of which is what kind of pizza you want.”

Chapter Text

Days and nights pass. Sometimes Dan has nightmares and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes Phil hears them and and sometimes he doesn’t.

When he does, he comes to Dan’s rescue, waking him up with a firm but gentle hand to the shoulder and a deep voice reassuring him that whatever trauma his unconscious mind is subjecting him to isn’t real. He brings his duvet with him and sleeps on the edge of Dan’s bed without having to be asked. Sometimes it takes Dan a long time to fall back to sleep and sometimes it doesn’t, but always the panic and loneliness is dulled just knowing that blue and green lump next to him in the glow of his fairy lights is a person who cares about him, a person he won’t have to say to goodbye to in the morning.

When the turmoil is silent and Dan wakes alone in a cold sweat, he grabs his fluffy blanket and goes to Phil. He climbs onto whatever side of the bed Phil isn’t occupying and curls right up like he belongs there. Usually he falls asleep quicker like that. Phil’s bed is like a sanctuary from his tortured thoughts; he’s never had a nightmare here. It feels fresh somehow, untainted. There are no echoes of haunted images in Phil’s room.

And Phil’s room is just so Phil. The walls are white but they’re decorated with Marvel and Buffy posters and colourful art from a local artist that Bryony had obsessed over for a while and a few of his dad’s sketches. There’s a houseplant in every corner and they all happen to be alive right now. There are knick knacks on every flat surface and clothes on the floor and a sock hanging off the back of his desk chair. There are no less than three half empty glasses of water on his bedside table.

Or maybe they’re half full. Phil would say they’re half full. That’s probably the number one reason Phil’s cluttered space feels like a safe one.

It doesn’t happen every night, though. There are as many nights that Dan sleeps through without incident as there are nights when his mind tortures him. Things feel better, even if only a little.

This morning he wakes up in his own bed, alone, six minutes before his alarm is set to go off. He feels rested and awake, so he sits up and turns the alarm off before it can make its annoying sound. He lies flat on his back and listens for proof of Phil being awake too but hears none.

It’s such a foreign feeling, the one he’s feeling now. He feels… good? His mind is clear and there’s actually some sun in the sky and he has time to get ready for work without feeling rushed.

He’s not feeling guilty. He isn’t lying next to a stranger. He doesn’t have a hangover, not the kind from drinking too much and not the kind from not sleeping enough and not the kind from dreaming about being small and alone and terrified. In fact, he can’t remember dreaming last night at all.

He gets up and his limbs don’t feel like cinder blocks. He wanks in the shower and wears his favourite striped jumper and ripped black jeans and has coffee waiting for Phil when he shuffles sleepy-eyed into the kitchen.

“Morning,” Dan says cheerily from the table where he’s sat munching the expensive kind of cereal he rarely allows himself the luxury of purchasing. It feels like an indulgent kind of day.

“Mreh,” Phil croaks. “Mornings are stupid.”

“Indeed.”

Phil pours himself some coffee and dumps an alarming amount of sugar in it before joining Dan at the table.

“You forgot milk,” Dan points out.

Phil looks down at the blackness in his Jigglypuff mug and then shrugs. “Can’t be bothered to get up again.”

Dan just chuckles.

“Why are you so chipper?” Phil asks, his tone almost accusatory.

Dan shrugs. “Slept well.”

“No nightmares?”

Dan shakes his head.

“That’s brilliant,” Phil says, lifting his coffee to his lips and taking a sip. He scrunches up his face cartoonishly. “Needs milk.”

Dan rolls his eyes and reaches across the table to pull Phil’s mug out of his hands. He lifts up his bowl and blocks the cereal with his spoon, letting some of his milk dribble into Phil’s coffee. It makes a right mess but Phil’s face lights up after he takes a sip.

“Cheers! Oh my god that’s so good. Dan Dandandandan you have to try it.” He shoves the mug back towards Dan excitedly. “It’s sooooo good.”

Dan can’t help smiling as he indulges Phil’s enthusiasm. “Ooh,” he says as the taste of too sweet coffee and cereal milk mingle on his tongue. “That’s interesting.”

“Shut up, it’s good.” He snatches it back and takes a long drink of it, moaning his satisfaction. “Thank god for coffee.”

“You seem extra tired this morning,” Dan says, taking a sip of his normal human coffee.

Phil just shrugs. “Life is tiring.”

“You’re starting to sound like me. Bryony says you’re rubbing off on me but I reckon it’s the other way ‘round.”

“We should have her ‘round soon,” Phil says, avoiding actually commenting on anything Dan said. “It’s been too long since I’ve been roasted as savagely as she does.”

“I can try harder.” He kicks at Phil’s foot gently under the table.

They banter back and forth until Dan can’t put off heading out for work any longer. He promises to inform Bryony that her presence is requested sometime in the near future and leaves the flat rather wishing he didn’t have to.

-

“Please, Dan. C’mon. It’s been ages since you came out.”

Dan’s stood at the front display rearranging things in such a way that makes it seem like he’s actually doing work. “There’s a reason for that.”

“What reason?” She’s not taking any of his hints today. She’s been following him around for the better part of an hour trying to peer pressure him.

“I don’t want to?” Dan says bluntly.

She pouts, like actually full on pouts her shiny pink lips out. “You’re no fun.”

“Or I’m trying to better myself.”

“Why is it better to be boring than to have fun?”

“I don’t think it’s fun. I think what’s boring is going out and making the same bad decisions over and over.” He starts to walk away and she follows. Again.

“What bad decisions?” She frowns. “Are you talking about Carrie? ‘Cause, mate, you can’t—”

“I’m not talking about anyone but myself,” Dan interrupts. “I’m talking about me going out and spending money I don’t have to get drunk and fuck around. It’s not fun.”

She shrugs. “Sounds fun to me.”

Dan shakes his head. “You’re being a dick.” He doesn’t say it playfully. It’s awfully bold, especially when they’re are work, but his patience is wearing thin.

“Oi.”

“Well you are.” His voice is starting to get pitchy from the frustration. “You’re not listening to me.”

“I never said you had to hook up,” she says defensively.

“You push me on people all the time.”

“I thought I was looking out for you.”

“Well thanks, but I don’t want to do that anymore.” He hates that now it feels like he’s the one being a dick. He hates that saying no makes him feel like a bad friend.

“Well fine then,” she huffs. “Don’t. But I still want you to come out.”

He sighs so hard it tickles his throat. “Why?”

“Uh, because I like spending time with you? Isn’t that like, the definition of mates?”

Dan rolls his eyes. “You’ll just abandon me for some bloke with a neck tattoo or some shit.”

Bryony snorts. “Trust me, I won’t.”

Dan regards her suspiciously. “What does that mean?”

“It means I miss hanging out with you, asshole.”

The animosity softens considerably. “Why don’t you just come home with me after work? We’ll make Phil cook for us.”

“Dan, I literally promise. It’ll just be you and me. I kinda… like I kinda wanted to talk to you about something? Just you.”

His stomach plummets. “Oh god.” He doesn’t know what it is, but surely it can’t be anything good.

“I’m not in love with you,” she blurts.

“O… kay…”

“Just… It’s not like that. Shut up.”

Dan gawks at her. “I didn’t say anything.”

“You’re making it weird.”

You’re making it weird! I don’t even know what it is!”

“It isn’t anything!” she shouts back. “I just wanna talk to you without Phil there judging me!”

Dan frowns. “What? Phil doesn’t judge you.”

“Phil judges everyone. It’s not his fault, it’s just how he is.”

“I honestly have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about,” Dan says. It’s really not a kind way to speak to someone but he feels like she’s going to drive him mad today.

Luckily a customer walks over to them at that moment with a question about what colour jumper would go best with his jeans and Dan jumps at the chance to get away from this particular conversation.

He watches her retreat to the back room and tries to listen to the customer he’s supposed to be helping. Why is everyone in his life suddenly losing their shit?

He finds her later, after he’s had time to gather himself a little. She’s sat in the back unboxing hoodies that look a little like parachute packs.

“Come to shout at me some more?” she asks without looking up.

He sits down on the ground right next to her without evening complaining about how dirty it’s going to leave the ass of his jeans. “No.”

“I’m not talking shit about Phil,” she says defensively. “Phil’s the best.”

“I know,” Dan says. He doesn’t really know, but he can at least have the decency to talk it out with her.

“I’m just a mess,” she says simply. “And he’s not. And I just don’t wanna deal with that right now.”

“Oh,” Dan says quietly.

“Yeah. That’s all it is.”

“So what you’re saying is I’m a mess too.”

She looks up at him with a worried expression. He only lasts about five seconds before breaking into a grin to let her know he’s just taking the piss.

She smiles too, clearly relieved. “Sorry.”

He shakes his head. “I’m the messiest mess in the fucking universe. But I reckon you’re not giving Phil enough credit.”

“What d’you mean?”

“Just that I think he might be more of a mess right now than you think.” He says it quietly, guilt tightening his chest a little. It feels like a betrayal of trust to tell her even that much.

She cocks an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

He nods, looking down at where he’s picking at the end of his shoelace.

“Next time then,” she says. “Tonight I just wanna get drunk with you.”

He opens his mouth to protest but she doesn’t give him the chance. “I’ll buy your drinks. Please? We don’t even have to go to a club. We can go to a shitty pub or whatever you want.” She gives him a rather devastating set of puppy eyes for good measure. “C’mon Howell. You have the day off tomorrow to recover.”

“No ditching me,” he says firmly.

“Promise.” She holds up her pinky and he wraps his around it.

-

They go to a club. She buys him drinks - lots of drinks. So he’s already broken two promises to himself, but he keeps the most important one.

He doesn’t hook up. And Bryony keeps her promise not to ditch him for the first bloke who catches her eye. In fact they stay sat together in the same spot for hours, in a booth with decently comfortable sofa chairs and a nice view of the drunken debauchery happening out where people are dancing.

Sometimes Bryony brings out a side of him he doesn’t particularly love, but it’s possible that tonight he’s tipsy enough to revel in it. She’s snarky and cutting, sometimes even a little mean, and it’s contagious.

They pick people out of the crowd for each other to name and craft backstories for. They pick out outfits that pass their rigorous fashion standards and the ones they’d chuck right into the bin - and one they’d like to set on fire. Mesh and lace and spandex do not belong all mixed together like that, especially not in such an array of vibrant neon colours.

She’s merciless, and mostly tonight he just finds it very very funny.

Hours and many cocktails pass before it dawns on Dan that they came here for a reason other than taking the piss out of strangers. “Wasn’t there something you wanted to talk to me about?”

She becomes instantly uncomfortable, fidgeting in her seat and looking out at the crowd of sweaty people grinding together on the dance floor. He’s drunk enough that his inner dialogue flows much more freely into spoken word than it normally would, which is why he doesn’t think twice before saying, “You’re not pregnant, are you?”

She whips her head around with a scandalized expression and digs an ice cube out of her drink to lob at his head. “Fuck you.”

“If you don’t say anything you leave me with no other option but to assume the worst!”

She flips him off and returns to her drink. She doesn’t say anything about the mysterious reason for their outing tonight and he thinks he’s pushed enough for the time being, so he switches gears to something a little less charged.

“Phil wants to have you ‘round soon, y’know.”

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

Dan tries to contain his smirk. “He just thinks you’re lovely and he misses you.”

“Pfft. Bullshit.”

Dan shrugs. “Does he need a reason? It’s been a while.”

She looks uncomfortable again and his curiosity is starting to reach unbearable proportions, but he forces himself to bite his tongue. She’s certainly not the kind of person who can be pushed into anything she doesn’t want, and if he digs too hard it’s more likely that she’ll just keep whatever it is to herself forever.

“I’m think I’m gonna head home,” she says. “I’m knackered.”

“Ok.” He feels instantly less drunk, in fact he’s suddenly overcome with the need to gather her up into a giant hug. He won’t, because all she’d do is push him off and say something mean to mask whatever insecurity she’s obviously experiencing, but it doesn’t stop him feeling a surge of affection and the desire to take care of her in some way. “Wanna share a car? I’d rather eat my own feet than take the tube.”

-

Things feel so different in the back of the taxi. It’s quiet and they both seem to have deflated considerably. He turns to look at her but she’s staring out the window with focus, like she’s determined not to meet Dan’s eyes.

Her hair looks extra pretty right now. Something about the way the light from the street lamps hits it makes her look like a mermaid. He can’t help reaching out and touching it. “What’d you wanna talk about?” he asks softly. “Wasn’t that the whole point of tonight?”

“Shut up,” she mutters, finally turning to look at him. “We’ll talk about it another time, ok? And I won’t make you go out anymore. I feel like I’m over it too.”

“Yeah?”

She nods. “Do you think maybe we’ve been kind of… acting like idiots to avoiding stuff we’d rather not think about?”

“I don’t think,” Dan says. “I know.”

“Fuck,” she murmurs. “I was afraid of that.”

“Phil’s not dating,” Dan blurts.

She looks at him likes he’s grown a second head. “Huh?”

“Just saying like, we’re all…”

“Fucking messes?” she suggests wryly.

“I mean… yeah.”

“Yeah,” she agrees. “Reckon we are.”

-

He kicks his trainers off aggressively when he gets in and stops into his room only long enough to pull off his shirt, change into pj bottoms and grab his blanket. He doesn’t even brush his teeth. He’s still tipsy enough to excuse poor oral hygiene tonight, and to excuse walking into Phil’s darkened room without knocking first.

Phil jumps and makes a little squeaking noise but Dan just shuts the door behind him and climbs into Phil’s bed without a word.

“Did you just get home?” He doesn’t sound like he’s been asleep yet but Dan can’t be sure.

“Yeah.” He snuggles in under his own blanket, but shuffles much closer to Phil than he ever has before.

“You’re in my bed,” Phil says.

“Yeah. That alright?” His words are looped together one after the other. The weight of the day is already melting from his body as he sinks into the softness of Phil’s mattress. He hopes the answer is yes; getting up and going back to his own room would feel borderline impossible.

Phil doesn’t actually answer Dan’s question. “Are you… were you drinking?”

“A little. Bryony peer pressured me into it.”

“Oh.”

An awareness of something prickly in Phil’s tone manages to make it through the layer of comfort and fatigue that blankets him. “Are you cross or something? I didn’t want to go. And obviously I didn’t bring anyone home…”

“M’not cross. Just thought you didn’t want to go out anymore.”

“I don’t,” Dan says insistently. “You know how Bryony is.”

“... You have a point,” Phil concedes after a moment of consideration.

“You’re even worse at saying no to her than I am.”

Phil rolls onto his side to face Dan. “Alright alright, you win.” He’s smiling and it feels like more of a relief to Dan than it probably should.

“I won’t do it again,” Dan says quietly.

“Dan. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

“I know. But I wanted to.”

A hint of a smile flits across Phil’s face. “Ok.”

Dan closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to but he can’t physically keep them open anymore for how deeply comfortable he is. “Phil, guess what?”

“What?” His voice is somehow soft and deep at the same time. It’s nice, and Dan wants to hear more of it.

“I’m a wee bit drunk.”

More softness and deepness as Phil laughs. Dan wants to see the way it creases the corners of Phil’s eyes, but he can’t open his own to save his life.

“I can tell,” Phil murmurs.

“Can I sleep here with you?” He’s half asleep already, but still conscious enough to smile at Phil’s response.

“Yes please.”

Chapter Text

Dan wakes up with a pounding headache and his face nuzzled against something warm. Something warm and soft that seems to be moving.

It’s hard to decipher what’s going on through the sledgehammer that’s being rammed repeatedly against his temples, but when he manages to pry his eyes open he realizes the soft warm moving thing happens to be Phil’s chest.

He’s cuddled right up in Phil’s space with an arm flung over Phil’s stomach. The memory of crawling into Phil’s bed drunk and needy returns to him. He knows the thing to do now is probably get the fuck out and let Phil have his own space for once, maybe even do something to make it up to him, but he feels like a bag of flaming dogshit and all he wants is just what he’s doing, to hold onto Phil and and shut his eyes again.

So he does. He’ll deal with the consequences later.

-

His head feels no better the next time he wakes up, but this time his stomach is churning. He’s going to be sick and he knows it, before he’s even opened his eyes or moved at all, really. If he’s still he can stave it off. All he has to do is not move a single muscle and he’ll be fine.

He’s still squashed up against Phil’s side, and he’s not sure but he thinks he can feel Phil’s arm under his neck. Mostly all he can register is pain and nausea and regret for letting Bryony ply with him booze only to chicken out of whatever she’d been wanting to confess last night.

Never again, he vows. From this day forth he’s officially a homebody. He’s going to take up knitting, or whatever that thing is that Bryony does with her quilts. Maybe he’ll get her to teach him since he vaguely remembers her making a similar sort of vow on the car ride home.

His head is a jumbled mess of memories and a rhythmic sort of pounding agony. He takes a deep breath but all that does is make him more queasy. He doesn’t want to wake Phil but he’s afraid at this point he has no other choice if he doesn’t want to be sick all over the bed.

He croaks out a tortured sound that was supposed to be Phil’s name. It wasn’t even close, and it also wasn’t enough to even come close to waking the sleeping lump of warm pale skin next to him.

Dan groans louder and his stomach turns. “Phil. Phil. Phil.”

Phil groans back, eyes squeezing shut tighter. “What?”

“Need a bucket. Gonna be sick.”

They seem to be the magic words as Phil sits up with urgency. “What?” he asks again but he looks down at Dan and must be able to read it on his face. “Oh god, hold on.” He grabs his glasses and springs up.

He comes back with a mixing bowl for Dan just in time.

-

He feels a little better after. The nausea is gone but with it a pain in the muscles of his stomach and the continued pounding in his brain. Phil takes the bowl away and Dan lies back down to wallow in his agony.

“Take these,” Phil says when he returns, handing Dan a glass of water and some painkillers. “Can you sit up?”

Dan nods and it makes his headache worse, but he reaches out for Phil’s hand to help pull him up to sit. He glances at Phil’s alarm clock and realizes with a sinking feeling of guilt that he’s forced Phil awake at an hour that’s almost cruel.

“Drink this slowly,” Phil says. “But drink it all if you can. Does your head hurt?”

“Like fuck,” Dan croaks.

“You’re dehydrated.”

“I’m hungover,” Dan corrects, popping the tablets into his mouth. Normally he has trouble getting pills down but today he swallows them easily. He drinks the water slowly but already he can tell he’s not going to be sick again.

“Well… yeah,” Phil says. “Bryony is a bad influence on you.” His tone is that of joking, but Dan can’t really disagree with his assessment.

“Did you know she thinks you’re judgemental?” He drinks the rest of his water and then lies back down.

“What, really?” Phil’s sat on the edge of the bed in just a pair of pj bottoms.

“She’s not cross about it, but yeah.”

Phil frowns. “Maybe that’s why she’s been avoiding me.”

“Has she?” Dan asks.

“Feels like it. I mean how long has it been since she came round?”

Dan closes his eyes. “I dunno. I can’t think. Some little twat is playing the drums inside my skull.”

“Sorry,” Phil says. “D’you work today?”

Dan shakes his head. “Thank fucking god.”

“Do you?” Dan asks. He watches Phil walk around to the other side of the bed and slide in under the duvet. He’s keenly aware that now would be the right time to get up and go to his own room, but he feels like shit and just doesn’t want to.

“Nope.” Phil twists to the side to grab his phone off his bedside table. “I do have to ring them for a sec though, hold on.”

“Ok,” Dan murmurs, wiggling down a little further under blue and green softness and making himself more comfortable. He really hopes Phil’s ok with him falling back to sleep.

He’s already starting to drift when he hears Phil’s voice speaking weakly to whoever’s on the other end of the line.

“Yeah, sorry, I’m really not feeling well. Something with my stomach, maybe food poisoning or— yeah… yeah, exactly. I’m sure I’ll be alright for tomorrow... Yeah, sorry… ok thanks. Yep. See you tomorrow. Cheers.”

Dan is very suddenly not tired at all. “Phil, what the fuck?”

Phil smirks and shoves his phone under his pillow. “What? You think I’m gonna leave you here alone all sick and pathetic?”

“You don’t have to do that,” Dan says sternly. “I already fucked you over enough by coming in here like an asshole last night and then waking you up early to fetch me a sick bucket.”

“You didn’t fuck me over.” Phil takes his glasses off and lies on his side facing Dan. “I slept great. And we’re gonna go back to sleep now, yeah?”

Dan nods cautiously. He’d like absolutely nothing better.

“So then. No harm, no foul.”

“You just called in sick because of me.”

Phil shrugs. “So I have you to thank for a nice lie in. Now shut up and go to sleep.”

“Should I, like… go back to my own room?” Why is he hoping so hard that Phil says no? He’s never had a nightmare in the daytime hours before. He hadn't even had one last night, so what is keeping him clinging to the hope that Phil will want him to stay?

“Nope,” Phil says, without even taking time to think about it. “Can’t exactly keep an eye on you if you’re in another room, can I?”

-

The third time Dan wakes up, Phil’s already sat up in the bed looking at his phone. He gives Dan some more tablets and then politely demands he take a shower.

“Could you eat?” Phil asks as he watches Dan drag his sorry ass from the warm bliss of Phil’s bed.

Dan scrunches up his nose and groans unenthusiastically.

“It’ll help soak up all the bad stuff.”

“Not eggs,” Dan says. “I know they’re your speciality but I can’t handle eating undeveloped chicken fetuses today.”

Now it’s Phil’s turn to crinkle his nose. “Gross, don’t say that.”

“That’s what they are.”

“Mate, you’re not gonna sway me to veganism so just give up right now.”

Dan smiles a little at that. “I reckon I could choke down some toast.”

“Toast it is, then. Now go wash, you smell like a gym bag in a distillery.”

Dan flips him off on his way out Phil’s door.

-

It’s annoying how much better he feels after the shower. Something about being clean feels like a fresh start, and that’s what he wants today to be: day one of the second stage of his life where he tries to actually make himself genuinely happy.

He dresses in his comfiest clothes, some well-worn sweats and an oversized hoodie and grabs his fuzzy blanket before joining Phil in the lounge, where Phil’s already got coffee and toast waiting.

“Breakfast of champions,” Phil declares happily as Dan tucks himself up into the corner of the sofa and cocoons himself in the blanket.

“Bless you,” he says, because he reckons he ought to stop pretending he’s put out by Phil encouraging him to do things that are only going to make his day better. “You’re a lifesaver today.”

“You’ll get me back later,” Phil says, handing Dan his coffee.

“How?” Dan asks, taking a sip and sighing as the warm caffeine enters his bloodstream.

“Ummm… take me shopping with your discount?”

Dan laughs. “I can do that.”

“Are you feeling better?” Phil asks

Dan’s mid-sip of coffee. He nods as he swallows, then says, “Loads.”

“Was last night fun at least?”

“Yeah, it was alright. Bry was being weird, though. She said she had something she wanted to talk about and then she just… didn’t.”

Phil frowns. “What d’you reckon that’s about?”

“I honestly have no freaking clue.”

“I’m glad I’m not the only one she’s being weird with.”

Dan takes a bite of toast and forces himself to swallow it though his body really doesn’t want him to. He drinks some coffee to wash it down and wonders what it means that they haven’t put anything on the telly as they normally would for a leisurely one pm ‘breakfast.’

“I defended you,” Dan says quietly after neither of them have really said anything for a while.

Phil turns to look at him. “What?”

“When she said you judge people. I told her you don’t.”

He smiles. “Thanks.”

Dan has to look away. His stomach feels weird. Probably it’s just the toast. He pushes his plate away and leans back into the sofa cushions with his beloved coffee in hand.

“I wonder why she thinks that,” Phil murmurs.

“I think for whatever reason she’s feeling extra insecure lately,” Dan offers. “She said she’s a mess and you’re not and she doesn’t want to deal with that.”

Phil frowns. “What the hell is up with her?”

Dan shakes his head. “I’ll get it out of her eventually. Don’t tell her I told you any of this, by the way.”

“Course not.” Phil looks away and drinks some of his coffee and Dan finds himself watching. Phil’s knees are pulled up to his chest and his socks are as mismatched as ever. He’s wearing a dark blue t-shirt with little corgis on it and his quiff is impressively styled for how tired his eyes look.

When Phil turns his head Dan realizes he’s been caught, but he doesn’t look away. It feels ok to be looking.

“We’ll have her round soon and remind her that you’re actually like, the best mate ever,” Dan says.

“I’m definitely not not a mess, though,” Phil says. Dan can tell he’s trying to smile, but it’s touched by a sadness that makes guilt burn in Dan’s gut. He really shouldn’t have told him about the judgemental thing.

“I know. I kinda told her that.”

Phil chuckles. “Thanks.”

“Hey,” Dan says softly, reaching a foot out to give Phil a gentle kick. “It’s about her, not you. And in my defense, neither of you have anything on me. I put both your messes to shame.”

Phil clicks his tongue. “I wouldn’t be too sure.”

“Why is everyone in my life suddenly being so fucking cryptic?”

Phil ignores him. “Wanna watch something?”

“I need more coffee first.” He’s just whinging, he doesn’t expect Phil to actually do anything about it.

Phil rolls his eyes but he doesn’t even argue. He plucks Dan’s mug out of his hands and sets off for the kitchen. Dan’s definitely going to have to get him back, and soon.

He feels rather suddenly overcome with emotion, not an uncommon thing by any means but definitely inconvenient. His head already hurts, he’s not exactly keen to make it worse by snivelling.

It’s just that realization again, the recognition of Phil’s kindness that slaps Dan right in the face. He doesn’t feel worthy of it but he’s so grateful for it that he honestly wants to cry.

Bryony really doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.

-

They spend the entire day together, drinking coffee and watching tv and playing video games. Eventually Dan gets proper hungry and Phil orders Chinese. He asks Dan no less than a hundred times how he’s feeling and it never once gets annoying, even if Dan does roll his eyes to keep up appearances.

After they’ve eaten and the sun has long since gone down and they’re worn out from gaming and melting into the cushions of the sofa Phil asks if Dan’s up for a film.

“Only if you choose,” Dan says.

Phil flips to one without having to take time to think about it and says, “I’ve been wanting to watch this one.”

Dan’s never heard of it but the poster looks intriguing and artsy so he agrees. Their tastes in cinema don’t always converge but he reckons sitting through a bad film is the absolute least he can do to make Phil happy after he’s spent the whole day waiting on Dan hand and foot.

Half an hour into the movie he’s never been more glad to be buried under a thick blanket. He’s half hard and getting harder with every second the sex scene on the screen continues. It’s not even particularly explicit, in fact if he had to choose one word to describe it it would be loving, and yet his body is reacting more than it ever has to any porn.

All that’s really being shown is kissing and gentle movement from the shoulders up, but it’s so blisteringly hot that he knows he’d have a hand down his pants already if Phil weren’t sitting but a few feet away.

In amongst the arousal coursing through him is something else: the knowledge that Phil had chosen this film. He’d even said he’d been wanting to watch it, so surely he knew that the plot centered around the love story of two young men.

Dan has so many questions, about what it means that he’s practically squirming in his seat, but also what it means that when he steals a glance across the sofa at Phil it appears that he’s feeling something similar. His eyes are glued to the screen, one leg suspiciously crossed over the other as he has no blanket to hide beneath.

It’s something about the noises, maybe, Dan reasons with himself. They’re gentle and wet and disarmingly sincere. It’s the way it’s filmed, the overwhelming warmth and intimacy of it. It’s just a well made, well cast film.

He tells Phil so when it’s over. “That was actually really good.”

“Yeah, it was, eh?”

“Surprisingly few car chases for a film of your choosing,” Dan teases.

Phil just shrugs and the smile drops from Dan’s face immediately. “You should choose the entertainment more often.”

“You’re too much of a control freak for that.”

Dan makes a shocked face, but doesn’t actually argue. Phil’s smiling again and that’s really all that matters.

Then he’s yawning. “I should get to bed. Can’t call in sick a second time.”

“Yeah, I should sleep too,” Dan admits reluctantly.

“You ok?” Phil asks as he stands up.

Dan nods. “Thanks to you.”

Phil just waves his hand like it’s nothing. “Thanks for the excuse to play hooky for a day.”

Dan smiles. “Goodnight.”

“Night.”

Dan stays in wrapped in his blanket cocoon as he watches Phil walk away. There’d been a definite awkwardness between them after the film, but Dan’s afraid to touch it.

He waits until Phil’s done in the bathroom to unravel himself and get up off the sofa. He brushes his teeth and heads to his own room with a genuine feeling of dread in his chest. The idea of sleeping on his own gets more and more repugnant for every night he spends in Phil’s bed.

It takes him ages to fall asleep and what feels like seconds to wake up with cold emptiness in his head and a heart racing so fast he feels almost as sick as he had this morning.

He could go to Phil’s bed and Phil wouldn’t complain. He probably wouldn’t even notice until the morning. It’s what they do now, almost a routine at this point.

But something is holding him back tonight. Maybe it’s the strength of the dependence he’s formed in so little time. Maybe it’s the fear of what it means that he spends at least half his nights in the same bed as another man. Maybe it’s something else that he’s just… not ready to look at.

He tries for hours to get back to sleep before he gives up and resigns himself to a sleepless night on the sofa. If he’s awake he might as well be entertained. He gets comfy and turns the telly back on to Netflix.

The poster of the film they’d watched is right there in their continue watching like some kind of beacon. Even just recalling that one particular scene has Dan’s stomach swooping. He can’t seem to bring himself to scroll past it.

So he doesn’t. He clicks on it and fast forwards to the sex scene again. Maybe rewatching it will reassure him that it wasn’t actually that hot after all.

Before he knows it he’s rewatched it five times and his pjs are tenting obscenely and he’s running out of explanation beyond the one that scares him. He restarts the scene for a sixth time and rubs the shape of himself over his clothes and tells himself it’s just because it’s been a few days since he got off.

He doesn’t last another ten seconds before he’s sliding a hand into his boxers and getting a grip around himself. From there he doesn’t last but a few minutes before he’s catching wet warmth in his fist and shuddering through the peak of his pleasure.

He turns the tv off immediately, rinses his hand in the kitchen sink, and heads to bed before the post-orgasm haziness wears off.

He doesn’t want to think about anything right now. There’s too much knocking on the door of his consciousness.

-

He’s up before Phil, showered and dressed and brewing them an extra strong pot of coffee. When Phil shows up he’s showered and dressed too, and looks just as tired as Dan feels.

“Coffee,” he croaks. “I could kiss you.”

Dan laughs and hopes it doesn’t sound too awkward. “You look tired.”

“So do you,” Phil says, sliding into the seat opposite Dan’s. “Were you up in the middle of the night? I thought I heard the telly.”

Dan’s stomach drops right out of his ass. “Um. Yeah? I couldn’t sleep.”

Phil frowns. “Why didn’t you just come to me?”

“Um.” Dan looks away from Phil’s face and shrugs. “Reckon I’ve bothered you enough with that.”

“I think you should just sleep with me every night.”

His head shoots up. “What?”

Phil shrugs. “You sleep better that way.”

“Yeah but—”

“I do too,” Phil interrupts.

That pulls Dan up short. “You do?”

Phil nods. “I didn’t sleep much last night either.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep.” Phil tips his mug back and chugs down the lot of his coffee like he can’t even feel the heat of it. “Anyway, I’m late. Gotta get going, we can’t afford for me to get sacked.” He stands up and puts his mug in the sink. “See you tonight?”

Dan nods, trying to ignore all the things going on inside his body. “Yeah, ok. Tonight. Have a good shift.”

“You too, Danny.”

Chapter Text

It’s dark. Neon lights strobe, lighting up featureless faces and bodies moving to the beat of music he can’t hear. All he can feel of it is the pounding of bass heavy in his bones. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knows it’s meant to be fun, but everything feels sinister. The bass is so heavy each beat feels like a punch. He can feel the gaze of every single person in the club burning a hole into his psyche even though none of them actually have eyes.

There’s a girl with no face in front of him now. Nothing but flesh stretched over the space where her eyes and nose and mouth should be, framed by curly black hair. They’re stood in the middle of a crowded nightclub but she’s naked. He hears the sound of Bryony’s laughter behind him.

He turns to look for her but there’s no one else there. He’s in a bed he doesn’t recognize and he’s hovering over the faceless girl. She’s got a black cat curled up and purring right beside her head on the pillow and her legs are spread open. Her nakedness makes his skin crawl but he looks down and he’s hard.

It’s like his cock belongs to someone else. It pushes inside her body even though he doesn’t want it to. He fucks her like he’s into it, but his brain doesn’t feel connected to his body anymore. He wants to get dressed. He wants to tell her he’s sorry, that he doesn’t think she’s just a pussy for him to fuck.

She has no face. He doesn’t know what she’s thinking. He doesn’t know how she feels. He wants to ask but his mouth doesn’t work, and he doesn’t think she could answer without a mouth anyway.

He’s crying. There’s no sound but he can feel the sobs wracking his chest and the wetness on his cheeks. He wants to stop. He tries to speak but his voice has been stolen. He can’t make a sound. He can’t breathe.

His shoulders are shaking. Someone is shouting his name.

Phil’s face is right there, frowning his concern when Dan opens his eyes. “Dan, it’s alright,” he says. He’s holding Dan’s shoulders firmly. “It’s a dream. It’s not real.”

He doesn’t say it’s just a dream. There’s no trivialization, just comfort. Just reassurance.

“You’re safe,” Phil says. “I’m here. It’s over now.” His thumb swipes along the tear track on the front of Dan’s cheek.

Dan’s face crumples just as he pushes it into Phil’s neck. He doesn’t want Phil to see him fall apart but there’s no way to stop the emotion the nightmare has dragged to the surface. He feels raw with it. It was a dream but it was steeped in so much ugly truth.

Phil is so solid. Phil feels like all the good things that are real. Dan melts into him like it’s something he’s allowed to do, but Phil isn’t pushing him away. In fact Phil is wrapping an arm around Dan’s shoulders and squeezing, holding Dan to his chest and stroking over the back of his head.

Dan cries into Phil’s neck, fully at the mercy of the aftermath of the trauma of his dream. He’s sure he’ll be utterly humiliated in the morning, but at the moment Phil feels like a lifeline.

“Do you wanna talk about it?” Phil asks. His voice is so deep and the vibrations of his vocals chords are soothing against Dan’s forehead.

Dan shakes his head. He doesn’t speak, afraid of what words might come tumbling out right now, so he just makes himself small and presses against Phil, letting himself soak in the feeling of being held by someone who really cares.

-

When Dan wakes up, the light in the room is still the weak light of early morning. He’s exhausted and his head hurts but he’d managed to fall back to sleep eventually so however bad he feels, he’s just grateful it’s not worse.

It’s all thanks to Phil, Dan has zero doubt. In fact Dan still finds himself with his head on Phil’s chest. Phil’s somehow still got an arm around Dan’s shoulders; It’s probably been numb for hours. The polite thing to do would be for Dan to scootch back a little, return to Phil his bubble of personal space.

Phil stirs then, as if he can sense that Dan is awake too. They’re getting used to sharing the same sleeping space, maybe it’s possible they’re becoming psychically linked or something.

“Dan?” His voice is gravel.

“Morning.”

Dan can feel Phil start to move under him. His arm drops from around Dan’s shoulder and he mumbles, “Sorry.”

Dan tightens the grip he’s got around Phil’s middle. “Don’t.”

Phil stills.

“Just… stay,” Dan says.

“Can we just—” Phil pulls his arm out from under Dan.

“Sorry,” Dan mumbles. He feels blood rushing to his face, embarrassment burning hot. He rolls onto his side away from Phil and tries to shuffle forward when an arm wraps around his waist and pulls him back.

“Just needed to get some circulation back before amputation became necessary,” Phil says. “Don’t run away now.” He’s contoured himself around the back of Dan’s body and Dan can feel Phil’s breath on the back of his neck.

They’re spooning. And it’s nice. Dan likes it more than he can say. He almost feels like he could fall back to sleep.

“Is this weird?” he asks quietly.

“What?”

“All of this,” Dan says. “You’ve been so nice about it, but like… you must think it’s so weird.”

“I don’t,” Phil says. “We’re just… we’re both going through a tough time and we’re helping each other through it. Right?” He hugs around Dan’s waist a little tighter. “You don’t actually think it’s weird, do you?”

The insecurity in Phil’s voice is enough to break Dan’s heart. “No. Not at all. You’re the reason I sleep.”

“Well don’t worry about me. I don’t think it’s weird, but even if I did I wouldn’t mind because I like weird. You know that.”

Dan nods. He shoves his hands up under his pillow so he doesn’t end up holding Phil’s. He reckons that might be a bit weird. “Do you work today?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Phil murmurs. “You?”

“Yeah. What time is it?”

Phil manages to twist around to check the time without breaking the spoon. “About twenty minutes before we need to get up.”

Dan groans. Phil laughs at him. “We need to start going to bed earlier.”

Dan’s stomach flutters. Something about those words has his body reacting in ways it never has to Phil before.

He’s not going there. He doesn’t want to analyze anything right now. “We probably should, but you know we won’t,” he says instead. “Not when pizza and Mario Kart exist.”

Phil chuckles but Dan notices he doesn’t argue. He lets his eyes fall shut and waits for the silence to feel awkward. It never does, and neither of them break the position until Phil’s alarm goes off.

-

“How’s your sex life?”

He’s not even phased anymore. He’s not a prude by any means but she has absolutely zero filter when it comes to asking personal questions and he’s mostly accepted that by now.

“Non existent. You?”

“Same.” She’s sat on a stool beside him sticking sale stickers onto the tags of some rather hideous neon orange t-shirts.

He’s manning the cash register today, but it’s a slow day, which leaves him free to be interrogated about what he’s been doing with his genitals. And also surprised about what little she’s been doing with hers, apparently.

“So you really haven’t been going out?” he asks.

She pushes a sale sticker to his forehead. “Told you I wouldn’t.”

He shrugs. “Thought maybe that was just to make me feel better.”

“That doesn’t sound like me.”

“...Good point.”

“Do you miss it?” she asks.

Dan’s most recent nightmare flashes across his brain like a red-hot brand of pain. He can practically smell the seared flesh. “Definitely not.”

“I’ve been quilting a lot,” she offers. “And I might be slightly obsessed with kpop.”

“Oh god.” He gives her a look of unadulterated pity.

“Fuck off. You’d like it too if you stopped being such a pretentious dickbag for five seconds.”

“Is this your mid-life crisis? Stanning over-produced Korean supermodels lip synching to corporately manufactured pop music and being worked to the point of exhaustion?”

“What’s the next step up from pretentious?” Bryony asks. “Is there a word for it?”

He rolls his eyes at her.

“If you’re allowed to stan fucking Formula 1 then I’m allowed my kpop.”

He holds out his hand for her to shake. “Deal. We’ll quietly respect each other’s questionable life choices.”

“It’s not a life choice.” She looks at him and smirks before reaching up and peeling the sticker off his forehead. “I’m not making too many of those right now. That’s kind of the point.”

Someone actually wanders up to the cash at that point and Dan is forced to do work for approximately two minutes. When they’re gone Bryony asks, “What’re you up to tonight?”

Dan shrugs, looking down at the nail on his thumb and trying to remind himself that biting it off is considered a bad habit. “Nothing.”

“Can I come ‘round?”

“Of course.” He smiles. “Phil will be chuffed.”

She looks away. “We’ll see.”

He wants to argue. He wants to ask her what that means, but frankly he reckons if he opens his mouth he’ll end chewing her out and he doesn’t want to do that.

He’s just feeling protective, but he can see quite clearly that she’s going through something of her own, so he’s going to try hard not to make it worse.

“He will be,” Dan says firmly. He’s not arguing, he just needs to say it.

-

Dan gets home before Phil, as he often does. He sets to work cleaning the place up pretty much right away. It’s not really that messy and he knows Bryony wouldn’t be bothered either way, but he’s itching under his skin like something important is going to happen tonight, and the only productive way to deal with it is to make his hands busy.

He starts with the washing up. He gathers up every dirty dish in the flat and fills the sink with hot soapy water. There’s something so deeply satisfying about putting the plates in crusted with food and scrubbing until they sparkle. Watching things go from dirty to clean like that is almost like a mini catharsis for him, plus it’s cheaper than therapy and requires no personal reflection.

He finds himself wishing Phil was next to him to do the drying, though. That part holds no appeal.

Next he moves on to sweeping and mopping and collecting all of Phil’s rogue socks from the various spots throughout the flat in which they’ve been abandoned. He throws them in the wash along with the laundry in his hamper and the clothes he’d worn to work, then walks down the hall to the bathroom in nothing but his birthday suit.

He’s still naked when he opens the bathroom door, releasing the steam from a long hot shower and shivering at the touch of the cooler air against his damp skin. He wraps the towel in his hand around his waist and looks up to see Phil stood in the lounge. Staring.

This flat is so bloody small. Dan can see everything but the kitchen from the hall, and Phil can sure as fuck see him stood there dripping. The only question is just how much he’d seen.

Dan has to remind himself that it doesn’t actually matter. They’re friends. And flatmates. It’s a wonder it’s taken this long for either of them to get an eyeful of dick.

“Hey,” Dan says, hoping he sounds casual.

“Hi.” Phil doesn’t sound casual, but Dan can tell he’s trying too. “It looks good in here.”

“Did some cleaning.”

“Yourself included, eh?” Phil smiles. It’s not right, though. It looks forced. “Got a hot date?”

Dan frowns. “Bry’s coming over, remember?”

“Oh yeah!” His smile shifts instantly into something more genuine. It touches his eyes, lighting up his whole face. “I forgot.”

“She’ll be here soon, actually.” Dan clutches his towel. “I should get dressed.”

He doesn’t think he imagines the quick glance up and down that Phil gives him before he says, “Right.”

Dan turns to head to his room. “Can you put the laundry in the dryer?” he calls out, laughing as Phil whinges.

-

Phil’s in the kitchen cooking something that smells like curry when Dan opens the door for Bryony. She’s much later than she’d said she’d be and Dan’s just finished folding up the laundry when she finally arrives.

“Thought you’d forgotten,” he says by way of greeting, stepping aside to let her in.

“Shut up,” she says, kicking off her shoes and heading straight for the kitchen. Dan follows.

Phil turns from the stove when he hears her, smiling and holding out his arms for a hug. “Bry! Long time no—”

“Shush,” she says abruptly. “Lounge, now, both of you.” She spins on her heel and leaves Dan and Phil to gawk at each other in confusion.

Phil mouths what? and Dan shrugs. “No idea,” he whispers. “Let’s go find out.”

She’s sat at the end of the sofa with her legs crossed and her back leaned against the armrest. She looks keyed up, restless but determined. “Sit,” she orders.

They do. Dan can feel that he’s frowning but he can’t seem to force his face into a more neutral expression. His heart is beating rapidly and he can see Phil’s leg bouncing out of the corner of his eye.

“I have to tell you something,” she says once they’ve settled.

“Ok,” Dan says cautiously. “What do—”

“I’m bisexual,” she blurts with absolutely no preamble.

There’s a moment of stunned silence and then, at the exact same time, Dan says, “What?” and Phil says, “Oh my god!”

Dan’s is confused. Phil’s is elated. Dan turns to look at Phil but he’s already sprung up from the sofa to gather Bryony into an enthusiastic bear hug. Dan catches Bryony’s eye and he can tell she’s surprised.

In a good way. She may even be crying a little.

Dan kind of feels like crying too, but for some reason it’s not a nice feeling. It’s not tears of happiness for his friend.

He genuinely doesn’t know what he’s feeling.

When Phil finally releases her Dan pulls himself together and gives her a much more subdued hug. He doesn’t know what to say, which turns out to be ok because she ends up pushing him off her after a moment and saying, “It’s not a big deal.”

“What do you mean?” Phil says. “It’s huge.”

“God, don’t say that. I’m freaked out enough as it is.”

“Don’t be freaked out,” Phil says. He elbows Dan in the ribs from behind so she doesn’t see. “We’re here for you. And we’re so proud of you.”

“Yeah,” Dan croaks. He doesn’t know what the fuck is wrong with him. He feels like he’s been punched in the gut.

“You seem weird,” she says, looking at him with slightly narrowed eyes.

Phil elbows him again, but Dan doesn’t need it. He knows he needs to swallow down his weirdness immediately, because it isn’t even how he really feels. It’s like a foreign invader. He definitely didn’t give his psyche permission to be weird about something like this.

“I’m not, I’m sorry. Reckon I’m just surprised.”

“You didn’t suspect?”

He shakes his head.

“How do you feel?” Phil asks.

That makes Dan feel strange too, Phil’s enthusiasm. But maybe a nicer kind of strange.

He wishes he could just excuse himself and hide in the toilet until he gets a grip, but he knows she’d take it the wrong way and he couldn’t even blame her.

She shrugs. “Fine, I think? Like… I don’t know, I just feel like it makes sense. And it explains a lot.”

“That’s brilliant,” Phil says. He’s so genuinely thrilled. It makes Dan want to turn around and tackle him into a hug. He’s such a fucking good mate. A good person.

“I feel like I’m supposed to feel more weird about it. Or like, feel more something,” she says. She picks at the fabric of her leggings where it bunches behind her bent knee. It feels to Dan like she’s purposely avoiding eye contact with him and it breaks his heart, but he can’t really blame her for that either. “I don’t feel scared or relieved or anything, really.”

Dan clears his throat. He can’t let it go down like this. “I reckon you’re allowed to feel however you want. It’s not anyone else’s experience but yours, yeah?”

She looks up at him.

“How long have you known?” he asks quietly.

She shrugs. “Not long. Few weeks, maybe.”

“Did something happen?”

She shakes her head. “Just watching some dumb shit on Netflix. Two birds kissed and it was just like, a light bulb.” She shakes her head and looks off the the side. “This is fucking embarrassing.”

“No it’s not,” Phil says firmly. He reaches across Dan to grab her hand.

“It’s not,” Dan agrees. He hopes she can hear the sincerity in his voice. He repeats Phil’s sentiment from a moment ago. “We’re proud of you.”

She smiles briefly. “I haven’t even done anything.”

“You accepted something that can be really hard for people to accept about themselves,” Phil says. “Some people repress this kind of thing for years.”

Dan sees Phil squeeze Bryony’s hand a little tighter. She smiles again and lets it linger a little longer this time. “I was scared to tell you,” she says quietly.

“You’re amazing.”

She laughs then and pulls her hand from Phil’s so she can lean forward and punch him in the shoulder. “Stop,” she giggles. “You’re being too nice, it’s weird.”

“I’m always nice!”

Dan turns around to look at him ever so briefly before turning back to Bryony. “It’s true,” he murmurs. “He is.”

“I have a million questions,” Phil says.

She waves her hand in the air. “Not tonight, yeah? I want things to feel normal. You’re cooking something, right?”

“Oh bollocks.” Phil jumps up. “It’s probably burning. Be right back!” He hurries off the kitchen leaving Dan sat there looking at Bryony’s face. It’s silent a beat too long, and she nudges his leg with her knee.

“You’re acting how I thought Phil would,” she says quietly.

Dan shakes his head. “I told you he’d be cool.”

“Well why aren’t you?”

His heart sinks. “I am.”

She tilts her head incredulously.

“I am,” he says again, more firmly this time. “It’s just like. I need to… adjust?”

“Wow.”

“No, not like—” He huffs a steadying breath. “Like, it’s like this feeling like I should have known. And what kind of mate am I to not have seen it.”

He doesn’t think that’s quite it, but it sounds good for now.

“I didn’t see it either.”

He looks down at his lap and chuckles as he shakes his head. “As if you needed something to make you even cooler.”

She grins. “You think I’m cool?”

“What? No. Shut up.”

“Can you just, like… forget everything about the way we normally interact with each other for like ten seconds and give me a fucking hug?”

He pulls her to his chest and crushes his arms around her so hard there’s no way she could doubt he means it. He holds on a little longer than ten seconds so she doesn’t see the tear that rolls down his cheek.

-

It’s late when she heads out. Dan’s not tired but he doesn’t want to be anywhere but under the covers and blanketed in darkness so he asks Phil if they can go to bed. It still makes his stomach squirmy that that’s even a thing.

Phil brushes his teeth first and heads to his room to change. Dan locks the bathroom door behind him and squeezes toothpaste onto his toothbrush, avoiding eye contact with himself in the mirror.

Something is happening. He doesn’t know what it is but he feels instinctually like he needs to hide from it, or at least not acknowledge it in his own head. He brushes so vigorously that when he spits the foam into the sink it’s tinged pink with blood.

He doesn’t bother with pajamas, just pulls off his jeans and jumper and crawls into Phil’s bed in his pants and the t-shirt he’d had on underneath. The lights are off and Phil is facing away from Dan.

Maybe he’s already asleep.

Dan doesn’t care. And he doesn’t hesitate.

He slips under the duvet and shuffles toward until his chest presses against Phil’s back. He presses his knees up into the backs of Phil’s thighs and drops his arm around Phil’s stomach to pull him in even closer.

Phil sighs. It’s a happy sound, and he wriggles back a little against Dan.

It’s not weird. It doesn’t feel weird. It feels right. “Goodnight,” Dan whispers.

“Night, Danny.”

Somehow he knows he’s not going to have nightmares tonight.

Chapter Text

Phil has already gone for work by the time Dan wakes up, but he’s left a post-it note on the fridge that reads yay no nightmares!! ^.^

Dan could weep. It really was the best night’s sleep he’s had in recent memory. He didn’t wake up once, not even when Phil’s alarm must have gone off.

He takes a quick photo of the note before tossing it into the bin and putting some water on for tea. While he waits for hiss of the kettle he sits on the kitchen counter and opens up his texts with Phil.

He wants to say something but he doesn’t actually know what. ‘Thanks for letting me cuddle you’? ‘Thanks for picking up the best friend slack last night when I was having an inexplicable internal meltdown’? ‘Why am I spending so much time thinking about you these days’?

Not that one. Definitely not that one.

The water is boiling before he gives up and shoves his phone back into the pocket of his hoodie.

He takes his tea out to the balcony and sips it while he watches the hustle and bustle of London life while enjoying the fact that today he doesn’t have to join it. He’ll probably feel sad and useless by the time the day is over, as he often does on days off with no plans whatsoever, but for now it’s just a relief.

He eats leftover curry for brunch and plays about two hours worth of video games before he starts to get a particular itch under his skin. It’s the kind that feels a little bit naughty, the kind that usually comes not from actually being turned on but from knowing he should make use of an empty flat while he’s got it.

Also, maybe it’s possible he’s thinking about that scene from that film again and wondering if it would flood his body with such feelings on the seventh rewatch.

Maybe.

He staves off that itch for a while by taking a long shower and then shaving off the tiny bit of stubble he’d managed to grow on his jaw over the past week or so. He brushes his teeth and even flosses just to add a few more minutes to the runtime of urge denial.

Like a sign from the universe, his phone starts ringing just as soon as he’s settled himself down on the sofa to resign himself to his hedonistic fate. He’s even got Netflix open on the telly, but as soon as he sees Bryony’s name on his mobile he answers.

She makes a surprise sound at his hello.
“Bloody hell, has hell frozen over?”

“Don’t ring me if you don’t actually want to speak with me.”

“I do. I just can’t remember the last time you actually answered.”

“Shut up,” he mutters, turning and stretching his legs out over the length of the couch. “Wha’d’you want?”

“Lovely.”

“You don’t ring just to chat,” Dan points out. “That’s why I never answer.”

“That’s not why you never answer.”

“No, but it’s a good excuse.”

“Well maybe today I feel like chatting,” she says, her voice betraying a hint of vulnerability he’s not used to hearing from her. Except of course, last night.

“Why?”

“Oh, I dunno.” The acerbic Bryony he knows and loves is back just like that. “Maybe because I fucking told you I like girls last night and you barely said two words about it?”

Dan’s stomach sinks. “I said lots of words.”

“I just wanna know if you’re gonna be a dick about this or not so I can adjust my expectations.”

“I’m not,” he says quietly. “Don’t even say that.”

“It doesn’t change anything.”

He puts her on speaker and lays back, placing the phone atop his chest. “It does. And that’s not bad. That’s good. Like, character growth and all that.”

“Right…”

“I’m not gonna be a dick,” he says a little more firmly. “Not about this, anyway.” He wants her to laugh.

She doesn’t, but she says, “Gonna hold you to that, Howell,” which he thinks is probably just as good.

Relief bursts in his chest. “So… should we talk about it?”

“I’d rather eat dirt.”

“Oi, come on. Maybe I could give you like, dating tips.”

The other end of the line is silent a moment before she snorts.

“Fuck you,” he says, but he’s smiling. She can’t blame her for not being keen on his wisdom in this particular area.

“I’m not trying to date right now,” she says. “Just gonna live my life and, I dunno… be open, I guess.”

“Yeah. That sounds good.” She doesn’t say anything after that so he decides to push her a little further. “Are you scared?”

“A little.”

He nods like she can see him.

“I feel bad though,” she continues.

“What, why?”

“Not about this, I mean about Phil.”

Dan frowns. “What d’you mean?”

“I mean, I was so afraid to tell him. Like I would’ve told you a lot soon if I thought I could trust you not to tell him. And in the end he was so sweet about it.”

“Phil is sweet,” Dan says, a lot more vehemently than he needs to. “You know that already.”

“Look, I said I felt bad already.”

“Yeah,” Dan mutters, “Sorry. I just don’t get it.”

She huffs a little frustrated breath and he knows he in for it. “Imagine having to tell Phil you like cock.”

His stomach drops. “What?”

“Just put yourself in my shoes,” she clarifies. “Imagine having to tell him you’re not who he thought you were.”

His pulse has kicked up to something anxious even though he knows there’s nothing happening. He reckons he’d be scared too.

Maybe for a different reason. But he’s going to continue to push that aside for now.

“You’re still the same person,” he says. “Phil and I both know that.”

“I don’t know if I want to be the same person,” she says quietly. “Maybe being different is exactly what I want.”

Dan picks up his phone and takes her off speaker. This feels too intimate not to have it close in his ear.

“Well we’re here to love you either way.”

-

They stay on the phone for longer than Dan reckons he’s ever spent on the phone with anyone… besides Phil, of course. When they finally hang up he’s hungry enough for a perfect excuse not to wank to soft core gay porn, but he doesn’t take it.

He’s riding a little high on the wave of Bryony’s bravery. So he puts on the film and watches it through from the beginning without skipping forward. When it gets to the now famous scene he feels a lot of things, but it’s a little less immediate than it had been before. It’s soft and warm and makes him happy but it doesn’t have him reaching into his pants again.

He could leave it there. It’s kind of what he wanted after all, to be reassured that it didn’t mean anything, that he was just responding to a particularly well made film, to a story he found moving and emotionally satisfying enough to get invested in.

He doesn’t leave it there. He shuts off the tv and climbs into bed with his laptop. He opens up an incognito tab to his pornographic website of choice and searches something fairly pedestrian - but with an extra three letter word thrown in.

He watches one bloke suck another bloke off and he wanks to it. It’s hot and it turns him on and it gets him off.

But it doesn’t feel any different than watching a straight couple do exactly the same thing. He feels just as confused as he was before. He has half a mind to call Bryony and pry her for more details of her own revelation, but he reckons he’ll have to be a lot more confused before he gets to that point.

He cleans himself up, grabs his wallet and throws on his shoes. He doesn’t want to let himself spiral today, so he heads outside and underground to catch the train that’ll take him to BBC’s Broadcasting House. He still has a few hours before Phil’s off but he’ll find a way to kill the time.

-

The look of shock on Phil’s face when he sees Dan is worth the wait, especially when Dan hands him an oversized caramel macchiato.

“Is this a bribe?”

Dan shakes his head, smirking and taking a sip of his own drink.

“Oh god,” Phil says. “Did you burn down the flat?”

“Can’t a mate just be bored to tears and too much of an introverted loser to have any other friends?”

“You have friends.”

“I have one other friend and she’s working today and I’m not far gone enough to go in to fucking Topman on my day off. I can pretend I was in the neighbourhood if it makes you feel better.”

Phil shakes his head and drinks some of his drink. “I don’t need to feel better. I’m just surprised.”

Dan shrugs, looking away as they start to walk. “Wanted out of my own head, y’know?”

“And Starbucks,” Phil adds.

Dan nods. “It was kinda nice to just wander around for a while. Better than being at home and—” He almost says something crass, but stops himself. “I cleaned the place yesterday, so I was out of productive coping methods.”

“We need hobbies,” Phil says. “Maybe Bryony can teach us both how to make blankets.”

“Don’t call them blankets in front of her or she’ll tear you a new one,” Dan warns.

“What are they again?”

“Quilts.”

“Oh yeah.” Phil tips his cup back and drinks what must be a quarter of his latte in one go.

“Long day?” Dan asks. “I didn’t, like, keep you up last night, did I?” He says it quietly, as if speaking about it out loud will break whatever spell has kept it from being awkward so far.

“Not you,” Phil says. “You were really quiet.”

Dan frowns. “I’m supposed to be the shit sleeper, not you.”

“I was thinking about Bry.”

“Oh.”

Phil looks over at him and smiles, tight-lipped. “I’m knackered now, I’ll sleep tonight. Don’t worry.”

“She’s doing fine, you know,” Dan says, ignoring Phil’s attempt to brush it off whatever. “I talked to her today.”

Phil nods. “I’m sure she is.”

“She said she felt like shit for being scared to tell you. She said you were sweet.”

“I’m not worried about her,” Phil says. “And I don’t blame her for being scared. It’s a scary thing.”

Dan can’t seem to look away from Phil’s face. He says it like… like he knows. “I can only imagine,” Dan says.

“Yeah. Anyway. She’s fine, I’m fine. I’m happy to see you.” Phil smiles and this time it looks much more genuine.

“Are you?” His shoulder stings with Phil reaches out and punches him.

“Yes, idiot. What’s next on the agenda?”

“Umm… we go home and you cook me dinner?” He grins innocently.

Phil rolls his eyes. “Fine. But we need some shopping first if that’s the case. You know, we might as well be married at this point, I swear.”

Dan hides his reaction behind the lid of his coffee cup. He’s not sure he’s allowed to smile so widely at a joke like that.

-

He dreams again about a faceless person, but this time it’s nice. There’s no featureless void where eyes and a mouth should be, just a feeling of not being alone.

It’s hazy and warm and he feels good. There’s pleasure coursing everywhere, hands on his body stroking and tugging and encouraging that feeling with gentleness and patience. Something’s going to happen and it’s going to be good, it’s going to feel so good.

Then he rolls over like an idiot and wakes himself up, something hard and bony pressing into his stomach.

“Ow,” Phil croaks.

Dan jumps and scuffles away as he’s ripped fully into conscious and oriented into situational awareness.

Phil frowns, lifting up his face from where it’d been buried in his pillow just moments before. His eyes are puffy from sleep and his brow is furrowed in confusion. “What’s— why’re you so jumpy?”

Dan sits up against the headboard and pulls his knees up. “Sorry, I just— dreaming. I didn’t mean to…”

“You just squashed my arm a bit, it’s fine. Why’re you weird?”

Dan looks down at Phil’s face and decides it’s probably weirder to deny it than to just tell the truth. “I’m kind of, like… hard.”

Phil laughs and rolls over from his stomach onto his side. “Is that it?”

“I was having… dreams.” Christ, he’s awkward. Why does he have to make it so bleeding awkward?

“Lucky,” Phil says. “Hope it was good.”

“It wasn’t like— I was asleep,” Dan says defensively.

“It’s not a big deal at all. I’m hard too.” He says it so casually.

Any reaction Dan has then is surely just vestiges of the hotness of the dream. Surely.

“You are?”

“I am most mornings,” Phil says. “Are you not?”

Dan shakes his head. Phil shrugs and rolls onto his back and Dan has to force his eyes to stay locked on Phil’s face and not down to check with perverted curiosity if the duvet is tenting at all.

“Looks like I’m the weirdo, not you,” Phil says.

“What do you…” Dan gestures his hand vaguely in the air, hoping he doesn’t have to actually say the words, but Phil just looks at him blankly. “... Do about it?”

“I mean, nothing? Not with you in my bed. I guess I used to just wank it out and either go back to sleep or get up?”

“I’m cramping your style.” The realization hits him that Phil is rarely home when Dan isn’t. His balls must be blue as hell by now.

Phil smirks. “The shower exists, mate.”

Great, now he’s thinking about his best mate wanking in the shower. He needs to be normal. He needs to act as he might have before his weird third-life crisis or whatever the fuck is happening to him now.

“Ok well, shut your eyes, Lester. I’m gonna go wank it out in the shower.”

Phil grins and grabs Dan’s pillow to cover his face. “Have fun!” he shouts, muffled through the fabric.

In fact, Dan does have fun, and it doesn’t take long after getting so worked up in his sleep.

Phil’s in the kitchen when Dan gets there. He’s smirking like a cheeky little asshole.

“Shut up,” Dan mutters, pushing him out of the way to get to the fridge.

“Didn’t say anything. Besides I can’t take the piss when I just did the exact same thing.”

Dan decides to try hard not to be awkward any longer. “How was it?”

“Standard wank, I’d say. You?”

Dan nods. “‘Bout the same. Hot water is a nice touch, though.”

“Very true.”

Dan turns to look in the fridge and then yelps a little when Phil grabs his shirt and tugs at it. “Oi, what—”

“We’re going out,” Phil informs him.

“We are?”

“Yup. I owe you a coffee.”

“No you don’t,” Dan argues. He’s definitely going to come out on the losing side if they start discussing who owes who what.

“Fine then, I want to buy you a coffee,” Phil says.

“What if I’m hungry?”

“Then I want to buy you breakfast.”

Dan looks at the time on the microwave. “What if it’s almost midday?”

Phil smiles that tongue-pokey-out smile and gives Dan’s shoulder a gentle shove. “Then I wanna buy you lunch! Let me be nice to you.”

Dan narrows his eyes. “I don’t trust it.”

“I’m always nice to you.”

“So maybe I should buy you lunch,” Dan offers. “Also, like… is the sleeping thing just making things suck for you? What if you wanna wank without having to worry about me? Or like, if you’re out and you meet someone—”

“I’m the one who suggested the sleeping thing,” Phil interrupts. “I’m a grown man, I can wank when it’s a good time to wank.”

“Ok,” Dan says quietly. “Sorry.”

“You know how you wanted to be out of the house and out of your head the other day?” Phil asks.

Dan nods.

“Well that’s where I’m at today. I wanna go out and I’d like if you came with me. I’m not really bothered about the details.”

Dan shuts the fridge. “Let’s go then.”

-

They walk for a long time, chatting idly until they end up at a cafe with white tiled walls and green stools and baskets of plants hanging from the ceiling. They order salads and sandwiches and the best latte Dan’s ever had, with a heart formed out of milk and espresso on the top.

Phil gets a pudding afterwards with ice cream and a tiny little purple flower on top. Dan laughs at him a little bit but then Phil hands him the flower and it works to shut him up.

“What am I meant to do with this?” Dan asks. “What kind of bougie place puts flowers on puddings?”

“Eat it,” Phil says. “I dare you.”

“I’ll do it, but only because I feel bad about how much this food is gonna cost you.”

“Go on then.”

Dan rolls his eyes and pops it in his mouth. It’s bitter as hell, but he keeps a poker face just to fuck with Phil. “A little anticlimactic, eh?”

Phil definitely looks a little put out.

“I think you’re secretly a sadist,” Dan laughs. “Let me try that.” He grabs Phil’s spoon out of his hand and scoops up some ice cream.

Instead of squawking about germs or personal space Phil just says, “Get some of the cakey bit underneath.”

“A very kind and generous sadist.” Dan goes in for another bite, this time with cake. “Fuck that’s good.”

Phil smiles smugly and then goes quiet as he eats the rest of it. Dan sips the dregs of his latte with an uncomfortable feeling like he’s said something wrong. It’s not until they’ve left and they’re kind of wandering down the pavement aimlessly that Phil asks, “Do you think Bryony is going to be happier now?”

“Um. I don’t know,” Dan admits. “I wanna say yes, but I guess, like… people can be shitty about that kind of thing.”

“You think she’s gonna tell people?”

“Well… she told us.”

“Yeah,” Phil says, “but she didn’t even really want to tell me, and I’m meant to be her best friend.”

“I reckon sometimes telling your best friend something like that can actually be harder than telling a complete stranger,” Dan says gently.

“Yeah. That’s true.” Phil sighs. “Still feels kind of crap, though.”

“Yeah,” Dan agrees, nudging Phil’s side with his elbow. “Maybe you lot should talk.”

“Are you suggesting healthy adult communication to deal with my insecurities?”

“I know it’s awful, but yes,” Dan says. “Maybe just this once.”

“Ugh.” Phil crosses his arms over his chest. “Never thought you’d be the one giving me advice like that.”

“If you’d prefer we can go home and avoid everything by playing Mario Kart for eight hours straight until we pass out. Leave the hard stuff for later.”

“Procrastination?”

Dan shrugs. “It’s my speciality after all.”

Phil smiles. “Perfect. Let’s do that.”

Chapter Text

Nighttime transforms not so gradually from something that fills Dan’s insides with dread to the restful and rejuvenating experience it’s meant to be.

He pushes the fact that he owes it all to Phil to the back of his mind. The reminder of his dependence makes his stomach churn, so he chooses to ignore it. At least for now.

Because sleeping feels amazing. Crawling into bed at night without having to worry about the potential for emotional scarring is dramatically freeing. Mornings dawn without the agony of sleep deprivation. He can get through full shifts without wondering if he could get away with finding an ill-frequented dark corner of the shop to nap in. Bryony looks out for him, but even she’d be hard pressed not to call him out for literally sleeping on the job.

The nightmares don’t disappear completely. Sometimes he still dreams about stretching up for his mother’s arms and never quite being able to reach or being trapped in various cold and desolate locations in all-consuming solitude, but a long arm draped over his waist or even a faint snore next to his ear is enough to put his mind to rights enough to fall back to sleep.

Sometimes Dan stays up later than Phil cares to, mindlessly scrolling reddit or watching youtube or raiding until his hands are cramped. Phil is generally better at knowing his limits and choosing not to push against them as hard as Dan does against his. A few times he’d fallen asleep on the sofa waiting for Dan, but now if he’s tired he’ll just go to bed and Dan will join him later, slipping in as quietly as he can and tucking him up against Phil’s back.

He’s always touching Phil in some capacity when sleep takes him. It becomes routine shockingly quickly. It feels like second nature when Phil’s bony knees press into the backs of his thighs. If they come apart over the course of the night they always find each other again in the morning, even if it’s only for the ten minutes between Phil’s alarms.

Dan gets used to wanking in the shower. It doesn’t feel like a humiliation to wake up stiff, though they both manage to keep that boundary firmly uncrossed. They become experts at cuddle positions that don’t expose each other to evidence of the other’s morning wood.

Waking up for work still sucks, because work still sucks. Dan still works the same job and still feels the same guilt and regret at seeming to remain unable to make a change.

He still makes a shit wage. He still has to scrape to get rent together, and he still pays a little late despite Phil’s many reminders that the end of the month was rapidly approaching.

But at least he sleeps. Nothing feels quite as bad with a good night’s rest under his belt.

“I’m totally and completely skint,” he grumbles the morning after giving scary landlord lady essentially every pound he has. He’s just finished checking on his phone how much he has left and it still shocks him every time to see the number in his account preceded by a minus symbol. He doesn’t actually think landlord lady is scary but that’s how he thinks of her now thanks to Phil’s unflinching conviction that she secretly has it out for him.

“That’s alright,” Phil says, setting down a mug of tea on the table in front of Dan.

“What about groceries?”

Phil shrugs. “I’ll get them.”

Dan picks up his tea and takes a sip despite the fact that it’s still far too hot. “You shouldn’t have to,” Dan mutters. He’s grateful, but it still feels like shit.

“You shouldn’t have to do all the washing up. And laundry. And tidying,” Phil says, sitting across the table from Dan. “But you do. We help each other out, it’s not a big deal.”

Dan frowns. “But what if you get hit by a lorry or fall down the stairs and break your neck?”

“Jesus, Dan.”

“Sorry.”

Phil shakes his head and takes a drink of his coffee. “We should do something fun tonight.”

“I have negative eighty three pounds, Phil,” Dan says sourly.

Phil shrugs. “Don’t need money to invite Bryony over and drink wine.”

“Oh. You want me to ask her ‘round?”

“Yeah. If you want.”

“Have you talked much?” Dan asks. “Since…?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “We’ve been talking a lot lately.”

Dan smiles, surprised by how happy that makes him. “That’s brilliant.”

Phil smiles too, looking down at his mug and nodding.

“Don’t replace me as your best mate, though,” Dan blurts. “Even though she’s richer and funnier and smarter than me. And has cooler hair.”

Phil laughs and knocks back the rest of his coffee. He stands up and says, “You’re an idiot. I’ve got to get to work.”

Dan scowls, throwing up his middle finger and preparing to return to his tea and mobile twitter app browsing when Phil walks over and plants a fat wet kiss right on Dan’s temple. “Have a good day, stupid.”

Dan sits there stunned for a moment before he’s able to choke out a, “you too.”

-

It’s in the back of his mind all day. Sometimes at the front, actually, but luckily Bryony’s shift only starts a half hour after his. She’s a good distraction.

“Phil wants you to come ‘round tonight and make us happy.”

She frowns. “What the fuck?”

He plays his words back in his own head before realizing how suggestive they sound. “Not like that you sick freak, god. Ew.”

“Thanks.”

He ignores her faux offense. “I meant like, entertain us. With your wits.”

“My wits,” she repeats.

“Yes. Wits. Charms. Other nouns that don’t imply anything pervy.”

She narrows her eyes at him. “Are you weirder than normal today?”

It’s almost as if Dan can feel Phil’s lip marks glowing neon red, like a beacon on his face that screams something to the world that he doesn’t even know for himself yet.

A big part of him wants to tell her. He’s starting to feel well and truly confused about things and who better to help him through it than her?

Instead he says, “Is your mum weirder than normal today?”

She launches a pair of socks at his face. “I’ll come, but only for Phil.”

-

Dan’s scrubbing the sink when Phil gets home with a pinched look on his face.

“What’s wrong?” He peels the bright yellow rubber gloves off and chucks them under the sink with the rest of the cleaning products.

Phil tries to smile, but Dan can tell it takes effort.

“Headache,” he admits. “Might go lie down for a bit.”

“Have you taken anything?” Dan asks.

Phil shakes his head and Dan pushes him gently in the direction of the bathroom. “Go get some ibuprofen.”

He fills a glass of water and has it waiting when Phil obediently returns. He watches Phil swallow down the tablets like some kind of weird mother hen.

Phil, ever the psychic, says, “Thanks mum.”

“You’ll thank me in half an hour young man. Should I cancel with Bryony?”

“Oh bollocks. I forgot.”

“There’s still time to ring her,” Dan says.

Phil shakes his head. “I really wanna see her. I’ll just lie down til she gets here?”

“Of course.” Dan lets his voice go a little gentler. “You don’t have to ask my permission.”

“Right. Ok then.” Phil puts his glass on the counter and walks away.

Dan crouches down and has just enough time to fish the gloves out again before Phil suddenly reappears.

“Would you come with me?” he asks quietly.

Dan stands up and studies Phil’s face for a quick moment, taking in the circles beneath his eyes and the vulnerability in his voice before saying, “Ok.”

He wants to kick himself for not choosing something a little kinder, but relief floods Phil’s face nonetheless. “Thanks.”

Dan follows him to the bedroom— Phil’s bedroom. It’s Phil’s. Phil flicks the lights off and steps out of his jeans before crawling into bed.

Dan just stands there unsure if he’s meant to take his jeans off too. His hand is resting indecisively on his belt buckle when Phil’s tired voice asks after him, so he climbs in next to Phil jeans and all and fits himself against the back of Phil’s body.

Phil sighs, wiggling back a little, his still-socked feet rubbing against Dan’s.

Dan’s insides feel all squirmy and warm in a way he’s dead sure they shouldn’t. He wraps his arm right around Phil’s waist anyway and closes his eyes.

-

He’s startled awake by the sound of the doorbell, and Phil is too if the wiggling under his arm is any indication. The room is dark and Dan’s brain is dense and foggy with sleep. “The fuck is that?” he groans, fumbling his hand around in the sheets for his phone.

“Bryony, I reckon,” Phil croaks back.

Dan jolts up to sit. “Oh yeah, shit.”

The doorbell rings again, followed by a somewhat less than patient knock and Dan hops out of bed, panic restoring his energy and mental clarity.

“I’ll get the door, you get some trousers,” Dan says on his way out. He can hear Phil’s groaned response and Dan silently agrees. He’d really rather spend the night in bed with Phil.

He rushes to the door and pulls it open in time to save Bryony knocking again. Her hair is twisted up in a bun that looks exactly like candy floss and her frown of confusion is undisguised.

“Were you sleeping?”

He steps out of the way to let her in. “Fell asleep on the sofa,” is the first response that comes to mind.

Phil’s just coming down the hall clad in his York hoodie and a pair of dark grey sweats when Dan closes the door behind Bryony.

“What the hell,” she says. “Were you sleeping too?”

There’s no mistaking the sleepy puff of Phil’s eyes, the muss of his hair from lying on a pillow for a good hour and a half.

“Hey Bry,” he says, ignoring her question and wrapping her up in a hug that Dan can tell just from looking is warm and tight. “How are you?”

She shoots Dan a look and Dan turns away to pretend he hasn’t seen it. He can’t deal with the implication of her knowing he and Phil just woke up from a nap together. He can’t.

“Did you eat?” Dan asks her.

She shakes her head. “I’m starving.”

“Me too,” Phil chimes.

Dan raises his eyebrows ever so slightly. “Yeah?” Phil doesn’t usually have much appetite when he’s got one of his headaches.

But Phil nods. “Barely ate all day. Whatcha cookin’ for us? And nothing vegan,” he warns, pointing an accusatory finger.

“Vegan?” Bryony asks incredulously.

Dan rolls his eyes. “I’ll make my world famous pasta and sauce straight from the jar.”

“That’s vegan!” Phil exclaims.

Dan grins. “Not if you put cheese on it.”

Bryony snorts.

“I hate you.” Phil sticks his tongue out. “Let’s order sushi.”

“Can’t afford it,” Dan says, looking pointedly at Bryony.

“You know I can’t just give you a raise,” she says defensively. “There are rules.”

“I’ll pay,” Phil interjects. “Now that it’s in my head I need it.”

“Got yourself a sugar daddy, I see,” Bryony says to Dan. She kicks off her shoes and heads for the kitchen. “D’you lot have anything to drink?”

If Dan catches Phil looking at him for a moment before looking away awkwardly, he pretends he doesn’t notice.

-

They’ve gone through two bottles of wine by the time their food finally arrives.

“It’s all Phil’s fault for insisting on sushi,” Dan says. “We could’ve been eating my pasta like two hours ago.”

“Sushi is the funnest food to eat,” Phil tells them matter-of-factly, giving up trying to use chopsticks to pick up his spicy tuna roll almost as soon as he’s started. He plucks it up with his fingers and shoves it into his mouth.

“Most fun,” Bryony corrects.

Phil shakes his head. “Funnest.”

All three of them are sat on the sofa with Phil in the middle. Dan finds himself looking at Phil a lot, checking for signs that he’s in pain and just trying to soldier through for their guest. He reckons Phil’s gone a little too hard on the wine considering he’s just barely managed to stave off a migraine, but for now he looks loose and happy and Dan can’t seem to take his eyes off that either.

“Why is sushi more fun than, like, pizza?” Dan asks. “What is your criteria for making food fun?”

“Pizza is fun because you eat it with your fingers and it’s triangle shaped and it tastes good and you can put pretty much anything on it.”

Dan nods. “Ok. Good reasons.”

“Sushi is the funnest because you can eat it off of bodies.”

Bryony makes a half laughing, half choking sound. “What the fuck? Are you some kind of sick necrophile?”

“No, I mean like…” He sighs like he’s trying to explain something to a particularly dense child, then slumps down on the sofa and yanks the bottom of his hoodie up to his chin and places a roll right on top of his belly button. “And then someone eats it.”

Dan and Bryony exchange a bewildered look that quickly turns to amusement.

“Phil, what the fuck,” Bryony laughs. “No one does sushi body shots.”

“Yes they do!” Phil protests. “Usually the person is naked. It’s a thing, look it up if you don’t believe me.”

“Mate,” she says, shaking her head. “You’ve got weird kinks.”

Phil pouts. “It’s not weird, it’s fun.” He’s still slumped back with food on his stomach and at this point Dan can’t actually tell if he’s genuinely upset or not. He’s not always comfortable with the way Bryony takes the piss, and he happens to be a rather emotional drinker.

The idea that Phil is embarrassed is too much for Dan to handle at the moment, so he makes a split second decision borne out of pure sympathy and ducks his head down to snatch the roll up with his mouth. His lip brushes against the hair on Phil’s stomach because he’s trying to be quick about it. He snaps back up and with his mouth still full says, “You’re right, it’s fun.” He shoots daggers from his eyes at a rather stunned looking Bryony.

“I ain’t eating anything off your hairy boy stomach,” she says eventually.

Dan’s stomach tightens waiting for the hurt to register on Phil’s face, but instead Phil pulls his hoodie back down and laughs. “Fair enough.”

-

They’re all too tired and full of food and fermented grape to do anything but watch a film afterwards. Bryony gets to choose, so of course she chooses Avengers, but no one’s really complaining. It’s comforting to watch something they all know they like.

“I know I’m meant to like girls now, but can we all agree that Chris Evans is like, ultimate level beautiful human?” Bryony says. She’s tucked into the corner of the sofa with her little feet in their mint green socks laid on top of Phil’s lap.

“You’re so basic,” Dan scoffs.

“I reckon Thor is way fitter,” Phil says matter-of-factly. His head is lolled against the back of the sofa, his feet crossed at the ankles on the coffee table still littered with remnants of dinner.

Dan and Bryony look at him in almost comical unison. He’s never said anything like that before. For once, Bryony keeps whatever’s in her head to herself, so Dan takes it upon himself to fill the silence. “It’s the hair, yeah?”

“And the abs,” Phil murmurs. He sounds so sleepy and distant, like he’s not really here but somewhere far away in his own mind.

Dan suddenly wishes rather fiercely that Bryony wasn’t here. He can’t say what he wants to say with her sat right there looking at Phil with unmasked curiosity. He bites his tongue and turns back to the film, but all he can really focus on after that is Chris Hemsworth and his stupid abs.

About half an hour later Dan feels a soft thump against his shoulder. He turns his head and is greeted by Phil’s mop of messy black hair. He’s fallen asleep and apparently chosen Dan as his pillow.

Dan’s heart bursts with fondness for a second or two before quickly being chased away by something less nice when he sees Bryony looking over at him.

“He’s got a headache,” Dan offers, his voice hushed. “Think he had a rough day at work.”

“Right.”

Dan’s insides feel twisty and awful. “Also he drank more than usual.”

She nods and turns away, pulling her phone out of her pocket to check the time. “It’s late. I should get going anyway, we both work tomorrow morning.”

He should offer to let her stay over.

Instead he groans and says, “What sadistic asshat makes the schedule at that hellhole?”

She flips him off then puts her phone to her ear to call a taxi.

Dan hates to do it, but he squeezes Phil’s shoulder to wake him up before Bryony’s car arrives.

“What?” Phil asks confused, lifting his head from Dan’s shoulder and wiping at the corner of his mouth. “Did I fall asleep?”

“Guess Thor’s abs weren’t all that captivating after all,” Bryony muses.

“Huh?” Phil frowns his confusion, but Bryony’s phone goes off at that moment and she stands up.

“I’m off.”

“You’re leaving?” Phil asks, seeming to wake up a lot more then.

She nods. “It’s late. You need your beauty sleep.”

Dan tries to fight the sinking feeling that something has changed irrevocably tonight. “You don’t need any ‘cause you’re already so pretty.”

She walks over to him and pinches his chin. “Aren’t you just full of shit.” She leans down and kisses his forehead and then does the same to Phil. “Night boys.”

Once she’s gone Dan finds the remote and turns off the telly. They’re still sat on the sofa in the dark and Phil’s head has found its way to Dan’s shoulder again.

“Sorry I fell asleep.”

“Don’t be,” Dan says gently. “She’s right, you need rest.”

“Yeah but I don’t get to see her that much anymore.”

Dan smiles. Phil’s just so bloody cute sometimes. “She’ll forgive you. C’mon, let’s go to bed.”

They stop by the bathroom and brush their teeth side by side before heading to Phil’s room. Dan’s not drunk, he just feels pleasantly heavy and somehow floaty at the same time. He watches Phil pull his hoodie off and crawl into bed shirtless.

Dan’s still wearing jeans and in his tired brain going to his room to fetch pjs is unthinkable, so he unbuckles them and peels them off and follows Phil under the covers in nothing but pants and a t-shirt. He envelops the back of Phil’s body and pulls him close, breathing in the sweet scent of him and melting into the mattress. It’s possible he’s never been more sleepy and comfortable than he is in this moment.

Phil lays his arm over top of Dan’s, his palm cupping the back of Dan’s hand.

“How’s your head?” Dan asks, perhaps just to distract himself.

“Better,” Phil murmurs. He sounds half asleep already.

“Good.”

Dan closes his eyes, ready for sleep to take him. He’s nearly there when he hears Phil’s voice, deep and quiet in the darkness. “Dan?”

“Mm?”

“Do you miss bringing girls home?”

His heart punches out a couple erratic beats. This is going to start getting harder to deny, he reckons.

“No.”

Chapter Text

Phil’s alarm goes off four times before Dan’s had enough of being woken up by it. He pushes on Phil’s shoulder none too gently, Phil grumbling the whole time until he starts to fall over the edge.

“I’m going, I’m going.” He sits up and Dan cracks an eye open to see the pale length of his back spotted with freckles. His shoulders are a lot broader than Dan had ever noticed.

They’ve just recently taken to sleeping the way they would if they weren’t sharing a bed: shirtless. It adds a whole new dimension to their late night and early morning spooning, the press of skin on skin. Dan’s running out of ways to deny to himself how much he likes it.

He likes the look of Phil’s back, too. He kind of likes it a lot. It looks inviting somehow. He wants to reach out and smooth his palm over Phil’s shoulder blades just to feel the softness of his skin and the jut of his bone, but he reckons that would be yet another step further over the line and he’s still reeling a little from the feeling of Phil’s chest pressed against his back a few moments ago.

“Don’t you have to get up?” Phil asks, yawning and reaching for his glasses.

“Not yet. Just a half shift today.”

“Lucky.” He stands and stretches his arms up and Dan doesn’t even pretend not to be looking.

Phil turns around and definitely catches Dan looking but he’s kind enough not to say anything. “I’m gonna shower.”

“Yeah, good,” Dan says, rolling onto his back and pulling Phil’s duvet up to his chin. “You smell.”

“Like roses.”

“Like ass roses,” Dan counters, too sleepy yet to think of something actually clever.

Phil smiles like Dan’s said something cute. “Yeah well… you snore.”

“So do you.”

“You snore louder,” Phil argues.

“You have no proof, Lester. That wouldn’t stand up in a court of law.” Before Phil can make a jab, Dan says, “No law school dropout jokes allowed.”

Phil frowns. “I would never.”

Dan’s stomach goes all squirmy at the sincerity in Phil’s voice. “Go shower. I won’t be blamed for you being late.”

He must fall asleep after Phil’s gone, because the next thing he’s aware of is the sound of soft footsteps on the floor. He opens his eyes and Phil is stood there rubbing a towel over his hair.

He’s fully, completely, one hundred percent naked.

It doesn’t even cross Dan’s mind not to look.

What he does is stare. Phil’s got all the same bits as Dan, and truth be told it’s not the first time Dan’s caught a glimpse, but it’s the first time he hasn’t made a joke and shielded his eyes. It’s the first time he keeps looking like he wants to commit it to memory.

“You’re awake,” Phil says softly.

Dan’s heart skips a beat and his eyes dart up to look at Phil’s face. Phil’s hair is wild and sticking out everywhere and the towel stays clutched in his hand. He doesn’t wrap it around his waist or act in any way like he needs to cover himself up.

It feels like a challenge.

What does it mean if they both act like it’s normal? What does it mean that Phil saw Dan staring at his cock and still isn’t making any move to be less naked?

What does it mean that Dan’s gripping his own dick through his pj bottoms and it is decidedly no longer soft?

Stupid question. Dan knows what it means.

“Not really,” Dan croaks.

“You’re still sleeping?” Phil asks.

Dan nods, squeezing himself when Phil turns around and heads for the wardrobe to get dressed finally.

“You look very awake when you’re asleep,” Phil says. Dan can’t see his face anymore but he thinks Phil sounds a little too pleased with himself.

Dan’s head is spinning a little. He squeezes his eyes shut and wills himself not to open them again. The image of Phil’s ass, pale white and surprisingly round is already burned into his brain.

He lasts about ten seconds before he opens one eye to just a slit, just to make sure Phil’s not looking at him. He’s not, so Dan opens his eyes again and watches Phil pull a pair of sushi patterned briefs up over his ass.

It’s possible Dan’s hand pushes down into his own pants to squeeze around himself more directly.

It’s possible that as soon as Phil is dressed and out the door with a smile and a wave, Dan tugs one out quickly and rather desperately, making a mess of both his pajamas and whatever tenuous hold he’d had left on his heterosexuality.

-

“What’s up with you and Phil?”

He looks at her with owl-wide eyes and a spike of genuine panic clawing up his throat. “What?”

How does she know? She couldn’t possibly know. Does being bisexual suddenly give her superhuman gaydar or something?

“You lot were acting so strange the other day.”

They’re sat across from each other at a little table in the food court, big steaming bowls of mediocre ramen in front of them. Dan had been absentmindedly scrolling through instagram on his phone while Bryony waffled about the latest kpop fic she’d read, but now his hands are clammy and his pulse is pounding in his ears.

“No we weren’t,” he says automatically.

She frowns. “What’s going on with you?”

Dan pockets his phone and scoops up an obscene amount of noodle and slurps it up to avoid doing anything awkward with his face. And maybe to buy time to think of something to say that makes sense.

He could tell her the truth. She might actually have some good advice, or at least valuable insight.

He looks at her and thinks of saying the words he’s hesitant to even say inside his own head and it feels impossible. He can’t tell her he thinks he might be ever so slightly attracted to the bloke they both call their best mate. He just can’t.

“Nothing new,” he says finally, wiping a bit of broth off his lip with his arm. “Same old shit. Daily existential crises about the inherent meaninglessness of life as we know it.”

She rolls her eyes. “You need a fucking hobby, Dan.”

He sighs. “I know.”

She’s still looking at him suspiciously, but she doesn’t say anything else. He knows if things keep up as they are he won’t be able to hide it forever. Something has to hit the fan eventually, one way or the other.

-

He stays lost in his thoughts all day.

Everything feels different somehow, like his whole world has shifted just a little to the left on its axis.

He can’t stop thinking about Phil. He can’t stop thinking about Phil’s body and how nice is it to fall asleep holding him, how comforting it is to wake up every morning knowing he’ll still be right there.

He reckons he likes Phil’s body. He liked looking at it this morning. It makes his insides fluttery just to think of it now.

It also makes him wonder if Phil had felt anything similar when he’d seen Dan’s body. He hadn’t gotten quite as good a look to be fair, but Dan can’t pretend he doesn’t hope it at least gave Phil pause.

He feels on the precipice of something. He doesn’t really know what, but it gives him a warm kind of thrill somewhere deep down, somewhere he’d been expecting to feel fear when he finally stopped denying things to himself. Not that he’s ready to admit anything either, but it’s impossible to ignore at this point that something is changing, even it only ever stays inside his own head.

“Can I ask you a question?” he says to Bryony, out of what must seem to her like nowhere.

“You just did.”

He ignores her. “Do you think you were always bi?”

“Oi.” She looks around the shop nervously. “No one else knows yet, idiot.”

He slaps his hand over his mouth. “Fuck, sorry.” Luckily none of their coworkers happen to be within earshot.

“Anyway,” she says, voice gone much quieter than before. “I think yes.”

“Yeah?”

She shrugs. “Not in a way like I was actively denying it to myself or anything. Just, thinking back on certain things… it makes sense.”

“Like what?” he asks.

She narrows her eyes at him. She’s been doing that a lot lately. “Why are you interrogating me, Howell?”

“I’m not,” he mumbles. “Sorry. I can fuck off.”

She’s quiet for a bit. “I always liked looking at girls,” she says eventually.

He looks up at her. She’s looking off to the side like she’s not sure she even wants to be discussing it.

“Yeah?” he says gently, both to encourage her to continue and to show her he’s not going to joke like he usually would.

“I guess I always assumed it was like, jealousy? Or like an ‘I wish I looked like her’ thing. Or like, girl crushes, y’know? Is that a thing for blokes? Guy crushes?”

He could tell her right now. It’d be a perfect time.

Instead he says, “Um. Not really?”

“Phil has one.”

Dan’s heart flips flops like a dying fish. “What?”

She stares at him. “Thor?”

Dan bites his lip - and his tongue. The asshole in him wants to ask her why she assumes it’s just a guy crush, but he’s not going to do that to Phil. He’s just a little offended at the hypocrisy. “Right,” he says, regretting even starting this conversation in the first place.

Blessedly the shop gets busy soon after that and Dan is spared the special kind of awkwardness of trying to disguise himself in plain sight. He hates that it suddenly feels like he can’t talk to her, but he just doesn’t know how.

Not about this. Not yet.

-

Phil’s not home yet when Dan gets back to the flat; he’d texted something about a long stupid meeting and ‘not getting paid enough for this rubbish,’ so Dan has the place to himself for now. He rummages around in the fridge for something to eat before giving in to laziness and just eating some cereal straight out of the box.

Of course that just makes him think about Phil again. And thinking about Phil makes him think about this morning, and Phil’s naked back. And ass. And cock.

And now Dan’s thinking about cock and he doesn’t hate it. It makes heat prickle under his skin. He shoves one more huge handful of Crunchy Nut into his gob and heads for his bedroom.

It feels so unfamiliar to him now. He hardly ever spends time in here anymore. Really it’s just the place he keeps his clothes.

And the place he explores his newfound fascination with queer erotica. He’s just… trying to figure his shit out.

He opens his laptop and is mildly horrified to see that he hadn’t even closed out of whatever video he’d been watching the last time. He must have found it satisfying if it was the last one he’d watched, but playing it back now he thinks he’d rate it a solid ‘meh.’

It’s fine. It’s sex. It gets the job done, he supposes, but there’s really nothing here that grabs him. Just men and their bits going through the motions. They’re fit men to be sure, technically, big muscles and big dicks, but Dan finds himself bored after the first few minutes. He scrolls down, careful to avoid the comments in search of something more to his liking.

Twenty minutes later he’s watched the first few minutes of about ten videos and is thinking maybe he’s just not in the mood for this tonight when a certain thumbnail catches his eye.

There are no dicks, which is probably the first thing he notices, but there’s something else. The photo is small but something about it evokes an innocence he doesn’t usually encounter on this corner of the internet.

Approximately five seconds into the video and he already feels like he’s been punched in the gut by his own arousal, and it only intensifies as the seconds progress.

All they’re really doing is kissing. They’re just lying on a bed holding each other and kissing like they’re actually enjoying it. They look like real people, no bulging biceps or oiled up six packs in sight. Just two blokes in jeans and colourful socks with emo haircuts pressed together, groping and snogging.

One of them happens to have black hair and a profile that looks similar to a certain flatmate of Dan’s. The other has brown hair that looks an awful lot like Dan’s did when he was about eighteen.

He’s not going to analyze this. He keeps his eyes glued to the screen as they start to undress each other slowly and he follows suit, unzipping his jeans and struggling to kick them off. He gives up when they bunch up tight around his ankles because it doesn’t matter. He can reach what he wants to reach now.

He doesn’t even make it to the end of the video before he’s grabbing for a sock, but he keeps watching even after he’s sullied it and tossed it back onto the floor. He just wants to see how it ends.

Turns out he was in the mood after all, he just needed the right inspiration, because he keeps watching similar videos until he’s recovered enough to go again. He lasts longer this time, enough to draw the feeling out and properly enjoy it. He manages to find a video with someone who looks almost exactly like Phil did when they first met, and when he comes it feels like a very toe curling nail in his coffin.

-

Next thing he knows he’s opening his eyes to pitch black and a heavy, drowsy confusion. His first instinct is panic, but then there’s a hand on his arm and a soft sleepy voice beside him asking, “Where you going?”

“Phil?” He tries to blink his eyes open more.

“Expecting someone else?”

“What’s—” He struggling to form thoughts through the urge to sink down into his pillow and go back to sleep. “What time is it?”

“I dunno,” Phil croaks. “Late I reckon.”

“I don’t remember you coming home.”

“That’s ‘cause you were asleep,” Phil says shuffling in a little closer. “Found you on your bed with no trousers on and your laptop open to… stuff.”

“Oh my god,” Dan mutters under his breath. “Fuck.”

“S’ok,” Phil murmurs sleepily.
“I just brushed my teeth and climbed in to join you.”

“We’re in my room?” Dan asks, surprised.

Phil chuckles. “You’re really out of it, eh?”

“I… I think I’m going to die of a million simultaneous cringe attacks.”

“No,” Phil says, throwing his arm over Dan’s chest. “Not allowed.”

“No?”

“Nope. Against the rules. I already decided.”

Dan smiles, reaching up and rubbing Phil’s arm. “Can we pretend you didn’t find me passed out post wank, then?”

“I shan’t mention it again,” Phil promises. “For at least a few days.”

“I hate you,” Dan murmurs, eyes falling closed again, ready to return to sleep with the extra reassurance of knowing Phil is next to him.

“Well, technically you saw me post wank today too,” Phil says softly. “At least your bits were covered.”

Dan’s body has a reaction he never gave it permission to have. “What, this morning?”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “Thought you’d still be asleep.”

“Oh,” Dan manages to say. “Well… that’s ok.”

It’s silent for long enough that Dan thinks that’ll be the end of it for tonight. He’s thinking about Phil wanking in the shower and trying not to when Phil speaks again.

“I have a confession to make.”

“What?” His heart is impressing him by continuing to prove its capacity for beating faster and faster.

“I watched the video you had open,” Phil says quietly.

Yeah, Dan’s definitely going to die of the cringe.

“It was really hot,” Phil continues quietly.

Dan hopes Phil doesn’t shift his body at all. He really doesn’t fancy the added humiliation of his half boner being found out. “Yeah,” he says. “I thought so too.”

It feels like just as much of a confession for Dan. The implications are a lot for both of them. He wants to acknowledge it, to tell Phil how happy and safe he makes Dan feel, how accepted and understood and comforted and so many more good things.

He decides turning on his side and cuddling up is probably just as good.

Chapter Text

“Don’t forget, Bryony’s coming round tonight.”

“Is she?” Dan asks. He’s tucked up against Phil’s back trying to ignore the fact that he should’ve gotten up ten minutes ago to shower for work. Every day it gets harder and harder to leave their nest of blankets and warmth for the outside world. At least it does for Dan.

“She didn’t tell you?” Phil asks incredulously.

“No. Must’ve slipped her mind.”

It’s quiet for a beat before Phil asks. “Everything alright with you two?”

Dan frowns, pulling his head back from where his chin was dug into Phil’s shoulder. “What, why?”

Phil shrugs. “She may have mentioned something.”

“Is there some kind of rule that she can only get along with one of us at a time now?”

“She didn’t say that. Nothing like not getting along.”

Dan scowls. “Well what did she say?”

“Um. That you’ve been weird ever since she came out?”

“Seriously?” His stomach feels suddenly leaden. “She said that?”

Phil nods.

“So she thinks I’m a homophobe.”

“No, obviously not.”

“What then?” Dan asks, more forcefully than he means to.

Phil shrugs. “I reckon she’s not sure what to think, exactly.”

He’s seething now, which probably isn’t even fair considering he’s definitely gone out of his way to avoid admitting anything to her. It’s probably unfair of him to expect her to extend him some kind of psychic goodwill, but it’s what he’s doing all the same.

Phil had done it for her.

“I’m not,” Dan mutters.

“Not what?”

“I’m not weird. And if I am it has nothing to do with her coming out.”

“So which is it? Are you weird or are you not weird.”

Dan huffs a frustrated breath and rolls over so he’s facing away.

“Don’t be cross,” Phil says softly.

Dan is nothing if not quick with his denials. “I’m not.”

“You are, though.”

“Not at you.”

“At her?” Phil asks.

“She could talk to me if she thinks I’m weird instead of going behind my back.”

“Dan.” Phil’s arm wraps around his waist and pulls him backwards a little. “It’s not like that. She’s not cross, she’s concerned.”

“I’m fine.”

“I know that. I told her that.”

Phil’s arm around Dan’s stomach feels like an anchor to all things good. His chest is warm and solid pushed up against Dan’s back and Dan never ever wants to leave.

“You did?”

Phil nods, pressing his forehead to the back of Dan’s neck.

Dan’s insides are mush. The admission of Phil’s show of support on top of the physical intimacy of this moment are melting him. He puts his hand on top of Phil’s and lets his fingers sink into the spaces between Phil’s fingers. Phil’s skin there is so bloody soft Dan can’t help stroking it, petting at it like Phil is a cat.

Dan’s heartbeat is fluttering up at the base of his throat but Phil just squeezes Dan a little harder and presses his mouth to the knobby bit of spine at the bottom of Dan’s neck. It’s not a kiss, but Dan can feel Phil’s lips on his skin so it might as well be.

“You don’t think I’d defend you?” Phil murmurs.

Dan doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know the right way to convey to Phil just how much he feels in this moment. Every moment, really, at least every moment they spend together.

“I’m glad you did,” he says quietly.

“Should I tell her something came up?” Phil asks. “I don’t want to make you feel bad.”

Dan shakes his head.

“You know…” Phil says hesitantly. “You can talk to me. If you want.”

“I do.”

“Yeah.” Phil presses his thighs up against the backs of Dan’s. They fit together so impossibly well. “But you know what I mean.”

Dan knows what he means. He also knows he’s not ready to speak any words to what is happening here, but it doesn’t feel bad. He reckons words are unnecessary in this situation.

He squeezes Phil’s hand. “I know.”

-

Bryony isn’t working today, which gives Dan an entire shift to feel strangely apprehensive about seeing her tonight. He’d known he was feeling weird about talking to her lately, but knowing in no uncertain terms that she’s been feeling it too is just an added layer of murky feelings he’d like to ignore.

It makes him feel like he’s done something wrong. He knows he hasn’t, but the guilt is there all the same.

Working does suck without her though, even if things between them are a little tense. He reckons he’d have quit ages ago if not for getting to spend most of his shifts just talking shit with her.

He misses it. He misses the boundary-less nature their friendship usually possesses.

Maybe soon he’ll get over himself enough to tell her what she wants to hear. He hopes so, anyway. For now he’s stuck in the fitting rooms rehanging people’s rejected clothes and overthinking things in a way he usually tries to avoid.

His phone buzzes in his pocket. He’s not supposed to have it with him when he’s on the floor but he really, genuinely could not give less of a shit. He probably has negative shits to give, in fact. He pulls it out and his lip quirks up happily at the sight of Phil’s name.

p:it’s weird being in the house during the day when you’re not here

d:damn you and your long weekend

p:i’m bored tho. i’m just lying in bed like a slug

d:don’t forget to clear your browsing history

p:lol why
it’s just gonna be me desperately trying to find that video you were watching the other night

Dan’s first instinct is to slap his phone against his stomach so he can’t see the words anymore. It doesn’t stop his body’s reaction to them, though, heart beating faster, blood pumping somewhere it really doesn’t need to be going when he’s at work.

Suddenly he’s very, very glad Bryony isn’t here.

He takes a few calming breaths before looking at the text again, but his hands are still a bit jittery as he summons up all the bravery he’s ever had or will have and types mate just search emo twinks on literally any porn site

When he doesn’t immediately get a response he can feel sweat starting to dew on his back. He probably definitely shouldn’t have said that, right? This whole thing is weird enough. He should have just texted a lol and called it a day.

Maybe Phil’s just been humouring him this whole time, trying to play along a little so Dan didn’t feel
embarrassed about his… exploration, or whatever. Maybe Phil’s just that good a friend.

Then Dan’s phone buzzes again.

p:omg there are so many

The relief is so staggering Dan actually giggles. Luckily there isn’t anyone in the changing rooms right now.

d:yup

p:this is weird to say i reckon but like a lot of these blokes
kinda look like me of about five years ago

Dan’s quite sure there is no possible way for him to respond to that without making it weird. He just stares down at his phone and prays Phil will give him an out.

His heart is still beating funny, though, when he sees the three little dots that mean Phil’s typing something.

p:does that make me a narcissist?

d:yes

Joking is definitely the only way he gets out of this situation without saying something stupid… or revealing.

p:this is weird isn’t it

And suddenly it isn’t. The last thing Dan wants is to put up a wall between the unspoken thing that happening between them. He won’t be the reason Phil starts feeling like he can’t keep being honest.

d:nope

He waits a few minutes for Phil to reply. When he doesn’t, Dan decides one more text is in order and then he’ll leave it alone.

d:you are weird but not because of this. just go wank it out and stop overthinking it

A few minutes (that feel to Dan like hours) later, Phil responds with nothing more than a purple devil face emoji.

-

Bryony is already there when Dan gets home, sat on the sofa with Phil. They both have mugs of tea like the proper brits they are, apparently. The television isn’t on, they’re just sat there talking to each other.

It’s weirdly adult. They turn to look at him as he shuts the door behind him and Dan frowns at them a little as he toes off his trainers.

“Why does this feel like an intervention?” he asks suspiciously.

Bryony takes a sip of her tea, pinky out and all and then says, “Feeling guilty about something?” The look she gives him is pointed and it curls in his stomach unpleasantly as he remembers what Phil had told him this morning.

“Well I did just come from your mum’s house.”

“Dan!” Phil squawks, but Bryony snorts.

“What are you, twelve?” she asks.

“I didn’t even know what sex was when I was twelve,” Phil volunteers.

Dan and Bryony give each other a look before she says, “Are you serious?”

“I mean, I did, in theory. But I reckon I wouldn’t have understood a joke like that.”

“That’s so cute,” Dan murmurs without thinking. Bryony definitely looks at him but he decides to ignore that.

“What’s for dinner?” he asks, bypassing them on the way to the kitchen.

“Whatever you’re making us,” Phil calls.

“So… cereal?”

“If you’re my new stepdad I expect you to at least feed me properly,” Bryony shouts.

-

Phil makes dinner, but in exchange Dan and Bryony have to agree to a board game night. It's not really a hard sell, but they still have to act put upon to keep up appearances.

They start with Scrabble, amended with Phil’s rule that no one can take more than five minutes per turn, and Pokémon are always allowed. Bryony insists that part is bullshit but Phil says he and Dan wouldn’t stand a chance otherwise and she looks smug when she reluctantly agrees.

Dan finds some vodka in the back of the freezer and mixes it with Ribena. None of them have work the next day and the freedom of that is almost as intoxicating as the drinks Dan’s just made. Before they know it they’re happily buzzed and the rules of the game don’t seem all that important.

Mostly they’re just talking and making jokes. Phil even spells a word wrong and no one calls him out on it because they’re all too busy pissing themselves laughing. He still accepts the twenty seven points his nonexistent word earned him and takes one tile too many from the sac of letters.

Dan’s studying his own letters so intently that he jumps when, out of the blue, Phil shouts, “Bryony!”

He shouts it. Like she’s on fire or something. Dan’s clutching his hand to his chest in case his heart pops out from how hard it’s pounding.

“What?” she asks, bewildered.

Phil points a finger at her neck. “What the hell is that!” He’s still shouting.

Dan notices Bryony’s face go pinker and she slaps her hand over it. “What? Nothing.”

“My ass,” Dan says, even though he’s got no idea what Phil’s on about. Her reaction is confirmation alone that whatever Phil’s freaking out about is probably at least somewhat valid.

“Ew, Howell,” she says, clearly deflecting. “Keep your ass to yourself.”

“You’ve got a hickey!” Phil exclaims.

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Alright, I won’t,” Phil says, his voice finally returning to a more acceptable volume. “But you’ve still got a love bite on your neck.”

Her face goes pinker and her hand is still clutched over the evidence and suddenly Dan feels bad. He tries to catch Phil’s eye but Phil’s too busy staring at Bryony, so Dan has no choice but to kick him under the table. Not too hard, just enough to get his attention and knock some empathy into his booze-befuddled brain.

Phil looks at Dan for a moment, confusion etched all over his face before realization dawns. His whole body visibly deflates a little, his shoulders dropping and his hands disappearing under the table, no doubt to wring together regretfully in his lap. “Sorry,” he mutters. “I think Dan made my drink too strong.”

Nice. Dan kicks him again, a little harder this time.

Much to Dan’s relief and probably Phil’s as well, Bryony smirks. “I would’ve done the same thing. In fact, let’s have a look.” She reaches across the table to grab Phil’s chin and push his face to the side in a way that makes his neck arch.

She huffs. “How boring,” then turns her attention to Dan.

“I refuse to be inspected like some kind of criminal,” he says, pushing his chair back to ensure he’s not within her reach.

“Doesn’t matter,” she says. “I know you’re not getting any.”

He frowns, about to ask what that means when Phil says, “But you are, apparently?”

She bites her lip and looks down at her letters, rearranging them and fidgeting awkwardly for what feels like ages before muttering, “Not technically.”

“But someone was sucking on your neck,” Dan says flatly. “Did he get confused?”

She looks up at him with genuine anger on her face. He instantly wishes he could take it back, but then she says, “It wasn’t a he,” and he feels even worse.

“You hooked up with a girl?” Phil asks excitedly.

Her face softens considerably when she turns to look at him. “It was just a kiss.”

“Just a kiss doesn’t involve neck sucking!” He’s getting worked up again, but this time it seems to make Bryony smile.

She shrugs, looking sheepish and blushy.

Phil pouts his infamous fat bottom-lipped pout. “Are you really not going to tell us about it?”

She shakes her head. Phil makes a tortured noise.

Dan wishes he could just go to bed.

Bryony is one of two people in this world he would say he genuinely trusts. And right now every word that comes out of her mouth, every look she gives him makes him feel acutely aware of new unearthed truths about himself.

He’s tired of it. He’s just tired.

He stands up. Bryony and Phil both look at him with questioning frowns and he doesn’t even feel like he’s lying when he says, “I feel like shit. Think I’m gonna go lie down. Sorry.”

He doesn’t wait for a response from either of them. He turns and walks away down the hall and doesn’t even care if she sees him opening Phil’s bedroom door instead of his own.

-

He’s still awake hours later when the door creaks open spilling light from the hallway into Phil’s room. He doesn’t say anything and neither does Phil.

The door shuts and it’s dark again. Dan listens to Phil undressing and shuffles over a little to make room when the mattress dips behind him. He’s turned away from Phil, inexplicably nervous about what he might say.

But Phil’s still not saying anything. He’s pulling the duvet over himself and Dan can feel the hair on his legs as he presses himself up against the back of Dan’s body.

The stress he’d been carrying instantly melts away. He feels like a phone that’s gone too long without a charge, or maybe something more poetic than his brain can come up with right now. He’s just tired and a little scared and a little sad and a lot of other things he can’t really explain but just feels, but Phil feels like the antidote.

Or at least a very warm distraction.

Except for his feet. His feet are cold, but Dan still lets him press them against the back of his calves.

Phil’s hand is resting lightly on Dan’s hip. Dan’s not even surprised that it’s turning him on a little bit. He reckons he’s past being surprised about the way Phil makes him feel now.

“You ok?” Phil whispers.

Dan shrugs. “Is Bry still here?”

“No.”

“Did you talk about how much of an asshole I am?”

“Dan.” His voice is honey and deep and right next to Dan’s ear, breath warm against Dan’s neck.

Dan doesn’t say anything. Even with Phil here he can feel himself slowly descending into that shadowy place where everything is wrong.

It’s been a while. But not even Phil can keep Dan’s demons away forever.

“Talk to me,” Phil whispers.

“I’m just glad you’re here.”

Phil’s hand slips down from Dan’s hip bone to push under the t-shirt he hadn’t bothered pulling off before he retreated to the safety of Phil’s sheets. Dan’s heart beats hummingbird quick as Phil drags his fingertips lightly through the hair on his belly, tracing circles around his navel.

“I am too,” Phil says. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Even when I’m shit?” Dan asks. Phil’s still stroking his stomach. It feels good in a way that Phil would be able to understand if he happened to move his hand down even just a few centimetres.

“You’re never shit.”

Dan could argue, but he doesn’t. He’d like to live in this world for now.

“I’m probably going to have bad dreams tonight.”

Phil’s arm’s tightens around Dan’s waist. “Wake me up if you do.”

Dan nods. If he speaks he’ll start crying and he can’t explain why, so he keeps his mouth shut.

He turns around though. He turns around and buries his face in Phil’s neck and eventually falls asleep.

He doesn’t have a single nightmare.

Chapter Text

He sleeps well and wakes up with his cheek pressed against the bare skin of Phil’s back. His head is blissfully free of nightmares or haunting thoughts, but there’s a heaviness that lingers even after he’s stretched wakefulness into his muscles and wrapped an arm around Phil’s stomach to pull him closer.

He doesn’t want it. Not today, not a day he has nowhere to be and nothing to do. Not a day he gets Phil all to himself.

He can feel it though, like a thick London fog rolling in and making a home of his brain. It’s not pain, it’s just… nothing. A numbness that dulls everything lovely he’d like to spend his day off enjoying.

He clings tighter to Phil, curling up against him from behind like a backpack. He’s too foggy to care too much that he’s waking Phil up, too dazed to feel the stomach fluttery feelings he’d normally feel when Phil turns over and wraps Dan up with long slender arms.

He still melts into it though, pressing his ear to Phil’s chest and listening to his heart beat slow and steady. He reckons it helps.

“Morning,” Phil says in that deep rasp of voice that hasn’t cleared from a night of disuse.

Dan doesn’t answer, just wiggles in a little closer and hopes Phil will somehow know.

“Sleep well?” Phil asks.

Dan nods.

“What should we do today?”

Dan knows he’d feel a lot if he were in his right mind. The unspoken assumption that the day will be spent together is a comfort so deep he still feels the warmth of it warming the edges of the grey that blankets him.

He’s not practiced at putting words to these days, at describing them to someone who can’t possibly understand what it feels like to have his whole system depressed by some intangible force in his head.

He wants to, though. He wants to for Phil, and for himself. He wants to be understood by Phil, or at least given the best chance for it.

“I feel a bit…” Words escape him.

“Yeah?” Phil prompts.

Dan shrugs. “Shit, I guess.”

“Nightmares?”

He shakes his head. “Just a bad brain.”

Then there are fingers in his hair, raking through the tangle of waves fondly, if fingers can feel fond. Dan thinks they can.

“Your brain can’t be bad. It’s a Dan brain. I like Dan brain.”

Dan snorts. That Phil can still make him laugh when the whole world looks black and white and a million hazy shades of grey is truly a feat.

“You should shower,” Phil says.

“Do I smell?”

“No. I mean yeah, you smell nice. You always smell nice.”

“You do,” Dan argues.

Phil chuckles and Dan can feel the vibrations of it under his cheek. “I’m just saying. Showers feel nice. Good way to start the day.”

“Are you telling me to go have a wank?”

“Dan!” Phil squeaks. “I wasn’t. But… it’s not a bad idea.”

“I don’t think I could even get hard right now if I wanted to,” Dan says flatly. He wouldn’t say it on a normal day, but today’s not a normal day. Apparently his filter is just as broken as his brain.

“Oh.”

Dan really hates the way Phil’s voice has lost all its happy shine just from a few careless words on Dan’s part. “Sorry,” he mutters. “I’m probably gonna say all the wrong things today.”

“That’s not a wrong thing. Honesty isn’t wrong.”

Dan squashes his face right up into Phil’s chest. “Don’t,” he murmurs.

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t be all Philly.”

Phil chuckles. “What?”

“If you’re all nice and understanding and shit it’ll just… I dunno. I’ll feel guilty.”

“I don’t think I can be a jerk,” Phil says. “Do you need me to just… go away?”

Dan grips Phil tighter and Phil laughs again. “Got it.”

“I don’t want you to be a jerk.”

“I don’t want you to feel guilty,” Phil says gently. “But I’m still gonna be Philly.”

“Ok,” Dan says. “I don’t actually want you to stop anyway.”

“So will you go have a wankless shower and let me make you breakfast?”

Dan sighs, resigned to do something he doesn’t really want to do. Showering sounds like more hassle than it’s worth but, but he’s going to do it because Phil is asking him to. “Ok.”

“Good. Then we can do whatever you want.”

Dan doesn’t say that on the grey days he doesn’t really want anything. He can’t feel things.

Today’s not that bad. It’s not that bleak. But when he thinks about what he wants his day to look like all he can see is black hair and blue eyes, so he peels himself off Phil’s body reluctantly and drags himself out of bed.

“Dan?” Phil asks just as Dan gets to the doorway.

Dan turns back and tries to make some kind of expression so Phil knows he’s listening.

“Just… if you need to come back in here in the next like, ten minutes or so… knock. Yeah?”

Dan can still feel a couple things. He smirks. “Yeah.”

-

Showering was a good call. Cleaning his body and his hair and smelling fresh definitely makes him feel a little more human, as does scrubbing the film off his teeth and shaving the scruff off his jaw. Sometimes putting in a little extra effort on the days he’d rather not do anything at all helps keep the emptiness at bay, or at least keeps it from getting worse.

He’d actually spent a long time under the spray using too much of the really nice smelling body wash, so he reckons Phil’s had more than enough time for a good wank, but Dan still doesn’t chance it. He doesn’t need to anyway. His clothes are still in his own room.

When he emerges clad head to toe in black he can smell eggs. It’s honestly not the most appealing to him today. If left to his own devices he’d probably just eat dry cereal when his stomach started growling and then slink back to bed, but Phil gives him a bright smile when he enters the kitchen and tells him to sit. It’s irresistible, this kind of kindness. Dan would have to be a heartless monster to turn it down.

He sits and Phil brings him coffee and then a few minutes later plonks a plate full of scrambled eggs and toast in front of him before sitting across the table with his own food.

“Cheers,” Dan says. He’s really not hungry but he’s going to eat everything.

“Feel better?” Phil asks, picking up his mug and managing to slosh coffee out the sides and onto the table.

Dan would laugh any other day. Today all he can manage is a weak smile and a shrug. “Feels good to be clean.”

Phil frowns. “That sounds like a no.”

Dan looks down at his food. Is it possible he’s managed to go this long without ever really talking to Phil about his bad days? “Sorry,” he mutters, scooping up some eggs with his toast and shoving them into his mouth just for something to do with his hands. Objectively it tastes good but it feels like a brick the instant it slides down his throat. “Maybe you could ring Bryony or something. I’m just gonna be a bummer today I reckon.”

“You want Bryony?”

Dan looks up at him. “What? No. No, I meant for you. So you don’t have to deal with me.”

Phil cocks his head to the side the slightest bit. “I thought you didn’t want me to go away.”

“I don’t.”

“Then I won’t.”

“But I don’t wanna ruin your day,” Dan says, looking back down at his plate. He genuinely can’t fathom eating all of this now.

“Just tell me what I can do,” Phil says. So earnest, so endearingly clueless.

Dan sighs, pushing his plate away slightly and pulling his knees up to his chest. “Doesn’t work like that on the bad days. You know?”

Phil frowns pensively. “I reckon my bad days aren’t the same as your bad days. I guess those are the days you don’t come out of your room?”

Dan’s stomach twists a little. Maybe he’s not quite as clueless as Dan thought. He nods.

“It’s been a while,” Phil says quietly. “I guess I kind of forgot.”

“It has been a while,” Dan agrees. “Probably because I actually sleep at night now.”

Phil nods. He still looks like he’s thinking very hard. “You should eat.”

Dan bites his lip, chews on the skin that’s already thin and chapped. “I’m really not hungry.”

“It might help, though. I always feel like crap when I don’t eat.”

Dan actually smiles a little bit. If it were anyone but Phil pushing him right now he’d be tilted, but Phil is just so… concerned. He looks so concerned and he obviously has no real idea what Dan’s problem is, but he also obviously wants Dan to feel better.

“What if I sick it back up?”

Phil’s face crinkles up in disgust. “Is my cooking that bad?”

Dan rolls his eyes and drops one of this legs so he can reach out and pull the plate back in front of him. He picks up some egg with his fingers and drops it from a distance into his open mouth. “Mm,” he says, looking at Phil dead on. “Delicious.”

“You’re the worst,” Phil says. Dan can tell he’s trying very hard not to smile.

“Correct.”

-

They migrate to the sofa after Dan eats as much as he can stand without making good on his threat to bring everything back up. He brings his coffee though, and sips it as Phil sets up Zelda.

It was the first thing that popped into his mind when Phil insisted that nothing  Dan suggested would be too boring.

He doesn’t even want to play. He just wants to watch Phil play. He wants his brain to be occupied without having to do any of the work. He’s grabbed his fuzzy blanket and made a comfortable burrow for himself in the corner of the sofa, legs pulled up and tucked in, lukewarm coffee that he probably won’t finish clutched in his hands. He likes the smell right under his nose even if the taste is bitter in a way he usually doesn’t notice.

If he had the capacity to be amazed right now he’d be amazed at just how far reaching a bad day can be. Food loses its appeal, coffee tastes bitter and playing a video game feels like too strenuous an activity to bother with.

But watching is nice. He’s not too far gone not to register that watching Phil play one of their favourite games is very, very comforting. The music plunges him into a pleasantly nostalgic place as soon as he hears it and he leans his head to the side to rest on the back of the sofa as he watches.

He’s not too far gone not to appreciate how close Phil has chosen to sit. In fact, Dan reckons if he stretched his legs out he could slip his toes right under Phil’s thigh.

Once he’s had the thought he can’t seem to shake it, so eventually he stops trying and just sticks his feet out until they’re pushing into the flesh of Phil’s legs. Phil jumps a little, startled by the sudden touch of socked toes, but he doesn’t protest when Dan slides them under his thigh to soak up the pleasant warmth of that weight.

Dan gives up on his coffee when it’s ice cold, leaning over to put it on the coffee table and snuggling down into a more prone position. He’s not even watching Phil play anymore, he’s just watching Phil. He gets this rather adorable look on his face when he’s concentrating very hard; his forehead gets all crinkly and sometimes he even sticks his tongue out a bit.

He game overs and turns to look at Dan, presumably to demand sympathy or validation in his annoyance and Dan is caught staring. He really couldn’t be less bothered.

“Hi,” Dan says, wiggling his toes under Phil’s leg.

Phil smiles. “Hey.”

“You suck at this game.”

“No I don’t, poop head. Just because i’m worse than you doesn’t mean I suck.”

Dan considers this for a moment. “Ok. That’s fair.”

“How are you?”

Dan shrugs. “I’m warm and cozy and I don’t have to work and you don’t have to work. Can’t really moan too much.”

“How’s your brain, though?” Phil asks. He’s got the controller clutched in his hand still but he makes no move to return to his game.

“It feels kinda… blah. But like, I’m fine. It could be a lot worse. I just feel kinda like a grey blob of mushy nothingness.”

Phil frowns. “That doesn’t sound fine.”

“I’m ok,” Dan promises. “I’ve got good company.” He smiles and can only hope it looks somewhat genuine. He means it to be, he’s just not sure he had the capacity to pull it off.

“I wish I could actually do something,” Phil mutters, and Dan feels a hand on his thigh under the blanket.

“You are, trust me.” He has to put in a concerted effort to maintain a steady voice. “I’m just sorry I’m making you waste your day off.”

“I’m spending it with you,” Phil says. “That’s not wasting.”

Dan has to look away. The sincerity is too much for right now. There’s no way he can respond in a way that would convey how he actually feels.

The silence is awkward. All Dan can really do is hope that Phil knows. He hopes Phil understands that it means a lot and on a normal day, if Dan was feeling brave, he’d say them back. He’d say them back and maybe more because this limbo they find themselves in is starting to eat away at him.

“Can I make a confession?” Phil asks.

Dan looks back up. “Yeah.” His heart is pounding.

“If I wasn’t spending the day with you I reckon I’d just be in bed with my laptop.”

Dan blows out a shaky breath that ends on a laugh. He’s not sure if he’s relieved or disappointed, but he’s definitely amused. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

Phil drops the controller into his lap and hides his face with his hands. He nods and says, “What have you done to me?”

“Been wondering the same about you, mate,” Dan mumbles without thinking.

Phil drops his hands and looks at Dan with wide blue eyes and pink cheeks and unblinking intensity. “Me?”

Dan’s bravery takes leave of him then. He’s got absolutely nothing to hide behind, no shield from the vulnerability. He clears his throat and pulls his knees up so his feet aren’t touching Phil’s leg anymore.

“You gonna start a new game?” Dan asks, nodding towards the telly.

“I can, yeah.” Phil picks up the controller. “D’you want me to?”

Dan nods.

“You don’t wanna play, like, Mario Kart or something?”

“Not right now,” Dan says, turning so his whole angled towards the tv. “If you’re bored though, it’s ok, I can—”

“I’m not.”

Dan’s stomach tightens. Phil doesn’t sound cross but Dan knows he just kicked a door closed right in Phil’s face. He wouldn’t blame him for being cross, or for wanting to take the out Dan offered.

But of course he doesn’t, because he knows Dan is in a bad way, and Phil’s far too good a person to do something like. He’s not selfish like Dan, picking and choosing when to be kind when it’s convenient for him. He’s kind because that’s who he is at his core and Dan doesn’t deserve him.

“You should talk to Bryony,” Phil says, distracting Dan at just the right moment, catching his attention before he allows himself to spiral down into the dark place he’s been resisting all day.

“What?”

“We talked a bit last night,” Phil says quietly.

So maybe he is a little bit cross. Dan reckons he wouldn’t say something like that if he weren’t.

“About me?” Dan asks.

“Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t my choice.” Phil eyes are locked on the screen. “She was worried when you just up and left out of nowhere.”

“Fuck,” Dan mutters.

“You had to know she’d have feelings,” Phil says, uncharacteristically blunt.

“I just…” Dan trails off, hoping he’ll think of some excuse that doesn’t sound so much like an excuse, but he doesn’t think he’d be able to fool Phil anyway.

“Are you actually weird about her being bi?” Phil asks. “I didn’t think you were, but—”

“I’m not,” Dan says firmly, voice pitching up with the indignity of such an accusation. “Fucking hell, Phil.”

Phil shrugs. “I’m sorry, but even I think you’re being a little weird. Like… she’s hurt. She’s scared about all this stuff, you know? You’re her best friend. She just wants you to tell her everything’s gonna be ok.”

“She doesn’t seem scared,” Dan argues. He hears how much of an asshole he sounds but now he’s in defensive mode. “She’s already hooking up with people.”

Phil pauses the game and tosses the controller none too gently onto the coffee table. He looks at Dan with an unfriendly frown. “She met someone. She’s not ‘hooking up.’ You’d know that if you talked to her.”

Dan shrinks back. His head is spinning with how fast he’s managed to fuck everything up. He knows every word Phil’s saying is true, but he’s too Dan to admit it just yet.

“I can’t talk to her right now,” Dan says.

“Why not?”

Dan shakes his head and looks away. He can’t talk to Phil either. He stands up abruptly. “I need to— I’m sorry, ok? I just can’t.”

He makes sure not to look at Phil’s face as he walks away. He goes to his room and shuts the door and spends the rest of the day curled in a ball and wondering why anyone in his life even bothers. He pulls his phone out no less than a hundred times to stare at Bryony’s name in his contacts, to open up iMessages and draft text after text that he always ends up deleting. How can he explain himself without… without outing himself?

Night has fallen before he settles on a simple i know i’m shit but i love you and i think you’re brilliant

It’s very stupid. She’ll probably roll her eyes when she reads it. She’ll probably be more cross after reading it than she had been before. She won’t know he means it from deep down in the core of his being. She won’t know how much admiration he has for her strength, how envious he is, how much he’d kill to have half of her courage.

She won’t know because he can’t tell her. He’s just not ready to tell her.

He wonders what it says about him that it feels even worse that Phil doesn’t know either.

His phone buzzes a few hours later, but when he opens the text it’s one from Phil, not Bryony.

goodnight

He checks the time and nearly has a heart attack. It’s well after midnight and he’s still just laid here like a slug. He’d wasted an entire day being stubborn and miserable and letting Phil think that he doesn’t care about any of it. He could well and truly ruin everything today.

He can’t. He can’t do that. He shoves the duvet off his legs and heads for Phil’s room, throwing the door open and practically jumping into his bed.

Phil doesn’t turn around, doesn’t say anything. He’s laid with his back to Dan. His bare back, and Dan presses his lips against it once he’s crawled under Phil’s duvet. He wraps his arm around Phil’s waist and squeezes.

“I’m sorry,” he croaks. “Don’t give up on me, ok?”

Phil doesn’t say anything, but he rests his arm atop Dan’s and nods.

It’s enough for Dan. It’s more than he deserves, but he’s going to accept it. He clings gratefully for hours, long after Phil himself has fallen asleep.

-

He doesn’t get much sleep, and Phil is still breathing the deep and even breaths of unconsciousness when Dan’s tired eyes open to the grey light of a cloudy morning. He and Phil are still in the same position, still spooned together like they were made for each other.

Dan feels better. He feels better in that he feels like shit. Not the numb kind but the kind where he feels like shit. It’s strangely reassuring.

He remembers all too quickly just how stupid he’d been the day before and is almost immediately slammed with the urge to cry. Instead he squeezes around Phil’s waist with little regard for preserving Phil’s sleep. He presses his mouth to Phil’s shoulder blade and shudders at how right it feels, at how badly he aches to do more.

Phil’s asleep. He won’t know if the press of Dan’s mouth morphs into a kiss. Just one.

Just two. Just two little kisses to Phil’s lovely pale back.

And another a little bit higher, right at the bottom of Phil’s neck. Just one. He’ll stop there. He has to stop there. He doesn’t have permission and he’s not going to risk fucking anything up worse.

He stops. He forces himself to stop but then Phil’s fingers are slipping in between Dan’s and closing over the back of his hand. He’s leaning back against Dan’s chest like he likes what’s happening - like he wants more. He drops his shoulder and arches his neck a little.

Dan is weak. He’s just a man and he’s weak and tired of fighting the scary and confusing and intoxicating urges he’s been having so he leans in and breathes a warm breath against Phil’s neck. Phil squeezes his hand and pushes his ass just the slightest bit against Dan’s crotch.

Dan feels like he’s been drenched head to toe in warm honey as he lifts his head and drops a kiss to Phil’s neck. Phil’s next breath comes out ragged and Dan kisses again, open mouthed this time and then again, brushing his tongue against Phil’s skin.

It’s not scary. It’s not confusing. His heart is pounding and his head is spinning but there’s no doubt left. He doesn’t know what comes next but he knows he wants this and now he knows for sure that Phil wants it too.

He’s kissing Phil’s neck like he’s done it a million times, and Phil’s responding like Dan’s doing it just right. His breaths are heaves, his body pushing back against Dan’s like it’s not nearly enough.

Dan pulls his hand from Phil’s to grip Phil’s hip for better leverage. He squeezes around the bone and tries not to roll his hips forward as the gentle wet smacking sound his lips make against Phil’s skin send pure want coursing through his body.

When Dan lets his teeth press lightly into Phil’s neck, Phil makes a noise, something between tortured and delighted and Dan’s stomach feels like it’s dropped right out of his body, but then Phil is pulling away and scrambling to climb out of bed.

Dan barely has time to panic about pushing too far before Phil is standing up with a hand cupped over his crotch and a wild look on his face.

“Are you…?” Dan asks, not even really sure what he means, but Phil nods.

“I’m sorry, I— I need the shower. I need— I gotta go take a shower.” He looks quickly down at the hand that’s clasped over his clothed dick and then back up at Dan with a helpless expression.

“Ok,” Dan croaks. He definitely looks at Phil’s ass when he turns around and heads for the bathroom.

Dan gets a hand on himself as soon as Phil’s gone, eyes squeezed shut, replaying all the sounds Phil had made and the look of his hand gripping himself and the way he’d arched into the touch of Dan’s lips and—

Dan surprises himself when he comes after what was surely not more than two minutes. He’s surprised by the speed of climax and the force of his orgasm and the volume of mess he makes in the sweatpants he hadn’t bothered taking off yesterday.

He’s not going to allow himself to linger there, wetness sticking his pants to his skin in Phil’s bed. He feels blissed out from head to toe but he also feels the acute need to get a handle on himself before he has to see Phil again.

Oh god. What will they say to each other? What does this mean? How does Phil feel about it?

Will he be happy? Awkward? Tormented by regret?

Dan jumps up when he hears the water in the bathroom shut off and books it for his own room like his pants are on fire. At the very least he can’t be covered in his own jizz when whatever’s about to happen happens.

He strips and cleans himself up with his hoodie, which is gross but actually quite efficient. He’s still stood in the middle of the floor, naked as the day he was born when his phone starts ringing. His brain may not be working properly but his first thought is that it could be Phil so he lunges for his bed to fish his phone out of the sheets.

It’s not Phil but Bryony, so he’s still quick to answer. “Hey, how are—”

“Can you come in early?” she interrupts.

“Um. Yeah. Sure. Is everyth—”

“Just hurry, yeah? I forgot about the bloody fucking display change bullshit. We’ve got to change the whole store around before the DM comes in. I gotta go, just get here ASAP. See you soon.” She hangs up before he has time to respond.

He should really have a shower, but her urgency has him thinking maybe it’s better to skip that, not to mention his desire to get back into her good books, so he throws on the first pair of jeans and the nearest clean t-shirt he can find.

The bathroom is unoccupied and steamy when Dan goes to brush his teeth, and Phil is still in his bedroom when Dan’s mouth is minty fresh and he’s given his crotch a half-assed wet-clothed wipe down.

He can’t just leave, right? Not after what just happened between them. So he stops at Phil’s door and knocks gently with a shaky fist. “Phil?”

“Yeah?” He sounds just as nervous as Dan feels.

“Bryony rang. She needs me in early.”

“Oh, you’re leaving?”

“Yeah,” Dan says, pressing his forehead to Phil’s door. “Sorry.”

“Ok. I’ll see you tonight?”

It hurts Dan’s heart that Phil has to ask that. “Of course.”

“Ok. Have a good day.”

“You too.” Dan hesitates a moment, then adds, “Thanks.” He means that last bit more deeply than Phil can probably understand.

-

It’s not until he’s out the door and on the train to work that he has the courage to pull out his phone. He’s terrified about what he might find waiting there for him.

There’s nothing. He’s relieved. And also slightly terrified.

Or maybe a lot. Because silence could also be bad, and he decides quickly that he can’t endure that all day, just waiting and wondering how Phil feels about… everything.

He types out a text and sends it off quickly before he has time to rethink it.

do i have anything i need to apologize for?

He could be sick when his phone buzzes back almost instantly, but he forces himself not to wait before he reads it, and he’s glad once he sees the best two words he’s ever bloody seen.

definitely not

Chapter Text

Work is busy and Bryony is frazzled. Dan is forced to actually show up for her today for real and not just skulk around avoiding responsibility. She shouts orders at him and he follows them blindly, guilt fueling him more than anything. He always does what she says, but usually he’s a lot more snarky about it.

Today there is zero snark. There is much moaning and groaning in his own head but truth be told, doing actual work makes the day go by a hell of a lot quicker than standing around doing the bare minimum.

When she finally sends him for a break he gets her a fancy latte from the hipster-y coffee place she likes. She stops in her tracks when he hands it to her like he’s asked for her hand in marriage or something. She reaches out and takes it from him gingerly and tucks a strand of faded pink hair behind her ear.

“Cheers.” She says it cautiously, like she’s waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“You’re working well hard today,” Dan says, taking a sip of his own. “You look like a pastel cyclone.”

She lets a little smile slip past the grumpy manager filter. “DM will have my ass if this isn’t done when she gets here.”

“Why does the management team of a men’s clothing store comprise almost exclusively of women?”

She gives him a cutting look and he smirks. “Fair enough.”

She smiles again, just a little. He’s pleased. He doesn’t mind making an ass of himself by asking a purposefully stupid question if it amuses her enough to crack a smile.

“Did you happen to get my text last night?” he asks.

She rolls her eyes. It’s exactly the reaction he’d been expecting, but he doesn’t know yet if there’s fondness there or just pure annoyance. “Yes, Daniel. I did.”

“I was being genuine.”

She sighs. “What did he say?”

“What makes you think—”

“That wanker,” she mutters, shaking her head. “Should’ve know he couldn’t keep anything from you.”

“If it makes you feel better he was cross with me too.”

“I’m not cross,” she says, in a tone that would suggest very much the opposite. “I just hate you and think you’re stupid.”

“Oh, well,” Dan says. “If that’s all.”

“Also I don’t believe you,” she adds.

“It’s true. He kind of shouted at me yesterday.”

“No he didn’t,” she says automatically. “What’d he say?”

Dan shrugs. “He thinks I should talk to you.”

“Don’t do me any favours.”

He frowns. She’s always been acerbic, but he’s never known her to aim her ire quite so directly at him.

It feels like shit.

He tries to push that aside. “I know you’re trying to be mean but I’m choosing to ignore that. Wanna come over tonight?”

“Why?” She’s really determined to be put out, then.

“So we can talk.”

“Nah,” she says flippantly. “Wouldn’t wanna get in the way of anything.”

His stomach drops, anger surging up to replace the guilt. “What does that mean?”

She looks him dead in the face for a good ten seconds. “Nothing.”

He walks away from her after that, into the back room to finish his coffee and stew over the deep injustice of his situation. Sometimes he really does hate her.

He considers texting Phil, but thinks better of it. The last time they’d spoken about Bryony they’d nearly fell out over it and really he’d rather replay the events of this morning over and over in his head anyway. He wants to think about neck kisses and Phil’s flustered blush and definitely not.

Maybe it’s not actually the best thing to think about, because all he really wants to do is tell Bryony about it. He reckons he would have already if things didn’t feel so royally fucked between them.

But really that’s his fault when it comes down to it. He’s definitely been weird. He hasn’t been there for her the way he should and now she’s angry. Just because it feels bad for him to admit to himself doesn’t mean she isn’t completely valid in being pissed off. She doesn’t know what’s going on with him because he hasn’t told her.

He doesn’t know if he even possesses the bravery necessary to tell her, but he vows that he’s going to find a way to do just that. Maybe not today, but soon. Very soon. And until then he’s going to endure her venom and make sure she knows that he’s still her best mate, even if he gets things spectacularly wrong sometimes.

Bryony calls in as many people as she can to come and help and somehow they all manage the herculean task of getting the store’s displays rearranged just in time for their deadline. Dan’s shift ends just as the DM comes strolling in.

He tries to give Bryony a sympathetic look on his way out; she’s been working god knows how many hours, but she has to stay a little longer and endure the the indignity of being judged by upper management.

Judged over fucking jeans and jumpers and where they’re displayed in the shop. It makes Dan angry just thinking about it. It’s really a miracle he’s lasted at this job so long. Every other one he’s ever had has ended with him being fired, or getting bored and quitting before his bosses could get the chance.

She doesn’t respond to Dan’s wordless show of support, but Dan shakes it off. She’s stressed and obviously not in the mood for his shit, but he’s not giving up. He parks his ass on a bench outside the shop and pulls his legs up to cross in front of him. He’s in this for the long haul, phone clutched in his hand, determination keeping him sat there despite the hungry growl of his stomach and the nervous flutter in his chest at the prospect of seeing Phil again post neck-gate.

Being busy with work had managed to keep him from fixating on the events of this morning. They haven’t texted since Dan was on the tube, but now there’s nothing to occupy his mind but time and Phil’s radio silence for the past seven-ish hours is suddenly weighing on Dan heavily.

He decides to text instead of letting his brain overthink him into a panic. how’s your day?

He smiles at the almost instantaneousness of Phil’s reply. long and stupid

d:just like you

p:just like ur mum. and also you

Dan snorts. just like both of us i guess

we’re perfect for each other Phil says.

And this. This is why it’s good Dan’s been too busy to get his phone out before now. Because now his insides are all squirmy and his mind is reeling at words that were probably meant just to keep a dumb joke going a little longer.

And he has no idea what to say.

Luckily Phil comes through with an out. how’s yours?

busy Dan types. [insert problematic joke about bryony cracking a whip]

idk how you handle having her as a boss. she’s scary

Dan can’t really argue with that, at least not right now. usually she’s chill but today was a busy day and also she hates me right now

don’t say that

God, Dan hates texting. He hates phone calls too but he reckons sometimes it’s better just to suck it up and listen to the person’s voice.

Tone is important. Tone can mean the difference between someone offering comfort or scolding. He doesn’t know which Phil’s going for with that last text and he’s too terrified to ask.

i tried to invite her round to talk Dan texts.

no luck?

like i said. the anger is strong

“Are you stalking me?”

Dan jumps, almost dropping his phone as his head jerks up to see Bryony stood right in front of him.

“Fuck,” he mutters, pocketing his mobile and standing up. “Um, maybe. A little.”

“Why?”

“Because you rejected my white flag?”

She crosses her arms over her light yellow jumper. “Doesn’t that tell you something?”

“Yeah.” He mirrors her posture, feeling a little smug at how high he towers over her petite frame. It’s really the only thing he’s got on her. “It tells me I need to try harder.”

“Or that you should leave me alone.”

He ignores the plunging feeling in his guts. “Nope. Don’t think so.”

She stares are him with a frown and he stares back despite his nerves and it’s an agonizingly long stretch of time - or at least it feels like it is - before she rolls her eyes. “What do you want?”

“For things not to feel shitty and broken?”

She looks down at her feet then. “So do I.”

“So you’ll come home with me?”

She snorts and it’s his turn to roll his eyes.

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” she says. “But no. You can buy me a drink though. A real one.”

“Yeah?”

She nods, and he grins, throwing an arm around her shoulders. “Let’s go get tabled, then, shall we?”

-

The sun is just starting to go down when he returns home. He’d had exactly one drink that he’d nursed for hours as they talked. As she talked, mostly, and he listened attentively.

He asked about her hickey-giver. That was all he really had to do and the words came pouring out of her. He could cry thinking about it now, how desperately hurt she must have been, how much she’d been been holding back because she thought he didn’t care.

He didn’t tell her about Phil, or the new and scary and exciting feelings Phil has been inspiring. He didn’t tell her about his sexual revelations or any of it, but he will. He knows he will, and hopefully it’ll be soon, but for tonight it was enough for both of them to let her have her turn.

And he genuinely delighted in hearing about it. He told her he was proud of her and that from now on he wants to know absolutely everything. He insisted they head their separate ways when she started yawning between every sentence. They’d both had a long day but hers was longer.

They hugged a long time and he kissed the top of her head before he said goodbye. She told him next time she’d buy the drinks and he’d do the talking and he barely felt afraid to agree.

The flat smells like food when he opens the door. He feels a freight train of nervous feelings slam into him even just seeing the back of Phil as he’s stood at the stove.

Dan’s eyes linger on that long pale neck.

Phil turns around and smiles when he hears Dan come in. “You’re home.”

Dan sits down at the kitchen table. His feet are actually sore, which reinforces his long-held belief that working is bullshit. “You’re cooking.”

Phil nods. “Figured you’d be hungry. You had a long day.”

“You’re such a good housewife.” He doesn’t know how he manages to say it without his voice cracking.

“My mum taught me well,” Phil replies without skipping a beat, then quickly follows it up with, “Oh god, don’t ever tell her I said that.”

Dan just laughs. “Alright, I need to go take my jeans off.”

Phil’s eyes flick down to take in Dan’s whole body. He looks like he’s going to say something very different than what he eventually does.

“K.”

When he emerges from his room in sweats and a t-shirt, Phil’s already got the food plated and set out on the coffee table in the lounge. He hands Dan the remote to pick something to watch when he sits down.

“What’d I do to deserve all this?” Dan asks.

Phil doesn’t look at Dan when he says, “I’m in a good mood today.”

A part of him - a very loud, overwhelming part of him wants to say fuck the food and drag Phil to bed right away. Luckily the more rational part of him kicks in and reminds him that he’d be too scared to do anything once they were there and then it’d be awkward as fuck and he’d probably ruin everything, so he picks up his plate and shoves some food in his face so he doesn’t say anything stupid.

“Also I talked to Bryony,” Phil adds.

Dan laughs and almost chokes on his food. He swallows and says, “So what, this is like… positive reinforcement? Pavlovian conditioning? Treats for being a good dog?”

Phil cocks an eyebrow. “Always suspected you were into some weird stuff.”

“You said it, not me.”

Phil shrugs. “I’m just happy. I’m glad my best mates aren’t upset with each other anymore. I’m in a good mood, like I said.”

“Oh.” Is that what he’d been talking about before? “Right.”

“How nosy am I allowed to be?” Phil asks.

Dan eats some more before he answers. It feels less scary when his words are garbled by pasta. “I don’t wanna piss her off again. What’d she say?”

“She said I’m a shit for telling you she was angry but she’s glad I did because you finally started acting like yourself again.”

Dan nods. He can’t help smiling a little; it really feels like a weight has been lifted. “I asked about her, that’s all. I asked and then I listened.”

Phil beams. “Maybe I should shout at you more often.”

“You didn’t even shout,” Dan argues. “And you’re not allowed to take credit for this.”

“Too bad,” Phil says smugly. “Already did.”

-

Dan’s heart is pounding as he crawls into bed. Phil is already there, laid out flat on his back and looking at his phone. They both fell uncharacteristically quiet the moment the lights were turned off; Dan wonders if Phil is feeling all the same kind of live-wire uncertainty that he is.

Phil’s head and neck are propped up a little on his pillow and his broad bare shoulders are on full display and Dan kind of wants to pull his phone out too because it’d be a nice distraction. But then Phil turns his off and shoves it under his pillow decisively and wriggles down under the covers. Dan is both relieved and disappointed at once.

There’s an awkward distance between them that hasn’t been there since they first started sharing a bed. Dan rather hates it, but everything feels charged now in a way that hadn’t felt so out in the open before. Now Dan’s thinking about definitely not and wondering what he’s supposed to do about it.

Maybe Phil feels the same, because after a few minutes of excruciating silence he yawns and stretches and says, “Well, goodnight.”

Dan’s nothing if not a coward, so he says, “Goodnight,” and waits until Phil’s fallen asleep to shuffle forward and press up against his back.

-

Dan has dreams that night - lots of them. Dreams that mean he wakes up earlier than he means to. Dreams that mean he wakes up a little sweaty and a little desperate and a lot hard.

The content of said dreams disappear the moment consciousness takes him, but in their wake they leave him frustrated and a little confused about why his dick still feels warm pressure on it, until he blinks his eyes open to a view of black hair and fair skin.

He’s still pressed up against Phil’s back and his dick is pressed up against Phil’s ass - through his own sweatpants and Phil’s pajamas, yes, but still - it’s maddening and he’s terrified to a move muscle lest he wake Phil up and give himself away.

Neck kisses are one thing. This is another.

It’s surprisingly difficult not to push into the relief of the friction he’d feel if he just gave in a little bit. His mind is fully aware that he can’t do that but his body is begging him to end the torture of denial. He can’t even move his arms to try to take care of himself because one is crushed under his own body and the other is draped over Phil’s hip.

He doesn’t move, but Phil still wakes up. It’s like he has a sixth sense for Dan’s vulnerability. Dan feels him come to, shifting slightly here and there and making cute little sleepy noises and stretching a little until he stops abruptly.

“Dan?”

“Hm.” Dan hums quietly to acknowledge that, yes, he’s awake.

Phil wiggles back a bit and Dan makes a tiny, tiny little noise before he can catch himself.

Phil stops moving abruptly again. Fuck.

“You’re hard,” Phil says.

“Yeah.” He almost says sorry, but he stops himself. He’ll say it if Phil acts like Dan’s done something he needs to be sorry for.

He doesn’t. He pushes back against it the slightest bit and does that neck arching thing he’d done yesterday morning, the thing that had broken through all of Dan’s resistance.

And it works again. Dan leans in and presses his mouth to Phil’s neck, fingers tightening to grip the sharpness of Phil’s hip bone. “Does it bother you?” Dan whispers.

He feels like a different person. He kisses Phil’s neck and sucks it a little as he pulls off. He feels that honey warmth again, like time is sticky and the rules of who they are are slowly melting away.

“No,” Phil says, voice deep and somehow breathy at the same time. “I’m hard too.”

Dan squeezes Phil’s hip so he doesn’t just full on hump his ass cheek. He thunks his forehead down against the nape of Phil’s neck. “Maybe you should take care of that,” he says.

He can feel the muscles in Phil's arm flex.

“Are you going to leave?” Phil asks.

Dan shakes his head and returns his lips to Phil’s neck. He remembers what had pushed Phil over the edge yesterday and adds a bit of teeth to the mix.

It works. Phil groans quietly and Dan can hear the soft rustle of a hand slipping into his pants.

He’s going to burst into flames for sure. It’s so, so quiet in the room. So still. He can feel Phil’s arm moving. He can hear the sound of skin pulling on different skin and he’s quite sure it’s the hottest thing he’s ever experienced. He can’t even see anything, and technically he’s still hard and frustrated. He’s still trying not to push his boner against Phil’s body, but he’s kissing Phil’s neck up to his ear and biting the lobe and listening to Phil tugging on his cock and it feels like he’s fallen back to sleep.

This can’t be real. This has to be a dream.

It’s not, though. It’s real. It’s real and it’s so fucking hot he’s going to die. His hand maintains its vice grip on Phil’s hip. He’s definitely going to have some finger shaped bruises later. And probably some mouth shaped ones on his neck, too.

Dan likes the thought of that. He likes the thought of Phil carrying around a little souvenir of what’s happening here. He likes that there will be a physical reminder that this is real and not just all in Dan’s head.

He’s so hard it hurts, but he’s channeling that into finding out exactly how Phil likes his neck kissed. He’s focusing on listening to the sounds Phil makes as he brings himself closer.

“Dan,” Phil says, sounding choked. Dan lets go of Phil’s hip and hooks his arm around Phil’s chest. He feels the movements of Phil’s arm speed up and then slow down as his body tenses.

Phil doesn’t make any noise when he comes. He holds his breath, then blows it out in a rush when it’s all over.

There’s nothing Dan wants more than to bask in this moment and find out what comes next, but his own arousal is too urgent to ignore any longer. He drops a single kiss to Phil’s shoulder and pull his arm free, then rolls over, up and off the bed.

Phil props himself up on his elbows, looking alarmed. “Where’re you going?”

Dan doesn’t bother trying to hide anything by cupping his dick the way Phil had yesterday. He reckons they’re past that at this point.

“I need the shower,” he says, looking down at his ridiculously tented sweatpants.

Phil is grinning as Dan turns away from him and heads out the door.

“Have fun.”

Chapter Text

Dan can’t get to the bathroom fast enough. When he gets there he yanks off his sweats and hops under water that hasn’t even had time to heat up properly. Once it does he realizes it’s a little too hot, but he can’t be arsed to adjust it now. He’s got a hand on his cock already and he’s thinking about Phil and it feels so good that he barely notices the scalding spray.

He can still hear Phil saying his name just as he was about to come.

He’s pink from head to toe when he gets out, and the air in the hallway when he opens the door feels arctic.

When he’s dressed he goes to the kitchen and Phil is waiting there at the table with enough toast and coffee for the both of them. Dan sits and chooses peanut butter from the array of options Phil’s left out.

“Good shower?” Phil asks. He’s smirking a little.

“Wouldn’t you like to know.”

He smiles a little wider. “I would, actually.”

Dan’s glad his cheeks are already warm and rosy so Phil can’t see the effect his teasing has. It’s awkward in the nicest kind of way, a little acknowledgment of what’s happening without having to put it into words.

“It was a good shower,” Dan mumbles, concentrating very hard on spreading peanut butter onto his toast.

“Good.”

“Good,” Dan says back, because he’s really not sure what else he can say.

“What about your sleep?” Phil asks. “Was that good too?”

Dan nods, feeling safe to look up now. “You?”

Phil nods. “It always is now.”

Dan smiles. He lets himself look at Phil in a way he hasn’t before, lets himself study the way his face is put together in a way he reckons a mate wouldn’t.

His eyebrows are ginger and they’ve got a nice shape to them. Why hadn’t Dan ever noticed that before? They sit just overtop of the rim his glasses and curve delicately in the center.

Noticing the glasses means he notices the eyes. Dan knew Phil’s eyes were blue but he’s not sure he ever noticed they were that blue.

When Phil turns his head, Dan’s eyes follow the slope of his neck and he sees that the marks he’d left there are faint enough that it’s unlikely anyone else would notice them.

“What are you doing today?” Phil asks, startling Dan from his inner musings.

“Nothing. You?”

“Bry wants to meet up later, she just texted me when you were… showering.” He smirks again.

“Reckon I’m not invited, then,” Dan says darkly.

The smiles drops from Phil’s face, instantly relaxed by a frown. “You are. I was about to say that. Why would assume you weren’t?”

Dan shrugs. He doesn’t really want to get into another tense conversation about Bryony when things finally feel like they could be getting back to normal.

“I thought you lot had a good talk yesterday.”

“We did,” Dan says, picking up his coffee so he has somewhere to look that isn’t Phil’s furrowed brows. “But I guess now you two will have to talk about it.”

“About what?” Phil asks.

Dan shrugs again. “Me?”

“You mean…?”

Dan nods. He hears the word us even though Phil never actually says it.

“We don’t— I don’t talk to her about you like that.”

Dan gives him an incredulous look.

“I don’t!”

“She acts like she knows things.”

“You think I’d—” Phil shakes his head. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“You’ve been telling her something.” He tries not to sound accusatory when he says it, but he’s not sure he succeeds.

“Yeah,” Phil says quietly. “But not about you.” He looks at Dan with uncharacteristic intensity and Dan finds himself unable to look away.

Until he understands what Phil means, and then he feels like a complete and total dickhead. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Dan looks down at his half empty mug. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” He doesn’t sound like he think it’s fine. “Did she say something?”

Dan shrugs. “Not really, just— kind of. I think she— she knows…” He trails off.

Now it’s awkward for real. “Something,” he finishes eventually.

“Yeah,” Phil agrees. “I know what you mean. Sometimes she says…”

“Stuff,” Dan offers. “Like passive aggressive stuff.”

Phil nods.

“Sometimes she really pisses me off.”

Phil laughs at that. “Yeah. I know that too. It makes sense you two get on each other’s nerves. You’re so similar.”

“You reckon?”

Phil gives Dan a look like it should be obvious. “You’re practically the same person.”

Dan frowns. “She’s meaner than me.”

“I’ll give you that,” Phil says. “But sometimes I wish I could be like that.”

“No,” Dan says automatically.

“No?”

“I mean. You could stand up for yourself more sometimes.”

“Yeah,” Phil agrees.

“But I like you nice.”

Phil looks down at the table and Dan can tell he’s trying his very hardest not to smile sheepishly.

He fails.

“Good,” Phil manages to say eventually. “But… you guys are brave. I wish I could be brave.”

“You are,” Dan says without hesitation.

“You said so yourself, I never stand up for myself.”

“You also…” Dan trails off. Is he allowed to call it coming out? Does that cross some sort of line they haven’t gotten to yet? “You told her things. That take bravery to tell,” Dan says quietly. “Things I haven’t been brave enough to tell her yet.”

“I had to wait until she’d already told me the same thing about herself,” Phil says. “There was no risk involved.”

“Doesn’t matter. Still brave,” Dan insists. He see Phil about to open his mouth to argue more so he says, “Phil, just shut up. Don’t argue with me.”

Phil laughs. “Oi. You’re taking advantage of my inability to defend myself right now.”

Dan waves his hand in the air dismissively. “You’ll live.”

“I’m gonna go shower before you abuse me more,” Phil says.

Dan’s automatic reaction is to smirk.

“What?” Phil demands.

“Just sounds like a euphemism now. Showers have been sullied.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Sorry, mate. Toast doesn’t really get me going.”

“What if I rub it on my nipples?” Dan says without thinking.

The thing about Phil is that he makes Dan feel comfortable. Like, way too comfortable. Dan’s brain apparently hasn’t adjusted to the need for certain new boundaries.

But Phil just rolls with. Because he’s the actual fucking best human being on planet earth. “That might do it. Probably well scratchy though. I won’t make you do that.”

“Cheers,” Dan croaks.

“But for real, I’m gonna shower.”

Dan nods. “Go. You smell.”

“Don’t rub anything weird on yourself while I’m gone.”

Dan smirks. “No promises.”

-

Hanging out with Bryony is nice. It feels like it used to again, no tension, no loaded silences. They sit in Starbucks for three hours, on a sofa by the window enjoying a bit of rarely seen London sunshine. They talk and laugh and take the piss out of each other in the ways that are accepted between them, never crossing the line into anything anyone could get upset about.

They’re sensitive, all three of them, especially right now. There are still a number of truths that have yet to be divulged but it feels to Dan like they all know they have to use kid gloves with each other for the time being.

They see a film and then go to Bryony’s flat after. They have a few drinks each and it’s all they need to get loud and silly and stay up laughing and playing board games well into the night.

They’re half asleep by the time Bryony calls them a car, and Phil falls asleep on Dan’s shoulder on the drive home.

They don’t even brush their teeth or bother with pajamas before crawling into bed together. They pull off their clothes and Phil attaches himself to the back of Dan’s body like a magnet, both of them in nothing but their underwear.

Dan’s not drunk but he might be a tiny bit buzzed still, or else he’s so tired that it just feels like he is. When Phil’s hand wanders up his chest and thumbs over one of his nipples, Dan shivers.

“Better than toast, yeah?” Phil asks.

“Yeah,” Dan murmurs. “Feels nice.”

He does it again, gentle but deliberate and Dan feels lips on his neck.

“That feels even better.” He can feel Phil’s mouth turn up into a smile against his skin.

“You smell like popcorn.” Phil’s hand slides down a little to rest flatly over Dan’s stomach. He kisses Dan’s neck again but there’s nothing like intent there, no heat.

Probably for the better. Dan’s not sure he could even handle Phil’s heat right now. These soft playful touches alone are enough to make his heart flutter. “Your mum smells like popcorn,” he retorts sleepily.

“Mm,” Phil hums, and Dan’s quite sure he’s not even listening. He kisses right under Dan’s jaw and says, “I’m tired.”

“Yeah,” Dan agrees. “Me too.”

“Today was fun.”

“Yeah. I wish every day could be like today.”

“Can’t it?” Phil asks.

Dan puts his hand on Phil’s and strokes over the soft skin of his knuckles. “No.”

“Why not?” He got his chin dug lightly into Dab’s shoulder now.

“Because of work and… life. I dunno,” Dan mumbles. “It was nice not to think about things today.”

“You don’t like your life?”

He’s so painfully earnest and naive sometimes. Dan feels the strange urge to squeeze him until he pops - or put him in a bubble where none of life’s cynicism can touch him.

“I like parts of it,” Dan says. “Like this.” He wraps his fingers around Phil’s hand and pulls it up to rest against his sternum. “Really liking this part.”

“Me too,” Phil murmurs.

“All the other parts are varying degrees of shite, basically.”

“Don’t say that.”

Dan smiles. “Ok, sorry. I love my life. I love working retail and being skint and knowing my parents think I’m a failure.”

“You’re not a failure,” Phil says, as insistently as he can for being half asleep. “None of those things make you a failure.”

A part of Dan wants to argue, because there’s isn’t actually any part of him that believes what Phil is saying, but he still loves Phil for saying it and he doesn’t want to argue with someone trying to show him compassion so he says, “It’s ok. Today was good.”

“I want all your days to be good.”

“I want all your days to be good,” Dan counters.

“I want waffles for breakfast.”

Dan snorts. It’s such a Phil thing to say. “Don’t think we have any.”

“Yeah, you’ve got to make them for me,” Phil says.

“We don’t have a waffle maker,” Dan reminds him.

“Oh yeah. Bollocks. Well, your birthday is coming up so I guess that’s your gift sorted.”

“You’re going to get me a waffle maker for my birthday so I can make waffles for you?” Dan asks.

Phil’s in the middle of yawning when he says, “Yeah.”

“So generous.”

Phil digs his teeth into Dan’s shoulder without warning then, biting down in a way that makes goosebumps erupt all up and down Dan’s arms.

He’s glad Phil’s not touching his nipple anymore, because then he’d notice how rock hard they suddenly are.

“Ow,” he lies.

Phil sees right through him. “That didn’t hurt.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know everything,” Phil says. “I’m psychic.”

“What am I thinking now?” Dan asks. He pulls his feet up to rest the soles on Phil’s shins and waits for his answer.

“You’re thinking about how much you want to make me waffles,” Phil says without missing a beat.

“Damn. That’s true skill right there, mate.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“So jealous,” Dan agrees. “I can barely contain it.”

“Mhm,” Phil hums. Dan can feel his cheek pressed up against his shoulder blade. He must be most of the way to sleeping now.

“Goodnight Philly.”

His response is another hum and Dan hears his breathing even out about a minute later. He risks lifting Phil’s hand still clasped in his up to his mouth and pressing a kiss to his knuckles before he lets himself fall asleep too.

-

It’s funny that pretty much the moment Bryony stops acting like Dan’s hiding something, he can’t keep from blurting it out to her.

He’s sat next to her in the back room on his break while she makes next week’s schedule, sipping the latte he’d brought her from the hipster place. Dan’s watching her long sparkly nails click clacking on the keyboard and without warning he’s overcome with the burning need for her to know.

“I’m not straight.”

The clacking stops as her hands still and she turns to look at him. “What?”

“I’m— you already knew, right?”

She looks taken aback. “Uh. No?”

He frowns at her.

“I mean… I didn’t,” she says defensively. “Because you didn’t tell me. I’m not just gonna assume—”

“So you suspected.”

“I can’t tell if this is like, you accusing me of something or you just trying to come out—”

“Don’t say it like that,” Dan interrupts.

She snaps her mouth shut, then opens it again to say, “Ok. Sorry. You do the talking.”

Dan balks then. “I don’t— there’s nothing else. Just— I think I’m… not straight.”

“Ok,” she says. “That’s brilliant.”

“Is it?”

She nods. “I’m not the odd one out anymore.”

Dan frowns again. “I was the odd one out, not you.”

She looks at him confusedly.

“Phil?” Dan prompts.

“Oh,” she says. “He told you.”

Dan laughs, then realizes that’s probably a dead giveaway and shuts himself up immediately. “Yeah,” he croaks. “And he told me he told you, or else I wouldn’t—”

She waves her hand. “I know. You too are so bloody protective of each other.”

A little smile breaks through Dan’s nerves. “Are we?”

She nods. “I tried to get him to tell me your deal so many times.”

“Wow.”

She shrugs. “You know me,” is her only defense. “Anyway, the point is, that bloke’s got your back.”

He looks away to try to hide the widening of his smile.

“So,” she says. “You like guys.”

He looks back at her and forces himself not to give in to the knee jerk urge to word it a little more ambiguously.

“Yeah. Reckon I do.”

“Fuck,” she says, crossing one leg over the other. “Should we talk about that?”

Dan imagines telling her about his internet searches or how squirmy he gets inside when he remembers Phil naked after the shower and his brain rejects the awkwardness of that conversation instantaneously.

“Maybe not,” he says. “Not right now.”

“Fair enough.”

“I just wanted to tell you.”

She smiles and reaches out to pat his leg. “Thank you for telling me.”

It should feel condescending but for some reason it really doesn’t. It feels nice. “Why did this happen to all three of us at the same time?” he muses. “That’s weird, isn’t it?”

She shrugs. “I have a theory that everyone is at least a little bit bisexual. Even if it’s only like, one percent. I’m just glad I’m friends with people who aren’t too up their own asses to admit it.”

“I think you coming out did something to our brains.”

She puts on an exaggerated smug face and tosses her hair over her shoulder. “I’m a trendsetter, what can I say?”

“I think you actually are,” Dan says, and his sincerity seems to catch her off guard. “If you tell anyone I’ll deny it but like… you’re pretty cool.”

In true Bryony style, she doesn’t let the compliment get to her. “And today you just became at least ten percent cooler, so congratulations. Now get back to work and let me do the same.”

He grins and downs the rest of his chai before standing up. He’s just starting to walk away when she says, “I’m always here if you do want to talk though, yeah?”

He nods. “I know I haven’t really given you reason to trust this, but I am too. I promise my head has been removed from my ass now.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

-

Dan doesn’t quite understand why it never gets awkward with Phil, but it doesn’t. Their days carry on as they always have. Sometimes they have to go to work and they sometimes they don’t. When they do, they exchange texts about how much it sucks having to work for a living and what they should have for dinner that night. When they don’t they’ll stay in playing video games or watching tv or arguing about whose turn it is to do the washing up.

There’s an added layer to their friendship, but that’s still what it is at the heart of things - friendship.

It does feel like something a little more, though, after night falls and they’ve crawled into bed in various states of undress. The touches come easily now, stroking thumbs and intertwining fingers and kisses pressed to necks and shoulders. Dan’s never touched or been touched by a friend like this, but he reckons the comfort and pleasure of it actually comes mostly from being so deeply rooted in the years they’ve spent getting to know each other.

He’s never had that before, really. He’d become so well versed in casual hookups that to have what in many ways is the exact opposite now feels like the nicest kind of shock to his system.

The fact that Phil is a bloke feels secondary - until the moments he is starkly reminded, when their positions aren’t carefully calculated and he’ll feel the press of hardness against his ass or his hip. Until he hears Phil’s gruff voice in the morning or run his palm up the flatness of Phil’s chest.

Instead of feeling jarred by those moments, it makes Dan feel all the warmer. It’s new, but it isn’t scary anymore. Nothing feels scary when it’s happening with Phil.

Tonight Dan is curled up against the back of Phil, who’s wearing those awful emoji pajama pants and no shirt. Dan’s half asleep, breathing in the scent of Phil’s shampoo and stroking his fingers through the hair that leads from the bottom of Phil’s belly button down under the waistband of his pjs.

Dan doesn’t even know for sure that Phil is still awake. All he knows is that Phil feels warm and nice and Dan really wants to keep following that trail down. Phil’s bottoms feel like an obstacle placed there with the express purpose of taunting him, daring him to slip his fingers underneath despite knowing he’s not really supposed to.

He drags the tips of his fingers over the stretchy material of the band, feeling the ridges where the material bunches over the elastic. His heart is starting to race. If he moved his hand down, even if he didn’t go under the material, he’d be able to feel the shape of Phil in a way he never has before.

He wants to. God, he wants to.

Does Phil want him to?

He doesn’t know. He can’t know unless he asks, but asking feels like something else he’s not allowed to do.

He flattens his palm against what would surely be a coarser kind of hair if there was no garish yellow garment between them.

Phil hums. It’s just a quiet noise, deep and throaty and so faint it’s barely even there, but Dan hears it and it gives him just enough courage to slip the tips of his fingers under the band, the elastic keeping him pinned tightly to Phil’s skin.

Phil doesn’t protest. It’s not the same as consent and Dan knows it, so the slide of his fingers further beneath Phil’s pjs is slow and cautious.

He only goes far enough to determine that Phil isn’t wearing any underwear and then he has to stop.

He’s excited. Truly, genuinely excited, both internally and between his own legs. Just knowing Phil’s cock is centimeters away from his fingers without any kind of barrier now is enough. He scratches his fingers in the hair and waits, praying Phil will give him some kind of approval without having to be asked.

Dan wants to touch him. He wants to touch him for real.

He leans his face into Phil’s neck and Phil arches it. Dan kisses it and Phil wraps his fingers loosely around Dan’s wrist.

He’s fully prepared for Phil to pull his hand out, but instead what he does is push it down, right to the base of his shaft.

Dan can’t help his sharp little intake of breath at that. He’s touching Phil. He’s touching Phil for real.

He starts just by stretching out his fingers and laying his hand overtop. There’s firmness and warmth, but there’s also give. He cups his palm and the tips of his fingers brush soft wrinkles and it feels like some kind of alternate timeline. It can’t really be life, surely. He can’t have a hand in Phil’s pants touching his cock and balls right now.

And liking it. That’s the other thing that’s making his head spin. He likes it, so much. Phil tilts his head back against Dan’s shoulder and Dan can see that his eyes are closed like he likes it too.

It’s the last little boost of reassurance Dan needs to wrap his fingers around Phil’s cock properly. He’s not hard but it feels like he’s getting there, in fact when Dan gives a little squeeze he can feel evidence of that very fact.

He’s surprised by how it feels nothing like holding his own. It’s the same, but it’s not. It’s really really not. Phil’s got a different shape. He’s thick. He takes up more space in Dan’s hand. Dan squeezes again just to feel it, without even a thought of what it must feel like to Phil. He wants to learn, to explore like some kind of scientist. He’s touching a dick that isn’t his and it’s honestly as fascinating as it is hot.

He thumbs over the head then and Phil twitches and suddenly it’s hot, it’s all hot and the curiosity burns up in the heat of wanting to make Phil feel good.

In the same moment that he decides this, his hand is being pulled away and before he has time to be disappointed Phil is turning over to face him. He’s holding Dan’s hand and looking into Dan’s eyes and Dan doesn’t know if he needs to apologize or what.

“You don’t have to do that,” Phil whispers.

“I want to,” Dan says, heart pounding so hard he’s surprised he can hear himself over the force of it. “Do you not want me to?”

“I do. Fuck. I do. I just—” He presses his forehead against Dan’s.

Dan’s just opening his mouth to apologize when Phil presses his own against it.

Dan’s frozen in shock for a second before he melts into it, wrapping his arm around Phil’s lower back and pulling him closer as he kisses back. Phil’s hands reach up to cup Dan’s jaw and there’s a smacking sound as their lips part before meeting again.

Dan feels Phil’s tongue brush against his lip ever so briefly and he feels like he might die. He’s never felt close to death’s door from a kiss before but that’s where he finds himself now, struggling to make heads or tails of the exploding heartbeats or swarm of butterflies or unbearable tenderness of Phil’s hands on his face and Phil’s lips on his lips.

It feels about a million times more intimate than what had been happening only a minute ago. Touching Phil like that could be couched in some kind of curiosity, an exploration of a newly blossoming identity.

This is decidedly not that.

This is so much better than that.

Chapter Text

If anyone had had the nerve to tell him even a few months ago that waking up would consistently become one of the best parts of his day, Dan would have laughed out loud and told them to jog on, then rolled over and gone back to sleep.

Because waking up sucks. It feels like death; everyone knows that. Only apparently Dan’s gone fully insane because waking up next to Phil is fucking awesome. Phil’s croaky voice being the first thing Dan hears in the morning, his sleep puffy eyes and bed head and shirtless chest being the first things he sees - it’s the best way to start the day. He finds himself wishing he never had anywhere to be but right here, half naked between blue and green sheets in a messy bedroom with his best mate.

Today he wakes up to a crushing sensation on his chest and a funky smell in his nose that pulls him from whatever uneventful dream he’d been having. He cracks an eye open and Phil’s right there all up in his space breathing on his face and grinning like a blinking lunatic.

“The fuck?” Dan grumbles. “Since when do you weigh twelve billion pounds?”

“Since when do you snore?” Phil counters. “Just kidding, you always snore.”

Dan pouts. “Time’s’it?”

Phil shrugs. “Early o’clock.”

Dan groans and kicks his legs ineffectually against the mattress. “Get off or m’gonna suffocate, you fucking heffalump.”

Phil shifts so his weight is on his elbows, but he makes no move to climb off of Dan’s body. In fact he spreads his legs to straddle Dan’s thighs and looks down at him with a cheeky kind of smirk. “Good morning.”

Dan just continues to grumble. “Why am I awake right now?”

“Mm, most likely because I was crushing the oxygen out of your lungs.”

“Yeah but why?”

“Told you,” Phil says. “Because you were snoring.”

Dan works his hand out from where it’s still crushed underneath of Phil and flips him off, then shoves his hand under the pillow to find his phone and check the time. “Phil!” he squawks when he sees just how early it actually is. “It’s so early.”

“I told you it was!” Phil half shouts back defensively.

“Was I actually snoring?”

Phil bites his lip sheepishly. “Umm… s’possible I was just bored ‘cause I couldn’t get back to sleep.”

“Phil!”

Phil giggles and tries to roll off of Dan then, but Dan doesn’t let him, reaching up and taking firm hold of Phil’s waist.

“Where you going?” Dan murmurs, voice dropping down into a completely different tone. Now that he’s accepted the fact that he’s awake he’d really like to keep all this soft warm Phil nice and close. He pulls a little and Phil drops his weight back down on Dan’s chest but now Dan’s ready for it. “That’s better.”

“You breath smells,” Phil says.

“So does yours.”

“Guess I can do this, then, eh?” He leans in and plants a kiss on Dan’s mouth that Dan finds himself reciprocating wholeheartedly.

He’s not used to this bit yet, this new thing they’re allowed to do together. It still makes his stomach feel all squirmy. He digs the pads of his fingers into Phil’s skin, squeezing against the urge to take it somewhere neither of them are ready for.

But Phil’s tongue keeps licking its tip delicately against the inside of Dan’s top lip, so he figures he’s allowed to take it somewhere. He slides his hands up Phil’s back and Phil shifts his weight to one elbow so he can cradle the base of Dan’s head where it meets his neck.

And then Phil’s alarm goes off, loud and shrill because he’s such a heavy sleeper. They both jump, startling apart.

“Would you be cross if I chucked that fucking thing out the window?” Dan grumbles.

Phil rolls off his chest and finds his phone to silence it. “Sorry.” He’s smiling, turning over onto his side to face Dan.

Dan turns over too. He can still feel the ghost of Phil’s lips on his and he wishes there was nothing in the world to ever distract them.

“Your wake up call was nicer,” Dan says.

“What, asphyxiation?” Phil teases. “You into that? Auto erotic—”

“Phil!” Dan slaps his hand down over Phil’s mouth.

Phil just laughs.

“Anyway, idiot, it’s not auto if you’re doing it for me,” Dan mutters.

Phil lifts his eyebrows, teasing even without the use of half of his face.

“Shut up or I’ll auto asphyxiate you to death,” Dan threatens, lifting his hand off Phil’s mouth.

“Your kink, not mine,” Phil says, then shrieks and tries to roll away as Dan lunges for him. He doesn’t quite make it though, and now it’s Dan who’s on top of Phil.

Now it’s Phil who’s gripping Dan’s hips and Dan who’s leaning down to press his mouth to Phil’s, and apparently Phil doesn’t have the same qualms about pushing things too far because a moment later there’s a hand pressing against Dan’s crotch through his pajamas.

That’s… interesting, to say the least.

They haven’t progressed past kissing since that first time Dan held Phil in his hand for the briefest of moments, and Dan’s not complaining about that. Phil had rolled over and kissed him and Dan’s fine with that. He reckons he could go on cuddling and kissing forever and be well happy.

But he can’t pretend he didn’t like touching Phil under his clothes, and he can’t pretend now that he doesn’t wish Phil would do the same. His breath picks up when Phil cups him and he’s just bracing himself for more when Phil pulls away and laughs like he thinks he needs to play it off.

“Got it, no asphyxiation.” He sits up and grabs his glasses.

Dan wants to reach for him and pull him back down and tell him none of this is a joke and Phil doesn’t have to play anything off and he wants whatever Phil wants, but Phil’s already swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

“No asphyxiation,” Dan echoes. “But… other things are ok.”

Phil turns around to look at him and cocks an eyebrow just slightly. Dan feels that jittery kind of nervousness that comes with being brave and holds Phil’s gaze even though putting previously unspoken truths into words is scary.

“Noted,” Phil says, then heads for the toilet.

Dan collapses back against the bed once he’s gone and stares up at the ceiling until his legs don’t feel like spaghetti. He needs to get up and get ready for work.

-

He hates that he feels weird about it once he’s out of the flat. He hates that he’s replaying it in his l head while he’s on the tube, remembering the bit where he made things awkward instead of everything nice that lead up to it.

He’s still thinking about it when he gets to work, so he decides to risk being brave again. He’s still sat in the back room, his shift not even started yet. He’ll drive himself mad with wondering all day if he doesn’t just bite the bullet and ask.

did i make things weird

yes Phil texts back.

Dan’s heart rate spikes without his permission, but he waits a moment longer before allowing himself to have a proper freak out.

i didn’t need to know about your choking kink ;)

Dan laughs out loud, relieved more than anything. i hate you

suuuuuuuuuure ya do

you can tell me one of your weird kinks if you wanna make it even Dan says.

nope! u gotta earn that, howell

Dan’s grinning down at his phone and about to text something flirty and possibly ill advised when a voice right up in his ear makes him jump.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Fucking hell, Bry,” he chokes, squeezing his chest and slipping his phone into his pocket before she can catch sight of anything incriminating. “Don’t do that.”

She ignores him completely and plonks down into the wheely desk chair next to him. “Who you talking to, then?”

“Your mum.”

“You must really like my mum, you’re smiling so hard I didn’t recognize you at first.”

He rolls his eyes. “Oh fuck off.”

She squints at him, considering, then drops her mouth open. “Oh my god. You got laid.”

“What? I didn’t. I told you I’m not doing that anymore.”

She gives him a deeply incredulous look. “Mate. You’re happier than a pig in shit. Someone touched your dick.”

He prays to god the heat he can feel in his face isn’t translating into those stupid red patches he gets when he’s as fucking embarrassed as he is right now. “No, I didn’t,” he mumbles, not even convincing himself.

It’s not what she’s suggesting. Not exactly, anyway.

“My god, you’re a shite liar.”

He gets up from his chair. “I’ve got work to do.” He walks away from her before he can say something truly daft.

She finds him not five minutes later straightening out a display of belts and continues her attack.

“You’re literally glowing.”

“Yeah,” Dan quips. “I’m fit. Get over it.” He turns away from her to hide his growing annoyance and that’s when she says it.

“It’s Phil, isn’t it?”

His whole body goes tense. There’s no way she doesn’t notice.

Why is she doing this? What is he supposed to do now? He doesn’t want to lie to her, but he doesn’t understand why she’s even putting him in a position where he has to in the first place.

“Dan,” she says softly.

He turns around. His lack of denial is already answer enough, but to his surprise - and her credit - she looks like she already knows she’s fucked up.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

He shakes his head.

“Sorry,” she says, and he can tell she’s being sincere. “I’m just— That’s…”

He can appreciate that it must be weird as hell for her. But it’s equally as excruciatingly uncomfortable for him, too. He’s in no position to smooth this kind of awkwardness over right now.

“This is weird as fuck,” she blurts, and it’s so off the cuff and brutally honest that he can’t help laughing.

“Fuck. I know.”

“I have, just… so many questions.”

Dan can feel his shoulders tensing like there are strings attached, slowly pulling them up to his ears. “I really can’t—”

“Yeah I know. Fuck. I’ll shut up. Fuck.”

Dan shakes his head and looks around to make sure there are no customers watching their little show. “I honestly thought he might have already told you.”

“I already told you, he doesn’t tell me shit about you,” she says, reaching back to twist her hair up into a very messy pile of candy floss frizz on top of her head. “I just… I’m fucking in shock, Dan. You’re my best friend, and he is too.”

Dan hates this. He wants to evaporate. He wants to melt. He wants to go back in time ten minutes and make sure he’s got his poker face on so she doesn’t suspect anything.

“That’s not going to change,” Dan says quietly. “Nothing is changing.”

“Everything is changing,” she counters. “Everything is different than it was like, a few months ago. Everything.”

“But that’s not bad.”

Bryony shrugs, and then looks at him helplessly. “You’re really not going to talk to me about it?”

Dan looks down at his feet. “Don’t know if I’m allowed,” he mumbles.

She scoffs. “You two always choose each other over me.” She starts to walk away, and he reaches out and grabs her arm before she can take more than a step.

“Bry.”

She looks at him. Her face is red.

“I’m scared, ok? It’s— it’s not what you’re thinking. We aren’t—” He drops her arm. “It just happened.”

“What happened?” she asks, but her voice is soft.

Dan shrugs. “Just— I think we kind of… like each other.”

She snorts then, crossing her arms over her chest. “You think?”

“I mean—”

“That bloke’s been in love with you for ages, Dan.”

Dan’s mouth snaps shut abruptly, then open again to ask, “What?”

She shrugs. “He never said anything. And I reckon he never will. But that’s always how it seemed to me.”

Dan shakes his head. “No. No, he had Amy.”

She shrugs again. “Doesn’t matter, really. He has you now.”

“It’s not really…”

She raises her eyebrows.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he says quietly.

Finally, finally, she does something that doesn’t make him want to run away. She smiles. “You do. Just because it’s bloody terrifying doesn’t mean you don’t know.”

He just nods. She’s right.

“And look, ok. I’m happy for you two. But I expect you both to talk to me at some point. When you’ve stopped being idiots, yeah?”

Dan nods. “Hopefully soon.”

She rolls her eyes. “I’m not holding my breath.”

-

Dan knows he has to tell Phil. Keeping that a secret isn’t even an option, but he can’t quite figure out how to break the news while they’re making dinner, and then eating dinner, and then doing the washing up, and then playing Mario Kart, and then watching tv.

So by the time they’re brushing their teeth and getting undressed and climbing into bed he’s bricking it. He’s reasonably sure Phil won’t be too cross but there’s always a chance he could be wrong.

As soon as they’re both laid down and the lights are off Dan lets the words come flying out of his mouth without any sort of tact or forewarning.

“Bryony knows.”

Phil looks at him. “Knows…?”

Dan gestures between them awkwardly.

“Oh,” Phil says flatly. “Really?”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“You… told her?”

He doesn’t sound cross. Just confused.

Dan shakes his head. “She kind of… guessed.”

“Really?” Phil asks again. “How?”

Dan sighs quietly and scrubs his hands down over his face. “She said I looked happy.” He risks turning his head on the pillow to look at Phil.

Phil is smiling. “Yeah?”

Dan nods. “She was annoying my tits off, but I didn’t say anything. She’s just…”

“Yeah,” Phil says. “I know.”

“I think she’s a bit hurt, actually. She was kind of pissed off.”

Phil is quiet for a moment before he answers. “I reckon to her it looks like we’ve been… keeping things from her.”

His words come out stilted and Dan knows why. Talking about this means acknowledging that there’s something to talk about, which is more than they’ve really done before. It toes the line of having to assign labels or definitions, which still feels very, very scary.

“She said we always choose each other over her,” Dan almost whispers.

“Shit.”

Dan doesn’t tell him the other thing she said. He’s actually trying not to think about that at all.

“I think she’s ok, though,” Dan says. “I was more worried you’d be the angry one.”

Phil frowns. “Why?”

Dan shrugs. He’s already talked about this more than he wants to. What he really wants now that Phil knows Bryony knows is to curl himself up against Phil’s back or vice versa and go to sleep. Maybe give Phil a little goodnight kiss before he passes out, because that’s quickly becoming a part of the routine and he likes it a lot.

“Have you told anyone?” Phil asks. His voice is gentle so Dan knows it’s curiosity and not an accusation.

“No. Have you?”

Phil shakes his head.

“Not about any of it?” Dan sks. “Not even Martyn?”

“No.”

“Are you upset?” Dan asks. It makes him feel a bit daft and technically Phil’s already indicated that he isn’t, but Dan needs to hear it plainly.

“I don’t think so,” Phil answers quietly. It’s not what Dan was hoping for, but he reckons it’s fair. It’s basically how he’s feeling too.

“Should I— do you need space? I can sleep in my own—”

“Don’t be stupid.”

Dan bites down on his bottom lip. “You didn’t ask for any of this shit.”

Phil’s hand finds his under the sheets and their fingers lace together. “I didn’t ask for it, but I’m asking you not to take it away.”

Suddenly Dan feels emotion bubbling up from somewhere deep and hidden. He didn’t realize until now he’d been holding it back. His throat is thick but he swallows over it harshly and squeezes Phil’s hand, then lets it go so he can roll over and press himself up against Phil’s side.

He smushes his face into Phil’s ribs and it makes Phil giggle and squirm away. Dan whines and reaches for him again, but Phil pulls him up higher to rest Dan’s head on his chest.

“Do you miss Amy?” Dan asks. It probably seems to come out of left field but in his own head it makes perfect sense.

“No,” Phil says easily. “I think about her sometimes, like I hope she’s happy, but I don’t miss being with her.”

“Were you happy with her?” He’s thinking about the thing Bryony said, because he can’t seem to not think about it, as much as he might like to.

Phil laughs. “We’re broken up now, mate. I feel like that’s pretty self explanatory.”

“You never said why, though,” Dan whispers. His heart is hammering against his chest so hard he’s sure Phil can feel it too.

“No.” He doesn’t say any more than that and Dan’s not going to push it.

They both go quiet. Dan’s head rises and falls on Phil’s chest with his breaths and it’s peaceful. Phil’s fingers are running slowly up and down Dan’s bicep, tickling in a pleasant sort of way that gives Dan goosebumps.

Dan lifts his hand from where it’s been clutching Phil’s waist, up to touch Phil’s face, to drag the tips of his fingers over the slight stubble as he traces the line of Phil’s jaw. He tilts his head back and Phil seems to know exactly what he wants, leaning down and catching Dan’s mouth in a kiss.

“I’m happier now,” Phil says.

Dan returns his head to its place on Phil’s chest and swallows again over a throat tight with just how much meaning those words hold.

“Me too.”

Chapter Text

“Oh, shoot… Yeah, I know, mum, I just… Yeah. I kind of forgot.”

Dan lolls his head to the side on the back of the couch and gives Phil a look. They’re meant to be watching the second to last episode of the show they’re currently bingeing, but Phil had to pause it to take a call from his mother.

“I’m sorry!” Phil exclaims. “It shouldn’t be a problem… When is it again, exactly?”

Dan winces. He can hear Kath’s voice on the other end of the line and she doesn’t sound happy.

“Ok. I’ll ring work right away… I’m sorry mum, I’ve just been…” His eyes dart over to look at Dan, and then just as quickly away from him. “I’ve been busy.”

Dan bites his lip and turns his attention down to his phone so it’s not quite so obvious that he’s eavesdropping.

“Of course I still want to come,” Phil says. His voice has dropped down quieter, so Dan decides to get up and give him some actual privacy. They have washing up that needs doing anyway.

Technically it’s Phil’s turn but the dirty dishes in the sink will probably be spilling out onto the floor by the time Phil finally gets around to it. Dan fills the sink with hot soapy water and pulls his headphones over his ears as he gets to work on scrubbing.

Ten minutes later he’s elbow deep in it, happily listening to music when a hand touches his shoulder. He jumps, water splashing out onto his socks. “Fuck,” he mutters, pulling the headphones down around the back of his neck and hopping backwards out of the newly formed puddle on the floor.

“Sorry,” Phil says. “Had to get shouted at by my mum.”

“What’d you do this time, mate?” Dan smirks, emptying out the now cloudy water and wiping his hands off on his hoodie. The dishes aren’t done but he’s got no interest in finishing Phil’s half of the chores if he hasn’t got a good reason for it.

Phil sighs, shoving his phone into the pocket of his jeans. “Forgot about family holiday.” He says it like Dan’s going to shout at him too.

“Ah, guess I could have gathered that,” Dan says. His chest is doing a weird tight thing that he’s trying to ignore. “Did you get it sorted?”

Phil shrugs. “Rung work to beg for time off.”

“And?”

“They weren’t bothered. I’m just a lackey, it’s not like they’re going to miss me.”

Dan frowns. “Fuck off, you’re not just a lackey. You’re working your way up, we’ve talked about this.”

Phil smiles. It doesn’t look entirely genuine. “It’s fine. They gave me the time, now I’ve just got to buy the plane tickets.”

“Are they expensive?” He regrets asking the moment the words have left his face. It’s not his business and it just makes him look like the peasant he is to ask such a thing.

Phil shrugs, not seeming to care at all about Dan’s lack of couth. “My parents pay for it.”

Dan snorts. “Must be nice.”

Apparently he’s also an asshole.

Phil actually smiles for real at that. “It is. I can’t complain. I might actually get a tan.”

“Is your vampire skin actually capable of such a thing?”

“Mm, well. Hasn’t happened yet,” Phil admits. “But there’s a first time for everything!”

“That might be pushing it,” Dan teases. His chest still feels a little weird, but he’s trying to pretend he doesn’t know why. “So… Netflix? Or do you need to deal with plane tickets and shit.”

“Don’t want to right now,” Phil says. “I wanna finish the show but I need food first.”

Dan agrees, and they raid their kitchen in pursuit of something suitable for their afternoon snacktime needs. They scrape together ingredients for sandwiches and stand next to each other at the counter while they fix them up.

“So… when do you leave?” Dan asks. He doubts he sounds casual, but he’s trying.

“Next week.”

“Oh. Fuck.” The feeling in his chest intensifies to the point that he can’t hide it anymore. He thought he’d have more time to prepare himself for a long stretch of solitude.

Phil turns his head to look at Dan with a confused frown.

“I mean. Oh, yay,” Dan says, completely deadpan.

“Not chuffed you’ll have the place to yourself for a while?” Phil asks.

“It’s gonna fucking suck,” Dan admits. “Not looking forward to—” He cuts himself off. Phil doesn’t need a guilt trip right now. “I’ll miss you, that’s all,” he says quietly.

“So come with me.”

Dan just looks at him. “What.”

“You could use a holiday too,” Phil says. “Probably more than me.”

Dan’s heart is thrumming excitedly even though his brain knows it’s not a thing that can happen. “Can’t afford it,” Dan says gruffly.

“My parents will pay.”

“I couldn’t—”

“Call it an early birthday present,” Phil interrupts.

“I… have work.”

“Bryony will definitely give you the time.”

“How much time, exactly?” Dan asks.

“Two weeks.”

“Bloody hell.” Dan stands there, teeth sinking into his lip. The prospect of it is so fucking delicious that he can’t compute that it’s even possible.

“Do you not want to?” Phil asks.

Dan scoffs. “Of fucking course I do. It’s just… I couldn’t impose like that.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “You’re not imposing. I’m asking you to come because I don’t fancy being away from you for that long.”

Dead silence. Dan’s insides feel like a basket of snakes.

“Don’t wanna go back to sleeping alone,” Phil murmurs.

“I really want to go,” Dan says. He can’t seem to bring himself to say ‘yes.’

“Great. It’s settled.” Phil grins. “Ring Bry right away, k? I’m gonna text my mum.” He drops the piece of bread he’s got in his hand and pulls out his phone.

Dan’s hands are the happy kind of shaky as he pulls his phone out too and dials Bryony’s number. She doesn’t answer, so he hangs up and dials the number for the shop instead.

“Hello, Topm—”

“Bry,” he says, cutting her off before she has to do the long introductory corporate spiel.

“Dan?”

“I need a favour.”

“Hello to you too, knobhead.”

He smirks. “Sorry. Hi, hello, how are ya?”

“What do you want?” she asks. “I’m a very busy woman.”

“You’re hiding in the back room, aren’t you?”

“Of course.”

“I need you to be my best friend and not my boss right now, yeah?” he says, heart starting to beat funny at the prospect that she could actually say no to this.

Or be hurt that he and Phil are both planning to fuck off for a while right after dropping a huge bomb on her.

“Depends,” she says. “What do you need?”

“Um. Some time off?”

“Ok…” She sounds confused. “So write it in the book? Why do you need—”

“Phil’s going to Florida next week. You know, the yearly thing?”

“Yeah…”

“He kind of…” He takes a steadying breath. “Asked me to come.”

She’s quiet a moment before she says, “Oh.”

“He forgot about it, that’s why it’s so last minute.”

“Is this… You lot are that serious already?”

Dan turns around to make sure Phil’s not listening. He doesn’t appear to be; he’s got his nose buried in his phone and a deep set frown of concentration on his face, but nevertheless Dan slowly makes his way out to the lounge.

“It’s not like that,” Dan says quietly.

“But it is a bit, right?”

Dan sits on the edge of the couch and digs his elbows into his thighs. “I guess a little. It’s just a… it’s a weird time right now. For both of us.”

“Ok,” she says.

“Ok?”

“Ok. How much time do you need?”

Dan squeezes his eyes shut in anticipation of her reaction. “Two weeks?”

“Christ, Dan.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I fully understand if you can’t—”

“It’s fine.”

His heart sinks. “Bry..”

“What? I said it’s fine. I’ll get your shifts covered. I hope you two have fun.”

“Please don’t be like that,” he says quietly. “This is hard enough.”

She laughs bitterly. “It’s hard for me too. In case you forgot, I actually came out first. And you were honestly a dick about it.”

“I know. I’m sorry. You understand why though, right?”

She sighs. “Yes, Daniel. I do.”

Dan turns around to check if Phil’s listening, but he can’t even see him anymore. “I can’t sleep without him, Bry.”

The other end of the line is quiet for a good five seconds. And then, “You sleep together?”

“Yeah. We have been for months. That’s kind of what, like, started stuff, I think.”

“What?” she asks incredulously. “You were sleeping together before you liked each other? Like friends with benefits?”

He barks a weird laugh. “No! Fuck. Not like that. It was like, literal sleeping. Because I kept having nightmares.”

She makes an exasperated noise. “Oh come on.”

“What?”

“Don’t make it all cute like that, I wanna be cross and jealous and petty and all that shit.”

Dan smirks a little. “You think it’s cute?”

“You two giant awkward noodles sleeping in the same bed because you were having bad dreams?” she say. “Uhh, yeah. That’s fucking adorable.”

Dan smiles. “He’s a really good guy.”

“Yeah, I know. You’re lucky, Howell. You’re so fucking lucky.”

Dan nods even though she can’t see him. “I know.”

“Don’t fuck it up.”

“I’m gonna try really hard not to,” he says, turning around again to ease his paranoia that Phil’s stood right there hearing everything. He drops his voice down low regardless of the fact that there’s no evidence Phil is spying. “It still kinda feels like… insane? Almost like it’s an out of body experience? Like… it’s Phil. Not even just the fact that it’s a bloke, but like… It’s fucking Phil.”

“Trust me, it’s weird as fuck for me too,” Bryony says. “And I really wanted to hate you both for making me the third wheel, but…” She scoffs. “You’re both so stupid and helpless I can’t help rooting for you.”

“I’ll take it.” Dan laughs quietly.

“You’re gonna come back from Florida with a fucking ring on your finger, aren’t you?”

“Shut up.” His voice is pitched up and squeaky with the giddiness of relief. He laughs and she laughs and before he knows it’s they’re both gasping for air and Dan has tears in his eyes even though no one really said anything funny.

Maybe they’re both relieved.

“You know you don’t have to be jealous,” Dan says. “I meant what I said; it’s not going to change our friendship.” It feels incredibly strange to be this deeply earnest when talking to Bryony, but it also feels like the right move today.

“I hope not,” she says. “I’m quite fond of you, even if you are complete numpties.”

Dan wipes his eye against his sleeve. “We’re fond of you, too. Even if you are bloody terrifying.”

“I’m a kpoppie with pink hair,” she says defensively.

“Mhm, and also a stone cold bitch.”

“Aww,” she coos.

Dan chuckles. “Go back to work. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. You will.”

“I love you Bry Bry.”

“I’m hanging up now.” Then she does.

He’s still laughing to himself as he slides his phone into his pocket and stands up to look for Phil.

He finds him sprawled out on his own bed, phone pressed to his ear and long legs crossed at the ankles. Dan can’t help smiling at the sight of him, and Phil smiles back. He holds up a tentative thumbs up and lifts his eyebrows in question.

Dan nods.

“Yeah mum,” Phil says. “Can you go ahead and get two sets of tickets?”

Dan puts a knee on the mattress and nudges Phil’s side. Phil shuffles over and Dan lies next to him. Phil uncrosses his ankles and they knock their socked feet together gently while Dan listens to him making arrangements for them to spend two weeks on a sunny holiday with Phil’s family.

It doesn’t even feel real. It’s all been so quick. He only has a couple days to pack, and probably he’ll need to go shopping. He can’t even remember the last time he needed swim shorts. He used to go on trips with his own family but it’s been years since he accepted those kind of invitations. He still hasn’t quite learned how to navigate the bad feelings that arise when he gets around them.

He’s old enough now to know the blame doesn’t rest entirely on them. They’re good people who care about him in a general sense, but they don’t know him. He never let them, never trusted them enough to actually be himself where they could see.

He knows Phil’s experience is the polar opposite. He likes spending time with his family, genuinely. As he should. The Lesters are lovely. Not all family holidays end with everyone counting down the hours until they can take leave of each other.

Dan just hopes he won’t be a dark cloud that blocks out Phil’s sun.

“Ok thanks mum! Love you too.”

Dan turns his head on the pillow to look at Phil. “Is this mental?”

“No, ‘course not. Martyn brings someone every year.”

Dan’s gawks. “Uh… yeah. His girlfriend.”

Phil shrugs. “I’m allowed to bring a… someone. It’s always been on offer.”

“Are you sure?” Dan bites his lip. “Did Kath think it was strange?”

“No!” Phil exclaims. “She loves you, you know that. They all do.”

Dan has to smirk at that. He knows how to turn on the charm when he really wants to. “Ok. Well thanks. Two weeks off work is like a fucking dream.”

“Because you’re spending them with me, right?” Phil grins, elbowing Dan very gently in the ribs. “Eh?”

“A necessary evil.”

“There’ll be a few of those,” Phil says. “Brace yourself.”

“Oh god,” Dan groans. “Like what?”

“Like… board game nights.”

Dan snorts. “I live with you, remember? I know the drill.”

“You’ll have to go outside a lot.”

“I figured. S’ok, I could use that D vitamin. Heard it’s like, good for you something.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Phil says, holding his arm up to demonstrate his paleness.

Dan holds his up to compare. It’s really only a fraction of a shade darker. “Yeah, we need this.”

Phil grabs Dan’s hand and lowers their arms back down onto the bed clutching Dan’s fingers. “I’m really happy you’re coming.”

“Me too,” Dan murmurs. He pauses a moment, then asks, “We aren’t actually going to keep…?”

Phil turns his head to look at Dan. “What? Sleeping together?”

Dan hopes his face hasn’t gone red. He nods.

“Do you not want to?”

“I do.”

“So do I,” Phil says. “That’s the whole point.”

“You’re not worried it’ll look… suspicious?”

Phil laughs. “Wow. Thanks.”

“You know I don’t mean it like that. I’m just assuming you’re not about to tell your mum—”

“Dan.”

Dan shuts up and waits for Phil to talk.

“It’s fine. They’re not going to suspect anything, and if for some reason they do, I’m really not bothered. I’m not a bloody teenager anymore.”

Dan nods. He’s not sure he fully understands but he’s not going to argue anymore. Being in the same house with Phil and not being able to sleep in his bed would be torture, anyway.

“How was Bryony?” Phil asks. Dan could kiss him for the subject change.

He could kiss him. The thought smacks him in the face that there isn’t actually anything stopping him. He could do that.

But dull sunlight is streaming in through Phil’s window and the sounds of daytime London filter up from the street and it still feels like something he’s not allowed to do, so he lets the moment and the urge pass.

“She was a bit tilted, honestly. I had to tell her a bit more about… stuff. She said we’re cute and stupid, but she gave me the time.”

Phil beams. “Awesome.”

“She’s gonna have questions when we get back, I reckon,” Dan warns.

Phil shrugs. “We can worry about that later, yeah?”

Dan studies Phil’s face, somehow still surprised at just how much he likes it, how pretty Phil looks now that Dan’s giving himself permission to really look. “I’m not actually worried.”

Phil squeezes Dan’s hand. “Me neither.”

Dan lets the loveliness of the moment wash over him, basking in it until the anxiety of how much he has to do to prepare for this trip sinks in.

“Ok,” he says, releasing Phil’s hand and forcing himself to sit up. “Come on. We’ve got shopping to do.”

-

He’s slightly less anxious when he crawls into bed that night knowing he’s got a small wardrobe of weather appropriate items to take to America. But then again maybe the anxiety has just shifted focus, because now he’s got even less money to bring with him. He knows if he moans about it that Phil will just insist he’ll cover whatever Dan needs and that makes Dan feel squirmy in a bad way, so he’s just going to try not to think about it.

Because the overarching emotion he’s experiencing is definitely excitement. He wants to hang on to that.

“We’ll go to Gatorland,” Phil says as he takes off his shirt and then his glasses. “We’ll get eaten alive by mosquitoes and watch gators mating.”

“Shut up,” Dan snorts.

“I’m dead serious. They have a whole section dedicated to it. There’s literally an observation tower.”

“Is that your favourite part of Florida?” Dan teases. “Watching crocodiles fuck?”

“Alligators,” Phil corrects. “And maybe it is.”

“This is the weird kink you didn’t wanna tell me the other day, isn’t it?”

“Shut up!” Phil pushes against Dan’s chest playfully.

Dan grabs his wrist and pulls him in close. “Way weirder than a little breath play, by the way.”

“You’re sick,” Phil murmurs, allowing himself to be hugged tightly.

Dan’s been holding back a lot of fondness today. He’s lost count of how many times he’d wanted to lean into Phil’s space but couldn’t. Now it’s nighttime and they’re in bed and he doesn’t have to stop himself.

“And you’re a scaly,” he says. “Which is worse?”

Phil presses his forehead to Dan’s. They’re laid on their sides and Dan is probably squeezing Phil far harder than he needs to but Phil doesn’t seem to be complaining. The tips of their noses brush and it’s so painfully intimate that something cracks open inside Dan’s chest.

“Should we talk about this?” he whispers.

Phil’s answer isn’t really an answer. “Do you want to?”

“I don’t know,” Dan admits.

“Are you unhappy?”

Dan shakes his head.

“I’m not either,” Phil whispers. “I’m also not very good at talking.”

“How do we know like… the rules.”

Phil frowns. “What rules?”

“I dunno, just…” Dan lets himself trail off. “How do we know what we’re doing.”

“Because… we do what we want?” Phil’s voice is pitched up in a way that allows for the possibility that Dan will argue, but Dan nods.

“Yeah.”

“Do you need rules?” Phil asks. “Did I do something—”

“No,” Dan says. “That’s not— I’ve just… never done this.”

Phil chuckles. “I know. I haven’t either.”

“You’re good at it, though.”

Phil frees his arms from the vice grip of Dan’s embrace and brings them up to hold Dan’s face in his hands. “So are you.” He leans in and kisses Dan lightly. “I reckon talking is overrated.”

Dan nods and chases Phil’s lips for another kiss, a longer one this time, one that leaves no room for doubt that this is exactly where he wants to be. Phil kisses back in a way that says he feels the same and Dan doesn’t say it but he reckons Phil’s right - they don’t need to talk to know what they’re doing.

Phil kisses back in a way that makes Dan feel hot under his skin, makes him dig his nails into Phil’s waist just for somewhere to put the tension that’s building up inside his body.

“Dan,” Phil breathes, not even pulling his mouth away from Dan’s.

“Yeah.” Dan’s voice is gruff and he doesn’t bother trying to disguise that. Phil has to know the effect he’s having.

“Can I touch you?”

Dan’s heart jumps, beating so fast it actually hurts a little. All he can do is nod emphatically and try not to hyperventilate. Phil reaches down and touches Dan overtop of his pjs, fingers gripping gently around the shape of him that’s already hard. He kisses down to Dan’s neck and giggles when Dan loses patience and slides his own hand down to get a feel of Phil.

Dan’s not polite like Phil. He doesn’t ask permission, and apparently he’s got no sense of working up slowly because he reaches right into Phil’s pants to take hold of him. Phil pushes his hips into Dan’s touch and moves his mouth to Dan’s ear.

“I’ve been wanting this,” he whispers.

“Touch me,” is Dan’s response. Whatever restraint he’d been holding onto evaporated the moment Phil’s lips touched his tonight.

Phil laughs softly against Dan’s neck and slides his hand under the waistband of his pants. “Bossy, innit?”

“You like it.”

Phil laughs again and bites into Dan’s skin. Dan’s hips buck a little and Phil squeezes him. It probably feels better than it ought to after so little time and given the awkwardness of their positioning, but Dan’s not going to question anything. He squeezes Phil back and starts to stroke and Phil sighs.

“Your hands are so big.”

Now it’s Dan’s turn to laugh. “You’re so chatty.”

“It’s ‘cause I’m nervous,” Phil says, completely contrary to the confidence in the movement of his wrist that has Dan’s stomach tightening already.

“Why?” Dan manages to ask despite his focus already being pulled in so many beautiful directions.

“Never done this before,” Phil says, voice low and hot in Dan’s ear. “Wanna get it right.”

“Already are,” Dan croaks. “Now shut up.”

Phil bites his neck again, harder this time and Dan lets out a proper moan.

“You shut up,” Phil says, then kisses Dan before he can say anything else.

There’s no more talking after that. They kiss and touch and to Dan it doesn’t feel like it’s the first time. He knows he’s probably clumsy and maybe his pace is a little too slow but Phil is matching it and it’s sparking a fire in Dan’s gut so how bad can it really be? Phil sounds like he’s enjoying it. He’s kissing like he’s enjoying it, and that just makes Dan’s toes curl harder.

He isn’t nervous. There’s no room for nerves when every corner of his brain is singing its joy. As
with everything else he does with Phil, this just feels right. It’s almost as much a comfort as it is a pleasure to know he can do this, he can touch a man and it feels like a missing puzzle piece finally being found.

Maybe it’s just because it’s Phil. Maybe with anyone else it wouldn’t feel so warm and safe.

He’s glad he doesn’t have to find out.

Chapter Text

Florida is hot, even though the sun has long since set when their plane touches down. They’ve been travelling all day, in the air for upwards of ten hours and Dan’s brain feels like it’s melting out of his ears by the time Kath picks them up at the airport.

He was already sweaty from cramming into a seat built for a much smaller person, not to mention the stress of arriving in a foreign country, so the balminess outside does nothing to ease the queasiness churning in his gut.

He does enjoy watching Phil sprint to wrap his mum up in a hug the moment he sees her. That’s nice. It makes a goofy smile spread across his face that he’s too exhausted and jet lagged to temper. Kath gives Dan a hug too and Dan returns it, albeit with a little less chaotic energy than Phil.

“Oh dear, you boys look dead on your feet,” she tuts as they wait at baggage claim.

Phil leans his head down on her shoulder. “We are.”

“Planes really aren’t built for people over five and a half feet tall,” Dan says. He kind of wishes he could put his head on Phil’s shoulder and for once it has nothing with anything besides the extreme fatigue weighing him down. All he can think about is getting to a place where he can sprawl out. He’d lie down right here on the floor if people wouldn’t look at him like a freak.

They collect their bags and follow Kath to the car where Phil sits up front and Dan requests meekly that they turn on the AC. Phil opts instead to open the windows and Dan’s hair ruffles in the wind as he watches Floridian night lights on the drive to the Lester family summer house and listens to Phil chat with his mum.

“Is Martyn here already?” Phil asks.

She nods. “They got here yesterday. They went out tonight though so they may not be in until the wee hours.”

Dan rejoices internally. He doesn’t have it in him to be social tonight, he really doesn’t. He just wants to sleep. The journey has drained him in all capacities, physical and otherwise. He’s not even particularly keen on eating, though he’s guessing Phil will insist.

“Dad’s asleep,” Kath offers, and Dan’s not complaining about that either. “Sun tires him right out.”

Phil laughs. “I know the feeling.”

“Have you packed your sun cream, young man?”

“Oh shoot,” Phil says sheepishly. “Knew I forgot something.”

“Good thing I didn’t,” Dan pipes up from the back. “I bought some, remember?”

“Bless you,” Kath says, giving Dan a smile in the rear view mirrors. “I can’t tell you how worried I’d be about this child if I didn’t know he had a flatmate like you looking after him. When he told me he and Amy were splitting up I—”

“Mum!”

“Sorry love but it’s true. You didn’t even know how to do laundry when I sent you off to uni and it wasn’t for my lack of trying.”

“That was ages ago,” Phil grumbles. “I do laundry all the time now, just ask Dan.”

“He does,” Dan says sleepily, slowly being lulled by the movement of the car’s wheels underneath him. “He’s a good cook, too.”

“Now that one I’ll take credit for,” Kath says smugly.

“You’re not going to make me cook on holiday are you?”

“I’m on holiday too!” Kath exclaims.

“Yeah but… You’re the mum!”

Dan laughs at that and kicks the back of Phil’s seat. “All the more reason she needs a holiday, mate. Looking after you is hard work.”

“Shut up,” Phil mumbles.

Dan watches Kath reach out and ruffle Phil’s hair. “We’ll cook together. Like we used to when you were little.”

“Will you make me a cake? A red velvet one? Or— ooh, an early birthday cake for Dan?”

Kath laughs and it’s such an infectiously happy sound. Dan actually feels some of the oppressive fatigue starting to melt out of his tense muscles. He thinks to himself this is exactly what a holiday should feel like, and they haven’t even made it home from the airport yet.

“Of course. We can make a cake and pretend it’s all for Dan,” Kath teases.

“As long as you’re making cake I’m happy,” Dan says. “You make the best cake, Kath. Even better than my nan, I reckon, but don’t tell her I said that.”

“My lips are sealed.”

A moment later Dan feels his phone buzz against his leg.

stop sucking up mate

never Dan texts back, grinning down at his phone. He slips it back into his pocket and refocuses his attention on the view of his home for the next two weeks. It almost looks feels another planet, the palm trees lining the road and the humid breeze blowing in through the open window.

“You’re so tan already, mum,” Phil says. “It’s not fair. You go out for what, a day? And you’re already brown. I’ll just go lobster red and then my skin will peel off like a snake and I’ll be white again.”

“You are looking a touch pale, love.”

“There are albinos with more melanin than you, Phil,” Dan adds, delighting in the way Phil turns all the way around in his seat to give Dan the stink eye. “But you’re not gonna burn, because I’m a hero who bought you like, factor fifty sun cream, remember?”

“I’m sure I’ll still find a way,” Phil grumbles.

Dan pulls his phone back out and lets himself coast on the out of body feeling of being in a new place and feeling so unlike himself, texting pale looks good on you to Phil.

Apparently Phil is feeling loose too, because he texts back you look good on me.

Dan snorts, then looks up from his phone and hopes Kath hasn’t heard.

Phil asks his mum what she’s made them for dinner and Dan closes his eyes to the kiss of warm American wind on his face. He’s not too tired to be slightly awed that even the wind feels different than it does back home.

He must fall asleep for a time, because the next thing he knows Phil’s hand is on his shoulder squeezing gently and his deep voice is murmuring that they've arrived. Dan is so disoriented he nearly forgets himself and leans into Phil’s space to kiss him, but he catches himself. He blinks his eyes open properly and stretches and nods.

He climbs out of the car and looks around, wondering idly as they unload their suitcases from the boot how it is that Phil is happy slumming it with Dan in their dingy flat.

It’s slightly ridiculous how nice this place is. Phil’s parents are properly well off which means by extension that Phil is too, and yet he chooses to stay in a slightly less desirable area of London just so they can live in a flat whose rent Dan can actually afford.

Phil bumps his shoulder into Dan’s, shaking him from his insecurities. “Coming inside or what?”

Dan notices then that Kath has already gone inside. “Yeah,” he says, stretching again. “Sorry, I’m a bit out of it.”

“Me too. I don’t know if I’m wired or exhausted,” Phil says, locking up the car and heading up the drive. “I guess you wanna go straight to bed?”

Before his car nap Dan would have said yes, but now that he’s awake and they’re here he’s feeling strangely energized. He shrugs. “Do you?”

Phil shakes his head. “I’m starving, aren’t you?”

“I could eat.”

They go inside and dump their bags in Phil’s room. Dan wants to take time to admire the gorgeous view from the giant window and feel if the bed is as soft as it looks, but Phil just grabs his hand and drags him back down the stairs to the kitchen where Kath is reheating leftover Chinese food.

She tells them she’s too old to stay up this late and kisses them both on the top of their heads before heading upstairs, and then it’s just the two of them sat at the kitchen table chewing on egg rolls and chicken fried rice and looking at each other.

“We’re in Florida,” Dan says.

Phil nods. “How does it feel?”

There are many things Dan could say, because in all honesty it feels like a dream, but he reckons maybe he’d like to save the cheesy shit to whisper into Phil’s ear when they’re tucked up in those soft looking sheets later. Instead he says, “Sweaty.”

Phil snorts. “It’s the middle of the night. Wait til the sun comes out. You don’t even know what sweaty is yet.”

It’s at that moment that Dan’s eye catches a ripple of blue from out the window. He leans forward and squints at it. “Is that a pool?”

Phil turns around to look like he’s not sure. “Yeah. Did I not tell you?”

Dan shakes his head. He’s looking at how pretty the water looks lit up against the darkness all around it. “We should swim,” he blurts.

Phil frowns. “What, now?”

“Yup. C’mon.”

“Don’t we need to get changed?”

Dan’s already stood up. “Are you not wearing pants?”

Phil looks like a very adorable deer in headlights. “I am.”

“Then we’re good.” He walks around the table and grabs Phil’s hand and pulls.

Phil doesn’t resist, chuckling and letting himself be pulled out to the back garden. Dan drops his hand once the sliding glass door is closed behind them and wastes no time pulling off his shirt.

It’s not until he’s unzipping the fly of his jeans that he looks up and realizes Phil’s just been watching intently the whole time.

“Enjoying the show?” Dan asks, smirking.

Phil apparently refuses to be embarrassed. “Yeah. Keep going.” His voice is the deep suggestive tone that Dan reckons he’ll never get used to.

“Shut up.” In the end it’s Dan who feels embarrassed. (But also fluttery and tingly and all the things Phil makes him feel these days.) “You better take your shit off too or I’m taking you in with me clothes and all.”

“I just ate my weight in takeaway,” Phil whines, putting a protective hand over his belly. “Not exactly keen on showing you my food baby.”

Dan peels off his jeans and doesn’t say a word before he grabs Phil unceremoniously and holds him tight as they fall into the water together.

It’s lovely and cool and refreshing, even as Phil squawks. “You— I can't believe you did that!”

Dan can’t help grinning. “Told you I would.” Phil’s shirt is stuck to his chest and his hair is a mess and maybe Dan should think it’s funny but actually Phil just looks hot.

“I hate you,” Phil mutters, splashing water at Dan without malice. “Wet jeans feel freaking awful.”

“So take them off, idiot.” Dan stands up and walks over to Phil. He feels particularly exposed in nothing but a pair of black Calvin’s, but he can’t pretend he doesn’t like the way Phil’s eyes linger on him. He puts his hand on the waist of Phil’s jeans under the water. “Need help?”

“Maybe I do.”

Dan moves his hand round to the front, to pop the button open and tug the zipper down. His heart is beating significantly faster than it had been a moment ago, but this can’t happen. Not here, not outside in Phil’s parents’ pool.

He takes a couple steps back. “My turn to watch.”

Phil smirks and crosses his arms at the bottom of his shirt to pull it up. He manages alright until it gets to his head and then he’s stood there with a face full of fabric, tugging and struggling and eventually laughing. “Help,” he squeaks. “My shirt is trying to eat my face.”

Dan feels like he’s going to combust from the fondness as he steps up and grabs the wet material and pulls. “You’ve no future as a stripper, Lester.”

“Ow, don’t decapitate me, I’m too young to die.”

Dan starts to laugh. He’s pulling rather hard but the neck of the shirt refuses to release its grip on Phil’s alien shaped skull. “Why is your head so big?” Dan shrieks.

“Because of my giant brain!” Phil shouts back through his giggles.

Finally with a brutal yank, the shirt comes off. Phil yelps in pain and Dan laughs harder at how red his face is.

“That was the least sexy thing that ever happened,” Phil grumbles.

Dan clutches Phil’s shirt to his aching abs. “But maybe the funniest.”

“I’m glad my humiliation is amusing to you.”

Dan sucks in a deep breath to stem the flow of giggles, then chucks Phil’s shirt onto the deck. “Time for the bottom half,” he declares gleefully.

“Not happening.”

Dan pouts. “No fair.”

“Your punishment for pushing me into a pool fully dressed,” Phil says, sticking out his tongue.

“I didn’t push, I pulled. And I did warn you.”

Phil is slowly walking backwards and Dan follows until Phil hops out and sits on the edge of the pool with his denim clad legs dangling in the water.

“I pulled you in because I wanted you in here with me,” Dan says, his voice dropping down into something a little less playful.

Phil doesn’t say anything, but he lifts a leg out of the water and Dan gets the hint, grabbing the other leg as well and pulling on the bottom of his jeans. Phil braces his weight on his hands and lifts his hips up as Dan tugs. It’s even more of a struggle than the shirt, but neither of them are laughing this time.

He manages to get them off and lets them sink to the bottom of the pool. When Phil doesn’t hop into the water, Dan walks up to stand in front of him. He looks up at Phil and watches the reflection of the ripples on his face.

Phil stares back, then opens his legs and reaches for Dan, whose heart is a hummingbird fluttering in his chest. He steps closer, fitting himself in between Phil’s thighs and instead of doing what he reckons he’d do if he was brave, he wraps his arms around Phil’s waist and crushes him into a hug.

Phil makes a little noise of surprise but then he’s wrapping his arms around Dan’s shoulders and hugging back. The side of Dan’s face is pressed to Phil’s chest, the hair tickling his cheek.

“You brought me with you to Florida,” Dan murmurs.

Phil’s fingers are in his hair. “I did. Of course I did.”

Dan turns his face and kisses Phil’s chest before falling backwards into the water once again with Phil still clutched in his arms.

Phil splashes him when they both come back up to the surface. “You’ve gotta stop with that!”

Dan laughs and turns away from the cascade of droplets Phil is shoving his way. “But it’s so fun.”

Phil splashes him again.

“Ok, ok,” Dan splutters. “Truce!” He ducks down so his shoulders dip below the water and his head is the only part of him exposed to the midnight air.

It feels like the tension has been broken a little, but Dan’s alright with that. He sinks down all the way under the surface and enjoys the quiet, peaceful weightlessness and the cool water washing away the sweat and stress of the day. When he comes up for air he floats on his back and looks up at the sky.

“This is nice,” he says, turning his head in Phil’s direction to see that Phil is floating too.

“Yeah. I guess it was a good idea after all,” Phil admits grudgingly.

Dan smiles. “All my ideas are good.”

“Except for the part where you nearly took my head off.”

“Nope,” Dan argues. “Your fault for buying a shirt that’s too small for your giant noggin.” He closes his eyes and starfishes his arms and legs out and floats until he feels something tickling his back.

He stands up to find that he’s floated to a slightly deeper area of the of the pool. The water comes up to his shoulders now, and Phil, the overgrown child that he is, has swum underneath him. Phil pops up and pushes his dripping wet fringe off his forehead with a grin.

“Thought we were calling a truce,” Dan says, stomach fluttering as Phil steps in close and grabs the back of Dan’s thighs to pick him up.

Maybe fluttering is the wrong word. Maybe it’s more like falling out of his damn body. Every nerve ending within him feels raw and exposed as he wraps his legs around Phil’s waist and drapes his arms around the back of Phil’s neck.

“Maybe I just wanted to be closer to you,” Phil murmurs. He leans in and presses his forehead to Dan’s.

At that moment Dan hears the sound of the glass door being slid open and his heart leaps up into his throat. He jumps off of Phil just as he hears a woman’s voice.

“Boys! How’s the water?”

Dan’s completely forgotten how to speak, but luckily Phil hasn’t.

“Hey Corny.” He doesn’t sound shaken the way Dan feels. Maybe he’s just hiding it well. “It’s nice in here.”

“Are you lads in your skivvies?”

That one is Martyn. Dan’s stomach tightens wondering what this must look like.

“Dan couldn’t wait the time it took to get changed,” Phil says, giving Dan’s shoulder a playful shove. “He actually pushed me in fully dressed.”

“Well done, mate,” Martyn calls to Dan.

Dan forces himself to laugh and tries not to be too surreptitious about putting some distance between himself and Phil. He can’t believe they’d been reckless enough to let it go as far as it did knowing Martyn and Cornelia could come back at any time.

“Mar, can you get us a couple towels?” Phil asks. “We forgot that bit.”

Dan follows Phil who goes to keep Cornelia company while Martyn fetches their towels. She’s sat on the edge of the pool with one leg dangling in the water the other pulled up to rest her chin on her knee.

She smiles at them fondly, not just at Phil, but Dan too, like they’re both her lovably thick brothers or something. “Holiday is amazing, isn’t it?” Her voice is soft and high and soothing, the perfect antithesis to the chaos of her flaming red curls.

“It is,” Phil agrees. “We’ve only been off the plane a couple hours but it’s already the best.”

“You look like you’re having fun,” she says softly.

Dan hates that he’s not sure exactly what she means, but then Martyn is back with towels and Cornelia is standing up and lacing her fingers between his. She says goodnight and the two of them head back inside.

Dan shivers and wraps his towel around his shoulders. The exhaustion has returned, feeling magnified tenfold. “I’m tired,” he says, looking over at Phil, who nods.

“Let’s go to bed.”

Dan shivers again, this time not because he’s cold.

Phil leaves his wet clothes on the deck and says he’ll deal with them tomorrow. They plod through the house as quietly as they can, dripping water on the floor all the way up the stairs and into Phil’s room. After they’ve dug through their suitcases to find pjs and toothbrushes Phil leaves to change and brush his teeth.

Dan peels his wet pants off and pulls on his pajamas bottoms, then sits on the bed to wait for his turn in the bathroom. The bed is practically calling his name. He’d crawl into it and snuggle down if he wasn’t incapable of falling asleep without a minty mouth.

Also he’s still not fully convinced Phil actually wants them to spend the night in the same bed, especially after they may or may not have been caught red handed by Cornelia and Martyn. He pulls his legs up and hides his face in his knees and tries not to jump to conclusions. Phil hadn’t seemed upset.

And Dan’s not upset himself. He couldn’t really care less what Phil’s brother knows or doesn’t know as long as Phil isn’t bothered.

Phil comes back in his Star Wars pjs and smiles at Dan. “Your turn. Hurry up, yeah? I’m cold.”

Dan rolls his eyes, but inside the relief is profound. “Is that what I am to you? Just a personal space heater?”

“Not just,” Phil says, lifting the blanket to climb in under it. “But it’s an important part of your job description.”

“Did realize there was a description.”

Phil yawns as he nods. “Go. Brush teeth. Need warm.”

Dan shakes his head fondly and grabs his toothbrush.

“Oh also, can you turn out the lights?” Phil mumbles. He sounds so sleepy already.

Dan smiles, but refrains from making a joke about Phil being bossy and flicks the lights off on the way out the door.

When he comes back he can tell before he’s even gotten into bed that Phil is asleep. Dan doesn’t know if he’s disappointed or not.

Maybe it’s good. It’s been a very long day, even if most of the tribulations have been confined to his own brain. He slips under the covers and contours himself loosely against the back of Phil. The warmth is comforting, as is the sound of Phil breathing.

It’s not enough, though. It’s not enough to counteract the fact that they’re in a strange bed in a strange house in a strange country. He’s not as anxious as he’d be if he didn’t have Phil’s waist in which to wrap his arm around and the smell off chlorine when he buries his nose in Phil’s hair, but he still feels it.

Sleep will be hard to come by tonight.

Chapter Text

Dan wakes to an empty bed. He can tell he hasn’t gotten enough sleep just from the way his eyes seem determined to close themselves even as he’s actively trying to keep them open.

The light that streams in through the window is freakish in its brilliance, alien in its heat. He’s confused about why until he remembers that he’s not in London anymore but the southern United States, and in the summer no less. Sun doesn’t get much brighter or hotter than this.

It’s not helping with the whole keeping his eyes open thing, but something tells him he’s already stayed in bed too long. He can hear voices downstairs, bustling and cheerful.

He sits up and checks the time. The number on the clock confirms that morning is almost over, and he realizes Phil must have been letting him have a lie in because he knew Dan hadn’t fallen asleep until just before dawn. Dan instantly feels guilty and hops out of bed with newfound vigor. He doesn’t want to spend this whole holiday in bed, as nice as that may sound in theory.

He skips showering even though his hair is a bit crunchy from the chlorine. He throws on one of three pairs of shorts he’d purchased expressly for this occasion and a standard black t-shirt. He brushes his teeth and heads downstairs to the smell of bacon.

“Morning sleeping beauty,” Phil teases when Dan joins the lot of them in the kitchen.

Dan ruffles his curls self consciously. “Shut up.”

“Dan, love,” Kath calls. “What do you take in your coffee? Or would you prefer tea?”

“I reckon he wants coffee today,” Phil says. “He likes it like me but half the sugar.”

“Like a sensible human,” Nigel says from where he’s sat at the table buttering toast.

Dan smiles and goes over to make sure Kath has help with whatever she’s doing. “It’s true that sensible isn’t a word anyone in their right mind would use to describe your son.”

“Oi.” Phil stretches a leg out to try to kick Dan. He’s stood at the stove picking little bits of bacon out of the sizzling pan.

“Case in point,” Dan says, dodging Phil’s foot easily. “You’re gonna burn your fingers off.”

“Worth it.”

Dan rolls his eyes fondly and turns to Kath. “Can I help you with anything?”

“Bless you,” she says, handing him a steaming mug of coffee. “You take Phil outside and sit in the sun. You’re both looking like ghosties. Mar and Cornelia are out there already. I’ll call you in when food’s ready.”

Dan opens his mouth to protest, his urge to impress Phil’s parents even more pressing than it usually is, but she shushes him. “You and Phil can do the washing up later, deal?”

Phil comes over and grabs Dan’s wrist. “Come on. No more sucking up.”

“It’s called having manners,” Dan says. “You should try it sometime.”

“The lad has a point,” Nigel says. Phil snatches a piece of toast from him on the way out to the back garden.

“Oh Dan,” Kath calls just as Dan’s stepping out behind Phil into the heat of Floridian late morning. “I meant to ask, did you want me to set up the guest bedroom for you? I’m sorry, I completely forgot yesterday.”

Dan barely has time to panic and mutter a stupid sounding, “Uhh,” before Phil is swooping in and saving his ass - kind of.

“S’ok mum, Dan never really grew out of his fear of the dark.”

“Shut up!” Dan squawks.

“Am I wrong, though?”

Kath is laughing. “Let me know if you change your mind, Dan.”

“Ok, thanks,” he mutters, and escapes out onto the deck. He’s more than a little embarrassed but he’ll take it. It’s worth it, just like Phil burning his fingers for bacon. Sleeping with Phil is worth a little bit of humiliation.

“Morning Danny,” Cornelia says when he sits next to her at the little white table next to the pool. “Did you boys sleep well?”

“I did,” Phil says before Dan can answer. He jerks his head in Dan’s direction. “This one maybe not so much.”

If either Cornelia or Martyn think it’s strange that Phil knows the details of Dan’s sleep, they don’t let on. In fact Cornelia says, “I’m the same. I always find it hard to sleep the first night in a bed that isn’t mine.”

Dan nods.

“These Lester boys are nice company though, aren’t they?”

It’s possible Martyn’s eyes flick from Phil’s face to Dan’s, but Dan’s pretending he didn’t notice.

Dan just chuckles in a nervous sort of noncommittal way and sips his coffee even though it’s still far too hot. He’s got no idea what to say to that. He reckons he and Phil should have thought this through a little more, but Phil’s just slouched in his chair with his head tilted back and his eyes closed, basking in the sun like a cat. He couldn’t look less bothered if he tried.

“A busy day should do us in,” she says.

-

She couldn’t really have been more right about that. Dan spends the whole day sweating, even the part of the afternoon they spend exploring in town. Just the act of walking outside between shops is enough to have Dan daydreaming about cold water and air conditioning and grey English skies.

They stop into more weird antique and second hand shops than Dan would have thought possible. He and Phil have fun crafting the most elaborate backstories for all the strangest items, then nearly die trying to contain their laughter because Kath genuinely likes this stuff and they don’t want to hurt her feelings.

Once Nigel has drawn the line on any more ‘dusty old knick knacks,’ Phil suggests crazy golf.

“The movie one,” he says, and everyone seems to know what he means. Dan is intrigued.

It turns out to be vintage Hollywood horror movie themed mini golf, which is so like something Phil would love that Dan feels like it must have been manifested from Phil’s own imagination.

Martyn beats them all by a landslide, or at least he would have if Nigel hadn’t given up on keeping score about five holes in.

“It’s not about who wins and who loses, it’s about the fun of it, after all,” he says, ripping the scorecard in half after hitting his ball so far off the course he didn’t even bother to go looking for it. After that it becomes more about marvelling at the creativity of each hole and the hilarity of just how bad Nigel really is. He’s even worse than Phil, which is saying something.

Afterwards they go to a restaurant that looks like a rainforest. There are trees coming up from the floor and plants hanging everywhere, big blue aquariums with colourful fish and a giant black sky scape in the ceiling with whole constellations of stars. That part is actually kind of beautiful. The rest is delightfully kitsch and feels exactly like the kind of place a young Phil would have begged his parents to take him every time they came to Florida.

Dan snaps a selfie of the two of them stood beside one of the rather lifelike and true to size elephants that guard the tables, throwing up his standard ironic peace sign while Phil makes a wide eyed face. The food is decidedly mediocre but Dan can’t pretend he isn’t having a blast.

When they get back to the house they open a bottle of wine and play a very long, very heated game of Settlers of Cattan. Because there are six of them they play in teams of two: Kath and Martyn, Nigel and Phil, and Dan and Cornelia. There are three empty bottles by the time Nigel and Phil are gloating over their win, and Dan reckons it’s a good thing there’s a decent amount of space between houses out here; The sounds of both celebration and lament are not insignificant.

Dan likes winning, and he really likes beating Phil, but tonight it’s possible he likes seeing Phil’s grin and watching his adorably obnoxious little victory dance best of all.

“Another?” Kath asks.

“It’s nearly midnight, Kathryn, Christ,” Nigel says. “Let’s go to bed.”

“Oh go on, then.” She tosses a die at him playfully. “You don’t need me for that.”

“I don’t need you,” he agrees. “But it’s a lot more fun.”

“Ew Dad!” Phil shrieks. “My ears!”

“How do you think we made you, son?”

Dan starts losing his shit at the way Phil’s whole body crumples in mortification. Kath’s cheeks are decidedly pinker than they were a few moments ago and Nigel is laughing too. Martyn is holding his face in his hands and Cornelia seems to be the only one completely unphased. She’s just looking at Martyn and smirking at his immaturity.

“I’m going upstairs to bleach my brain,” Phil mumbles, standing up and grabbing a handful of Dan’s shirt. “C’mon, need you to help me pour it into my ears.”

“Do you need a refresher on the birds and the bees, Phil?” Nigel asks. Dan thinks he might actually wee his pants from laughing so hard.

“I’m running away. You’re not my real dad!” Phil shouts, tugging hard at Dan’s shirt to pull him up out of his chair. “Goodbye forever!”

The last thing Dan sees before he leaves the kitchen is Kath smacking Nigel’s arm and he feels a sort of momentary bone deep happiness where everything feels right with the world.

Phil falls backwards onto his bed dramatically, arm thrown over his eyes. “I’m serious, get the bleach out,” he mutters.

“Mate.” Dan sits next to him. “Your parents are still super into each other. That’s a good thing.”

“I never needed to hear that. Ever. Now I’m just gonna be laid here picturing… stuff.” He shudders. “What if we hear them?”

“You’ve never heard your parents fucking?”

Phil lifts his arm and looks at Dan with pure horror. “Have you?”

“Loads of times. Walked in on them a time or two.”

“Oh my god,” Phil murmurs. “I reckon I’d have to set myself on fire.”

Dan smirks, nudging his knee into Phil’s side. “You weird about sex, then?”

“No,” he says petulantly, and it’s then that Dan realizes Phil is probably a little bit drunk. “Only when it’s about my mum and dad.”

Dan can’t help laughing at him. “You wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Phil springs up off the bed. “I’m running away.”

“To the circus?”

Phil sticks out his tongue. “To brush my teeth. You better be wearing a lot less clothes when I get back.”

Dan sits there slightly stunned as Phil leaves for the bathroom. Phil wants him to get undressed. He wants it, and he’d been so casual about saying so.

He’d really like for his brain to catch up to reality. He shouldn’t still be surprised about all of this - or scared. But fuck, is he scared.

It’s not a constant fear. It’s a feeling that dips in and out, seemingly without rhyme or reason, regardless of what his rational brain has to say about the matter. Often the fear is hand in hand with the excitement and the happiness and the feeling that Phil is an easy choice, which makes it even more confusing. He wants Phil and his body doesn’t seem to know quite how to handle that fact - yet. He has to say yet. He wants to believe he can get there.

He pulls off his shirt and shorts and slips the same pjs from last night over his legs. It’s probably not as little clothing as Phil was hinting at but to wear any less would feel too vulnerable.

In fact, even just sitting there on the edge of the bed without a shirts feels like too much, so he gets up, turns off the light and crawls under the covers to wait. A few minutes later Phil returns and a sliver of light grows bigger on the wall as he pushes the door open.

“Are you sleeping already?” he asks.

Dan answers by saying, “Close the door.” He’s facing away but he turns around when he feels the bed dip.

“Hi,” Phil says softly, getting close but not actually touching.

“Hi,” Dan replies.

“Can we put a moratorium on the topic of parent sex?”

Dan snorts. “Yeah.”

“Also, can you distract me from the fact that my parents are probably having sex right now?”

“I can try.”

Phil is quiet for a moment, and then says, “Oh, I wasn’t— that wasn’t a line.”

“I know.”

“But like, seriously. Please distract me.”

Dan’s laughing a little, he can’t help himself, but he’s going to do his best to honour Phil’s request. “What are we going to do tomorrow?” he asks, shuffling forward slightly so their knees are touching.

“I reckon that’s up to us. Not every day has to be busy like today.”

“Today was fun,” Dan offers.

“It was,” Phil agrees. “Every day I spend with you is fun, even when we’re not on holiday.”

“How did I never notice that you’re a sappy drunk?”

“Hey.” Phil shoves Dan’s shoulder gently. “I’m not sappy, I’m honest. And I’m not drunk, just maybe a little buzzed.”

“Sure.”

“I take it back. You’re no fun at all. In fact, you’re the worst. Every moment I spend in your presence is—”

Dan leans in and shuts Phil up with his mouth. He reckons that’s a good distraction, and it works out for both of them because all he ever really wants to do lately is kiss Phil anyway.

-

Dan wakes up from sleep that wasn’t easy to come by with the feeling that something is squeezing his chest from the inside out. It’s been a while since he felt this, haunted by scenarios created in his own mind, afraid to close his eyes and go back to sleep lest the images return to torture him some more.

Phil is right next to him, but apparently that isn’t enough tonight. Maybe because it’s Phil’s face and hands and body that are weaved into the fabric of horror that made up this last dream.

He can still feel Phil’s hands around his neck. He knows it wasn’t real. Phil’s hands have never been anything but gentle, never brought him anything but pleasure and comfort, but as it is now, two nights without sleep and a bed that isn’t his, he can’t force himself to be rational.

He sits up and touches his neck to remind himself that he’s ok. Phil’s sleeping face is peaceful and it helps a little, but Dan’s skin is sweaty and crawling and the claustrophobia is stealing the breath from his lungs that nightmare-Phil had already stolen and he needs to get out. He needs to get air.

He climbs out of bed slowly and quietly, grabbing his t-shirt off the floor and pulling it on as he tip toes out of the room and down the stairs and out to the back garden - almost.

He’s got a hand on the sliding glass door and nearly has a heart attack when he sees something move on the deck. His eyes take a moment to adjust to the darkness lit by the pool lights, but when they do, relief floods him.

It’s Cornelia. She’s so still and petite that he hadn’t noticed until she moved her head that she was even there. Perhaps the polite thing to do would be to go back to bed and let her have the solitude she must have been enjoying, but he’s not feeling particularly polite at the moment. He wants to go outside and actually, spending some time with a fellow non-Lester doesn’t sound entirely unappealing.

He slides the door open slowly so as not to startle her and steps outside into air that is humid but somehow still a welcome change from the inside. She turns around and looks up at him from where she’s sat with her feet in the pool. He notices that she’s got what looks to be a cigarette in her hand.

“Dan?”

“Hi,” he says, taking a couple steps forward and trying to match her soft spoken tone. “Can I join you?”

“Of course.” She pats the spot next to her. “Sit. I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“God no,” he says, leaning down to roll up his trousers so he can dip his feet into the water too. He sits and it’s then that the smell of what she’s smoking hits his nose and he reckons she’s awfully brave for someone so small and meek.

The cold water on his feet and calves feels amazing. He sighs and leans his weight back on his hands and looks up at the sky. He can’t see any stars but the black vastness of space makes him feel insignificant, for once in a good way. What does it matter in the grand scheme of things if he’s falling for his best friend when there’s a whole universe out there that doesn’t give a shit?

“You alright?” she asks, taking a quick drag and holding the smoke in as she waits for him to answer.

Normally he’d say yeah and let that be that, but late night breeds honesty and everything about where they are makes him feel so outside himself that he doesn’t mind letting his heart slide a little further down his sleeve.

“Had a dream Phil was trying to kill me.”

“Fuck,” she says quietly, exhaling her smoke and flicking the ash off her joint before holding it out to him in offering.

He takes it. He hasn’t smoked weed since uni and Phil would more than likely disapprove, but again, it’s the middle of the night in Florida and he’s feeling more than a little traumatized. Taking the edge off can’t hurt.

It burns his throat and makes him cough. She laughs quietly and the sound is like wind chimes as she rubs his back and takes the joint back carefully. He can already feel it warming the edges of his brain, though, and he finds himself hoping she’ll let him have another go.

“What about you?” he asks. “Still can’t sleep?”

She shakes her head and takes a hit and hands it back to him. He does better the second time, managing to hold the smoke in. He breathes it out slowly and only coughs a little and a pleasant heaviness settles over him.

“I’m sleeping with Phil,” he says apropos of nothing. He feels utterly safe with her in this moment.

“I know,” she says simply.

He nods. Of course she does.

“How’s that going?” she asks.

Dan wiggles his toes under the water and looks down at the way the pool lights his skin with blue. “It’s terrifying.”

“Have you ever been with a boy before?”

He shakes his head. “Didn’t know I was even into that.”

“Maybe you weren’t.”

He looks up at her. “It doesn’t work like that though, does it?”

She smiles. “I don’t think there are rules.”

“Yeah. Maybe not.” He takes the joint when she hands it to him.

“For what it’s worth, you looked so happy today I thought I might cry.”

He chuckles. “That’s the problem.”

She tilts her head. “There’s a problem? Why is happiness a problem?”

He shrugs. “Maybe that’s the wrong word. But it’s confusing.”

She’s quiet for awhile as she takes a final hit and flicks the roach into the grass. “Because it’s also terrifying?”

He nods.

“What are you afraid of?”

He looks up at her and she looks back like she can see right into his soul, whatever that means.

It’s a simple question. The answer shouldn’t feel so elusive.

“I guess… I don’t really know. Not being who I thought I was?”

“Did you know who you were before?”

He wonders if he’s just forgotten what being high feels like or if she actually has some sort of psychic connection with the deepest parts of his subconscious. “No.”

“So maybe this is learning,” she says. “Learning can be painful.”

He nods. “I’m probably worried about daft things. Like what people will think.”

“That’s not daft. People can be cruel and small. It’s natural to fear that.”

He nods again but doesn’t say anything.

“Your dream was about more than Phil, wasn’t it?”

He laughs. She knows too much. How does she know so much?

“Yeah. Maybe I’m realizing I don’t actually know myself at all. Maybe Phil’s the tip of the bloody iceberg.”

She shuffles over and takes his massive hand in her tiny one. “That’s a scary thing.”

“Yeah.”

“But it’s normal. I didn’t know myself at your age either.”

“Do you now?”

“Maybe. Maybe the version of myself that I am now.” She sighs gently. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s not even possible. People grow and learn and change all the time. Maybe knowing ourselves is a futile goal.”

“Maybe everything is futile,” Dan says quietly.

“No.” She’s firm in her rebuttal. “Absolutely not.”

“I want to know myself better than this.”

She squeezes his hand. “And you will.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t know,” she admits. “It’s just what I believe. You’re doing something that scares you because it’s what you want, yeah?”

He nods. He knows that at least.

“That takes strength. Not everyone can do that. You’re going to be ok.”

Now it’s his turn to squeeze her hand, albeit it gently as she feels not unlike a little porcelain doll. “I hope you’re right.”

“I am.”

He laughs. Her certainty is infectious. It actually makes him believe it.

“You’ll be gentle with his heart, won’t you?” she asks. “That boy is special.”

Dan’s own heart skips a beat. This woman has a way of boiling things down to their essence, revealing truths by cutting out all the bullshit, and it makes him weak to hear this particular truth stated so simply: Phil’s sharing his heart with Dan.

And she’s right, he can’t allow himself to fuck that up.

“He is. And I will.”

Chapter Text

Dan reckons they could be on holiday here for eternity and he’d still never grow accustomed to the intensity of the sunlight, even first thing in the morning.

He’s not even sure if he likes it. At home he’s no stranger to whinging about the clouds and the rain and the general gloom of English weather, but there’s something so aggressive about waking up to that kind of energy radiating on his face.

“Morning, you,” Phil’s lovely deep voice murmurs close beside him.

“Mm.” Dan smiles and shuffles over so his skin is touching Phil’s. It’s too hot under the blanket already, but wild horses couldn’t drag him away from sleepy shirtless morning Phil. It’s a perfect antidote to the burning ball of gas outside the window, a more gentle kind of sunshine wrapped up in pale freckled skin and messy black hair.

“I can’t believe mum hasn’t knocked on the door yet,” Phil says, rubbing his eyes. “She actually let us have a lie in.”

“Good,” Dan croaks, stretching his arms into the air and wrapping them around Phil’s waist when he’s done. “I’m still fucking knackered.”

“Yeah.”

“Also I’m fully just one big mosquito bite at this point.”

Phil grins sleepily. “Yeah but you’ve seen alligators shagging, so fair trade, no?”

Dan groans and tries to roll away, but Phil catches him and pulls him in close, nuzzling his face into Dan’s neck.

That’s all it takes to get Dan’s blood pumping a little harder, but he tries to play it off. “Too early in the morning for your weird kinks, mate.”

“It’s like half eleven,” Phil murmurs. He presses his lips to Dan’s skin and kisses wet and open mouthed there.

It’s completely and totally unfair. By now he knows exactly what kind of effect that’s going to have but he carries on anyway, making exaggerated smacking sounds every time he moves his mouth to a new spot.

Dan doesn’t bother trying to fight it. He arches his neck so Phil knows his efforts are appreciated and reaches into his pjs to touch himself. “This isn’t about alligators,” Dan insists.

Phil laughs all breathy and whispers right into Dan’s ear, “You can lie to yourself all you want.”

“I hate you.”

“Mm, same. You’re so awful.” Phil bites him playfully, but it doesn’t feel that way to Dan. The sharp press of teeth just makes it more obvious that alligators aren’t enough of a turn off to negate the way Phil gets him going.

“Waking up next to you is the worst part of my day,” Phil says, then his hand is in Dan’s pajamas, gently pushing Dan’s away so he can be the one to do the touching.

“You must have some bloody great days.” Dan turns his head to catch Phil’s mouth with his. He’d rather kiss Phil than pretend this isn’t the happiest he’s been in probably his whole adult life.

-

By the time they drag themselves out of the cocoon of bed, it isn’t morning anymore. They brush their teeth and head downstairs still wearing their pajamas to be greeted by Kath making lunch and Nigel sitting out on the deck with a pencil and a sketch pad.

“Thought you boys would never get up,” Kath says, accepting the kiss Phil presses to the top of her head with a smile. It makes Dan feel strangely sad, so he looks away and sets about the task of securing a cup of coffee.

Phil walks over to help him, reaching up into the cupboard and pulling out a small, fancy looking bag of beans. He hands it to Dan and says, “Dan’s a bad influence on me. Reckon he’d sleep all day if I let him.”

Kath tuts. “He’s on holiday, Philip. And he’s your guest. He can sleep as long as he likes.”

“Yeah Philip,” Dan says, flicking a stray bean at Phil’s face. “Besides, I’m not used to all this going outside in the sun business. Turns out it makes you tired.”

“Is it too much?” Kath asks.

Dan’s about to assure her that it isn’t when Phil cuts him off. “Might be nice to have a chill day.”

Kath nods. “Mar was talking about maybe going to the beach today.”

Phil laughs. “That’s still going outside in the sun.”

“No that sounds good though,” Dan says. “You can try to get that mythical tan.”

“So far all I’ve got is freckles.”

“Oh love,” Kath coos. “The freckles remind me of when you were wee. They’re adorable.”

“They are,” Dan agrees without thinking.

The room is dead silent for only a second or two, and then, like an actual angel descending from the clouds, Cornelia walks into the kitchen to distract them all. She’s even wearing a white shirt that catches the sunlight in a kind of glow.

“You’re finally up!”

Kath chuckles. Dan’s still too freaked out to figure out how to respond, but luckily Phil isn’t. He rolls his eyes and says, “I already got this lecture.”

She walks over to stand beside Dan and puts her hand gently on his arm. “How are you?” she asks in that soft voice that holds such earnestness he almost wants to shrug away from it.

She’s been doing this since their shared sleepless night, gently checking in on him, finding excuses to come close and offer support.

He can’t help smiling. It’s been a bloody great morning, even if he did just cock it up a little in front of Phil’s own mother. “Good.” He’d say more if they were alone. He wants to say more, or possibly ask she if she’s some sort of fairy godmother with infinite wisdom and kindness.

But of course, he can’t. So instead he asks, “We going to the beach?”

-

The weather tries to conspire to keep them from the sea and the sand, rolling clouds over the sky pretty much as soon as they’ve gotten in the car, but the four of them make a collective decision that sunshine isn’t necessary to enjoy a lazy day on the beach. It’s still hot outside and Cornelia is desperate to swim in water that isn’t just ‘chlorine in a box.’ If anything it just means their skin will be a little safer from the UV.

The drive is over an hour, so they turn it into a proper little road trip, windows down and blasting music. Martyn drives and Cornelia sits up front with him. Phil had called shotgun but Dan refused to let him be the one in charge of DJing the trip.

Dan thinks when they get there that it might even be more beautiful like this, with the sunlight filtered. He doesn’t have to squint or shield his eyes away from the ridiculously clear turquoise water or the whiteness of the sand. It looks like a postcard.

He takes out his phone and snaps a few pictures pictures, trying for the most aesthetic shot of the palm trees and the water that he can get. When he turns slightly to get a different angle and catches Phil in the shot, he takes that one too.

Phil looks good today. He does every day, Dan has no qualms admitting that to himself now, but maybe today a little extra in his sunglasses and white t-shirt and colourful swim shorts.

Dan moves his phone so the photos aren’t even about the scenery anymore. He just wants to keep this moment and the way Phil looks forever.

He slips it back into his pocket when Phil catches him. Martyn and Cornelia are still getting their bags out of the boot, so Phil walks over to Dan and teases him in a low voice, “You really do think I’m adorable, don’t you?”

“Shut up.”

“I’m not hearing you denying anything.”

“No,” Dan says. “You’re not.”

Phil smiles and reaches out to brush his hand against Dan’s. Just for a split second, really, but it makes Dan’s whole body feel warm.

He wishes it didn’t have to be quick. He wishes it didn’t have to be a stolen moment.

The beach doesn’t appear to be any less crowded for the overcast weather, but they manage to find a nice spot by the water to lay their towels out. Phil tries to coax Dan into the water straight away, but Dan insists he needs time to be lazy first. He doesn’t mention his slightly irrational discomfort with the ocean, but Phil sees right through him anyway.

“I promise no sharks will eat you.”

Dan lies down on his on his stomach on the towel and folds his hands under his head. “You don’t actually know that.”

Phil huffs a little, but seems to concede defeat immediately, laying his towel right next to Dan’s and lying down on his back. “Fine. I don’t. But you still have to go in with me later.”

Dan smirks. “You’re just as afraid as me, aren’t you? You want me to come because you don’t want to go in by yourself.”

“No,” he says without a hint of believability.

“Go in with Corn,” Dan suggests. She and Martyn have already made their way up to their hips in the water.

Phil snorts. “Like I wanna third wheel that situation.”

Dan just looks at him. “Phil, the beach is literally crawling with people. They’re not going to f—”

“Oi! Don’t even say it,” Phil interrupts.

“Well they’re not.”

Phil repeats Dan’s words from a minute ago. “You don’t actually know that.”

“Is your brother into exhibitionism, then?” Dan asks. “You Lester boys are into some weird shit.” He yelps in surprise when suddenly Phil has lunged on top of him, pinning his chest down into the sand.

“Have I mentioned yet today that I hate you?” Phil says into Dan’s ear.

“Maybe I got it wrong,” Dan replies, heart pounding to know how many people could be looking at them right now. “Maybe it’s you that’s into public stuff.”

Phil thunks his forehead down onto Dan’s shoulder blade and then rolls off of him, back onto his own towel again. “I’m going to close my eyes now and pretend you aren’t here.”

Dan laughs. “Perfect. I’m closing my eyes too.”

He doesn’t though. He tries. All he really wants to do is lie here like a slug and maybe even take a nap, enjoy the fact that he’s not got anywhere else in the world he needs to be, nothing in the world he needs to do but lie here and listen to the people splashing around in the sea.

He lasts about a minute before his eyes are open again and he’s sneaking little looks over in Phil’s direction.

Phil, who’s laid out in nothing more than a thin pair of shorts that honestly aren’t leaving all that much to the imagination. Dan reckons it’s a bit daft at this point to feel excited looking at Phil’s body prone and shirtless, but he is.

The thing about the sleeping together is that it happens in bed and under the covers, either at night when it’s dark or in the morning when their vision is still hazy with sleep. He hasn’t actually gotten that many opportunities to look.

And he tries not to let it be more than a few lingering looks now, either. Dan’s wearing sunglasses, but still he’s paranoid that everyone on the beach is watching him watching Phil. It’s just that Dan can see Phil’s shape under his trunks and suddenly all he can think about is pulling them down to see what’s underneath. Properly see.

And touch.

He sits up rather abruptly. “Phil.”

“What?” Phil mumbles. “You’re not here, remember?”

“I changed my mind,” Dan says, groaning as he stands up. “We’re going swimming.”

-

The second they get back to the house Phil is shouting, “Mum! Do we have any aloe?”

His nose and cheeks and forehead are more red than they have any right to be considering how rarely the clouds allowed the sunshine to peak through this afternoon.

His chest is red too. So red and apparently painful that he hadn’t even been able to bring himself to put his shirt back on over it.

“Phil!” Kath is horrified. “Why didn’t you wear sun cream?”

“It wasn’t sunny!” He turns around to glare at Dan for corroboration.

“It’s true,” Dan admits. “It was pretty cloudy like, the whole time.”

“Bloody hell, child,” she mutters, picking up her purse and digging through it. “Only you could get this bad a sunburn when there isn’t even any sun outside.” She finds a little tube of green gel and holds it out to Phil.

Then she looks at Dan. “He’s going to have a load of new freckles when the redness fades.”

Dan’s so embarrassed he’s surprised he can’t feel his brain melting out his ears or something. Surely he can’t actually survive this, right?

Phil scoffs and grabs the aloe. “Mum!” he says in a hushed embarrassment of his own, then grabs Dan’s wrist and pulls him towards the stairs.

“Dinner in an hour!” Kath calls after them.

Dan stumbles on his way up to their room, Phil practically dragging him the whole way. When the door is closed behind them and Phil is flopping backwards onto the mattress, Dan allows himself to fall apart.

“Did I fuck up?” he asks plainly.

Phil props himself up on his elbows to look at Dan. “What?”

“I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to…”

Phil sits up. “What, the thing with my mum? That isn’t anything.”

Dan gives him an incredulous look, bordering on annoyance.

“She was just taking the piss,” Phil insists.

“Yeah, because I think you’re adorable.”

Phil shrugs. “So what?”

Dan just stands there. “You’re not bothered?”

“No…” He drags the word out. “Should I be?”

“I mean… no. Not if you’re not.”

Phil chuckles. “That makes no sense.”

“You make no sense.” Dan’s still rooted to the spot, afraid to move. He’s still convinced the other shoe is about to drop.

“Are you upset?” Phil asks.

“Only if you are.”

Phil smiles. “So we’re good then. Yeah?”

Dan nods, relief flooding through him.

“So can you come over here now please?” He holds up the bottle of aloe.

Dan lets out a shaky laugh. “You’re making me do it?”

“Complaining?”

Dan shakes his head, finally forcing himself to move forward. Phil scootches back so he can lay his head down on the pillow. He’s still wearing nothing but his shorts, and his eyes are burning holes into Dan’s as Dan climbs up onto the bed and straddles Phil’s hips.

His hands come down to rest on Dan’s thighs as Dan pops open the bottle cap and squirts some gel into his hand. Dan doesn’t think he’s imagining the abrupt shift in tone.

“This is gonna be cold,” he murmurs.

Phil’s eyes are still looking so intently into Dan’s. “Good. I feel like I’m on fire.”

Dan does too. He’s sat right on Phil’s crotch and Phil’s hands are on him and it isn’t late night or early morning. This is new and different and they’re not even really doing anything but it feels so unbearably hot already.

Dan presses his hands as gently as he can against Phil’s chest to a sigh of relief on Phil’s part.

His eyes flutter shut. “God.”

It doesn’t help the feeling of heat under Dan’s own skin. He tries to focus on spreading the aloe across the reddened surface of Phil’s chest and stomach, but all it really means is he’s got his hands on Phil and Phil is making no secret of the fact that it feels good.

It’s just about the burn, Dan tells himself. It’s just the pain relief that has Phil breathing like that and biting his lip ever so slightly. But then Dan swipes his thumb over Phil’s nipple and Phil sucks in a sharp breath through his nose.

Dan can’t allow this to continue. He has to distract himself or he’s going to do something stupid like get hard.

“Phil.”

Phil hums, squeezing Dan’s leg. “Dan.”

“I have to tell you something.” He hasn’t stopped with the aloe, though he’s quite sure Phil’s skin couldn’t absorb any more no matter how long Dan tried to massage it in.

Phil opens his eyes. “Go on then.”

“I told Cornelia. About… this. Us.”

To his surprise, Phil grins. “You did?”

Dan nods.

“Guess what?”

“What?” Dan asks.

“I told Martyn.”

Dan’s heart punches his chest, and it takes him a moment to work out that it’s a happy feeling and not one of fear. “Really?”

Phil nods. “I should’ve asked you first, but… I dunno. He’s my brother.”

“It’s ok,” Dan says softly, squeezing his thighs against Phil’s hips just for a bit of a release from all the emotions that are building up inside him. “You don’t have to ask me first.”

“He said he’s happy for me.”

Dan slides his hand up through the film of gel to rest where he thinks Phil’s heart is and presses it down flat until he can feel the beating. Phil told his brother. That fact keeps shouting itself in Dan’s brain: Phil told his brother.

“I’m happy for me too,” Dan whispers.

Phil puts his hand overtop of Dan’s. “Not as happy as me.”

Dan leans down and crashes their lips together, grabbing the back of Phil’s neck and kissing him like he’ll die if he doesn’t. That’s kind of how he’s feeling at the moment. He thinks Phil feels the same, because he’s clinging to Dan’s back, pulling him impossibly closer even though it means pressing Dan’s clothed chest to his burnt one.

He hooks his fingers under the bottom of Dan’s shirt and pulls up insistently, and their kiss is broken just long enough for Dan to finish the job of yanking it off and tossing it aside. Phil crushes Dan against him like he feels no pain at all, so maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he really is as happy as he says.

Maybe he really is as happy as Dan is. Everything else in his life feels scary and confusing and not at all right, but this is pure and good and for the moment it’s erasing everything else. All there is now is Phil’s lips and tongue and his heaving chest and his gripping fingers. The world has boiled down to Phil and the way he makes Dan feel.

Dan’s not sure how long they kiss before Phil’s fingers are tugging on the only remaining article of clothing keeping Dan from being fully naked. Dan shifts his weight so he can lift himself up enough for Phil to pull his shorts down, clumsily given their position but it still makes Dan feel like his insides are going to explode for how hot it is. He kicks them off the rest of the way and onto the floor before he’s reaching for Phil’s shorts to reciprocate.

It’s awkward, in theory, and they laugh against each other’s mouths in their fumbled attempts to undress each other without halting the momentum. Technically they fail, but it doesn’t feel like that. Giggling into kisses and struggling to get out of their clothes feels exactly right for the two of them together, like the essence of what makes this whole thing right in the first place.

When they finally succeed and Dan’s body is pressed against Phil’s again, it’s almost too much. He can feel Phil hard against him and Phil’s hands are stroking down his back and over his ass and the kissing has gone back to feeling like some kind of lifeline, somehow more intense than it ever has before.

He doesn’t know what comes next. All he’d known was that Phil had wanted them both naked and that was more than enough. Seeing the proof as plain as day that Phil wants him is so intoxicating it makes his head spin. He can’t think clearly, all he knows is Phil’s hands on him in places they’ve never been feel so fucking good he never wants it to stop.

Phil squeezes a cheek then and Dan makes a noise that seems to surprise them both. He hides his face in Phil’s neck and grinds down against him helplessly. He’s so turned on it hurts but his brain is jelly and the fact hasn’t changed that Phil is different from anyone Dan’s been with before. Phil is a man and Dan’s still not sure what that means in terms of pleasing each other in a way that fits what he reckons is a shift in what they are to each other.

“I want you,” Dan whispers. That’s really all he’s got figured out right now. It’s the truth as plainly as he can put it.

Phil wraps his arms around Dan’s back and holds tight as he flips them around so he’s on top. Dan opens his legs and finds Phil’s mouth again, hoping kissing will mask his fear. He knows he’d say yes to anything right now, scared or not.

Phil shifts his weight a little to the side to rest on one elbow, the other hand reaching down to grip around Dan’s hip.

“Can I try something?” he asks in Dan’s ear.

Dan nods. He nearly stops breathing when he sees Phil reach for the bottle of aloe and squeeze some out into his palm, but then Phil is taking hold of him with a cold slippery hand and stroking over him like they’ve done a number of times before.

It’s not new, but it’s still not common enough for Dan not to squirm with how good it feels, fear dissipating a little in his pleasure. He sighs and his eyes squeeze shut, so he has no warning for what happens next.

He gasps quietly in surprise and opens his eyes again, looking down between their bodies to see that Phil has his hand around both of them at the same time. He strokes up and down a few times, slowly, like he’s giving Dan a preview.

“Should I stop?”

Dan actually laughs. “Fuck no.”

He’s never felt anything like it. It’s a little less intense a sensation than having Phil’s hand around him entirely, but being able to feel Phil right up close like that, seeing the way they look together… it’s perfect.

“Please don’t ever stop.”

He doesn’t stop. He keeps going, and it keeps being perfect, even when it’s not. Even when it makes ridiculous squelching noises with the gel, even when his hand slips and he loses a grip on himself or Dan and has to readjust, even when his arm gets tired and he has to switch to his left hand which isn’t as deft as his right, it stays the most perfect thing Dan can imagine.

They kiss the whole time. Even at the end when Dan’s about to come and his brain can’t focus enough to call it kissing, when their mouths are still connected but Dan’s is open and breathing heavy and Phil’s just kind of nipping at Dan’s bottom lip as he speeds up his strokes to bring Dan off.

Phil ends up coming first, whimpering against Dan’s mouth and trying his hardest not to stop the movement of his hand. He mostly fails, but it doesn’t matter. The warmth and the wetness and the sounds Phil makes end up pushing Dan over the edge. It doesn’t even matter that Phil’s barely got a grip on him anymore.

They’re both a mess now, but when Phil collapses next to Dan he pulls the blanket over them anyway and nuzzles in against his side.

“You’re amazing,” Dan says, pulling Phil up so he can kiss him again, like they haven’t been attached at the mouth for god knows how long already.

“You are,” Phil argues.

“I didn’t do anything.”

Phil kisses him right in the center of his forehead. “You do everything.”

Dan stops himself from arguing. This is another perfect moment and he wants to live in it as long as he can before Kath calls them for dinner. It’s a moment that doesn’t need words, as so much of their relationship thus far hasn’t. He wraps his arms around Phil and holds him, mess and and all.

He has some words on his tongue, some words he’s never felt more keenly in his life than he does now, but he holds them there. He reckons they’ll keep just fine.

Chapter Text

Dan rolls over and grabs his phone to check the time. The brightness of the screen nearly blinds him as he reads the 3:34 in big white writing, taunting him with how little sleep he’s gotten.

He sighs and turns it back off, rolling over again to try - likely in vain - to get at least a couple hours.

Phil stirs beside him and Dan curses himself internally for not just getting up and finding somewhere to be useless where it wouldn’t disturb Phil.

“What you doing?” Phil mutters, reaching out and putting his hand on Dan’s chest. “You ok?”

Dan could weep for how adorable Phil is when he’s still half asleep. “Fine,” he says, rubbing Phil’s arm. “Just can’t sleep.”

“Time’s’it?”

“It’s late. Or early, depending on how you look at it.”

“Did you have a nightmare?”

“No. Don’t think I’ve actually slept yet. Not more than a few minutes here and there, anyway.”

Phil yawns. “Oh no.”

Dan smiles at him fondly. He can tell Phil is trying to be sympathetic but he’s just too sleepy for it to be anything but adorable.

“Go back to sleep,” Dan whispers.

Phil shakes his head, groaning as he stretches out his legs. “If you’re up, I’m up.”

“I don’t wanna drag you down with me.”

“You’re not,” Phil says, pulling himself up to sit against the headboard and rub his eyes. “We’re making the most of our last morning.”

Dan stays laid down. “Phil. I’m gonna drown in the guilt.”

“Nope. I have an idea.” He takes hold of Dan’s arm and drags him up. “C’mon lazy. Up.”

They get dressed as quietly as they can and Phil knicks the keys to his parents’ rental. They sneak out of the house to be greeted by muggy air and l the sound of insects chirping in the darkness. Dan takes the keys and climbs into the driver’s seat. He never did do all that much driving back home, but it’s still disorienting to be sat on the wrong side of the car.

“You can do this, yeah?” Phil asks, pulling his seatbelt over his chest and clicking it into place.

The key is in the ignition but Dan hasn’t turned the engine over yet. He’s holding the steering wheel and trying to pretend like he isn’t nervous. “I think so.”

“Just remember to stay on the right side of the street.”

“Shut up, Phil, I’m not a moron.” He turns the key and lets his annoyance make him brave. “Where are we going anyway?”

Phil smiles. “Just wait. You’ll like it.”

“Please don’t tell me you’re doing the orienteering. We’ll end up in bloody Mexico.”

“Damnit, you ruined the surprise.”

Dan gives him a look.

“Relax, Siri knows where we’re headed.”

It only takes a few minutes for Dan to settle into driving in America, especially since there aren’t very many people on the road at this hour. Even in the dark, the view of the palm trees is rather spectacular the way they tower over the road lit up by street lamps.

The windows are down and the wind whips through his hair. He’ll definitely look like a poodle after this, but it feels nice enough that he doesn’t care. Phil’s won’t look much better and Dan’s not trying to impress anyone else. He doesn’t even know where they’re going but he already knows that Phil was right - this was a very good idea.

“We should go to Miami next time,” Phil says. “The lights at night are so cool. Plus lots of Cuban food.”

Dan smiles. Mostly he’s just happy Phil assumes there will be a next time.

They don’t talk much the rest of the drive, choosing instead to listen to the radio and watch out the windows. Eventually Dan figures out where Phil’s taking him, recognizing the route from the last time they’d taken it, but he lets Phil believe he’s surprised when they finally pull up at the empty beach after a solid hour of driving.

“We’re gonna watch the sun rise,” Phil says, beaming.

Dan almost teases him for being a romantic sap, but he stops himself. It’s just a knee jerk reaction, but when he thinks about it, he actually loves that. He loves that Phil is sappy. He loves that Phil wants to watch the sun rise with Dan by his side.

They take off their shoes and leave them in the car so they can feel the sand between their toes as they make their way down to the shoreline. They don’t have chairs or even towels, so they just plop themselves down on the beach.

Phil digs his toes into the sand until his feet are completely covered. It’s still dark with just the slightest sliver of light on the horizon of the water, so Dan feels bold enough to shuffle behind Phil and bracket his hips with his legs.

Phil doesn’t seem to mind, in fact he leans his back against Dan’s chest and makes a soft little happy noise in the back of his throat. Dan slings his arm loosely around Phil’s chest and Phil reaches up to wrap his hand around Dan’s forearm.

They’re quiet as they watch the sun make its way up into the sky, throwing its light out across the beach in different shades of yellow and pink and orange.

“I kind of wish we could stay here forever,” Dan murmurs next to Phil’s ear. There are already a few other people on the beach and he reckons he and Phil will have to get in the car and head back to the house soon to pack up their stuff.

“Me too.”

On the way back they stop in at a 24 hour diner and have fried eggs and bad coffee and Dan takes a picture of Phil when he’s looking out the window absentmindedly.

Phil turns to Dan when he hears the click. “What was that for?”

Dan shrugs. “Maybe I think the whole bleary-eyed, disheveled, haven’t slept in days thing is kind of cute.”

Phil snorts. “You should see yourself, then.”

“I’m fresh as a daisy,” Dan says, ignoring the fact that he can feel sand on nearly every part of him.

“You don’t smell like one.”

“Your mum doesn’t smell like one,” Dan counters.

Phil grins. “Gonna tell her you said that.”

It’s possible Dan flicks a piece of egg white in Phil’s direction and Phil reaches under the table to try to tickle Dan’s knee, but neither of them would ever admit to such childish behaviour.

Phil falls asleep between the diner and their arrival back at the house, and Dan stays parked in the drive with the engine turned off for a few minutes just to watch the way his face has gone smooth and peaceful in unconsciousness. When he puts a hand on Phil’s shoulder and squeezes to wake him up, it’s with reluctance. Phil deserves to sleep.

They manage to make it back up to their room without waking anyone, and Dan only feels mildly guilty for the amount of sand they’ve tracked through the house and into the bed as they climb back in. Phil holds him tight and this time he doesn’t have any trouble drifting off to sleep.

-

“I hate you.”

“Mm, so you’ve said.”

Bryony reaches out and grabs his arm to stare at it, then compares the colour of it to her own. “You have an actual tan.”

Dan smirks. “That’s what happens when you go out in the sun.” He’s enjoying being a little shit. He’s missed it.

She drops his arm. “Does Phil have a tan?”

“Well, no. I mean that’s what happens to humans when they go out in the sun.”

“You look all healthy and happy and shit.”

He laughs. “Sorry?”

Bryony rolls her eyes. “I’m just jealous, ok? I’m allowed. Being here without you for two weeks was rather hellish.”

“Aww, Bry, you missed me?”

“Tell anyone and I’ll deny it.”

He reaches up to ruffle his hand through her hair. “I missed you too, duckling.”

Bryony snorts. “I bet.”

“You, yes,” Dan says. “This place?” He looks around at the shop and sees nothing but a prison lined in jeans and jumpers. “Not so much.”

“Tell your boyfriend he has to take me with you next time.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Dan says in a hushed tone. “Shut up.”

“You like each other, yeah?”

Dan nods. Definitely an understatement but she doesn’t need to know that.

“And you touch each other’s bits?”

“Bryony!” he hisses.

“I’ll take that as a yes. And neither of you are touching anyone else’s bits?”

He frowns at her, but shakes his head.

“So how exactly are you not boyfriends?”

He ignores her. “What about you? How goes it with the hickey giver?”

He takes a great satisfaction in the immediacy of her pinkening cheeks. “Wow, that good?”

“You don’t get details until I do,” she says petulantly.

“I’m a gentleman. No kissing and telling and all that.”

She scowls. “You never have been before.”

He shrugs. “Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf.”

She tilts her head and studies his face awhile before saying, “You are, aren’t you?”

“Trying anyway.”

She opens her arms and reaches for him on tiptoes. He hugs her back tight enough to lift her up a little for a moment. He really did miss her.

“Ok, ok. Back to work, minion,” she says when he’s put her back down on the ground again. “These hoodies aren’t going to hang themselves.”

-

That feeling of happiness leaches out of him as the day progresses.

The thing is that he kind of feels like a different person, but this job isn’t different. This job is completely and utterly the same as it’s ever been. Boring, low-paying, uninspiring, soul sucking in its monotony. Two weeks in paradise and he’d forgotten. He’d gotten used to feeling good.

Deep talks with Cornelia and swimming in the sea and lying in the sun and long nights spent wrapped up in Phil had all the shit parts of his life being pushed so far onto the back burner they’d fallen off the stove, and now he’s coming back to the mess of it all over the floor.

It’s all a mess. Waking up early to an obnoxious alarm to go to a job he hates to make barely enough to pay jacked up rent on a shit apartment. He never signed up for this life. He never agreed to such mediocrity, such a deep dissatisfaction with how he spends his days.

He recognizes that he’s being dramatic, but it also just feels like the truth today. He feels too old to still be scrounging this hard. He’s too smart to be wasting his days folding clothes and counting change and being bossed around by his best friend, even if it is mostly in jest.

He wanders around the store idly, cleaning up the displays and feeling like an utter waste of space. A bunch of new items had come in while he was gone, so at least he’s mildly interested in scoping that out.

On his wanderings he comes across a hoodie that instantly screams ‘Phil’ at him, and he gets excited imagining the look on Phil’s face when Dan buys it and brings it home to surprise him. Then the realist in him reminds him that he can’t even afford this cheap jumper right now, not with all the more practical expenses he has to take care of first.

He feels like he’s crawling out of his skin. Holidays are supposed to be a break that allow you to come back to reality refreshed and ready to start again, but now all he wants to do is curl up in a ball and cry about how unfair life is. Or more accurately, how badly he’s screwed his up.

-

Coming home at the end of the day feels like closing a lid on a brewing crisis, even if his flat is shit. He can feel the impending spiral simmering, knows it’s going to be a bad one when it erupts, but this is his safe space. His home with Phil is his happy place.

“Sucks to be back,” he says, sitting on the counter next to the toaster while Phil butters the crumpets he’d found in the back of the fridge. It’s all they’ve got really, as they haven’t had time to trek out to Tesco.

Not that Dan can afford groceries right now anyway. He barely has enough to put on his oyster card.

“Bad day?” Phil asks, handing Dan a plate.

He shrugs. “Nothing bad happened.”

“It always sucks coming back from holiday,” Phil agrees. “But I do like being home.”

“Everything I like about home, I still had in Florida,” Dan says. “But at least there it was warm and sunny and the house was nicer and I didn’t have to think about work.”

“And no jet lag,” Phil adds.

Dan nods. “That too.” He takes a bite of his dinner and scrunches up his nose. Of course it’s stale. That’s just icing on the cake.

“Your birthday’s coming up.”

Dan groans. “Jesus, don’t remind me.”

“Birthdays are fun!”

“That’s because you’re spoiled.”

“Well, I’ll spoil you,” Phil says.

Dan smirks. “You my sugar daddy?” He says it without thinking, really, but it feels like that’s the level they’re at now.

“Don’t say daddy.”

Dan can’t help laughing at the look on Phil’s face. “Daddy.”

Phil scowls. “I take it back. You get nothing.”

“That’s fine,” Dan says, taking another bite of what could only be generously described as food. “I’m used to that.”

Phil rolls his eyes. “Oh shut up.”

“Make me,” Dan taunts.

Then, with surprising dexterity, Phil yanks Dan’s plate from his hands and it clatters down noisily onto the counter. He fits himself between Dan’s legs and grabs his face, pulling him forward into a kiss.

Dan’s too stunned at first to kiss back. Phil bites Dan’s lip, pulling at it before letting go with a grin. “Oh look. I made you shut up.”

Before Dan can think of any sort of comeback, Phil is kissing him again and the need to have the final word in this very primary school argument becomes less of a concern. Phil is gripping the back of Dan’s neck and kissing him hard.

Dan’s just starting to get into it when Phil pulls away and goes back to his dinner like nothing out of the ordinary has happened at all.

“So what should we do to celebrate?” he muses, leaning back against the counter beside Dan.

Dan’s still reeling. All he really wants to do is pull Phil back between his legs and devour him.

“What?”

“Your birthday,” Phil reminds him.

“I don’t care about my sodding birthday. Come back here, idiot.”

Phil chuckles, and when he doesn’t immediately acquiesce, Dan grabs his shirt and pulls him in himself.

-

Dan stares up at the ceiling in the dark and listens to Phil breathe.

He should be asleep. He wants to be asleep. Sleep would be a blissful respite from loops of thought that drag him down into a hole out of which he won’t know how to climb.

He hopes Phil is asleep. Phil needs rest. He has a real job. He has a real job. He functions more or less as an adult as far as Dan can tell, and that means he actually needs to sleep for more than a few hours every night, and Dan hasn’t exactly been making that easy for him lately.

Dan turns his head on the pillow to look at Phil’s face and is surprised to find that his eyes are open, already looking back at him.

“Why are you awake?” Dan asks.

Phil’s voice is croaky with fatigue. “I could ask you the same thing.”

Dan looks up at the ceiling again. “Just thinking, I guess.”

“Well stop that.” He shuffles in closer and puts his head on Dan’s shoulder.

Dan closes his eyes and breathes in deeply. He can smell just a hint of Phil’s lemon scented body lotion and then he lets the breath out in a sigh. “I don’t know how,” he says quietly.

“Bad thoughts?” Phil asks.

Dan nods.

“What do you feel bad about?”

“Everything?”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Phil says softly. “It doesn’t do to exaggerate.”

Dan turns to look at Phil with a wry smile. “But that’s what I do best.”

“That’s not true either.”

“Stop being so nice to me,” Dan whispers.

“Why?”

“Because then I feel guilty for feeling like shit.”

“Tell me why you feel like shit,” Phil insists. “First tell me it’s not about this, and then tell me what it is about.”

“This?” Dan asks incredulously. “Are you mad?”

“Just tell me.”

“This is the best thing in my life.” He slides his arm under the back of Phil’s neck and squeezes around his shoulders. “This is the only time I feel genuinely happy. That’s kind of the problem.”

“What do you mean? Why is it a problem?”

“Phil. The problem isn’t that I’m happy with you. The problem is that I kind of hate myself.”

“Why though? I don’t understand that. There’s so much to like.”

Dan can’t help smiling at that, even if Phil is asking Dan to simplify something that can’t really be simplified. Or if it can, he doesn’t know how.

“Any way I try to explain it is just gonna end up sounding like moaning about petty shit.”

“Try me,” Phil says.

Dan shakes his head, but then says, “I feel like a loser still working retail. I’m skint all the time and Bryony’s my boss which is kind of humiliating and I’m not contributing anything to the world. If I died tomorrow no one would have any reason to remember me.”

“I’d remember you,” Phil says quietly. “Does that not count for anything?”

Dan squeezes him again. “It does. It counts for a lot.”

“But it doesn’t change anything.”

Dan sighs. “Just forget it, ok? I told you it’d sound petty and stupid.”

“Do you want to look for a new job?”

“No. I want to sleep.”

“Dan.” His voice is gently reproachful and it makes Dan annoyed against his will.

“I can’t change anything, Phil. I dropped out of uni. I’m not qualified to do anything more than stock shelves or make lattes or fold clothes. I’m not going to be any happier at a different shit job.”

“You know there’s no shame in—”

“I know,” Dan snaps, cutting him off. “I don’t judge anyone else who works retail, I just hate it for me. I feel like… like I’m wasting my prime years, or like… my potential or some shit.”

Phil is quiet for long enough that Dan starts to worry he’s genuinely hurt his feelings.

“Can we forget I said anything?”

Phil ignores that. “What would you do if you could do anything?”

“Phil…”

“No, seriously. I want to know.”

He bites back his sigh and tries. He tries to think about what brings him joy, what he could imagine fulfilling him in a way that would make him satisfied, but the only thing he can come up with is Phil. The only thing he’s sure about is Phil.

“God, Phil,” he says, panic cloying at his chest. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I’m like a fucking cardboard cutout of a person.”

“No you’re not. You’re a person, Dan. You’re an amazing person. I like you so much and I don’t even have a thing for cardboard so that’s how I know you’re wrong.”

Dan snorts, even as he feels a tear roll down his cheek. He laughs wetly and says, “Shut up, Phil.”

Phil sits up and climbs on top of Dan to sit on his legs. “You’re not the boss of me.”

“S’pose I’m not.” He takes a shaky breath and tries to get a grip on himself before he properly falls apart.

“I want you to be happy,” Phil says gently, putting his hand on Dan’s chest. “You deserve to be happy.”

Dan doesn’t say again that he doesn’t even know what that means anymore. He doesn’t know how to even begin. Instead he says, “C’mere idiot,” and reaches up to pull Phil down so their chests press together and he catch Phil’s mouth in a kiss.

He wraps his arms around Phil’s back and squeezes. The weight of him is solid and reassuring, a true comfort when everything else is just a foggy grey outline. It’s a stopgap and Dan knows it, but tonight that’s exactly what he needs.

Chapter Text

It feels like some kind of conspiracy. Every time he walks past this display of jeans, the damn things are always all unfolded and messy again. It doesn’t matter that he fixes them every single time, it doesn’t matter that it’s only been five minutes since the last time he walked by - it’s almost as if there’s an entity lurking in the corners of the shop, their sole purpose to make more of the most monotonous work possible for Dan every time he turns his back.

It’s still better than being on cash though. At least this way he can move around a bit and get away with the bare minimum of human interaction possible.

It’s here where Bryony finds him a few hours into his shift, stood next to this bleeding table of disheveled denim. She’s got a certain look on her face, one that he can read before she’s even said a word. She definitely wants something from him.

“Your birthday is coming up.”

He should’ve guessed that’s that it’d be about. “Don’t remind me,” he mutters.

She grabs up a pair of jeans and folds them absentmindedly. She doesn’t even have to think about it. Folding clothes has become an instinct after so many long years working here. “You’re still super young,” she says. “And you look even younger, so kindly shut up.”

“My baby face doesn’t change the fact that I’m in my mid twenties and still working a minimum wage retail job.”

“So am I, you knobhead.”

He shakes his head. “You’re management. It’s different. And you have actual hobbies and stuff. I’m still scrounging just to make rent.”

“Are we gonna get into this now?” she asks. “Like, are you actually going to have a crisis about a number on the calendar?”

“Maybe I am. Maybe I already have been.”

He’s surprised when her face actually softens. She steps in closer and leans her head against his arm. “Ok. Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”

He puts his arm around her shoulders, always amazed at the size difference between them. Her personality is so big that he sometimes forgets. “I know. I’m being a twat.”

“You’re always a twat.”

He huffs a laugh. “Thanks.”

“A twat whose birth I want to celebrate because I love you. You make my life better and I’m happy you were born.”

He looks down at her. “Yeah?”

She smirks. “Most of the time.”

“There she is.”

She shoves him playfully and his arm drops. She goes ahead and picks up another pair of jeans. “Seriously though.”

“I don’t want a party,” he says firmly. He’s not going to let her talk him into anything. He’s not.

“I was thinking more of an… outing.”

He narrows his eyes. “How is that better? That might actually be worse.”

She waves her hand dismissively. “It’ll be fun. You can choose where we go.”

“Besides the fact that you know I’m borderline agoraphobic and dreading being a year closer to death, I can’t afford to go out.”

She rolls her eyes. “I’m paying, idiot.”

“Would it just be us?”

She’s definitely looking away from him on purpose. “Maybe.. not.”

He makes an irritated noise, not bothering in the slightest to disguise just how disinterested he is.

She looks at him then. “Look, full disclosure, I think you need to get out, ok? You need to be around people.”

“I’m around people all day.”

She shakes her head. “Work doesn’t count.”

He sighs aggressively. “Just because you like being around people doesn’t mean I do.”

“People have been asking about you. You used to come out all the time and then you just stopped.”

He cocks an eyebrow suspiciously. “You did too, didn’t you? We had a whole heart to heart about this, have you forgotten?”

“I don’t do it as much, but no, Dan. I don’t just stay at home all the time. I don’t live with my soulmate like you. If I don’t go out ever then I’m alone.”

“Shut up,” he mutters, cheeks flushing at the soulmate comment.

“Just come out for one night.” She’s all but begging now. “To show them that you haven’t popped your clogs.”

They stare each other down and he’d swear she doesn’t even blink. He crosses his arms defensively, knowing this is a standoff he’s not going to win. “I’m bringing Phil,” he says firmly. “And you’re buying me dinner.”

She grins. “Of course. Yay!”

“You know you’re the worst, right?”

She shakes her head. “I know nothing of the sort.”

“For your birthday I’m going to make you sit on my couch eating pizza and listening to Kanye’s entire discography with me. And discussing lyrics afterwards.”

She narrows her eyes. “You won’t.”

“You know I will.”

They have another little staring contest and finally she rolls her eyes yet again and says, “Fine. Just don’t whinge tonight. And wear something nice.”

“Tonight?” he says indignantly.

“Yes. Tonight. Otherwise you’ll find a way to weasel out of it.”

He opens his mouth to protest but she cuts him off. “I already asked Phil and he’s excited about it.”

“What the— you asked Phil before me?”

She grins. “Yep.”

“Literally you are the worst best mate in the universe.”

She turns around and says, “Mhm!” cheerfully as she walks away.

-

Dan is sat cross legged on Phil’s bed, picking at a thread in the rip of his jeans while he watches Phil fixing his quiff in the mirror. He probably shouldn’t be staring so blatantly, but he can’t help it.

Phil just looks really good tonight. The dark blue button up he’s wearing looks good against his skin and his jeans are hugging him in all the right places and Dan wonders why he never noticed any of this stuff before. They’ve been mates forever and lived together almost as long, but Dan can’t recall a time in all those years that he ever really even noticed what Phil really looked like.

Had he not been looking? How had he never taken note of how insanely long his legs are? How could he not have noticed the wide set of his shoulders or the shape of his forearms or the sharp jut of his adam’s apple?

Why had it taken him so long to notice that Phil has a seriously great ass?

“What?”

Dan is startled from his ogling. Phil is looking at him in the reflection of the mirror, his hands stilled in his fringe.

“What?” Dan says back.

“What are you looking at?”

“Um… you?”

“Why?” Phil asks. “Does my hair look daft?”

“No.” He’s too out of sorts to do what he’d normally do and make some kind of joke.

“Then what?”

Dan shrugs. “Just you, I guess.”

Phil turns his head around to look at Dan properly. “Yeah?”

Dan shrugs again and looks away so Phil can’t fully see the sheepishness of his smile.

“Hey.”

Dan looks.

Phil is also smiling. “You too.”

-

The sun has set and there’s a breeze that ruffles Dan’s hair, but there’s warmth in the air still as they walk up the stairs from the underground. It’s really nothing like Florida at all but something about it makes Dan think of their sunrise beach adventure. Not for the first time since they got back he wishes they were still there with their toes in the sand and the sky full of colours the salty smell of the sea all around them.

The pub is just a few blocks away and the dread is already starting to take root in his chest. At first he can’t quite understand how he managed to do this whole ‘going out’ thing with such regularity for so long and then he remembers - alcohol. He’s stone cold sober at the moment and he’d really rather be at home with Phil, watching a film or playing Mario Kart or… other things.

“Sometimes I wonder how I’ve stayed friends with Bryony all this time.”

Phil frowns. “Why?”

“She makes me do things I don’t wanna do.”

“She means well.”

“She doesn’t listen,” Dan says. “She says it’s for my birthday, but it’s really about her.”

Phil doesn’t say anything. Dan can see that he’s chewing on his lip, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans as he walks.

“What?” Dan asks. “Am I being a dick?”

“No,” he answers quickly. “No. I guess it’s just… like, I can see what you mean. But I can also see where she’s coming from.”

“Oh?”

Phil shrugs. “She’s not going about it the right way, I’ll give you that. She should listen better. But I don’t think she’s trying to make it about her.”

“She knows I was trying not to do this shit anymore.”

Phil looks over at him. “Yeah. You’re right,” he says quietly.

“What is ‘it,’ anyway?” Dan asks. “What is the ‘it’ she’s not going about the right way?”

Phil looks away again, taking a while to answer. “She can tell you’re not feeling good about things.”

Dan feels a twist of annoyance in his stomach. “Have you two been talking about me?”

“Do you never talk to her about me?”

That pulls Dan up short. “I… I mean, not like… private stuff.”

“Neither do I,” Phil says. “She asks constantly, though.”

Dan can’t help cracking a smile and rolling his eyes. “She’s a fucking perv.”

“She just wants you to be happy,” Phil says gently. “Also…” He trails off.

“What?”

Phil shrugs. “I think she feels like, weird. About—” He cuts that thought off and says, “Maybe she feels strange about hanging out just the three of us, y’know?”

Realization dawns on Dan like a punch to the face. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Dan murmurs. “Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Phil says again. “Anyway. I think she’s trying her best. Change can be scary.”

Dan nods. “I feel like a wanker.”

Phil elbows him gently in the arm. “Let’s just have fun tonight, ok? It can be fun.”

Dan doesn’t say that he always has fun when he’s spending time with Phil, but he’s definitely thinking it. Instead he smiles and says, “Yeah.”

“We’ll do something else on the actual day,” Phil says. “Something you actually want to do. Even if that means I just leave you alone all day.”

Dan lowers his voice a little and says, “I can probably think of one or two things that’d be fun to do together.” His heart beats a little faster when he says it; he’s not even got the excuse of excessive alcohol consumption yet for his shameless flirting.

Phil looks surprised, but only briefly. It’s quickly followed by casting his eyes downward and smirking at the pavement. “I’m down.”

“Good,” Dan says. “It’s a date.”

There’s a giddiness in the silence between them as they walk the last few minutes it takes to get to the pub. Bryony had begged him to choose a proper club, but he decided he had to draw the line somewhere or next thing he knew they would’ve ended up doing something horrifying like karaoke.

They get there a little later than everyone else which Dan normally hates as he doesn’t like having all the eyes on him, but he figures today he’s not going to be able to get away from that. It’s his birthday outing after all.

It doesn’t matter through, because at least he’s not walking in alone. Having Phil right behind feels like a kind of body armour. No matter how bad tonight is, he’s going home with Phil at the end of it.

“Boys!” Bryony shouts happily as soon as she spots them. She jumps up from the booth where she’s sat with about five other people that Dan honestly only vaguely recognizes and rushes to give them both big hugs. Evidently she’s already had a drink or two and feeling loose.

It’s clear to him in this moment that Phil had been right. She’d called it a birthday thing for Dan but she’s brought her own friends. She must be feeling the need for body armour just the same as Dan.

He smiles back at her. This may not be what he’d choose to be doing if he’d actually been given an option, but he’s not going to mope about it. He wants her to have a nice night, and he wants her to see that things don’t have to be weird just because he has something more with Phil now.

“You both look smart. Well done.”

Phil chuckles. “Glad we made dress code.”

“You look nice too Bry,” Dan says, sliding in next to her while Phil sits across from him. “Like a pastel dream.”

“Dan, are you gonna introduce us to your cute mate?” says on of the other girls at the table. They’re all girls. Women, he should say.

He can’t remember any of their names and he’s too afraid to ask, but Bryony swoops in and saves him from having to make anything awkward.

“This is Phil, you daft cow,” she says. “You’ve met him before, he’s my mate too.”

“Maybe he got cuter,” the girl purrs.

Dan immediately hates this evening and wants nothing more than to grab Phil by his shirt collar and make a run for it, but Bryony makes it better again.

“Shut up you slag, you have a boyfriend.”

Apparently Bryony is the same with all her friends, then. She doesn’t just save her venom for Dan. The girls all laugh so they must be used to it.

“I was promised drinks,” Dan says loudly. He’s not going to make it through this experience without some booze in his system. Maybe a strong shot or two will dull the completely irrational feeling of jealousy that’s trying to rear its stupid ugly head.

“Yeah, I’ve got one right here for you.” She slides him over a tall glass of something fruity looking with a slice of orange and a cherry on the top, then gives one to Phil too. “Thought these would be fitting.”

“This looks good!” Phil says happily. “What is it?”

She looks straight at Dan when she says, “Sex on the beach.”

He kicks her under the table and she laughs like a fucking hyena. Dan shoots a glance over at Phil and sure enough his face is red as the cherry in his drink.

“Why is that fitting?” one of Bryony’s friends asks.

“We just got back from Florida,” Phil says quickly before Bry can make any tipsy confessions on his and Dan’s behalf.

“Ooh that’s why you’re so tan,” a different girl says, reaching across the table and stroking Dan’s arm as if that isn’t a weird and slightly invasive thing to do.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Did you have sex on a beach?” she asks.

Bryony cackles again. Dan flips her off.

“No,” he says. “It was Phil’s family holiday and he was nice enough to invite me. There was no sex involved and Bryony knows that.”

This time he doesn’t look over at Phil, but he somehow just knows there’s a smirk on his face. While it didn’t happen on a beach, it’s not technically true that their holiday didn’t include any nakedness between the sheets.

But no one at this table needs to know that, Bryony included.

“Oh, too bad,” the overly friendly arm stroker says. “Beach sex is fun. Except for the sandy bits.”

“Zoe, shut up,” Bryony says. “No one wants to hear about your sandy minge.”

Dan picks up his drink and takes a nice long guzzle. He's definitely going to need to get drunk to make it through this night. She may have ordered it to be a prat, but Bryony’s drink choice is actually delicious, and also definitely the kind of thing Phil would have ordered for himself.

He ends up drinking three more of them before he starts to feel ill from all the sugar, but they’ve done the job of mellowing him out nicely. His cheeks are warm from the combination of alcohol and laughter - turns out Bryony’s mates are rather hilarious when his own inhibitions are lowered enough not to feel embarrassed by the debaucherous nature of their jokes.

Except the arm stroker. She’s just annoying, but Dan’s trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. She seems pretty pissed.

Phil kind of does too, now, but his is the pink-cheeked and hazy-eyed and overly giggly kind. The cute kind. He’s had just as many drinks as Dan and his tolerance for them is much lower, and he’s actually holding his own with these women in a way that has Dan and Bryony sharing impressed and disbelieving looks.

Bryony leans right into Dan’s space and says, “I really like drunk Phil.”

“Oi,” Dan whispers back. “He’s mine.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Damn. I forgot how much I like drunk Dan, too.”

“Shut up,” he mutters, but he throws his arm around her shoulders and squeezes. “This is fun. You’re fun.”

“Is this new information? Have you been operating under the belief that I’m boring this whole time?”

“Shut up,” he says again. “Take the compliment, woman.”

“Aww, you two look cute together!” Arm stroker shouts suddenly.

Dan turns his head in her direction to see who she’s on about and then snorts when he realizes she’s looking right at him and Bryony.

“Zoe, I swear to god I’m going to buy you a fucking muzzle.”

“What? You told me he’s single and I know you haven’t gotten any dick in ages.”

Bryony buries her face in her hands and makes a tortured noise and Dan risks a look at Phil. He looks kind of like Dan feels - like a deer caught in the headlights of someone with very little tact. Or maybe none at all.

“Well is he single or not?” Zoe shouts, completely oblivious to how uncomfortable she’s making everyone feel. “He’s too fit to be single.”

He’s right here, Zo. He can hear all the stupid shit you’re screaming about him, you don’t have to talk like he isn’t here.”

Dan pulls him arm from around Bryony’s shoulders and tucks it close to his side, but Zoe the arm stroker is somehow still completely unphased. “I’m just saying, you’re already friends. He’s single, you’re single—”

“I’m not single,” Dan blurts.

Everyone around the table goes instantly quiet. Bryony looks proper shocked. Dan doesn’t dare look at Phil.

Zoe looks put out. “Oh,” she says. “You have a girlfriend?”

He feels very suddenly sobered. There are far too many pairs of eyes laser focused on him, and all because he can’t seem to hold his tongue when he gets annoyed. “I’m… seeing someone.”

It feels scary to phrase it like that, but he can’t deny there’s also something thrilling about it. He wants to look at Phil but he still can’t bring himself to turn in that direction. To see those blue eyes in this moment would be to expose himself even more, and he already feels strangely naked.

“Now leave him alone,” Bryony interjects. “It’s possible for me to have guy friends without wanting to fuck them.” She turns to look at Dan very briefly, than back to Zoe. “And I’m not single either.”

He could kiss her. He won’t, especially right now as that would completely undermine the gesture she’s just made, but he’s absolutely bursting with fondness for his tiny little pink-haired firecracker of a best mate. He grabs his phone out of his pocket while Zoe begins her interrogation and types out a message: not all heroes wear capes.

He sends it to Phil and finally gathers the courage to look at him so he can watch his reaction. Phil’s eyes are cast down to his lap when he reads it, and the smile that Dan had been expecting never comes. Instead he downs the rest of his drink and stands up and says, “I need a wee.”

-

By the time it’s finally late enough to call it a night, Dan’s more than ready. He’s had a few more drinks and exactly zero food and the sound of Zoe’s voice is really starting to get under his skin. He hopes Bryony will adjust to things soon, because he really doesn’t miss nights like this.

The tube is crowded on the way back, so much so that he can’t even find a spot next to Phil. Most of the people around him are varying degrees of intoxicated and someone somewhere doesn’t smell very good and it’s loud and obnoxious and Dan doesn’t understand how he used to do this every weekend, alcohol or not. It’s kind of the worst.

Phil seems tired when they finally get off the train and make their way to their building, in fact he doesn’t say much of anything until they’re in the lift.

“I think I drank too much.”

Dan frowns. “Are you gonna sick?”

“No. I just feel gross.”

“Me too.” Dan leans his head back against the wall. “Also Bry’s mates are the worst.”

“Just the one, I reckon,” Phil says. “The loud one.”

“The one who said Bryony should fuck me?” He looks over to Phil and feels a perverse satisfaction at the sour look on his face. “Yeah, she can definitely sod off.”

“Have you ever thought about Bryony that way?”

Dan snorts. “Shut up.” He doesn’t even dignify the question with a real answer. “Fuck, she was meant to buy me food.”

“We can order in if you want.” Phil’s voice sounds weird, but Dan doesn’t think much of it. It’s been a weird night.

The lift stops and the doors open and Phil is quick to hop out and head down the hall to their flat. Dan follows on legs that are just begging to be freed from the constraints of trousers that aren’t joggers or sweatpants.

That’s what he’s thinking about when he follows Phil into their apartment and shuts the door behind him. He’s thinking about taking off his clothes and crawling into bed and maybe doing some lazy making out before falling asleep when Phil spins around and says, “Dan,” in a tone not befitting at all of someone who would go along with those particular plans.

Neither of them have even taken off their shoes yet.

“What?” Dan asks thickly.

“It’s me, right?”

Dan stares at him for a moment, hoping his brain will process the question enough to understand it before he makes himself look stupid. When it doesn’t he says, “What?” again.

“You said you’re seeing someone,” Phil says quietly. “Were you talking about me?”

Dan continues to stare, this time in disbelief. “Are you… you’re joking, right?”

“Just tell me.”

“Phil, you stupid fucking idiot. Yes, I was talking about you. Obviously.”

Phil appears not to have any sort of reaction to Dan’s words, and suddenly Dan’s stomach drops. He can’t have been reading things wrong. He just can’t.

Of course the possibility is there that Phil has changed his mind. Maybe hearing Dan say it out loud was a line he wasn’t ready to cross.

“Phil,” Dan says shakily. “Is that… are we not—”

He is promptly shut up as Phil pushes him up against the door and presses his weight into Dan’s chest as he kisses him. “We are,” he says in a low voice, hands working at Dan’s belt buckle. “We definitely are.”

Dan pushes him off and Phil looks startled before Dan says, “You can’t take my jeans off while I still have my shoes on.”

A smile spreads slowly across Phil’s face. He looks down at Dan’s feet and then his own. “Oops,” he giggles.

Dan toes off his shoes clumsily in his haste. He actually very much wants Phil to take his jeans off. “How can you be so dorky and so sexy at the same time?”

Phil’s smile gets even wider. “You think I’m sexy?”

He fights the instinct to say no and instead says nothing at all, reaching out and pulling Phil close again, holding his face and kissing him deep right from the get go.

“I hated everything that girl said,” Phil says between kisses, his fingers surprisingly adept at getting Dan’s belt and fly open.

Dan’s heart is pounding joyfully as he chases Phil’s words with his lips and his tongue. He loves the hint of possession in those words, the confirmation that Phil is feeling exactly the same as he is. “I did too.”

Phil smiles against Dan’s mouth and presses their foreheads together, hands pushing up under Dan’s shirt to touch his bare skin.

“We should’ve had sex on the beach,” Dan whispers. “She would’ve shut up so fast, can you imagine?”

Phil squeezes Dan’s waist, his nails digging in just a little. “Let’s just have sex now instead.”

Dan’s stomach flips. His hands drop from Phil’s face down to the buttons on his shirt as he walks Phil slowly but surely backwards toward his bedroom. They manage to get each other’s shirts off along the way, dropping them on the floor in the hallway.

It’s eager but not frantic; there’s still room for laughter when Phil trips a little over a hoodie on his bedroom floor. There’s still room for Dan to push Phil onto the bed and take his time with getting his jeans off so they don’t have to stop kissing.

When they’re both naked, Dan takes time just to look. He touches Phil’s chest and kisses his neck and enjoys the way the anticipation of whatever comes next makes everything that happens before feel just as important. Just as good. He already knows he’ll want to remember every detail of this night. He’ll want to know later that nothing was rushed.

They have time. That thought is such a profound comfort: they have time. It isn’t just tonight. Nothing ends when the sun comes up. No one has to wake up feeling like they’ve done something wrong and collect their clothes from the floor and say goodbye. This isn’t just a drunken hookup.

They have all the time in the world, really. Phil’s body is solid underneath Dan’s, warm and soft and hard and eager and everything good. Dan makes noises he’s never made with anyone before. He feels things he’s never felt with anyone before. It’s a little scary, but mostly it’s good. Mostly it just feels really fucking good.

He leans down and kisses Phil wetly, weight braced on arms that bracket Phil’s head as Phil holds his hips and pushes up, and it feels more than good. It feels right. It feels like a rollercoaster, a kind of ride he’s never taken but one he never wants to get off.

His knees squeeze Phil’s hips when the coaster hits its peak and plunges downwards, and the air from his lungs is stolen to pleasure the likes of which he’s never experienced before.

He cries when it’s over, burying his wet face in Phil’s neck while Phil holds him. He can’t be sure but he thinks maybe Phil is crying too. Later he’ll blame it on the drinks, but he knows the depths of feeling he’s experiencing in this moment aren’t just about lowered inhibitions.

It’s feeling like every day he spent not knowing this truth about himself was a day wasted, and it’s feeling so profoundly grateful that this truth doesn’t have to be a mystery anymore. It’s Phil, but also it’s not. Phil helped him see the truth, but in the end the truth is Dan’s. It belongs to him and no one else, and he’s choosing to share it with Phil just as Phil is choosing to share his with Dan.

“I’m glad we waited,” Phil whispers, kissing Dan’s temple.

“Yeah?”

Phil nods. “Really glad I don’t have sand in my bits right now.”

Dan laughs and pinches Phil’s side and Phil tries to squirm away as he laughs too but Dan doesn’t let him. He wraps his arms around him and pulls him in close, not even caring about the sweat and mess that smears against the both of them.

“I’m glad we don’t have to wait anymore,” Dan says when they’ve settled in and Phil is holding him right back. Phil answers with a sleepy kiss and falls asleep soon after, and it’s one of those times Dan feels at peace knowing it may take him a little while to join him.

Chapter Text

The morning of Dan’s birthday dawns rainy and grey. He wakes to the sound of drops on the window, and to the warmth of Phil’s head resting on his collarbone. He wishes that was the only reason for the heaviness in his chest, but there’s a weight on the inside too, an irrational one that he knows is ridiculous but he feels anyway.

He reaches up to touch Phil’s hair, to brush the strands of black from his forehead and feel the soft skin of his face and remind himself that things are good. Things are better than they’ve ever been, and the bad feelings are unwelcome.

It doesn’t work like that of course, but it helps a little. Phil stirs, breathing in deeper through his nose as he wakes. Dan doesn’t know what time it is but it’s probably a lot earlier than Phil would choose to wake up. Disturbing him is a selfish act on Dan’s part, but he doesn’t want to be alone with these feelings. He reckons he’s allowed to be selfish today.

“Morning,” Dan says softly, tracing the shape of Phil’s eyebrow as he watches his eyes blink open reluctantly.

“Mmf.”

Dan smiles, hand dropping to stroke slowly up and down Phil’s back. He can’t seem to keep his hands to himself this morning. Phil makes a happy little sleepy sound and presses his face into Dan’s neck. If he wants to go back to sleep Dan’s not going to stop him, but he hopes he doesn’t.

Suddenly Phil lifts his head. “Dan.”

“Hm?”

“It’s your birthday.”

“Yeah.”

Phil drops back down and wraps an arm around Dan’s stomach. “Happy birthday.”

Dan makes a rather displeased sounding grunt. “Can we pretend I turned a year younger instead?”

“Like Benjamin Button?” Phil asks.

Dan nods.

“That would be so awful, though, if you really think about it.”

“I don’t know. I think it’d be brilliant. For a few years anyway.”

Phil frowns. “You’re not allowed to be sad on your birthday.”

“I’m not sad.”

“But you’re not happy,” he says quietly, thumb stroking absentmindedly over the skin just above Dan’s nipple.

“I’m happy enough.”

“If you’re not happy, then you’re not happy enough.”

Dan tilts his head down to look at Phil’s face and into his sleep-puffy eyes. Something about the dull light in the room makes them look a little more grey than blue. “That feels like a lot of pressure.”

“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Are you happy?” Dan asks. “Like, generally?”

“Um… I dunno. I think so? I guess I haven’t really thought about it. I think I am.”

Dan nods. He’s not sure what to say to that. He can’t imagine being that laid back.

“Is that a bad answer?”

“Course not,” Dan says, giving Phil’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “I’m just…” He trails off. In all likelihood he's just going to make things worse by trying to explain something he reckons he can’t really explain anyway. “I dunno. Never mind.”

He probably should have given himself time to sit with these feelings while Phil slept. He already knows the giddiness he feels when Phil’s body is pressed up against his doesn’t erase the strange detachment he feels when he’s doing pretty much anything else, so he might as well have given Phil the small mercy of a lie in.

“Hey,” Phil says softly, interrupting Dan from his thoughts. He props himself up on one elbow and looks down at Dan with a soft kind of concern. “Can we forget I said anything?”

“You didn't even say anything. All you said was happy birthday and I was already being a cunt.”

“Hey,” Phil says sternly. “Don’t call the guy I’m seeing a… that.”

Dan grins. “Ok, sorry.” He tilts his head up and Phil leans down to kiss him. Dan means for it to linger, but Phil pulls away after little more than a peck

“Do you wanna talk about it?” he asks. “Or do you want me to distract you?”

“Distract, definitely.”

Phil very suddenly climbs up on top of Dan. “Yeah? You sure?” He’s got a cheeky look on his face and one of his hands is sliding slowly down Dan’s stomach.

Dan cocks his eyebrows and Phil smiles as his fingers find their way inside Dan’s boxers.

“Well now I definitely am.”

Dan’s breath gets caught in his throat when Phil starts shuffling down his body and disappears beneath the duvet. His heart rate spikes significantly when Phil tugs his pants down, and he’s too pleasantly surprised to be nervous about the fact that this is yet another first for them.

“Are you sure?” Dan asks, even as he feels Phil’s teeth graze his hip bone.

“Shut up.”

All he can see of Phil is the shape of him moving under the blanket, but he doesn’t need to see. He can feel everything, and it’s more than enough. It’s warm and wet and the perfect distraction from whatever stupid thing he was worrying about before. He can’t even remember anymore.

“Best birthday gift ever,” he croaks, reaching under the blanket to thread his fingers through Phil’s hair. Phil giggles without pulling off, which is slightly maddening to Dan because even that feels good. He makes a little grunting sound and that’s when Phil lifts his head.

“Sorry,” he says huskily. “Is it terrible? Should I stop?”

“It’s the exact opposite of terrible,” Dan says, lifting the duvet up so he can look. The sight of Phil’s face so close to the most intimate part of him makes his stomach flip. “I said best gift ever, remember?”

“Maybe you just don’t wanna hurt my feelings.”

“What I want,” Dan insists, “is for you to stop talking and get back to it.”

Phil smirks before hiding his face against Dan’s thigh. “Shut up,” he says again.

He sounds happy. It makes Dan happy. Phil always seems to have that effect on him.

“Make me.”

-

After a blissful ten minutes (or seconds, or maybe years, who knows? Time lost all meaning the moment Phil’s mouth wrapped around him) Dan’s thighs are clenching against the warm rush of euphoria that leaves every nerve ending in his body tingling.

He’s quick to push Phil onto his back and return the favour. It’s done nervously and probably not all that well, but Phil seems to enjoy it quite a lot anyway. They stay cuddled up for a long time afterwards, talking and kissing and being unabashedly mushy until Phil’s stomach growls so loudly that Dan has to concede to showering and getting dressed and all those other daft things that humans are so often forced to do.

He checks Facebook on his phone while Phil is in the shower, confused at first when he scrolls down to find a happy birthday message from Phil underneath all the messages from people he barely considers acquaintances at this point. He frowns for a moment before noticing that Phil’s post had been written at exactly midnight, which is when they would’ve been right in the middle of bingeing a new anime.

Dan reads the message over and over and lets his smile invade his whole face. happy birthday danny boy!! hooray!! now stop chewing your popcorn so loudly i’m trying to watch the show :D ps don’t worry, you may be a year older now but i’ll still always be older! also if you’re not reading this in bed while eating pancakes then i have officially failed

He’s still grinning like an absolute buffoon when Phil saunters in with nothing but wet hair and a towel wrapped dangerously low around his waist.

“What?” Phil asks, when Dan doesn’t bother concealing his joy.

“Where’re my pancakes, Lester?”

Phil looks down at Dan’s phone before realization dawns on his face. “You woke up so bloody early! It’s not my fault!”

Dan laughs and sits up. “I’m taking the piss, Phil. Blowjob trumps breakfast. This is already the best birthday ever.”

Phil’s cheeks go pink. “Go shower,” he mutters, turning towards the wardrobe. “Maybe you’ll have pancakes waiting for you after.”

“Is it too soon for me to propose?” Dan asks without thinking.

Now it’s his own cheeks that get hot. He hops up out of the bed quickly so he doesn’t have to sit in any awkwardness of his own making and scurries toward the door.

“I expect a ring when the time comes!” Phil shouts after him.

-

Phil wisely waits to break the news until Dan’s already eaten two pancakes and about to tuck into his third. They’re sat on the sofa, picking right back up where’d they’d left off on the anime last night.

“So Dan,” he says, clearly trying for nonchalance and also very clearly failing.

“What?” Dan’s voice is garbled by dough and sugar and thus doesn’t properly convey his tone of wariness.

“You know how I said we could do whatever you wanted today, even if that involved doing nothing?”

“Yeah…”

Phil looks skittish, eyes trained downwards on his breakfast. “Well… Bryony texted me while you were showering.”

Dan groans. “I paid my dues already.”

“She says she baked you a cake.”

“Ugh.” He drops his fork and puts the plate on the coffee table, disappointment surging through him with such intensity that he’s no longer hungry.

He already knows he’s not going to say no, no matter how much he might like to. He’s shite as saying no, especially Bryony.

“It’s not some kind of party, is it? With loads of people?”

Phil shakes his head. “That was the first thing I asked. She said just the three of us.” He’s quiet for a minute before he adds, “I reckon that’s a good sign, don’t you?”

Dan shrugs. He knows he’s being childish but just for today, this one day that’s meant to be about him and what he wants, he’d had his heart set on spending the day with Phil and trying to block out every other part of his life. He doesn’t want to think about how his happiness with Phil affects her. He wants to enjoy it without the weird strings attached.

“I can tell her you said no,” Phil offers, though he doesn’t exactly sound keen. “I did make you a promise.”

“God,” Dan mutters in annoyance. “No. Don’t do that. Just…” He sighs. “Better be a bloody good cake.”

“You know it will,” Phil says gently, shuffling closer so he can put his hand on Dan’s thigh. “She doesn’t do things by half.”

Dan tips his head back against the sofa and watches out the window as the raindrops slide down the glass. “It’s probably bad that every time I have to leave the house I get depressed, right?”

“Do you?”

“Pretty much,” Dan admits. “I don’t think I was always like this, was I?”

“I can’t answer that for you,” Phil says. “You’re the only one inside your own head.”

Dan nods, biting his lip against the threat of any pesky emotion slipping out. It’s a lonely kind of realization that Phil is exactly right. He’s alone in there, no matter how sweet Phil is when he wraps his arms around him and squeezes, as he’s doing right now.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Dan says quietly, letting himself be squeezed and trying to will the comfort of the feeling to reach that part inside of himself that feels cold and empty.

“Nothing is wrong with you,” Phil says, gentle but firm.

Dan doesn’t buy that for a second, but he’s certainly not going to argue. He can imagine it’s as much a comfort to Phil himself as it’s meant to be for Dan, the belief that whatever dark clouds exist in his brain are meant to be there.

“I like you, you know,” Dan says.

Phil laughs a soft breathy laugh that Dan can feel against his forehead. “Yeah?”

Dan nods. “A little. Don’t go getting cocky about it.”

“In that case I like you a little too.”

“Just a little?” Dan asks.

“Tiny bit,” Phil confirms.

Dan smiles. He may be alone in his head but outside of it he has the most wonderful beautiful human to keep him company and that’s definitely something to smile about.

-

They take their time getting to Bryony’s. They stop into a quiet cafe where Phil buys them overpriced cappuccinos and they sit in big cushy chairs by the window watching cars drive by and people with umbrellas dodge the water that splashes up onto the pavement.

The next pit stop is for food, Thai to be exact. Dan spends most of the meal laughing at Phil for ordering his noodles way too spicy. His nose is running and his eyes are all watery but he soldiers on bravely and Dan enjoys every minute of it. Phil’s got such an expressive face that it’s like lunch and a show all in one.

“That’s gonna be just as bad coming out the other end,” Dan warns.

Phil flicks a bit of crushed peanut at him. “Why aren’t you dying, you ordered the same thing as me.”

“I guess I just have a superior mouth.”

Phil presses his lips together like he’s holding in a cheeky laugh and then says, “No arguments here.”

Dan looks down at his food sheepishly. “Shut up,” he mutters.

Phil shrugs. “You said it, not me.”

-

Bryony’s flat is just as small as theirs, if not even smaller, but somehow it’s much nicer. Everything is soft and pastel coloured and cute. There are quilts draped over every chair and sofa and soft fluffy rugs covering almost every bit of the floor and the air smells like sugar and vanilla.

Actually, that’s probably the cake. She gives Dan an extra big hug when she greets them at the door and plonks a plastic tiara with big fake rhinestones on his head. “Happy birthday, princess.”

He curtsies.

She nods her head in Phil’s direction. “I hope this one’s been treating you extra nicely today.”

Dan tries to keep his face neutral, but he glances over at Phil and they share a knowing look, and it’s clear that he’s failed when Bryony’s eyes go wide and Phil lets out a snicker.

“Oh my god, you lot are fucking vile,” she says, punching Dan in the arm. “I don’t wanna know.”

“I didn’t say anything!”

She grimaces. “Your face says everything.”

“You know what my face is saying? It’s saying ‘it’s my birthday, you have to be nice to me.’”

“That’s true,” Phil chimes in. “I took the morning shift, now it’s your turn to be the birthday slave.”

“Ugh,” she groans. “Don’t say slave.”

“Let’s not pretend you haven’t been pestering me pretty much daily for details,” Phil says defensively.

“Changed my mind. Keep ‘em to yourself forever and ever please.”

“No one was offering details!” Dan exclaims. “I’m the birthday princess, you’re not allowed to shame me.”

“Ugh, ok fine,” she agrees reluctantly. “Do you want a beverage of the alcoholic variety or no?”

“Definitely,” Dan says without hesitation. He and Phil kick their shoes off on the mat and follow her towards the kitchen.

“Good, because I found something on Pinterest that I’m dying to make. It’ll probably be rank but it’ll look cool at least.”

“I’m intrigued,” Dan says. “And mildly concerned.”

“Nah, no concern. Phil will definitely like it anyway.”

“Ooh, what is it?” Phil asks excitedly. “Can I help?”

She smiles at him and nods, then pulls out her phone to show them a photo of a milky white drink in a rainbow sprinkle-rimmed martini glass.

“Oh wow,” Phil says in awe. “That looks amazing.”

Dan laughs. “It’s very Phil.”

“It’s very fitting for a birthday princess,” Bryony clarifies. “Plus I have Pimm’s in case this thing tastes like shit.”

Dan knows without a shadow of a doubt that he’d prefer Pimm’s to whatever sugary monstrosity is contained within that recipe, but he loves her for putting in the effort.

Turns out the birthday princess isn’t actually allowed to participate in the crafting of the birthday princess drink, so Dan sits cross legged on the countertop while he watches Phil and Bryony do it for him.

“So tell me about Florida,” Bryony prompts as she measures out two shots of cake flavoured vodka.

Dan reaches over to steal a pinch of sprinkles and crunch them between his teeth. “Oh didn’t you hear? We had sex on the beach.”

Bryony grins. “Ok. I deserved that.”

“We didn’t, though” Phil informs her. “We definitely didn’t do that.”

“I don’t wanna know!” She puts her hands over her ears.

“Actually,” Dan says, ignoring her theatrics. “We watched the sun rise on the beach on our last morning. It was really pretty.”

“Alright I changed my mind. I’d rather hear about the nasty sex than the sappy romantic shit.”

“There was no sex!” Phil squawks, spilling cream on the counter in his dismay.

Dan smirks. “Well… no nasty sex, anyway.”

Bryony looks at him with those bugged out eyes he’s coming to know so well. He almost wants to thank her. The more weird she gets about this stuff the less difficult it feels for Dan to talk about it. It’s like a very unconventional kind of ice breaker.

Phil just hides his face in his hands. “How is this even worse than the other night?” he mutters.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Bryony says. She grabs a piece of paper towel to wipe up Phil’s mess. “Zoe is horrendous when she’s pissed. I shouldn’t have brought her along.”

“I dunno,” Dan says. “She wasn’t all bad. She said I was cute like five times.”

Bryony rolls her eyes. “She’s shameless.”

“Why was she trying so hard to push us together?” Dan asks. “Does she not know you’re—”

He shuts himself up, but it’s too late.

“No,” Bryony says quietly. “She doesn’t. No one does.”

“We do,” Phil says.

“You’re the only ones.”

“Sorry,” Dan mutters.

She shrugs. “I’ll tell them someday. Probably just to shut them up more than anything else. Although then they’ll probably just start pushing me on fit girls too.”

“I don’t see the problem,” Dan jokes.

“The problem is I’ve already got the best fit girl and I don’t need any others,” she blurts.

Dan and Phil give each other a look.

“Well fuck,” Phil says.

She doesn’t react other than to return to he business is making Dan’s drink.

“Don’t think you’re gonna get away without giving us details,” Dan says. “You’ve tortured us enough, now it’s your turn.”

She shakes her head, and just as he’s about to insist, she turns and hands him a drink that looks remarkably similar to the one in the photo. Phil’s just finishing his up and the rim’s sprinkles are a little more sloppy than Bryony’s handiwork, but still not too shabby at all.

When they’ve all got a drink in their hands they hold them up to toast.

“To the steady march towards oblivion,” Dan says.

Phil looks him dead on, his ocean eyes trained on Dan’s with such intensity that Dan’s stomach drops. “To you, Dan. Oblivion can’t have you. I won’t let it.”

Before he’s even registered the decision, Dan’s hand is gripping the back of Phil’s neck and their mouths are pressed together like there’s no one else in the room.

He remembers almost as quickly that there actually is someone else in the room, and releases his grip on Phil’s neck and pulls back from his lips with a jerk.

“Holy shit,” Bryony says, looking shell shocked. “You actually like each other. Like, for real.”

“A little,” Dan says, smiling at Phil.

Phil smiles back. “Tiny bit.”

“Stop or I’m gonna sick from the cuteness.”

“To Dan,” Phil says, holding his glass up again. The sprinkles are starting to melt and smear on the outside of it now. Whatever he’d used to stick them on had been a little too heavy handed, clearly.

“To Dan,” Bryony repeats. She looks at him and smiles. “We like you a little bit.”

Dan clinks his glass against theirs and then takes a drink before he can be overwhelmed by the happiness gripping him in this moment.

As expected, Phil loves the drink and Dan and Bryony choke it down with mention of the inevitable diabetes they’re going to develop.

“And we haven’t even had the cake,” Bryony says. “Which reminds me, you two need to go out into the lounge while I finish it.”

“You don’t want help?” Phil asks.

“No offense, but I want it to look pretty.”

His jaw drops in mock indignation. “Tell me how you really feel.”

“Just go into the lounge and get all the kissing out of your system while I do this,” she says, waving them off. “It’ll just be a minute or two.”

“What if I still have some kissing left in my system?” Phil teases.

Dan feels his insides go all fluttery at that. He grabs Phil’s wrist and starts pulling him toward the lounge. “Let’s go take care of that.”

She makes a jokingly displeased sort of noise as they head out of the kitchen. Phil laughs and starts to say something when they get to the lounge but Dan doesn’t let him continue. He grabs the back of his neck again and pulls him in roughly for another kiss.

Phil laughs against Dan’s mouth. “You were serious.”

Dan takes a step back. “Were you not?”

“You kissed me in front of Bryony,” Phil says, his voice hushed.

Dan’s stomach tightens a little. “Is that bad?”

Phil reaches out and takes Dan’s hand. “No, god no. I guess I’m still always surprised, like… this is real.”

“It is though, isn’t it?”

Phil nods. “Unless I’m dreaming.”

Dan laughs. “If you were dreaming I’d be better looking. And like, someone else.”

Phil’s face goes serious. “No, Dan. It’d be you, exactly as you are. That’s my point.”

Dan’s still stood there rooted to the spot, squeezing Phil’s hand and trying to process the implications of his words when Bryony comes out of the kitchen carrying a big white cake covered in strawberries.

She looks down at their interlocked fingers and clicks her tongue. “It’s not kissing, at least.”

“We’re keeping that in our systems for later, when you won’t be able to take the piss out of us for it,” Phil says, dropping Dan’s hand and sitting down on the sofa.

“Good. Eat cake instead. I find that to be an effective way to push your feelings aside.”

“Where are my candles?” Dan demands. He sits on the opposite end of the sofa, leaving room for Bryony in the middle. “Why don’t I hear anyone singing?”

“Because you’re about two decades too old for that, mate.”

He narrows his eyes at her. “You forgot to buy candles, didn’t you?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

She serves them cake that tastes about a thousand times better than the cake-flavoured martini. Dan eats more of it than he should and Phil eats even more. He gets whipped cream on his nose and Dan takes his time letting him know about it, until eventually Bryony looks at Dan and says, “Come on. Give the man some dignity.”

“It’s cute,” Dan says.

“What?” Phil asks over a mouthful of cake. It’s painfully endearing even if it is a little gross.

Dan reaches across Bryony to swipe the cream off and pop it into his own mouth.

“Ugh,” Bryony groans. “I’m already ready for your honeymoon phase to end.” She stands up and takes Dan’s plate. “Who wants tea?”

“Me,” Phil says, after he’s wiped the remains of dessert off his nose with the sleeve of his shirt. “If I drink it black will it counteract how much sugar I just ate?”

Dan stands up too. “I’ll help.”

Bryony gives him a questioning look. Tea is hardly an arduous task, but he ignores it and waves her toward the kitchen. Phil is too busy sprawled back against the cushions clutching his stomach to notice anything.

Dan carries the rest of the cake and follows her to the kitchen, where she puts the dishes in the sink and grabs the kettle. “Why—”

“Does it bother you?” he interrupts.

He expects her to pretend she doesn’t know what he’s on about, so he’s surprised when she turns around and looks right at him. “Maybe a little. I don’t know.”

“That’s why you invited people you don’t even like to my birthday thing.”

She looks down at the floor. “I’m trying to make it up to you with today,” she says quietly.

“You know you can just talk to me.”

“Right.” She turns around to put the kettle on. “Reckon I could try that.”

“I’m sorry about the kissing,” Dan says. “I didn’t really… That surprised me as much you. Sorry.

She shrugs. “I’m as happy for you lot as I am bothered. It’s hard to explain.”

“We don’t have to do that shit around you.”

“No, I want you to. I mean like, I guess that’s the thing. I want you to still be you and Phil to still be Phil. I don’t want you guys to hold back just because I’m around, because eventually then you’ll just dread even having to see me at all.”

Guilt spikes sour in Dan’s stomach to realize that that’s exactly what happened this morning.

“It’s just odd, you know? You’re my best friends and now you’re like… in love. Imagine if it was me and Phil. Wouldn’t that fuck you up a little?”

His brain rejects it as soon as he tries to put the image there. “Yeah. Fuck. It would.”

“I’ll get used to it. As long as you don’t shut me out.”

Dan is quiet for a while, frantically trying to think of the perfect thing to say that will make everything feel a little less up in the air.

He can’t. Instead he says simply, “I like him so much, Bry.”

“I know,” she says. “He’s a good one. You both are.”

“And you’ve found a good one too, yeah?”

The corners of her mouth turn up in a reluctant smile. “Maybe.”

“Do I ever get to meet her? Or hear about her? Or like… know her name, even?”

Bryony turns around again and lifts up on the tips of her toes to reach into the cupboard for mugs. “Her name is Kate.”

“What’s she like?”

“She’s funny. Clever. Fit. Way too good for me.”

“Actually,” Dan says, “she sounds exactly right for you. I can’t wait to meet her.”

They make the teas and carry them out and Phil is still lying in the exact same position. “I’m a slug,” he groans.

“Well shove over, slug boy,” Dan says, nudging Phil’s leg with his knee. “The birthday slug needs a seat.”

He and Bryony sit and start to sip at their tea, when Bryony pops up and says she’s got a gift for him. He hurries out of the room and comes back a minute later demanding he close his eyes and hold out his hands.

He does, and she places something light on his palm before telling him to look. He does, and what he sees is a Topman gift card. He stares at it for a long moment and then up at Bryony, who manages to stare back and keep a straight face for about ten seconds before bursting into laughter.

“God, your fucking face,” she cackles.

“What?” Phil asks, sounding genuinely confused. “If he doesn’t want that can I have it?”

Dan hands it to him. “All yours, bub.”

Her real gift, which she’d stashed behind her telly, is a monochromatic, intricately patterned quilt that he instantly loves. “It’s so me,” he says, unfolding it to study the design more closely.

She sits down again and picks up her mug. “That’s the idea.”

He leans over and buries his face in her hair, wrapping her up in a hug that lingers. “Thank you,” he murmurs.

She hugs right back, tight enough that he knows she understands he’s thanking her for a lot more than cake and a blanket. She hugs him back so tight that he knows she’s feeling the same kind of things he is.

They’re going to be ok. He’s sure of it.

Chapter Text

“What about this one?” Dan’s stood in front of the mirror in Phil’s room, a heap of discarded shirts piled one on top of the other lying just behind him.

“That one’s good,” Phil says, and Dan doesn’t even have to turn and look to know that he’s wholly disinterested.

“Does it look better than the last one?”

“Um… I think they both look equally good.”

Now Dan does turn, just so can shoot Phil the most disapproving look he can muster. “Mate.”

“I’m sorry, you just look good in everything.” He smiles, rolling onto his side and propping himself up on his elbow so he watch Dan’s torment.

Dan rolls his eyes. “That is very sweet and also extremely unhelpful.”

“It’s just dinner. No one is gonna judge you if you don’t wear the shirt that makes you look the most cute out of all the other shirts. I mean, they’re mostly all black anyway.”

“How dare you. There are degrees.”

“Degrees of black?”

“Yes. One of them has to look the best.”

“Hmm.” Phil frowns like he’s deep in contemplation. “I think they all look the best.”

“If they all look the best that means they also all look the worst,” Dan points out.

“You know what I think?”

Dan crosses his arms, defensive before he even knows what Phil’s going to say. “What?” he asks warily.

“I think you’ve been working at Topman too long.”

Dan turns back to the mirror and pulls off his shirt, letting it land at the top of the pile. “Well that’s one thing we can definitely agree on.”

Phil gets up then, and comes to stand behind Dan. Dan looks at him in the mirror, butterflies fluttering away when Phil rests his chin on Dan’s shoulder and wraps his arms around Dan’s waist.

“I think you look best like this,” Phil says in a low voice, turning his head and pressing a kiss to Dan’s neck.

Goosebumps prick up all down Dan’s arms, betraying the effect Phil has on him in no uncertain terms. It even makes his nipples hard, and Phil reaches up to thumb across one of them when he notices. “Maybe we should just stay here.”

“Don’t tempt me.” Dan’s voice has dropped down an octave or two as well. He stares at Phil in the mirror, insides going all squirmy as Phil breathes warm against his ear.

“Why not?” Phil teases, letting his hand slide down until it gets to the button on Dan’s jeans.

Dan closes his eyes. “If you don’t stop we’re definitely going to be late.”

“Mm,” Phil hums. “Remind me why I care again?”

“Because she’s finally introducing us to her girlfriend. She’s probably bricking it right now and we have to be good friends.”

Phil groans in frustration, squeezing around Dan’s waist tighter before letting go. “I hate when you make me be responsible.”

“Trust me, I hate it too.”

Phil flops back onto the bed. He’s been dressed for half an hour already, impatiently waiting for Dan to pick a shirt. “If you want to be good friends, we probably shouldn’t be late.”

Dan sighs. “Ok, fine, I know.”

“Can I ask something and you promise not to get annoyed?”

Dan turns to look at him. “Go on then.”

“C’mere first.”

Dan walks over to the edge of the bed and Phil pulls him down to lie next to him.

“What does it matter?” His voice is much softer than his words would imply. “I know you don’t care what she thinks and you know I think you look good no matter what, so what is it?”

“I dunno,” Dan says, mostly because he reckons the reason has something to do with losing his tenuous hold on self identity and his ever worsening fear of leading an unremarkable life.

He doesn’t want to say any of this out loud. It sounds stupid even to him, so he certainly wouldn’t expect Phil to know what to say. “Just feels important sometimes.”

Phil is quiet for a while as he watches Dan’s face. There’s a little crease between his brows that Dan is tempted to smooth away with his finger.

“Wear the one with stripes,” Phil finally says. He doesn’t tell Dan he’s being silly. He doesn’t press the issue. He just tells Dan to wear the shirt with the stripes and Dan thinks it’s the perfect choice.

-

They meet at a bar in the sky, at the top of a very tall building with floor to ceiling windows that yield a view of the city that takes Dan’s breath away. The drinks are fancy and overpriced, and they probably drink too many of them, but Dan reckons it’s worth the hit to his bank account and the possibility of a wicked hangover in the morning. They taste good and they make his face warm and they take away the nerves he wishes he didn’t have about what the four of them must look like to passersby.

Kate is cool. She has blonde hair and an easy smile and a deep voice. She’s clever and hilarious with a sarcastic wit to match Bryony’s. Stories recounted about ridiculous clients at her advertising agency job have them all clutching themselves and laughing like a bunch of wheezy hyenas.

Dan tries not to let his lurking feelings of inadequacy colour his opinion of her. His heart is full enough to burst to see the way Bryony looks at her, and to Dan that’s no small thing. This woman must be special to have captured Bryony’s attention so fully. In all their years of friendship he can’t recall her ever looking like that.

In truth she also seems a little nervous, another thing he hasn’t witnessed from her on more than a handful of occasions. She’s much better at hiding her anxieties than Dan is, so she must really care what he and Phil think of her. Or maybe she’s worried about what Kate will think of them.

In fact, maybe they’re all a little nervous. Maybe they drink a few too many cocktails because this situation is so far removed from any they’ve experienced before that a little liquid courage is needed to push them past the jitters and into the place where they’re as happy on the outside as they are on the inside.

And Dan is so fucking happy tonight. He feels a little out of place in this swanky bar full of swanky people, but nothing else really seems to matter when Phil lifts his arm up and lets it come to rest casually around Dan’s shoulders. In that moment he ceases to be bothered caring what they must look like. Let people think what they want. Let them see the truth. He’s too busy being happy.

They end up balancing out the classiness of the skybar by eating cheap pizza on a park bench at midnight as Bryony blasts k-pop from her phone and tries to sing along despite not knowing a single word of Korean. Kate and Phil commiserate about Bryony’s taste in music but Dan finds himself starting to love it. His whole body feels warm and heavy and he can't spare a single fuck for how stupid he must look when he starts to dance along.

At one point Phil spills more than a little sauce and grease down his shirt and Dan can’t help laughing at him, and then, when Phil whines about Dan being a bully, nuzzling his face into Phil’s neck. He’s drunk and suddenly overcome with fondness for Phil and his ridiculously endearing clumsiness.

“Oi,” Bryony says, poking Dan’s nose with a purple-nailed finger. “Cut that out.”

“Aw, let them be cute,” Kate coos. “It means we’re allowed to be cute too.” She tilts her head and leans in close to Bryony’s face, pausing to wait for Bryony to close the last little bit of distance and press their lips together.

Dan feels like he’s watching a romance film or something. Even drunk he knows he probably shouldn’t be thinking it, but they just look so pretty together. Bryony’s hand comes up to cup Kate’s jaw and the kiss deepens into something that has Dan starting to feel things he definitely shouldn’t be feeling.

He sees a flash of tongue and that’s his limit. “Ok, ok, we’ll stop,” he splutters. This is Bryony. He can’t sit here and enjoy watching his best mate making out with her new girlfriend. There’s supportive, and then there’s just weird. This is weird. “Christ. Keep it in your pants, woman.”

Bryony snorts and seems reluctant to pull away from the kiss, but she does, dropping her hand down to squeeze Kate’s leg and looking at Dan smugly. “Gross, isn’t it?”

“You’ve made your point,” Dan agrees.

When they’ve parted ways and Dan’s sat next to Phil on the tube headed home, he pulls out his phone and types a message for Bryony.

she’s brilliant. hope we didn’t embarrass you too much

You did but I wouldn’t expect anything less. she texts back. Love u xx

He sends back a string of sick face emojis with a single <3 at the end.

-

Moisture is starting to collect at Dan’s temples. He can feel it against the small of his back and in the pits of knees. He hasn’t stopped kissing Phil since they got into bed and arranged themselves in the positions they find themselves now, Dan laid out flat on his back with his legs spread, Phil above him with his weight braced on one elbow while the other hand works Dan open with two slick fingers.

He’s ready. He’s been ready for a while, but he actually likes this part just as much as all the others. They haven’t stopped kissing but it’s starting to get harder to focus on that now. Phil’s a shit multitasker and Dan keeps making noises that aren’t conducive to a makeout that isn’t breathy and stuttered and woefully distracted.

Phil isn’t good with his hands in any other context, but in this one they’re kind of magical, fingers curling in a way that touches something deep and primal and good in Dan’s body. He wants to know how Phil knows how to do that, but it’s definitely a question for another time.

“I’m ready,” he finally says, when he feels like he’s going to crawl right out of his skin if he can’t chase that feeling deeper. He wants Phil on top of him for real now. He wants Phil inside him for real.

Phil rips open the foil packet with his teeth and Dan watches him roll the latex down over himself with obvious haste. It makes Dan’s stomach tighten to see that Phil wants it as much as he does.

He’s not used to this enough yet for it not to feel like a shock. The sensation of being pushed into, the stark contrast it takes to all the other sex he’s had in his life, but also just the force of the pleasure. It’s shocking to him that something so new and different can feel so good.

It’s not the romantic kind of sex that characterized so much of their earlier exploration of each other. Tonight it’s something a little more base. Dan’s head is tilted back into the pillow, his teeth sinking down into his bottom lip while Phil fucks him. Because that’s what they’re doing, really. They’re fucking, with a pace and a carnal kind of drive that they never have before. Their breaths are huffs of air and grunts of pleasure and gruff-voiced words like “fuck,” and “right there,” and “harder.”

The mattress creaks. The headboard knocks against the wall. Dan digs his nails into Phil’s back as Phil rocks into him, until he feels the acute and burning need to reach down between their bodies and touch himself. He comes like that, with Phil inside him, and Phil finishes soon after.

“Fuck, Dan,” Phil groans, his words barely intelligible for the way his mouth is pressed to Dan’s neck and his breaths are heaving.

Dan just strokes Phil’s hair back off his forehead in response. He’s overwhelmed, and he wants to make sure the feeling is entirely a positive one before he opens his mouth.

Eventually Phil pulls out and rolls over and throws away the condom and leaves to fetch toilet roll from the bathroom. Dan lies there with his hands pushing his sweaty waves off his own forehead. He stares up at the ceiling and takes stock of how he feels right now: he’s loose and a touch sore, sweaty everywhere and probably not smelling the best, but mostly… mostly he feels good.

He breathes out deeply and lets himself feel that relief. It was intense, but it was good. That’s just how Phil makes him feel, even when they’re doing things together that are objectively terrifying.

Phil comes back and Dan cleans up as best he can without extricating himself from the sheets. Phil pulls on a pair of boxers and climbs back into bed, but he keeps an odd distance between them that Dan doesn’t like. Phil usually clings afterward and Dan has become fond of the closeness. To not have it now feels conspicuously cold.

He rolls over and presses himself against Phil’s side. “You ok?” he asks, voice barely above a whisper.

”Yeah.” Phil slings his arm around Dan’s back. “Are you?”

Dan nods.

“Are you sure? ‘Cause you seem a little—”

“I’m good,” Dan assures.

“Ok.” He rubs Dan’s back and they’re quiet for a while, Dan’s head moving with the rise and fall of Phil’s chest as he breathes. He reckons they’ve both got thoughts swimming through their heads that wouldn’t make complete sense if spoken out loud, so cuddling up and listening to each other breathe seems a nice alternative.

“Kate was nice,” Phil says after a while.

“Yeah.”

“They seem good together.”

Dan nods. “But not as good as us.”

Phil chuckles softly, reaching up to play with the damp hair at the nape of Dan’s neck. “Course not.”

“It’s weird isn’t it?” Dan asks.

“What is?”

“I dunno, that like… we’re so good at this already?”

Phil frowns. “At what?”

“Um… being, like… you know, gay or queer or whatever you want to call it.” He’s not sure why it feels like the hardest thing of all to just say it. “After only a few months.”

“No,” Phil says without pause for thought and with surprising conviction. “It’s not weird. Not for me at least.”

Dan props himself up on his elbow so he can look at Phil’s face properly. “What does that mean?”

Phil looks down his body, averting his eyes from making contact with Dan’s. “It hasn’t been just a few months for me,” he says quietly.

“Oh.” Dan’s heart is suddenly pounding. “Shit. Really?”

Phil nods.

“Do you… Are you talking about like, in general or—”

“Or you specifically?” Phil interrupts, his voice low and wry.

“Sorry,” Dan mutters. “It’s none of my business.”

Phil shrugs. “I guess it is now.”

“Just because I want to know doesn’t mean you have to tell me.” It pains him to say it because he does want to know rather desperately, but he can tell he’s getting close to pushing too hard and he won’t risk that. Not with Phil.

“I always thought you were gorgeous,” Phil says after a very long pause. “I always loved spending time with you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean—”

“You thought I was gorgeous?” Dan interrupts, grinning.

Phil rolls his eyes. “Have you looked at yourself lately?”

Dan just laughs a breathy laugh and presses a kiss to Phil’s jaw.

“Don’t you think it’s good, though?” Phil asks. “Like, isn’t that a good sign, that it feels easy?”

“Yeah, of course. It’s good, it’s just kind of mental to me,” Dan says. “It came out of nowhere for me, but then, like… it felt right. It never felt like that before. Not even with proper girlfriends.”

Phil gives him a pointed look. “Maybe there’s a reason for that.”

Dan feels like he’s been knocked upside the head. He can’t think of anything to say back to that. His immediate reaction is to argue somehow, but with each second that passes he becomes less sure.

Had it always been there and he’d just never noticed? Or maybe he hadn’t wanted to notice. Maybe it’s just another in a long list of proofs that he doesn’t know a goddamn thing about himself at all.

“Sorry,” Phil says, interrupting Dan’s spiral and pulling him back down onto his chest. “I reckon you’re gonna need loads more time to think before you have any real perspective on that.”

“Like you had?” Dan asks quietly.

Phil nods.

Dan runs his fingers over the hair on Phil’s chest, wondering if he’s crossing a line by asking what he asks next. “How long?”

“I dunno, like… forever?”

Dan pushes Phil’s arm away and rolls onto his back. He feels like he needs space to process the magnitude of that confession, and his own strangely defensive reaction. “You never told me.”

“I never told anyone,” Phil says calmly. Dan’s glad at least one of them can stay level headed.

“But I’m— you were never with a guy before me, were you?”

“No.” He reaches for Dan’s hand and holds it loose in his. “Never.”

Now that his hand is gripped within Phil’s he realizes it’s shaking a little. Until this moment he’d have put money on knowing as much about Phil as any person can know another. To find out there’s something he didn’t know, something so big and fundamental to who Phil is feels jarring in the worst kind of way.

“Was it hard?” Dan asks, trying to push aside the irrational feeling that he’s been betrayed.

“Um… sometimes, yeah. If I thought about it too much.”

Dan nods like he understand, though he’s quite sure he doesn’t. “Is it a little easier now?”

Phil squeezes his hand. “Of course.” He pauses a moment and then says, “I would like to tell my family someday, though. I think that’s still hard. Keeping secrets from them.”

“That sounds scary,” Dan whispers. “Telling family.”

“I don’t have to tell them about you,” Phil says. “And it’s not like I’ve got plans about it anyway. I’m just saying I think that’s the only part that still feels hard.”

“Do you think they’ll be ok about it?”

“I don’t know. I hope so. Will yours?”

“I hadn’t thought about it,” Dan says. “I’m pretty good at not telling them things.”

Phil gives him a melancholic smile. “You don’t have to tell them anything.”

“It’s just not important to me like it is to you. The only two people in the world I’d care about telling already know.”

“A part of me wants to tell everyone,” Phil says, turning his head toward the open window, keeping his gaze focused on the lights of the city reflecting off the glass. “Like everyone I’ve ever met.”

“And the other part wants to hide right here with me and never leave, yeah?” Dan asks, shuffling closer so they’re pressed together from their shoulders all the way down to their feet.

“Exactly.”

-

Dan wakes with a start, drenched in sweat, his heart in his throat. It takes him a moment to even process where he is, that none of that was real. Phil is laid next to him, sleeping still, breathing deep and even. The night is peaceful and the air coming in from the window is cool and everything is still as it should be. Everything is as it was when Dan closed his eyes and drifted to sleep with his fingers still wrapped around Phil’s hand.

It doesn’t make a fucking bit of difference, though. In his head is pain and fear and despair, and it comes bubbling up in an ugly sob that takes his breath away. His hands come up to cover his face and his cheeks are already wet with tears. He must have been crying before he even woke up. His chest wracks with the force of the emotion that overtakes him. The dream wasn’t real, but the anguish left in its wake is more real than he can bear.

It’s not just the dream. These sobs, this fear that clamps his chest like a vice, it’s not just about the disturbing images his brain is so adept at producing. It’s about why they’re already there in his head, so ready to manifest when his subconscious takes control. It’s about why he can’t sleep or eat or breathe anymore without a cloying sense of dread.

It’s purposelessness. It’s inertia. He feels like some kind of stop motion person the animators forgot about. He’s spending the prime of his life sat in an uncomfortable waiting room chair watching static on a tv screen with the sound turned too low to hear.

“Dan.” Phil’s voice is close to his ear and full of concern. “Dan.”

Dan shakes his head, not moving his hands from where they stay pressed against his face.

“Talk to me,” Phil pleads, sitting up and turning on the bedside lamp.

Dan shakes his head again. He can scarcely breathe, let alone talk. Phil grabs him up and pulls him into his arms, less a hug and more a tight grip that says he’s here and he isn’t going anywhere.

It’s nice. It doesn’t fix anything but Dan is really fucking glad for it anyway. He forces himself to stop the crying, because he can tell that if he doesn’t end it now it will carry on into something like hysterics, and the dream didn’t warrant that. It was bad, but not this bad.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Dan croaks. “I can’t fucking do this anymore.”

“Ok,” Phil says, not letting go. “That’s ok. Can you breathe, please? You need to take some deep breaths.”

Dan does, and instantly feels better. Actually he feels a little stupid that he had to be reminded to do something as fundamental as suck oxygen into his lungs, but it works. The breaths are shaky but they’re coming easier now. He no longer feels like death is imminent.

“Come on,” Phil says. “You need tea.”

Dan follows him to the kitchen and sits at the table while Phil boils the water and makes them each a cuppa.

“Mum would say a strong enough brew will cure whatever ails ya,” Phil says, mimicking Kath’s northern drawl as he places the steaming mug in front of Dan and sits down beside him.

Dan picks it up and brings it to his mouth and then puts it right back down again when he realizes he’ll burn off every single taste bud and all three layers of skin if he tries to drink it straight off. “Thanks,” he says, and his voice sounds hollow and not like his at all.

Phil takes a sip of his own, wincing at the heat like he’d forgotten as well as Dan how hot beverages work. He puts his mug down and looks at Dan. “So.”

“Yeah,” Dan says.

“What’s the ‘this’ you were referring to?”

Dan frowns. “What?”

“You said you can’t do this anymore,” Phil says quietly. “Were you talking about us?”

“What?” Dan’s frown deepens. “Of course not. Fuck, Phil.”

“Oh good. Ok. Sorry. I didn’t want to make it about me but I just— just had to know.”

“You’re a fucking imbecile,” Dan informs him.

Phil smiles. “Ok. If you say so.”

“Well I do. Because you are.”

“So what is ‘this,’ then?”

Dan shrugs, looking down at his tea. Phil’s not put enough milk in but Dan can guess he’s probably added way too much sugar. “Life.”

“Dan.”

“My life,” Dan corrects at Phil’s reproachful tone. “As it is now. I can’t do it, I have to… I dunno. Something has to change. I think, like… I reckon I need help.”

“What, d’you mean like therapy?”

Dan immediately balks. “You think I need therapy?”

“I’m not saying that, I’m asking. You said you need help.”

“I’m not fucking crazy, Phil,” Dan says defensively. “I don’t need a shrink.”

“Ok.” Phil’s voice is quiet and clearly hurt and Dan’s insides shrivel up with the guilt of it.

“Fuck. I’m sorry, Phil.” He drops his head into his hands again. “Fuck.”

“It’s ok.”

“It’s not. I’m just…” He sighs. “Therapy. What would I even say? Nothing bad happened to me. I don’t have, like, trauma.”

“I don’t think it’s always like that,” Phil says. “Cornelia goes to therapy.”

Dan lifts his head. “She does?”

Phil nods. “She told me she thinks everyone should.”

That gives Dan pause. He remembers the air of peace she had in Florida, her quiet wisdom and the comfort of her words. “Wow.”

He sits with those memories for a moment. It wasn’t long ago, but compared to the state he’s in right now the tranquility she made him feel might as well have happened in another lifetime.

“Hey,” Phil says eventually. “All I meant was that it’s an option. We’ll do whatever you need.”

Dan feels new tears brewing behind his eyes. “We?”

“Yeah, idiot.” Phil reaches out once again to take Dan’s hand in his. “We. You’re stuck with me. Get used to it.”

Chapter Text

Dan is sweating. Just a little, just enough for it to be annoying, because there’s no reason he should be. It isn’t hot in here and he arrived way too early which means he hasn’t been doing any sort of movement for the past twenty minutes - besides bouncing his leg up and down, of course.

But he is, he’s sweating on his lower back and under arms and along the hairline at his forehead, and it joins the leg jiggling in unmistakable signs that his body is catching up to the nervousness in his brain.

It’s quiet in the waiting room. There’s a stack of beat up looking magazines on the table next to his chair and every few minutes the phone rings, answered by a soft spoken woman with curly black hair who looks to be in her twenties. He recognizes the voice because it’s the same one that answered when he called to make the appointment he’s waiting to go into now.

There’s a bowl of crystals next to the magazines and a giant poster on the wall of a blissed out model doing yoga. He’s not sure he likes that, but he’s trying to keep an open mind.

He’s not the only one in here but everyone else is as silent as he is, though he can’t understand why none of them appear to be similarly bricking it. It should be a comfort that they all seem relatively at ease, but all it does is make him feel like more of a freak.

More of a fraud. He shouldn’t be here. He’s got nothing to say.

Oh god. What is he going to say?

He feels something soft and cool on his hand, looking down and seeing that Phil is trying to gently remove Dan’s thumbnail from between his clenched teeth. He hadn’t even noticed he’d been doing that.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” Phil whispers, moving his hand down to squeeze the knee of the leg Dan is still bouncing uncontrollably.

Dan looks away without so much as a smile. He’ll thank Phil later, when he isn’t on the verge of a panic attack, or whatever the term would be for someone who hasn’t actually been diagnosed with anxiety.

He hasn’t been diagnosed with anything. That’s part of the problem. He doesn’t belong here. What he needs isn’t to waste someone else’s time whinging about the kinds of problems that aren’t really problems, he needs to suck it up and get on with things. He wants to turn and tell Phil exactly that, that he’s made a mistake and he wants to go back home and forget about all of this. He almost does, but then he hears his name being called out into the strangely quiet room and his heart leaps up into his throat.

He’s sure his face must be doing that splotchy thing it does when he feels any kind of heightened emotion. He wipes his clammy palms on his jeans and stands up on legs that beg him not to be walked on. He looks down at Phil and can barely stop himself begging Phil to come along. He suddenly feels like a child. He can’t possibly be expected to do something this grown up all by himself, can he?

Phil smiles. “Good luck. I’ll be here when you’re done.”

Dan takes a moment to look at Phil and take a steadying breath. Phil smiles.

He can do this, Dan tells himself. He can. If for no other reason than because Phil believes in him.

He turns and walks toward the woman who’d called his name. He assumes she’s a receptionist or assistant or something but she smiles with a mouthful of obnoxiously straight white teeth and introduces herself with the name he recognizes as the one of the person he’d made an appointment to talk to.

She’s too young, Dan thinks. Too peppy. She might not even be much older than he is. He steps into the room whose door she holds open for him, trying to mitigate the feeling of dread in his chest as she pulls it shut behind her.

-

“She talked about my aura, Phil. My aura.” He tears the top off the Dominos box and inhales the intoxicating scent of meat and cheese and barbecue sauce and all the other lovely toppings adorning their pizza.

Phil looks furiatingly unruffled. “What’d she say about it?”

“Mate.”

“What?” he asks defensively. “You don’t know auras aren’t real.”

Dan sighs, deeply exasperated, and dips a nice nice greasy slice of Sizzler into the blue cheese dipping sauce before shoving into his face. “You’re as bad as she was,” he garbles.

“But seriously, what did she say about your aura?” Phil asks. “What colour is it?”

Dan shakes his head firmly. He refuses to give Phil any chance to try to argue for this woman’s competency. “She was a hippy,” Dan insists.

“What’s bad about that?”

Dan gives him a look. He wants to eat this glorious takeaway and forget about that disaster of a session.

“I’m playing devil’s advocate a little,” Phil says, nudging Dan’s thigh with his knee. “Humour me?”

Dan breathes in deep through his nose and blows the air out noisily on the exhale. “It’s bad because I don’t want to put my mental health in the hands of someone who’s going to try to use pseudo science to fix me.”

Phil nods, dipping a potato wedge into the barbecue sauce and eating it with a thoughtful look on his face.

“I don’t think therapy is meant to fix you,” he says finally. “You don’t need fixing.”

Dan has the urge to roll his eyes but he fights it. He can see through the annoyance to recognize that Phil isn’t trying to be a smartass, he’s only trying to help. “I feel like you’re just arguing semantics,” he says in his least accusatory tone possible.

“Maybe a little,” Phil admits. “But I reckon in this case the distinctions are kind of important.”

“Why?”

Phil licks sauce off his finger before he answers. “Because you’re only going to get out what you put in. If you go in expecting it to solve everything you’re only going to be disappointed.”

Dan frowns, staring Phil down, trying not to be endeared by the bit of sauce he’s got on the corner of his mouth. “Why are you suddenly the therapy expert?”

Phil gets a rather sheepish look on his face. “Um. I may have been doing some research.”

The pizza in Dan’s mouth suddenly turns to lead. He wants to spit it out but that would be gross so he forces himself to swallow it down over the rapidly growing lump in his throat, then drops the half slice in his hand back into the box. “Did you really?” he asks.

“Is that bad?”

Dan laughs, brushing the crumbs off his pjs. “Totally. You’re a right wanker for caring about me enough to do that.”

“I do care about you,” Phil says quietly. “I want you to give yourself the best chance to be happy.”

The lump gets bigger and he can tell the emotion is going to start spilling out imminently, so he stands up from the sofa and mumbles something about needing a drink before fleeing to the kitchen.

He opens the fridge and then shuts it a moment later, unsure of what to do with himself. It’s not like Phil isn’t more generous than most other people on a daily basis, but this feels like a step beyond. Or maybe it isn’t and the truth of the matter is that Dan’s been run so ragged by the build up and ultimate disappointment of the day’s events that everything feels a little heavier than it normally would. Whatever it is has him reacting like a crazy person to a rather simple act of kindness.

Maybe he is crazy. Maybe he is well and truly mental and needs a lot more than casual therapy. Maybe—

“Mate.”

Dan jumps, spinning around to face Phil, who’s stood leaning against the counter.

“You could’ve come up with something better than needing a drink. We’ve got a whole bottle of coke out there.”

Dan opens his mouth to defend himself, then shuts it upon accepting he’s got no idea what to say. He’s stood in the middle of the kitchen like an idiot with eyes full of tears and no good reason for it. “Sorry,” he croaks.

The smile drops from Phil’s face and he walks over to Dan. “What’s going on?”

Dan shrugs and looks at Phil’s face. He’s still got that bit of sauce above his lip, so Dan reaches out and rubs it away with his thumb.

“I love you,” he says.

Phil’s face betrays nothing. “You do?”

Dan nods.

“Oh. Well that works out nicely, because I love you too.”

“Oh yeah?”

Phil takes a step closer, puts his hands on Dan’s waist and leans in so their foreheads are pressed together. “Yeah. Definitely.”

“I think maybe you deserve someone better,” Dan whispers.

Phil shakes his head. “No such thing.”

Dan has to bite down hard on his lip to stop himself crying. “I feel really weird.”

“Do you wanna talk about it?”

Dan shakes his head.

“Should we go eat pizza and watch telly?” Phil asks.

Dan laughs, wrapping his arms around Phil’s middle and squeezing him tight. He drops his forehead down onto Phil’s shoulder and clings like he’ll collapse it he doesn’t.

“You’re going to be ok, you know,” Phil says, lifting his arms up to hug Dan back. His hold is nice and firm and just the safety Dan needs to let himself fall apart.

They stay that way for a long time, holding each other and swaying as Phil lets Dan cry into his t-shirt. When he finally has a handle on himself, he pulls away and uses his own shirt to mop up the various leaky parts of his face.

“You’re a mess,” Phil points out.

“Your mum’s a mess.” He laughs at his own stupidity and the ridiculousness of the situation.

“I love you,” Phil says, reaching out and hooking his finger around one of Dan’s belt loops to pull him in close again.

Dan sniffles. “Tell me you know auras aren’t real.”

“Would you want to hitch your wagon to a liar?” Phil smirks.

Dan kisses him right on the mouth.

-

“I’m never eating again,” Dan moans. At his request they’d switched from lying on the sofa to lying in bed. It’s still relatively early, but bed with Phil is Dan’s idea of comfort incarnate and despite his cathartic cry he still feels a little raw around the edges.

“Yeah,” Phil agrees. “If by never you mean tomorrow morning.”

“That cookie was a bad fucking idea.”

Phil looks affronted. “Dominos cookies are never a bad idea. Take that back.”

“I wish I could.” He rubs his stomach for dramatic effect. “I’d go back in time and eat a nice salad instead.”

“Pfft, yeah ok.”

“You doubt me,” Dan says, trying his best to sound wounded.

“Mhm, yeah. In this case I do.”

He rolls over so he’s half on top of Phil and crushing him with his not insignificant weight. “Ok fine, I’m lying.”

Phil laughs softly and frees his arm from where Dan’s pinned it into the mattress. He lifts it up and brings it back down across Dan’s back, where he starts to trace shapes against Dan’s skin. “I know.”

“But seriously, that was too much pizza. Especially for you, Mr. Lactose Intolerant.”

“Some things are worth a little extra pain,” Phil says gravely.

“Like me?” Dan asks, only half joking.

Phil doesn’t let him get away with it, though. “Nothing like you, actually.”

“I’m not worth the pain?” Dan teases, but again there’s a hint of genuine vulnerability behind his words.

“Shut up, idiot.”

Dan snorts. “Thanks.”

“You’re not allowed to say stuff like that about yourself anymore.” Phil’s not joking in the slightest.

“I don’t know why you’re denying that I’m—”

“I said shut up.”

Dan snaps his mouth shut. Angry Phil hasn’t reared his head in quite a while; Dan had forgotten how effective it is. “Don’t be cross.”

Phil turns his head to look at Dan’s face. “Then don’t be mean to yourself.”

Dan stays quiet for a long while after that, closing his eyes to the gentleness of Phil’s fingers on his back and thinking about… well, about everything. All the events of the last few months, everything that led him to where he is now.

“I have to go back, don’t I?”

Phil shakes his head. “I don’t think talking to someone you don’t trust would do anything for you.”

Dan bites his lip. “I don’t trust the hippy lady.”

Phil laughs, making Dan’s head jiggle.

“I’m sure she’s nice,” Dan says defensively. “But I don’t think someone who puts faith in shit that isn’t real is gonna be able to help me in any meaningful way.”

“Alright,” Phil says, squeezing his arm around Dan’s shoulder. “That’s fair.”

“S’pose I could ask for a referral to someone else, though.”

“Yeah?” Phil asks, failing miserably to keep his voice neutral. That one word holds so much hope.

“Yeah,” Dan says, rolling into Phil a little more and pressing a kiss to his chest. “Gotta get my shit together a little bit.”

“I wanna say something cheesy.”

Dan laughs, propping himself up so he can look down at Phil. “Today’s the day for it, apparently.”

“I’m proud of you.”

Dan looks into Phil’s eyes as long as he can before the sincerity of the sentiment turns his insides to mush. He flops back down and buries his face in Phil’s neck. “Shut up,” he mumbles against Phil’s skin.

“You shut up.”

“Shut up your face,” Dan counters.

Phil chuckles. “Your fighting talk needs work.”

“Coming from you that is a grave insult indeed.”

Phil kisses his forehead, open mouthed and wet, clearly trying to get a reaction. Dan refuses to give him the one he wants, tilting his head up and cooing, “Aw babe. You’re such a good kisser.”

“I hate you so much.”

“Mm,” Dan hums, snuggling down and squeezing around Phil’s middle. “Hate you too.”

-

“Hi, Dan is it?” She holds out her hand to shake his. “Nice to meet you. Come on in, sit, please.” She gestures to a loveseat that looks worn but comfortable, closing the door behind him as he enters the small room.

He smiles woodenly and sits, not feeling any more hopeful about this appointment than he had the three with different therapists that came before it.

“I’m Karen,” she continues, sitting in the chair across from him.

Dan laughs.

She tilts her head to the side a little. “Is that funny?”

“No, shit, sorry, just— Karen. That’s my mum’s name.”

“Ahh. Well hopefully you can keep the two of us separate.” She says it like a joke. It’s clearly a joke, meant to put him at ease after he went and did something socially awkward.

To which he responds, “I guess you’re going to tell me I have some deep-rooted mummy issues?” He chuckles.

She leans back in her chair and crosses one leg over the other. “Do you?”

His smile drops. “I— no. I was joking. Sorry.”

She just nods, looking at him with a directness that disarms him completely. He’s not felt this way in any other sessions, and he’s only been sat down a grand total of ten seconds.

“If anything, my issues are with my dad,” he blurts.

“Another joke?”

He can feel his face getting hot. “Uhh…”

“Do you always use humour to deflect from topics that make you uncomfortable?”

“Um…” He has to look away from the intent focus of her eyes. “Yeah. That’s definitely possible,” he admits.

“Ok. That’s good to know.” She twists back to grab a small notebook off her desk. “So what brings you in today?”

It’s the dreaded question, the one everyone has asked him and the one he still hasn’t figured out how to answer in a way that isn’t extremely awkward.

“Uh…”

She smiles sympathetically. “Bit of a tough question, innit?”

He nods, fighting the urge to bite his nails. “Reckon it’s kind of the same for everyone though, right?”

“How d’you mean?”

“Just like… We all have shit— stuff. Stuff that bothers us that we don’t know how to handle on our own, I guess?”

She frowns thoughtfully. “So what’s your shit?”

He huffs a surprised laugh. “Uh… I’m not… really sure? Like, I just have this kind of general feeling of…” He looks off to the side, searching for the right word in his head. “Unhappiness.”

“Ok,” she says in a soft voice. “That’s a start.”

“Too vague?”

“I mean, yes, it’s vague. But it’s fair. Describing feelings accurately takes a lot of practice. And trust.”

He’s not sure what to say to that, so he just nods.

“Have you ever been to any kind of therapy before?” she asks.

“No.”

“Can I ask what prompted you at this time? Has there been a deepening in your unhappiness?”

Dan chews on his lip and averts his eyes again, nodding. He’s not sure why he ever thought he could do this.

“It wasn’t your idea to come here, was it?”

He looks at her. “Flatmate’s. He’s worried about me.”

“So you have someone supporting you.”

Dan nods.

“That’s good. That’s important. He’s someone you trust?”

“Yeah, he’s…” Dan makes a split second decision, locking eyes with her intently. “He’s my boyfriend, actually.”

He’s not sure he what he was expecting, but she has as little reaction as a person could have. In fact, it’s him that’s taken a little aback. He’s never used that word before, and now he’s saying it to some woman he doesn’t even know. He’s saying it like a challenge, like he’s daring her to prove that she can’t handle whatever Dan’s shit is.

“And do you resent him for thinking you needed to come here today?” she asks.

Dan leans back a little against the sofa and grabs a throw pillow from the cushion beside him. He needs something to do with his hands so he doesn’t gnaw his nails down to the quick like some kind of deranged beaver.

“No,” he says decisively. “I like that he cares.”

“But you’re not comfortable being here.” It’s not a question.

He shrugs. “I feel like… like it’s a waste of time.” He hears how rude it sounds after he’s said it, but he can’t take it back.

She doesn’t look offended. She just shifts in her chair slightly and asks, “And why is that?”

He shrugs again. “I don’t have real problems.”

“What would you consider a real problem?”

“Like… abuse, neglect. I dunno… trauma.”

She frowns, again in a thoughtful way, not like she’s upset with his answer but like she’s considering it carefully before she speaks again. “Mental health issues don’t stem solely from trauma.”

“Right, I know.”

“Does your unhappiness feel disproportionate to what you would classify as your problems?”

He thinks for a moment, about dreams so bad he wakes up drenched in sweat and afraid to close his eyes again, about waking to his alarm with a sense of dread that another day is about to start.

“I think so,” he says quietly. “A lot of the time I feel unhappy and there isn’t even a reason.”

“If you feel unhappy, there’s a reason, even if you don’t know what it is. Even if it’s a matter of your biology.”

“Like depression?” Dan asks.

“Possibly. There are any number of medical diagnoses that include depressive symptoms, but that’s not what we’re talking about today.”

“We’re just talking,” Dan says.

She smiles. “We’re starting with talking.”

“But if it’s in my brain or my biology or whatever, how am I supposed to fix that?”

“Well, to start with, I’d say you’re getting ahead of yourself a little.”

Dan sighs. “Yeah, I know.”

“Sometimes working towards feeling better means starting from the ground up,” she says. “As basic as basic can get. Sleep, diet, exercise, basic boring self care. But we’ll talk about that a little later. I’d still like to get a better idea of where you are right now, if you’re willing to share that.”

He considers saying no. He considers standing up and telling her he made a mistake and making a hasty retreat home to hide in bed and forget the whole thing. But there’s something about Karen that makes him want to talk. As out of place as he might feel here, as much as he might feel like he’s just wasting her time, he wants to give it a try.

“Ok,” he says finally. “I can do that.”

Chapter Text

Phil stands in the middle of his bedroom wearing nothing but a pair of pink boxers and holds up a shirt, a horrible bright green thing with a ray ban-clad cartoon cat on the front. He wiggles his eyebrows and looks at Dan expectantly.

“Toss,” Dan says without hesitation. “Definitely toss. Incinerate if possible.”

Phil’s face falls into a frown. “Really? I like this one.”

“You like all of them. That’s why you need me as a moderator.”

“But you’re too brutal.”

“That’s the point, Phil. We’re trying to downsize.”

“You’d have me throw everything away and start from scratch if you could,” he grumbles, tossing the offensive piece of clothing on the pile destined for donation.

“Not true.” Dan rolls over onto his stomach and grabs a pillow for under his chin. He’s in a similar state of undress, although he’s wearing an old threadbare shirt of Phil’s. “There’re a few things in your wardrobe that I bought for you,” he says, smirking. “You should keep those.”

Phil walks over to the bed, squatting down and booping Dan right on the nose. “You’re supposed to love me as I am.”

“I do.” He snaps his teeth like he makes to bite Phil’s finger. “I just think you have the fashion sense of a twelve year old.”

“Part of my charm,” Phil says, grabbing the next shirt and holding it up.

Dan frowns in thought. “You can keep that one if you like it.”

“Bit boring, innit?” He looks down at the plain black t-shirt, the only accent a small white bird in the bottom corner.

“It looks good on you,” Dan says. “You look good in dark colours.”

Phil rolls his eyes and tosses the shirt on the keep pile. “What would Karen say about you trying to stifle my creativity like this?”

“You asked me to help you!”

Phil walks back over to the bed and flops down so his legs are dangling off the edge. “Yeah but you’re the one who decreed the need for minimization.”

Dan’s stomach tightens a little at the insinuation that he’s making Phil do something he doesn’t want to do. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “Sorry. You don’t have to.”

“Dan.”

Dan can tell that Phil can tell that he’s inadvertently found a soft spot to poke, but he doesn’t quite know what to say about it, so he says nothing.

Phil rolls onto his side and a moment later Dan feels teeth biting his ass through his underwear.

“Is it weird that that feels good?” Dan asks.

“Yes, but you’re weird so I’m not that surprised.”

“You’re weird too,” Dan points out, wiggling his butt by way of invitation for Phil to do it again.

He does, pulling Dan’s pants down this time to sink his teeth into bare skin. “Mhm, that’s why I like it too.”

“Mate.” Dan hides his face in the pillow for a moment, trying not to let his hormones follow their instinct to get excited that Phil’s mouth is on his body. “Don’t start something you can’t finish.”

“Who said I can’t?” Phil murmurs, pulling Dan’s pants all the down way to his ankles.

Dan tries to hide his face again, but Phil turns him over onto his back and sits down right on top of his thighs.

“We’ve got a ton of work to do,” Dan says, with rapidly diminishing conviction. “Our shit isn’t gonna pack itself up.”

Phil pushes Dan’s shirt up and leans down to kiss his stomach. “It’s also not going anywhere. We can take a little break.” He shuffles back as he keeps kissing downwards, and it takes every ounce of discipline in Dan’s being to reach down and squeeze Phil’s shoulder.

“Phil.”

Phil bites the jut of Dan’s hip bone before he looks up.

“You know I’m fine right?” Dan props himself up onto his elbows. “C’mere.”

Phil climbs off and lies down next to Dan, who rolls over so they’re facing each other. He reaches up and rubs his finger against the crease between Phil’s brows. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“You’ve never rejected me before,” Phil says, voice quiet and low. “Doesn’t feel great.”

“That’s not what’s happening.” He nudges his thigh in between Phil’s. “I just wanna make sure you’re not using sex as a way to distract me.”

“It’s worked before,” Phil says defensively.

“It works brilliantly. I just don’t need to be distracted.”

Phil repeats Dan’s words from a moment ago. “Because you’re fine.”

“Yeah.”

“Even though you always moan about how small this flat is and we’re about to move into one that’s gonna be even smaller.” His voice is incredulous and Dan can’t really blame him. “A flat that’ll basically just be a bathroom and one giant open space.”

“Otherwise known as a studio, yes. We talked about this.”

“You know I don’t mind covering you,” Phil says gently. “We can stay here.”

“I don’t want to stay here. I want a place that’s ours.”

“This place is ours. It always has been.”

Dan sighs. “Yeah, but… It’s just different. It’s like… like, this is the place we were mates. This is the place where you had Amy and I had… people.”

Phil gives him a sour look that makes Dan smile. “Sorry,” he says, ruffling Phil’s fringe. “You get what I’m saying.”

“I thought it was about money,” Phil says bluntly.

“It is. But I’m trying to make it about more than that, because Karen says I need to work on framing things I perceive as setbacks in a more positive way. So I’ve decided this move is a fresh start.”

Finally Phil starts to thaw. A smile plays around his mouth and he slings his arm around Dan’s lower back to pull him in closer. “Ok,” he murmurs, pressing his lips to Dan’s forehead. “Tell me more about that.”

“Basically, no one gets to fuck you in our new flat but me.”

“Dan!” Phil shrieks.

Dan grins. “And vice versa, of course.”

Phil scowls. “Thought you were gonna say something sweet.”

“I think it’s very sweet,” Dan says, rubbing his nose against Phil’s. “There’s only room for one bed and it’s not gonna be your bed that I sleep in, it’s gonna be our bed.”

“Ok,” Phil says, ducking away from Dan’s nose. “That’s a nice way to look at it.”

Dan frowns, that unpleasant twisting feeling returning. “You don’t sound convinced.”

“No, I am,” Phil says softly. “I am. It’s just… you know. It’s a big thing.”

“Is it?”

Phil sits up then, so Dan does too, grabbing a pillow to hold over his lap. Being bottomless doesn’t feel right anymore. “What?” he asks, trying to bite back the feeling of panic brewing in his chest.

Phil looks at him right in the eyes. “It’s a big thing.”

“Why?” Dan asks.

“Because… it’s moving in together.”

Dan frowns. “We’ve lived together for ages.”

“Yeah, but like you said, that was as mates. This is as, like, a thing.”

“Are you getting cold feet?” He tries to keep his voice steady, which at this point is quite a feat.

“Dan.” Phil gives him a look that says it’s a ridiculous question. “My feet are toasty warm. It’s you I worry about.”

“You think I’m being mental with all this?” Dan asks.

Phil sighs, scrubbing his hands down over his face. “I’m screwing things up right now. I’m— no. I don’t think you’re mental. I guess I just… It’s all been so fast. I got used to you being kind of miserable for so long that to see all this change has been…”

“Yeah,” Dan says quietly. “I guess it’s a big thing. But I reckon that’s what I need to do to not be miserable anymore.”

Phil stares at him, eyes boring into Dan’s, his gaze unblinking for so long that Dan forgets what they were even talking about.

“What?” he asks quietly, slightly afraid of what the answer might be.

Phil shrugs. “I’m just proud of you, that’s all.”

Dan looks down at the pillow sheepishly. “For what?” he mutters.

“Everything. All of it. Doing what you need to do even when it’s scary.”

“Are you scared?” Dan asks. He rather hates that he’s only thinking to ask that question now, when they’ve gotten rid of half of their stuff and they’re mere days away from signing a lease on a new place.

“Yeah,” Phil says easily. “But you’re making me want to be brave.”

“Do you resent me for being such a mess?” Dan asks. “For making you take a step backwards?”

Phil reaches out and grabs his hand. “It’s not backwards. It’s a fresh start, remember?”

“For me it is. For you it’s—”

“If it’s good for you, it’s good for me,” Phil interrupts. “I’m not bothered where I live, as long as you're there too.”

Dan breathes out noisily, trying to stop himself getting overly emotional. Phil’s seen him cry enough as it is. “You’re cheesy,” he says, quite sure he’s failed miserably at deflecting.

Phil leans back on his hands and grins. “Yep. And you like it.”

All Dan can do is roll his eyes fondly. They both know it’s true. “I’m gonna be so fucking poor, aren’t I.”

“Yep.”

“I’m gonna be the oldest person in all my classes.”

Phil tilts his head. “Mm. I doubt that.”

“Are you gonna help me write my papers?” Dan asks. “And make me coffee during my all-nighters? And force me not to procrastinate every reading and assignment?”

“Yeah. I will.”

“And distract me when I need it?”

Phil smirks. “Of course.”

“And remind me when I say it’s too hard and I can’t do it anymore that I actually can?”

The way Phil looks at him makes his heart feel like it’s going to burst right through his chest.

“Yes, Dan. I will always remind you of that. I’ll never let you forget it.”

Dan tosses the pillow aside and lunges at Phil so hard he knocks him onto his back. It wasn’t the romantic gesture he was intending, and they both piss themselves laughing after the initial shock has worn off Phil’s face.

“You’re kind of awesome,” Dan says. His abs are aching from the force of his laughter.

Phil reaches a hand down to cup Dan’s ass cheek. “And you’re kind of naked.”

“Only kind of.”

Phil waggles his eyebrows. “We can fix that.”

Dan ignores the lewd suggestion and leans down to press his lips to Phil’s, a lot more gently than he would if it was simply a prelude to sex. His desire to kiss Phil is pure and simple. He doesn’t want to be distracted just yet.

Phil is right. Changes are coming and they’re coming fast. Their life in a few months will look nothing like it looked a few months ago. It’s a big thing, and where once that might have made Dan terrified, now it just makes him hopeful.

He wants things to change. He wants to be able to look back someday and find that he doesn’t recognize the version of himself that was afraid to go to sleep at night, afraid to wake up in the morning, afraid that he’d always be stuck in that vicious cycle of fear and self loathing.

He thinks he’ll have that. In a lot of ways it’s already starting. He already feels strong enough to choose which parts of his old life to keep and which ones to bury.

Phil slides a hand up Dan’s spine, up the back of his neck and into his hair and kisses him so sweetly it makes Dan shiver. This one Dan chooses to keep. This one he’s never letting go.

-

“Bless you.”

She might as well be a bloody angel, stood there with her pink hair and pastel blue leggings, leaned against the wall outside his lecture hall holding the coffee he’d begged her to bring him. She hands him the paper cup - the very large paper cup - and gives him a smug smile. “How much do you love me right now? Spare no detail, Howell.”

He accepts it with the gratitude of someone whose very life has just been snatched back from the clutches of oblivion and tips it back against his lips with haste. It’s hot and strong and exactly what he’s been daydreaming about since he got to class.

“A lot,” he says, sighing as he feels the caffeine slide down his throat to settle warm in his woefully empty stomach. “More than I love Kanye. More than you love BTS. More than Phil loves Thor’s abs.”

“Shit, man. Contain yourself. I have a girlfriend.”

He slings his arm around her shoulders, ignoring her snark to knock back another glug of his liquid lifeline. “You think she’d be upset if I made you my permanent coffee bitch?”

“Oi,” she says, flipping him off with a carefully manicured finger. “Watch it or I’ll take that back.”

“S’already half gone,” he says after necking a quarter of the cup in one go. “I was absolutely not kidding when I said I needed this.”

She rolls her eyes. “So school’s going well for you, then.”

“It’s fine, actually. Just didn’t have time for breakfast before class. I… overslept.” He says the last bit so awkwardly that there’s no way she’s going to be fooled.

She snaps her head to look at him and narrows her eyes. “You didn’t, did you?”

He pulls his arm away and wraps both hands around his cup. “Um…”

“This is some nastiness I don’t want to know about it, isn’t it?”

Dan grins sheepishly. “Bryony, when two people love each other—”

“Oh god, gross. Save it, you slag.”

He laughs and hitches his backpack higher up on his shoulder. “C’mon, let’s get out of here, I’m fucking knackered. And hungry.”

“Ooh, are you cooking for me?”

He gives her a look, holding the door open for her as they step outside. “My kitchen is the size of a matchbox. I try to do as little cooking as humanly possible.”

“Well I wouldn’t know, would I?”

His expression softens.“Yeah, sorry. I guess I’ve been busy lately.”

She shakes her head. “S’fine, I have too. Besides, I’m happy for you.”

He smiles. “Yeah? You don’t think I’m mental?”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

He shoves her in the shoulder and then pulls her back and puts his arm around her again. He finishes his coffee and tosses it in a bin along the pavement as they head in the direction of his and Phil’s flat. Their apartment may be rather tiny, but at least it’s close enough to campus to walk.

“But seriously,” she says, melting into his side and wrapping an arm of her own around his lower back. “How is all this going? School and the move and Phil and all of it?”

“Yeah, it’s… it’s good. Being back at uni is terrifying, but it feels better than last time.”

“You’re not a child anymore.”

“What does that mean?” he asks, though he already knows the answer.

“You were an infant when I first met you and we both know it. It’s a wonder you even lasted a day.”

“Wow. Tell me how you really feel.”

“I don’t blame you,” she says, looking up at him. “I think it’s bullshit that as soon as we turn eighteen or whatever we’re expected to know what we want to do with our lives and have the maturity to see it through. Fuck’s sake, I didn’t know a goddamn thing back then.”

“Me neither,” Dan says quietly. In a lot of ways he still feels like he’s just barely begun to scratch the surface.

“And yet we’re supposed to choose the path of our entire future. Before we even really know how life works.”

He looks down at her. “Turned out alright for you though, eh? You’re happy, aren’t you?”

Curiously, she doesn’t answer the question, choosing instead to remind him that he hadn’t actually finished answering hers. “You and Phil?”

“We’re good.” It’s the understatement of the century but she doesn’t need - or want, most likely - the details.

“Reckon you are if you’re shagging first thing in the morning.”

Dan laughs. “I never actually said that.”

She rolls her eyes. “You didn’t have to.”

He drops his arm in favour of taking her hand, suddenly overwhelmed by the ferocity of his affection for her. He owes her a lot, more than he guesses she even really knows.

Dan wishes the place looked nicer as he unlocks the door and lets Bryony go in first. The walls haven’t been painted yet and there are still a few boxes stacked along the wall beside the sofa.

But the windows are big and the curtains are pulled open, letting in the afternoon sunshine of an unusually lovely October day. It doesn’t smell like anything in particular, but Phil’s left a pumpkin spice scented candle on the coffee table, so Dan kicks off his shoes and goes to light it.

“This is it,” he says, spreading his arms out. “There’s the kitchen, the lounge, the bed.” He turns and points to the one room with an actual door. “And there’s the toilet.”

“Cozy,” she says, looking around.

“That’s a nice way of looking at it.” He flops back onto the sofa and puts his feet up on the coffee table. “It’s all I can afford for now.”

She sits next to him. “I’m serious, Dan. It’s lovely.” She turns around and pulls the quilt she’d made him for his birthday off the back of the couch and smiles. “This is a nice touch.”

“It’s the nicest thing I own.” He sighs and slumps to the side a little to rest his head on her shoulder. He’s exhausted to be sure, but underneath it is a happy kind of content feeling.

She rests her head on his. “Life is weird, isn’t it?”

“So weird,” he murmurs.

“Things can be the same for so long and then just… change.”

He closes his eyes to the soft warm happy sleepy jumble in his brain. “Yeah.”

They fall quiet then. His eyes are closed but his mind is still going, thinking of what Bryony said and how perfectly it sums up the last few years of his life, and how the change would have been a lot harder if not for her.

“Hey Bry?”

“Hm?” She sounds sleepy too.

“I’m totally in love with Phil.”

She chuckles, putting her hand on his forearm and squeezing. “I know, idiot.”

“You know when you came out and I was weird it was only because I was going through the exact same thing, right?”

“I know,” she says quietly. “I know that now.”

He lifts up his head so he can look at her. “You kind of amaze me.”

“Shut up.” She looks away, but he can see her cheeks pink up.

“Ok, I will. But I had to tell you at least once.”

She bumps her shoulder into his arm. “Are you drunk?”

He leans his head back and closes his eyes again. “Mm no. Super tired though, which is basically the same thing.”

“Can I make you some tea?”

“Yes please.”

He feels the sofa dip as she gets up. He listens to the sounds of running water and her feet on the kitchen floor and the slow build of heat and pressure in the kettle and the clink of porcelain as she fetches the mugs. He’s not sure he’s succeeded at communicating how grateful he is to her just for being who she is so unapologetically, but he reckons he’s made a good start, at least.

He sits up properly when she comes back and wraps his hands gratefully around the warm mug. She’s strangely quiet, but he puts it down to feeling awkward about his little burst of sincerity.

Until she puts down her mug and turns her whole body to face his.

“So you know how you asked me earlier if I’m happy?”

His heart jolts. “Yeah?”

“I’m not.”

“Oh.” His jolted heart gives way to the sensation of a sinking stomach. “Fuck. Did something happen with Kate?”

She shakes her head. “Kate’s brilliant. I just… ever since you did all this—” She gestures to the flat. “School and all of it… It just got me thinking. Like, about my own shit.”

“What shit?”

She sighs. “I guess it made me realize how much I’ve just gotten… complacent? Like I wasn’t really actively unhappy but I wasn’t trying to reach for anything more.”

“You don’t have to,” Dan says. “If you don’t want to.”

“Yeah, I know. But I do. I do want to. You’ve inspired me, ok? I’m trying to say you make me want to try harder.”

He smiles, breathing a sigh of relief. “Ok. Well that’s great.”

She shakes her head. “You’re not going to like it, though.”

He frowns. “What? Why?”

She looks uneasy, like she’s genuinely afraid to tell him what’s going on.

“What the fuck, Bry. You’re not moving to Korea to form your own band or something are you?”

She snorts. “Your ambitions for me are a lot bigger than my own, mate.”

“Well tell me! You’re freaking me out.”

“I’m quitting,” she blurts.

“Quitting… Topman?”

She nods.

“Oh.”

“I think I want more,” she says quietly. “But I don’t want you to hate me.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“No?”

“Of course not, you absolute spoon.”

She reaches out and takes his hand, her face going soft and sentimental. “I’m gonna miss working with you.”

He hates it. It’s not her. It’s not them. So he says, bluntly, “I’m not.”

“Oi—”

He cuts her off before she can get going. “I’m gonna quit too.”

“Oh. Really?”

He nods. “I fucking hate that place. You were the only good thing about it. Besides, I’ve applied for a loan, so I should be able to get by without working for now. Gonna do this skint student thing proper.”

“Like you couldn’t the first time.”

Her words give him pause. They’re true, but it’s more than just school. He’s doing a lot of things now that he couldn’t before, things that didn’t even feel like options before he felt strong enough to face his truth and ask for help.

He couldn’t have done that without her. He couldn’t have done that without Phil. His world looks so different now. In some ways smaller, but in all the ways that really matter it’s never felt so big.

“Yeah,” he says, fighting back all the emotions swimming through his head but the gratitude. The happiness. “Exactly. Now order me some food with your manager money before it’s all gone. I’m starving.”

-

He’s wandering down a dimly lit hallway, wearing a backpack and a shirt that’s too small for him. It keeps riding up his stomach and he keeps tugging it back down but it refuses to cooperate.

He doesn’t recognize his surroundings but somehow, in some corner of his brain he knows he’s at uni, knows he’s meant to be in class right now but he can’t find it. Every corner he turns seems to take him further away from where he’s trying to go.

There’s a number in his head, a vague knowledge of what room he’s looking for, but it keeps changing. He looks down at the paper clutched between his fingers and sees a jumble of letters and numbers where his schedule should be.

The people around him all seem confident. They’re young and fit and happy and walking down the hall with purpose. They know exactly where they’re going. They aren’t looking around nervously like he is, palms clammy with sweat and stomachs rolling over with anxiety. They’re the ones who are meant to be here; he’s just an imposter trying to recapture something that was never meant to be his.

Then he wakes up. The room is still shrouded in darkness, but there’s light from outside coming in through the window. The layout of this flat is still new enough that it takes his sleepy brain a moment to place himself, but when he does he takes a deep breath. He’s home.

He’s in bed and Phil is right next to him, lying on his side and facing away from Dan. As his eyes adjust to the darkness Dan can see the shape of Phil’s shoulder, the curve of his back. He shuffles forward and presses his forehead to the soft skin between Phil’s shoulder blades.

He smells like Phil. He’s soft and pale and a little cool to the touch. Dan wraps his arm around him and pulls Phil back against his chest. He’s got enough warmth to share.

Phil stirs a little but doesn’t wake. He’s a heavy sleeper but Dan’s dream must have been a silent one for him to still be so soundly unconscious. Dan’s glad for that. He doesn’t need Phil’s words to help him forget this dream, just the knowledge that he’s there is enough. He tucks his knees into the backs of Phil’s and presses a kiss to the back of Phil’s neck. He breathes in the scent of him, not the smell of his cologne or his shampoo but the natural, indescribable human smell of his skin as his baby hairs tickle against Dan’s lips.

Maybe Phil is having a dream of his own right now. Dan hopes it’s a nice one. He kisses Phil’s neck once more, closes his eyes, and goes back to sleep.